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 three 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.

Monday, June 26, 2017

This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio # 878



Rah rah rah, sis boom bah! This week's exercise in The Best Three Hours Of Radio On The Whole Friggin' Planet occurred one day after my 40-year high school reunion. I had a good time there, so it seemed appropriate to kick things off radio-wise with The MC5's own timeless salute to high school, and we were off and rantin'. We celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Our World broadcast of "All You Need Is Love" by The Beatles, exulted in the splendor of the new Big Star best-of set, and served up brand-new music from The Bookends. We also continued to shill for our own forthcoming compilation CD This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4, including the world radio debut of a new track by the should-be-famous Chris von Sneidern. Who, come to think, may have gone to my high school. Rah rah rah!

NEXT WEEK: LPs and 45s ONLY! Yep, it's our second-ever All-Vinyl Show, adding back all the surface noise you've been missing in your dreary digital life. And this is what rock 'n' roll radio sounded like on a Sunday night in Syracuse this week.

This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl streams Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, exclusively at www.westcottradio.org

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TIRnRR # 878: 6/25/17

[Tracks from This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4 listed in bold.]

THE RAMONES: Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio? (Rhino, End Of The Century)
--
THE MC5: High School (Rhino, The Big Bang!)
JIMI HENDRIX: Hear My Freedom (Experience Hendrix, West Coast Seattle Boy)
THE RAMONES: Rock 'n' Roll High School (Rhino, Loud, Fast Ramones)
THE BEATLES: All You Need Is Love (Apple, 1)
THE MONKEES: Birth Of An Accidental Hipster (Rhino, Good Times!)
BIG STAR: In The Street [single mix] (Stax, The Best Of Big Star)
--
CHRIS VON SNEIDERN: Insomniac Summer (Kool Kat Musik, VA: This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4)
NICK LOWE: Cruel To Be Kind (Yep Roc, Quiet Please...)
THE CHURCHILLS: Everybody Gets What They Deserve (Abrupt, You Are Here)
GAME THEORY: America [demo] (Omnivore, 2 Steps From The Middle Ages)\
THE KINKS: The Village Green Preservation Society (Universal, The Village Green Preservation Society)
BIG STAR: Thirteen (Stax, The Best Of Big Star)
--
THE BOOKENDS: Far Away, But Around (unreleased)
THE LITTLE DARLINGS: Little Bit O' Soul (Ace, VA: You Heard It Here First!)
SPARKS: Tips For Teens (Rhino, Profile)
THE MO-DETTES: White Mice Disco (Cherry Red, The Story So Far)
RAY PAUL: I Need Your Love Tonight (Kool Kat Musik, VA: This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4)
CLOCKWORK FLOWERS: Uncle John (single)
--
TEEGARDEN & VAN WINKLE: God, Love And Rock & Roll (Ronco, VA: Do It Now)
BLUE SWEDE: Hooked On A Feeling (Mercury, VA: Pure 70s)
CHUCK BERRY: Johnny B. Goode (MCA, The Anthology)
CAST OF THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW: Time Warp (Ode, The Rocky Horror Picture Show OST)
THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS: Ana Ng (Rhino, Dial-A-Song)
BARNES & BARNES: Fish Heads (Lumania, single)
--
MICHAEL LYNCH: Love To Love (7a, VA: Listen To The Bands)
FREDDIE & THE DREAMERS: I'm Telling You Now (EMI, The Definitive Collection)
LYNSEY MOON & THE SOMETHINGS: Me & Magdalena (7a, VA: Listen To The Bands)
BIG STAR: Don't Lie To Me [single version] (Stax, The Best Of Big Star)
THE CHARACTERS: Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow) (7a, VA: Listen To The Bands)
WRECKLESS ERIC: Reconnez Cherie (Salvo, Hits, Misses, Rags & Tatters)
--
THE FLASHCUBES: She (7a, VA: Listen To The Bands)
VAN MORRISON: Midnight Special (Exile, The Authorized Bang Collection)
GARY FRENAY: Moonraker (Curry Cuts, VA: Songs, Bond Songs)
CLAUDE FRANCOIS: Ce Soir Je Vais Boire (Emperor Norton, VA: CQ OST)
FREDA PAYNE: Band Of Gold (Invictus, single)
GLORIA JONES: Tainted Love (Ace, VA: You Heard It Here First!)
--
CIRCE LINK: Yellow Dress (circelink.com, Enchanted Objects And Ordinary Things)
THE LOLAS: Sticker (JAM, VA: This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 1)
BRENYAMA: Things That You Do (Jem, Euphoria Love)
THE COWSILLS: She Said To Me (JAM, VA: This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 2)
MICHAEL CARPENTER: I've Been Loving You (Kool Kat Musik, This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 3)
BIG STAR: O, My Soul [single edit] (Stax, The Best Of Big Star)
--
VEGAS WITH RANDOLPH FEATURING LANNIE FLOWERS: The Weekend's Coming (Kool Kat Musik, VA: This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4)
BIG STAR: Watch The Sun Rise [single version] (Stax, The Best Of Big Star)
THE SLAPBACKS: Make Something Happen (Kool Kat Musik, VA: This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4)
BIG STAR: Back Of A Car (Stax, The Best Of Big Star)
IRENE PENA: Must've Been Good (Kool Kat Musik, VA: This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4)
BIG STAR: I'm In Love With A Girl (Stax, The Best Of Big Star)
MICHAEL OLIVER & THE SACRED BAND FEATURING DAVE MERRITT: You Won't Do (Kool Kat Musik, VA: This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4)
BIG STAR: Thank You, Friends (Stax, The Best Of Big Star)
CIRCE LINK & CHRISTIAN NESMITH: I'm On Your Side (Kool Kat Musik, VA: This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4)
BIG STAR: Feel (Stax, The Best Of Big Star)
THE FLASHCUBES: No Promise [4 track] (Kool Kat Musik, VA: This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4)
BIG STAR: September Gurls [single version] (Stax, The Best Of Big Star)
TRANSLATOR: Cry For A Shadow (Columbia, Everywhere That We Were)

