Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Review: Curse Of Shazam, part 1

The first chapter of  Curse Of Shazam in JUSTICE LEAGUE #7 is more of a teaser, setting the stage for things to come.  It begins with a man being abducted by the wizard Shazam (if indeed the wizard is still named Shazam).  Entering an elevator, he gets zapped to the Rock of Eternity, where he is tested to see if he is worthy.  We only get a glimpse of the wizard's hand and tooth-missing mouth.  The man fails, and is zapped back.  Apparently several people have been abducted and tested to see if they are worthy.

We are then introduced to Dr Sivana, who has been keeping track of all this. Sivana, in this new take, is not a short, scrawny elderly gent, but appears to be youngish, tall, and muscular.  For some reason he reminds me of the modern version of Professor Hugo Strange.  We get a recap of Black Adam from Sivana, who figures the current abductions are tied into this legend, and we learn Sivana has spent his life trying to save his family.  Well, at least he's not a millionaire businessman copy-cat of Luthor.

Cut to Philadelphia, seven months later (no more Fawcett City?).  We meet Billy, at an orphanage, who is being interviewed by prospective foster parents, the Vasquezes.  Billy seems very polite, and the Vasquezes mention they have other foster kids (Freddy Freeman, perhaps?).  But as soon as the Vasquezes agree to take Billy and leave, we see Billy's true colors.  He's a jerk. He's a trouble maker. 

Then there is a full page shot of Captain Mar... er, Shazam as a teaser for the next chapter.

My thoughts:  The script was well written, and kept my interest.  The art was also good, but some choices in the character design are questionable, such as Sivana now being a big burly guy, and I'm not too fond of the rather dorky hoody Captain Mar... er, Shazam now sports.  As for Billy being a jerk and only pretending to be a nice kid... well, we'll just have to see how that plays out.  It's too early to tell.  Overall, I would grade this first chapter a B-.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Davy's funeral

Davy Jones' funeral was on March 7, 2012.  The service was held behind locked doors at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Indiantown, Florida, close to Jones’ home. 

Father Frank O’Loughlin, who presided over the service, said several of Jones’ own songs were played, including “I’ll Love You Forever” and “Written in My Heart.” In his own remarks to mourners, the priest compared the singer to the diminutive hero of “Lord of the Rings,” saying the author J.R.R. Tolkien portrayed a world not unlike the one Jones offered fans. “He wrote about a quiet, gentle, contented people,” Fr. O’Loughlin said in his sermon, a copy of which he shared with The Associated Press. “A people for whom life was bright, neighbors friends, daydream believers with an absolute absence of burden who took themselves lightly — lighter than air. Wasn’t that what David conveyed to the world, a blissful lightness of being?  I think your David captivated us because he was a new universal hero — not a typical Odysseus or Beowulf — but a very Christian hero, strength of character rather than strength of arms, conducting himself with humility and caring for others.”

When Jones learned a group of nuns from Hope Rural School, a private school that educates children of migrant workers in Indiantown, lived across the street from his house, he decided to pay them a visit. He regularly stopped by the house to sing to the nuns and to share stories and jokes.

“(The jokes) weren’t always politically correct,” Sister Mary Dooley said, laughing. The last time she saw him he was cleaning his yard, as usual.“You know when you have a good neighbor you are comfortable with? That’s what he was to us,” Sister Mary said.

Fr. O’Loughlin said Jones’ widow, Jessica Pacheco, brought her husband’s cremains to the church and her brother Joseph Pacheco, the singer’s manager, gave a eulogy. Besides family, the man who first trained Jones to ride racehorses was in attendance, as were members of his current band, who wrote prayers they read at the service.

The three surviving members of The Monkees did not attend, saying they didn’t want to attract unwanted attention or turn the funeral into a "media circus". Rumors circulate Micky, Mike, and Peter may perform a tribute concert at one of the public memorials that are being planned.

Mike Nesmith gave an exclusive interview to Rolling Stone remembering his fallen band mate.  

What's your first memory of meeting Davy?
I think, not certainly, that I met him on the stage where we were doing the screen tests. He seemed confident and part of the proceedings, charming, outgoing.

It's clear the producers cast each of you for different reasons. Why do you think they selected Davy? What did he bring to the group that was unique?
I think David was the first one selected and they built the show around him. English (all the rage), attractive, and a very accomplished singer and dancer, right off the Broadway stage from a hit musical. None of the other three of us had any of those chops.

