Like Kraven, we’ve gotten old! And also like Kraven, we’ve got Spider-Man on the brain! Come join us as we read one of the best Spider-Man yarns ever spun: J.M. DeMatteis’s “Kraven’s Last Hunt”! And stay tuned to the end for a discussion on the fate of our Spectacular Podcast.
The original column was published on December 29th, 2018 and can be found below.
In the event that this fantastic voyage Should turn to erosion and we never get old Remember it’s true, dignity is valuable But our lives are valuable too
Here we go! We’re at the end of Bowie’s Berlin trilogy. We started with Low, continued with “Heroes,” and now we’re finishing up with Lodger. I’ll be back to monthly after this, so I’m excited to see where I end up in January.
Full disclosure, right up front. I don’t have nearly as much of an attachment to Lodger as I do Low and “Heroes.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good album. For sure. It just doesn’t have as grandiose of a thesis as the last two. It kind of wanders and is a bit all over the place. But that’s why it works for me. When you’re going through a transitional period, you can’t always end up in a clear, concise, and obvious place of growth. You usually just end up “here.” And you usually can’t tell where here is until you’re already… somewhere else. But it’s important to remember how you got “here.” Even when that trip was a rough one, it’s still, as Bowie calls it, a “Fantastic Voyage.”
But any sudden movement I’ve got to write it down They wipe out an entire race and I’ve got to write it down But I’m still getting educated but I’ve got to write it down And it won’t be forgotten ‘Cause I’ll never say anything nice again, how can I?
We’re learning to live with somebody’s depression And I don’t want to live with somebody’s depression We’ll get by, I suppose
There’s a lot of interesting directions Bowie and Eno choose to take on their final (for now) collaboration. Songs like “African Night Flight” and “Yassassin” pick up where the final song on “Heroes,” “The Secret Life Of Arabia” left off, with Bowie and Eno experimenting with world music. These serve as the most diverse songs on the record, which doesn’t feature any of the ambitious atmospheric instrumental pieces the last two albums featured. I don’t have a whole lot to say about them, but these serve to define the eclectic and meandering style of the record. Coupled with the German influenced “Red Sails,” this record really feels like Bowie wandering around the world trying to find the next musical outlet to call “here.” In case the diverse styles aren’t enough to convince us of this, here’s Bowie on “Move On.”
Sometimes I feel the need to move on So I pack a bag and move on Well I might take a train or sail at dawn Might take a girl when I move on
Somewhere, someone’s calling me And when the chips are down I stumble like a blind man Can’t forget you
The second side of the album is more focused and thematically driven. After establishing that Bowie can do whatever he wants on Side A, Side B is all about expectations and what those restrictions can do to people. Now that Bowie has broken out of the standards he’s set on his own records, it’s time to explore just what that kind of pressure can do when you *can’t* break free of it, in four different acts.
First, in “Look Back In Anger,” we see the set up. No matter where the pressure is coming from, we can so often only get mad and just wait for it to reach a tipping point.
Then “Boys Keep Swinging.” What about privilege? Can these societal pressures benefit some of us? Is it fair? What’s the downside to that?
Heaven loves ya, The clouds part for ya, Nothing stands in your way When you’re a boy Clothes always fit ya, Life is a pop of the cherry When you’re a boy Uncage the colors, Unfurl the flag, Luck just kissed you hello When you’re a boy Learn to drive and everything, You’ll get your share When you’re a boy
Well, the downside is for the people that tell those boys no. Nothing’s ever their fault, everyone else is just getting in their way. When someone is expected to be handed everything, over and over again, how does that person confront people that say no? Usually pretty poorly, as he lays out in “Repetition.”
He’ll get home around seven ‘Cause the chevy’s real old And he could have had a cadillac If the school had taught him right And he could have married Anne with the blue silk blouse And the food is on the table But the food is cold (Don’t hit her) “Can’t you even cook? What’s the good of me working when you can’t damn cook?” Well Johnny is a man And he’s bigger than her I guess the bruises won’t show If she wears long sleeves But the space in her eyes shows through And he could have married Anne with the blue silk blouse Shows through
And finally, he concludes the album, and this theme with “Red Money.”
