Friday, September 12, 2008

Soul Stealer: Blood And Rain

Artwork courtesy of Michael Easton and Christopher Shy

With this post, I have the distinct honor of being among the first to announce the forthcoming publication of Michael Easton’s and Christopher Shy’s second collaboration, Soul Stealer: Blood And Rain (DMF Comics). Michael was kind enough to send me the teaser art, and gave me permission to post it here on my blog. This past July, I reviewed the initial book, “The Beaten And The Damned.” I wrote at the time that I found Soul Stealer to be “Dark, original, and sophisticated . . . a beautiful, marvelous book, one whose imaginative depth enchanted me in a way that I haven’t been for years.” Others agreed; a news update at Christopher Shy’s Studio Ronin website indicated that Soul Stealer exceeded half its print run during its first week of sales.

For those who have not yet read Soul Stealer, the story’s protagonist, Kalan, is a young, Etruscan warrior once cut to pieces by a brutal, hulking savage named Apis Bull, part man, part ox. Like the Frankenstein monster—whose remorseless loneliness and parentless lineage Kalan shares—Kalan is less a man than an assemblage (“there were days I wasn’t even sure who was calling the shots inside”), re-membered and restored to life by a magician named Strabo, the father of his lost beloved, Oxania. Motivated by his profound, eternal love for Oxania—taken from him by the capricious Gods—he can do nothing but wander for all eternity through time and space, searching for a sign, some way that he might re-unite with her. As compensation for his loss, the God Osiris has given him the ability to traverse between worlds: he is able to enter hell, find an individual soul, and deliver it to the land of the living—hence the title of the series, Soul Stealer.

As I wrote back in July, I found Soul Stealer to be a great imaginative accomplishment. In addition to the book's deft storytelling, I found Christopher Shy’s artwork to be distinctive for its masterful control of light, poised between functional representation and evocative (non-representational) expressionism. Meanwhile, the multi-talented Michael Easton, currently starring in the daytime soap One Life to Live, talks about Soul Stealer here. Christopher Shy’s Studio Ronin website is available here. In addition, DMF Comics has made available a very nice Soul Stealer T-Shirt. As a fan of the series, I very much look forward to the second installment.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Histoire de l’oeil

An ancient adage says, “The eyes are the window to the soul,” while in the Gospel of Mark the eyes are likened to the windows of the heart (7:20-23). Perhaps because beauty is so closely associated with the eyes, the eyes are considered highly seductive. Despite the vital role that she plays in his La Vita Nuova and The Divine Comedy, Dante’s beloved Beatrice is admired almost exclusively for her smile and shining eyes; otherwise, we know very little of her physical appearance. In the Middle Ages, gray eyes were considered a sign of nobility (class, but not necessarily character). By the time of Shakespeare, the metaphorical relation between eyes and beauty had become such a hackneyed literary stereotype that he tried to work against that tradition (“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun”).

But according to Georges Bataille (in his essay Eye, 1929, first published accompanied by a portrait of Joan Crawford, pictured), for the civilized person, the eye is a source of great anxiety. While the eyes of animals and men are considered extremely attractive and seductive, “extreme seductiveness is probably at the boundary of horror” (17). He writes:

. . . the eye could be related to the cutting edge, whose appearance provokes both bitter and contradictory reactions; this is what the makers of the Andalusian Dog must have hideously and obscurely experienced when, among the first images of the film, they determined the bloody loves of these two beings. That a razor would cut open the dazzling eye of a young and charming woman—this is precisely what a young man would have admired to the point of madness, a young man watched by a small cat, a young man who by chance holding in his hand a coffee spoon, suddenly wanted to take an eye in that spoon.

Obviously a singular desire on the part of a white, from whom the eyes of the cows, sheep, and pigs that he eats have always been hidden. For the eye—as Stevenson exquisitely puts it, a cannibal delicacy—is, on our part, the object of such anxiety that we will never bite into it. The eye is even ranked high in horror, since it is, among other things, the eye of conscience. (17)

Kim Carnes recorded “Bette Davis Eyes,” a song explicitly about the seductiveness of the eyes--but it is a song, if you seriously think about it, that tries to push seductiveness to the boundary of horror, that is, it articulates a strong anxiety about the eyes. Georges Bataille had a fascination with Joan Crawford's eyes, Kim Carnes with Bette Davis's. How utterly appropriate, then, that both of these actresses--linked in their professional lives through their well-publicized and bitter rivalry--would, in the latter stages of their careers, star in horror films. And how remarkable that Georges Franju, director of Les Yeux sans visage (Eyes Without a Face) would be linked to Georges Bataille through a mutual fascination with the abottoir--Franju would make a memorable film about a Parisian abottoir, Le Sang des bêtes, while Bataille would use the image of the abottoir in his writings as a way to explore the relationship between death, ritual, and sacrifice. None of this, of course, prevents popular songwriters from employing the standard relationship between the eyes, the heart, and the soul.

