A few well past due book mentions and a visit to the Black Spire Outpost on the Planet Batuu!
As I mentioned a little while back, I've read several books over the past many months (some over a year ago) and have totally neglected to say anything about them. Which is a shame because pretty much all of them have been well worth mentioning - I noted passages from each to illustrate why I thought they were worth reading - but I suck. I'm reading less than usual and putting less and less effort into my blathering here, so I doubt any of these books will get the full effort they deserve. That said, here's a start on mentioning the members of my ever-growing stack of semi-recently-read books and the very modicum level of effort I'm willing to make...
Art Matters, Neil Gaiman & Chris Riddell (illustrator)
I had heard all about Art Matters on Twitter long before it was even available to order. Pages were being posted online for weeks before I could even get my own copy. I pre-ordered my copy from Amazon about a month before its U.S. publication date (the U.S. version was available over a month after the U.K. version for some reason - even from Amazon, which is weird because they had the U.K. version in stock). When I received my copy, I quickly read it in its entirety. There isn't a whole lot to read - it's mostly illustrations and brief, but thoughtful, commentary on the importance of libraries, the value of fiction and other creative endeavors, and the value of imagination. I liked it so much that I quickly went out and picked up a copy for Emeli (from Mysterious Galaxy, I think) and shipped it to her in Idaho.
Here are a few of the pages that really stood out to me. Most I saw on Twitter before I received my book, but I had to scan a couple of them myself. I especially like Neil's thoughts on fiction because I've heard so much negative criticism of fiction in my lifetime. And being a dinosaur who loves and prefers to read physical books, I like Neil's and Douglas Adams comments on the value of physical books.
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I also heard about another book from Neil Gaiman's Twitter feed: Eric Idle's sortabiography, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.
Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, Eric Idle
I also pre-ordered Always Look on the Bright Side of Life from Amazon well before its publication date. And it arrived with more than just the book - it came with a button that has been proudly displayed on my computer bag since I received it, and a signed (presumably by Eric Idle, but who knows) book plate. So that was a nice bonus.
Always Look on the Bright Side of Life is an excellent biography of Eric Idle's event ful life. It starts out very biographical, but quickly becomes, while still technically biographical, an avalanche of celebrity name-dropping. I didn't realize Eric had been so close to George Harrison, or had rubbed shoulders with Bowie and so many other very famous people. But there you have it - take Neil Gaiman's advice (not provided in this book - see the review just a little northward) and doggedly stick to what you want to do. And get famous. And then you, too, can vacation with the rich and famous, marry a gorgeous model, and visit an awesome castle belonging to one of The Beatles.
There are several pages of color photos of the people mentioned in Eric's memoir in the center of the book (there are also black and white photos throughout the book). Here are a few of those color photos and a couple of the black and white photos.
I noted too many specific passages to mention (as usual) and several were about people other than Eric (like Robin Williams and Steve Martin) that are hilarious and interesting to read, but aren't Eric-adjacent enough for me to mention - so here are the few I noted and have deigned to share...
Firstly, we have Eric interacting with a young journalist...
Laughter is still the best revenge. One day the sun will die, one day the galaxy will die, one day the entire Universe will die. I'm not feeling too good myself. So, what have I learned over my long and weird life? Well, firstly, that there are two kinds of people, and I don't much care for either of them. Secondly, when faced with a difficult choice, either way is often best. Thirdly, always leave a party when people begin to play the bongos.
Now I just wait for the inevitable question: "Didn't you used to be Eric Idle?" That and the delicious irony that I get to sing my own song at my own funeral. I have prepared some last words. Well, you can't be too careful, can you? In the Eighties when I was still comparatively young, a man sitting next to me in the Groucho Club said, "Oh. that's funny seeing you here, I'm just writing your obituary."
I checked for vital signs, my wallet was still there, my dick was still there, my wife was still there.
"So far as I can tell," I said, "I'm not dead yet."
The young man explained that he was working for the Daily Telegraph and his job was to write obituaries of celebrities so that they would be ready to print at the drop of a hat.
"In that case," I said, "perhaps you'd like to know my last words?"
Indeed, he would.
"Say no more," I said.
He liked that. It's best to be prepared, and that does take care of the final words problem. Suppose you're having an off day and you can't think of anything funny, and you say something fatuous like "Pass the Kleenex." That would be embarrassing.
