About Me

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I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org).  As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia!  Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton.  I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, and The Syracuse New Times.  I also wrote the liner notes for the four THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me?  My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored.  Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

TWO SHOTS: Fave Raves (And Companion Nuggets)



I love a lot of pop songs. This is a list of my all-time favorite tracks by each of a number of my Fave Rave artists. For kicks, each favorite track is then followed by a deeper track that I also love; not necessarily my second-favorite track by the artist, but a lesser-known treat I think worthy of wider love 'n' affection. Some so-called "deep tracks" will be far less obscure than others; really, referring to some of these as a deep track is like calling The Beatles an underground act. On the other hand, some of my # 1 picks are pretty obscure themselves, including a Bay City Rollers album track, fercryinoutloud. Hell, my favorite track by The Bobby Fuller Four is neither the group's fabulous lone smash hit "I Fought The Law" nor their regional hit/acknowledged classic "Let Her Dance," but a deeper cut virtually tied with another deep cut as my top BF4 record. My favorite Cowsills track is not one of their hits, but a track from their criminally-underrated '90s album Global. I prefer an album track by Johnny Thunders' combo The Heartbreakers even to their better-known "Chinese Rocks." On the other hand, there were many acts (Earth, Wind & Fire for one) where I only know and love the hits, so I didn't list them here at all. Still, you get the idea, I betcha.

I'm toying with the idea of doing a blog series based on this idea, with each post an annotated entry expounding on individual tracks (and deeper buried treasure) by specific artists. For now, though, it's just a list.

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Our new compilation CD This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4 is now available from Kool Kat Musik! 29 tracks of irresistible rockin' pop, starring Pop Co-OpRay PaulCirce Link & Christian NesmithVegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie FlowersThe SlapbacksP. HuxIrene PeñaMichael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave MerrittThe RubinoosStepford KnivesThe Grip WeedsPopdudesRonnie DarkThe Flashcubes,Chris von SneidernThe Bottle Kids1.4.5.The SmithereensPaul Collins' BeatThe Hit SquadThe RulersThe Legal MattersMaura & the Bright LightsLisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here.