Audio Ocularity, A – Z

Abba – Angeleyes
Jackson Browne – Doctor, My Eyes
Kim Carnes – Bette Davis Eyes
Bob Dylan – Blood In My Eyes
The Eagles – Lyin’ Eyes
The Flamingos – I Only Have Eyes For You
The Guess Who – These Eyes
Hall & Oates – Private Eyes
Billy Idol – Eyes Without A Face
Judas Priest – Prisoner Of Your Eyes
Lenny Kravitz – Little Girl’s Eyes
Gary Lewis and the Playboys – Has She Got the Nicest Eyes
Van Morrison – Brown-Eyed Girl
Willie Nelson – Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain
Roy Orbison – Sad Eyes
The Platters - Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
Quicksilver Messenger Service – Light Your Windows
Todd Rundgren – I Saw the Light
Sugarloaf – Green-Eyed Lady
Them – Mystic Eyes
U2 – Spanish Eyes
Bobby Vee – The Night Has a Thousand Eyes
Bobby Womack (Patti LaBelle and George Benson) – Through the Eyes of a Child
XTC – Love At First Sight
Neil Young – Tired Eyes
ZZ Top – Penthouse Eyes

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Ultimate Oldies But Goodies Collection Has Arrived

Happily, Time-Life’s new Ultimate Oldies But Goodies Collection box set, graciously sent to me from the compilation’s producer, Joe Sasfy, arrived late last week. I would like to say that I am now ready to present my informed opinion of the recently-released box set, but I simply didn’t have the time this weekend to sit down and gather my thoughts on it—three days is neither time enough to fully assess the contents nor fully assess the presentation. I most certainly will offer my considered judgment as soon as I’m able, very soon. I suspect that many of those who have come across my blog as the result of a web search already have seen the amusing infomercial being hosted by former Sha Na Na member Bowzer, and want to know, frankly, if the collection is worth the money: it is currently listed on Time-Life’s website at $149.95 (with free shipping), which works out to less than $.99 a song, the current price of a download at Apple’s iTunes. I can’t say I’m ready to pronounce my final judgment on the collection at this point—whether it is worth paying $150 for (although I have seen it for sale on eBay for much less), that is to say. I can say, though, that the box consists of five jewel cases tucked within a handsome, sturdy case that imitates in miniature the old portable LP caddy with a latch and handle in which one would cart around one’s vinyl records. And like the old portable caddy, the case lid hinges at the top rear so that you merely tip the lid back to open it up. Snugly tucked inside the case are five individual jewel cases each holding two discs, the first CD in each labeled Side A and the second Side B; each disc contains 16 songs for a total of 32 songs in each individually titled unit—except for the fifth, the one titled “The Ultimate One Hit Wonders Collection,” which, for some mysterious reason, contains only 15 songs on each of the two discs (surely there were more than a mere thirty songs from this period qualifying as “One Hit Wonders”). Hence, just as the promotional advertisements claim, there are 158 songs included in the collection. Each individual jewel case has been allotted its own accompanying 8-page booklet containing liner notes on various songs and/or artists contributed by critic John Morthland.

The song selection ranges from 1954-1962, with the vast majority of them, as one might expect, from 1956-59. Nineteen of the songs date from 1960-61; only one (The Corsairs’ “Smoky Places”) dates from 1962. Rather than being organized chronologically (my own preferential form of organization), the songs are (loosely) grouped thematically. Hence each of the five 2/CD cases is given a title: the aforementioned “Ultimate One Hit Wonders Collection,” plus titles derived from the name of a song included in the individual subset: “Teen Beat,” “Rock Around the Clock,” “Raunchy,” and “Sh-Boom.” Whether a thematic (or perhaps lyrical) form of organization is optimal in this instance is debatable, as each disc contains songs from different years and consisting of different styles. For instance, “Teen Beat” intersperses instrumentals throughout the two sides—e.g., “Tequila,” “Honky Tonk (Part 2),” “Teen Beat”—but these songs are placed side-by-side with songs such as Larry Williams’ “Short Fat Fannie” and—oddly—The Kingston Trio’s “Tom Dooley.” Why not a whole disc (“side”) devoted to instrumentals? The argument might be that such as presentation imitates the format of Top 40 radio, when commercial programming would have dictated such heterogeneous presentation. Perhaps, but then why not organize the songs by year of release, and then in turn present them in order of release, when the information on the songs' chart position (available in the booklet) would make a bit more sense, contextually speaking?