And my song goes on. I sang it at a Pembroke College fund-raiser in Cambridge in 2017 and they very kindly rewarded me with an honorary fellowship, which touched and moved me more than I can say. I sang it to the survivors of the England football team who won the World Cup fifty years before, back in 1966, when I had stood on the terraces at Wembley Stadium with Bill Oddie. I sang it at my daughter's graduation, where I was commencement speaker and Whitman College generously gave me an honorary degree. I have let Exit International use it, and, to the dismay of my wife and manager, I have turned down several large sums of money from advertisers to license it, so you will know I am either finally dead or destitute when you hear it on a car commercial. Not that I want to go, of course. I'll be like the rest of you, clinging on desperately and screaming for more morphine. Though I did want it to say on my tombstone: I'D LIKE A SECOND OPINION . . .
My funeral song will go on .. . and on . .. though obviously we don't. Dust to dust is about right. We dissipate into the carbon atoms we came from; technically. reincarnation is sort of correct, we get reassembled into other things. I'd like to be reassembled into a Tesla so my wife can still drive me.
I was born in the same place as my mother and I wonder if I will die in the same place as her, which would mean our home in LA. To be precise, in our guest room, but that's now become my wife's shoe closet. I think I wouldn't mind dying in there amongst the Jimmy Choos. I worship the ground she walks on anyway, so that would be appropriate. She, who sadly knows me best, thinks my last words will probably be "Fuck off'," but that doesn't look good on a tombstone, so instead I would like on my grave:
click here to show the full quoted excerpt
Next, we find Eric accepting an award in Hollywood on behalf of the Pythons...
A year later Monty Python was inducted into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame, and John Du Prez and I went along with our touring company to accept the trophy. There were wonderful nostalgic clips of us at the Bowl twenty years earlier, and then Robin Williams came on like a blast from a blowgun and torched the audience with a high-octane tribute.
Originally Terry Gilliam was going to join me onstage to accept the award and then we were going to sing "Sit on My Face," but the Bowl nixed that naughty song, saying it was inappropriate for a gala, and so, sadly, Terry Gilliam pulled out. He has very high moral standards when it comes to low moral songs, so that moment of particular public tastelessness would have to wait.
Meanwhile I took the trophy from Robin and said:
It's wonderful to be back at the Bollywood Hole after all these years.
I am proud to be here on behalf of Monty Python to accept this honor.
I bring messages and thanks from the others. Terry Gilliam sadly can't be with us tonight as they won't let him show his ass, which has been very favorably compared with Spielberg's ass.
Graham Chapman can't be with us tonight, as sadly he is still dead. And John Cleese is finishing a movie.
He has to get it back to Blockbuster by tomorrow.
So that just leaves me here tonight.
And so, l'd like to thank me, without whom I too wouldn't be here this evening.
I'd like to thank everyone at the Bowl for honoring us in this way.
I'd like to thank Robin for friendship above and beyond the call of comedy.
But above all l'd like to thank America and you Americans for accepting Monty Python's essentially British silliness so warmly, so wholeheartedly, and so surprisingly.
Because, you see, I never wanted to do this for a living.
I always wanted to be a . . . lumberjack . . .
- and on marched a chorus of Mounties to sing the inevitable with John Mauceri and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Of course, as we exited we naughtily sang "Sit on My Face" . . .
After Monty Python they honored Stevie Wonder, introduced with a spot-on impersonation by Smokey Robinson. At the end, there was an incredible curtain call, where I appeared holding hands with Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson. I can die now, I thought as the crowd went wild and two of my heroes held my hands and we bowed onstage at the Hollywood Bowl.
Little did I know I would return within a year for a less happy occasion.
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And the final excerpt I'll share is from Eric's time working with Leslie Nielsen on a 4-D ride for an amusement park...
A year later. Anheuser-Busch approached me with an offer to write one of these 4-D things. They wanted a pirate film for their Busch Gardens theme park in Williamsburg, Virginia. I was intrigued by the technology so I wrote one. In mine, when seagulls flew overhead, water would drop like bird poop on the audience. I wrote the lead for Leslie Nielsen and he said he would do it only if l would be in it too. You mean filming in the West Indies on a pirate ship with Leslie Nielsen? Well, alright then. So off we went to Puerto Rico, eventually ending up filming on a boat in Cancel Bay off St. John, where I had stayed so happily with George and Liv. At the end of each day's filming I would dive overboard and swim back to my hotel.
I loved every second with Leslie. He was extremely funny. He would play with his own fame and had found a clever way of coming to terms with it. He had a fart machine. He kept it hidden in his hand. He used it to perfection on a crowded elevator in our tourist hotel.