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Tonight On THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO!



We open with The MC5, and subsequently offer a brand new track from Chris von Sneidern (from This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4) and a new track from The Bookends. There'll also be more from TIRnRR # 4, plus a lot of other stuff we can't tell you about, because we haven't thought about it yet. What's the hurry? We'll figure it out as we go! Sunday night, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org

Saturday, June 24, 2017

High School, Rah Rah Rah




Today, I am attending my 40-year high school reunion. Yeah, I'm surprised, too. Given the sheer volume of crybaby whinin' I've done over the years about how much I hated high school, one wouldn't expect me to embrace the idea of going back.

But it may be fun. I've been re-evaluating my attitudes of decades passed, and I've begun to realize some of the extent to which I contributed to my own malaise. I would have been weird, no matter what--oh no, they can't take that away from me--but the vast majority of my classmates were decent people. There were bullies, sure, but they were a minority. A lot of these folks could have been my friends if I'd been less suspicious and thin-skinned at the time, and I recall many of them as friendly acquaintances, at least. A few of them got past my defenses; a few of them were friends.

I'm happy to say I don't have an agenda today. I don't need closure, or redemption, or a rewrite of history. I'm not even seeking inspiration for a future blog post, because I probably won't write about this. I'm anticipating a pleasant day with peers, and a toast to those we've lost, from Tom to Linda.

This isn't my first reunion. I attended my five-year reunion in 1982, along with my friend Jay Hammond (Class of '76). I tripped on my way into the bar, and I felt the eye roll and heard the scorn of someone saying Carl Cafarelli. But I had a great time, reconnected with my pals Faith Berkheimer and Jim Creveling, and drank entirely too much. I also attended my ten-year reunion in 1987, with lovely wife Brenda by my side, and that was nice, too. Still, I avoided reunions after that, as I grew more critical of myself and disdainful of my high school memories.

I was wrong to do that. I was wrong when I did it in high school, and I was wrong when I continued with it later in life. Life is too short to be ruled by inner demons, to miss opportunities just for the silly fear of seeming inadequate. Turn up The MC5, man: I'm goin' to high school, rah rah rah, high school, sis boom bah.

The zit on my nose? That's just for authenticity.

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Friday, June 23, 2017

LOVE LETTERS TO ROCK 'N' ROLL: David Bowie




The cool site Love Letters To Rock 'n' Roll has reprinted my very first blog post, from all the way back on January 18th, 2016. The death of David Bowie affected me more deeply than I would have expected. I felt compelled to write about it, and then to start this daily blog to keep on writing about such things. From Boppin' (Like The Hip Folks Do) # 1:

Love Letters To Rock 'n' Roll: Dear David

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The JACK MYSTERY Story [complete]

Originally presented in three parts, this is the complete story of Jack Mystery, a superhero character I created as a little kid in the 1960s, revisited as a teenager in the '70s, and contemplated as a serious project when I was a twenty-something in the '80s. The first two parts of this retrospective were written before the recent death of a high school classmate prompted me to reassess my attitude toward that period in my life; I'm attending my 40th anniversary high school reunion tomorrow, something that seemed unlikely when I began writing these pieces. But now, as an illustration of fannish enthusiasm feeding the creative process, I give you: JACK MYSTERY!

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Finish the damned story, Carl!

PART ONE: 1967-1971

Unfinished And Abandoned digs deeeeep into my unpublished archives, and exhumes projects that I started (sometimes barely started) but abandoned, unfinished. I am such a quitter.

