Discovering Pet Sounds

I grew up in a house with a musician but music was never a huge part of my life. My father played trumpet in a jazz band and I was always around musical people but I never really connected with music and it was never a real presence in my house. My parent’s would listen to the local pop radio station or, more likely, whatever station was playing the classics. I don’t really remember much other than maybe some stuff dad was working on for some of the shows he did but my musical experience for most of my life was pretty minimal. That probably explains why I don’t really connect with music today. With that in mind, it should come to no surprise that I never had any respect for The Beach Boys. It took about 40 years for that opinion to change.

Growing up I could probably recognize The Beach Boys songs just because those early, surf songs are part of our cultural consciousness. I can’t say I ever thought of the music as interesting or important. I was raised under the mythology of The Beatles. The narrative behind The Beatles is that they are the most influential rock band ever and that may be true. The Beach Boys were always that unoffensive music that is played between bands at the county festival or while playing musical chairs at school or things like that. What I remember of The Beach Boys was seeing them play a concert after a local AAA Baseball game back in the late 80s or early 90s. To me it was always outdated music from a different time. Certainly not anything of value for a kid coming of age in the time of “grunge”

By around 1995 I was well into my study of history in college. I had a professor that had done a lot of work in the history of sound and recording and during one of his classes he mentioned The Beach Boys and Pet Sounds and how that album in particular was extremely influential and important to the history of music. I didn’t understand that at all but I also didn’t forget it. I had never heard of Pet Sounds but I respected him enough to file the information away for later use. As time when on I started to pick up other bits of information that kept pointing back to this album as something special. I never actually bothered to listen to it but I began to realize there was a certain reverence for the album and it was especially strong with people who knew what they were talking about. Since I still didn’t really care about the guys that made “Kokomo” I just assumed it was old people pining away about the music of their youth but the idea that Pet Sounds was never completely forgotten.

Pet Sounds

Cut to around 1998 and I started listening to Barenaked Ladies. Not exactly a titanic musical force but I found a bit of a geeky kindred spirit in some of their songs and they are a band that my wife and I both enjoy which is pretty rare in our relationship. It was then that I discovered their song “Brian Wilson”. This just added to the mystery of the myth of Brian Wilson that had been growing in my head since that time in college. The song inspired me to find out more about Wilson and I read about his life and his struggles and while that filled in some gaps for me I still never picked up Pet Sounds. I found out what I needed to know to understand the song and then continued on my way, always remembering what my history professor said about the album but never going so far as to seek it out.

Ten years later I started collecting comics again, which you can read about in another post, and soon after I began to listen to podcasts and, more specifically, comic book related podcasts. My favorite podcast even to this day was and is iFanboy. One of the hosts, Josh Flanagan, is a fan of the album and would mention it on occasion. I honestly don’t remember exactly when it came up on the show but there must have been a bit of a discussion of the album in the later months of 2015 or the early months of 2016 because it coincided with another event and that was Christmas of 2015. My wife is a big John Cusak fan and I have been buying her one of his movies every Christmas for most of our relationship. It is just a tradition and for Christmas 2015 I believe the film was Love and Mercy. To be honest, I didn’t know much about it but it was available on the shelf at Best Buy and it had Paul Dano. I really liked Dano in There Will Be Blood. The movie seemed like a good choice and it knocked one off of my list so I bought it. We watched the film a few days after Christmas and that is really when I started to understand what was going on with Pet Sounds. 20 years after my professor at UAB mentioned the album I finally took the opportunity to listen to it for the first time. Since then the album and, more specifically, the recording of the album has come to intrigue and fascinate me and I have been inspired to learn as much as I can about those recording sessions and the history of The Beach Boys.

After the film I found a video on Netflix about the session musicians that helped craft the sound of the album, and a lot of other music of the time. The Wrecking Crew story in itself is fascinating but how they embraced Wilson and what he was working to create is really the story of legend. Pet Sounds is a special album and Wilson is a genius but it never could have been realized without these guys.

I have kept up researching The Beach Boys and the history of the band is one hell of story. Particularly intriguing is what happened when Brian stopped touring and how we basically ended up with the music that Brian created and this weird nostalgia act made of of some of the remaining members. The Beach Boy story even has a classic “villian” in front-man(?) Mike Love. One one hand you have a genius musician, producer and composer who loses control of himself and is subject to the whims of the people around him and on the other you have friend, cousin and band-mate who desperately craves the attention and fame that Wilson’s genius brought to the rest of the band but doesn’t have any of the talent to make it happen for himself and resorts to legal wrangling to keep the brand image of the band alive. Riveting stuff even if you don’t appreciate the music.

