Friday, July 30, 2010


Yesterday's Enemy ****
(dir. Val Guest, UK, 1959, 95 minutes)
Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country ***
(dir. Anders Ostergaard, Denmark, 2008, 84 minutes)
Old Woman 1: "BURMA!"
Old Woman 2: "Why did you say Burma?"
Old Woman 1: "I panicked."

- Monty Python, "The Penguin on the Television Skit"

As happenstance happens, I found myself watching two films about Burma last night. You remember Burma, the country now called Myanmar by its almost-perfect military dictatorship (in power in one form or another since 1962), but storied in jingle (if not song) by Burma-Shave ads and in war stories by British vets of WWII. Think Thailand without the sex tourism or North Korea without the starvation. Bored by the increasingly paltry and polarized news offerings on CNN and MSNBC, I switched over to Turner Classic Movies and watched the superbly cast British war movie Yesterday's Enemy (1959) and, later, the Oscar-nominated documentary Burma VJ (2008) - the latter recommended to me by a refugee relief worker and subsequently added to my NetFlix queue.

Yesterday's Enemy
The scene is Burma during World War II. A small British brigade led by Stanley Baker comes upon a Burmese village controlled by the Japanese. The brigade wipes out the enemy, whereupon Baker discovers that the late Japanese commandant has a coded map secreted on his person. When a Burmese prisoner who can decode the map refuses to talk, Baker orders that two peaceful villagers be executed. Baker's actions seem cruel and extreme until it becomes apparent that the enemy is twice as ruthless as he. Based on a TV play by Peter R. Newman, Yesterday's Enemy is a brutal but insightful look at the blurred line between good and evil in wartime conditions.
- Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

Yesterday's Enemy was a Hammer Studio film production featuring principals Stanley Baker, Guy Rolfe, and Leo McKern, that struck me as a very realistic depiction of jungle warfare. But as a war movie, it has a dark and existential bent that is rather uncharactistic for its time (the post-war 1950s being a time when most WWII films portrayed the Allies as indisputably Good and the Axis as indisputably Evil). For one thing, it features a war atrocity - the cold-blooded killing of innocent Burmese villagers (albeit in order to extract vital information from a suspected spy - in order to save British soldiers lives and thus, by the logic of this argument, save the lives of tens of thousands of grateful Burmese in the conflict) - raising the moral dilemma of "the rules of war" war and "obeying orders/questioning authority" and foreshadowing similar events in America's subsequent Vietnam War (My Lai, anyone?). When Baker's Capt. Langford and his men are later captured by the Japanese commander Yamazuki, played by veteran Korean-American character actor Philip Ahn (best remember as Master Kan on the TV series Kung-Fu)...

"Hollywood Asian" Philip Ahn as "Kung-Fu" Kan

...he has the same interogation technique used on him; when Baker tries to cop the "We're only here because you started this war!" moral high ground, Ahn reminds him of Great Britain's colonial wars of conquest in the Sudan, India, and South Africa and Baker's silence makes us realize, yeah, maybe everybody has dirty hands in an armed conflict once it gets underway. (Hmmpft! Take that soon-to-be-crumbling British Empire!)

For another, Leo McKern's cynical war correspondent character "Max" at one points angrily laments that all the killing and sacrifice will ultimately serve no purpose other than filling a memorial grave and getting a meaningless posthumous medal for one's widow and fatherless children to store on their mantle. The closing shot is, in fact, a memorial tombstone. (Point taken!)

Guy Rolfe played the film's moral compass as "Padre" the Priest. Rolfe - who was a direct descendent of John Rolfe, the British soldier who married Pocahontas - is fondly remembered by William Castle fans as protagonist Baron Sardonicus in Mr. Sardonicus (1961).

Guy Rolfe as Baron Sardonicus before...

...and after Botox treatment

Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country

Burma VJ is a courageous but depressing documentary about a country every bit as "closed" as North Korea but one that doesn't get as much world attention - except for the occasional catastrophic disaster like the monsoon that devastated the nation in 2007 (during which "The Generals" prevented outside aid, more interested in their own survival than their own people's) - because they don't have nuclear weapons and can usually feed their people. It's also a film in which jumpy hand-held camera work is not an edgy you-are-there artistic technique (unfortunately still in vogue in today's indie cinema, especially "mumblecore" ones), but a necessity for staying alive. Burma's flirtations with democracy have been brief, consisting of student-monk protests in 1988 (their 9/11 was 8/8/88, the day hundreds of thousands took to the streets across the country to call for democracy) and the metta sutta prayer-chanting monk-led insurgency chronicled here in 2007 - both inspired by economic hardships (like raising the price of fuel by 500% in 2007), both brutally put down (3,000 protesters alone died in 1988). As General Ne Win said at the time of the first uprising, "When the army shoots, it shoots straight." (No kidding, General.)

The documentary's most striking update to the violence is the utter disregard for the traditionally untouchable monks, who are shown being beaten, disrobed, thrown into paddy wagons, and their temples ransacked. This disregard for passive civil resistance is capsulized in the footage of a dead monk's body floating in a muddy riverbank. Nothing in Burma, apparently, is sacred under the iron grip of the junta.

Metta Sutta-chanting monks ask: What's so funny
'bout peace, love & understanding?

The '88 protests did lead the dictatorship to hold elections in 1990, which 1991 Nobel Peace Price recipient Aung San Suu Kyi won in a landslide, but the results were nullified and she was - and continues to be - put under house arrest. In fact, she's has been under house arrest for 14 of the last 20 years.

OK, now you're probably wondering why a doc chronicling brave Burmese video journalists (or VJs - and very unlike MTV's VJs!) was made by a Swedish director, Anders Ostergaard. That's because in a land where there is no free press, the only way to smuggle info out is via the Internet (which can be shut down or filtered a la Google in China) or smuggling tapes to the West. In this case, the journalists documenting the protests and crackdowns belong to a guerilla organization called the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) that has contacts in Sweden.

While the rest of the world uploads videos to YouTube showing cute babies, playful kittens, or amateur porn, in Burma uploaded videos are of a more serious nature. They're literally a matter of life and death in a country where the medium is the message and the law of the land says "Kill the messenger."

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Comic Noir: Sam Hill & Johnny Dynamite

On a recent visit to BCPL's Cockeysville Library to grab more titles from their impressive graphic novel collection, I scored Dan Nadel's fascinating Art in Time: Unknown Comic Book Adventures 1940-1980 (Abrams ComicArts, 2010), the follow-up volume to his Art Out of Time: Unknown Comic Visionaries, 1900-1969 (Abrams, 2006). Both Nagel books highlight the unheralded work of visionary comic books and cartoonists, with the author's stated goal of moving toward "a more open and inclusive understanding of what makes a compelling comic."