   


My creation Jack Mystery and I go back a looooong way. When I was a kid in the mid '60s, I liked to play out superhero scenarios with whatever was at hand. My tools for these fanciful adventures included my Captain Action doll and accessories; I don't think I'd yet heard the phrase "action figure," but our Cap was a doll of steel who could transform himself into SupermanBatmanCaptain AmericaThe PhantomAquamanFlash GordonSteve CanyonThe Lone Ranger, and Sgt. Fury, and I owned all of those costumes-sold-separately. I would also incorporate my sister's leftover Barbie dolls, my Creepy Crawlers, stuffed animals, various knickknacks and tchotchkes, my own drawings, and probably my lunch leftovers to concoct intricate, fanciful exploits for superheroes and super-villains, both existing characters and theoretically original creations. The "original" creations were highly derivative, and included names like...um, Batman (later re-named The Bat, really a Hawkman ripoff with batwings) and The Avengers. My crimson-colored Superman Creepy Crawler became The Scarlet Red Man. A painting I did in elementary school, depicting a bubbling, amorphous alien creature, became a superhero called Gloppy. I suspect that Stan Lee never wasted much time worrying about competition from seven-year-old me.



Among the random items at hand was a set of little James Bond-related statues. The only one of these I remember was a figure--Largo--dressed in a light-colored suit, sporting an eye-patch and a gun. I made him a superhero, and I named him Mr. Mystery.



My superhero play expanded from action figures into home-made comics. Usually not complete stories (though there were one or two of those), but cover concepts, heavily influenced by Marvel Comics. I envisioned my own comics line, Imperial-Universal Comics, and I scribbled ideas in long-since-discarded notebooks. My flagship title was a showcase book called Universal Suspense (inspired by the Marvel Super-Heroes comic book), depicting my heroes GemThe PowerRain-Hat Sam (don't ask), and other mighty forgettables clashing with nogoodniks like The Bolshevik Bat and The Vortex.

And, of course, there was Mr. Mystery.



Initially, Mr. Mystery was, I think, a non-powered hero who flew with the aid of some artificial means, and used what I called an Evri-Gun, capable of firing bullets, laser beams, or whatever other projectile or energy pulse the situation demanded. From there, I decided I wanted to change Mr. Mystery's appearance, ditching the suit and eye-patch in favor of a more traditional superhero costume. A weird explosion somehow caused Mystery's lost eye to regenerate itself, eliminating the need for the patch. He donned a skintight light blue costume, with black boots, black belt and holster, and golden jet pack, And he decided to go by his full name, rather than the needlessly formal Mr. Mystery. Henceforth, he would be Jack. Jack Mystery.

From these childish origins, Jack Mystery nonetheless became the one original character I came back to the most often over a span of a few decades. In the '80s, I started tweaking the concept into something that almost might have worked, but I never completed the work. The only Jack Mystery project I ever saw through, start to finish, was a proposed Jack Mystery newspaper strip that I penciled for Mr. DiGesare's art class in eighth grade, 1972-'73. That's where we'll pick up the story when Unfinished And Abandoned: Jack Mystery returns.




PART TWO: 1972-73

Jack Mystery in the '80s

Eighth grade was the closest I came to fitting in since leaving elementary school. I still didn't actually fit in, mind you--I was as square a peg as I'd always been--but camaraderie, normalcy, seemed almost within reach, more so than at any time since fourth grade. For the rest of my life, I would never come that close again.

1972 to '73, eighth grade, was my final year at Roxboro Road Middle School. I hated that place, though not as much as I would come to hate high school after that. Nonetheless, that year offered glimpses of bliss, sporadic moments of contentment. My quirks were acknowledged and, if not quite embraced, at least tolerated. I had a few friends. I started a comic book club at school. I wrote. My love of Charlie Chaplin and The Marx Brothers was met with an indifferent shrug, which was better than being met with rolled eyes and insults. It was as near to a happy time as anything else I can remember from secondary school.

One of the happiest memories was art class with a teacher named John DiGesare. Mr. D was the teacher everyone liked, a gentle and enthusiastic soul who encouraged all of us to create. He would play records in class--usually Carole King's Tapestry or James Taylor's Sweet Baby James--to provide atmosphere and inspiration. While I might have preferred to listen to The Beatles or Badfinger or Alice Cooper, the music on Mr. D's turntable served the essential purpose of nurturing our nascent adolescent artistry. One week, as Sweet Baby James played, Mr. D charged us with the task of making something based on the music we heard. I used the mourning of "Fire And Rain" and the ersatz blues of "Steamroller" to conjure a comic strip called The Adventures Of James Taylor, depicting our intrepid title character mourning the death of a close friend while contending with an imposing spectral figure in the cemetery: Death personified, crying out a defiant introduction, I am THE BLUES!!

Chilling.

Okay, it was neither Proust nor Spillane, not Will Eisner, not even the cartoon equivalent of Ed Wood. But it was mine, created in an environment that encouraged the pursuit and exploration of ideas: pure, fanciful ideas.



