Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Cultural Intifada

Look! Up in the sky! It’s freedom of religion!

But Meg Ryan just cancelled her appearance at this week’s Jerusalem Film Festival. And Elvis Costello changed his mind about performing in Jerusalem. And Carlos Santana was bullied out of appearing at his sold-out performance in Israel.

Elton John, on the other had, said this in mid-June to an enthusiastic Israeli crowd: “Shalom! We are so happy to be back here! Ain’t nothing gonna stop us from coming, baby. Musicians spread love and peace and bring people together. That’s what we do. We don’t cherry pick our conscience.”

Jethro Tull also refused to be intimidated out of playing three concerts in Israel in early August. Said Ian Anderson, “[I have] long maintained the position that culture and the arts should be free of political and religious censorship.”

Monday, July 19, 2010

Scott Kempner Breaks His Silence

Pals of Mrs. Meth’s boy Clifford know I'll swan dive into hemorrhagic shock if forced to go too long without the good stuff, and it’s been too long, my droogs, since fellas with guitar guts, soul ripping, honest, have burned across these bankrupt airwaves. There's nothing coming through that we haven’t already heard half a million times until everything holy has become muzak to broken ears... So your love-starved author contacted Scott "Top 10" Kempner, then drove to the edge of town, climbed out of his rusting Jap garbage hauler, slammed the door, and strode through the woods until he reached the banks of the Rockaway River. And there he fell to his knees and looked to the sky. Who will save rock and roll?

Meth: When did you first realize that The Dictators had passed into a serious part of rock-and-roll history?

Kempner: Well, this is not an open-shut, widely accepted or widely held concept to begin with, our being part of rock’n’roll history. I think it is close to 50/50 as to how often the band is given any kind of recognition in, for example, the printed word: books, magazines, etc., things that serve as accepted proof of one’s relevance. Timing-wise, we were really born on the cusp—that’s one reason why. We in no way had any kind of D.I.Y. work ethic or sound; we bordered on metal, we had Ross, and we started on the tail end of the Dolls, and a year or two before the Ramones are all other reasons why. That last point is what I mean about being born on the cusp. But, there’s a difference of opinion out there. A confusion, maybe, as to who we actually are, or were. Plus, what would come to be defined as the “Punk” sound, that downstroke eighth-note thing that The Ramones used in every song they recorded for their entire career, more or less, was not something we participated in. Ironically, it would become something we did rely on decades later around the recording of DFFD.

All of this sets up the answer to your actual question, which is I am completely unsure as to exactly how much we have passed into rock’n’roll history. I mean, we’re not ever mentioned in the same breath as The Ramones, Blondie, Television, Talking Heads, or even The Dead Boys. Which, to me, totally makes sense. It’s always some other classification outside of those bands that we’re put into, when we’re mentioned at all that is. Which also makes sense to me.

On the other hand, I do meet people all the time who are thrilled to meet Top 10 of The Dictators, and who really get it, and as a rule, the fans we have love us. And, sometimes it’s more about how big you are in the hearts of your fans than just how big you are. And, we have ferocious fans. It does make me smile just thinkin’ about ‘em. So, where do we stand in The Big Book? I just don’t really know.

Meth: I was called a punk fiction writer in print by no less than Andy Shernoff. But to be honest, I have no idea what that means anymore. To me, James Dean was punk. Brando. Joey Ramone. Sid Vicious... But Green Day? Jesus Murphy! If that’s punk, then flush me now.

Kempner: Punk is a word that has survived on the strength of sheer flexibility, the ability to mutate, and to finally find a home in a financially lucrative host. It has always denoted some form of outlaw status. A punk was misunderstood, a victim, embodied a slow smoldering rage at one’s own ineffectiveness, the little engine that can’t. As far as I know the word has its origins in prisons. The one who becomes sex slave to others was a punk. A humble beginning, for sure. It retained some of the victim vibe of its prison origin in its travels until it gets transferred to an actual outlaw and/or, perhaps, criminal. But, definitely an outsider. Brando becomes a punk icon by assuming outsider-ness, vulnerability, rage, unpredictability and anti-heroism. The latter is retained forevermore in the punk ethos. It’s all about anti-hero, by virtue of all this iconography that has preceded it.

