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The Art of the Insult by Mike Baron

THE ART OF THE INSULT 

The perfect squelch. The withering put-down. The witty slander that leaves folks gasping in disbelief and delight. D.H. Lawrence on James Joyce: “Stewed-up fragments of quotation in the sauce of a would-be dirty mind.” Winston Churchill: “Unless the right honourable gentleman changes his policy and methods and moves without the slightest delay, he will be as great a curse to this country in peace as he was a squalid nuisance in time of war.” Dorothy Parker: “Their pooled emotions wouldn’t fill a teaspoon.” Mary McCarthy on Lillian Hellman: “Every word she writes is a lie including ‘and’ and ‘the.’”

High school, for me, was an unending search for the withering put-down. Like Eric Harris, I had no use for humanity and it had no use for me. Unlike Eric, I lacked that black toxin which caused him to mow down a dozen classmates before turning the gun on himself. I used to memorize what I considered witty put-downs. Many young men go through a phase where alienation causes them to judge harshly. Most of them grow out of it.

However, Facebook breaths new life into this adolescent movement. There’s something about Facebook that brings out the worst in people. They say things on Facebook they wouldn’t dream of saying to your face. You actually have to struggle to keep a thread on track without degenerating into “Fuck you!” “No! Fuck YOU!” I posted that Lady Gaga had killed it at the Superbowl, and within twenty posts it had degenerated into name-calling.

Serial insulters are witherers. Wither the witherer? The latest rage seems to be fabricating faux nineteenth century insults without the wit. “Hoofwanking bunglecunt” has a certain cachet, as does “twatwaffle”  But it has no meaning. Oh insult, where is thy sting?

They will never replace the classics. “Fuck you!” “No! Fuck YOU!”

My friends, I have five rules for arguing on Facebook. 1: No sarcasm. 2: No personal attacks. 3: Be brief. 4: Keep your sense of humor. 5: Know when to quit.

Digital Smigital by Mike Baron

DIGITAL SMIGITAL

It took me years to get a CD player. I had an enormous collection of vinyl culled from twenty years writing about music. I finally got the CD player because so many musicians weren’t issuing vinyl anymore. The first CD I got was a three-disc Duke Ellington collection, The Webster/Blanton Band. And then the horse was out of the barn and I got everything in CD, selling my vinyl collection for the ridiculous price of twenty-five cents a disc. The CDs were a poor excuse for albums because the reduced size had a huge effect on the art. I love album art. Look at the many books of just album art.

A lot of bands urge me to listen to their new tunes on download. Many bands are forgoing physical product altogether in favor of digital. This works for a lot of people, but not for me, and not for a lot of people I know. We’re collectors. We like to have an artifact we can hold in our hands, read the personnel and album notes, if any. Album notes provide astonishing information and if you don’t believe me, read the album notes for Tower of Power’s Dinosaur Tracks.

Most of these bands perform live. A lot of people would like to buy their albums, but are surprised when there are no albums. Directing your fans to a download, free or not, is not the same as selling records and CDs right at the venue, when they’re all keyed up. At the very least, bands must have CDs to sell at performances. Here in Fort Collins we have Bohemian Nights in August, hundreds of local bands performing for free. I pick up a lot of CDs at these things. Not only is it a good way to support the band, it’s a good way to remember what you heard.

Sure you can have an iPod with several thousand songs on it. But are they arranged like an album? There’s a reason for the song sequencing in albums like Sgt. Pepper, Jellyfish: Spilt Milk, Marco Joachim’s Hidden Symphonyies. The music industry has changed, and albums aren’t as important as they used to be, but my friends and I still listen to albums. Like the Who’s Tommy. You’re supposed to start at the beginning and follow the sequence.

Vinyl is back. Analog grooves simply produce a warmer sound than CDs, which are digitally mastered and digitally translated. Everything old is new again.

When that giant Chinese electro-magnetic pulse hits, a lot of you are gonna be SOL.

Paul Martin Smith by Mike Baron

Mike & Smitty

SMITTY AND ME

I first saw Paul Smith’s artwork on X-Men and was gob-smacked. Back in the day I wanted to work with every artist whom I admired. And there were a lot! Paul Smith is one of nature’s gentlemen. I was surprised to learn he was a fellow biker, and visited him several times at his garret in Santa Barbara, and later at his brother’s house. Paul had gone through several bikes before settling on BMW’s “Flying Brick,” and loaned me his Honda V45 for a memorable ride.