People would enter the elevator and suddenly notice that there was Leslie Nielsen, deep in thought. staring into the middle distance. You would see them recognize him and nudge each other. He would gaze placidly ahead. completely unconcerned. not noticing. They would be trying to make up their minds to say something, but his benign concentration held them back. The doors would close. A moment of silence and then suddenly there would be a loud fart. Louder than socially polite. Impossible to ignore. But who was it? Leslie would continue to stare straight ahead. His face would not move a muscle. There would be another loud fart. The passengers would begin to look uncomfortable. Was that...Leslie Nielsen...farting?
Now it was awkward. They could hardly burst into "Aren't you Leslie Nielsen, we loved Airplane, can l have an autograph?" while he clearly had this epic bowel problem. Another couple of floors of silent descent
and there would be another extremely loud fart. This time there was no mistaking the source. Leslie would give away nothing. Not a glimmer. Not a twinkle. The tourists' eyes would meet. They would clearly just have to pretend it wasn't happening. They would give this poor farting star the anonymity his unfortunate entrails deserved. Mercilessly, as the ground floor approached, Leslie increased the tempo. He would play a whole range of farts, little ones, big ones, short ones, long ones, melodic ones, Handelian ones, starbursts, frog farts, his repertoire was lengthy and relentless, his face a study of intense concentration as this terrible barrage unfurled. Deeply embarrassed for him, the other passengers in the elevator looked studiously at the floor, avoiding each other's eyes and this terrible secret. Finally, the doors opened and the passengers burst out, leaving Leslie saying nothing, revealing nothing. It was the most brilliant controlled display of deadpan acting I ever saw.
click here to show the full quoted excerpt
If you love the Pythons, love celebrity memoirs, love biographies in general, or just love to laugh, this is the book for you. Go get it (though you won't get the cool button and nameplate that I did, slackers!)
Alternate Routes, Tim Powers
I hate that I've waited so long to write down my thoughts on Alternate Routes, and more importantly, the Tim Powers signing of Alternate Routes at the Mysterious Galaxy book store in August of 2018. I will try to pry the memories out of my severely-damaged brain, but I'm sure much of the amazingness of hearing Tim Powers talk to the small audience of true-believers about anything and everything will be lost now. Luckily, I did jot down a few rough notes about the signing, so all hope is not lost.
I arrived late, so that wasn't great. And to top it off, I forgot to mute my phone. A few seconds after I arrived, my phone made its presence known with a loud "None of your Business!" (a sound clip of the belligerent French knight from Monthy Python & The Holy Grail), so that was awkward. Due to my inability to arrive on time, I stood near the store's entrance throughout the pre-signing and listened to Tim's many colorful stories. I seem to recall there being some open chairs set up near Tim, but I didn't want to disrupt the flow any more than I already had, so I stood unobtrusively in the back. The crowd for this book signing was significantly smaller than the semi-recent Bruce Campbell signing, which was a good thing for me, but not so great for Tim.
Tim talked about Alternate Routes for the first 20-30 minutes, then answered questions and talked about the L.A. area as a goldmine of story ideas. He referred to the inspirations as "hints, not completed stories." One of the things I actually remember was mention of a book called "Secret Stairways" - a book about stairways in the Hollywood hills that you'd never find without the book, which lead to secret valleys with weird temples, movie set graveyards, and other surreal, unexpected things to experience. There were other stories, but they've been pretty much lost in a dead end of my brain beyond a block of damaged synapses. I think he may have even revisited his Pirates of the Caribbean experience with On Stranger Tides. That seems to come up consistently at the signings. if you every have a chance to attend an event with Tim Powers speaking, I highly encourage you to attend. I guarantee you'll learn something.
After story time ended, there was a short line for the signing. While I waited, I also picked up hardcover copy of Neil Gaiman's A Study in Emerald. I thought about asking Tim to sign it just to be funny (Tim had mentioned being a big fan of HP Lovecraft) since the book is a Cthulhu vs Sherlock Holmes graphic novel, but chickened out. To tell you how elderly the crowd at this signing was, I might have been one of the youngest people there. The person in the signing line behind me actually knew Tim Powers and Philip K Dick (who I think I've mentioned from other signings that Tim Powers knew and hung out with for many years) when they were younger and hung out with them. As I was leaving, overheard Tim talking to her about the places they'd hung out and the other people who were there (Philip K Dick, specifically).
I thought I had some photos from the signing, but...I can't find a single photo (now over a year after the signing took place), so they may appear here someday if I can find them.
Now, on to the reasons you should read Alternate Routes (reasons that will be, in my defective brain, hazy at best since I read Alternate Routes months ago)...
