Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Rat-Gnawed and Piss Bloated

So Spring finally springs and I’m weaving through Williamsburg, desperate for a parking spot so I can take a leak. From my window I see Hassidim halting on the sidewalks, gawking at me like I’m from another planet as my car woofers are at full tilt blasting out the Good Rats. Eventually, I snag a spot between a rusty Desoto and someone’s leased Camry, but I hold the piss back for a third go-round of “Love On the Beach.” I’ve had the Tasty Seconds CD for 17 long years and still didn’t recognize the track, which strikes me as curious, but here’s the dileo.

Like you, when I dig a band, I play them. And when I love a band, I play them more. But either way, I end up hitting the same tracks on the same LPs again and again and again. If I want the Beatles, it's the White Album. The Doors, LA Woman. Same goes for the Stones, the Who, Tull, and even the Rats.

I mean, I love the fucking Rats. I don’t hold out Peppi Marchello as the greatest underrated singer/songwriter of his day. Shitcan the qualifier. Peppi was top ten in a parade that included John LennonMick Jagger and Pete Townshend. He was the genuine article. The Rats were progressive and heavy and witty and fun; they danced on the head of a pin locating the precise juncture between trash and art. Like Zappa. Or Robert Crumb. Or Quentin Tarantino.

But even for a Rat fan like me, there’s the stuff you play and the stuff you skip. It has more to do with nostalgia than quality. You fast-forward to the songs nearest your heart and skip the rest. It's instinctive.

Which brings me to “Love On the Beach.”

I can’t recall what I expected during the summer of 1996 when I bought “Tasty Seconds,” the first Rat droppings in more than a decade. The title alluded to their classic “Tasty” LP, which aficionados regarded, at that point, as one of the band’s two or three most significant offerings. But we all know what sequels are like. Regardless, if I anticipated anything like their 1974 watershed, my expectations were soon dashed. “Tasty Seconds” was a new band whose backbone was no longer built on brother Mickey and John “the Cat” Gatto but rather on Peppi’s sons Gene and Stephen. The maestro's voice had matured. His songs were heavy, almost violent, a new sound for a new era, and some were instant classics to this long-time fan. I eagerly looked forward to live renditions of “Evil Little Boy,” “Crazy, Wild and Angry” and, more than any other, the driving, mournful biographic “Thunder Rocks My Soul.”

But I never made it to “Love On the Beach.” At least, not until this morning. With four thousand oifgekochte men in furry hats ready to bludgeon me for disquieting their morning with my goyishe music.

The point? (There has to be a point?) Well, this then: If you’re a Rat fan, you might want to flip that favorite Rat single to its neglected B-side. More, you might want to check out some of the less-known Marchello compositions that are begging for your attention on dusty CDs sitting in your own collection. And, if you want this humble author’s educated opinion, you might consider refraining from blowing ten bucks today, or whatever your local lottery ticket pusher is charging for scratch-offs, and invest in the current congress of Rat rondos: “Blue Collar Rats: The Lost Archives.”

Even a die-as-hard-as-you-can Rat devotee like myself finds it hard to break old habits. But the payoff is worth the effort.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Mike Pascale Explains Why You Shouldn't Burn Your Comics

Mike Pascale, who I've mentioned on occasion by way of praise or affectionately charged insult, will be doing the cover of my forthcoming book Comic Book Babylon. More on that very soon, but in the mean time, you might find his column Comics Economics: 50 Years Of Value of interest. I did.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Love Conquers Hate

It seems trivial discussing anything seemingly comics-related amidst news of the tragedy in Boston today. My five-year-old daughter caught the story on television by accident. She failed to understand how anyone could hurt a two-year-old. I had no answers for her.

I write this because love conquers hate.

I was standing outside in the sunshine this morning before the terror attack in Boston, enjoying the new weather when Harlan Ellison phoned. My pal was calling to say yes, he'd be happy to sign comics for a new scholarship. Of course he would. Harlan's always there for his friends and for quite a few strangers, and he's spent a lifetime setting an example. He'll be 79 in May and his health has been lousy. That doesn't matter. He'd have been insulted if I hadn't asked.

Then Johnny Romita Sr. contacted me to say yes, of course he'd sign comics for a new scholarship. Of course he would. He was glad I asked. John's 83 now. He has his own problems, like everyone else, but he's never said no to anyone looking for help.

Stan Lee emailed me last night. "Of course," he said. Of course. Stan's 90 and everyone wants a piece of him. Of course.

Love conquers hate. That's why this 52-year-old still hangs around comics and comics people.

Something less than human plants bombs and blows up strangers and calls it a cause. The rest of us look around and say, "How can I help?" Cause enough.

We're here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is. And that's it.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Scholarships Are *NOT* Entitlements!

As a student at Rutgers and FDU in the U.S., and at Wroxton College in the U.K., I often competed for writing scholarships. The competition and awards proved invaluable on numerous levels:

1) As an amateur/student, I was forced to bring my writing to the highest possible level without assistance.
2) I learned to meet deadlines and follow word-count and guideline parameters.
3) Winning awards for my writing increased my confidence and allowed me to envision life as a professional.
4) Awards are solid resume material for as-yet unemployed wannabes.
5) Any monies I won were enormously helpful to my father, who earned a meager living but was otherwise happily burdened with my tuition and upkeep.

Needs-based awards have some value but, let's face it, everyone has needs.

Merit-based awards are far more valuable and character building.

After Dave Cockrum's passing, Paty Cockrum and I launched the Dave and Paty Cockrum Scholarship at the Joe Kubert School where we annually award a second-year student with some tuition assistance based on their ability to create seductive, sequential art. We designed the award for someone who has demonstrated a stick-to-itiveness by hanging in for that second term. The scholarship now enters its 6th year and is funded, in part, by sales of Dave Cockrum's personal comics collection.

After Gene Colan's passing, I began funding a second scholarship to a promising penciller at the school, also in his or her second year. I was pleased to be informed that these scholarships inspired the creation and private funding of other named scholarships, including one in Dave Stevens' memory.

With Joe & Adam Kubert at 2012 Scholarship Ceremony
This year's award ceremony will take place next month and I plan to be on-hand once again to meet and congratulate winning students. This will be the first year my friend Joe Kubert is not there to emcee the event. But in contemplating that loss, I've decided to add a third scholarship (as yet unamed), which will be funded by selling signed comics. Today's collectors like their comics signed and, fortunately, I am able to pick up the phone and ask some old friends for signatures. Stan Lee, Walter Simonson and George Perez were among the first to offer help.

I invite your participation in this new scholarship, too. If you have any signed comics that you are willing to part with (even one), please send them to: Clifford Meth (attn: Kubert Scholarship), 179-9 Rt. 46 West, Rockaway, NJ 07866. Or email me at cliffmeth@aol.com  Donated items will be auctioned on Ebay under the account DaveCockrumEstate (which is currently in use to fund the Cockrum and Colan Awards).

Scholarships helped me and kept me going forward. I am delighted by the opportunity to maintain the circle of life.

Thank you in advance for your kind support.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Mark McKenna: Worth Your While

I'll likely say more later about Mark McKenna, but want to take a moment to bring attention to Mark's COMBAT JACKS Kickstarter. I am backing this project with cash and time for any number of reasons (not the least of which is any pal of Billy Tucci's is a pal of mine), but the perks alone make it worth your while.

Please click this link, visit the Kickstarter page that Mark has set up, watch his 60-second video and see if you don't agree.
Mark McKenna brings that old-time rock-and-roll to his comic art.