Monday, August 31, 2009

The Amazing Spider-Mouse!

So, I read yesterday that Disney, in its apparent bid to control the world (or, at least the lion's share of the entertainment world) bought Marvel, Inc. Yup. That's Marvel Comics, and their stable of about 5,000 characters. Hmmm. My immediate reaction is to be suspicious, even IF Marvel stock jumped about 26% on the news.

It's not that Disney doesn't know anything about comics: they've been putting out character-related books since the Golden Age. And, as edge-of-your-seat action flix like Pirates of the Caribbean and National Treasure proved, they aren't necessarily all happy-go-lucky and G-rated anymore in the movie department. Still…still…

Marvel has a pretty big line of "adult" comix, and I'd be surprised if Disney let them keep, say, a Garth Ennis on board. And that's kind of the problem I'm seeing with a Marvel/Disney unification: Marvel was always about facing the realities of a harsh world, even when written and drawn in a comic-book style. That's what separated Marvel from DC back in the early-60s: DC's heroes were perfect, infallible…and you never much saw them OUT of costume. Nobody cared what Bruce Wayne's troubles were - if, as a billionaire, he had any at all! - and the only time you really saw Clark Kent was when he was dashing into a phone booth. Marvel put out brooding, troubled characters whom you cared for both IN and OUT of their tights. Spider-Man was cool, but lots of teens could relate to the troubles of bookish Peter Parker. The Hulk is Hyde to milksop Bruce Banner's über-geek Jekyll, a personality that was every bit as savage and unrestrained as Banner's was scientific. Sometimes, you couldn't even tell who the heroes were! With all the destruction he caused, you got the sense that Hulk left kind of a lotta dead bodies in his wake; Spidey was constantly vilified by his newspaper nemesis J. Jonah Jameson.

I don't see that kind of thing being possible under a Disney umbrella, where everything is kittens and rainbows. And I worry that Marvel will be poorer for it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Cost of Education

I'm always tickled when I hear politicians jockeying for sound-bite position on the evening news by hammering on the importance of higher education. Our own Gov. Granholm claims to be committed to bringing the opportunity of college "to the masses," as it were:

In her weekly radio address, Governor Jennifer M. Granholm today said the promise of a higher education must become a reality for every child in Michigan if the state is to succeed in a global economy. Granholm said she is committed to making education beyond high school more affordable and more accessible for every student. (8/12/06)

"Thank you for your commitment to higher education," Granholm said, pointing to the need for a college-educated workforce to fill jobs in the alternative-energy sector in which she wants Michigan to become a leader. (3/11/08)

Granholm will ask higher education officials to halt tuition increases and ask state legislators to approve additional state funding to colleges and universities that comply, said Liz Boyd, Granholm’s spokeswoman. “We are hoping and expecting that universities will realize, as we do, that in these very tough economic times, we need to protect our citizens and their pocketbooks,” Boyd said. (2/1/09)

I think most of this is a load of shit, personally. I was an early Granholm supporter, but time after time she has wrapped herself in a blanket of righteousness while secretly whittling away at the cause she claims to champion. In this case, Gov. Granholm is making what SOUND like good claims for the future of Michigan: Yes! Let's have ALL our kids go to college, and we'll be, like, totally the greatest state EVAH! On top of that rah-rah kind of let's-ramp-up-the-crowd cheerleading, she also plays populist with parents by "forcing" universities to halt tuition increases. Hey, parents, I'm on YOUR side, and those miserable fuckers at State U. are really just heavin' it up your tailpipe, aren't they?

Like I said: a load of shit. The only thing Gov. Granholm has done for higher ed in this state is to pull the rug out from under it. Which, duh, because we're in the toilet economically. For once, Michigan is EL NUMERO UNO! Yay. Let me grab a whole case o'whiskey to celebrate the new unemployment numbers. It's not that I even necessarily BLAME Granholm for needing to cut state expenditures somwhere…this mess ain't hers, after all! It belongs to three terms of the incalculably shitty governorship of John Engler, who managed to saddle Michigan with looming deficits and future fiscal crises even during the high boom-times of the 1990s. But, her hypocrisy is blatant and unforgivable. She wants every kid in Michigan to have the chance to go to college - this, despite the fact that she'd have to shell out billions of dollars to build new classroom buildings and dorms, and hire thousands of new faculty across the state - but she has gutted the very thing that previously kept college…well, if not CHEAP, then certainly a potential dream. No more. My college president recently had this to say about rising tuition costs:

"What we do know is that Michigan’s investment in higher education will significantly decline in the coming years. Two decades ago, state appropriations comprised 60 percent of CMU’s funding. Today, it comprises just 22 percent. "

There ya go. A 38% drop in state funding since the beginning of the Engler administration. Oh, and he's to blame too, the miserable fuckin' dick, but at least he had the excuse of BEING a miserable fuckin' dick to begin with. He never made any bones about working to fuck the poor any chance he got…a good, honest politician was ole' Johnny E. But Granholm comes along and plays a shell game with parents - Look here, it's the University's fault! No, look here, it's the greedy faculty's fault! - and while you're hypnotized by the speed of her right-hand machinations, secretly her left hand was stripping away another 3%.