Dan Nagel's "Art": Time for rediscovery

Well for me the two most compelling comics were Harry Lucey's hard-boiled, wise-cracking gumshoe Sam Hill - the "Ex Ivy League halfback" private eye with a white streak in his hair and a sexy redhead secretary named Roxy - and Peter Morissi's Mike Hammer-inspired one-eyed "wild man from Chicago" who's as explosive as his name, Johnny Dynamite.

Like Sam Hill, Johnny Dynamite had a curvy secretary in Judy Kane, but after issue #4 he lacked Sam's extra eye and started sporting an eyepatch; in 1987 Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty resurrected the JD character for four appearances in their Ms. Tree comic, then created a 4-issue Johnny Dynamite homage for Dark Horse Comics in 1994.

Max Allan Collins rekindled Johnny Dynamite's fuse

Both pencil-and-ink tough guy sleuths date from the Mickey Spillane-dominated 1950s era of detective comics, but I like Sam Hill better because he's less violent and more stylized like the pulp dicks of the '30s and '40s. He's cut more from the mold of a Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe or Paul Pine, whereas Johnny Dynamite is more like Spillane's cartoonishly mean-spirited Mike Hammer (or Donald Westlake/Richard Stark's Parker) - a pure brutarian who seems to enjoy killing a little too much. And, unlike Sam Hill, Johnny Dynamite is completely humorless; he only cracks hard, not wise.

I don't know a while lot about comics - certainly not as much as my pal Dave Cawley, who can spot one panel and instantly tell you who wrote it, who drew it, who penned it, and what company published it (whether you ask for a cornucopia of detail or not!) - but I love the hard-boiled PI genre, so my research choices were either the perpetually wired Dave Cawley or the intrinsically wired Internet. I chose the Internet and found out the following...

Sam Hill by Harry Lucey
7 issues, 1950, MLJ

"What the Sam Hill?" Premiere ish intro.

Born in 1950, Sam Hill lived fast and died young, lasting only seven issues. I guess the reader mail didn't come in "heavy enough" (as pitched below in the premiere ish), which is a real shame because Sam Hill is a fun read - and an eccentric personality as well - how many PIs drank milk and wore bow ties (pretty distinctive - guess that was the "Ivy League" touch of "class"!)?

Sam Hill's talking to you, chum!

I like how every adventure was called a caper ("The Cutie Killer Caper," "The Double Trouble Caper," etc.) and featured a preview of each caper's dramatis personnae on the first page (e.g., " indispensibe Gal Friday"; "Barbara lucious client"; "Rick Marks...Barbara's attorney"), not to mention the denouments that always seemed to find Hill flirting with his Gal Friday.

Dan Nagel writes that Lucey was influenced by film noir's "expressionistic angles" and probably Will Eisner's The Spirit, noting that his character's facial expressions and his panel-framing technique in presenting the narrative almost made words superfluous: "Remove the words from a Lucey story and readers still know precisely how each character feels and what that means for the plot. This strong technique makes Lucey's cartoon characters seem alive on the page like few others, and gives Sam Hill an urgency that raises it above its obvious genre and cinematic infleunces."

Creator Harry Lucey (1913-1979/1980) spent most of his career at Archie publishers MLJ, where he worked on Madam Satan, Magno, Crime Does Not Pay - and even Archie - between 1950 and 1970. In the 1960s he developed an allergic reaction to graphite and had to wear white gloves while drawing, and in the 1970s he contracted Lou Gehrig's disease, followed by cancer. He passed away in 1979 or 1980.

But he left behind these "7 Wonders" of Private Eye comics, as reproduced below:

Sam Hill #1

Sam Hill #2

Sam Hill #3

Sam Hill #4

Sam Hill #5

Sam Hill #6

Sam Hill #7

Johnny Dynamite by Pete Morisi
Comic Media, 1953-1954; Charlton 1954-1956

The early "Two-Eyed" Johnny Dynamite

Johnny Dynamite was created by writer "William Waugh" (nom du plume of Ken Fitch, who co-created Hourman and Tex Thompson for DC Comics) and artist Pete Morisi (1928-2003). Under the title Dynamite, Fitch and Morisi continued to write and draw the character until issue #9 (May, 1954), after which Morisi moved to Charlton Comics and revived the character between 1955 and 1956 under the title Johnny Dynamite.

According to the excellent online source Comic Vine (, "It ran three issues under that name, then three more as Foreign Intrigues, with Johnny retooled as a government agent..."

Johnny Dynamite turns Fed to battle the commies

Comic Vine continues the story: "...With #16 (November, 1957), [Charlton] dropped Johnny and took on the title Battlefield Action. As such, it ran, sporadically at least, until 1984, but Charlton never used Johnny Dynamite again." That's probably because Moresi not only left the series - he left the cartoon profession itself - at least for a while.

In 1956, Morisi became a NYPD police officer and started leading a double life. Because the NYPD forbade extracurricular work, he worked as cop by day and cartoonist by night. Using the pseudonym "PAM" (for "Pete A. Moresi"), he drew hundreds of comics for Charlton (like Thunderbolt and Montana Kid) up until 1976.

Of Morisi's technique, Nagel writes:
He was a master of moment-to-moment storytelling...each action, each pose, was fondly defined and crisply rendered so that a reader can't help but be immersed in his spaces. Morisi told his stories through a series of still images using every camera angle and filmic device he could think of. As if to accentuate the "screen effect, the panels all have rounded corners and there is nary a speed line, sound effect, or any of the other trappings in sight...his panels are crowded compositions full of close-ups on his hero's invariably agonized or beat-up face...the sheer crowded claustrophobia of a teeming city is always at the fore, and characters are always right up agaginst something, surrounded by buildings, trapped in rooms.

Though Johnny Dynamite remained lost for almost 30 years, he was rediscovered in the '90s by a fellow pulp comics fan. Comic Vine again picks up the story:
Widely regarded by fans of the genre as the best and most interesting of the 1950s comic book private eyes, Johnny Dynamite was a favorite of crime novelist and comics writer Max Allan Collins, one of Chester Gould's successors on Dick Tracy. Collins acquired the character in 1987, when many Charlton properties were sold. His first use of Johnny was as reprints in the back pages of his own Hammer-inspired character, Ms. Tree's comic book. Since then, he's branched out into new adventures from a couple of small publishers. His most prominent modern publisher is Dark Horse Comics, where Concrete and Hellboy started.

JD: Two-fisted (but one-eyed) action!

Related Links:
Johnny Dynamite (Toonepedia)
Sam Hill (Toonopedia)
Sam Hill @ Comic Vine (
Johnny Dynamite @ Comic Vine (

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Monday, July 26, 2010

The Turtles - "Save the Turtles"

The Turtles
Save the Turtles: The Turtles Greatest Hits
FloEdCo (2009)
Full Disclosure: All the hits are here but truth be told, I really bought this collection solely for the Chevy Camero commercial at the end, which remains my favorite Turtles recording of all time - and as hard to find outside of this compilation as...well...a 1960s Chevy Camero!