I have several specific memories of Mr. D's class. One Spring day, I brought in a couple of comic books--Batman # 250 and Shazam! # 4--to show the teacher, and any other interested parties. I recall my classmate Marge Dugan--whom I always thought was kinda cute--thumbing through the Batman comic, and not seeming openly dismissive of the idea of superhero comics. Cute girls digging superheroes? Well...cool! And Mr. D and I discussed his childhood favorite, the original Captain Marvel. I told him that DC Comics had recently acquired the character from former rival publisher Fawcett, after successfully suing Cap out of existence in the '50s. Mr. D dismissed DC's claim that Captain Marvel had been a copy of Superman (and therefore a violation of the Man Of Steel's copyright) with a disdainful one-word response: Rubbish!

My love of The Marx Brothers prompted me to make a paper mache Groucho, which lacked the accomplishment of my friend Richard Dean's W.C. Fields, but which I kept for years thereafter until it was decimated by time (and, possibly, Erin Fleming). My only negative memory of art class with Mr. DiGesare was the time Richard Dean, Jeff Greco, and I got carried away with horseplay and began throwing clay around the room. Our obnoxious antics were finally enough to try even Mr, D's seemingly infinite patience, and he yelled and sent us to the Dean's office. The Dean, Mr. Mandarino, was visibly shocked that anyone could have ever misbehaved badly enough to make John DiGesare lose his cool. Mr. Mandarino contained his surprise just enough to ask us, What did you do...?!

(Many years later, I recounted this story of my trip to the Dean's office to Mr. DiGesare, and he was mortified. He started to apologize, but I immediately told him, No, we deserved it!)

But my favorite among favorite memories of Mr. DiGesare's art class was Jack Mystery. I had never really let go of this superhero I'd created as a child. Given an opportunity to work on any long-form art project of our choosing, it was inevitable that I would want to work on some comics. Inspired by the vintage strips I'd recently been reading in a hardcover collection called The Collected Works Of Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, I settled on the idea of doing Jack Mystery as a newspaper comic strip serial.



Man, I worked on this, diligently, every day. Okay, as diligently as you'd expect from a lazy and distractible 13-year-old, but I did work on it. By making it a daily strip, I was able to work in black and white, and not be concerned with adding the color I knew I'd just mess up anyway. I worked in pencil, on cheap-cheap paper, reflecting the superhero's pulpy roots. Mr. D often tried to cajole me into working with ink, but I insisted on pencils only. I felt greater control with pencils, and Mr. D acquiesced.

I still have those Jack Mystery strips. Somewhere. Somewhere here, in this vast accumulation of stuff. I haven't seen them in years, but I remember the vague story of police officer Jack Mystery, wounded while thwarting a robbery, somehow gaining super strength and resilience in the process. Mystery quits the police force to become a superhero, aided by his brother Carl, who develops a jet pack that enables Jack to fly. Jack and Carl investigate the crime ring terrorizing the city, and eventually discover its mastermind to be Jack's former boss, the chief of police. Seeking to escape justice, the crooked police chief murders Carl Mystery, but is unable to elude the wrath of the grief-stricken Jack Mystery. The serial ended with a single color Sunday page, as Jack Mystery captured his brother's killer, and vowed to remain vigilant in protecting the innocent and thwarting the corrupt. Carl Mystery's sacrifice would not be in vain.

I wrote and drew at the same time, with no blueprint or master plan. If I were to read it today, I'm sure its amateurishness would make me cringe. But I would still take pride in the effort, in the sheer, fevered exuberance of the creative act, no matter how puerile the result, how feeble the execution. It was mine. It still is.

Mr. DiGesare encouraged me the whole way, spurring me on, suggesting I try working in ink, and having me talk to Mr. Yauchzy about doing Jack Mystery for the school newspaper. Mr. Yauchzy compared it to Dick Tracy, and said he wanted to find out what happens to the poor guy, but I never pursued that. I think Mr. D may have also mentioned that I oughtta do it in ink.

The single best day of this whole experience was when Mr. DiGesare took a bunch of his students away from the school, and had us set up in the lobby of a bank for an afternoon of work on our projects. I can't convey the meaning such a simple setting can have for someone who wants to pursue a creative endeavor. Here's a forum. Here's a platform. Here's a stage. Here's a soapbox. Perform. Create. Imagine. Do. Your work is worthwhile. Keep working on it. I labored contentedly on my Jack Mystery comic strip, writing and drawing before this passive audience of tellers and account holders, and I knew with absolute certainty that this was what I wanted to do with my life.



But I didn't do that.

Eighth grade ended, and I bid farewell to Mr. DiGesare and to Roxboro Road Middle School. When ninth grade commenced at North Syracuse Central High School the following September, I told my freshman art teacher that I really wanted to become a professional comic book writer and artist, and that I hoped he'd be able to help me hone my skills to achieve that dream.