At this point I’m still working my way through the selections and the way they are sequenced on the individual discs, so again, I’m not ready at this moment to present my final assessment. But I wanted those many individuals searching for information on the collection to have my initial thoughts. I’m loath to delay further, but there’s currently too much at the moment on my proverbial plate. I hope this information is useful to those considering purchasing the collection. More in a few short days.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Caravan of Prophets, Seers & Sages

Previously, in my entries of May 16, May 31, July 1, July 22, and August 18, I have discussed at length my experiment of trying to listen to all the rock and R&B albums released in the calendar year 1968 in the order in which they were released. Please refer to these earlier blog entries for the explanation for such an unusual project (and all its pitfalls). Listed below is October's listening schedule, for anyone wishing to duplicate my experiment. As I’ve reiterated many times, I cannot claim my list is infallible, but I continue to work to improve it. If you look back over the previous postings, you'll notice that I have continued to add to, and revise, them once I've received new or updated information. Here's the list I have assembled for October 1968, a rather interesting month in terms of the heterogeneity of albums released.

The Association, Greatest Hits
The Beau Brummels, Bradley's Barn
Canned Heat, Living the Blues
Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band, Strictly Personal
Caravan, Caravan
Cream, [Live Cream Vol. II] [3/9-10 & 10/4] [March 1972]
Jethro Tull, This Was
Jimi Hendrix, Electric Ladyland 10/14
Nazz, Nazz
Procol Harum, Shine on Brightly
Sly and the Family Stone, Life
Traffic, Traffic
Frank Zappa/Mothers of Invention, [Ahead of Their Time] [10/23] [1993]
Tyrannosaurus Rex, Prophets, Seers & Sages - The Angels of the Ages 10/14

Additions and/or emendations are, as always, welcome.

A Head With Hair

Perhaps because our society largely judges one another by appearances, clothes, weight, and hair are crucial factors contributing to what is known as “body image.” Perhaps that explains why, for as long as I can remember, hair has been so frequently referred to in lyrics to popular songs. When I was a small boy, Elvis’s hair was a topic of conversation: he used oils and creams to “grease” his hair, in imitation of black men who used oils and creams to straighten their hair in order for it to look like white men’s hair. Soon after, the Beatles’ hair became a controversial issue, and soon after that hippies and their (long) hair became a subject of controversy. In the 1970s, rock stars preferred “blow-dried” hair; subsequently, in the 1980s, hair dryers and gels contributed to the cultivated image of what are now referred to as “hair bands.” For as long as I can remember, hair has received as much attention as clothes and weight.

There are lots of songs about hair; there has even been a list compiled of songs about hair. If one is only concerned about compiling songs with the word "hair" in the title, then the list might remain rather short. But songs about hair are far more plentiful than such a narrowly defined list might suggest. Hence I have also set out to compile a list of songs about hair, but I have not felt especially compelled to limit my choices to mere titles, but to crucial references to hair in the lyrical content. To the aforementioned list, I add the list below, not exhaustive by any means, but a good indication of the extent to which hair is frequently invoked more than titles alone might indicate, and in ways that might be surprising. Hair isn’t simply eroticized or fetishized in these songs: it is a sign of individuality, non-conformity, but also a form of sexual innuendo.

America – Sister Golden Hair
Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band – Hair Pie: Bake 1 and Hair Pie: Bake 2
Johnny Burnette – You’re Sixteen
Rodney Carrington – The Pubic Hair Song
The Cowsills – The Rain, The Park & Other Things
Elvis (Presley) – Treat Me Nice
Five Man Electrical Band – Signs
Stephen Foster – Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair
Hall & Oates – Sara Smile
Don Henley – Dirty Laundry
Waylon Jennings – Amanda
George Jones – Would They Love Him Down in Shreveport
Willie Nelson – Red Headed Stranger
Nazareth – Hair of the Dog
Dolly Parton – Jolene
Gene Pitney – She Lets Her Hair Down
Jimmie Rodgers – Honeycomb
Kenny Rogers and The First Edition – Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town
Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band – Night Moves
Sammi Smith – Help Me Make It Through the Night
Sonny and Cher – I Got You Babe
Conway Twitty – I’d Love to Lay You Down
Leroy Van Dyke – I Fell In Love With a Pony Tail
Warren Zevon – Werewolves of London