OK, everyone knows The Turtles, the Southern California folk-pop icons fronted by singer Howard Kaylan (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Andy Kaufman's alter ego, Tony Clifton) and singer-guitarist Mark Volman (think Jonah Hill with an Afro) who had all those radio-friendly Top 40 hits in the '60s like "So Happy Together," "She'd Rather Be With Me," "It Ain't Me Babe," "You Baby," and "Elenore," etc. They liked to say that they were only three letters removed from being The Beatles and, like the Byrds, had fashioned one of those "pet" animal species monikers (they even spelled it "Tyrtles" for a spell).

Flo & Eddie - or Jo & Tony?

In truth, they were musical chameleons, able to change their spots to mimic virtually any style, from folk (the Dylan cover "It Ain't Me Babe") and hotrod-surf (the spot-on Jan & Dean imitation "Surfer Dan") to down-and-dirty garage grunge (Warren Zevon's "Outside Chance," Kaylan's "Always There") and the innumerable tunes that captured the soaring harmonies and melodic perfection of the Beach Boys. Heck, they even imitated themselves on "Elenore," though few noticed the self-mockery (least of all their record label, which was more than content with a #6 hit).

Flo & Eddie today

But for the longest time Alpha Turtles Volman and Kaylan were merely Phlorescent Leech and Eddie, or Flo and Eddie for short, as the rights to their name and music were tied up by men in suits with law degrees wrangling over money. With the Suits unwilling to let Volman and Kayman be themselves, much less sing "Let Me Be," they turned to various ventures, including radio broadcasting (they were on K-ROCK, Howard Stern's NYC station, for a while), joining Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention, and at one point in the '80s even resorting to recording background music for kiddie TV shows like The Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake (wowie zowie - from Zappa to kid shows, that's quite an aesthetic 360 turn!).

Flo & Eddie: Bear-ing their souls for the kids!

It wasn't until 1984 - after years of recording/touring with Zappa and as solo artists Flo & Eddie (speaking of which, I'm eagerly awaiting my twofer-on-one CD reissue of their brilliant Illegal, Immoral & Fattening/Moving Targets albums from FloEdCo) - that founding braintrust Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman legally regained the use of The Turtles name, and began touring as The Turtles... Featuring Flo and Eddie. (The "featuring" tag was probably added to their moniker because, instead of trying to reunite with their earlier bandmates, they began featuring all-star sidemen who had played with different groups - like Greg Hawkes of the Cars, who most recently appeared with them at the 2010 Dundalk Heritage Fair).

Flo & Eddie win the case!

But it wasn't until 2009 that they regained rights to their recorded music; they had always wanted to clean up the original recordings they made while under contract at White Whale Records in the '60s and the result is this greatest hits compilation CD that was was issued in 2009 on their own FloEdCo label and distributed by Manifesto Records. And clean it up they did, with all 20 of the selections here remastered under the personal direction of Flo and Eddie from the original master tapes.

One thing I noticed right off was the wide range of songwriting (the early Turtles recorded a score of songs by Gary Bonner and Alan Gordon of the East Coast band The Magicians, not to mention tunes by P. F. Sloan, Harry Nilsson, and their buddy Warren Zevon) and turnover of band members through the years. Other than mainstays Kaylan, Volman, and founding guitarists Al Nichols and Jim Tucker, the Turtles line-up changed quite a bit over the years - especially the rhythm section. The Great Turtles Diaspora saw bassist Jim Pons replace Chip Douglas (no, he wasn't featured on My Three Sons, but Douglas was a talented bass and keyboard player who went into record production, producing hits for The Monkees - "Daydream Believer" and "Pleasant Valley Sunday" among them - before returning to produce Turtles records like "You Showed Me"); Pons would later join Flo and Eddie in Zappa's Mothers of Invention before leaving to start his second career as a film and video director for the NFL (he currently works for the Jaguars); veteran session drummer Johnny Barbata - himself a replacement for Joel Larson (who replaced Don Murray) - left to play with Crosby, Stills & Nash.

That said, if there's one Turtles collection you should shell out the bucks for, it's this modestly-priced greatest hits comp, proceeds from which actually go towards saving turtles at the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, FL. Following are some of my track-by-Turtle-track observations.

1. "Happy Together" (Gary Bonner/Alan Gordon)
Their biggest ever hit and most remembered song, included here in the Numero Uno lead-off spot, as befits a #1 record. Written by the prolific songwriting team behind the NY band The Magicians, Gary Bonner and Alan Gordon, who also gave The Turtles the 1967 hits "She'd Rather Be With Me" (#3) and "She's My Girl" (#14), as well as the singles "Me About You" and "You Know What I Mean."

2. It Ain't Me Babe (Bob Dylan)
The Turtles debut single from the summer of 1965 rose as high as #8 on the charts during the Dylan-Folk Rock Craze Phase. Hey, it worked wonders for the Byrds' careers, as well. I still prefer Sebastian Cabot's version (available on Rhino's Golden Throats CD) better - but he sure couldn't hit the high notes like Flo and Eddie!

Mr. French hits a low note

4. "You Baby" (P.F. Sloan/Steve Barri)
Despite the opening jingly-jangly riff, the third Turtles single (#20, 1966) is noted for its new direction, moving away from that Folk Rock experiment and more toward high-octave harmony-laden pop in the vein of Frank Valli and The Four Seasons.

5. "Elenore"
Quoth the Turtle: "Elenore." A self-parody of themselves for the album The Battle of the Bands and still the only Top 10 record to contain the expression "et cetera." In fact, the only other "et cetera" song I can think of is The Smiths' "Sweet and Tender Hooligan."

6. "Let Me Be" (P.F. Sloan)
P.F. Sloan came up with the necessary folkie follow-up hit to "It Ain't Me Babe" on The Turtles second White Whale single, which reached #29 in 1965, still primo Top 40 turf. And it clearly adhered to their folk agenda of the time: tambourine, 12-string guitar, and a singer pleading for individuality, babe.

7. "She's My Girl" (Gary Bonner/Alan Gordon)
Another hit (#14, 1967) courtesy of The Magicians Bonner-Gordon team with an ominous opening.

8. "Outside Chance" (Warren Zevon)
Warren Zevon penned this garage rock beauty that starts off with a Beatle-y "Ticket To Ride" guitar lick before getting down-and-dirty, as one would expect from the volatile Z man. It was the first track new drummer Johnny Barbata played on, but its lack of success led to bass player Chuck Portz quitting the band, with Chip Douglas replacing him.

9. "You Showed Me" (Jim McGuinn-Gene Clark)
As a Byrdsmaniac, I naturally loved their emo version that appears on the album Pre-Flyte, but I gotta say, this one might be a tad better because of the spooky vibe and Chip Douglas' masterful production (though I could have done without all those melodramatic strings). But hey, enjoy both flavors - like Doublemint Gum, it can only double your pleasure, double your fun.

