Thursday, December 31, 2015

Year End Musings

I’m not much of a list maker. I have a tough time coming up with an absolute ‟Favorite” anything. I get obsessive about certain topics and delve into them deeply, but I’m a dabbler at heart. There are too many things to learn about to stay the course with any of them. Renaissance Man or Master of None... You decide.

So, in that spirit, here’s a list of random things that I enjoyed/experienced in 2015, in no particular order.

Comics: Given my profession, I spend a lot of my time recommending comics to my customers. There is an art to this that goes beyond just suggesting my favorite books. The ideal is matching a book to a specific person’s tastes, whether I am in agreement with those tastes or not. But obviously, I have my favorites. Few things that were completely new in 2015 really stand out to me. I’ve been reading East of West on a monthly basis since it started, but sitting down with all four TPs made me really appreciate it. The same happened with Low, Manhattan Projects, Black Science, and Manifest Destiny. There is some disagreement on the topic, but I personally really liked The Sculptor by Scott McCloud. Both Marvel and DC had big events this summer that completely lost me (and a lot of other readers as well). We Can Never Go Home from Black Mask was a surprise hit for me, as was Giant Days.

Music: Though I listen to a lot of music I feel more distanced from genuinely new artists and albums than ever. I’ve been working my way through a project where I’m listening to a lot of classic albums from the last 60 years or so (more on that specifically in a future blog), but I’m just not being exposed to a lot of new stuff. The 2015 release I have probably listened to the most is Hollywood Vampires, a project by Alice Cooper, Joe Perry, and Johnny Depp (with a host of other guest stars). Alice covers classic rock songs by people he was friends with, all of whom are now dead. It’s kind of a no-brainer for me. Alice is probably the vocalist I am most familiar with, heard here singing lots of classic songs I know well. The mix works. Plus there is an added level of poignancy in knowing these people died, mostly of drugs and alcohol, and Alice is very aware that he could easily have been one of them. I like Dodge and Burn, the new album by the Dead Weather, though I haven’t listened to it enough for it to really sink in. I listened to some great bluesy slide guitar by a new-to-me artist by the name of Seasick Steve. Leonard Cohen put out a new album called Popular Problems that I like a lot because... Leonard Cohen.

Concerts: This was the year of cancelled concerts for me. I had tickets for The Replacements, but they cancelled and announced their breakup two weeks later (luckily I saw them twice back in the 80s). I had a ticket for Paul Weller in June, but a conflict came up and I had to miss the show. It was a good choice (more on that in a moment), but I had never seen him before and his stops in Pittsburgh are few. I had tickets for The Who with Joan Jett this fall, but they also cancelled. At least that has a rescheduled date in March. I did see Lloyd Cole at Club Cafe in June. Lloyd is one of my favorite singer/songwriters and I have seen him many times. A lot of his songs are part of a very personal soundtrack for me, and this year I saw him while in the middle of some soul-searching, so the songs had even more impact than usual. I saw both Richard Thompson and Neko Case put on great shows at the 3 Rivers Arts Festival. I saw Stevie Wonder this fall, performing the entirety of his Songs in the Key of Life album. It was something of a transcendent experience.

The highlight of my concert experiences this year was the reason I missed Paul Weller. The band Blue Coupe played a show in the living room of the famous Evaline House for a giant costume party there. Blue Coupe features Dennis Dunaway, the bass player for the original Alice Cooper Group, and Joe and Albert Bouchard, founders of Blue Oyster Cult. Michael Bruce, guitarist for Alice Cooper, was also there. You can read how this all came about in the article I wrote for the Pittsburgh City Paper HERE. As a lifelong fan of Alice Cooper, this was kind of a dream come true. I met the guys in the band, helped carry in their equipment, watched them rehearse the set of Alice songs (this was pretty much a private concert for myself and about five other people), and briefly shared the stage with them. It was a pretty magical night for this old rocker.

