TILLIE FLIES AGAIN
I thought I'd share a link with you. A comic strip I wrote and drew was recently published in the Asbury Park Press' 2007 Summer Guide. See and hear an audio slideshow version of it by clicking here
I hadn't drawn for the Press in years. (Longtime readers may remember that from 1987 until 1993, I did a weekly Sunday strip called "Rocktoons." And I was good for several illustrations a week when I first joined the Press in 1983. That was another lifetime.)
Since I was 5, it was my dream to become a professional cartoonist. Alas, I've done a lot of cartooning professionally, but I never became a professional cartoonist. I reserve that exhalted title for people like my old buddy Steve Breen. That guy's got Pelican Ink in his veins.
When I began illustrating this latest strip -- titled "Beach Blanket Bistros" and starring arcade icon Tillie -- I was pretty darned rusty. I began with the Popeye-themed panel (the easiest one to draw) and built my way up to the opening panel of Tillie flying over a panoramic vista (by far the most challenging). It was fun getting my "drawing chops" back. It was like falling off a bike!
TWO "SOPRANOS" TO GO
Hard to believe there's only two more "Sopranos" to go.
A friend theorized that the ony way "The Sopranos" could end with a "full-circle" or "series finale" feel would be for tragedy to visit the house of Tony. In other words: Death for either Tony, Carm, Meadow or A.J. (Now, of course, we're wondering if A.J.'s suicide attempt satisfies this condition. The answer is no.) As Book pointed out, the bloodied Monopoly game piece after the Tony/Bacala brawl at the lake house could be a premonition of "blood on Tony's house."
I think Tony's little visit to Coco's restaurant was some of the most jarring violence in the series. Nephew explained that what Tony did to Coco was called a "curb stomp." YIKES. Tony finding that tooth in his trouser cuff during the sit-down with A.J.'s therapist was a classic "Sopranos" moment; you recoil one moment, laugh the next.
I thought Butchie was gonna get it in that same scene. I kind of wished he had. When he later answered Philly's door -- acting like the queen of the clique, deciding who gets to enter the cool kids' party -- I thought, "That's it. Please take this guy out some time in the last 120 minutes, Mr. Chase."
Anyway, Philly and A.J. are the only "pending" storylines. Even those alleged terrorists have fled the country. It's looking more and more like the show is merely going to end, which is too bad. I won't necessarily bemoan a no-frills finale. I'll simply bemoan the end, itself, of a show that looked like it would never jump the shark.
"Give this man satin undies, a dress, a sweater and a skirt, or even the lounging outfit he has on, and he's the happiest individual in the world. He can work better, think better. He can play better. And he can be more of a credit to his community and his government, because he is happy." -- From "Glen or Glenda" (1953) by Edward D. Wood Jr.
I recently had another "habituation" moment. There's this fella, a cross-dresser that you see around the area I live in. He's not what you would consider a particularly glamorous cross-dresser. I would call him an Ed Wood-style
cross-dresser; he totally looks like a guy in a dress and a bad wig. He has 5 o'clock shadow and everything.
Kathy used to say that wherever she went, she would run into this guy, who she nicknamed "Mr. Magoo." (Don't ask me how she arrived at that name.) We'd run into him at the diner, the post office, the boardwalk. I think Kathy even saw him coming out of the ladies' fitting room at a mall department store once.
Kathy's been gone 20 months now. I hadn't thought about Mr. Magoo until I ran into him a couple of weeks ago. Seeing him made me very sad, very suddenly. I know Kathy would have turned to me and said, "I can't get away from this guy!" I think the fact that it took so long after her death for ME to run into him kind of proves her theory.
We packed the house and we rocked the house. It was my best gig ever -- but I've been saying that the last three gigs, so I guess I'm just the Boy Who Cried Best Gig Ever.
We set up the night before. One thing you notice pretty quickly about the area -- there was a go-go bar called Cheerleaders next door. A few stops down, there was an adult book store. Across the street, there was ANOTHER adult book store. So this stretch of the highway, at least, was a mecca for, shall we say, aficionados of adult entertainment.
A heartbreaking (for me) technical setback was discovered during setup: My Guitarbug wireless unit was buzzing something awful. Which meant it couldn't be used. Which meant if "Tube Top" showed up again, I wouldn't be playing my guitar between her legs. I swore a blue streak, and then sucked it up. (P.S.: "Tube Top" was a no-show. Boo hoo.)