In Rock’n’Roll, punk reaches its more contemporary meaning when the tag begins to be worn proudly, as a statement that contains all the previous meanings and mutations, except the original one, the prison one. First as a description of all the post-Beatles one hit wonders and the thousands of band that began making a racket in mom and dad’s garage. Then, it gets codified as an umbrella tag for the mid-70’s CBGB scene we were a part of. Finally, Green Day institutionalized it by making millions off of it. What’s the connection? Along the way, that Ramones sound becomes institutionalized as “the Punk” guitar style. And that, right there, that little head of a pin, the Johnny Ramone guitar style that Green Day adapted and built on, that is why they are now Punk!

I would say that Shernoff being the astute fellow I know him to be was referring to your individuality, your uncompromising style and attitude, all of which would be pure outsiderness. That would be what Andy was talking about. He’s talking about a more aesthetically “pure” use of the term punk. I would say we would all use the term punk to describe Richard Meltzer, the Dictators’ godfather. I would also put my personal opinions about the word punk closer to Andy’s than I would to the explanation and chronology of the word I’ve offered, especially when it comes to you. It’s a compliment.

Meth: I don’t remember what I expected from DFFD—I guess a sort of retro-fit BLOOD BROTHERS (my favorite of the 'Tators original LPs). But I was ossified, pal. It wasn’t only the best Dictators album by light years, it became an instant classic in the Meth household. One of my favorite 25 albums ever. Did you guys realize how giant it was at the time?

Kempner: That record took a very long time to make, and we went through about another half dozen songs, or more, in all kinds of styles that were rejected along the way. I do think it has the best stuff we ever recorded, although I’m not crazy about the whole thing. It was also a difficult time for me personally in the band. It wasn’t long after the record finally came out that I left the band. Maybe six months after it came out. I guess it had been coming for awhile, and a disagreement over a tour of Australia in the Summer of ’02 brought my 30 years in the band crashing to a close. I was sure at the time that I would never play with them again, and I didn’t play another show with the band for two years.

My return to the fold only happened because Little Steven was having his Underground Garage Festival, wanted the Dictators, and didn’t think it was The Dictators without me. He went to battle for me unbeknownst to me, at first. But, his opinion is an opinion I happened to share, which is of course exactly where we stand at the moment, and this time it isn’t me on the outside. If Steven hadn’t gotten involved at that level I don’t know for sure if I ever would have played with them again. I’m very grateful he did what he did, believe me. I hope the other guys feel the same way.

But, as for DFFD, I put WHO WILL SAVE ROCK’N’ROLL?, I AM RIGHT, AVENUE A, IT’S ALL RIGHT, SAVAGE BEAT, CHANNEL SURFIN’ and JIM GORDON BLUES up there as the best things we ever committed to record. The record also sounds way better than anything we had ever recorded, mostly because we were way better than we were when we were recording in the 70’s. And, if it stands as the last studio document of the band, which at this time seems to be the likely case, I think it does a good job of that of representing where the band was at in the 21st century.

Meth: It kills me that there’s nothing new coming out of the ‘tators. I’m pals with Richard and Andy so I sort of get it. Any thoughts on this?

Kempner: Well, for one thing, the Dictators record at an agonizingly slow pace. That’s part of the problem. We’ve always had major personality differences within the band, as well. Not that this is an unusual thing for a band. I don’t know if any band is totally free of the artistic differences, personality clashes, and such, but another thing that Steven says that I totally agree with is that seeing as to how hard it is to make a band work, and to stick it out together, yet, how fantastic a thing a great band is, and how rare it is, Steven’s take is: you do anything and everything you gotta do, go through whatever you gotta go through, to keep that band together. He’s right about that.

