When you are English, and a young man, and with a certain type of tertiary–level education, and you have an older brother who is switched on to with–it sounds, and then besides you have a certain slant to your way of thinking –– and I am, and I was, and I am, and I do, and I do –– you are very apt to veer perversely and deliberately from the main stream, the shining path, the Western Canon constructed by your humdrum peers, and to scramble into the hawthorne bush, and then to blunder on, deeper and thicker, into the most distant darkest precincts of thought.
Which is to say: the young men will always try to out-do each other in being willfully obscure.
I fell so deeply into this delirium, this revery of anti-commercialism, that I began to recoil from anything that was readily available. This bad trait has often led me to good places, of course, and is an instinct that has seen me right as often as it has led me astray. It is manifested even today in my unconscious (or semi-conscious, since here I am writing about them) habits. I will take books out through Los Feliz library and read them in the bath, while I leave neglected on the shelves all those books that I have purposely tracked down and actually bought because I want to read them, because I like them. Instead I persist in looking for that which I do not have, do not know, do not need to know. It's like watching Real Housewives of Orange Country when I have had the DVDs of the Sabata Trilogy waiting to be watched for over a year.
I have written on a piece of paper and tacked to the top shelf of a bookcase the Thoreau quotation, "READ THE BEST BOOKS FIRST, OR YOU MAY NOT HAVE A CHANCE TO READ THEM ALL." I put it up, knowing it to be excellent good advice, but still from day to day I find myself straying very far from what I am actually excited by, in search of fresh game. Some of the directions this takes me in are patent cul-de-sacs. This is all prologue to a few brief remarks about the Bob Stanley–"curated" Robin Gibb three CD set.
Review #1. Robin Gibb, Saved By The Bell: Collected Works, 1968–1970.
Which, I been listening to it. This collects his first solo album, the excellent Robin's Reign, reproduced lovingly in Mono and Stereo versions –– a "deluxe extra" the merits of which have always eluded my understanding, but then I am not a subscriber to Mojo –– and a second disc with out-takes, Italian versions, demos, and interviews.*
It also contains Gibb's "lost classic" Sing Slowly Sisters, an album Bobbin Gibb recorded in some primitive style but never released. I had read about this lost ana, and being an early Bee Gees cultist, had always wanted a copy. So some years ago I got my regular bootleg man, one D. Oregon Morgan, currently residing in northern Sweden they say, to procure a copy for me. It probably wasn't that hard to track down using the internet, but I was always loath to download torrents for the very bourgeois fear of getting a virus, or I was too timorous and paranoid, afraid I would get arrested for making illegal downloads. Damian scoffed at me and took the "risks" on my behalf.
I should say that as a preface, like when people say, "Long story short" before telling a story. Before you begin, say "Boring aside:"
Anyway I didn't really listen to the Bob Gibb lost album once I had it –– typical –– so it continued to wobble in the back of my conscious mind as a sort of lost classic. However, I did listen to the copy of the Warner Brothers Album by the Residents Oregon "obtained" for me and it was largely terrible. Ditto another, unnameable, unmentionable, unreleased album the Residents made before their classic, Meet The Residents.
There should be a name for such crummy disappointments. It's like a Thomas Pynchon novel. You might read about it, read around it, hear it praised by critics who refer breathlessly to the various motifs and the obscure symbols and the erudition, and emit short quotations, and you think, "This sounds like a great book verily." Like Pound in "Moeurs Contemporaines," you'd say "This is a darn'd clever book!"
Then you finally get around to reading it, and it is a gross pronounced disappointment, a pathetic bellyflop from the high diving board into the kiddie pool, and the imaginary book it could have been floats away out of grasp, yet to be realized, never to be manifested at least from the gnarled, withered hand of TOM RUGGLES.
It's a Pynchonian effect. Well, so when Bob Stanley and Rhino Records released this 3CD Bobbin Gibbons set, I took about a year to get round to listening to it, listening to no end of marginal chaff first. Now I have finally listened to it, I thought: "This sounds like Tiny Tim with a metronome covering the Residents' Commercial Album but with the lyrics of Noel Gallagher."
That makes it sound better than it is––
Review Two: Tom DeFalco, Strange Days TPB (Fantastic Four #s 403–416)
As handsome partner to this disappointment, I had had it in my head for years that Tom DeFalco's period writing the Fantastic Four (early–mid Nineties) was a great underrated run. I must have read it in the Oughts in Brooklyn, and still thought so. Were my standards so far lower then? Did I think I could live forever, and so tolerate salt water? So comparatively recently?
Rereading the "run", it is quite urgently bad. DeFalco (or, as Autocorrect aptly calls him, "Deflate") does awful tracts of exposition "concealed" within asinine conversation. He is extremely guilty of writing the Thing as the most wearisome purveyor of stale quips in comicdom –– makes the current (loathsome) Spider-Man or Deadpool, even when he has a bad writer, sound like the late Dorothy Parker of New York City.
Even the Thing's team mates –– including that professional lover of all things vacant,
fun foam and silly string, Johnny Storm, gracious sakes –– are sick of his incessant
nervous wisecracking. They wish he'd lose his rocks and TRUCK off home! (#385)
(#399)Johnny's sister, "Susie" Richards has no time for Thing's automatic knee-jerk
need to leaven the moment with an empty comic metaphor. She echoes the late
Ronald Reagan of California, who said, "Mr. Gorbachev, please tear down
this stupid ugly heap of bricks!" (#389)
Their enemies feel the same way. This is not actually Dr. Doom's
"faithful retainer" Boris, it is really Zarkko the Tomorrow Man, a
Thor villain thoroughly superseded by Kang and Immortus,
presumably using an image "inducer", very like that extremely
interesting device used by Nightcrawler of the X-Men. Nevertheless,
the thought is one universally held. (#398. Zarrko recurs, used well
for once, in Dan Jurgen's excellent Thor Volume 3.)