ABBA: Does Your Mother Know; So Long
THE ANIMALS: It's My Life; Bury My Body
THE ARCHIES: Jingle Jangle; She's Putting Me Through Changes
BADFINGER: Baby Blue; I'll Be The One
THE BANGLES: Going Down To Liverpool; Silent Treatment
THE BAY CITY ROLLERS: Wouldn't You Like It; "85"
THE BEACH BOYS: God Only Knows; Farmer's Daughter
THE BEATLES: Rain; The Night Before
CHUCK BERRY: Promised Land; All Aboard
BIG STAR: September Gurls; Turn My Back On The Sun
BLONDIE: (I'm Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear; Rifle Range
DAVID BOWIE: Life On Mars?; Can't Help Thinking About Me
THE BYRDS: My Back Pages; You Movin'
CHEAP TRICK: Surrender; I Know What I Want
THE DAVE CLARK FIVE: Any Way You Want It; Don't You Realize
PAUL COLLINS: Walking Out On Love; She Doesn't Want To Hang Around With You
THE COWSILLS: She Said To Me; All I Really Wanta Be Is Me
DEVO: Uncontrollable Urge; Social Fools
THE DRIFTERS: On Broadway; Only In America
THE EASYBEATS: Sorry; Made My Bed (Gonna Lie In It)
THE EVERLY BROTHERS: Gone, Gone, Gone; Man With Money
THE FLAMIN' GROOVIES: First Plane Home; Step Up
THE FLASHCUBES: No Promise; A Face In The Crowd
THE FLESHTONES: American Beat '84; Way Down South
THE BOBBY FULLER FOUR: Another Sad And Lonely Night; Fool Of Love
THE GO-GO'S: We Got The Beat; La La Land
LESLEY GORE: California Nights; Off And Running
THE GRASS ROOTS: Things I Should Have Said; You're A Lonely Girl
THE GRATEFUL DEAD: Uncle John's Band; Cream Puff War
GEORGE HARRISON: What Is Life; I Don't Want To Do It
THE HEARTBREAKERS: I Love You; One Track Mind
HERMAN'S HERMITS: No Milk Today; You Won't Be Leaving
THE HOLLIES: I Can't Let Go; You Need Love
THE HOODOO GURUS: Bittersweet; Sour Grapes
THE ISLEY BROTHERS: Summer Breeze; Why When Love Is Gone
JOE JACKSON: I'm The Man; Awkward Age
THE JAM: In The City; Tonight At Noon
JOAN JETT & THE BLACKHEARTS: Love Is Pain; Eye To Eye
THE KINKS: You Really Got Me; No More Looking Back
KISS: Shout It Out Loud; Anything For My Baby
THE KNACK: Your Number Or Your Name; Smilin'
THE KNICKERBOCKERS: Lies; They Ran For Their Lives
GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS: Midnight Train To Georgia; Here Are The Pieces Of My Broken Heart
LED ZEPPELIN: Communication Breakdown; Ozone Baby
THE LEFT BANKE: Walk Away, Renee; I've Got Something On My Mind
JOHN LENNON: Instant Karma! (We All Shine On); Dear Yoko
LITTLE RICHARD: The Girl Can't Help It; Greenwood, Mississippi
PAUL McCARTNEY: Maybe I'm Amazed; Not Such A Bad Boy
THE MONKEES: Porpoise Song (Theme From "Head"); Terrifying
THE NEW YORK DOLLS: Personality Crisis; It's Too Late
THE OHIO EXPRESS: Beg, Borrow And Steal; Had To Be Me
THE PANDORAS: It's About Time; I Walk Away
THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY: I Woke Up In Love This Morning; Somebody Wants To Love You
WILSON PICKETT: In The Midnight Hour; Sugar Sugar
GENE PITNEY: Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa; Louisiana Mama
PRINCE: When You Were Mine; I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man
SUZI QUATRO: Tear Me Apart; Love Is Ready
R.E.M.: Radio Free Europe; Burning Hell
THE RAMONES: Blitzkrieg Bop; Babysitter
THE RASPBERRIES: I Wanna Be With You; Last Dance
THE RECORDS: Hearts Will Be Broken; Paint Her Face
OTIS REDDING: (Sittin' On The) Dock Of The Bay; Pounds & Hundreds
PAUL REVERE & THE RAIDERS: Him Or Me--What's It Gonna Be?; Time After Time
SMOKEY ROBINSON & THE MIRACLES: The Tears Of A Clown; Come Spy With Me
THE ROLLING STONES: Paint It, Black; Empty Heart
THE ROMANTICS: Little White Lies; Open Up Your Door
THE RUBINOOS: I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend; Nowheresville
THE RUNAWAYS: School Days; C'mon
THE SEARCHERS: Hearts In Her Eyes; Umbrella Man
THE SEX PISTOLS: God Save The Queen; Did You No Wrong
SHOES: Tomorrow Night; I Miss You
SLADE: Gudbuy T' Jane; Do We Still Do It
SLY & THE FAMILY STONE: Everybody Is A Star; Underdog
THE SMITHEREENS: Sorry; Got Me A Girl
THE SPINNERS: I'll Be There; My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)
THE SPONGETONES: (My Girl) Maryanne; Anna
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: Girls In Their Summer Clothes; Candy's Room
RINGO STARR: It Don't Come Easy; Weight Of The World
THE TURTLES: Love In The City; It Was A Very Good Year
THE VOGUES: Five O'Clock World; Lovers Of The World Unite
THE WHO: I Can't Explain; The Punk And The Godfather
STEVIE WONDER: Uptight (Everything's Alright); I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)
THE YARDBIRDS: Heart Full Of Soul; Evil-Hearted You

Turn. It. UP!!






Wednesday, September 20, 2017

My Back Pages



My emergency back surgery was ten years ago today, on September 20th, 2007. I've told parts of the story before, but it seems appropriate to gather my recollections in one place.