He didn't like my attitude. Later on, at a parent-teacher conference, he told my mom and dad that he felt he needed to break me. My freshman year art class was a disaster. I took one more year of art after that, and then never took another art class again. I continued to sketch and doodle--I still do that constantly--but I didn't see a path to becoming an artist. So I gave it up.

Never underestimate the value of a good teacher. Never underestimate the danger of indifference either, nor the dangers of a closed mind and a rigid attitude. Could I have ever become an artist? I don't know. I had some ability; it was raw, and in desperate need of development, but it was there, in all its unformed uncertainty, waiting to be set free. Mr. DiGesare opened the door; his successor locked it and sealed it shut. My failure to overcome that is still on me, of course; if I'd been more persistent, and worked harder to improve my craft, I could have overcome the sudden lack of support and encouragement. Can't always blame others for my mistakes. Just sometimes.

For all that, though, I didn't quite surrender the notion of creating. I kept writing, for sure; no one would ever be able to take that away from me. But I kept drawing, too. I slowly got a little better, and I can only wonder how much better I could have become if I'd felt encouraged to continue with it.



I see Mr. DiGesare occasionally. He's a regular customer at the store where I work. When he sees me, he tells me to get off the computer and get back to drawing something. I reply that I'm writing, and that's just as good. But then I also show him the scraps of paper all around me, the quick sketches I've done recently (usually of Batman; no, you grow up). He smiles, and encourages me to keep at it. Never stop drawing. It's good advice, from a great teacher. And it's a good memory, from as good a year as I ever had back then.



My eighth grade Jack Mystery comic strip was the only complete story I ever did with this character I created so long ago. But, in the '80s, I had some ideas. I never got very far with them, but I was thinking of ways to do a Jack Mystery comic book, completely revamped, centering on the story of a dissipated young movie actor who finds himself cast in the role of a comic-book superhero, and finds himself literally becoming the super character he plays. We'll discuss those plans when Unfinished And Abandoned: Jack Mystery concludes.



PART THREE: The 1980s





I think I was 13 when I knew I wanted to become a writer. I could have been as young as 12, maybe as old as 14, but 13 seems most likely. It was a specific moment of revelation; I was at a wedding reception, doodling comics in my notebook, and another attendee asked me what I was doing. From there, the short conversation settled upon the idea of, well, was I thinking of writing comic books professionally? A magic light bulb illuminated my curls and dandruff. Yeah, I thought. Yeah, I could do that.

I started writing a Batman script right then and there. My path was decided. I was going to be a writer.

I've already spoken at length about the amateur comics I churned out as a kid in the '60s and early '70s, and my ambition to be both the next Stan Lee and the next Jack Kirby, all rolled into one. But this was different. Prior to this, I don't think it even occurred to me that I could pursue writing separately, that I didn't have to be the artist depicting the POWs and BAMs my imagination concocted. I'm not certain whether this took place before or after the eighth-grade Jack Mystery comic strip we talked about last time; I suspect it was after, perhaps fueled by the lack of encouragement I encountered in ninth grade art class. Fine. I wasn't forsaking my artwork, but I would focus on writing. It was time to put aside the foolish drawings of youth, and concentrate instead on the foolish word balloons and captions of youth.

Unencumbered by anything resembling humility or common sense, I started submitting stuff to DC Comics immediately. Hell, I submitted that first handwritten Batman story I'd thrown together at my cousin's wedding, an inept tale of The Dark Knight visiting Syracuse and investigating the death of a teenager apparently killed by police, a narrative scrawled with dubious legibility on spiral notebook paper. DC had superstar artist Neal Adams illustrate it, and together we won the Shazam Award for best comic book story ever. Playboy Playmate Deanna Baker read it, loved it, and asked me to move in with her. Success!


We were made for each other, Carl!
Awright. That may not have been exactly how things went from there. In fact, I don't think I even received a rejection letter, just the silent response that indicated No thanks, and please stop bothering us

I kept bothering them nonetheless. A handwritten Shazam! story, with the original Captain Marvel facing off against a suddenly super-powered incarnation of his arch enemy Dr. Sivana, a story which may or may not have guest-starred Plastic Man. A typewritten Batman script called "The Overtime Crimefighter!," depicting 24 hours in the life of the Caped Crusader. And "Nightmare Resurrection," a ten-years-after sequel to the classic 1966 Batman story "Death Knocks Three Times." The latter was accompanied by art samples drawn by my friend Mike DeAngelo, a talented artist with whom I hoped to partner; this submission did at least merit a form letter rejection from DC. But I kept on writing. I didn't succeed at any of it, but I kept on writing.

Jump ahead now to the mid '80s. I was still writing, still doodling, still attempting to craft...something. Record reviews. Short stories. A history of The Ramones. More submissions to DC Comics, including original characters (wait, let's make that "original" characters, with the quotes) Captain Infinity,The Trident, and Lawman, plus existing properties Batman and The Justice League of America. I finally sold something, a history of the comic book Secret Six, published in Amazing Heroes in 1984. It was the start of my spotty freelance career (the beginning of which I've chronicled in some detail as The Road To Goldmine). My sales were all nonfiction, but I kept trying my hand at fiction, too.