With Tim Powers, you either get great historical fiction or great modern-day, generally set in Southern California, fiction. This is the latter - very similar to the Fault Lines series I read many years ago: Last Call (to be honest, I don't know if I read this one), Earthquake Weather, and Expiration Date. Tim Powers knows and loves Southern California. Or maybe just California in general. I can't remember any stories set north of Los Angeles right now, but there could have been some. But his knowledge of the history of the area is unsurpassed - he does his research. In this case specifically, his research would have been around secret service agents, the LA freeways , and occult practitioners of black magic (or gray magic or somewhere in-between).
Here are a few excerpts to give you a feel for the story.
In this one, the secret service and ex-secret service agents are hiding out from the government's secret occult agents in one of the many places found throughout L.A. I found this one interesting because it talks about the creepy too-real animation that's becoming more and more prevalent - and how it even spooks ghosts.
She shivered. "I imagine ghosts sitting at that other table, with a pitcher of lemonade, staring at the wall. Staring through the wall."
"Not in here," said Vickery. "They don't like the uncanny valley. Too bad the management doesn't let people sleep on the premises! Ah, here comes our dinner - - God knows what it is."
A heavily tattooed gray-haired man in a T-shirt brought two plates and set them on the table, along with plastic tableware wrapped in paper napkins. As he walked away, Vickery looked at what he'd brought them - it appeared to be cold marinated onion and carrot slices beside ladlefuls of steaming curried stuff, possibly chicken. By accident or
design, it all seemed to conform to the diet Hipple had recommended.
Castine had freed a fork and was already digging in. "Where's the uncanny valley?" she asked around a mouthful.
Vickery waved at the pictures and the nearest mannequin. "All around you. All the faces in the pictures are waxworks or Japanese robots or characters from new animated movies like Polar Express."
Castine shifted around in her chair, still chewing, to see the ones on the wall behind her. She swallowed and said, "Oh. Yes. I thought they were pictures of real people." She looked back at Vickery. "It's kind of creepy, all these realistic fakes."
Vickery nodded. "Exactly." He paused to take a mouthful of the steaming curried stuff; it was very spicy with cumin and peppers, but it did seem to be chicken. After a few moments he went on, "People don't mind most representations of faces - statues, animation - they like them better the more realistic they look. But there's a point when they look just a bit too realistic, and the approval curve drops; that's the uncanny valley, that dip on a graph. We find it creepy, but ghosts can't stand the apparent contradiction - it looks genuinely human, but you can sense that it's not."
click here to show the full quoted excerpt
In this one, our two secret service agents are sleeping in a tomb to stay off the radar of the people trying to catch them. As one would expect, creepiness ensues..
At last he fell asleep.
He didn't dream of Amanda; instead he dreamed that he was at a crowded table in a bar, and for a long time he couldn't make out the faces of the others at the table, nor remember where this place was. The conversation was lively and loud, and the words his companions spoke were in English, but Vickery wasn't able to fit them together into comprehensible sentences. Eventually he heard explosions and gunfire from the street outside - but none of his companions paused in their conversation, and he realized at last that this was the King Tiki Bar, one of the fake buildings in Hogan's Alley at the Rowley Training Center in Michigan. Hogan's Alley was a specially constructed tactical village, like a Hollywood set, in which Secret Service agents were confronted with various simulated attacks and trained in how to react; so of course the gun-battle outside was not real. But even though his tablemates went on talking as energetically as ever, Vickery now saw that their shirts and blouses were blotted with blood, and when one of the men turned to face him, the previously averted half of his face was just a gory crater. Vickery touched his own face just as the other man did the same, and he knew that he was looking into a mirror on the wall.
In the moments before he forced himself to open his eyes to the darkness of the tomb, all the people at the table fell silent, and then began to sing, very softly, an old song that he knew - and as he rolled over in his sleeping bag on the marble floor, he remembered what it was: "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?"
And though he was now awake, he was still hearing it.
The tomb was not completely dark; a faint glow of ambient city light made a narrow upright rectangle of the door, interrupted by the standing silhouette of Castine.
He saw her head turn in profile. "You're awake?" she whispered. "Check this out."
Vickery crawled out of the sleeping bag and stood up, and the floor was cold through his socks as he crossed to stand beside her.
The singing was more audible from the doorway, though still very faint. Vickery rubbed his eyes and peered out across the cemetery, and each of the tombstone-perching ghosts that he could make out was swaying gently, and the spots that were their mouths were wide; it was the ghosts that were singing. He thought some of the frail voices seemed to be those of children.
Standing in the doorway of a tomb under the infinite night sky, Vickery shivered as he listened to this secret chorus of the dead in the middle of the sleeping city, and he was glad that Castine was beside him.