You wanna keep college a dream for the less-fortunate? Give 'em a chance to break the fuck out and escape? Tell your friggin' Congressman and Senator to stop sending bills to the Governor wiping out college appropriations. Otherwise, face the facts: college is expensive, and that's that. The day I'd support a tuition freeze is the same day I'd support a freeze on ALL costs and salaries. Oh, wait, Tricky Dick already TRIED that, didn't he? How'd THAT work out?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Kiss Tickets!

(Overzealous single mom to sincere but potheaded son):

"You take my hard earned money…and you and your idiot friends spend it on Kiss tickets?? KISS TICKETS?!?" (- Mrs. Bruce, from Detroit Rock City)

Yes, that's right friends and neighbors, thanks to the magic of the internet and advance ticket sales, I now have two (count 'em, 2!) slices of concert gold that will admit me and bro-in-law Joel to the following:

Ahhh…the fabled Cobo Hall, where the make-or-break Kiss Alive! was partially recorded in early 1975. The album from which I learned to drum, perched on my tower of shiny vinyl cushions teetering precariously on my bed. Wait, I can supply a photo of those, too, I just realized…

Nice, eh? Bicentennial specials, those…prob'ly ran my mom all of $14.95 for the set. Anyway, imagine those three stacked on my bed, me flailing around and two of my friends with tennis rackets (or brooms, who really cared?) and the curtains closed and a colored lightbulb in my 7-Up can light…

and all's basically right with the world as we rocked out to 4 sides of LP heaven. *sigh*

Of course, I spent a lot of time a year or so ago frantically decrying everything about the "new" Kiss lineup. I swore that, having sat in the 2nd row and met them backstage, I'd never go back to the nosebleeds. I didn't have any interest in Tommy Thayer as a stand-in for Ace Frehley, singing Ace's songs and playing Ace's solos note for note like some sort of goddamn machine.

Then, Kiss went and did the unthinkable.

They recorded a new album…

And I said "WHAT?!?" And I answered, "Well, apparently so, according to the information!" (I often have these little conversations with myself. I do SO love good conversation!) And the details coming out of the Kiss camp were designed to hype and intensify anticipation: "It's our best album in 30 years." "It's Rock and Roll Over meets Love Gun" (two classic back-to-back Kiss LPs from 1976/77). "It'll be out this fall." And then suddenly BLAMMO! I log onto on Monday and there's a clip of new music, and the album title, the artwork, and best of all, an announcement that Kiss would play Cobo one last time before it closes. And I said "Oh, I gotta be there!" And now I will be. I got tickets in section A-5, row 1, seats 1 and 2. Which, if you look at this handy-dandy li'l chart here…

puts us in the front row of the lower bowl about halfway out. Far enough to not have to be staring at the stage from the side, but close enough to see shit. UP. CLOSE.

For those of you who care (and if you've read THIS far you must, right?), the album is called Sonic Boom, and the artwork was done by beloved RaRO artist Michael Doret. First time he's worked with Kiss since 1976, and frankly I think he hit it outta the park once again…

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Sewer Repair

If a photo's worth a thousand words…here's a several-thousand word essay:

Tearing away the (rotten) planter railings.

Let's dig, boys!

Cutting the street open.

The culprit: smashed orangeburg pipe!

Bye-bye, driveway slab!

ker-SPLAT! You know the operator got wet when THAT baby flopped over!

A new poop-pipe!

Tying into the city main line.

Quite an operation.

Almost 6 hours later, and almost done. Amazing.

Gratuitous eye-candy. :-)

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Water, Water Everywhere

When we moved in on Easter Sunday in 2003, I eyed with suspicion and unease the 4-inch hole in my basement floor. It just kind of sat there, unblinking, looking ominous, but not quite malevolent. I looked down it and could see water somewhere down there, my reflection wavering back at me from the dank depths beneath my basement floor. Two pipes ran into this hole: the condensation runoff from our furnace, and a black plastic tube from the work-sink right next to the hole. I never used the sink down there, and I figured the furnace wouldn't give off enough water to be a concern. And so, for the next 6+ years, I pretty much forgot about it.

Fast-forward to Wednesday night. Mom is here helping me paint the porch, and we took consecutive showers, tired and achy after a long day of painter's contortions. I happened to go down to the basement to empty the dehumidifier (I've saved gallon jugs over the years, and I dump that water into the jugs to use on the flowers and tomatoes in the summer.), and was horrified to witness water coming up out of my ominous floor-hole. SHIT! But, as I watched, it receded back down the hole. Hmmm. Maybe the City cleared a fire hydrant somewhere up the line? I ran the dishwasher later that night with no ill results, and so I put it…not OUT of my mind, but at least off the front burner.