The next night, Mad Jack opened with "I Just Wanna Make Love to You." We connected intensely with the crowd. We nailed it. We were ferocious. We never played it like this before. It was the best single performance of any song I've ever played in my life, bar none. The room went immediately nuts. (But then it trailed off right away, and it took until our three-song finale to get it back up again.) At the end of "I Just Wanna Make Love to You," I remember thinking, "I'm done. I can't give anymore. That's all." But we had four hours to go.
There was no dressing room, but we had the next best thing: a tight little storage room off the stage with a door and a light. We made the most of it. We did quick changes and guitar-swappings amid shelves of cooking accessories, wine glasses, napkin boxes and one GIGANTIC olive jar. Between sets, I freshened up my eyeliner using the reflection from the lid of a catering heater.
The Burners opened with "Under My Thumb." It worked like a charm. Maestro's xylophone sound was eerie. Bad Bobby played some tasty stuff. Our "Dueling Godfathers" comedy routine was a noble flop (which was no surprise). "Let's Spend the Night Together" was magical. The six-song dance set worked as we'd hoped. I still had my wireless microphone, so I worked the long room, dragging people to the front. Once and future Burners singer Chris Walthy joined us onstage for two songs.
We had some local celebs in the audience, such as motorcycle customizer Biker Bobby
, who designed a rideable motorcycle equipped with a useable stripper pole; founding Dead End Kids guitarist Kelly James
; and lots of musicians from the South Jersey bar scene.
Six of us limped into a diner for omelettes at about 4 a.m. I still had my "racoon" eyes and black nail polish. Nobody in the diner flinched. They're quite accustomed to weekend weirdos.
LAST NIGHT'S "SOPRANOS"
Last night's episode of "The Sopranos" was probably the most jaw-dropping ever. My heart was pounding out of my chest the whole time.
When Tony put his hand over Christopher's beak, I kept saying, "Don't let go ... don't let go ..." Isn't that weird? A girl I know, who is a devout Christian, commented that the car accident provided a "good opportunity" for Tony. It's so weird how we root for the bad guy on this show. I kept saying to people, "Didja see how many times that car rolled? All because Chrissy was high!"
When Tony started confessing to murders in a session with Dr. Melfi, and then it wound up being a dream, everybody in my viewing group immediately started screaming profanities at the screen. You see, we initially thought the entire accident was a dream. When we realized that just the Melfi session was a dream, we calmed down.
A friend commented that Carm's panicked response to the news on the phone was fine acting, whereas Kelly's scream and dropped phone was OBVIOUS acting. I don't want to denegrate the younger actress, but Edie Falco IS in a class by herself.
The Paulie's mom/aunt thing was a nice counterpoint to the Chrissy thing. (No, I don't subscribe to the theory that Chase is now whacking characters wholesale.) Paulie's great line: "I ordered 500 Mass cards!"
People -- myself included -- have been expecting, or at least hoping for, a big bang at the end of the series. I think we just saw the big bang. For all intents and purposes, I think we just saw the "farewell" episode of "The Sopranos," and that the final three will trail off from there. Think back. The first time we saw Chrissy -- in Season 1, Episode 1 -- he was driving Tony and saying something along the lines of: "My mom says I'm too sick to be driving today." The kid was never second-to-the-boss material. So there's a definite full-circle feeling here. But complicated. Like life.
POLLEN AND PINE HILL
Wish me luck, Dear Reader. Friday night is "go" time. I took tomorrow (Thursday) off so's I can drive to South Jersey and help set up the stage. It'll be me, Brinie, Nephew, Maestro, maybe Jazzy and maybe Karch.
All this pollen gave me a sore throat for about three days. I was worried that it was a cold and would carry into the gig, but it faded. When I got to my brother's for our final Mad Jack rehearsal, he and Nephew were leaf-blowing. Usually, I join in on whatever chores are going on at my brother's, but in this case, I sat inside watching television like a wuss rather than lend a hand. I wasn't going to play the hero with six nights to go until a gig at which I will sing for about four and a quarter hours with a few breaks here and there. I'm smarter than I look. Thank God.