Most recently I watched a two part documentary on Wilson and it really goes into depth on the history of the band and particularly Wilson’s songwriting prowess. Both parts are available on YouTube and the first is shown below.

So after all of this, do I like Pet Sounds? That is a tough one. To be honest, it really doesn’t do much for me on a pure enjoyment level. I have come to appreciate the craftsmanship and work that went into the recording. I have an understanding on how it influenced other bands like The Beatles and pushed more complex composition into the recording of Rock-and-Roll and popular music. I even really dig a few of the tracks. As a whole, however, it isn’t really for me. I can’t really articulate why and anything I say will do the album a disservice both because my understanding of music is fairly limited and history has already proven that it is one of the great albums of all time but it isn’t something I would ever long to hear. It would not be on my “desert island” list. Even still, I remain fascinated by the story of the making of Pet Sounds and the life of Brian Wilson. If you are kind of like I was 20 years ago and see The Beach Boys as a bubble gum boy band from the 60s then I really suggest you take some time and learn a little more. Start with Love and Mercy and continue your journey of discover from there. It is worth the trip.

 

Where Have I Been?

That is a great question with a fairly mundane answer. I have been nowhere. Nowhere of note anyway. Things have been pretty routine. Get up, drop the kid off at school, go to work, pick the kid up from school, go back to work, go home, have dinner, watch a TV show, go to bed, repeat. That has pretty much been it since the first of the year. I mean, we as a country have had quite a lot going on. The nation is coming apart at the seams and all of that but for me it has been literally business as usual. Nothing to say, nothing to write about, nothing to be excited about. Just boring, middle aged white guy life. Actually, reading it that way kind of makes me sad. Meh, “so it goes” as a wise man once said.

I am looking forward to the summer. Not because I have something to do but it will be a break from the monotony. I will be going back to work by myself for a few months. I love having my daughter with me on the drive but I kind of miss the alone time as well. I haven’t been able to listen to podcasts and books because not everything I listen to is for all ears and some things are just really boring to her. It will be nice to get back to some of that for a little while. I also expect to get more exercise in during that time. I don’t always get to take the morning walk I have come to love because traffic and school but in the summer traffic should be less and I can go straight to the park. I hope I get there early enough each do that the Alabama heat does not bother me. That will be another “we shall see” situation.

I wish we had a vacation planned but at best we will go see my family in Kentucky. I don’t get to be there enough for my mother. Mom is fighting cancer again 3rd time is a charm right? If you can’t pick up the sarcasm there then let me assure you, it’s there. I don’t much believe in things being “fair” in life but the woman deserves a break. This time has been a struggle in that she is building up an allergic reaction to one of the drugs. Chemo is a bitch. You’d think we could have licked this disease by now but I guess boners are way more important. Good thing we have that problem solved. Yeah, sarcasm again.

In other news, I am into my 3rd week of staying off sugary drinks. Yep, I am trying this again. Feeling good about it so far except when I have a cook out. Coke or ALE-8-1 really goes well with a burger right off the grill. Still, I need to make it stick. My health isn’t so great and the only thing that can make it better is to lose weight. I can see my life getting shorter every day because of it and it is starting to really scare me. It is a slowly building fear but seems to be growing every day. I am not ready to die but I feel like it is coming sooner rather than later. I keep trying though. Maybe that counts in some way. I need to have what I think is a hernia repaired too. It doesn’t bother me that much but it is every present. I have a newfound understanding of what people in chronic pain must go through. That sucks but hey, at least they can get boners whenever they want! Thanks medical science!

So anyway. That is where I am and where I have been. Right here, going through the days as a real, live human being. Not a zombie. I think not a zombie. Am I a zombie? Can zombies type? Do zombies look forward to upcoming summer movies? Surely not. I guess not. Maybe they do and just can’t tell us. Maybe they are just mad that they have to wait. They seem to have anger issues.

Google Home

So a lot happened in 2016 but there is no need to rehash any of that hot mess. It’s over and good riddance! On to better things.

Google Home

Google Home

I picked up a Google Home with some Christmas money. This was totally an impulse buy and I knew when I clicked the “buy: button that I was ordering a toy. The thing is, everyone at work was getting one of these or an Amazon Echo and I just can’t be left behind when it comes to technology. Nope, can’t let that happen.

I chose the Google Home over the Echo for a couple of reasons. The main reason is that I am already invested in the Google environment. I use Gmail as my main email account. Google Calendar is my calendar of choice. Well, really it is my Exchange calendar at work but I have them integrated so if I ever had to give up my work account I would still have my Google Calendar. I use Android phones, we have Nexus devices in the house, and we have multiple Chromecast units. Staying within the Google environment seemed to make sense.