10. "Can I Get To Know You Better" (Steve Barri/P.F. Sloan)
White Whale wanted a follow-up to Sloan's "Let Me Be" sound, so they commissioned this, but The Sequel No One Asked For didn't chart. The first recording on which Chip Douglas appears.

11. "The Story of Rock and Roll" (Harry Nilsson)
Quite the studio production epic -think Brian Wilson producing the Raspberries "Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)" - but I don't like history lessons, especially when they include sax riffing like you hear leading into those commercial breaks on Saturday Night Live. But I guess it was appropriate for their concep album, The Battle of the Bands.

The Kinksy lost masterpiece

12. "Love in the City" (The Turtles)
Guitarist Al Nichol, perhaps influenced by The Lovin' Spoonful's current hit "Summer in the City," wrote this in 1967 and shared the credit with the rest of the band (which at this time included Kaylan, Volman, Nichol, bassist Jim Pons, and drummer John Seiter). This is one of two songs (the other is "You Don't have To Walk in the Rain") culled from The Turtles's 1969 release, Turtle Soup, the critically acclaimed record they recorded with Ray Davies of The Kinks that clearly shows the influence of Ray's 1968 concept album The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society. This was also the "democratic" album on which other band members - not just Kaylan and Volman - were allowed to sing their songs and share in the songwriting credits. Another Turtle Soup song, "Hot Little Hands," turns up on Turtle Tracks, the limited edition hits compilation sold only at "The Turtles...Featuring Flo & Eddie" live shows. (It's great - I'm glad Amy bought one at the 2010 Dundalk Heritage Fair show!)

13. "Me About You"
Another Gary Bonner-Alan Gordon tune that was also covered by The Mojo Men and The Lovin' Spoonful, among others.

14. "You Don't Have To Walk in the Rain" (The Turtles)
Great Beach Boys Farfisa-y intro to the strongest single off Turtle Soup.

15. "You Know What I Mean" (Gary Bonner/Alan Gordon)
Mark Volman describes this Bonner-Gordon song as "brilliant" and considers it "probably the best Turtles record ever made." That's really saying something - and it's hard to argue with him! The sophisticated production is Pet Sounds-worthy. The single reached as high as #12 in 1967.

16. "Sound Asleep" (The Turtles)
Issued as a single in early 1968, "Sound Asleep" was credited to the whole group, which at this point included Kaylan, Volman, guitarist Al Nichol, bassist Jim Pons, and Johnny Barbata.

17. "Making My Mind Up" (Ray Roberts/Gary Montgomery)
Gawd, this is SOOOOOO Sixties, like the theme song to a rock dance show that never was! Reminds me of Jay and the Americans singing the Love American Style theme.

18. "Grim Reaper of Love" (Chuck Portz/Al Nichol)
Folk Deathtrip Ennui. Serious-sounding but dated step into The Deep (a la Barry McGuire's Dylan-derivative, P.F. Sloan-penned attempt at social commentary "Eve of Destruction").

19. "Guide for the Married Man" (John Williams/Leslie Bricusse)
Love this song, love this 1967 movie (directed by Gene Kelly and starring Walter Matthau, Robert Morse, Inger Stevens, and Carl Reiner)! Before Star Wars there were frisky married men like Matthau just dying to commit adultery and swing in a suburban galaxy far away, and John Williams was there to play Pied Piper and lead the way. 1967 was also the year Williams earned his first Academy Award nom, but for scoring Valley of the Dolls - not A Guide for Married Man!

Bitchin' Camero

20. "Chevrolet Camero Commercial" (previously unreleased)
Lean and muscular, full mod with rally racing stripes, it's no wonder "the Camero will drive you absolutely wild!" As on "Surfer Dan" (B-side of their single "Elenore"), The Turtles return to their Crossfires surfboards-and-hotrods roots. The last voice you hear is their bud Warren Zevon!

Related Links: (Official Site)

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Bruce Haack - "Hush Little Robot"

Bruce Haack
Hush Little Robot
(QDK Records, Germany, 1998)

I discovered this German import CD (originally released on Bonn's Normal Records) in the "Used Electronic Music" bins at Soundgarden and picked it up out of curiosity. A library co-worker whose boyfriend is into electronic music had mentioned that Enoch Pratt Free Library's children's records collection had several Bruce Haack titles on vinyl that she thought I might like because, well, they were weird. That's an understatement - both about the weirdness (we're talking about a guy who released a kiddie record called The Electric Lucifer!) and about me liking them! In fact, the Pratt has 10 Haack titles on vinyl, including The Way Out Record for Children (1968), The Electronic Record for Children (1969), Captain Entropy (1973), This Old Man (1974), Funky Doodle (1975), Ebeneezer Electric (1977), and four kiddie dance records on the Dimension 5 label (the '60s Dance, Sing and Listen trilogy and 1972's Dance to the Music). I had listened to Captain Entropy and was sufficiently impressed by its oddball factor, determining that Haack was a kindred spirit to Raymond Scott, and I rued the fact that I passed up grabbing the out-of-print documentary about him - Bruce Haack: The King of Techno - when I saw it for a mere $7 at Daedalus Books & Music (Doh! I thought it was about computer hacking!). (Click here to see a preview of this film on

I still know virtually nothing about Haack, other than he was Canadian who made electronic children's records (think Hap Palmer meets Kraftwerk), had a regretable name for a musician (a Haack musician?), invented/built/& played his own electronic musical instruments, and passed away in 1988. Oh, and I know the hipsters have discovered him because in 2005 artists like Beck and Stereolab and Brother Cleve of Combustible Edison appeared on a tribute album called Dimension Mix. Thankfully, he has a web site, where the curious like me can learn more about his incredible legacy. I'm just wondering who, besides electronic music buffs like Abby's boyfriend, actually checks this stuff out of the library - because Raffi or The Wiggles it's not!

That said, here's a review of this album - which is apparently a compilation of 6 songs from The Electric Lucifer, ten tracks culled from This Old Man and The Way Out Record for Children, and two radio interviews - by somebody who does know about Bruce Haack. Namely, epinion reviewer Henry Thoreau...

Henry Thoreau's Thoroughly Thoreau Review of "Hush Little Robot":
from Bruce Haack: Pioneer of Elecronic Music

The year was 1970. An acquaintance played a bizarre Columbia LP, The Electric Lucifer by Bruce Haack. My ears pricked up delightedly as I heard “Farad” (an electronic voice) singing the opening bars of the initial, weirdly pulsating track, “Electric to Me Turn”:

Electric to me turn this night
Reflecting universal light
All I knew that should be true
Is reality in you
Turn, turn to me, electric.