Of all the replacement artists who worked on Nexus, Smitty was the best ,(37, 38, 43, 44, 49, 51-55,) and “Kreed’s Arm” is his masterpiece. He also drew The Spirit, Starman, Sun Runners, and Leave It To Chance. His last comic book work was Kitty Pryde: Shadow and Flame, in 2006. Then he pulled a disappearing act.

I tried locating him for years. Several months ago, while visiting my partner Steve Rude, the Dude mentioned that Smitty had phoned him from his new home in Colorado. A little sleuthing tracked him to Colorado Springs, 120 miles south of my home in Fort Collins.

It has become a tradition to spend New Year’s Eve at my publisher’s house in Monument, five miles north of Colorado Springs. I asked my publisher if I could invite Smitty. Cool. My publisher’s house is impossible to find. Nevertheless, Smitty found it and there he was–older, grayer, but the same. Paul used to have bright ginger hair. It is now all white. We talked for hours and I reminded him of the time he loaned me a motorcycle and promised to return the favor. Paul is without a motorcycle for the first time in decades. I hope to see him on one of my projects soon.

His website is www.paulmartinsmith.com. 

The Silence of the Scams

THE SILENCE OF THE SCAMS

For twelve years I drove a ’99 Maxima. On the way back from the high country it started making awful noises and the power cut out. It had over 120,000 miles on it. I took it to my mechanic. “Looks bad,” he said. “I don’t know what’s wrong with it. I’d have to tear the engine down.”

It was time. Using money I made defrauding widows and orphans I purchased a ’14 Maxima with 32,000 miles on it. The dealership tried to sell me a supplemental service contract. “Let me think about that,” I said.

Two weeks passed. Then the notices began. I threw some of them out but I have eight rightchere at my elbow and I’m sure there will be more today. The notices said, “REQUEST FOR ACTION—IMPORTANT VEHICLE INFORMATION ENCLOSED.” And, “FINAL ATTEMPT TO NOTIFY, RE: 2014 NISSAN MAXIMA.” And, “REQUEST FOR IMMEDIATE ACTION—TIME SENSITIVE MATERIAL ENCLOSED.” And, “IMMEDIATE RESPONSE TO THIS NOTICE REQUESTED.” And, “VEHICLE ALERT NOTICE—PLEASE RESPOND WITHIN 3 BUSINESS DAYS.” I got three of those. And, “IMMEDIATE RESPONSE TO THIS NOTICE IS REQUIRED.” And, “THIS IS ABSOLUTELY YOUR LAST CHANCE—RESPOND OR DIE.” And, “THE END IS NIGH, REPENT NOW.”

Okay. I made the last two up. But you get the idea. Oddly enough, none of these desperate appeals came from a legitimate business. Only one, EWS, has a return address. The rest just seemed to be anonymous threats to get my money. I have received at least twelve. I expect more. This time they will be my FINAL, FINAL NOTICES.

Weekend at Dude’s, by Mike Baron

Nexus 35 years

WEEKEND AT DUDE’S

I went to Phoenix recently to plan the next phase of Nexus with artist Steve Rude. I flew Frontier. Once again I was singled out for extra scrutiny by TSA. Happens every time. “Why me?” I said. “You have an anomaly in your groin area,” replied the agent. “Must be my enormous johnson,” I said. Actually, it’s the titanium brace in my hip which I acquired when I fell through a trap door in my own house in 2000.

Frontier’s seats are made of a single unit of plastic that doesn’t hinge. The little fold-out shelf was the size of a postcard. Water was free. A bag of chips cost seven dollars. However, the plane arrived more or less on time. Dude picked me up at the airport and we drove to his house which lies on the far western fringes of Phoenix in a weird neighborhood consisting of giant houses, many with thirty foot tall garages, surrounded by desert. As we entered a big dog, possibly a fox hound, rushed up to greet us. Dude chuckled and said, “Ha, the giant blowhard.”

Jaynelle found Daisy wandering the neighborhood and took her in. Now they have two dogs. Designer and graphic artist Mike Jones was there as well working on the Nexus Compendium which will provide behind-the-scenes looks at Nexus’ history plus a lot of never before seen art. I signed 500 posters, also signed by the Dude and the Big G (Paul Gulacy,) which are going out as premiums to kickstarter participants.

Just the other day I received a desperate plea from the Big G, along with everybody on his FB list, that he’d been mugged in Ankara, Turkey and needed money to get home. Of course he’d been hacked and it was a scam but Chuck Dixon and I had some fun stringing the hacker along with promises of money.