The other reason I went with the Google Home is more of a gamble. Amazon has a big headstart on Google and right now they have way more integrated services and apps. However, my bet is that Google will catch up quick and once it is all said and done, Google will outperform the Echo. What concerns me is that Amazon is making a pretty big play for the consumer with Amazon Prime and all of the services connected to Prime. If they can pull it all together and get the Echo working with multiple accounts then it could dominate the market. I am placing my bet on Google but I am fully willing to jump ships if the time arises. When it comes to the Internet of Things, IOT, Google certainly can be a major player IF they choose to dedicate their resources in that direction.

Here is a brief overview of the Google Home.

So, what am I using this for at the moment? Mostly I am using it to annoy my wife. I have set up some things with IFTTT.com that will get the Google Home to talk to me and then send my wife an email. For example, if I say “Hey Google, Jeff is awesome” then  the Google Home will respond “You damn right he is!” and then send my wife an email saying “Google Home just said Jeff is Awesome”. If I do this 15 times a day then she gets 15 emails. She hates that and I find it absolutely hilarious. Especially when I do it while she isn’t home. That email tells her exactly what I just did and I love it. I am still working on getting it to text her similar information but that integration is a bit wonky at the moment.

On the practical side, we are using this to play music in the kitchen as well as connect to castable applications like Pocket Casts for podcasts and YouTube for videos. It is also great for setting timers, getting information, and even checking on the news and weather before heading out for the day. In the future I hope to have some more Smart Home devices connected like a Nest thermostat. light switches, and security devices. I live in what basically amounts to a freestanding apartment so I don’t have a lot of things I need to wire up but being able to voice control porch lights and the temperature is kind of cool. I also expect other features to come along as the product matures.

I fully admit that Google Home is an adult toy and would have been something I would ask Santa for if I still did such a thing. It remains to be seen whether or not it will add any real value to my life but right now I am enjoying playing around with what it can do. If you have anything you want me to try, hit me up here or through any of the other social media outlets listed above.

“OK Google, post blog.”

Top of the Stack – “Tokyo Ghost”

Most of the writing here lately, what little there is, has been about comics and while I don’t see many people reading the posts I do enjoy writing them so I am going to continue to do so until I don’t. How’s that for commitment? I like the Key Issues column but I haven’t been able to do anything current and I don’t plan on doing any new releases there anytime soon or maybe ever so I am going to start a second column to deal with more recent releases and thus I give you Top of the Stack! This column will be for recent releases that I have read an enjoyed. Since I am not on any kind of preview list these books will already be out in stores and possibly even sold out but you can always get the digital version on Comixology. Well, maybe not ALWAYS but I expect that most of the books I review here will be there but if not, I am sure you can find it somewhere. If not, just drop a comment and I will figure out where you can find it. Now, on to this week’s book.

Tokyo Ghost Issue 10

Tokyo Ghost #10

It was hard to pick a book to start this column with but I settled on Tokyo Ghost #10, written by Rick Remender, art by Sean Gordon Murphy, and colors by Matt Hollingsworth. “But Jeff, that is the last issue of the series!” you might say and you would be correct but tell me when there is a better time to talk about a series than right after it is complete? Obviously a new reader would not want to run out and pick up this issue without reading the nine that came before it but the end of the series provides a great opportunity to talk about the story as a whole and hopefully inspire someone to seek it out. The whole thing is there for you to enjoy. No lines and no waiting.

Tokyo Ghost takes place in a future where technology has gotten out of hand. Imagine the humans from Wall-E but instead of living in the beautifully clean spaceship they are stuck at the bottom, hellish levels of Los Angeles in Blade Runner. In fact, this is Los Angeles, but this is the L.A. of 2089 where we have given in to the connected world. Everyone is jacked in to multiple forms of entertainment that is beamed directly into their eyes, ears and every other sensory organ in their bodies. Implants and self administered drugs are common and most of the world has checked out of reality which probably isn’t such a bad idea considering how bad the world is around them.

Living within this world are constables Led Dent and Debbie Decay. They take care of things that need taken care of and they are the best at what they do. Led is a beefed up tank who spends all of his time in the digital world while somehow is able to function as a feared patrolman of the L.A. streets. Debbie keeps Led on track while watching him disappear into the technology to which he has become addicted. Debbie, one of the few left not connected to the digital world, cares deeply for Led but can’t stand what he has become. She loves him completely and knows the person she once knew is still inside if only she could get him away from the digital hell L.A. has become. Soon she finds her paradise in the last, unconnected place in the world but keeping Led away from his addiction is more difficult than she can imagine. Debbie is sure if she can get Led to the green lands of Tokyo he might break his addiction and come back to her.