I'm not sure precisely when my back pain began. My feet, ankles, and lower back have always been kinda fragile. I hurt my right heel when I was ten or eleven, when I made the bright decision to leap off the scoreboard at Syracuse's MacArthur Stadium. Foot, meet ground. Ground, foot. Persistent bursitis in both ankles has dogged me since I was in my late twenties, and I occasionally pulled my back while carrying things at work, from at least the late '80s on.  These were all, I guess, part of the patchwork genesis of things going wrong. I've also tended to weigh too much throughout most of my life, and that certainly didn't help anything other than my ability to tackle opponents in backyard football games in the early '70s.

I was in a couple of car accidents in that first decade of the 21st century. I wasn't injured in either of them, but my wife Brenda wondered if they were a factor in weakening my joints. I don't know. The 2006 collision totaled my car--my own stupid fault--so I suppose it's possible, though I don't recall any real discomfort at the time.

The spring and summer of 2007 offered some specific physical gotchas. I fell right outside the door of my bank, just misstepped and went down hard. I walked with a limp for weeks thereafter. Helping to clear some brush in the woods behind Brenda's school, I got cut by the weeds and wound up falling again. Attempting to clear rocks from the garden in front of my picture window at home, I heaved the stones with perhaps a bit less care than would have been prudent. Trying to help Brenda paint the front of the house, I stretched and bent more than I should have. And working out at the gym one day--no, honest, I was!--I was positioned wrong with too much weight and too little technique, and I felt a distinct ping in my lower back, a place one would prefer not ping at all. It ached there for at least a few days, and then subsided for the time being.

But Brenda's health was really a bigger concern that summer. She developed pronounced lower back pain, a persistent ache of frightening intensity. It was diagnosed as spinal stenosis, and surgery was discussed. Her doctor put her on a regimen of physical therapy instead. It was scary, but the PT seemed to help. We drove with our daughter Meghan to Maryland for a cousin's bat mitzvah in August, and Brenda battled her discomfort as best she could. Stairs were tough, but she managed somehow, and the physical therapy gradually alleviated her pain. It felt like we'd dodged a freaking bullet.

I didn't take the bullet. It just found me anyway.

I'm not sure of the precise date, but it was in late August, probably a Monday morning. I was getting ready for work, making the bed, and as I bent to tuck in the sheets, pain shot through my lower back again. It was the same spot that had ached a few weeks or whatever before, when I'd screwed up my exercise at the gym, but now it hurt much more than it had then. I struggled to finish making the bed, swallowed some Advil, and hobbled off to work. As the pain continued over the next day or two, transitions in and out of the car proved increasingly troublesome, nor was I really comfortable even just sitting. Yeah, I was ready to go to the doctor.

But my doctor wasn't ready for me. I had a very popular doctor who tended to overbook, and it was just impossible to get in to see him, my pain be damned. I wound up being seen by a nurse practitioner instead. She figured it was a pulled muscle. Try some painkillers. Now, get outta here, ya big lug! Go feel better!



The painkillers were nearly as effective as Certs Breath Mints, just without the fresh and tingly taste. Back to the nurse practitioner. Stronger painkiller prescription. Same lack of relief.

I didn't want to be the wimp I clearly was. I tried to go about my business. The discomfort was persistent, but not debilitating. I could manage, albeit with some difficulty. On September 2nd, Brenda, Meghan, and I went to the New York State Fair for a day of fun and family time, culminating in a live concert by the American Idol Top 10 finalists. Meghan's music teacher was also playing at the Fairgrounds with his Civil War appreciation group, so we made a point of catching that performance, too. Wandering the midway, an unknown guy--presumably the disgruntled boyfriend of some inattentive, underappreciative soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend--shoved a huge, ersatz Winnie the Pooh stuffed bear into Meghan's hands and said Here! before scurrying away. I named the bear Herbert and hobbled off to our car to store him before the beginning of the Idol show.

My hipness cred is non-existent, so I can freely admit that the American Idol concert was enjoyable, headlined by our favorite contestant Jordin Sparks, but highlighted by a mini-set of the male Idols playing as a self-contained rock 'n' roll combo. It reminded me of The Monkees, the classic case of a manufactured group transcending its origin, especially when tambourine-shakin' Idol Sanjaya Malaker warbled "You Really Got Me," channeling some unique vision of Davy Jones sings The Kinks. It was a good show. It would have been a better show if I hadn't needed to continuously shift in my luxurious folding chair, trying to achieve some acceptable level of comfort.