Oh, can you feel it in the way That a man is not a man? Can you see it in the sky That the landscape is too high? Like a nervous disease And it’s been there all along It will tumble from the sky It’s been there all along Project cancelled Tumbling central Red money Can you hear it fall Can you hear it well Can you hear it at all
Lodger is a complicated album. Sure, it’s use of world music, and hooks helped influence so many musicians for decades to come, but at the time it was met with a pretty middle of the road response. But I think that’s fitting. After the masterpieces of Low and “Heroes,” expectations couldn’t be higher for a listener going in to Lodger. And what do you find? Wandering through different styles, grasping to see what works or what resonates with an artist in limbo. I’ve heard it described as a thesis-less album, but what if that’s the point? Aren’t we all unfocused, thesis-less people until we move on and someone decides what our “defining” thesis was? Sometimes we get the honor of deciding, but more often than not, it’s just the imprint that we left on someone else that actually matters. We’re all just different stages of put together as we fall sloppily through someone else’s idea of a narrative. If Lodger is about anything, it’s about the struggle of finding the balance of who you are, how society helped create that person, and how hard it is to overcome those expectations. There’s no clear answer, within the record or within ourselves, but at least the record ends with a hopeful:
The original column was published on December 22nd, 2018 and can be found below.
Something in the night Something in the day Nothing is wrong but darling, something’s in the way There’s slaughter in the air Protest on the wind Someone else inside me Someone could get skinned, how? (My, my) someone fetch a priest You can’t say no to the beauty and the beast
I’m back and so is Bowie! Last week, I covered his 1977 masterpiece, Low. And don’t worry! Next week I’ll be talking about the final piece of the trilogy, Lodger.
But today is all about “Heroes.”
If Low was about facing your demons and recognizing where you went wrong, “Heroes” is all about what comes after that realization. From the opening track, “Beauty And The Beast,” I could feel Bowie’s desire to grow. But not by forgetting the past or ignoring your mistakes. Our flaws and origin stories are a part of us, whether or not we let them define us; ignoring them only makes it harder to prevent slipping back into those old habits.
I wanted to believe me I wanted to be good I wanted no distractions Like every good boy shouldNothing will corrupt us Nothing will compete Thank god heaven left us Standing on our feet (My, my) Beauty and the beast
Facing my struggles head on really is the only way I’ve found that helps me get over them. Pretending that you’re perfect just creates a cycle of constant avoidance and Bowie lays that out on this record. Like in “Joe The Lion,” a song that, to me, pretty clearly makes a case against the strong face we put all of our energy into maintaining instead of just letting everything in. It creates a cycle of “always on guard, always defensive” that isn’t good for anybody.
I’ve always had trouble with letting little things go. I always hold grudges and because of that, the slightest things set me off. This has been a pretty constant theme of my arguments with those I care about, as I’m so often saying “No, it has barely anything to do with this thing, it’s a larger issue.” If I could just address the issues as they happened, instead of staying silent at the time, these things wouldn’t build up so badly and I wouldn’t put all of my stresses onto one innocuous event. Moments that seem trivial to others often become these huge turning points, character defining moments, or silent breakdowns for me.
Sons of the silent age Listen to tracks by Sam Therapy and King Dice Sons of the silent age Pick up in bars and cry only once Sons of the silent age Make love only once but dream and dream Don’t walk, they just glide in and out of life They never die, they just go to sleep one day
Like Low,“Heroes” ends with several instrumental tracks that are just as beautifully constructed by Bowie and Eno as the ones from the last record. “Sense Of Doubt” is a terrifying and deep bass-heavy piece, but with swells of treble optimism. “Moss Garden” is an exploration of calm tranquility. “Neukoln” feels like a tense, dissonant sci-fi soundtrack that draws from both of the previous pieces. Just sit in a room and spend a few minutes with headphones on. I think this block is even more immersive and well-constructed than the ones on Low and are worth really diving into. They close the record with questions on where to go, like Low, but this time, I felt like some of the answers were hidden in there. Just waiting to be revisited and re-contextualized when I was ready for them. Now, of course, I can’t leave without talking about the title track. But I’m going to break chronology again and talk about another song first, “Blackout.” It pairs well with my main takeaway from “Heroes,” that the only way to really accept and move on from your flaws is to take them one day at a time. One of the major beliefs I hold is that love is the most empowering force in the world. Sure, I’ve had plenty of times in my life where I projected way too much of my happiness and self-worth on a relationship, but that unhealthy dynamic too often overshadows the inspiration and strength that we can pull from love. “Blackout” sets up the co-dependence trap that so many of us have fallen into. We’re all waiting to be saved, waiting for a dramatic kiss in the rain that fills all the emptiness, but if you wait for someone else to do all the work, you’ll never get there.