Tokyo Ghost

Page from Tokyo Ghost #10

It is hard to talk about the last issue of a series without giving everything away. The series has been great in both story and art from start to finish and it was always the first book I read when it was in my stack. I am actually very disappointed to read this issue and know that the story is over, at least for now. This is one of those books I looked forward to every month. Sean Murphy is off to DC Comics (this title is published by Image Comics) for a year long Batman project so I have to wonder if the series ended as was originally intended or if they wrapped it up knowing Murphy would be unavailable for some time. However, if this is how it is supposed to end then I am OK with how it wrapped up. It isn’t necessarily a happy ending but it is a good ending.

I often think about how things might be if we got the world Debbie wants and I am torn between wishing for it and hoping never to see it in my lifetime. I think that is about all one can really hope for in a book. If something entertains while making you evaluate your life and your world then it has done a good job and Tokyo Ghost hits all of those notes. I think it can be a little heavy handed at times but then again I don’t know that our society really sees what is happening so maybe what I view as heavy handed is really more subtle to the rest of the audience. Really I think that is my only criticism of the series. The art is fantastic and really suits the subject matter. Murphy’s art is deeply detailed and there are all kinds of little bits in the background worth seeking out. I am honestly a bit sad that I won’t have this world to return to every month.

Tokyo Ghost

Tokyo Ghost

Remender’s new book, Seven to Eternity, comes out tomorrow and it will be a must read. I think Tokyo Ghost is my first Remender but I will be on any independent book he publishers in the future. I am also reading his series Black Science in trade paperback form and it is awesome as well. This guy can really handle some Sci-Fi. I also understand that Deadly Class and Low are excellent but as much as I might want to I just can’t read everything. I am still waiting to hear more about Murphy’s new Batman project and Hollingsworth is working with Remender again on Seven to Eternity. If you check out anything these guys do in the future I suspect it will be worth your time.

Key Issues – “Superman 75”

By the summer of 1992 the comics industry was in a completely frenzy. Image Comics had begun their publishing onslaught with Spawn #1 selling almost 2 million copies. On the back of Image’s success, the entire industry found new life and new opportunities to sell books and make money. In order to catch eyes on the shelves, gimmick covers became big sellers to comic speculators buying multiple copies and hoarding them in closets and safety deposit boxes all over the country. These buyers scooped up every “Collector’s Edition”, foil cover, and artist variant while envisioning the mansions they would buy and the college educations they would fund with their shrewd comic investments. Of course what these “investors” didn’t realize is that the books they were buying would be worthless very soon. It wouldn’t be clear for another couple of years but the damage was done the moment the purchase was complete. Publishers feed the market with variant covers, ALL NEW #1s, poly-bagged books, foil covers, holograms, and various gimmicks of all kinds. It was in the shadow of this exploding market that DC Comics launched what would become the biggest comic book event in history.

The Man of Steel #17 - First Appearance of Doomsday

The Man of Steel #17 – First Appearance of Doomsday (My copy is not pictured)

I had just come back to comics earlier that summer and it was a gimmick cover that caught my eye at the time. I hadn’t yet become a big buyer but my subscription list was growing on a weekly basis. My local shop had a graduated discount structure so the more I bought the bigger my discount became. This encouraged me to continually add to my weekly subscription. As I earned more money I spent more of at the shop. I wasn’t buying Superman but the news that something big was going to happen to the character started to spread and I immediately added all the Superman titles to my pull-list. During this period, there were four different titles with one continuous story line so the only way to have a complete story was to buy them all. It allowed for creators to tell long stories but it also had the potential to sell four times more books. My subscription instantly grew by four titles as I fell for the upcoming major event.

I added the books early enough to get “Superman: The Man of Steel” # 17 which is the first, partial appearance of Doomsday who would go on to kill Superman. Well, maybe he kills him or maybe they both die of exhaustion or maybe they kill each other at the exact same moment or some other nonsense but yeah, Doomsday is the main bad guy of the story and has since become an important part of the Superman legacy. In the Summer of 1992, however, this character was a complete unknown and the first glimpse of him in this book piqued my interest. Still, I wasn’t exactly excited for the the story, i was just glad I jumped on at the right time. I was caught up in the hype as much as anyone else.