On Saturday, me 'n' Brinie actually played a gig -- well, one song. What happened was, The Burners' guitarist and drummer, Bad Bobby and Jazzy respectively, are in a quartet called Sordid Past. They were playing a gig at the Pine Hill Tavern in Pine Hill, plus it was Mrs. Bad Bobby's birthday. Me 'n' Brinie were invited to play a song. Sordid Past gave us a lo-o-ong list of songs to pick from. We chose The Beatles' "I Saw Her Standing There," because Mad Jack is doing it on Friday and we've been practicing the hell out of it. I strapped on one of Bad Bobby's guitars. He said, "Dirty or clean?" meaning the sound. Of course, I chose "dirty." We did OK. It was a lot of fun. Maestro showed up too, meaning all of The Burners and half of Mad Jack were on hand. (We didn't hand out any of our gig postcards, though. Brinie said that would have been terrible band etiquette.)
Later in the night, a young student of Bad Bobby's played sax on "Mustang Sally." The kid was great! Me, Brinie and Maestro all want him to join us Friday on "Brown Sugar." I don't know if Brinie or Maestro asked Bad Bobby, or if Bad Bobby asked the kid. But that would be sweet. This kid could NAIL Bobby Keys.
Anyway, when I get back, I'll let you know all about what happened in Gloucester City.
BUSTER'S COLUMBIA SHORTS
I recently watched the DVD boxed set "The Buster Keaton Collection" (Sony Pictures), which presents 10 short comedies starring my cinematic hero, Buster Keaton.
I assumed they'd be silent shorts. To my surprise, Buster made 10 sounds shorts at Columbia in 1939-41, the home of the Three Stooges. Eight of the 10 were directed by Jules White, the guy who helmed most of the Stooges' shorts. The sets, props, film stock, sound effects and players are all very recognizable from the Stooges shorts (which are BURNED into the memory of anyone my age -- 48 and counting -- from the Philadelphia television viewing area). Vernon Dent and Bud Jamison, familiar faces from the Stooges shorts, are in most of these. So these are kind of like Three Stooges shorts with Buster Keaton instead of the Three Stooges!
I watched each short twice, with and without commentary. The commentary was excellent throughout. Nobody is pretending that this is Buster's finest work, but nobody is outright trashing it, either. Nor SHOULD they. Everyone seems knowledgable on which gags were Buster's and which gags were foisted on Buster by White.
Buster is amazing in these. He's in his mid 40s and taking a LOT of punishment. Sometimes he resembles the '20s "young genius" Buster; sometimes he resembles the '60s "beach party movie" Buster.
"Pest from the West" is the best of the bunch, and the "purest" Buster. It also has the biggest budget. Buster wears a lot of costumes and sings a hilarious song accompanying himself on ukulele. "Mooching Through Georgia" is a Civil War piece with echoes to Buster's masterpiece, "The General." "Nothing But Pleasure" has lots of car gags. "Pardon My Birthmarks" is copy boy Buster on a train with a parrot, a gangster's wife and, eventually, the gangster. "General Nuisance" has a hilarious dance routine between Buster and Elsie Ames (who is in most of these and, though a bit over-the-top, matches Buster pratfall for pratfall). Other titles are "The Taming of the Snood," "The Spook Speaks," "His Ex Marks the Spot," "So You Won't Squawk" and "She's Oil Mine."
The Columbia shorts represent Buster's brief -- and final -- return to old-fashioned slapstick in short form. Buster never really did it again after this, so it's an historically significant series and a real find for Buster fans.
Tonight's the night!
My little niece will be on NBC's "Scrubs" in another couple of hours. A few of us will be tuning in here at the office. I was thinking of bringing in Bugles as a telesnack, but I then thought that would be too salty and greasy. So I brought in a coupla bags of Tropical Chex Mix With Almonds instead.
I sent my niece a card with a drawing of myself and two co-workers who are planning to watch. I'm guessing her scenes will be brief, so I'm VHSing the episode.
It's been a while since I've written about the big Mad Jack/Burners double-bill set to take place at 8 p.m. May 11 at O'Malley's Bar & Grill in Gloucester City.
Rehearsals have been a lot of fun. We Burners made our show a bit more danceable, a bit less stadium-rock-ish, by losing a few numbers, bringing back a few (such as "Magic Carpet Ride") and introducing three new songs, all by the Rolling Stones. We're even opening with one of the new ones, just to give the whole show a new complexion. With the new venue, the elevated stage with the built-in light show, a remodeled set list and some new comedy bits, the show should feel pretty fresh.
The Burners are doing one more rehearsal without me, to brush up on some endings, etc. Me and Mad Jack will be getting together this weekend to run through our 90-minute set two more times. I'm being SUPER careful not to catch a cold.
AND I'm getting pretty hungry for that Tropical Chex Mix With Almonds.