Monday, January 25, 2021

The Complete Work of Fante Bukowski by Noah Van Sciver

(Fantagraphics, 2020) This masterful comic book novel presents the non-rise and series of surprisingly steep falls (considering he never reaches the corresponding altitude) of Fante Bukowski, a young man who looks like a rough-living fifty year old due to his embrace of a romantic ideal and his affliction of deep, deep stupidity. Like Tim and Gregg's yin and yang of unearned arrogance on On Cinema, and Donald Trump's everything, Bukowski's is a tale for our era: a profoundly mediocre White man believes his delusions of self-importance so much that he aggressively demands recognition of his specialness. Oh wait a minute, that's every era! Anyhow, Van Sciver's viciously funny narrative, and the straightforwardness of storytelling necessitated of any tale centered around such a simpleton, makes this a brisk read and a delight. Bukowski is a man who has embraced his fantasy of being a "true" writer, refusing to work a straight job, oblivious to any gates kept by gatekeepers, and enamored with the self-destructive lifestyle of his namesake. Van Sciver is pretty merciless to his protagonist (and not kind to himself during a cameo) but is not merely making fun of him as a 2-Dimensional post-beat poet version of Comic Book Guy. We actually get to care for him a bit by seeing Fante through the eyes of three women, none of them fooled by his facade (well, maybe one of them a little), but all amused enough by his shenanigans to try to figure out how to find value in his worthlessness. They (and we) realize that his passion for art, or at least for being an artist, kinda means something. That the agents, critics, and small publishers he encounters are no less pathetic and weak and ethically stumbling than this pathetic man (who we know to be genuinely awful at handling artistry, adulthood, or human being-ness) means that perhaps he has not chosen the wrong field. The book is meticulously designed to look like a Library of America anthology, but at 450 pages it's actually bigger and more important looking than many of those titles (and if you take it out from the library like I did the whole elevated shebang goes up a notch). In addition to the complete saga, this edition includes portraits of Fante by twenty of our finest cartoonists, including Anya Davidson, Simon Hanselmann, and John  P. [whom makes an unflattering cameo in the narrative]) and more importantly, a replica of Fante's Xeroxed six-poem chapbook, featuring an epic ultimate poem with a twist that would make O.Henry blush (and flush). 

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Zesty Rodz, Hot Rodz

(El Ranchero, 2021) When I was growing up eating Jay's potato chips was the same as drinking Old Style: it was the Chicago brand. You were a sellout if you went Lay's. Instead of a bigger bag they sold the large size in a huge box, bigger than, but comparable in audaciousness to, those cereal-sized boxes that house the alleged-porno VHS tapes sold by Maxwell Street hustlers (I say "alleged" because though I was never bold or desperate enough to buy one, I was stupid enough to buy enough "gold" jewelry on Maxwell Street that turned my skin green to have doubts about the signals on that magnetic tape). My brother pitched for one of the Metro-Afro American League semi-pro baseball teams in Washington Park and their coach worked at the Jay's factory and opened one of those boxes and gave you one of the two bags inside as a reward if you won a game (he won at least one, and saved that bag for far longer than any manufacturer's recommendation). But in 2007 when Jay's was sold to an Eastern pretzel conglomerate I shifted allegiance to Vitner's, even though I'd been told that their South Side factory actually only produced pork rinds, and they jobbed out chip manufacture (today's Internet indicates I may have had bad snack intel). Sometime in the 2010s they merged with something called Snak King from California, but that just sounded made up, and they still seemed to get preferentially placement in every gas station and liquor store in town, so I still pretended they were 100% local. But it was just announced that Utz, from Pennsylvania, bought out Vitner's and plans to move all the manufacturing out of town. So looking for a new local snack fave I am willing to go outside the chip box (or bag, in the post Jay's heyday) and was excited to see that the El Ranchero tortilla chip company is pushing something called Rodz, which are "tortilla sticks" that are tiny, tightly rolled tortillas, which are harder and crunchier than most of your stick-sized snacks. The Hot Rodz lives up to its "lime-chili" claims by definitely having a better flavor-to-heat ratio than most of the "Flamin' Hot" fam snacks, but I'm not crazy about them enough, and the heat they do have kind of slows down my snacking. (as opposed to the speeds attained by their cinematic daredevil namesake, portrayed by Andy Samberg). I'll "stick" with the Zesty Rods, which don't exactly have as much citrus punch as promised, and are maybe too salty, but I sure kept eating them. I cannot say that I have found my new Chicago Ride or Die snack, but I will definitely get these again, and lots of points for getting behind a non-basic snack format. And for making a "Z" out of tight tortilla rolls.