The big issue, Superman # 75, came out on November 18, 1992. What I remember most about this event is the actual day Superman 75 went on sale. The buzz had been building for weeks with local and national news covering the “Death of Superman”. Every newscaster and network was trying to put their own spin on what this would mean for the great American icon. Eventually the entire country knew what was happening and it became a major cultural event. Killing a symbol of America was not taken lightly, well, except all of those other times Superman died but didn’t have a big marketing push behind it but hey, THIS TIME it was for real! In the video below you can see some of the national coverage from major entertainment news outlets like E! News and  Entertainment Tonight. Every local news outlet covered it as well, especially if there was a local comic shop in town.

All of this coverage put the book in the public consciousness and a LOT of people that had never bought a comic decided they needed a copy of the death of Superman. Many thought this would be a valuable book in the future and they lined up at shops long before they opened for the day. DC, of course, had printed MILLIONS of the book to satisfy expected demand but many shops sold out almost instantly and many of those that didn’t quickly jacked up the price on every version of the book. I must have been out of school for the Thanksgiving/Christmas break because I remember riding around town all day with a friend and fellow comic book geek stopping at store after store just to see what was going on.

I had already picked up my copy at my favorite store, The Comic Strip. Like every other store they were selling out when I stopped in. I didn’t even get a first edition of the non-bagged version and I wasn’t about to open the black poly-bagged copy which meant I didn’t even get to read the story on the day it was released. I eventually got a 2nd print a week or so later and was able to read the story. There were half a dozen shops in town at the time and we got by all of them before the evening was out. Each store was consistently full of people and almost all of them had never set foot in a comic book store before. We saw prices for the book go from $10 to $25 to $75 to $150 into the evening and stores were staying open late to try and serve the demand. We would make the circuit from store to store and on each stop the advertised price had gone up from our previous visit. I am sure there were people that made a good profit that day. I even considered selling my book to someone but just couldn’t bring myself to let it go. I got caught up in the hype and couldn’t wait until it was worth a few thousand! I should have sold it that evening or the next day when prices got really crazy. Today it is worth about $10.00 if you are lucky. I could have sold my copy for $75-$100 and then bought it back a few weeks later for under $20.00. Opportunity missed I suppose. A few months later I did try and buy up a bunch of copies of the Return of Superman and resell them. That did not turn out as well as I had hoped. The frenzy was long since over by then.

The night ended and over the next few days the mania died and the entire event was eventually forgotten by the general public. Superman came back less than a year later but “The Death of Superman” became an historic even in comic book history for a lot of reasons. It was indicative of a new trend of killing off major characters in big ways. During the same time they broke Batman’s back and while it wasn’t as big of a deal as the Superman event it also got a lot of press. Hal Jordan, Green Lantern, went evil and was dispatched. Aquaman lost his hand. Other characters also saw major revisions to “modernize” them for new audiences. The event also legitimized the gimmick cover trend and it exploded in the months and years after. Every publisher chased the Superman #75 success and the poly-bag is still a big marketing gimmick that comes back every few years. The Superman #75 hysteria also fueled the speculator boom.

The Death of Superman is often considered the beginning of the boom but it also was a signal that the end was coming. The people trying to find good investments in comics eventually realized that this book would never be worth what they hoped. That led them to also begin to understand that no modern book would ever be worth the thousands like “Action Comics” #1 and they began to dump collections for pennies on what they paid.  Shops who hoarded “key books” found their investment worth nothing and with no more speculators buying up their stock they struggled to survive. It wouldn’t be long until all of these customers left the market and shops that sprung up like weeds during the early 90s started to close. There is a good series on the boom and bust at Comicbooked.com if you are interested in further exploring what happened in the wake of “Superman” #75.

As the industry entered collapse, my interest also waned.  My store  moved locations and then sold to the local competitor which I kind of despised. Predictably, they started shorting customers on books and the certainly didn’t do anything to keep me as a customer.  I closed my account in 1996 and the store itself closed sometime after that. I would be gone for about a decade. I still have most of my collection acquired during the 90s. I have sold some stuff including all Marvel books and much of the Image books I purchased during that time but the majority of it is still there, in the closet, waiting to be read again. Shown below are my copies of Superman #75. The black bag edition is still unopened but I have the 2nd print of the standard edition that I can revisit as needed. Maybe one day I will sit down with my grandchildren and open the book like some kind of time capsule. That might be fun or maybe one day my family will sell the entire collection and have a nice dinner after I die. Either way it was a fun time and I have great memories of the day Superman died.

Superman 75 1st and 2nd print from my collection.

Superman 75 1st and 2nd print from my collection.