Dennis Dunaway and me. It was a costume party.
The bass guitar I'm holding is the exact one he used
when recording School's Out and many other classic
Alice Cooper hits. It's a Rock and Roll Holy Relic.

Me on stage with the band.

Books: This one is proving tough for me this year. I read a lot. Not as much as a few other friends of mine, but a lot. In looking over my Goodreads list this year not a lot stands out as really spectacular. I read a lot of stuff I really enjoyed and discovered a few new-to-me authors. Most of these fell into the category of fun reads but nothing very life-changing. I did really enjoy the aforementioned Dennis Dunaway’s autobiography, Snakes, Guillotines, and Electric Chairs. The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes was a good Thriller/Time-Travel/Horror novel. I like it better than Broken Monsters, her latest one. I liked them both enough to check out more. Wow... you would think I would have more here to be passionate about. Maybe I should rethink my reading list for the coming year.

Movies: I don’t get to the theater very much either. I saw most of the big blockbusters: Avengers, Ant-Man, Mad Max, Star Wars. Thanks to Rowhouse Cinema in my neighborhood I’ve seen some great older films on the big screen. I appeared in AspieSeeks Love, a movie locally produced by Julie Sokolow about my old friend David Matthews. I used to see a lot of smaller, independent films, but I have gotten out of the habit. Two of my most enjoyable movie-going experiences this year fall in this category. Only Lovers Left Alive is a slow-paced vampire movie starring Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, and John Hurt. I know some people who found it boring but I was mesmerized. We Are the Best is a coming of age movie set in Stockholm in the early 80s. It follows three young girls who decide to form a punk band in spite of a complete lack of musical ability. This was just fun and beautiful.

TV: There’s a lot of really good TV right now, and I watch too much of it. Fargo was a tremendous amount of fun, if you can get through the pretty extreme violence it contains. I watched The Affair on Showtime and really liked the conceit of the storytelling. That faltered some in the second season. I continue to enjoy Game of Thrones, though I’m bummed that it looks like the TV series is going to go past where the books are. I would rather read it first. Even though I don’t watch all of them, there’s an overwhelming number of comics-based shows. Walking Dead is still a fave, and I'm a little in love with Carol. I didn’t like Constantine at all, though I admit my vision of that character is complicated and most renditions of him these days don’t work for me. I haven’t seen enough of Supergirl yet to have a firm opinion, though I like what I’ve seen. Agents of SHIELD is better this season (it almost lost me last spring), but I want it to be better. Arrow is fun but all too often jumps into really teen angsty places that I find tedious. Flash makes me really happy. I’ve been onboard as a Doctor Who fan since the reboot, but for some reason the latest season really, really grabbed me. Some of that is the performances by Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman (who I didn’t like when she first appeared at all). Some of it is that I am painfully aware of how much many of this season’s themes really hit home for me right now.

Personal/Professional: Other than a handful of workshops I didn’t get to teach this year, which is a shame because I really love the experience of doing so. I was asked to join the Board of Directors of the Pittsburgh ToonSeum and currently serve on the executive committee. I finished the scripts for the second issue of Chutz-POW!, and inked 6 pages for it (coming in early 2016!). I had art exhibited at Most Wanted Fine Art gallery. I have been somewhat at odds with my creative endeavors, not writing as much as I would like with no real reason other than laziness and lack of motivation. I didn’t take a trip of any kind this year due to some work schedule changes and a lack of planning on my part. I plan on rectifying that this year. I had a very brief relationship that while it didn’t work out forced me to confront some issues I probably needed to think about (and for the record, there were no hard feelings on my part and I have nothing but warmth and regard for the woman involved. Thank you for being there and teaching me important life lessons). I continue to be blessed with a feast of friends, which I need to remind myself of when I’m feeling disconnected.

Okay, that’s it for now. 2015, like any year, had its highs and lows, gains and losses. Time passes and only we remark on it.

To be continued in 2016.

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