Kit Kat Duos: Mocha + Chocolate

(Hersheys, 2020) Now I'll buy chocolate candy if I'm ready to snack and coffee if I'm sleepy, but an imitation Dunkaccino doesn't sound too thrilling to me. Maybe I got a really old one (doubtful -- this seems too new a candy to have gone that far beyond sell-by date) but this had a kinda dry and stale vibe. That said, you can actually taste the difference of the two flavors, so it delivers on its promise even if it isn't Dunkaccino-level delicious. Kids from seven to seventeen, though, will probably not enjoy this flavor profile.

Friday, January 22, 2021

The Scissor Girls "The Scissor Girls"


(Jabs, 2020) I have been in a few bands and all of them had two things in common: the singer had excellent hair and their demos were fucking terrible! Of my friends' bands I would say that possibly 20% had a demo that you wouldn't toss (in CD-R era) or tape over (prior to that, or recently if your friends are super hip) at the first opportunity. Well, I was too boring back in the day to qualify as an actual friend (and maybe a bit intimidated by their futuristic savagery), but I knew the Scissor Girls, and this re-release of their 1992 demo (getting a sexy 45rpm 12" vinyl treatment) showcases no wave minimalist chaos geometry groove sounds that are better than any music you've heard this month and sure as hell better than any demo in shoebox of friends' band'stapes. In their original lineup, before Kelly Kuvo added vaudeville sensibilities that complimented and contrasted with Azita's gravely serious (while still absurdly theatrical) magic. The sounds of Sue Anne's urgent, weird guitar attacks brings back jarring Czar Bar memories that are both warmly nostalgic and a form of PTSD (courtesy Heather's martial drumming), and since Sue Anne left the band before most of their recordings this is an invaluable document. Demo-nic!

Thursday, January 21, 2021

The Krayolas "Savage Young Krayolas"

 (Box/Saustex, 2020) I only have a glancing familiarity with these four decade-strong Lone Star local legends, but I always fugured Texas is pretty fucking big, so I never write off bands from there...they could be monumental without me knowing jack about them. According to the boss beats on this archival release, this band was monumentally talented. Broken up into two parts, the first collects recordings that should have been released as the meat of a 1980 album that would have put them on one of those maps that features 49 other states. These are gorgeous rocking power-ish pop New Wave recordings by a band that apparently at the time wore space suits (I do not know the full legend, but my picture of the young act had them in Beatles get ups).  The most punky/rockabilly song of the set is called "Roadrunner"(no relation) and is a highlight of the "album," and a boss,slinky Kinks cover lets you know what kind of covers band they were (as they tried to sneak their originals into the set). The rest of this release features an eclectic collection of pristinely recorded diverse songs they did in the late 70s.  "Gator Gator" is a 60s-ish party pop tune with B52s-style vocals and Tex-Mex seasoning.  "All I Do Is Try" is a full on Fabs-clone shoulda-been hit that would make Dave Edmonds jealous. "Alamo Dragway" is a savage and youthful drag/surf instrumental. So they could do it all, and apparently did, and while we all should have been at the parties they played in the cusp of Carter/Reagan, now at least we can pretend we were there!

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

President Donald Trump

(2017-2021) God damn it! What the hell? Fuck. How did we survive this (excluding the hundreds of thousands who didn't)? How long until I can wear a red 1972 White Sox cap again? That was really, really terrible. Really terrible. Fuck.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Toon In With Me

 (MeTV, 2021) When almost every cartoon can be found on Youtube or viewed on demand on a streaming service why would anyone, child or adult, wake up at 6AM to view cartoons on broadcast TV every weekday morning? Well, Svengoolie's home channel has a few answers to that question. First of all, hosts! That one is a puppet does not hurt, and Toony the Tuna may not be as hilarious as Ratso (IM-apparently not so-HO), but he's pretty dang funny. His design may be a little too FAO Schwartz Muppet Shop slick for my tastes, but his fin waves!  More important is the human co-host. Bill the Cartoon Curator is way more regular guy than you would expect from a job historically held by clowns, cowboys and vampires, but the curatorship concept is the key component. If the joke was that the host had little control over the lame cartoon contents, like Krusty or Count Floyd, I’m not sure I would keep watching. But that he (or the expert for whom he is avatar-ing) opens the Old MacDonald-themed episode with "Duck Amuck"  because of one short farm gag in the daffiest duck cartoon is special, as is the ability to present a collection of cartoons featuring incidents of piano teeth (where one's teeth are replaced by crumbling piano keys after being steamrolled by a Steinway). Warner Brothers, Popeye, and Tom and Jerry have so many great cartoons and having them programmed with intelligence and taste is a huge selling point. I'm jealous of little kids just discovering these and I'm thrilled to re-enjoy classics (and remembering with surprising vividness things like Popeye turning around a manhole cover to re-direct Wimpy to his diner is some pleasant deja voodoo). Plus there's fish puns that would make Kid Addotta (Rest In Perch) wince, like "halibut-tosis!" Carp this up and I'll cod-tinue to tuna in!