Is there one anecdote that stands out in your mind that personifies Monkee-mania at its peak?
It was nonstop from the moment the show aired, so there was a constant hyper-interest in the group of us – the meter was maxxed and stayed that way for a couple of years. Once in Cleveland we strayed from our bodyguards into the plaza where a train station, or some public transport hub, was letting out thousands of fans for the concert we were on the way to give. They spotted David and the chase was on. We were like the rabbit – fleeing in blind panic. We saw a police car and jumped in the back seat, blip, blip, blip, blip, – squashed together shoulder to shoulder in our concert duds, and slammed the door just as the tsunami of pink arms closed over the car's windows. We were relieved. The cops were freaked out. They drove us to the station and our guys picked us up and we did the show. But it was like that when the four of us were together, Davy in front – pandemonium. One missed step and we were running.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the story tends to go that you (and to a slightly lesser extent Peter) got frustrated pretty early on with your lack of control over the Monkees music. Davy had a Broadway background and was pretty used to following orders. Did he share your frustrations at first? If not, explain how his views evolved to the point that he was eager to join your battle against Kirshner and the label.
You are not completely wrong, but "frustrated" is the wrong word. We were confused, especially me. But all of us shared the desire to play the songs we were singing. Everyone was accomplished – the notion I was the only musician is one of those rumors that got started and wont stop – but it was not true. Peter was a more accomplished player than I by an order of magnitude, Micky and Davy played and sang and danced and understood music. Micky had learned to play drums, and we were quite capable of playing the type of songs that were selected for the show. We were also kids with our own taste in music and were happier performing songs we liked – and/or wrote – than songs that were handed to us. It made for a better performance. It was more fun. That this became a bone of contention seemed strange to me, and I think to some extent to each of us – sort of "what's the big deal – why wont you let us play the songs we are singing?" This confusion of course betrayed an ignorance of the powers that were and the struggle that was going on for control between the show's producers in Hollywood and the New York-based publishing company owned by Screen Gems. The producers backed us and David went along. None of us could have fought the battles we did without the explicit support of the show's producers.

Some have described the movie Head as "career suicide." How did you feel about it at the time? Did you have concerns that it would alienate and confuse a huge segment of your audience? Looking back, was it a mistake?
Looking back it was inevitable. Don't forget that by the time Head came out the Monkees were a pariah. There was no confusion about this. We were on the cosine of the line of approbation, from acceptance to rejection – the cause for this is another discussion not for here – and it was basically over. Head was a swan song. We wrote it with Jack and Bob – another story not for here – and we liked it. It was an authentic representation of a phenomenon we were a part of that was winding down. It was very far from suicide – even though it may have looked like that. There were some people in power, and not a few critics, who thought there was another decision that could have been made. But I believe the movie was an inevitability – there was no other movie to be made that would not have been ghastly under the circumstances.

In your estimation, why did the Monkees burn out so quickly? The whole thing ended after little more than two years.
That is a long discussion – and I can only offer one perspective of a complex pattern of events. The most I care to generalize at this point is to say there was a type of sibling suppression that was taking place unseen. The older sibling followed the Beatles and Stones and the sophistication of a burgeoning new world order – the younger siblings were still playing on the floor watching television. The older siblings sang and danced and shouted and pointed to a direction they assumed the Monkees were not part of and pushed the younger sibling into silence. The Monkees went into that closet. This is all retrospect, of course – important to focus on the premise that "no one thought the Monkees up." The Monkees happened – the effect of a cause still unseen, and dare I say it, still at work and still overlooked as it applies to present day.

Do you think Davy enjoyed the experience of being a Monkee more than you did? If so, why?
I can only speculate. For me David was The Monkees. They were his band. We were his side men. He was the focal point of the romance, the lovely boy, innocent and approachable. Micky was his Bob Hope. In those two – like Hope and Crosby – was the heartbeat of the show.

The incident in which you punched a hole in a wall during a fight with Kirshner has been told so many times over the years it almost feels apocryphal. At the very least, the notion you were fighting about "Sugar Sugar" seems to have been debunked. What's your memory of that incident? Did Davy ever convey a feeling to you were rocking the boat too much after scenes like that?
David continually admonished me to calm down and do what I was told. From day one. His advice to me was to approach the show like a job, do my best, and shut up, take the money, and go home. Micky the same. I had no idea what they were talking about at the time, or why. The hole in the wall had nothing to do with "Sugar Sugar." It was the release of an angry reaction to a personal affront. The stories that circulate are as you say – apocryphal.

Do you have a favorite Davy Jones-sung Monkees song? If so, what makes it your favorite?
"Daydream Believer." The sensibility of the song is [composer] John Stewart at his best, IMHO – it has a beautiful undercurrent of melancholy with a delightful frosting, no taste of bitterness. David's cheery vocal leads us all in a great refrain of living on love alone.

What's your fondest memory of your time with Davy?
He told great jokes. Very nicely developed sense of the absurd – Pythonesque – actually, Beyond the Fringe – but you get my point. We would rush to each other anytime we heard a new joke and tell it to each other and laugh like crazy. David had a wonderful laugh, infectious. He would double up, crouching over his knees, and laugh till he ran out of breath. Whether he told the joke or not. We both did.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The best Monkees songs you've never heard

As a spotlight has shined on the Monkees due to the death of Davy Jones, I thought I would take this opportunity to celebrate some of the best Monkees tracks, that unfortunately only a connoisseur like myself is aware of. 