She took his arm, as if for support. "The poor things," she whispered.
Who knew shaman (shawmen?) lived among us in modern times (at least in the alternate universes spun up by Tim Powers). In this one, we learn one of the dangers of L.A. freeways from a modern day shaman (who has been creeping around for a long time) living in the hills of L.A. And the danger on the freeways isn't related to the fast-moving metal boxes hitting each other or stationary objects.
"All this business." Laquedem went on, freeing one hand from a crutch to wave in a circle, "making use of the current generated when multiple free wills move at a constant speed past stationary free wills, in order to see little way into the future or past--it was harmless enough, back in the days when you could only work for the few seconds a train was passing, or by driving a wagon down a crowded street; though even from the first there were canny protests against railroads, and there was the law that an automobile must be preceded by a man on foot waving a red flag, which prevented any effects. That law pretty much ended with the convoy from London to Brighton in '96.
"But when the big roads came along, providing endless streams of steadily moving free wills, the supernatural current could be strong enough so that a man might open a conduit to a sort of - what you might call - place, that exists outside of here. A region, a...situation Two times two might equal a million there, five times five might equal next Wednesday. It's a state in which irrationally expanded possibility prevails, and so ghosts gather there, and when a conduit is open they can come through to here." He pivoted on one crutch and scowled at Vickery."Someone was bound to open it sooner or later!"
Vickery nodded. "You opened it."
An elderly woman pushing a walker appeared in the doorway to the hall.
"Get out!" roared Laquedem, and she muttered a rude word at him and retreated. Turning back toward Vickery, he said, "Yes, I opened it.. God help me. I opened the...floodgates, and the Pasadena Freeway began to overlap with the Labyrinth. And as other LA freeways spread out, and the gypsies and the TUA have made more and more use of the current, the overlap has become more extensive - the worlds, as it were, have got closer to each other. Ghosts come across now without even being summoned, even entities whose never happened to occur, and all the souls who die in the here go across the other way." He bared his teeth in a grimace. "Sometimes even living people go across the other way!"
"So l've seen," sighed Vickery, "so I've seen."
I had several other passages noted to share, but they just didn't stand well enough on their own out of context with the rest of the story to make them worth sharing. Even though most of the excerpts I shared are pretty much rooted in supernatural stuff, there's much more to the story than just ghosts and haunted highways. Tim Powers is, as I mentioned above in regard to his speaking at the signing, a great storyteller. If you appreciate speculative fiction, you;'ll love any of Tim's books.
Return to the Dreaded Land of Disney
I was just going to blather about books, but I decided to mention something non-book-related: Disneyland. We returned to the land of Disney after over a year of avoiding the overcrowded & overpriced nightmare that is Disneyland because Emeli was home from school and Star Wars land had opened (in addition to a bunch of other changes in the parks that didn't really entice me at all). I remembered the days after Labor day being very lightly crowded the last time we'd had annual passes, so we decided to schedule a trip in September after Labor day. And while not amazingly empty, it wasn't painfully crowded. We actually went on every ride we wanted without having to wait in exceptionally heinous lines, as well as exploring the new surprisingly immersive Star Wars section of the park. It did get a little busier as the day went on, but was never as awful as it usually gets. We just parked in the Toy Story lots so we could stay as long as we wanted to.
As for the new Star War section of the Park, I was impressed. It's an interesting transition to walk from the old west in Frontier land to an Imperial outpost on some alien planet in Star Wars land. The buildings are as authentic (if you can call something that comes from a complete work of Fiction "authentic") as Disney's many other immersive areas (Main Street and New Orleans Square are my favorite "immersive" areas). The giant weird rock formations surrounding the outpost really add to the otherworldly feeling and separation from the rest of the park. And I really liked seeing all the full-sized vehicles (a land-speeder, a pod racer, an X-Wing, an A-Wing fighter, the Millennium Falcon, and a couple of Imperial shuttles) throughout the park. There were a few characters from the films (Rey, Chewy, several stromtroopers) and also a few cast members who weren't from the films dressed as Outpost personnel who were interacting with the real characters. The cast member who played Rey was spot-on - she even spoke with an English accent. I didn't get any good photos of her, but you can see her messing around with the X-Wing in a couple of photos. A wookie (possibly Chewbacca) was up there, too. I didn't drop any dough on Star Wars related merchandise, other than a bottle of water with weird alien writing.
Here are some photos from the visit (including a few that are intended to show how not crowded the park was for our visit). First, here's Main Street decorated for Halloween.