Hey, hey, I'm an Idol!
On Monday, September 3rd, I left work early, cursing my continued malady. That evening, I sat sullenly on my couch, watching TV, wishing I could feel better already. I may have tried to lie down on the couch. Probably. When I got up--when I tried to get up--the pain shot through my back with greater force and ferocity than I had ever experienced before. In any context, over the course of my first forty-seven years here on your charming little planet.

That discomfort I'd been feeling the past few weeks? That mere ache I'd mislabeled as pain? That was nothing. This was pain. My mind flooded with panic, partially crowded out by just how much my back hurt. I crawled upstairs, hoping I would feel better in the morning.

I did not feel better in the morning.

I was alone in the house. Meghan was at school. Brenda was at work. I called in sick to work, and I called my doctor's office. He couldn't see me. Fuck him, then. Get me a doctor. Any doctor. NOW!! I made an appointment, and lurched to get ready. It hurt so goddamned much.

It still didn't occur to me to call an ambulance. I got into my little Ford Focus--the most painful transition yet--and piloted it in the direction of the medical center. The brakes didn't seem to be working all that well--man, it just rains and pours, dunnit? I struggled to get the car to do what I wanted it to do, and I made it to the office suite of my new doctor.

I sat in the waiting room. I couldn't hold it in. I started weeping, whimpering--I couldn't help it. I felt so embarrassed, and I tried to contain it. But it hurt. It hurt. My God, it hurt. I wasn't trying to draw attention to myself--I would have preferred to just fade away and disappear entirely--but I couldn't prevent the sobs and low moans that escaped me. I wanted to be stronger, better. I failed.

What happened next remains a blur. I met my new doctor. An attempt at immediate pain relief was ineffectual. He wrote me a significantly stronger prescription, and possibly suggested an MRI. I don't remember how immediate the prospect of the MRI was, but I do recall it needed to be scheduled and that he wanted to manage my pain first. I thanked him, and crawled off to my car. The Painmobile. Damned brakes still weren't working like they oughtta. It wasn't until much later that I realized I'd lost most (if not all) feeling in my right foot. The brakes weren't working because my foot had no power to operate them properly.

Got the car to the pharmacy. The pharmacist, bless 'im, tried to comfort me as I waited for the prescription to be filled. I was miserable, but grateful. I made it home. The new prescription took some of the edge off. It did not eliminate the pain entirely.

The next week and a half was a cascade of pain and attempts to conquer it. Getting into or out of a car was pure torture, even as a passenger, which was all I was going to be for the foreseeable future. Going to work was out of the question. I spent most of my time on the floor at home--getting into bed was too much effort--doing nothing. I didn't feel like reading. I didn't feel like watching TV. I didn't feel like a human being. I didn't feel hope.



Brenda tried to keep her cheer around me, while no doubt scared out of her mind as well. She tried to maintain normalcy. She went to work. Meghan went to school, and to her swim practices. They brought me a delicious steak sandwich and a sweet treat from the Italian Festival in Syracuse. Brenda took me to doctor's appointments. I used a walker to assist myself, but damn it, car rides were such an ordeal. My claustrophobia prompted me to insist on an open MRI, unnecessarily delaying that process by several days, days I couldn't spare. I was stupid, and I paid the price for that stupidity.

On the afternoon of September 20th, Brenda and I went to my doctor's office to review the results of my MRI. I've often joked about this meeting, claiming that the doctor said, Well, let's have a look at your...OH MY SWEET LORD JESUS!! In fact, his face was grave, almost ashen, his tone subdued. He told us that I needed to speak with a surgeon immediately. We had already waited too long.

A surgeon named Nolan had an office down the hall, and he was expecting us. Nolan was direct: Cauda equina syndrome. Sounds like a sci-fi film, or a horse disease. In my case, it meant a herniated disc intruding upon my spinal cord. My pain, the numbness of my right foot, the other symptoms either ignored or glossed over--cauda equina syndrome was the root of it all.

