Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Kiss Kollectibles

An interesting comment left in response to my blog entry yesterday concerning popular musicians who have appeared in comic books indicated that the rock band Kiss also appeared in a comic from Marvel, issued around April 1977, written by the late Steve “Howard the Duck” Gerber. The comic was notorious at the time because the red ink used in the printing of the comic was mixed with blood taken from each Kiss band member, a story authenticated as true by Apparently Marvel published a second Kiss comic in 1979, but without the garish sensationalism that the marked the publication of the first, and in 1997 Image began publishing Todd McFarlane’s Kiss: Psycho Circus, obviously an attempt to revise Kiss’s cultural capital by avoiding the juvenilia that marked the band’s first appearances in the comics. Apparently Kiss comics have become a cottage industry of late, with Dark Horse publishing a Kiss comic book series authored by X-Men writer Joe Casey in 2002. I suspect that the sheer amount of Kiss-related merchandise probably rivals The Beatles; I couldn’t begin to name to vast number and kinds of product tie-ins and memorabilia available, but most certainly these products are distributed world-wide.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

From Big Band To Rap

Moments after posting my entry on Jack Kirby and Paul McCartney this morning, my friend Dion Cautrell sent me an email with a link to today’s press release announcing that Marvel Comics has teamed up with Eminem to create a limited series comic featuring the famed rapper and Marvel’s provocative vigilante, The Punisher, in Eminem/Punisher: Kill You. Apparently Marvel discovered Eminem is a fan of The Punisher, and worked out an arrangement with the musician to issue a comic coinciding with the release of his new album. Click the link on my blog entry from earlier today (below) to go to my initial discussion of the relation between rock music and the comics. I admit to being hard-pressed to think of another popular musician appearing as himself in an original comic book story; I’ve previously cited Alice Cooper’s From the Inside, a comic featuring Alice as well as characters from his 1978 album of the same title. I don’t think the now defunct “Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics,” published by Revolutionary Comics, qualify, as they largely consisted of a rock star’s or rock band’s biography told in graphic novel form.

The only other popular musician I can think of who appeared as himself in a comic book with an original story is big band leader Kay Kyser, who appeared with Batman and Robin in DC’s Detective Comics #144 (February 1949; pictured), in an episode entitled “The Mystery Broadcast.” Kay Kyser’s band was one of the most popular of the big band era, and no other bandleader of the swing era can boast such an extensive filmography as Kyser. Although hugely popular during the late 1930s and the 1940s, especially with his “College of Musical Knowledge” radio show, Kyser permanently retired from the music business shortly after Detective Comics #144 appeared in 1949. He hosted a TV game show sponsored by Ford Motor Company in 1950, but retired by the end of that year, largely explaining why he is virtually unknown to “Baby Boomers.” The fact that he appeared as a character in a comic book suggests just how popular he was at the time.

Magneto and The Crimson Dynamo

Early last month I wrote about the connection between comics and popular music, observing that it’s unusual to see a reference to comics invoked in the context of popular music. I mentioned that one of the earliest explicit connections I remember between comics and music, revealing that the two could come into confluence, was Paul McCartney and Wings’ “Magneto and Titanium Man,” from VENUS AND MARS (1975), a song about two obscure villains from the Iron Man comics.

I have been told that a couple of days ago, over at The Cool Kids Table blogspot, “KP” posted a picture of famed comics artist and occasional Iron Man writer Jack Kirby with Paul McCartney, taken backstage at a Wings concert around 1976. As it turns out, KP found a link to a Beatles photo blog (the link to the photos is available by clicking on The Cool Kids Table blogspot link above) that has several pictures of the backstage meeting between Kirby and McCartney. KP also posted an excerpt from an interview he conducted with Lisa Kirby, daughter of the artist, in which she says the former Beatle introduced her father to the audience during the concert, then went into “Magneto and Titanium Man.”

Many thanks go to my friend Dion Cautrell for finding this information and sharing it with me.

Monday, May 4, 2009

400 Turns 50

The Criterion Collection newsletter I received this afternoon contained the startling piece of information that François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows turned 50 years old today, the date that also represents the unofficial beginning of the French Nouvelle Vague. The 400 Blows made its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on May 4, 1959, and contained “the shot heard round the world”: the final freeze-frame of Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) standing alone at edge of the ocean, staring back at the camera, is one of the most famous freeze-frames in the history of cinema. The past 50 years have seen many pieces published on Truffaut’s fine film, but none of them can approach the elegance, the poignancy, and above all the inconclusiveness, of the film’s final, evocative image, of a vulnerable boy standing on the edge of troubled adolescence.


My previous post on the role of stuttering in music reminded me of Dadaist Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) and his “primitive” sonata (sound poem), the Ursonate. The “Ur” principle (“early” or “primitive”) contributed to Schwitters’ creation of the Ursonate, a soundform from which the sonata might have come. Brian Eno includes a portion of one of Schwitters’ sound poems in “Kurt’s Rejoinder,” found on Before and After Science (1977). Eno’s interest in the Ursonate later influenced the Talking Heads during their Fear of Music (1979) period; Schwitters’ influence can be heard on that album’s opening track, “I Zimbra.”