The accompanying, all-electronic music struck me as far more intriguing, even, than that of Wendy Carlos and other purveyors of moog synthesizer music per se. While the moog was, in fact, employed by Haack for elements of The Electric Lucifer, what more so intrigued me was the cornucopia of never-before-heard ear candy via his own, homemade electronics which he’d pioneered in the 1960s for various LPs for children (all released on his own label). Complementing the music was the colorful, contemporary, cartoon-like artwork on the album sleeve and, no less, the notes on the reverse: unabashedly “far out” rhapsodizing by Haack about his vision of a perfected universe, one free of “hate and pain and fear,” and very much in keeping with the idealism and weirdness of the era. From the moment I first sampled his quirky genius, I was hooked—indelibly stamped a lifelong fan of Bruce Haack.

Trouble was, until recently, Haack’s music had virtually vanished after Columbia’s release of The Electric Lucifer. From the early 1970s until very recently, Bruce and his bizarre art had seemingly departed the planet for some other, more congenial dimension. In actuality, I subsequently learned that “Dimension 5” was the moniker he used (along with cohort Esther Nelson) for a long line of children’s albums that constituted the bulk of his output. Some of those are too puerile for adult ears, though the stylizations of the electronic music are consistently, unmistakably, and pleasingly Haackian. But interspersed among his works for the Sesame Street set are fascinating digressions and anomalies for adults that either have yet to be released or which were originally released only on the “Dimension 5” label with limited distribution.

Bruce Haack was born in an obscure Canadian village whence he derived his affection for nature, animals, and Indian culture. He was musically educated and active in New York City from the early 1950s through the early ‘70s; thereafter, he resided in West Chester, PA, continuing to produce music, but no longer “commercially successful.” He died unexpectedly in his sleep, apparently of heart failure, at age 57 in 1988. There remains a wealth of promising, recorded material just waiting to be mined for posthumous release; Mr. Praxiteles “Ted” Pandel, Bruce’s lifelong confidant, hopes to issue many more of those works eventually. (Very recently, the uniformly ingenious and masterful Electric Lucifer Book 2, created and recorded around 1979, has appeared on QDK, a German label.)

Hush Little Robot, an import CD via Germany, is currently the next-best thing to a complete reissue of The Electric Lucifer, as it encompasses six tracks from the latter, including the aforementioned “Electric to Me Turn.” As well, two brief 1970-ish “Campus Radio” interviews with Bruce are included. Finally, ten tracks from two of his children’s albums, This Old Man and The Way Out Record for Children, round out the disc. Among these is a remake of “Program Me,” an original track from The Electric Lucifer.

Personally, I would have preferred that The Electric Lucifer and This Old Man had been reissued in their entirety as separate CDs (The Way Out Record for Children interests me far less); while many of their respective tracks do coexist pretty effectively—displaying two modes of Bruce’s creativity--the partial, arbitrary melding of the two albums is, ultimately, not fully satisfying. But, as this is one of only two adult-oriented Bruce Haack CDs available (Electric Lucifer Book 2 is the other), it’s definitely worth adding to your collection. Unlike certain other “electronic music” releases, it should have wide appeal to music lovers of all ages and temperaments. While one may choose to skip two or three tracks, the many others will surely delight.

Hush Little Robot comprises eighteen tracks, as follows:

From The Electric Lucifer (1970):

Electric to Me Turn. Arguably Bruce’s signature song, this remains a favorite of mine. Quintessential Haack, lyrically and musically.

War. While this was undoubtedly inspired by the Vietnam War, it truly is a timeless commentary on all wars. The opening tones are somber and foreboding, with an incessantly beating snare drum suggesting the martial theme; suddenly, a cacophonous eruption bursts forth, followed by a caricatured military march whose decadent, carnival atmosphere escalates to an inexorable crescendo and a manmade Big Bang. Suddenly, a child’s voice proclaims, “I don’t wanna play anymore!” and a confused, disintegrating “fall out” descends, concluding the track.

Chant of the Unicorn. [Actually, this was originally titled “Chant of the Unborn;” I assume “Unicorn” is simply a blooper on this German reissue.] Inchoate “fetal” utterances—sounding rather “adult,” really--are backed by lively, slightly dissonant electronic percussion and other Haackian dance-like effects.

Incantation. Human voices are used for the first stanza, then Farad, the electronic songster, takes his turn. As with other aspects of the album, Haack borrows ostensibly Christian icons for his imagery, as with

Time told of Mary
Giving birth
Planet Earth

In reality, I understand Haack was not himself traditionally “religious;” indeed, and thankfully, the general feel of the album is altogether catholic, not Catholic. As with Milton’s poetry, atheists, agnostics and believers alike can appreciate Bruce's eclectic visions.

Song of the Death Machine. The theme here seems to be that of a derelict “Death Machine” or master computer that has survived its misguided inventors. Like its progenitors, it blithely kills with utter detachment and calm:

Resting easy, meditating,
No anxiety, kill.
Senses relay information,
No hostility, kill.

No involvement,
Will communicate,
Primal memory, kill.
Resting easy, logic functioning,
Reason programming, kill.

Against the above lyrics Haack juxtaposes music evocative of childhood nursery rhymes (a characteristic and effective ploy throughout his career), which, in this instance, makes for a darkly ironic and chilling effect.

Word Game. Bruce Haack loved to play with words. Ted Pandel informs me that there is a body of poetry that may yet be published. Accordingly, this track showcases the Haackian fascination with words--their roots, resemblances, and “resonances.” Some of the juxtaposed terms employed in “Word Game” include:

Uni-verse / One Poem
Love / evolve
Re-volve / To love again
Live / evil
Lived / Devil

As usual, what makes such whimsy work is the continual inventiveness of the accompanying electronic music, which in this instance assumes a leisurely pace nicely complementing Bruce’s pseudo-etymological meanderings.

From The Way Out Record for Children (1968):

School for Robots. Here is another track that borders on the puerile. The music is interesting, nonetheless.

Rubberbands. A fairly good, all-instrumental track. This resembles many of the sound effects Bruce would employ two years later on The Electric Lucifer, though I can’t honestly say it’s that excellent.

From This Old Man (1974):

Note that Bruce created the This Old Man album ostensibly for children, but, unlike much of his juvenilia, this one is performed entirely by Bruce, sans his erstwhile cohort Esther Nelson. No insult to Esther, but Bruce did much better by himself. Indeed, while This Old Man supposedly is a children’s album, in actuality it is sufficiently “adult” that only a few tracks (e.g., “Elizabeth Foster Goose”) seem overtly on the childish side. And even those tracks are so satisfyingly inventive, both musically and lyrically, that surely most adults will enjoy them too.