Like many rock groups of the era, in the modern context, only a handful of their greatest hits gets any airplay these days.  Most everyone knows Last Train To Clarksville, I'm A Believer, Stepping Stone, Pleasent Valley Sunday, and Daydream Believer.  But the Monkees had many many more great tracks that have fallen by the wayside as the years rolled on.

Tomorrow's Gonna Be Another Day is a catchy tune with a bluesy harmonica solo from their debut album.  It was used on the TV show several times.

Saturday's Child is another track from the first album.

Papa Gene's Blues is one of Mike Nesmith's contributions to the first album.  Many of the songs listed here will be written by Nesmith, as his tracks are phenomenal, yet always seemed to be pushed aside for the tracks with either Micky or Davy singing lead.  In my humble opinion, I think Monkees-era Nesmith rivals John Lennon in quality as a songwriter.  This song blends Latin percussion with a Country-Pop melody.

I Wanna Be Free is a friends with benefits anti-love song, decades ahead of its time.  The up tempo original version is the best, as is the heavy metal-ish live 1967 version.

The Kind Of Girl I Could Love is another Nesmith track, this time from the second album.  An alternate mix with inspired backing vocals by Micky, Davy and Peter, currently available on the 2 disc deluxe edition of "The Monkees", is the definitive version.

All The King's Horses is yet another Nesmith track, and perhaps the most famous song never to be released in the 1960s, having appeared on a couple episodes of the TV show. It was finally released in the 1990s, although in a different mix than the version used on TV.

She is the lead off song from the second album "More Of The Monkees", and is a punky head banger with brilliant vocals by Micky.

Mary Mary is a Nesmith written, Dolenz sung blues tune that was originally recorded by the Paul Butterfield Bluesband. It was also turned into a rap song by Run-DMC in the 1980s.

Apples Peaches Bananas and Pears is an early, unreleased song that popped up on one of the 1970 Saturday morning reruns of the show.  I like it, and feel it has a slight Elvis Presley vibe to it, perhaps due to Micky stressing "don't be cruel" and a Scotty Moore style guitar solo.

The Girl I Knew Somewhere  is perhaps the most historically important song, as it was the first track released as a single to have the Monkees playing on the track.  Written by Nesmith, with a great vocal by Dolenz, and an inspired harpsichord solo by Tork, this song is unquestionably the definitive Monkees sound.

All Of Your Toys  was supposed to be the flip side of "The Girl I Knew Somewhere" (which in turn was originally going to be sung by Mike) to be the first Monkees single to be performed by the group.  However, Columbia-Screen Gems did not own the publishing to this song, so it got rejected.  The guys went back into the studio to remake "The Girl I Knew Somewhere" with a slightly faster tempo and with Micky singing, and after some underhanded dealings by Don Kirshner (releasing "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You" b/w the original version of "She Hangs Out" without The Monkees consent resulting in Kirshner getting fired and the single quickly being recalled) "The Girl I Knew Somewhere" was issued as the flip side of "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You". "All Of Your Toys" went on to assume near mythological status until it was finally released in the late 1980s.

No Time is a Chuck Berry style rocker from the third album, "Headquarters".

Randy Scouse Git is the Micky Dolenz tour de force from "Headquarters".

Cuddly Toy from the album "Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd" is my favorite track to feature Davy on lead vocals.

Love Is Only Sleeping a Nesmith sung track from "Pisces".

She Hangs Out is a Davy sung rocker from "Pisces" about an underage oversexed girl.

Going Down is a rhythm and blues showcase for Micky.

Words is a Micky and Peter duet from "Pisces", although the original unreleased version (which can be found on "Missing Links vol 2") might have the edge.

Tapioca Tundra is a Nesmith track from "The Birds The Bees and The Monkees", and it is at this time Nesmith's lyrics get very visual and exceptional.  Currently I am really into the alternate mix from the 3 disc Deluxe Edition.

Magnolia Simms is another Nesmith track from "Birds" with a 1920s ragtime sound and built in skips and groove static.

My Share Of The Sidewalk is a great example of Nesmith's brilliance.  When I first heard this unreleased track on one of the "Missing Links" volumes, with lead vocal by Davy, I didn't really get it. But  upon hearing it again, many years later, I now get it.  With its syncopated rhythm, it was Mike's attempt to write a Broadway style tune tailored for Davy, and has some of the greatest lines in the lyrics I have ever heard.

Tear The Top Right Off My Head is an unreleased gem by Peter Tork. The version with Micky singing lead is the keeper.

Steam Engine is an unreleased song that was used on the 1970 Saturday morning rerun of the episode "Monkees On Tour", although sped up to fit the time slot.

St Matthew is another Nesmith masterpiece with his amazing illustrative lyrics. The bluesier, acoustic demo is just as good, if not slightly better.

Midnight Train is a Dolenz track from the album "Changes".

And just about everything from their overlooked 1996 reunion album, Justus.

Believe it or not, this is really just scratching the surface.  There are still many more tracks I haven't mentioned that really deserve to be more widely known than they are.

Monday, March 5, 2012

First look at "new Shazam"

Debuts in Justice League #7.  Looks an awful lot like the version from Trials Of Shazam.