Some Additional Recordings:
Marcel Duchamp, The Creative Act
Raoul Hausmann, Poèmes phonétiques (EP) (Paris 1958)
Kurt Schwitters, Ursonate (1922-32) (Wergo, pictured)
Cecil Taylor, Chinampas (Leo Records)
VA, Futurism & Dada Reviewed (Sub Rosa)

Friday, May 1, 2009


One of the reasons The Who’s “My Generation” is so memorable is, of course, because of Roger Daltrey’s distinctive delivery—his stuttering: “Why don’t you all f-f-f-fade away!” I’ve read a few accounts as to why he stutters, one version averring the song began as a “talking blues” number without the stutter, but having been inspired by John Lee Hooker’s “Stuttering Blues” (1953), Pete Townshend was compelled to include it. A competing version is based on Daltrey’s claim that his stuttering came about as the result of his having failed to learn the lyrics prior to rehearsing it, and hence the stuttering was a consequence of his inability to read the lyrics on the lyric sheet correctly—in other words, the stuttering was a “happy accident.” Whatever the reason—now a part of rock legend—the stuttering is significant, and I suspect it is connected to the issue of “noise” in rock music that I’ve written about previously.

Most certainly “My Generation” wasn’t the first popular song featuring stuttering. “K-K-K-Katy,” a song featuring a stutter that was a huge hit during the First World War, was performed by Billy Murray, the most popular singer in America prior to Al Jolson. A few years later, in 1922, Murray recorded “You Tell Her, I Stutter,” about a young man who desperately wants to propose marriage, but because he stutters, he asks his sweetheart’s brother to do the proposing for him. Blues musician John Lee Hooker stuttered, the motive behind his recording of “Stuttering Blues.” Stuttering or stammering is commonly understood as a speech disorder in which speech is disrupted by involuntary repetitions and prolongations of sounds or syllables, and involuntary silent pauses—blocks—during which the stutterer is unable to make any sound at all. While stuttering in the popular imagination is associated with the involuntary repetition of sounds (as in “My Generation”), it is also characterized by long, involuntary pauses and the prolongation of certain sounds. Joseph Sheehan, a speech pathologist, compares stuttering to an iceberg—referred to here as the “iceberg theory”—with the manifest or phenomenal features of stuttering (speech) the part above the waterline, with the larger mass of negative emotions associated with stuttering remaining hidden:

. . . the majority of the behaviour associated it [stuttering] lies beneath the surface. What lies above the surface are the visible symptoms of stuttering: blocked speech, repetition of syllables, disjointed speech, facial grimaces, blushing, visible tension in the face and neck, etc. However, Sheehan sees the greater problem with the effects of stuttering that other people cannot see: this includes shame, embarrassment (in addition to that embarrassment which is physically visible), guilt, avoidance of situations, substitution of words and other tricks, etc. There can be some argument about what exactly these covert symptoms are, and they tend to vary from person to person, but it is quite evident that such behavioural symptoms do exist and they contribute significantly to the overall problem of stuttering.

Herman Melville’s Billy Budd stuttered and stammered, primarily when he was placed under stress, but he didn’t repeat syllables so much as suffer from blocked speech: in the face of gross injustice, he was mute. I think Ken Kesey had Billy Budd in mind when he created his character of Billy Bibbit in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, who exhibited the same behavior when faced with injustice and flagrant misuse of power (Nurse Ratched). In these instances involuntary silence is metaphorically associated with the slave, as in Hegel’s asymmetrical power relationship represented by his famous master-slave dialectic.

What is interesting, however, is the fact that many of the individuals who stutter or stammer do not do so while singing—the aforementioned John Lee Hooker comes to mind, as does country singer Mel Tillis. At least one popular musician who stuttered as a child, Carly Simon, used musical rhythm to help overcome her disability (listen to her fascinating discussion here), explaining her love of music. Hence, while it would seem the predictable regularity that is characteristic of music helps certain individuals use a rhythmic pattern in order to help overcome their stuttering, popular music does just the opposite, (re)inscribing stuttering into the song itself, meaning that its use is an affectation, a form of artifice—a code. In “My Generation,” the stuttering is used as a coded substitution, signaling that the singer really means “fuck off” rather than “fade away,” the former usage proscribed by the apparatus of state censorship. In contrast, in George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone,” since the song is rather shamelessly lifted from Bo Diddley’s “I’m A Man,” the repetition of “b-b-b-b-bad” seems linked to the way Diddley emphasizes the “m” in the spelling of M-A-N by prolonging its sound, a code for masculine prowess.

I find this topic a subject for further research, particularly the use of stuttering in rock music, so I’m not in a position to present a fully formulated theory yet. And there’s at least one web site devoted to stuttering songs, revealing an interest in the connection between stuttering and popular music that long precedes my own.

Just A Few Of The Songs Featuring Stuttering and Stammering:
Bachman-Turner Overdrive – You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet
The Beastie Boys – Ch-Check It Out
David Bowie – Changes
Elton John – Bennie And The Jets
Guns N’ Roses – Welcome to the Jungle
The Knack – My Sharona
Huey Lewis and The News – The Heart of Rock and Roll
Bob Seger – Katmandu
George Thorogood and the Destroyers – Bad to the Bone
The Who – My Generation