Thursday night I did the same thing: dumped the dehumidifier water after two showers. Whoops! There's the water out of that hole again…seeming to prove that, yes indeed, it was connected to our city sewer line, and the volume of water was what contributed to the overflow. I thought uneasily about all the toilet paper and turds we've been putting down there over the years, and I called the Roto-Rooter people first thing on Friday.

"Chad" came over Friday morning with his…Rooter-y thing, and a camera on a cable. He snaked the drain first, looking for roots I guess, even though there are no trees on that side of our house. He called me back down to look through his camera viewer, and was aghast discover that we have a type of outflow pipe called "orangeburg." Orangeburg pipe is basically a tar-coated wood-pulp-and-cardboard kind of thing, which while root-resistant and fairly dense, does NOT hold up well to external pressures. Like rocks, and tons of dirt on top of it. Chad told me that lots of St. Johns houses have this shit as their sewer outflow pipe, and once it's crushed - as was painfully obvious by all the bumps and obstructions we could see on his cable-cam - it's useless. He actually fed his camera far enough (about 40 feet, well out under Lansing Street) for us to behold a horrifying sight: a complete blockage of dirt, with a smallish hole drilled through it…that, the result of his Rooter claw. Oh. SHIT! And speaking of which: WHERE HAS ALL OUR SHIT GONE FOR THE LAST 7 YEARS?!? I don't even want to contemplate. He basically said that the entire length had to be replaced, from under our crawlspace to the middle on Lansing St., where it hooks into the city main line. Cost? Seven grand.

I guess that's okay: we'll get new PVC outflow, impervious to roots and unchrushable, as well as a new copper water IN line to replace the flaky galvanized that's probably been poisoning us since we moved in. And, they'll be done in a day, so it's not like we'll have to be without plumbing for a week or whatever. We also have the dough: Miss Tessmacher is a hardliner when it comes to keeping money in the bank for just this kind of unforseen event. So all in all, it'll be a good fix. But still…where has the shit been going?

Now with that problem solved, or about to be solved, I'm sitting here blogging while I try to ignore all the water that's seeping into our basement from around the foundation. We've been rain-less for I don't know HOW long, and the skies opened up last night, pounding us with an incredible deluge for hours. Our house drainage system is pretty good - eave troughs and downspouts abound - but the volume of water coming down has thwarted simply everything, and the overflowing eaves are creating waterfalls right down next to the house…where, naturally, all that water can't saturate the packed-dry earth quickly enough, so now I'm gonna have to go get the fuckin' shop vac (which, incidentally, is full of DRY materiel right now) and spend the day trying to keep on top of the water. I finally have everything of importance down there in plastic bins or up off the floor, but still…I fuckin' HATE water where it doesn't belong, man! I also, being an anal-retentive kind of guy, hate things I can't control, and rain pretty much tops that list. Shit.

Ah well. At least we had three days of low-humidity and pleasant sunshine. They were good paintin' days, and I do love watching all that rain water bead up on the top rails of our porch.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Band/Song Meme

Stolen from Stinkbumps, although I've seen it on many a Facebook page as well…

The rules:

Using only song names from ONE ARTIST, cleverly answer these questions.
Consider yourself tagged, but post a comment to let me know you've done it.
You can't use the band I used.
Try not to repeat a song title.

Pick your Artist

Are you a male or female?
All-American Man

Describe yourself.
Just A Boy

How do you feel?
Almost Human

Describe where you currently live.
A World Without Heroes

If you could go anywhere, where would you go?
Somewhere Between Heaven And Hell

Your favorite form of transportation?
Rocket Ride

Your best friend is…
Mr. Blackwell

You and your friends are…
Flaming Youth

What's the weather like?

Favorite time of day?
Turn On The Night

If your life was a TV show, what would it be called?
Psycho Circus

What is life to you?
Not For The Innocent

Your last relationship?
Sweet Pain

Your fear?
Creatures Of The Night

What is the best advice you have to give?
Rock And Roll All Nite

Thought for the day?
What Makes The World Go 'Round

How I would like to die:
Uh! All Night

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Middle-Aged Metal Mayhem

A week late, but what they hey--who's countin', right? Anyway…as promised, a review of my lovely night spent with Mr. Joel and three bands I love.