This is an emergency, Dr. Nolan said calmly and firmly. He directed Brenda to take me to the ER at St. Joseph's Hospital in Syracuse immediately; he would perform the surgery that night. With the fear welling up inside me, I asked him if the damage to my body would be permanent. He paused for a half second, and said that the surgery should have been done a week ago. He tried not to be harsh, but there was no way to cushion the effect of what he said: The damage may indeed be permanent.

Brenda got me to the ER, somehow containing her own panic, determined to be reassuring, comforting. I believe I tried to put on a smiley face of my own. Once I was admitted, there was nothing more that Brenda could do. Meghan's first swim meet was that night. Go! I said. I'll be okay. I love you. We wanted to preserve that illusion of normalcy for at least a few more hours. Reluctantly, she went off to the swim meet.

In the ER, my sheer terror finally triumphed over my own feeble attempt to stiffen the ol' upper lip. I was so scared, irrational, inconsolable. I didn't want Brenda or Meghan or anyone to see me like that. A nurse tried her damnedest to keep me calm, reassuring me, telling me I was going to be all right. But one thought kept racing through my horrified mind: Who's going to take care of my girls? Who's going to take care of my girls...?!

Meanwhile, Brenda arrived late to Meghan's swim meet. Meghan was puzzled by her characteristically punctual mother's tardiness, but didn't learn what had happened until after the meet. She was pissed that we hadn't pulled her from the meet; she felt that she and Brenda should have gone straight to the hospital instead. I still think we did the right thing. The illusion of normalcy.

The surgery went well. While I was still unconscious, Dr. Nolan met with Brenda, and chuckled while telling her it was the largest herniated disc he'd ever seen. After he left her, Brenda sat by herself, crying, wondering what would happen next.

Brenda was with me when I woke up after surgery. It was around midnight, I think. I felt...well, relieved. There was a sense of contentment, hope, growing within me. I love you, Brenda. I smiled. and I meant it. Go home and get some rest. Everything's gonna be fine now.

"Fine" was a bit more elusive than I thought it would be at first. Overnight at the hospital, I found I couldn't sleep, but I was okay with that. I was discharged the following morning (or early afternoon), and commenced with a frustrating series of days and nights in which I tried to re-calibrate myself. It was tough to do. In-home therapy sessions followed, all with the goal of strengthening my body and reversing as much damage as possible. My right foot was nearly useless. I was constipated. I was still in some pain, though nothing like it had been before. The helplessness and hopefulness returned.

I hit bottom on Tuesday, the 25th. Then, magically, I started to feel...possibility. My constipation ended. After a doctor's appointment, Brenda stopped at my workplace to allow me a quick visit with my co-workers (though, to avoid the extra transition, I remained in the car and my comrades came out to the parking lot to see me). Later on, my boss--with whom I'd had an occasionally contentious relationship for years--called me at home to offer additional encouragement. It was the right call at exactly the right time. I allowed myself the balm of hope. This time, the hope stuck around.

PT put me on a regimen of exercises to be repeated three times a day. A couple of these involved me trying to do things with both feet at the same time; the right foot wouldn't respond to my brain's command, but the intent was to put me in the habit of telling my right foot to do what the left foot was doing. And, over time, it started to work. I graduated from my walker to a cane. I went back to the hospital with a blood cot, and was released again the next day. PT continued, both at home and twice a week at a facility in North Syracuse.

I got better. Not all the way better, but better. In late October, Dr. Nolan cleared me to return to work, expressing amazement at the extent of my recovery. I was able to ditch the cane by Thanksgiving. I was able to drive again around that time. I was free.



Writing is a catharsis. I'm not quite so narcissistic that I don't recognize the fact that my tale of woe is neither unique nor even particularly egregious. I have friends who are cancer survivors, another friend who had lung transplants, people who've suffered, people who've died, people who are undergoing their own path through Hell even now, not ten years in the past. Their journeys make mine seem like a pleasant stroll. I apologize if this pause to reflect on my own travails gives anyone the impression that I'm not fully aware of how grateful I should be for my good fortune, or if my reminiscence doesn't reflect that I am grateful. Things could have been much, much worse...but they weren't worse. They were better.