This Old Man. Intermittently throughout the album, Bruce employs the gritty persona of a grizzled old man; initially, I found his mock old-man voice a bit contrived; but it’s gradually grown on me--somewhat. At any rate, the old-man narration only pops up at a very few points, and only for short intervals. As for the “This Old Man” track per se, it showcases some felicitous Haackian sound effects from Bruce’s homemade, 1960’s-era apparatus. The lyrics seemingly parody the old “Hush Little Baby” nursery rhyme, and, of course, the long-familiar “This Old Man” ditty:

This old man
He play one
He play for you
Electric drum

This old man
He play two
He play electric song for you

Now this old man
He play three
He play your head electrically
And when this record’s gone
You’ll find
This old man inside your mind

The lively complementary music saves this thankfully brief number, which merges well into the ensuing track, “Bods.”

Bods. The theme of this song is “body language.” Along with still more mellifluous electronic music, this number highlights Bruce’s proclivity for linguistic frivolity; the wordplay is whimsically winsome, as with:

Now when somebody looks you in the eye
That doesn’t always mean it’s a truthful guy
Sometimes it’s something like hypnosis
And sometimes it’s simply staring where your nose is.

Elizabeth Foster Goose. This “children’s” song is so cleverly composed that only the most constipated person--of any age--could fail to be charmed. Bruce’s insouciant narration is complemented by utterly enchanting keyboard harmonies.

Four Dances. While I could do without the “old-man” introduction, the four “dances” that ensue (including “Hush Little Robot”) evince Bruce’s penchant for catchy keyboard riffs and bizarre electronic sounds.

Wooden Bread. Here we are told of an arcane recipe, ostensibly from an old witch, for bread made from maple or hickory trees. By turns witty and jejune, this is not the strongest track on this compilation; nonetheless, it's sufficiently intriguing and engaging.

Program Me. Originally from the Electric Lucifer album, this is Bruce’s solo remake (the original featured other vocalists). Having heard its antecedent, I rather like this version. The theme is that a computer is the ultimate tabula rasa, a veritable child just begging to be programmed.

Shine On. This has its moments, but all the “fascinating” facts Bruce shares here (regarding the scientific properties of light) sound a bit too much like a gee-whiz science show for kiddies. A great track for Newton’s Apple fans; otherwise, a yawner.

Thank You. Here Bruce cleverly, graciously expresses his gratitude to the “many thousands of teachers and kids” who’d supported his children’s music over the years. With its mock-banjo backing and engaging melody, this makes for a brief and agreeable denouement for the compilation.

Note: Capping off the Hush Little Robot CD are two “Campus Radio” 1970 interviews wherein Bruce briefly discusses the making of The Electric Lucifer. The first of these has survived the years well enough; the second opens promisingly with remarks about the moog synthesizer versus Haack’s own homemade paraphernalia, but then the discussion digresses and gets inextricably mired in a bog of 1967-style, “groovy,” nonsensicality. Were he alive today, I wonder if Bruce wouldn’t be a tad embarrassed--or amused--to hear himself uttering the following observations:

“Touch is like, uh, togetherness, touching minds and touching bodies, and what a great way to make music. To aim the focus of your, uh, to focus your aim on touching a person's body, to bring together, and thus producing sound .... touching each other, and also touching ourselves without and within and, uh, also touching each other in harmony, which is great. In other words, this touch gimmick, as I have it, is actually producing sound when you are touching.”

I’d guess that most Haack fans will do as I do: listen once or twice to these interviews, then skip ‘em.

Until complete CD reissues (hopefully) appear for The Electric Lucifer and This Old Man (not to mention the heretofore unpublished portions of Haack’s oeuvre), the Hush Little Robot CD serves admirably as an introduction to the music of Bruce Haack. In the meantime, check out the recently released Electric Lucifer Book 2 CD (on the QDK label, and distributed by Forced Exposure.) If anything, the sequel--lacking even one bad track--is still better than the Columbia original! You can read about and order both Hush Little Robot and Electric Lucifer Book 2 via the following link:

Related Links:
Bruce Haack Music (
Bruce Haack (
Bruce Haack: Pioneer of Electronic Music
Bruce Haack (Wikipedia)
Haack on YouTube

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Brian May @ Free Library of Philadelphia

Tom & Amy's Philadelphia Adventure

My girlfriend Amy is a Queen fanatic, so when she heard that Queen guitarist-astrophysicist-animal rights activist-author-stereoscopic photography expert Brian May (aka Dr. Bri) was presenting a free lecture and slide show at the Free Library of Philadelphia's downtown headquarters in support of the book he co-authored with photographic historian Elena Vidal, A Village Lost and Found (Frances Lincoln), we had to go.

A Village Lost and Found

Backstory: A Village Lost and Found, which is the result of 30 years of research, collects the stereoscopic picture cards (the earliest forerunners of the View-Master and 3-D images) depicting life in the 1850s in a small English village by stereoscopic photog T. R. Williams, who originally published them in his Scenes in Our Village; the Oxfordshire village itself - Hinton Waldrist - was "lost" for almost 150 years until May rediscovered its existence in 2003.

Stereoscope card of villager John Sims at his pig sty

Admittedly, I was initially Mr. Grumpy, as driving two hours to Philly for a program scheduled smack dab in the thick of rush hour to see the (admittedly great) guitarist of a band I wasn't "all that into" to begin with wasn't my idea of fun; but I acquiesced.

Tom Warner's alter ego, Mr. G

"Besides," Amy commented. "I don't think many people will be there - only four people RSVP'ed on the library's Facebook page."

"I don't think many people will be there," Amy said, without irony.

Yeah, right. I had to explain to Amy that nobody visits library Facebook pages - except librarians. (Sorry, we're just not that cool - or social-media trendy, however you want look at it!) Amy's crowd estimate gauge was as off-kilter as her sense of direction, which borders on vertigo. In fact, people started lining up outside the library's 400-seating capacity auditorium a good 3 1/2 hours before the talk and by showtime, the line seemed to stretch to Wilmington, DE. (Four people, you say! How about over 400?)

Yet, far from experiencing all the horrors I had been led to believe by my big brother Billy (who lives in Bucks County but makes his hellish daily commute through The City of Brotherly Love), the Philadelphia Experiment was a smashing success. Everywhere we went and everyone we met was really nice. It was like being in an East Coast San Francisco. In Philly!

Despite living just two hours away, neither Amy nor I was really familiar with our sister I-95 city to the north (Amy had been to the Mutter Museum years ago, but I hadn't been in the city proper since I saw Steve Carlton pitch for the Phillies back in 1972!), so we parked at the lot close to the library - which we knew was nearby because of this license plate we spotted:

Someone in Philly REALLY likes Brian May!

The good vibe started right at the Free Library of Philadelphia where I had an unusual experience - a pleasant one!

Tom & Amy say "We're Phillie Library Phanatics!"