I'm not sure of the precise chronology, but I did return to Jack Mystery in this time frame. I'm gonna say it was 1985, because ol' Jack is certainly a presence in the sketchbook I was using that year. I did sketches of Jack, jotted down fragments of story ideas, and began to map in my head a whole new approach and narrative for this hackneyed hero I'd created in elementary school. I never quite got around to actually writing it. And that's a shame, because of all of my half-baked and raw attempts at comic-book creation in the '80s, Jack Mystery was the only one that had potential, the sole possibility of something that coulda been, y'know...cooked, maybe even well done.

The new concept of Jack Mystery in the '80s was heavily influenced by the independent comics I was reading, particularly things like American FlaggNexusZot!Mark Evanier and Dan Spiegle's Crossfire, and even Love And Rockets. It was also influenced by the idea that the comics industry had mistreated and abandoned many of the creators who'd built it; Jack Kirby was in the news for his efforts to get Marvel to return his original art, and I remembered well the plight of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and of then-uncredited Batman co-creator Bill Finger (who died in poverty), all cast aside by a comics business that would never have existed without their efforts. My notes are incomplete, but this is cobbled together and built upon what I remember of my '80s reboot of Jack Mystery:
--



Let's face it: actor Trevor Harris is kind of a schmuck.

Maybe he doesn't mean to be such a jerk, but he is one anyway. He's faithless and seemingly amoral, with two ex-wives and a long (and lengthening) list of broken relationships, all before the age of twenty-six. He drinks too much. He parties too long. His one successful role, as young Dr. Champion on the soap opera Temptations, disappeared when producers, fed up with his erratic behavior, had the writers put poor, poor Dr. Champion in a near-fatal car accident, prompting facial reconstruction surgery that allowed the role to be recast with a less difficult team player. The fresh face of Harris' replacement is on all the magazine covers; Harris hasn't worked since.

But there are still people who love him. He has fans, and he has family back in Buffalo. In Buffalo, he was just Joey Lichtenberg, and his parents owned a restaurant; his older brother Charles took over the restaurant when their parents died, remaking it into a small, successful local chain of chicken wing places, Wings Over Buffalo, with a plan to go national as Wings Over America. Charles begs Trevor--Joey--to come home and join the family business. Joey's first wife, Trish, still lives in Buffalo, too. They no longer speak.  Joey--Trevor--is adamant that he will remain in Hollywood. And he drinks some more.

Our narrative opens with Trevor alone in his apartment, face-down in bed, sheets and covers askew, slumbering in the last seconds before the morning hangover kicks in. There was someone with him in bed last night--Marcie? Darcey? Canarsie? Veronica? Betty? Sabrina? Ethel? Something like that?--but the sweet young thing had extricated her curvy derriere and split before the sun's rise, sensing that she didn't really want to be there when the jerk awakened. Carrie! That was it. Trevor would prefer to remain in bed for a few more decades, dreaming of simultaneous carnal bliss with Madonna and Joan Jett, but the insistent, relentless ringing of the phone finally nags him into the real world.



Did you forget your goddamned audition today?! Trevor's manager, Morrie. I hadda practically sell a frickin' lung to get you a shot at this, and you're gonna blow it by not even showin' up? GET YOUR ASS DOWN THERE, YOU ASSHOLE!!

Grumbling, Trevor stumbles out of the bedroom, cursing loudly. He doesn't bother shaving, or showering, or even changing his clothes; he's still wearing the Ramones T-shirt and black jeans he had on when he picked up Carrie (no--it was Marcie! Or Cheryl. No, Marcie!) in the million years ago that was last night. He swishes mouthwash, swallows five aspirin, pulls on Beatle boots, and climbs into the '69 Impala his Dad gave him. He somehow makes it to the studio in time.

It's open casting, he thinks to himself. It's not like Morrie got me some inside line on a surefire role. And it's based on a friggin' old comic book, for God's sake. I need a new agent.

"A friggin' old comic book?" Oh, Trevor--if you only had the merest idea about how much your life is about to change.



Jack Mystery Comics debuted in 1942, a quarterly book published by a fly-by-night outfit that was able to get ahold of paper even during wartime rationing, and needed to keep its presses running. The title feature was created by the team of Kirby Simon and William Hand, and the book was concocted hastily by their studio. Never a big success, the book hung on into the early '50s nonetheless. Jack Mystery was a rather generic superhero, dressed in red, white and blue (with black belt and holster), possessing super strength and resilience, and able to fly with the aid of a rocket jet backpack. Jack fought the usual comic-book assortment of gangsters, Axis agents, fifth columnists, and the occasional super-villain, like his arch-enemy, Dr. Skeleton. A planned Columbia movie serial was abandoned. A 1952 TV pilot went unsold. Jack Mystery vanished from the stands.