We also discussed the next phase of Nexus, following the current storyline which debuts in January. The current storyline is loosely based on Nexus vs. Galactus. It is epic! Dude took us on a tour of the environs and introduced us to his barber and the saleswoman who sold him his car. We ate at a nice Mexican/Italian restaurant that night which had outstanding shepherd’s pie. Then it was back to Spaceship Dude for more brainstorming. Dude hauled out page after page of original Kirby as well as paintings by Harry Anderson and Drew Struzan.

We plotted all day Sunday and went for a walk around the neighborhood. Very little grass and what there was has those damnable underground watering systems. I used to have one. Then we got Mack. The first thing she did was chew up all the underground tubes. There were little parks here and there, half acres of greensward surrounded by palm trees. I asked a guy why so many houses had those thirty foot garages and he told me, “for people to store their stuff.” The only reason I could think for those garages was to house sailboats, and there is a big lake about thirty miles away.

Sunday night Jaynelle made a delicious clam and pumpkin chowder, and on Monday morning Mike Jones dropped me off at the airport on his way back to Texas. And that was my weekend at the Dude’s.

Existential Thrillers by Mike Baron

EXISTENTIAL THRILLERS

In an existential thriller the protagonist is doomed. Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear is the archtype. “In a squalid South American village, men are hired to transport an urgent nitroglycerine shipment without the equipment that would make it safe.” You come to know these men and care about them, especially Yves Montand’s character. Yet you know their heroic efforts are futile. They know it too. You can see it in their faces.

William Friedkin followed The Exorcist with Sorceror, a remake of Wages of Fear. This is white-knuckle film-making at its best as the mismatched Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, and Francisco Rabal struggle with ancient trucks and harrowing rope bridges across bottomless chasms while transporting  nitroglycerin to an out-of-control oil fire. Sorceror is red meat for socialists who can condemn not only capitalism, but racism and colonialism as they wait for the inevitable denouement.

The Naked Prey directed by and starring Cornel Wilde, is another great ET. The twist here is that he actually survives the movie, which you would never guess from the harrowing introduction. It’s difficult to believe he was allowed to get away with these scenes of African torture in 1965. These are not your father’s noble savages.

Sam Peckinpah directed two of the greatest existential thrillers, The Wild Bunch and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. The Wild Bunch, like Ride the High Country and The Ballad of Cable Hogue, is a eulogy to the dying west, in this case a group of aging, over-the-hill train robbers looking for their last big score. Peckinpah eschewed pretty boys. The faces of William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Ben Johnson and Warren Oates are portraits of stubborn desperation, covered in sweat and bristles. Near the climax, when the scumbag general slits Angel’s throat and Holden automatically shoots him dead, all action freezes. Hundreds of the general’s cutthroat followers can’t believe what just happened and there’s a chance they’ll let the Wild Bunch walk out of town. Borgnine looks around, chuckles goofily, and they open up in one of the bloodiest shoot-outs in cinema history. They’re doomed, but they’re going down guns blazing.

Warren Oates makes a similar decision at the climax of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Peckinpah’s cracked existential masterpiece. Alfredo knocked up the daughter of a rich man, who promises $50,000 to anyone who brings him Alfredo’s head, setting off a treasure hunt among such spectacular low-lifes as Gig Young and Kris Kristofferson. Oates’ seedy piano player plums the death of Mexico’s sewers on his way to collect but when the pay-off comes, Oates chooses to kill the fat cockroach who has caused so much heartache with his cynical offer.

The most recent truly great existential thriller is The Grey, in which Liam Neeson’s gang of oil field roughnecks crash lands in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness. A pack of wolves gathers and starts picking them off one by one. The Grey has a unique beauty as well as a story that will pin you to your seat.

My Gifts To The World by Mike Baron, Writer

MY GIFTS TO THE WORLD

 

I give and I give. I am a river to my people. I offer three inventions that I’m too lazy to build or copyright. People tell me my hearing is going and this may be true. I tried to watch an episode of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Morell and could hardly understand a word. Perhaps it was the thick English accents. Perhaps it is my hearing, destroyed by years of hanging out at clubs listening to rock and roll. I find that when I cup my ears with my hands, to expand the sound gathering surface, I increase my hearing by 25%. The science is settled! But I look foolish always cupping my ears, and sometimes I need to use my hands for something other than hearing. Thus, Ear Wigs. Simply fashion two curving rhomboid ear wings from curving Red Solo Cups, affix them to a band that goes over the top of the head and holds them in place behind the ears, bending them forward. Voila! An organic and natural hearing enhancer that requires no batteries! So long as you are not concerned with looking foolish, or like one of those Squeeze-It Aliens.