Monday, January 18, 2021

Sun City Girls "Live at the Sky Church - September 3, 2004," Derek Monypeny "The Hand As Dealt"

(Twenty One Eighty Two Recording Company, 2020, 2021)   Considering that I have spent the last thirty years obsessing over masked rock n roll it's surprising how little I know about Sun City Girls.  I have two LPs by them (one gloriously titled "Horse Cock Phepnar," and one on Gregg Turkington's Amarillo Records featuring chaotic covers of pop songs). I believe they have in the neighborhood of 100 releases,  and, as with many prolific experimental agents of chaos, it is kind of intimidating trying to figure out where and how to jump in. While many folks I admire have reverence for the band I never quite got a handle on them enough to say I liked, or even vaguely understood, the Sun City Girls. A new series of albums triangulating vectors around the now-defunct (via death, not acrimony) mischief makers on Twenty One Eighty Two Records further confounded me, as these beautiful vinyl artifacts have elegant aesthetics, stunning production values, and understated design elements that don't seem to relate to horse cocks or cacophonous covers of "Brandy." I was even more boggled by the label's latest release, which isn't even in the series: After luxuriating in the sonically gorgeous Monypeny album, a blissful space-via-desert soundscape of peaceful, contemplative stringed instrument psychedelia, I got thrown a bit while spinning the bonus 7" of shahi baaja (an Indian zither with an oud-vibe) Sun City Girls cover songs. I didn't even know they had songs? Well, the label's live LP/DVD from a 2004 performance helped clear things up, while simultaneously making me feel kind of fuzzy and drunk. Watching the video (shot with a single camera from the worm's-eye view lip of the stage) my first revelation came from seeing the Girls literally attack the audience, as their riff on Rod Stewart's goofy practice of kicking soccer balls over the stadium crowd becomes using a golf club and a strong throwing arm to just pummel the attendees with balls. Actually, the first revelation came on the DVD menu, which features one of these monsters of rock checking out Mein Kampf, a preview of the t-shirts, props, and a puppet bandmate that gave shout outsto an All Star lineup of dictators, terrorists, and global menaces. Wearing hideous masks, alternating between walls of audio weirdness and ugly pop music (one Girl shrieking off key Roberta Flack lyrics while another mumbles semi-related grievances), and most sublimely, dancing like monkeys while balancing bananas on their heads, it is clear that Sun City Girls are not art rockers that are pretentiously indulging themselves. These bishops and gooches are 100% there for the listeners/ pelt them with literal and metaphorical balls. It is on the spectator to decide what, if anything, to do with the Sun City Girls' ugly, noisy, offensive, banana balancing balls. So now I truly (sort of, in a way, possibly) understand Sun City Girls. They are a set of ugly balls that want to attack me.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Kip Addotta "Life In The Slaw Lane"

(Rhino,1986) The late Addotta's hard boiled detective meets overcooked fish pun record "Wet Dream" on the lowly but hilarious Laff label was surprisingly successful in 1984 which led to a little known vegetable pun follow up on Rhino. This should be a $500 record because who bought it? How many copies could exist? But somehow used copies are well under $5 and you need to own the literally worst collection of awkward puns ever assembled: "I got off-acado," "a radish-ing beauty," "the problem still romaine-d" "my little story is okra now...thank you so mulch!" "Mulch" barely qualifies! You want to end on that one? I loveyou Kip Addotta! There is a video where he is still a detective, for some reason, alternating with surreal ancient veggie cartoons. COMEDY!

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Freaky Magazine


(, 2020) I know we complain about the algorithmic surveillance state of the Amazon/Google Gestapo monitoring our purchases and searches and direct marketing to us beyond belief and acceptable norms.  But if this is the fucking reality can't they at least be better at it? Last year there was a tour that hit Chicagoland of a Ronnie James Dio hologram backed by Dio members and I did not hear shit about it until it was too late! How does that happen in this supposedly Orwellian data-megeddon? And now I receive the FOURTH ISSUE of a contemporary  MAD-magazine knock off featuring some of the best Roctober cartoonists and it's the first I've heard of the publication? Is there a glitch in the Matrix? Andrew Goldfarb delivers his funniest stuff yet in this slightly naughtier and occasionally nastier take on the sublime and lame humor of the Usual Gang of Idiots.  And these New School Idiots include the wonderful King Merinuk, my all time fave 21st Century Wolverton-ian. In fact, that Goldfarb's take on MAD consists almost entirely of  Wolverton, Don Martin, and  the weirdos in Will Elder's background makes this more timeless than the issues of Sick,Weirdo, and Crazy burdened by bad movie parodies by subpar artists. This magazine has great artists, poop jokes, funny margin gags, and a "See Thru"feature that is cleverer than four fifths of the Fold-Ins! I love this Freak show so imma Freak tell the world: FREAK OUT!