Yes! Everyone was nice, laid back, and helpful, from the guards to the patrons. It was quiet. It was clean. It was non-confrontational. The Wi-Fi cafe had a real barista serving up Starbucks coffee, food, and they even had t-shirts for sale - including one for the homeless ("We are all homeless until all have a home.") I actually only saw three or four homeless people (in the bathroom, natch), and even they were cool - quiet and non-confrontational (no one asked for money, no one yelled, no one acted crazy and in your face). It was so unlike my Baltimore public library experiences in which everyone seems to be on edge and so freakin' aggro, 24/7.

It started with the friendly security guard. We asked him directions and when he heard we were Baltimorons, instantly piped up, "Hey, Edgar Allan Poe may be buried in your town, but if you're into Poe you have to check out Poe's favorite raven, Grip, in our Rare Books Department!" Grip was Charles Dickens' pet raven (he even appeared in the author's story "Barnaby Rudge" - which was reviewed by a literary critic by the name of Edgar Allan Poe) who died in 1841 and was taxidermied, mounted, and given to the Philly Library.

Grip the Raven

Alas, we never got to see the bird that inspired Poe's "The Raven," as the department had closed for the day, but we were directed to the Prints & Pictures Department, where there was a stereoscope cards and viewers exhibit to tie-in with Brian May and Elena Vidal's author talk. There I didn't notice a hottie French girl (honest, Amy!) who couldn't figure out how to use the stereoscopic viewer and another couple (cruise line entertainers, as it turned out) who were really into stereoscope cards - and soccer! I couldn't believe it, but they were fans - like me - of the old French national team, that is, Les Bleus from the Zinedine Zidane, pre-2010 World Cup era. (The cute French girl wasn't, as she was still trying to figure out how to use viewer, so we bid her adieu!) We agreed the current French squad was a national disgrace, that (now former) coach Raymond Domenanche was an idiot, and that Zidane himself was still Godhead, even in light of his infamous head-butt in the 2006 World Cup Final.

The couple were headed down to wait in line for the evening's lecture, but we couldn't envision standing in line a good 2-3 hours before the program. I desperately needed coffee, so we set out to find a Starbucks and kill some time walking around the neighborhood. I scored my coffee up the street on Callowhill (always hot - the way gumshoe Philip Marlowe drank it!), and we then cooled off at the Whole Foods across the corner, where we were fascinated by hearing a Soul Sister having a violently flirtatious cellphone conversation with her man: "I swear I was ready to grab my hot iron and iron your face...I was ready to grab my Ginsu knife and carve you up and slice and dice your balls." Hmmmm, the City of Brotherly Love was obviously not the City of Sisterly Love!

On our way back, we stopped by a bookstore around the corner from the library called, appropriately enough, Book Corner. This discount store on North 20th Street is full of books donated by Friends of the Free Library, with all proceeds going to the Philly Library. I was expecting old dog-eared, discarded library books, but was pleasantly surprised to discover a store not unlike Baltimore's Normal Books & Music (minus the music) and full of clean, crisp, unremaindered books in very good condition. And really cheap! It's a big store with an impressive array of eclectic titles. Amy picked up Volume 4 of Francis James Child's famous fin-de-siecle The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. "I always see these referenced in my medieval and folk records," Renaissance Woman/Medieval Babe Amy said.

While Amy was busy checking out the Literature section, I scoured the Music section (passing on a Spanish language Pet Shop Boys bio) and TV and Film shelves. On the latter, I discovered an entire set of the wonderful British film journal, Projections: A Forum for Film Makers. Edited by John Boorman, with the occasional guest editor like Mike Figgis or Martin Scorcese, these hard-to-find (usually out-of-print) book-length journals provide a forum for "practitioners of the cinema" (as they put it in veddy English-speak) to write about their work. They're info-packed and always fascinating and I hadn't seen any in years, since back when the Bibelot bookstore chain went belly-up (and off-shore with their capital). I hesitated about buying 'em all until Book Corner manager Jonathan Sipes wandered by and mentioned that all paperbacks were now just $2 a pop. "Say no more!" I cried, and greedily grabbed all of them.

I bought all the film books at Book Corner!

I also picked up a beautifully unblemished copy of Michael J. Weldon's out-of-print Psychotronic Video Guide (1996 edition) for $2 bucks and, for good measure, Local Hero: The Making of the Film (an out-of-print book about one of my favorite movies by Scots auteur Bill Forsythe). On the way out, I spotted Songs in the Key of Z, a great book about "outsider musicians" by WFMU radio personality Irwin Chusid (who I met years ago at Henninger's Tavern, after his appearance at Baltimore's American Museum of Visionary Art) and told Amy it was an essential addition to her oddball musician library, if only for the chapters devoted to The Shaggs and Daniel Johnston.

Irwin Chusid's off-key Z

At the cash register, the cashier girl was wearing a Queen t-shirt. With my flair for the obvious (it's a gift, I suppose), I asked her, "Are you going to see Brian May tonight next door?"

"Oh yeah," the cashier replied. "I'm heading over to score a good seat the minute I finish ringing you guys up." (We saw her later and, yes, she did score a good seat!)

While Amy made her purchases, I chatted with store manager Jonathan Sipes and told him we were from Baltimore. Sipes immediately replied, "Baltimore, huh?...I've been there and my favorite things about Baltimore are the Kinetic Sculpture Race and the American Visionary Arts Museum." Agreed! What can I his store, the man has good taste!

We headed back to the library a little after 6 o'clock, where the line (a mere 6 people when we arrived at 4 o'clock that afternoon) extended a good 1/4-mile around the corner from the basement auditorium. It seemed everyone was wearing a Queen t-shirt or hugging their slipcase-bound copies of A Village Lost and Found.

"Oh dear," I sighed to Amy. "Well, at least we're in a library and have ample resource to reading materials while we wait!"

But the waiting, far from being the "hardest part" as Mr. Tom Petty one phrased it, wasn't bad at all. Mainly because everyone was so nice and friendly. No one pushed and shoved or played "holdsie" for their place in line. In fact, folks politely let other people get in front of them. And we were particularly lucky to be standing next to a charmingly laid-back young Brazilian musician, Andrei SoulsilenS of the Philly-based grunge-inspired band SoulsilenS (, also on Myspace and Facebook), who didn't have the book but was there just to talk to his guitar hero Brian May and shake his hand.

Our new Sao Paolo pal Andrei

After I'm sure I bored him to tears talking about Brazilian soccer (I am so predictable with my flair-for-the-obvious), we got to talking music and travel. Trying to explain what Baltimore was like, I said, "Well, it's a great place to score heroin or get murdered, or get a sexually transmitted disease." He had never heard of John Waters, or Homicide, or The Wire, or about how Al Capone got treated at Union Memorial for his STD and donated the Syphillis Tree as thanks. He then descrined his hometown Sao Paolo, which sounded a lot more interesting (go figure!). Sao Paolo has sun and thongs; Baltimore only has The Sun and Sisqo's "The Thong Song".

