2020 October 30 • Friday

Tomorrow is Halloween so we spent a little time with a sort of werewolf superhero: Moon Knight.

Bill Sienkiewicz has been one of my favorite artists and comic creators ever since I first stumbled upon Elektra: Assassin in The Million Year Picnic back in the '80s.

I had never read Daredevil and everything I knew about S.H.I.E.L.D. I had learned from the late-'70s Godzilla, King of the Monsters comic.

But Elektra: Assassin amazed me and I would get almost anything that Sienkiewicz contributed to.

Over the years I kept hearing about a comic book called Moon Knight that he had worked on but it was only fairly recently that I picked up this collection of the earliest Moon Knight stories, which includes Sienkiewicz's first work for Marvel.

Moon Knight first shows up in an issue of Werewolf By Night, as a mercenary hired to capture the werewolf main character, who of course is a good guy who happens to werewolf every so often. (Hey, I've been there.)

In an effort to give Moon Knight a super power, and thus make him less like Batman, the idea is floated that the werewolf bites him and after that Moon Knight has enhanced speed, strength, reflexes, etc., and they actually wax and wane with the moon.

Moon Knight doesn't get his own book for the first five years of his joining the Marvel universe, so his early appearances vary widely in style. Some of them are very bright and colorful and endearingly goofy.

And it seems that Marvel comics creators at the time liked to have fun with hiding little bits of humor in the panels.

One of the Sienkiewicz Moon Knight storylines, "The Mind Thieves", takes its central premise from the CIA's MK Ultra experiments, which had been revealed to the nation—despite the agency's best efforts to destroy all traces of the program's existence—in 1975 and, to greater effect, in Senate hearings in 1977.

"The Mind Thieves" is from 1980.

Earlier on one of the villains has some pointed things to say about "societ" which, you know, are not exactly all wrong.

When Moon Knight gets his own book the writers more or less reboot the character, but I found this origin story to be dull and conventional. The werewolf angle was much better.

And the original Moon Knight was the kind of character who rolled his eyes at superhero goofiness.

But it's worth going over every frame carefully for Sienkiewicz's art. This panel of a car exploding, for instance, is incredibly dynamic. (Credit also due to the colorist. I'm not sure who it was.)

Mr. Sienkiewicz also gives himself a job as a newspaper photographer. I wonder if he knows Peter Parker?

At the end of the book is a portfolio of Sienkiewicz's art, with some really nice pieces.

And I guess that's enough Moon Knight for now! The character looks cool and has potential. I supposed there are a hundred other appearances since the end of this collection and maybe I'll check some out one of these days.


2020 October 28 • Wednesday

Happy birthday!

For pure thrilling escapism, a true passport to another world, you can't do much better than Elizabeth Bishop and The New Yorker: The Complete Correspondence edited by Joelle Biele.

You might think I'm joking being sarcastic or some such thing. You would be wrong.

Around the time our own little world here had more or less come to a complete stop and we were all encouraged not to leave our homes and in fact there wasn't much of anything to leave our homes for, I placed this volume on my bedside table and each night it transported me to a place more magical than any in fiction.

James Bond would have trouble keeping up with this book's movement: New York City, San Francisco, Brazil, Italy, England, Nova Scotia, and numerous other locales.

And I don't expect ever to meet such memorable characters whose efforts in the world of literature are alway somewhere between the Sisyphean and the Herculean.

Biele's invaluable introduction provides the necessary biographical information about the people and their world. By the end of the book you're likely to feel a surprising familiarity with Bishop as well as Katharine White and Howard Moss.

The cadences and phraseology of their writing will seem like those of somebody you've known for a long time.

You'll anxiously await each reply and worry when there's a long gap between letters.

And you'll miss them dearly when they're gone.

The story really starts with Bishop and White and they're dizzingly detailed discussions of poems Bishop submits to The New Yorker for publication.

They can spend weeks and months over points of punctuation or matters of clarity. (I would be shocked to learn that anything even remotely resembling this level of care exists anywhere in any kind of publishing today.)

One of the most exciting experiences in a lifetime of reading occurs on page 51 when, in the fall of 1950, Bishop concludes a letter to White with "I think it would be nice if you called me Elizabeth".