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Next, a few from Adventureland (this was the first time I'd climbed around on Tarzan's Treehouse - formerly the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse - in many years, so I took a bunch of photos of the area.
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And then on to my favorite area in all of Disneyland, New Orleans Square. Home of the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean.
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My last batch of photos all came from the new Stat Wars land. hey did a really good job with the details, despite the lack of much of anything to do here.
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We returned to Disneyland a few weeks later and had our Happy-Disney-Bubble burst. It was as crowded as ever and we didn't go on a single ride in Disneyland. Luckily, we'd planned for a short visit (we parked in the Downtown Disney lot that requires Downtown Disney validation with a $20 purchase for 3 hours parking or a sit-down restaurant purchase for 5 hour validation), so we were out the bucks we spent on a meal at the La Brea Bakery in Downtown Disney, but their food is pretty great, so that wasn't too painful. Star Wars land was too over-crowded to be enjoyable and it was a shoulder-to-shoulder crush of people. We did make our way to California Adventure, which was only slightly less crowded) and went on the one ride of the day: Soaring over The World (I think that's what it's called now). I hadn't been on it since it was Soaring Over California. It's as good a ride as any in Disneyland and my favorite in California Adventure, though I do enjoy the Little Mermaid ride, too. That ride feels misplaced in California Adventure, though - it should be in Fantasy land on the Disneyland side.
Here are a few of the photos I took this on abbreviated visit (mostly just to show how much more crowded the park was this time - the first photo is the transition from old west to science fiction in the tunnel to Star Wars land).
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I also thought about showing the new set of comics adorning my cubicle wall, but I decided to save those for later. And I just finished another book, David Savakerrva, that's going to jump to the head of the line for the next exciting addition of Who has the time to read all this drivel?.
There are probably only three1 currently-touring musical acts that I'm really interested in seeing live. Dia Frampton (and now even more so, Meg & Dia) is one of the three. So when I head Dia announce on Twitter that she would be touring and coming to San Diego, I went online and immediately bought tickets. And, not surprisingly, I'm glad I did.
If you missed out on Meg & Dia's earlier albums, you can still get a few of them from HelloMerch (and see the band's original line-up).
I'd never been to the Soma venue that Meg & Dia were playing, so I wasn't sure what to expect. There was plenty of parking, which was nice (maybe it would have been worse with more well-known performers), and it's located just down the street from the Sports Arena. The venue itself looks like an old movie theater and was standing room only inside the SideStage room (I don't know what the MainStage room looks like or what it offers for seating). By the end of the 3-hour show, my legs and feet were barking. I'm too old to stand in one place for hours.
Before the show started (I'd arrived early, not knowing what to expect), I picked up the HappySad CD (I'd been waiting to buy it because I was hoping there would be signed CDs or maybe a CD signing event, but if there was, I missed it). I was tempted to buy the vinyl record version of the album, but I decided to pass on it. Now I'm wishing I had picked up the vinyl.
The show started just before 8:00 with the first opening act, a local San Diego band I was unfamiliar with, Glamour Waves. Glamour Waves reminded me a little of No Doubt, mainly because the lead singer is a tiny little pixie with long blonde hair, which she constantly flipped around, and way too much weird eye makeup. She wore fishnet stockings and a t-shirt that fell down to mid-thigh. If there was anything on under the t-shirt, I didn't see it. The band consisted of the blonde lead-singing pixie, a guitarist, a bass player, 2 saxophone players, a trumpet player, and a drummer. The brass section didn't play in every song but they were a nice touch on the songs they did contribute to. I can't honestly say I cared much for any of Glamour Waves' music, but the acoustics of the room/volume of the amplification made it a big muffled mess so I couldn't really judge it fairly. The bass player was a character and the lead singer (I wish I had names, but I can't find anything online) was pretty enthusiastic. Sadly, the distorted, blaring audio made pretty much everything she said into muffled noise. It was like being inside a Peanuts cartoon. Part of the problem may have been the volume level of the microphone. I don't know. I do know that the speaking and singing of both was pretty much a solid wall of noise.
Next came an L.A. band I'd also never heard of, New Dialogue. This was a smaller band: a heavily tattooed female lead singer wearing leather short-shorts and a tube top, a male singer who also played guitar and reminded me of a Talking Heads cover band performer, a skinny mustached guy on guitar, a bearded guy on bass, and a drummer in a hoodie who looked like he was hiding from the law. Their songs were pretty generic and not all that interesting. And they also suffered from the same audio-difficulties of the previous act.