As soon as I put on a motorcycle helmet my scalp itches. My new motorcycle Helmet Scratcher has a liner composed of stiff bristle brush, like an old-fashioned hair brush. This massages the scalp when you move the helmet back and forth. I’m an itchy kind of guy. I use a hair brush to scrub my back because nothing compares for satisfaction.

Martial Arts Suspenders. When’s the last time Steven Seagal saw his belt? There are thousands of aging martial artists who can’t see their belts. Martial arts suspenders showing rank and affiliation could revolutionize martial arts as we know them. They will have heavy metal clasps and be made of highly elastic material so you can take them off and use them as a weapon. Like a bungee cord.

America, you’re welcome.

Mike Baron, New Story, Sons of Jackals

SONS OF JACKALS

 

The title Muhammad burst from the cover in three-dimensional letters like a Cecil B. DeMille production. A lean, mean fighting machine in a white suit, wrap-around shades, beard and turban with a scantily-clad houri clinging to one leg, cigarette dangling from his lip, side-kicking a Hassidic Jew with skullcap and prophylactics two feet off the ground.

“It’s meant to be satiric,” Polly Furst said. “I’m Jewish myself.”

“Do you go to temple?” Josh Pratt asked. They sat outside at a round metal table adjacent to the sidewalk at the Laurel Tavern, a family-friendly pub on Monroe Street in Madison, WI. It was early May and the temperature was in the mid-sixties. Josh’s dog Fig sat at his feet. He flipped through the comic book.

“No. I come from a long line of secular Jews.”

“Man, I love comics. Used to read them in prison. This is good art.”

“Thank you.”

“Where do people pick this up?”

“From my website or at conventions. Capital City and Westfield have it. I asked Diamond and never heard back. I think it was too hot for them.”

“Have you received any death threats?”

“Too many to count. I told the police and they said there was nothing they could do. FBI, same thing. It’s like they have no interest in protecting me. I had to shut down my Twitter account and block about a hundred people on Facebook.”

“Did you report them to the administrator?”

“No. I guess I should have, huh.”

“Cops don’t protect people,” Josh said. “They come along after you’ve been stabbed and try to figure out who did it.”

“I have a bunch of shows coming up. I’m not going to be intimidated into hiding! I contacted Executive Security and they suggested you.”

“Huh,” Josh said. He’d finished their seminar last December and hadn’t taken any security jobs, although he’d been involved in the Cretaceous murders. “Anything local?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, has anyone phoned you or approached you in person?”

“No. I keep my phone number private but now I’m beginning to worry.”

“Where do you live?”

“I rent an apartment at Alhambra on the South Beltline.”

“I get two-fifty a day plus expenses.”

Polly goggled. She was a skinny thing with pale skin, a poof of curly red hair and a Roman nose. She wore a Tank Girl T-shirt over her flat chest and wire-rimmed glasses. She looked like a goonie bird. She snuffled, pulled a used tissue from her backpack and ran it under her nose.

“Allergies. My cash flow isn’t so great as you can imagine, but I have a terrific collection of original art I’ve collected over the years. My grandfather bunked with Charles Addams and Bill Mauldin in World War II. I suppose I could put some of my pieces up for auction.”

“I’m sympathetic to your case, Polly, but I don’t work for free.”

“I know that. People think that because I’m a starving comic book artist that I should do jobs for the publicity.”

“You make a living at this?” Josh said.

“Sort of. I got lucky last year when Vertigo tapped me to do a three issue run of Fables. Then I did a fill-in issue of Wonder Woman so I have a little money in the bank. I may have to sell my Mauldins and Addams drawings.”

The waitress came with three hamburgers. Josh set one on the ground for Fig. By the time Josh straightened up it was gone. Polly wolfed hers down looking around furtively as if some green was about to make a citizen’s arrest. She brought out two amber plastic bottles from her backpack, opened them and downed two pills.

“Do you have a concealed carry permit?” Josh said.

Polly stared at him like he was a bug. “Don’t be absurd! No one should have a gun except the police.”

“I’d like to take a look at your place and if you don’t mind, I’d like to see your original art.”

“Do you know anything about comics?” Polly said.

“I like The Badger. I think I have a few floating around.”