Eventually White regretfully leaves her position at the magazine and Bishop's fellow poet Howard Moss becomes her primary contact there.

The letters exchanged by these two have a different tone. They seem to be more simpatico, I suppose, and the affection expressed by each for the other is genuinely moving, as indeed it was between White and Bishop. (Bishop at one point attempts to persuade The New Yorker to break with policy so that she can dedicate a poem to White.)

Another exciting moment? Moss buys Bishop's clavichord and she sends him sheet music for it, including a Count Basie book! Imagine now, Howard Moss playing Count Basie arrangements on Elizabeth Bishop's clavichord in 1970s Greenwich Village...

Just a few weeks ago we noted Vladimir Nabokov's railing against background music in public, decrying it as "damaging to the majority of people" and having "police state overtones". This was in a 1965 issue of Fact magazine.

Elizabeth Bishop, who, in these letters, mentions meeting Nabokov and admiring his writing, expressed her views on the same subject in a 1950 letter to Katharine White. She felt much the same: "it is really pure torture" and "an infringement on human rights and dignity".

"It is particularly painful here, I think," she wrote from Washington, DC, where she observed "thousands of government workers being carted off to work every morning and being forcibly soothed all the way—as bad as '1984'."

Even if you'd never heard of Elizabeth Bishop before, that phrase "forcibly soothed" is enough to signal her poetic gift.

This was a wonderful book. It went so well that maybe I'll try to tackle Samuel Beckett's letters before too long. After, say, a few dozen more trashy mid-century paperback novels.


2020 October 26 • Monday

The 645th Soundtrack of the Week is Masao Yagi's music for Legend of Dinosaurs & Monster Birds.

The titles of the cues are in Japanese and I can't be bothered to translate them. My translation would be pretty lousy anyway.

Most of it is very groovy and loungy, sometimes slinky, sometimes funky. There's wah-wah guitar and flute and a recurring theme that's a bit like Lalo Schifrin's Enter the Dragon theme.

Other pieces have trumpet and/or soprano sax playing over an up-tempo funk groove and you have to wonder if this is a direct influence of Miles Davis's early-'70s bands.

It really sounds more like a funk jazz disco lounge fusion record than a film soundtrack.

There are even a couple of songs, almost math-pop, performed by singer Eiichi Miyanaga.

It's very cool and definitely not what I expected from a giant monster movie score!


2020 October 23 • Friday

There's some additional Chris Moore news, in addition to his new EP, and that is the re-release of a record called Neighborhood Changed Fast by the band Mantic Trio, which was Moore, Lee Feldman and myself.

It had never been available as a download or via streaming before but now it's available on Bandcamp and Spotify and CD Baby and who knows where else.

First it looked like this:

And also this (on the CD itself):

And now it looks like this:

Three pieces of great Chris Moore art for one record!

And another exciting development is that this great film-maker/visual artist Ron Jean-Gilles has made amazing movies to go with two of the tunes from the record.

You can see his video for "Gangly" here and see his video for "Crest" here.

Check them out!


2020 October 21 • Wednesday

You're trudging through the days and sometimes the highpoints are coffee in the morning and falling asleep at night and there should really be more in between but "should" is not a very useful word much of time.

And then, salvation! Chris Moore puts out a new EP and if you'd known that this was going to happen you'd forgot about it by the time it did.

Each of the five songs tells a different story in a different way, with different feels, sounds and grooves.

All instruments were played by Chris Moore snd Gary Langol, with Jeff Lipstein, who also mixed the recordings, playing drums on the first song, "Weak Title".

I could imagine The Melvins covering "Knockin' Around" and in fact I'd like to hear them do it.

My favorite of the five songs has to be "Floats and Rolls".

My highest recommendation is that you buy this record here.
2020 October 19 • Monday

For our 644th Soundtrack of the Week we chilled out with the recently remastered release of Ennio Morricone's music for sci-fi/horror classic The Thing.

It begins with a long, eerie and brooding piece called "Humanity", which has an almost minimalist feel to it, drawing out the possiblities of a few notes but exploring different durations and dynamics as well as combinations of and contrasts with other instruments, with the strings being the heart of this particular sonic world.