The character was subsequently acquired by the company that would eventually become the giant Imperial Communications conglomerate. The success of the Batman TV series prompted a new Jack Mystery comic book series in 1967, and even a cult-classic high-camp feature film starring Lyle Waggoner. Jack Mystery's popularity exploded in the early '80s, thanks to a deconstruction and revamp by the superstar writer/artist Miles Franklin, a hipper-than-hip comic book championed by Rolling Stone and now about to be adapted into a major motion picture. The film's producers just need to find the perfect actor to be the new Jack Mystery.

Trevor Harris' audition, frankly, borders on disaster. He knows his lines--even at his worst, Trevor can still do that--but the feeling isn't there. There's no spark, no passion, no conviction. As he's on the verge of flailing and failing, an older gentleman at the back of the room catches his eye. Old Jewish guy. He smiles benevolently at Trevor 

And something clicks in Trevor's mind. Without warning or explanation, he becomes his role. He believes. And it shows.

The producers' and the director's shock at the change is palpable. Where did this come from? Jesus, we were just about to have this jerk escorted off the lot! What the hell? 

The audition finishes. Though clearly impressed, the folks in charge of casting want to discuss, and weigh the merits and potential calamities of hiring this notoriously troublesome (and obviously mercurial) actor as the face of their multi-million dollar project. They begin to thank Trevor, and assure him they'll be in touch, when the dark, diminutive man at the center of their table rises and says, That won't be necessary; I've made my decision. Mr. Harris, you're hired.

Sputters of stammering protest erupt around him, but the man who spoke remains firm and unmoved. I'm the director. This is my project, my vision. I have complete authority on all casting, as per my contract. This goddamned movie wouldn't even be considered if not for me. Trevor Harris will be my Jack Mystery. Miles Franklin--comic book writer, comic book artist, comic book sensation, and now first-time movie director--smiles at Trevor, and adds, Congratulations, Mr. Harris. Trevor. May I call you Trevor? I'm Miles. I look forward to working with you. 

The assembled gathering of bigwigs shift nervously, but swallow pride and apprehension long enough to rise, gladhand, feign enthusiasm, and check their expensive watches before leaving the audition room as fast as their fat legs can carry them, bound for martinis and mistresses and whatever illicit balms they can apply to their malaise and unease. Miles Franklin lingers only a bit longer than his twitchy colleagues, and he congratulates Trevor one more time before likewise taking his leave. Trevor is alone, and stunned by the sequence of events.

Mr. Harris?

Oh--not quite alone, after all. Trevor looks up as the old Jewish man he'd seen before approaches him, and extends his aged, bony hand in greeting. They shake hands.

You were very good, Mr. Harris. Trevor feels uncharacteristically humble, and smiles at the man. Thanks. Um--thanks very much. Honestly, I don't know what the hell just happened here. Trevor pauses, and looks the man straight in the eye. I mean...I saw you, while I was auditioning, while I was..well, while I was failing. Something about you, man. What...?

The man brushes Trevor's unfinished question aside. Well, I'm happy it worked out for you, anyway. My name's Kirby Simon. My dear, late friend William Hand and I created this character such a long, long time ago. If he were here, William would agree with me. My boy, you are Jack Mystery!

Trevor doesn't reply. But in his head, a voice says, Yes. Yes, I am. He is momentarily dizzy, then suddenly filled with an unfamiliar sense of strength, of purpose. He looks down, and realizes that he has picked up a heavy weight that was left as a prop for the audition. But not really a prop--a real weight, thick and solid and heavy. It twists in his fingers as if it were Silly Putty. Like another superhero before him, he is bending steel in his bare hands.

I AM Jack Mystery!



-- 
That was my premise for Jack Mystery in the '80s (albeit considerably expanded today, in its first real written treatment, such as it is). If the story continued, we would have seen Trevor believing he was indeed Jack Mystery, but with the actual super powers to prove it. Movie studio execs would be unsure of whether they should intervene, or if they should allow this livin' and breathin' and occasionally crusadin' Jack Mystery to earn free publicity for the new film. Trevor would come to his senses before long, retaining the super powers, and also retaining the sense of responsibility and fair play that he'd felt within himself as Jack Mystery. He would clash frequently with auteur Miles Franklin over the film's dystopian take on superheroes, and he would develop a deep friendship with Kirby Simon. When Simon dies suddenly, Trevor and Miles Franklin would unite in efforts to see Simon's family reap the financial benefits of Jack Mystery's success. An executive from Imperial Media would become a real-life Dr. Skeleton, as well. And Trevor would mend fences with brother Charles back in Buffalo, and even with ex-wife Trish (who would nonetheless marry someone else anyway). He never would remember Marcie's name. Er...Darcey's name. Carrie. Roberta? Damn it...!