“Everybody loves The Badger,” Polly said. “I never wanted to do superheroes.”

Josh hefted Muhammad. “What’s this?”

“It’s a satire.”

“I don’t think Muslims do satire. Tell me something. With everything that’s happening in the world, with terrorists flowing over the southern border like a land rush, what made you think this was a good idea?”

“I’m an artist. I can’t think about what’s politically correct and I can’t let prejudice affect what I consider art or it’s the death of art. Every day we hear another ukase from some idiot that this or that should be off-limits.” Polly spoke in a faux low voice. “’There are many proper subjects for humor. Islam is not among them.’ Fuck that! Even Schindler’s List has a few laughs.”

Josh liked her. He’d always hated bullies.

“Now they say you can’t write Luke Cage unless you’re a black man. And you can’t play a movie Indian unless you’re Indian. There’s a reason they’re called actors. Edgar Rice Burroughs would have been forbidden to write Tarzan because he never went to Africa. Alexander Dumas could not have written The Three Musketeers because he was a black man. They’re calling for the death of the imagination.”

“I hear you.”

“Did you ever see The Year of Living Dangerously? Linda Hunt, this little midget woman won an Oscar for portraying a Vietnamese man. What do we do now? Take away her Oscar ‘cause she’s not Vietnamese?”

“Never saw it.” Josh hadn’t seen many movies and most of those that he had seen he saw in prison. Inmates voted on what they wanted to see so Josh had intimate knowledge of Hell Up In Harlem, Superfly, Buck Town, Easy Rider, Hell’s Angels On Wheels, and Wild Angels. The tiny gay contingent never could summon the votes for The Bird Cage.

“Sorry for the rant. Seems like I gotta justify everything I do these days.”

“Not to me.”

“So what do you think?” she said, fixing her green eyes on him.

“About what?”

“About protecting me!”

“Let’s take a look at that original art. I might do it for the art.”

“Great!” Polly said. When the check came she snatched it. “I’ve got this.”

Minutes later the waitress returned perplexed. “Ma’am, your credit card didn’t go through.”

“What?”

“We got notice from your bank that it’s been canceled.”

“That’s impossible,” Polly said.

It’s started Josh thought as he reached for his walletrecent photo of mike

Blog–Rock and Roll Movies

ROCK AND ROLL MOVIES

There are many good rock and roll movies. I’m not talking documentaries like Hail, Hail Rock and Roll!, The Last Waltz, or Stop Making Sense, I’m referring to rock and roll fictions. Bill Haley’s Rock Around the Clock is the grandaddy of them all but rock movies didn’t really take off until the eighties.
American Hot Wax appeared in 1978. It’s the story of the first great rock and roll show hosted by Alan Freed, played by Tim McIntyre. Inexplicably, this masterpiece has never been issued on DVD. It’s the only movie in which Jay Leno doesn’t play himself, unlike triumphant appearances by Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.
Absolute Beginners is another overlooked masterpiece, this one about the birth of rock and roll in fifties England. Released in ’86, directed by Julien Temple, Absolute begins with the mother of all tracking shots putting A Touch of Evil to shame. It follows teen phographer Colin as he tracks the nascent movement and feature performances by Ray Davies, David Bowie, Sade, and the music of Charles Mingus.
Mark Wahlberg’s Rock Star is another excellent movie recounting the story of how the lead singer of a tribute band devoted to Steel Dragon actually becomes Steel Dragon’s lead singer. It is loosely inspired by the real-life story of Tim “Ripper” Owens, singer in a Judas Priest tribute band who was chosen to replace singer Rob Halford when he left the band. You will never forget the scene where Wahlberg debuts with Steel Dragon.
Tom Hanks’ That Thing You Do perfectly captures the innocence and exuberance of the birth of rock and roll in America in 1964 as it follows the fortunes the hilariously misnamed “The Oneders,” whom, it turns out, are one-hit wonders. Stars Hanks look-alike Tom Everett Scott.
Still Crazy is my favorite. It follows the adventures of the heavy metal band Strange Fruit who fell apart at a rock festival in 1970, only to find them reforming twenty years later. Everyone is brilliant, particularly Billy Nighy as the pretentious lead singer and Billy Connelly as their stage crew/manager. We follow their hapless tour through Europe but a funny thing happens on the road. They keep getting better. And rock movies don’t get much better than this.
Some compare Still Crazy to Spinal Tap, but there’s a huge dif. Still Crazy takes its characters seriously. Spinal Tap remains the king of mockumentaries.