Get me to the doctor Get me off the streets (Get some protection) Get me on my feet (Get some direction) Hot air gets me into a blackout Oh, get me off the streets Get some protection Oh, get me on my feet
That brings us to the title track, ““Heroes.”” This song means the world to me. What does it mean to be a hero? Is it always being perfect? Is it always being the strong one saving everyone? No. A hero is someone who loves. A hero is someone who lets themselves be loved. They draw on the strength from those that they love and that love them back. They lift each other up and work together. Everyday we fight the villainy of our own inner demons. We don’t always win, but together, we can learn how to not lose, just one day at a time. All it takes to be a hero is to do what you can, even if it’s just for one day.
I will be King and you will be Queen Though nothing will drive them away We can beat them, just for one day
It’s not about erasing or hiding your weaknesses. It’s about embracing them. Maybe as a cautionary tale. Maybe to see those same weaknesses in people we can help. Maybe just to remind yourself how far you’ve come and how strong you truly are.
And you can be mean and I’ll drink all the time Cause we’re lovers and that is a fact Yes, we’re lovers, and that is that Though nothing will keep us together We could steal time, just for one day
Even if we aren’t strong enough today; maybe today we just can’t fight. So? There’s no harm in trying. And that’s all a hero is. Someone who tries, no matter what. No one’s a hero until they try to be one.
I can remember standing by the wall And the guns shot above our heads And we kissed, as though nothing could fall And the shame was on the other side We can beat them, for ever and ever We’re nothing, and nothing will help us Maybe we’re lying, then you better not stay But we could be safe, just for one day
Flashuary continues! This time we’re tackling Geoff Johns’ (first) Flash run! Ryan really loves this book! But do the others (no)? Meet the (third) Reverse Flash, Zoom! And let’s throw in some gorillas while we’re at it. It’s DEFINITELY very serious and not dumb at all!
The original column was published on December 15th, 2018 and can be found below.
Baby, I’ve been breaking glass in your room again Listen don’t look at the carpet I drew something awful on it See you’re such a wonderful person But you got problems I’ll never touch you
It’s been a rough month. The only way I can bring myself to describe it is transitional. And my main companion throughout it has been David Bowie. Last month, I talked about why and when I started listening to Bowie, so I won’t reiterate, but the shorthand context is that I just got married and election day came and went. And for this month, I’m going to dive into my favorite era and for the next few weeks, I’ll be covering an album from the Berlin Trilogy.
Up first is Low.
I’m new to the whole Bowie catalog and… lore would probably be the best way to describe the many personas and phases of his career. The first album that really resonated with me was the incredible Station To Station, under his Thin White Duke persona. Which if you don’t know, is an interesting and controversial era for him, when he made a lot of seemingly pro-fascist remarks, which he later attributed to cocaine and drug abuse. Following the end of that era, Bowie moved to the still-divided city of Berlin to escape the toxicity of his lifestyle in LA and work on his next three records with Brian Eno, the first of which is Low.
When I first learned this context, I had already fallen in love with the record, after getting caught in a blizzard with it for a very tense two hour drive home in the snow, but the story behind it made me take a closer look at what Bowie was trying to say. I was soon struck by just how much it really resonated with my feelings over the last month. From “Be My Wife.”
Please be mine Share my life Stay with me Be my wife
I hadn’t realized just how much of my anxiety and anger at the world was being scapegoated into the aforementioned wedding and election. I was constantly saying “Once we get through this, we’ll finally have time to…” and “Once this all goes right, I’ll be way better, I promise” to no one but myself. Afterwards, I felt… empty? The wedding was perfect and the election was a wave. Objectively, everything should be great now, but I wasn’t being honest with my problems in the first place. Just like Bowie’s (and America’s) temporary love affair with unchecked fascism, I was putting so much faith in this larger idea to just fix everything without having to actually rectify the issues inside of me. Hoping to be saved left me bottling up a lot of things I’ve struggled with for years, like my anger. I started really retreating into myself, choosing headphones over my stereo and sitting alone in my office instead of working in the open living room. Too often, when I tried to open up, I just found myself in another argument. More often than not they were either my own fault or I was over exaggerating the effect of someone else’s flaws. The next song, “What In The World,” lays it out better than I can.