Ten years ago, there was no guarantee I would be able to walk unaided, that I would retain control over my body and its functions, that I could live a life with little worse than occasional discomfort. I could not have transcended that without the will to do so, and I would not have been able to summon that will without the loving support of family and friends, especially Brenda. My right foot is still numb, some days more so than others, but it does its job.  Two weeks ago, my lower back flared up with pain again--not with the intensity of a decade ago, but still the worst it had been since then. It was...worrisome. But it was manageable, with regular stretching exercises and occasional Advil, and it abated. My evil nurse practitioner from 2007 may have finally been right about something: I probably just pulled a muscle. See, her diagnosis was just ten years too early.

So Happy Tenth Birthday, back. Howzabout we share a toast with Herbert? He's ten years old now, too.

The Kasteel is mine, of course; Herbert's still underage.

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Our new compilation CD This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4 is now available from Kool Kat Musik! 29 tracks of irresistible rockin' pop, starring Pop Co-OpRay PaulCirce Link & Christian NesmithVegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie FlowersThe SlapbacksP. HuxIrene PeñaMichael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave MerrittThe RubinoosStepford KnivesThe Grip WeedsPopdudesRonnie DarkThe Flashcubes,Chris von SneidernThe Bottle Kids1.4.5.The SmithereensPaul Collins' BeatThe Hit SquadThe RulersThe Legal MattersMaura & the Bright LightsLisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

THE EVERLASTING FIRST Part 15b: My First Exposures To Some Singers And Superheroes

Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock 'n' roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it's the subsequent visits--the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time--that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every love story still needs to begin with that first kiss.

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TODAY'S LETTER IS O




When we discuss big mainstream comics publishers nowadays, we're usually just talking about DC Comics and Marvel Comics, plus maybe Archie, and that's about it. Although there are many other funnybook factories in existence even today, The Big Two Plus One are really all the general public knows. It's a safe bet that most folks outside fandom (and even many within fandom) believe that either Marvel or DC is/was the best-selling U.S. comics publisher of all time.

That belief would be wrong. The biggest-selling publisher in the history of American comic books was Dell Comics in the 1940s and '50s, its popularity built upon the appeal of a number of beloved licensed characters. What licensed characters? Dell published the adventures and/or misadventures of Mickey Mouse and the rest of the Disney stable, Bugs Bunny and his crew from Warner Brothers cartoons, Woody Woodpecker, and Tom & Jerry, as well as non-animated properties like Tarzan, Our Gang, Gene Autry, Flash Gordon, Dick TracyZorro, and The Lone Ranger, and that's not even a partial list. Even at peak popularity, Superman and Batman couldn't beat that line-up of superstars.





Much of Dell's licensing muscle came through its partnership with Western Publishing, a company which actually produced all those fantastic Uncle Scrooge and Little Lulu comics that millions of kids were snapping up for a cumulative total of more dimes than most of us can imagine. But Dell and Western went separate ways in the early '60s. The divorce meant that Western got to keep the kids (most of those existing licences); Dell continued with a mix of a few new titles (such as John Stanley's Melvin Monster) and licenses, including TV shows like Get Smart and The Monkees, while Western started its own new publishing imprint: Gold Key Comics.




Although licensed titles remained Gold Key's principal stock in trade in the '60s, the company also added a number of original properties to its line. These Gold Key originals included Space Family Robinson, Mighty Samson, M.A.R.S. Patrol, and Dell-era holdover Turok, Son Of Stone. And there were two titles that, along with (I guess) the campy two-issue revival of '40s hero The Owl, basically comprised Gold Key's compact superhero line: Magnus, Robot Fighter (with simply gorgeous art by Russ Manning) and Doctor Solar: Man Of The Atom.




As a voracious young comics reader in the '60s and early '70s, DC and Marvel were my primary interests. But that "voracious" description meant that I also read Archie, and Harvey (particularly Hot Stuff, Richie Rich, and Sad Sack, and even Spyman and--Lord help me--Fruitman), Charlton (the Action Heroes line of Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, The Peacemaker, Judo Master, and Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt), the short-lived King Comics line (Mandrake The Magician, Flash Gordon, and The Phantom), Dell (an odd book called Super Heroes), and of course Gold Key. I may never get over my childhood crush on Magnus' girlfriend Leeja Clane, as lovingly depicted by Manning. I read Gold Key's Magnus and Doctor Solar and Super Goof, and reprints of the legendary Carl Barks' magnificent stories of Uncle Scrooge, Donald Duck, Gladstone Gander, The Beagle Boys, and The Junior Woodchucks, Huey, Dewey, and Louie.