At 7 o'clock, the libray staff opened the doors to the 400-seating-capacity auditorium and let the crowd in, handing out free pairs of 3-D glasses for the slide show that were ours to keep as mementos. Brian later explained that the 3-D slide show used the same 3-D glasses and silver screen projection technology as AVATAR (and for free!)

"Do these spex make me look DEVO?" Amy asks

During the wait, the PA system played classical versions of classic Queen songs, which I am certain was from The String Quartet's Tribute to Queen album (an inspired choice and great fun!). Initially, there was a notice saying photos would not be allowed, but the staff said that, in light of both the crowd's size and enthusiasm, Brian May had agreed to let his photographically inclined fans snap merrily away before the lecture started.

At 7:30 on the dot Brian and Elena entered, and snap away we did!

Brian and Elena got a standing ovation

The affable Dr. Bri and Elena Vidal

When Brian May and Elena Vidal entered the auditorium, I whipped out my Flip Video and started recording. I woulda recorded more, but some ruffian-lout behind me smacked my head with his program and said, "Stop that!" ( suppose I was obscuring his view - sorry!)

Watch my crappy Flip Video of Dr. Bri & Elena's intro at the Philly Library.

(And please pardon the crap hand-held video - I was trying to snap pictures with one hand and record this with the other - the one time in my life I wished I was an 8-legged Octopus!)

Brian went on to introduce his co-host Elena as being from Spain but adding that she was actually from Basque, pointing out "...and there is a difference!" Though I'm an entrenched fan of Catalonia's firecely independent FC Barcelona soccer team, I also like their fiercely independent-minded Basque neighbors, whose soccer team Athletic Club Bilboa I like to call AC Bilboa Baggins.

Basque soccer team AC Bilboa Baggins

Brian explained that lot of the color reproductions in the book were made possible or enhanced thanks to the "miracle of PhotoShop." Needless to say, Bri's a big fan of the software and must have mentioned it a half-dozen times, at one point saying he sounded like an unofficial spokesperson for the product. (Does it surprise anyone that the scientifically inclined Dr. May would love techno-photo software - and be a master of it?)

As I said, I had to switch off my video (under duress) while Brian and Elena explained their book, the technology of stereoscopy, and the village they rediscovered, but thankfully Brian's posted an informative two-part explanation of eveything on the official Queen web site.

Watch Brian May & Elena Vidal, Part 1.

Watch Brian May & Elena Vidal, Part 2.

The talk was very informative and enjoyable, with the only drawback being the overweight oddball sitting across the aisle from Amy; he looked like Comic Store Guy from The Simpsons as made these awkward gasping sounds throughout the presentation like he had swallowed a Whoopee Cushion - and every time Amy looked over his way he muttered something utterly incomprehensible. (What do we know? He's probably one of the undiscovered "visionary outsider" geniuses documented in Irwin Chusid's book!) At least we weren't sitting next to him (a plight that I'm sure is as horrid as sitting next to Underdog Lady on a bus trip.)

Brian enjoyed the crowd's enthusiasm so much that he and Elena extended the length of their planned talk and showed additional slides and an extended Q&A aftewards. I liked the audience member who prefaced his question by thanking Elena - in Espanol! (Though it may have been Basque - what do I know?)

Time to slide away...

At about 9 p.m. the talk ended and everyone headed upstairs to wait in line for the author book-signing. Another huge line, but again, it was a pleasant wait as Queen/May/stereoscopy fans talked amongst themselves and traded Queen anecdotes. The father and son from northwest New Jersey in front of us were very impressed that Amy had seen Queen at the height of their glory in 1977. "I only saw the Paul Rodgers tour," he said, "But I loved it." To speed up the book-signing process, helpful staff and volunteers wrote the names of each fan on sticky notes, which they then affixed to copies of the book.

Amy got nervous as the line shortened and we got closer to Brian May. "I don't know what to say," she said, anxiously. And then the moment arrived. I had earlier commented on what a great voice Brian had and how this Renaissance Man could have yet another career as an audiobook narrator. So...

"My boyfriend thinks you'd make a great audiobook narrator," she told Brian. He laughed and said "Who's your boyfriend? I'd like to meet him."

Thus prompted, he shook my hand (Brian May shook my hand!), but I told him, "To be honest, we drove up from Baltimore because Amy wanted to meet you, but I wanted to meet Elena - she's so beautiful and has that sexy Basque accent!"

I know...I'm a pig, but at least Elena smiled and then proceeded to sign Amy's book - lefthanded! "Wow," I said, "you, Amy, and Barack Obama - the great leftists of the world!"

Amy asks astrophysicist Brian May if he could
demonstrate the Big Bang - perhaps back at
his hotel room after the show

"Sounds charming!" Brian May humors Amy
as she describes the beauty of her twee
village green, Dundalk, MD

"Just write 'To Amy, Love Brian' - and your hotel room!"
Amy instructs Dr. May

Tom instructs lefty Elena to sign "To my
idol Tom - who I've waited my entire life to meet."

Amy was so excited at meeting Brian May she
suffered a mini-stroke and wandered the halls
aimlessly until an autistic boy (r) led her back

to the library lobby

The book-signing took an hour, but seemed to go quicker - and I must say, just like Crispin Glover when he gave a presentation at Baltimore's Charles Theater earlier this year (and stayed until 2 a.m. in the morning!), Brian was a gracious host who made sure everyone who came to see him got to see him and get their books signed. A man of the people! Just like T. R. Williams and his beloved Hinton Waldrist villagers.

Though we didn't get back to Baltimore until Midnight, Amy was now beaming like Little Miss Sunshine. And (a sure sign that she was still on Cloud 9), she wasn't even hungry, though she hadn't eaten anything in over eight hours.


Final Thoughts (a la Jerry Springer):

What a charming man Brian May is! My friend Big Dave Cawley may be the self-titled "King of Men," but Brian May is the Queen of Men, and that's going one better in my opnion (sorry Dave!). And what a charming - and sexy - woman Elena is (love that Basque accent)! She reminded me of a Basque Claudine Longet. So there you have it, a good time had by all. Oh, even our eloquent host-lecturer, Brian May, picked up on the good vibrations in the Liberty Bell town and showed he's now a Phillie Phanatic as well:
We had a fantastic night in Philadelphia last night ... the kind of night you can only have in the USA. It was a packed auditorium - in the beautiful Free Library of Philadephia - 400 gentle folk who gave us a standing ovation when we walked in ... and responded warmly to every nuance of our presentation. There was also an overflow room for extra people to enjoy some of the experience - though sadly they could not see the show in 3-D. It was one of the most enjoyable nights I can remember ... the warmth of the contact, the laughter, the applause, the vibe, reminded me of early Queen days ... as if we shared something rare and special in that room.

We also sold all the books that Francis Lincoln, our publishers had put in there! So big thanks to everyone there ... Philly rocks!

- Brian May, Wed 21 2010 (from his site

Related Links:
"A Village Preserved" (New York Times review)

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