Finally, an hour later, Meg & Dia's crew got to work prepping the stage for their performance2. Meg & Dia's guitarist (co-guitarist - Meg also plays the guitar very well), Carlo Gimenez, was doing some fun crowd-work while walking back and forth across the stage. He was very entertaining - before he even picked up his guitar. There was no sign of a bass player. And the drummer was introduced as a new band member, so I don't know what happened there. The new drummer was a lot of fun to watch during the set, as he twirled him drumsticks and never missed a beat. Unfortunately, the percussion was too much for such a compact venue and just drowned out everything else (not just with Meg & Dia - it was a constant for all the bands). And maybe it was more familiarity with so much of their music, but I recognized and followed along with most of their songs (not the new ones on the album I'd just acquired, of course), There were a few songs that were more stripped down with just Dia's vocals and Meg on guitar and sometimes singling, too. Those were magical. One was Dear Heart, which is a song that I suspect was about the separation the sisters felt during the past several years following Dia's attempt to become a solo artist. Dia had to stop singing at one point because she started crying. She did recover and fish the song, but it was a touching moment.
Here's the album version of Dear Heart, which is almost as good as the live version was. Enjoy. And then go buy the album.
Between songs were many stories told by both Meg and Dia. Events like shoe shopping and Dia's new jacket, and a few about their childhood. It was so interesting to hear about their actual life events. Also so sweet and wonderful was Dia's tiny sweet little voice saying "Thank you" at the end of every song. I loved it when Dia did the same thing on her last tour. She's so adorable. And I'd never seen Meg in person before, but...wow. She's even more gorgeous than Dia. I wish I'd been able to get a photo of Meg that captures just how attractive she is in real life because no photo I've ever seen does her justice. The Frampton sisters share some great genes.
Meg & Dia finished their set strongly with Monster, one of the not-stripped down songs. and even through the crowd was tiny and many left after Monster, enough weirdos stuck around and kept clapping and cheering to get Meg & Dia to come back and do an encore. Unfortunately, they hadn't done an encore in their earlier shows and Dia said they'd already performed all the songs they had prepared. Carlo came back on to the stage and whispered something off-microphone to the girls. After Meg and Dia discussed things (also off-mic), Dia announced that they were going to perform a stripped-down version of one of their new songs, Teenagers. And it was beautiful and amazing. And should have been on the album this way.
Here's the video for Monster. The live performance, and a more experienced Meg and Dia, made the live version of the song different - and maybe a little better. But there's something charming about the younger Frampton sisters' performance, too.
One final comment about this show. It was advertised as an "all ages show," but there were more than a few f-bombs lobbed during the between-song spoken bits, mostly from the male co-singer in New Dialogue. Only one came from Dia, though she did share a few other words of a non-f-bomb, yet still profane, variety. There were also a few songs that violated the "all ages" label - mostly from the two opening bands.
One final (and late) comment not-about-the-show: I just listened to a Podcast (Just A Tip with Megan Batoon) that Meg & Dia were guests on. I had never, prior to this episode, heard of this Podcast, but I really enjoyed it. It was, surprisingly, not very much about Meg & Dia's music and mainly just about dating. Throughout the episode, I struggled to tell Meg & Dia's voices apart, which seems weird because Meg has such a distinctive voice. Loved getting to know both girls just a little better.
There's still a bunch of stuff I plan to mention someday (mostly fun trips over the past year or so), but I think the book-blather tsunami is probably up next. Or maybe I'll squeeze in some Disneyland blathering. Or maybe a little Susie Cakes blather. Who knows?
1 The other two performers are Xenia (another discovery from The Voice) and Grace Vanderwaal (who I only found out about after she won her TV talent show, so I was late to the game). Admittedly, I wouldn't say no to Green Day, Chris Isaac, Living Colour, The Lemonheads, or many of the wandering 80s bands that pass through town, but I have been a little lax in seeing shows from many of the above when they passed through town over the past few years.
2 It was interesting to watch each band (with the help of a couple of guys who I assume work for the SOMA venue) setting everything up and tearing it down between each band's set.
When I listed my recent musical acquisitions, I neglected to mention another album (the vinyl kind) that I picked up last year in November that was nearly as satisfying as the Icicle Works album find: Bowie's Scary Monsters.
Scary Monsters is an even older album than Icicle Works (1980 vs 1984), but this record isn't 1980 vintage vinyl. It's a brand new new pressing on heavy-duty vinyl. And it didn't cost $10 (including shipping). Since I bought it from Amazon shipping was free, but the album itself was around $20.