"Space" takes the listener into a more modern and dissonant zone. Perhaps this is twelve-tone music or atonal or something like that? Ask somebody who went to music school. It's deadly effective, though.

Upright bass kicks off "Contamination", suggesting at first something in the jazz realm but quickly revealing a much more skittery, frenetic intention, as pizzicato strings swarm all over the place, creating a horrifying suggestion of millions of tiny bugs.

"Bestiality" also begins with the upright bass, this time bowed. It introduces a motif on its own but is soon joined by other strings and piano for a maniacal ostinato.

After that intense statement it's a relief to get to the relatively gentle "Solitude". It's not a cheerful piece. There's a lot of brooding and dread in it but it's somewhat closer to the relaxing end of the spectrum. There's a lot of space in it and the piano is subtly obsessive underneath the strings.

Some very delicate high-pitched notes start off "Eternity", reminiscent of some of Bernard Herrmann's outer space music. Then what sounds like a cathedral organ comes in, accompanied by pulsating percussion, and changes the whole feel to something much heavier.

Then it's time for more dread with "Wait", another brooding piece of long, drawn-out tones and Morricone doing a lot with just a very few notes at a time.

Then there's a reprise of "Humanity" but this time with synthesizers and a more electric sound in general. This is the music that's most often associated with the film, I believe, and the most Carpenter-sounding track on the CD.

More synthesizers and keyboards and perhaps that cathedral organ again combine for the richly textured "Contamination", a piece that sounds like a classic Morricone inspiration tailored for a John Carpenter film.

Finally we end with "Despair". Again we have the long tones, heavy on the strings, lines slowly ascending and descending, increasing and decreasing in weight. The variations between surprising gravity and equally unexpected lightness are very impressive.


2020 October 16 • Friday

Another Music Views Robert Mitchum sighting, this time in the August 1958 issue.

On this occasion we get a glimpse of him recording the Thunder Road single.


2020 October 14 • Wednesday

Here's the April 1957 issue of Music Views magazine, which was apparently a Capitol Records promotional monthly, not too many pages and sized to fit into your pocket. Was this given away free? Available only at record stores? I don't know.

It's a neat little publication, anyway. This one has a photo of Robert Mitchum for his Calypso record. This is clearly from the same session that produced the album cover photo.

There's also a thing about Natalie Wood signing a record deal with Liberty Records. As far as I can tell, no actual recordings came of this.


2020 October 12 • Monday

The 643rd Soundtrack of the Week is the score for Girl on the Third Floor by Alison Chesley, Tom Midyett and Steve Albini.

It's on transparent blood-spattered vinyl!

It opens with "17 arrow 43", a soundscape that suggests bad things happening at night. There's some industrail DNA in the music and some admirable noise being made with electric guitars.

"XVI Dry" uses guitars to create an atmosphere, part overdrive and attack, part tremolo and resonance, in which Chesley's cello is the main voice, expressing plaintive looping figures.

After that comes more shadowy crushing sounds from the electric guitars, this time with some percussion as well, in "Line 55".

Then there's an 18-minute, track, "Irish", which has a similar concept to what's come before but is more stretched out and has some sludgy grungy harmonic movement to it as well as some skronky cello playing and guest vocals by Gaelynn Lea.

By the time you get to the next track, "XVI Standard", you start to recognize the theme. Deliberate asecending lines that circle back to their starting point, tough and unusual electric guitar tones, lyrical and sometimes more abrasive cello playing, senses of space and restraint and composed minimalism as well as loud rock abandon.

"Line 54" is a slab of drony, distorted, shimmering sound.

There's a sense of breathing to "Sparky's Revenge" as the instruments come in and out, swelling and deflating. This is followed by the more insistent but still very steady and patient approach of "Bees".

Things get a bit more meditative and calming with "Line 62" and the guitars, while still sounding noirish and dangerous, have an almost comforting lushness to them.

Long low tones from the cello are the eseence of "Line 64", with a little assistance from electric guitars and some other elements.