Deep in your room, you never leave your room Something deep inside of me – yearning deep inside of me Talking thru the gloom What in the world can you do? I’m in the mood for your love I’m just a little bit afraid of you So what you gonna say and what you gonna do? Ah, what you gonna be?
I’ve always struggled with a lot of internal rage. At society, at my friends, at my family, the list goes on. I’m always aware that I’m flying off the handle, but I just can’t bring myself to stop. Even when, no, especially when those that I love are the focus, I can’t help it. I hate it, but I’m trying. Throughout Low, Bowie talks a lot about how hard it is to break the toxic cycles that define us, even when you know you’re being watched by those affected. In “Always Crashing The Same Car:”
Jasmine, I saw you peeping As I put my foot down to the floor I was going round and round the hotel garage Must have been touching close to ninety-four
Structurally, Low is a fascinating album. The first 7 songs are complete, but only just. They’re primarily shorter snippets, some instrumental, that fade out right when you start to get the feel of what Bowie was going for. As soon as I felt the connection and message I was looking for, Bowie leaves, leaving us both with the same problems we had before he started. This happens over and over on the record; I’m never ready to hear the end of a song like “Sound And Vision.”
Pale blinds drawn all day Nothing to read Nothing to say Blue Blue I will sit right down Waiting for the gift of sound and vision And I will sing Waiting for the gift of sound and vision Drifting into my solitude Over my head Don’t you wonder sometimes ‘Bout sound and vision?
And the way the album ends is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. The final songs are mostly instrumental (or with atmospheric and often non-English vocals), so I can’t really show you any excerpts here. During the following year’s tour, he opened with the first of these “Warszawa” to make sure the audience was patient and ready to really experience the show (side note, listen to David Bowie: Stage, it might be my favorite live album). These pieces sound like the perfect soundtrack to my favorite movie, whether it exists or not. They’re somber. They’re complex. They’re so… deep and rich in instrumentation and tone. This is exactly what I’ve been feeling sounds like and that… helps.
The Berlin trilogy’s first entry really means the world to me and really set me up to try to face my issues head on instead of projecting and scapegoating. How’s that going? Next week, I’ll talk about how “Heroes” started to help me answer that question.
Flashuary continues! Under the tutelage of Jay Garrick, Wally West is now the current Flash—but not for long! A familiar face shows up at his doorstep and flips his world upside-down! In order to overcome this new adversary, Wally West will have to confront the legacy of Barry Allen—and surpass it!
The original column was published on November 15th, 2018 and can be found below.
It’s silly, no? When a rocket ship explodes and everybody still wants to fly But some say a man ain’t happy unless a man truly dies Oh why? Time. Times.
I realized something recently. I don’t listen to music on accident. I’ve never really listened to the radio, not really as a kid and not now. Because of that, there’s a whole lot of music that everyone seems to know but me. But with the way I talk about music, and spit seemingly endless trivia, this always comes as a surprise to people. I have these huge gaps and I’ve been making a real effort to fill them lately. There are several reasons why I’m finally expanding my base, so let’s hit some of the big ones.
I’ll address the elephant mascot in the room real quick and just say, yeah, the world is absolutely terrible and the regular old escapism I’ve relied on for years just isn’t cutting it anymore. But that’s obvious and boring and stressful to talk about, so let’s get more micro here and forget the macro for a second.
I recently got married. My major source of stress/pride at the wedding was that, instead of a DJ or a band, I pre-mixed music that we chose ourselves. I’ve always loved pop, but my partner was much better versed in dance music and R & B than me. So when it came time to mix these playlists, there was a lot of music in there that had this vague familiarity, but was basically foreign to me. But, after listening to these songs over and over (and over), I started feelin’ it a bit. And seeing everyone on the dance floor really made me take a closer listen to what I was missing.