First up: the seats. Ever since I saw Kiss from the 2nd row, I've really felt unable to go back to the nosebleed seats. And, at Pine Knob, that means NO LAWN! The lawn is fine for good-timey music with a big crowd - think Ringo Starr, or Huey Lewis - but for anything I actually care about, I need to be up close. So, when tix went on sale back in May, I grudgingly ponied up the dough to join the Def Leppard fan club, just to get access to the pre-sale. If you haven't bought concert tix in awhile, that's basically how it works. If you wait until the "general public" onsale date, you're screwed. (In this case, "general public" meaning either "those who don't care where they sit," or "ignorant sheep.") I ended up with 12th-row tix, which is a LOT closer than I imagined it might be. Probably about 30 feet from the stage, on the right-hand side. Close enough to know that I could make eye contact with important band members, and know that I personally was being seen. Which, if you're a fanboy, is really what it's all about. Remind me to tell you sometime about Gene Simmons laughing at me. Good fanboy moment, that.

Anywho. Three bands, all of whom I love dearly: Cheap Trick, Poison, and Def Leppard. That was the performance order, with CT getting about 35 minutes of stage time, Poison about and hour, and Def Lep about an hour & a half. But, for the review, I'll go in reverse order of preference.

Bobby Dall, Brett Michaels, C.C. DeVille, Rikki Rockett

I love Poison. I really do. Unapologetically, unguiltily, and without remorse. I first discovered Poison in the heyday of hair metal, opening up for Ratt. That's right. The Ratt-Poison tour. (*groan*) They are they ultimate expression of style over substance, a feel-good cacaphony of two-fingered power chords and hooky choruses. I've seen them live 4 times: in 1987 as Ratt's opener, in 1988 as the headliner, in 2006 as the headliner, and last Friday. And…I basically never need to see them again. They just felt…well, Joel described it best. When they were done and had left the stage, Joel turned to me and said "That was really cheesy." And you know what? He was totally right. The songs are still the songs I love: Look What the Cat Dragged In, Talk Dirty to Me, Nothin' but a Good Time…but sandwiched between the classy Cheap Trick and the awesomely rock-&-roll Def Leppard, they were just…cheesy. With an extra helping of cheese. And cheese for dessert. Maybe it's that unwatchably shitty series that lead singer Brett Michaels "stars" in, or maybe it's just that classy and awesome trump cheesy every time. Whatever the case, I now know I don't need to get excited when I hear that Poison's coming around.
Rick Nielson, Tom Petersson, Bun E. Carlos, Robin Zander

Cheap Trick is, ostensibly, my second-favorite band in the world. And that's really not a disservice to them…it only really speaks to the all-consuming power of my obsession with Kiss. But I love Trick. Seriously: if you're not listening to Cheap Trick, and you have ANY kind of rock-&-roll in ya at all, you're missing out. I consistently tell my classes that Cheap Trick is the greatest band in the world that they're not listening to, and I mean it. And far from being a has-been "legacy" band that tours on the strength of their heyday hits (Hello? Poison? Phone call for ya!), Trick has been pretty consistent about putting out new releases every few years. To wit: Trick was the ONLY band Friday night touring on the strength of a new album, The Latest, which literally came out three weeks ago. So, having only seen CT once before, I was kinda there to see them most of all. And they SO did not disappoint! They looked great, they sounded great, and they proved that glistening power-pop and quirky lyrics really DO have a place in the universe. I'll stop slobbering all over them now, but maybe my next post will be a "must-have" list of Trick songs to hear, for the uninitiated.
Phil Collen, Rick Allen, Joe Elliott, Vivian Campbell, Rick Savage

I'd never seen Def Leppard before, without quite knowing why. Lep has loomed large on my listening radar ever since Pyromania came out in 1983. Def Lep really led the pack of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in the '80s, and I've been a pretty faithful follower…just, never seen 'em live before. The best thing I can say is this: from the moment they hit the stage, they proved why they were the headliners that night. Before the show I was regretting that Cheap Trick wasn't going to do a 2-hour set, but Lep immediately showed me that I didn't need to be sorry. The only complaint I had about their show was that bassist Rick Savage's sound was too heavy in the mix…otherwise, they were a sheer pleasure to behold. Joe Elliott was in fine voice, and the dual-guitar assault of Viv Campbell and Phil Collen was a sonic masterpiece. I was especially interested to see what one-armed drummer Rick Allen looked like live, and he didn't disappoint. After losing his left arm in a car accident way back in the mid-'80s, he's used a melange of live drums and triggered pads, using his right foot for the bass drum, his left foot for the snare, and his right arm for most of the stuff in between. My friend Eric once commented snarkily that Allen lost his arm, but you'd never know it from the way he drums. He meant it to be an insult, but I thought Allen was a monster behind his set. If you've loved Leppard from the start, but have never seen them live, please: treat yourself. They WON'T disappoint!

The audience was, naturally, a weird mixture of middle-aged people of varying weights and stages of hair-loss, their kids, and slutty late-teen/early-20-something girls. And in spite of that odd makeup, we all had a grand time. So go. Relive the music of your youth. And be sure to make a two-fingered devil-horn salute while you crank it up to 11.