Aron the Renegade Watcher speaks for the many. (#398)
So say we all. (#399)
This run also features the sensational disappearance of Reed Richards and Doctor Doom for about forty issues. Good call, Tom. Get rid of the most interesting characters to concentrate on the bit parts. Thist allowed DeFalco to develop (however cack-handedly) the interesting character created by that arrogant genius Johnny Byrne: Kristoff Vernard, the twelve-year old boy with the mind of Doctor Doom programmed into his own brain. Englehart continued it in FF and then West Coast Avengers in a storyline where Kristoff and Doom were at war, because it was unclear which one was the authentic Doom. The boring postgraduate in me nods and remarks: Good examination of identity. DeFalco ("Deflate") futzes around with the dregs of it.
One touch I did like. Every few issues while Reed Richards is absent DeFalco features a panel where the Thing suspends momentarily his dreary wisecracking to indulge in a little revery about how he misses Reed Richards's windbag expositions. I don't know if DeFalco was aware that he kept repeating himself, or if it was a running joke.
Why did I ever rate this run? Was it my awful perversity, my appetite for obscurity, creeping up and clouding my better judgement? I was girding myself to make a critical case for Tom DeFalco as a great underrated writer, alongside Larry Hama and Mark Gruenwald, while condemning Frank Miller and even Alan Moore as overrated. I had the thesis in my head. Even wrote down a brief summa. But rereading this, I thought, "This is bad awfulness. What demon possessed me, that I rated it so well?"
I had been looking for copies of the run (second copies, since I have the full run in storage in Oxfordshire even as I sit at my desk in Los Feliz) in Roger's Time Machine, now on Tenth Street. When I went to pay for them, Roger was justifiably aghast. "You're buying them, and passing over issues of the Byrne run?" I lisped faintly, "It's a great underrated run, Roger."
No it isn't. It has some great plot elements if you can abide the diabolical dialogues. These issues featured the heights of the obscure meddling done by that cocksman that old Priapus Nathaniel Richards, his unctuous insinuation that not only was he was the father of Reed Richards, he also fathered Dr. Doom and Kritoff Vernard. This is the storyline where Franklin Richards is transformed from a prating five-year-old to a dynamic alt–future twenty–something (presumably to cash in on Cable and get some of that X-Men money).
Both these rather excessive plot elements were revived to good effect by the good Hickman decades later. It also features the very interesting (if thoroughly botched) Celestial/Watchers war. Still, I bought the trade paperback Strange Days collecting #s 403–416 and it has taken me about 180 "strange days" just to try and read half of it. The book never seems to end. I started it with the naive thought, "This will be a good prologue to rereading the Hickman run." That was almost a year ago.
Not much more to say than that. Did you ever claim something was underrated, and then realize in the tabernacle of your inner soul that you'd overrated it?
* * * * * * * * * *
Speaking of Bob Stanley, I love to tell the story of the time in the late–mid– Nineties when Laurence Remila and I were in the Spread Eagle, Camden, where we habitually went to drink junk, and snarl and ogle at gurls, and to bait the minor indie rock stars. We'd go from the Mixer to the Dublin Castle to the Eagle. Ash and Menswear and Bob Stanley. We were bugging Bob there then, and I was ker–blunk on Strongbow cider and avowing forcefully that Pussy Galore's Dial M For Motherfucker was the single greatest LP in the known space–time hemisphere. (That might still be true.) "Do you not like it?" I said to BOB with malice. "Rock?! Does it frighten poor Bobby?" I said. "Don't you get it? The rock machine? Don't it turn you on?" I said. "Don't you love to kick out the jams?"
Then (or was it another time) I was swaying in the passage between the bar and the front door leading down to the sort of lounge, cornering Bob to lament anent the sad state of pop and waxing nostalgic about the Manchester band World of Twist. "Zzvat was a good group. Zzzz a good group out uh Manchester! Remember that zong, 'Sons of the Stage.' Good group!, toally vuhgotten by the timezzz. Lost to us forever, helas, sad to say, never to return." Bob Stanley replied, "Actually, they're sitting over there at my table." I squinted over to where he and his cronies sat, the banquette seats in the front side of the pub, and there indeed were several members of World of Twist. And I went, "Oh yeah. So they are. Oh well, they were all right I guess."
Same principle. You get my point, right? Same thing going on.
We love to rate things and overrate them because of our own petty egos. We attach ourselves parasitically to works done by others to elevate ourselves socially in the marketplace and in the boudoir. Like we're the best fucking curators of refined and delicate objects in the world.
Well we're NOT.
* On one interview the Radio 1 deejay –– could be Alan Freeman [It's Brian Matthew –– ed.] –– asks Robin what he's been up to and Robin reveals he's been writing a short story collection. Robin mispronounces the word "Dickensian" and then reveals, in that rarefied noli mi tangere voice, without the crucial sense of his own ridiculousness that marks common mortals, that he is also looking to make a film of his writings. "And again there is the writing of musical scores." The deejay shoots back, with some irony, "Mm. Well, there you go. You can do the lot. You don't paint do you, by any chance?" Unusually astute barb, I thought. Robin obliviously replies, "Well yes I do actually."