Right around the same time I was making this playlist, my partner gave me a bag of CDs for my birthday. Now, if anyone knows me, they know I don’t really let people just pick media for me. I do tons of research, make a plan on how best to immerse myself in the material, and dive DEEP into what makes whatever I’m into SO good. (Yeah, I know, the most sterile way to enjoy media organically, but what’re you gonna do? I only get to listen to something for the first time once.) But this time, my almost-wife made a plan for me and pushed me to start filling two of my biggest gaps, Prince and David Bowie.
I’m sure you’ll hear more about Bowie in a later column, but I’m here to talk about Prince. I followed her plan and started with 1999. It was great! But it didn’t *really* speak to me yet. Yeah, “1999” and “Lady Cab Driver” ruled, but I didn’t really feel like I was missing out all these years. Then I went on to Parade. Ok, I was starting to get it. “Girls & Boys,” “Under The Cherry Moon,” and “Kiss” were some killer tracks. Then it ends with “Sometimes It Snows In April,” and my god. I was really looking forward to the third album in her list.
This was the album I needed to get me through the weeks leading up to the wedding and the dreaded midterm elections. The opening title track is somehow both so 1987 and so relevant. I’ll let Prince speak for himself.
In France, a skinny man died of a big disease with a little name By chance his girlfriend came across a needle and soon she did the same… Hurricane Annie ripped the ceiling of a church and killed everyone inside You turn on the telly and every other story is tellin’ you somebody died A sister killed her baby ’cause she couldn’t afford to feed it And yet we’re sending people to the moon… Baby make a speech, Star Wars fly Neighbors just shine it on But if a night falls and a bomb falls Will anybody see the dawn?
Double albums tend to have a bunch of filler, but every song on this album is so damn good. Just when the first disc starts to wrap up, as my unmarried life wrapped up with it, you get the fantastic ballad closer, “Forever In Your Life.”
All that is wrong in my world, You can make right You are my saviour, You are my light Forever I want you in my life There comes a road in every man’s journey A road that he’s afraid to walk on his own I’m here to tell you that I’m at that road And I’d rather walk it with you than walk it alone You are my hero, You are my future When I am with you, I have no past Oh baby, my one and only desire Is find some way in this doggone world To make this feeling last
The second half of the record is just as great as the first, and if you’ve never heard it, you gotta give “If I Was Ur Girlfriend” or “Strange Relationship” a listen right now. The jams in “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” and “It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night” are worth the price of admission on their own and really showcase just what a diverse and talented group of musicians Prince brought together for this era of his career.
But the last song on this record I gotta talk about is possibly my favorite Prince song, “The Cross.” I’m not going to pull any lyrics because the song shouldn’t be experienced without hearing Prince’s voice. The first time I heard Prince’s screams in this song, I said, out loud, “My god. I get it now. This isn’t just Prince. This is Prince.” I’m an atheist, but my god, “The Cross” is a religious experience. And no one should die without knowing it.
I may be late to the party, and I know Prince isn’t here anymore. It breaks my heart, but records like this show that Prince made sure the party would keep raging long after he left us. This isn’t just a perfect record. It’s not just the highest point in a career filled with mountain ranges of highs. It’s not just about holding on to the love around you while your society darkens and radicalizes it’s traditional “values” around you. It’s a little of everything we had in 1987 and it’s a little of everything we still have.
The original column was published on May 28th, 2018 can be found below.
Oh, for once in my Oh, for once in my life Could just something go Could just something go right?
I don’t think I enjoy media anymore. Well, that’s a lie. I still love things, just not in the same ways I used to. I used to just pop on a record or watch a movie and just enjoy the ride without analyzing every single emotional beat and what it means to me at that exact moment. That’s a lie, too, but it’s easier to pretend that this is some big shift into the dramatic.