So, ultimately it breaks my heart a bit that we have been torn asunder by these same clichés that have plagued rock’n’roll bands since the beginning of bands. But, that’s because those clichés are real, and painful, and very hard to overcome. So, it is very hard to accept the likelihood that the band will never play together again, but that does seem to be the case. I thank God I have the Del-Lords back in my life. And, at this point, I don’t really think about the Dictators much. I’ve come to some sort of acceptance that this is the way it is, and having the Del-Lords back, which is something into which I have a much greater creative input, being the songwriter and all.

Just want to add a bit about the word "Punk" question. The final resting place for punk, the final irony of the word's gestation and mutation, is that its connection to the outlaw/outsider vibe is now inverted and perverted, as Green Day has taken the word full circle, from outsider status to now describing a band who is as big an insider as anyone in the music biz.

Well they suck. I wouldn’t give them a chance to bore me. But that’s why God gave us memories and recording studios--that we might have roses in winter and Dictators' music after breakfast.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Hank Magitz and Adam Austin

Hank Magitz and Adam Austin appeared today at TimeWarp Comics and Games in Cedar Grove, NJ. Two people actually showed up specifically to see Magitz. They said he owed them money.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Gene & I Are Signing (and we're not even blind)

Gene Colan and I (really Gene) will be signing books this Sunday at Time Warp Comics & Games, 555A Pompton Ave., Cedar Grove, NJ, from 12 to 3 pm. If you're in the neighborhood, please stop by. I'm the one with the hat.

We Get Letters...

...and some of them are rather nice.

Cliff, on behalf of the creative community, let me be the zillionth to thank you for the great care and Ellison-level protectiveness you've shown to the giants. Kudos. --Mark Waid

Tom Palmer (Quietly) Breaks His Silence

One of the great unsung heroes of the Marvel Age of Comics, Tom Palmer has humbly contented himself with taking almost a backstage role in co-creating some of the finest comics we’ve seen. And it dawns on me that the inker’s job in comics is not unlike the bassist in rock and roll; when it’s done right, it’s almost silent; when wrong, it’s glaring.

I speak with Tom on odd occasions. The first time, decades ago, he was delivering a freelance assignment to Tom Phon, the art director at Electronic Design magazine in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, where I was starting my career as a staff editor and writer. I just happened to come across his name on some art credits.

“There was a Tom Palmer who worked in comics,” I said to Phon.
“Same guy,” he said.
When I got up off the floor, I asked for an introduction. Several months later, the Toms and I lunched.

Tom Palmer's name has continued to come up in conversation—with Gene Colan, with Neal Adams, and with my friend the late John Buscema—so often, in fact, that I probably feel like I’ve spoken to Tom more than I really have. I have a lovely Avengers pages he gifted me with that hangs in my family room. That’s been the source of many conversations, too.

Today, I asked Gene and Neal about Tom again, for the benefit of a panel discussion that my new friend Mark Waid is hosting at San Diego ComicCon. Gene was particularly gushing:

Tom Palmer was really the only inker who made something of my work. From the moment that I saw his inks I saw what great painting skills and art skills he had. He really made me look good and I just loved his stuff.

As we worked together, we became friends and we still are. He was always very easy to talk to. He has a simple way of reaching you that’s hard to explain. Whenever he calls or I call him, we get lost in conversation about life and about art. I’ve learned so much from him.

My favorite inker? Tom was the only one. Al Williamson was really great, too, but Tom is special. He is a complete artist.
Anticipating my forthcoming ComicBook Babylon (Aardwolf Publishing, 2011), it occurred to me that Tom is only barely mentioned in there. Another crime I don't need to be prosectuted for. So I asked Tom for a sit down sometime over the next few weeks. And in my emailed note, I foolishly assumed he was retired and basking in the New Jersey too-hot sun ever-after.

I'm still doing a few books for Marvel and just starting on the new Kick Ass series with John Romita Jr. and Mark Millar, which involves a more finished halftone art and is time consuming; only finished the first four pages of issue #1 and miles to go! I have three painting commissions waiting and luckily the clients are patient and willing to wait until I get to them. Don't know if I've ever heard of an artist retiring and kicking back; think you only start to get good after age 50 and hit your stride around 90. I don't play golf either.
Stay tuned. Following SD ComicCon, Tom will have more to say here about something or another.