For all that, I still viewed the Gold Key line (other than Carl Barks' work) as somehow lesser, and for no good reason. I wasn't about to pass up on any comics, mind you, but I clearly favored The Avengers and The X-Men and Justice League Of America and Batman's team-ups in The Brave And The Bold over anything Gold Key was doing at the time. But I was still at least interested in Magnus, Robot Fighter (ah, Leeja!) and in Doctor Solar: Man of The Atom.

So where does The Occult Files Of Dr. Spektor fit into this narrative? Well, the good doctor was the (gold) key to it all for me.



Dr. Spektor was created by writer Don Glut and artist Dan Spiegle, and his Wikipedia entry lists his first appearance as a ten-page story in Gold Key's Mystery Comics Digest # 5 in 1972. The subsequent series The Occult Files Of Dr. Spektor ran 24 issues, 1973-1977, with Jesse Santos replacing Spiegle at the drawing board. It was a supernatural thriller series, not far removed conceptually from DC's The Phantom Stranger or even Marvel's Dr. Strange, as our hero battles mystic menaces. Dr. Adam Spektor was aided by his lovely Native American assistant Lakota Rainflower, and confidentially, I think Adam and Lakota were, y'know, doin' it off-panel. Not my place to judge.




My introduction to Spektor and company was The Occult Files Of Dr. Spektor # 14, cover-dated June 1975. That was the summer I spent in part with my uncle's family in Pensacola. My mother and I had traveled to Missouri to visit my grandparents, as we did most summers; her brother (my Uncle Carl) was also there with his wife (Aunt Jo) and my cousins Langley, Alan, and Colin. When the time came for the Florida branch of this family tree to return home, it was decided that I would accompany them back to the panhandle for an extended stay. I remember climbing into the car with them as we left Missouri's Silver Dollar City, riding through Arkansas (where I picked up an issue of Charlton's fab E-Man comic book on a pit stop), Mississippi, Alabama, and into Florida.

Florida was a good time for this fifteen-year-old comics geek. Sure, sure, I wasted a lot of time outdoors in the sun (including almost being stung by a jellyfish off Uncle Carl's backyard dock of the bay--a good place to waste time, per Otis Redding--but there was a lot of indoor time, too. I watched reruns of the mid '60s Tarzan TV series starring Ron Ely. I jotted down all sorts of writing ideas in my spiral notebook. I made my first failed attempt to write on an electric typewriter, its sensitive keyboard succumbing uuunderrr mmy finnngeerrs' heavvvyy touuuchhh as I tried to write a proposed article for TV Guide ("The Curse Of The One-Eyed Box," about superheroes on TV). I drew. I read, and I read a lot. I read paperback novels starring Flash Gordon, The Phantom, and Doc Savage (whose feature film debut my cousins had already seen in '75), and I read stacks of new comic books. One of these was The Occult Files Of Dr. Spektor # 14.

Since comics' cover dates are always post-dated, it's a bit surprising that this June '75 book was still available for me to snag that summer. But there it was, and I recognized the guy firing lethal blasts at Dr. Spektor on the cover. Could it be?! Yes! It was the old Gold Key hero Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom. It was the first time I had ever seen two Gold Key heroes meet. Well, I had to have this!



Superhero fans delight in shared universes. Stan Lee realized this when he and Jack Kirby were building the Marvel Comics milieu in the early '60s. DC was traditionally less gung ho, but still had team-up books like World's Finest Comics ("Superman and Batman, Your Two Favorite Heroes In One Adventure Together!") and Justice League of America, and occasional crossovers in solo titles, infrequently at first, with greater frequency as someone realized kids dug the idea of their heroes hangin' out together. Even Charlton had Blue Beetle team with The Question. But Gold Key? While time travel would have been necessary for Dr. Solar to meet Turok or Magnus, it didn't matter anyway; there was no feeling that Gold Key characters would ever or could ever interact.