Scary Monsters, David Bowie
There aren't a ton of songs on Scary Monsters that saw radio play back in the day, but it does have three songs that old geezers like me should be very familiar with: Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), Ashes to Ashes, and Fashion. Among the many cassettes in my trunks of treasure is a Scary Monsters cassette (and a bunch of other Bowie cassettes) that haven't been touched in years.
Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) is, by far, my favorite song on the album. I don't know that it's a great Bowie song, but it holds a special place in my heart. And when I think about the song, it brings back memories of listening to this album as I walked home from a record store...somewhere, with my ancient non-Walkman cassette player hooked to my belt (absurdly huge by real Walkman standards), and orange-padded headphones perched upon my head. It was in California. Somewhere. Maybe Covina. Maybe Mira Mesa. I'm just not sure. I have a similar memory of acquiring Led Zeppelin IV.
Further Adventures in Leasing
My super-sweet Sentra lease ended a few months ago, so I had to go car shopping. I saw a Nissan Kicks on the lot, which looked kinda like a slightly smaller-scale Rogue1, and I thought it would be a fun upgrade from the Sentra.
The Kicks is pretty much the same size as a Sentra, with a slightly different shape, but the back seat seems much smaller than the Sentra's. And the Kick's mileage, which is supposed to be roughly equivalent to the Sentra, has been a few miles per gallon less than the Sentra's mileage (32.5 compared to 35.5 on average). But the Kick's stereo is way better than the old Sentra's (although a new Sentra's stereo probably would have been exactly the same) and the interior (even in the lowest-end model) is pretty sweet. It reminds me more of a Mini Cooper's interior style.
The Kicks cost a few thousand more than the Sentra, so I probably should have just gone with another Sentra since I really had no complaints with the Sentra I leased last time. I guess my inner-Veruca Salt (not the band - the film character) won out and I just had to have something new.
I got it in black, of course. I had a bunch of photos of the interior (including my sweet Batman car-seat cover), but I can;t find them.
The cubical, revisited
I've mentioned my cubicle decor here a few times since I started decorating it with comic books, so I'm going to do it again. When I first started going insane with the cubicle, I had just one huge wall to crap up. I probably had no more stuff on the walls then (or maybe even less stuff) than I do now, but it was a more public display of by complete dweebish-ness.
There have probably been other mentions, but these are the ones I can find (the Badbartopia search engine, powered by Google, needs an upgrade - it's on the list).
I've also recently brought a few toys in (sadly, these are new acquisitions and not just stuff I already owned) and I've crapped up the cube even more than before.
The current comic being displayed (for the past few weeks) is Innovation Comics's Quantum Leap. Innovation was a great publisher from the 80s-90s. They did a ton of book and TV adaptations (probably a few movies, too). They even did the first two Terry Pratchett Discworld novels (The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic. Those will make an appearance on the wall one of these days.
There have been a few other additions to the cube, too. These currently include a few toys, a framked sketch from a ComicCon years ago, an American flag ('Merica!), the new Flight of the Conchords poster, and some of my favoriter Star Wars calendar pages.
Prior to Quantum Leap being on the wall, I also had several other series (more than I'm showing here - sometimes I don't get around to taking a photo). These included Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazaam (Mike Kunkel awesomeness), Thieves &Kings (Mark Oakley awesomeness), Umbrella Academy Vol 1 (the Netflix adaptation had just started), and the Marvel adaptation of The Wonderful Wizrd of Oz (very well done - Marvel also adapted the subsequent Oz books very well).
My cubicle was once the most crapped-up mess in the area2, but I have a new co-worker who may have exceeded the crap-per foot ratio of my cubicle. So at least my I look less hobo-ish by comparison now.
I actually broke out the old sketch pad a few months ago and doodled another Disney Princess. It turned out to look only a little like the princess I was trying to create, Anna from Frozen, but the things I got wrong (the football shaped head and the super-wide mouth) were kind of weird, so I'm not real sorry I screwed them up.
I also incorporated Jack-Jack into my Incredibles family doodle. I used a Jack-Jack doodle that I'd already drawn and just photo-chopped it into the family doodle, so it's probably not worth mentioning it. But that's never stopped me before.
I was planning to mention the Meg & Dia concert I went to this week before the fog of old age makes me forget how great it was, but I don't think I have it in me. There has probably been too much blathering for any sane person to consume at once already. Soon, though. Probably.
1 We purchased a vehicle we expected to be piling miles on, a Nissan Rogue. It's coming in well under mileage, so it probably should have also been leased since we're not planning to play the old car game anymore.
2 When I say "crapped-up," I'm referring to covered wall space. Otherwise, it's actually really clean.