We Get Letters: The Invincible Gene Colan errors

Dear Cliff,

I have just recieved my [Invincible Gene Colan] book. But I felt I had [to] e-mail regarding its production faults! I had 31 years in the printing industry as litho/gavure printer/supervisor in both/production manager. It would be unthinkable to produce a book or any print for that matter with that amount of overprinting, which I believe was two lots of text on the same black plate... It begs the question why did anyone not spot it. Everyone looks at the job (print); if they don't then they are not doing their job. It is such an obvious error the readers should have picked it up! But what dissappoints me most is that a decision was obviously made to ship to the customers and with an error sheet supplied. To my mind it was a no-brainer, reprint, no question. Aardwolf [Publishing] have supplied a sub-standard product and expected the customer to accept it as it stands. I am a devoted collector of Gene Colan art (8 pieces) and he deserves every penny, the man is a genius. Lets [sic] not forget we paid up front for this up-front in December, 2009! Contents amazing, production lousy. Cliff can you pass this message on , please and I very much look forward to eveyone's reply.

Kind regards,
Steve Chivers

Dear Steven,

After more than a year working on this book as its editor--and after approving perfectly clean proofs--no one was more disappointed than I. Not even Gene. He has 65 years of extraordinary work behind him. This was my first book for Marvel and it looks like a bird shit in it. Seven times.

But you are sorely mistaken. You write "Aardwolf have supplied a sub-standard product and expected the customer to accept it as it stands." Aardwolf simply took a book that Marvel printed and Diamond distributed and did nothing more than add Gene Colan's remarqued and signed bookplates.

Aardwolf ordered hundreds of books, in advance, like everyone else. Neither Aardwolf nor myself had any control over what was printed. The proofs that *I* saw were clean.

Someone in China didn't do their job. Or perhaps Korea. I was fairly sick when I saw the printing mistakes, but what could I do?

That said, Aardwolf Publishing stands behind everything it does. If you aren't happy, please return the book. Aardwolf will promptly refund your money and shipping expenses.

Clifford Meth

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Capt. America #601 Original Art for Sale... Bids coming in strong

I've been collecting original comic art for 35 years (back when you could get a primo John or Sal Buscema page for $10, and a John Byrne sketch for $5). Among my favorite pieces are the historical ones I've managed to gather, including one of John Romita's early design sketches of Mary Jane Watson (a gift from John to Paty Cockrum, and from Paty to me) and a Bill Everett Sub-Mariner page from issue #61 (Everett's last). I had a page from Giant-Size X-Men #1, once, but foolishly let it go.

I don't plan to spend my entire 4th of July doing this, but I've had a fair number of blind bids on Gene Colan's original art for Captain America #601 that's now available. This is a great chance to own some comics history and great art. Click here to see eveything.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Bru-Hed on Meth

I ran into my neighbor Joe Kubert today at the local supermarket. We shook hands, exchanged pleasantries, asked about each other's families. He also wanted to know why I was wearing a t-shirt with Jay Leno on it.

Images Added for Captain America #601 Art

Visit this link to see what's for sale. It's not just great art, folks -- it's comics history.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Gene Colan's Capt. America Original Art for Sale

These pages are being offered for the first time. It's Gene Colan's last significant work and it's up for an Eisner Award. Own a piece of comics history while helping this beloved artist. You can see the pages here.

A Misunderstanding...Now Understood

The artist James Romberger is like the rest of us: He has no time to absorb the deluge of pop culture news. Thus, a complete misunderstanding occurred between us regarding Helen Thomas. He writes this morning:
Okay, I see that Thomas said something really stupid. I don't think Israel is right about everything they do but saying Jews should go back to Germany is fucked up. I couldn't find what she had done that you were hating her for until now. I had thought she was one of the good guys because Bush hated her so much.

Meanwhile you didn't make any of this clear in your post, you just went on calling her ugly... So I jumped the gun. I do think you could be more specific in your postings so us people who avoid reading the miserable news can figure out what you are talking about, and maybe set your sights a bit higher.


James Romberger