The first time I heard The Decemberists’ I’ll Be Your Girl, their newest record, I was driving home from a late night meetup with some friends on Record Store Day with my better half asleep in the front seat. When the first song, “Once In My Life,” started, it seemed like the Decemberists I’ve loved for a decade and I was feelin’ it. But then all these synths came in and I was… feelin’ it less. If you’ve never listened to them, they mostly write folky songs about boats and chimneys and medieval queens. After that first listen through, the record sat on my shelf for a month and didn’t get a whole lot of revisiting. Fast forward and I’m listening to it on repeat and crying on the side of the highway. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Since the election, I’ve been struggling with a lot. I feel guilty when I enjoy things that seem “trivial,” but I’ve also felt that those things are more important than ever. I’ve always been an escapist, but I was having a harder time escaping and not yelling “But think about what it represents in a larger context! Think about the ramifications of this story in Trump’s America!” to any squirrel or rabbit who hadn’t yet learned to run away at the first sign of “Post-modern breakdown Ryan.” This was embodied by my two favorite releases of 2017: Paramore’s After Laughter and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. They captured the dichotomy of this feeling better than I could explain. After Laughter is an 80s-style synth-pop record that’s so easy to dance to. But on the first listen, I missed just how sad Hayley Williams’ lyrics were on it. The big single from the album, “Hard Times,” was my “fun song of the summer,” but… well, I’ll let her explain.
All that I want Is to wake up fine Tell me that I’m alright That I ain’t gonna die All that I want Is a hole in the ground You can tell me when it’s alright For me to come out
Gonna make you wonder why you even try Hard times – gonna take you down and laugh when you cry These lives – and I still don’t know how I even survive Hard times – And I gotta get to rock bottom
And my favorite song of the record, “Fake Happy,” is… pretty self explanatory. Just like my 2017: wow, there’s a lot of great stuff in here and it’s so much fun! But woah, this narrator just shoe horns in some sad and self loathing stuff the whole time!
I’m not gonna go into a whole thing about Last Jedi. Enough people have heard my rant on how it’s all about identity politics and rejecting the savior mentality of the Berniecrats in a post-Obama world, while also rejecting the obsession with legacy and the past that the establishment Democrats won’t leave behind. But there’s so many good jokes and fun settings in it! So yeah, Star Wars.
So that brings me to The Decemberists and I’ll Be Your Girl. Knowing that it had some poppier production, I figured it would be a fun escape from all the terrible. And this time, I really listened to Colin Meloy’s lyrics. It wasn’t! At all! The opening lines are up at the top, but hell, did I start feelin’ it this time through. The songs seem dancy and poppier than the Decemberists have ever been, but the lyrics are maybe Colin’s best. There’s a track that sounds like a real throwback to the lighthearted mid-00s sound that I frequently pined to when it played over a crush’s myspace page, but with an added choir of children singing “We All Die Young.” I pulled open the case and saw a caricature of the president with a lyric in a world bubble. Looking for the full context, I found:
I alone am the answer I alone will make wrongs right But in order to root out the cancer It’s got to be kept from the sight
I was born to a jackal I was born in a whiteout Gonna smother you all till I choke you Gonna smother you all till you kick out
I realized that this album completed my trifecta of “happy, but not really,” when the campy “Everything Is Awful” came on. And I couldn’t help but say, out loud, to no one, “He’s not wrong.” And that silly, but tragic tune perfectly set the stage for my emotional wreck on the highway.
Right after “Everything Is Awful,” “Sucker’s Prayer” starts. I don’t know why this one resonated with me so hard. Maybe it’s the classic Decemberists’ sound that shines through. It sounds like The Band, but with anxiety. Maybe it’s just the day I was having. Maybe it’s because it was the third time through the record that day and it was finally sinking in. Whatever the reason, I found myself singing along as tears filled my eyes. And right then and there, in New York rush hour traffic, I realized something. This certainly wasn’t the album I wanted. But Christ, was it the album I needed.
I was not ready for the road I was so discontent to wear that heavy load And so I got down on my knees I made a sucker’s prayer A grim bode of baudelaire before
And when nobody did respond I took my glasses off and went to find a pond Stuffing rocks into the pockets of my pants And when I waded in Those currents carried them away
I wanna love somebody but I don’t know how I’ve been so long lonely and it’s getting me down I wanna throw my body in the river and drown I wanna love somebody but I don’t know how
Welcome to Flashuary, fellow Flash Museumgoers! This month our host Ryan is taking the boys through a curated list of some of the most infamous Flash stories, starting with Barry Allen v. Eobard Thawne AKA Professor Zoom (as well as an extended discussion over the trial of Barry Allen)! There’s drug rings, time travel, a wedding, and DEATH BY VIBRATOR, so don’t miss it!