"Line 70" dives back into some noisy freak out territory and then the record concludes with the unexpectedly dreamy and even sunny "Line 71", which uses bells and cello to create an almost pastoral feel. It wraps up in a beautiful unity.


2020 October 09 • Friday

Nabokov first editions tend to be on the expensive side. With the exception of The Original of Laura, which I literally could not give away the last time I sold books to The Strand, they're probably a decent investment.

An affordable Nabokov first edition that is likely at least not to lose value even though it might not appreciate in any significant way, is 2018's Insomniac Dreams: Experiments with Time by Vladimir Nabokov, compiled, edited & with commentaries by Gennady Barabtarlo.

Nabokov had a greater than average interest in time and human consciousness. And so it's not surprising that he was drawn to this experiment in which particpants wrote down their dreams upon awaking, to see if any future events had occurred first in their dreams.

The idea was not that anybody had the gift of seeing into the future but that time not only moved forward but also pulled back, like ocean waves on a beach.

And so Nabokov's dream writings were published here for the first time in this rather charming book, with occasional photographs of the actual index cards he wrote on.

The book is further fleshed out by an informative introduction, setting the stage and establishing the context and history of the experiment. (This section had a couple of easily noticed proofreading errors that made me a bit nervous about what to expect, but the rest of the books didn't have any other such obvious alarms.)

After the dream section Barabtarlo gets to work on dreams in all of Nabokov's other writings, from the famous novels to lesser known stories, poems and letters. This section shows some very impressive scholarship and detective work, including some of Barabtarlo's own translations from Russian in which the official English translation (usually by Nabokov himself) offers different text, as well as such gems as "an unpublished Russian poem" written "on an index card, in a folder now in a private archive in Palm Beach, Florida". That last bit seeks worthy of a place in one of Nabokov's own fictions.

I found the book fascinating though I wasn't persuaded by any of the coincidences or congruities or whatevers that impressed Barabtarlo. Nonetheless, this volume that he helmed is wonderful and a delightful and valuable addition to any Nabokov collection.


2020 October 07 • Wednesday

If you read through Think, Write, Speak, the recent collection of interviews with and letters to editors from Vladimir Nabokov, and found yourself wanting just a little bit more, here is a little bit more, from the November/December 1965 issue of Fact magazine.

Inside is a piece entitled "Muzak: Chewing Gum for the Mind" by Raymond Mount Jr.

Several more or less well known people were asked for their opinion on Muzak. Everybody hated it, it turned out.

Dizzy Gillespie compared it to an assembly line and said that it gave him indigestion. Pete Seeger calls it an invasion of privacy and Melvin Belli wonders whether it "says anything subliminally".

Nabokov's response is perhaps the strongest and longest.

Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov, writing on behalf of her novelist-husband from Montreux, Switzerland, said:

"My husband asks me to convey to you his reply to your questionnaire regarding his attitude to enforced music in public places. Here it is:

'I am opposed to all background music in public and every kind of music forced upon the public or played outside of concert halls.

'I find these enforced moronic melodies an abominably offensive imposition with police state undertones. Soviet citizens on trains, in stores, etc. are permanently enclosed in a prison of music. I cannot say how violently I am opposed to the brainsoftening and conditioning which result from exposure to "background" music inflicted upon the individual.

'An uninterrupted exposure to public music is bound to be damaging to the majority of people even if many of them think they like it, or are apathetic to it.

'I am convinced that the forcing of mass musical tastes on the individual everywhere he goes in civilized surroundings will have unfortunate consequences for the world.'"


Someone liked his alliterative phrase "moronic melodies" enough to put it on the back cover.


2020 October 05 • Monday

For our our 642nd Soundtrack of the Week, getting into the Halloween spirit, we have a double feature from composer Garcia Morcillo: The Night of the Sorcerers (La Noche de Los Brujos) and The Witches' Mountain (El Monte de Las Brujas).

The main title theme for La Noche de Los Brujos is a wonderfully groovy and exotica-dosed instrumental number with electric guitars and various percussion instruments colliding with some Les Baxterish arrangement ideas. Like if Les Baxter had ever collaborated with Santana maybe.