Until that 14th issue of The Occult Files Of Dr. Spektor in 1975.




Later, I would learn that this wasn't quite the first such Gold Key crossover, that Don Glut had already had Dr. Spektor encounter characters from Dagar The Invincible and Tragg And The Sky Gods, though I wasn't familiar with either of those titles anyway. I did see a subsequent meeting between Spektor and The Owl, though I think I missed a couple of reappearances by Dr. Solar. I only ever saw a handful of Dr. Spektor issues on the racks anywhere, so there wasn't a great opportunity to keep up with the exploits of Adam and Lakota. But I liked the series, and I wish I'd read more of it.




Gold Key Comics technically survived into the early '80s, but it was a long, long way from Western Publishing's former dominance in the '40s and '50s. The characters have outlived the line itself; Valiant Comics licensed (what irony!) original Gold Key heroes Magnus, Solar, and Turok for a well-received revival in the '90s, and those characters and others have continued to pop up in various incarnations from various publishers. Dr. Spektor himself returned in a 2014 mini-series from Dynamite Publishing, which I did not enjoy. It wasn't my Dr. Spektor. It wasn't what I remembered, and it wasn't what I wanted.

The original Dr. Spektor stories have been reprinted in a series of hardcovers from Dark Horse Publishing. I should read all of those stories someday. I bet I'd enjoy them still, just as I enjoyed seeing Dr. Spektor and Lakota meet The Man Of The Atom when I was 15. At one time, Western Publishing was responsible for the most popular comic books in our history. Decades later, Western was still responsible for some books worth reading. I bought The Lone Ranger when I could find it. I bought Magnus and Doctor Solar. Even with my limited exposure to it, I think The Occult Files Of Dr. Spektor was my favorite.

I wonder if Lakota will ever meet Leeja?



Quick Takes For O

OPERATOR 5



I first heard of the pulp hero Operator 5 in the pages of Steranko's The History Of The Comics in the early-to-mid '70s, as I poured through that book's intoxicating, intriguing coverage of the bloody pulp magazines of the 1930s. The Shadow! The Avenger! The Black Bat! The Phantom Detective! G-8 and his Battle Aces! The Spider! Captain Future! Among these ten-cent avengers was Operator 5. I have yet to read a single one of his adventures. But I still have my copy of The Yellow Scourge, third in a series of Operator 5 pulp paperback reprints, a book which I picked up during the 1975 Florida vacation mentioned above. I also haven't yet read the Lone Ranger paperback I bought in the same time frame. I'll get to 'em. Don't rush me!

THE OUTSIDERS



May as well confess this right up front: I was never much of a fan of Batman's subordinate little super-group The Outsiders. Created by writer Mike W. Barr and artist Jim Aparo, Batman And The Outsiders replaced the long-running Batman team-up title The Brave And The Bold upon the latter's cancellation in 1983. The team debuted in The Brave And The Bold # 200, the book's final issue. I loved the first half of that issue, a generations-spanning tale linking the alternate-world Earth-2 incarnation of The Batman from the '30s to the '50s to the then-current Dark Knight in "our" reality of Earth-1. That two-part story was also written by Barr, illustrated by Dave Gibbons, and it was a nice little gift for long-time Batfans. But the Outsiders' debut left me cold, in spite of characteristically superlative art by Aparo. I hated the Batman depicted in that story, a self-righteous dick who petulantly quits the Justice League because the other JLA members are being almost equally dickish. Bah. I didn't care about the new characters Barr introduced as The Outsiders--Geo-Force, Katana, and Halo--and while I did like the two pre-existing characters included in the group (Black Lightning and Metamorpho), the whole thing plainly was not meant for me. I did buy several issues of the new series, but I could never really develop any affection for it. I do like some of Barr's writing outside The Outsiders, especially a very nice 4-issue Green Arrow mini-series he wrote, some of his other Batman work (particularly the 1987 graphic novel Batman: Son Of The Demon), and his own creation The Maze Agency, a nicely-done detective series. But I could not get into The Outsiders.


Dicks. The lot of 'em.
WHEN THE EVERLASTING FIRST RETURNS: P is for:



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