The electric guitar takes the lead for "Montando El Campamento", an interestingly spiky and spacious piece that exploits the potentials of percussion and organ as well as electric guitar and electric bass guitar.

After this comes a cue of nothing but hand percussion for "Danza Ritual — Bumbasa 1910".

"Encuentro Con Munga" has a similar feel to "Montando El Campamento" and it was around here that I realized that this was reminding me of some African music I had heard a long time ago.

But then the score takes a sharp turn toward the lounge with "Deseo En La Selva". The violin is the main voice here and transmits a lot of feeling. The rhythm is not, it seems to me, bossa nova or samba but I believe it to be in that family.

Another hand percussion track comes next, "El Sacrificio De Agnes — Bumbasa 1910", similar to the previous all-percussion cue.

"Fotografiando Amores Salvajes" is very close to being a vocal version of "Deseo En La Selva", with a different arrangement, different rhythm and a woman singing wordlessly.

There hasn't been a lot of music so far that suggests "horror movie" but with "El Cavero De Los Brujos/El Sacrificio De Carol", the organ and percussion go into a freaky and intense zone that starts suggesting some gruesome activities.

But then we're in funk jazz vaguely African music land with the saxophone-driven "Liz Recuerda A Carol". I could imagine Fela covering this.

"Las Mujeres Leopardo" then delivers, via string section, the creepiest and most tension-laden cue so far. This is definitely horror-movie territory and while I don't know what's happening in this scene, I'm very confident that it's not good.

Finally the score for this film wraps up with "Los Celos De Tunika/Suenan Los Tambores", which begins with electric guitar and bass in a relaxed and jazzy mood before the percussionists burst in with some frenzied rhythms.

For El Monte de Las Brujas Morcillo has a larger ensemble to work with, as immediately evidence by the trumpet, strings and rhythm section that create the lyrical and groovy "Prólogo (Carla Busca A Circe)".

Next is "Qué Canticos Son Esos", a choral number that suggests Satanic activity and uses tape delay or some other kind of echo effect for extra weirdness.

Even though there's some unsettling dissonance in the strings, the jazzy trumpet and brushes on snare of "Camino De La Montaña (#1) are a nice respite from the aggression of the previous track. It has an off-kilter feel to it and reminds me of some of the music for Alphaville

"El Misterio Del Coche" starts out with long string tones and some rumbling from the bass and then shifts into pizzicato madness.

Then we get a title song, sung in accented English by a female singer. It's a vocal version of "Camino De La Montaña".

Then it's all strings (with some reverb) for "Los Efectos De La Tisana", a cue with almost a folksy Americana feel.

Then we get two vocal numbers featuring the same singer as before. First is the slow and luscious "Ven", with sumptuous string padding. Then there's the a cappella "El Reino De Los Muertos" in which our singer is backed up by some other voices for a song that has a similar shape as "Los Efectos De La Tisana".

"Akelarre" brings back our Satanic choir but this time they brought the band and the orchestra with them for a propulsive groove, swirling strings, pounding timpani and electric guitar and bass guitar!

"Camino De La Montaña (#2) is very much like the first one but without the trumpet.

More pizzicato comes next for "La Mujer Gasto" and then the score wraps up with the slow and somewhat regal-sounding "El Monte De Las Brujas", which is a showcase for the strings.


2020 October 02 • Friday

Happy birthday!

That's quite the beautiful cover, isn't it?

And since Needlecraft was a practical periodical, you can find the bottom line about the hat and the scarf inside.

The hat: "Perforated stamping-pattern, 25 cents. Hot-iron transfer-pattern, 15 cents. Silk-finished wool to embroider, 88 cents".

The scarf: "Perforated stamping-pattern, 25 cents. Hot-iron transfer-pattern, 30 cents. Silk-finished wool to embroider, $1.60".

Also: "Stamping-paste, blue or white, for transferring perforated pattern, 10 cents and 25 cents a box".

"The stitches used are of the simplest order—mainly chain-stitch, with a touch of buttonhole-stitch where this is directed."

For the hat there's also some talk of blanket-stitches.

Also in here is a Norman Rockwell painting in a puffed wheat ad.