Good ol' whatsername. Or maybe it was Trish.
But I never wrote any of it down. I just did some sketches, and poked around with some thoughts and notions that remained only within my head. And then I moved on to something else. (Like, y'know, paying rent.)

Well over thirty years later, I look back on Jack Mystery not so much as a missed opportunity, but as a fond memory of the creative process. This is likely all that anyone will ever hear of this superhero I created as a child, a character I returned to play with again as an adult. There are some cherished playthings of youth that never lose their appeal. Here's to you, Jack. Wherever you are.



I've mostly written non-fiction. If you're curious about my attempts at fiction, you can check out the introductory chapters of my (you guessed it!) unfinished rock 'n' roll superhero time travel adventure ETERNITY MAN!, and a completed Batman short story that I think turned out pretty well: The Undersea World Of Mr. Freeze. Reminders that I should stick with writin' about power pop are probably not necessary.




Thursday, June 22, 2017

Mastering Rock 'n' Roll


The picture above was taken by my co-host Dana Bonn at SubCat Studios in Syracuse yesterday, as we were mastering our new compilation CD This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4. At the console is SubCat owner Ron Keck, and the Assistant Kibbitzer-In-Chief is, y'know...me. I didn't even realize that yesterday was Ray Davies' birthday; I just figured wearing a Kinks t-shirt would be good juju for the making of a rockin' pop CD.

I was right. Thanks to the pure pop wizardry of all of the artists who contributed tracks, and to the studio magic of Ron and SubCat, we have a terrific disc coming your way. We'll be tweaking the master a bit over the next few days, making sure everything snaps in the right place. Dana will be working on the graphics. I'll get started on the liner notes. Kool Kat Musik will make sure you have the opportunity to buy it. And then you'll know what we already know:

This disc just sounds friggin' great.

This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4
Kool Kat Musik PURR 2061
Produced by Dana Bonn and Carl Cafarelli

1. MEGHAN JEAN CAFARELLI: Perseverance
2. THE SPONGETONES: (Our Guys) Dana & Carl [TIRnRR ID]
3. POP CO-OP: You Don't Love Me Anymore [new track]
4. RAY PAUL: I Need Your Love Tonight [new track]
5. CIRCE LINK & CHRISTIAN NESMITH: I'm On Your Side [first mass-market CD release]
6. VEGAS WITH RANDOLPH FEATURING LANNIE FLOWERS: The Weekend's Coming [new track]
7. THE SLAPBACKS: Make Something Happen [new track, covering The Flashcubes]
8. P. HUX: Better Than Good [from the album Kiss The Monster]
9. IRENE PEÑA: Must've Been Good [from new EP Trying Not To Smile]
10. MICHAEL OLIVER & THE SACRED BAND FEATURING DAVE MERRITT: You Won't Do [new track]
11. THE RUBINOOS: Nowheresville [first US CD release]
12. STEPFORD KNIVES: Her Reputation [new track]
13. THE GRIP WEEDS: Strange Bird [new remix of rare single]
14. POPDUDES: She Is Funny (In That Way) [first CD release]
15. JOSEPH R. BALINT JR.: Civitas Romanas [TIRnRR ID]
16. RONNIE DARK: '70s Van [new remix of rare regional track]
17. THE FLASHCUBES: No Promise [4-track] [first CD release]
18. CHRIS VON SNEIDERN: Insomniac Summer [new track]
19. THE BOTTLE KIDS: Let Me In On This Action [new track]
20. 1.4.5.: Your Own World [first CD release]
21. THE SMITHEREENS: Got Me A Girl [first mass-market CD release]
22. PAUL COLLINS BEAT: She Doesn't Want To Hang Around With You [from the album Ribbon Of Gold]
23. THE HIT SQUAD: Best Of Me [previously unreleased]
24. THE RULERS: I Want My Ramones Records Back [first CD release]
25. THE LEGAL MATTERS: Don't Look Back [first CD release]
26. MAURA & THE BRIGHT LIGHTS: Maybe Someday [first CD release]
27. MR. ENCRYPTO: Harmony Cathedral/Daisy Bang [TIRnRR ID]
28. MR. ENCRYPTO & THE CYPHERS: Home On The Radio [previously unreleased]
29. LISA MYCHOLS: Almost Didn't Happen [new track]

And the above track listing, stellar as it is, doesn't directly tell you that it also includes name-below-the-title work by Terry Draper of Klaatu, Herb Eimerman of The Nurk Twins, Karen Bassett of The Pandoras and Rebel Pebbles, Torbjorn Petersson of The Tor Guides, Ducky Carlisle, local legend B.D. Love, and John Wicks of The Records. We've got your pop stars all over this one. We hope to have it available for your imminent worship in July.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4: Track Listing




Today, Dana & Carl are at the mighty SubCat Studios mastering our forthcoming CD compilation This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4. The disc is due out this summer on the Kool Kat Musik label, and hype will fly freely soon. Here, at long last, is the final track listing.




This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4
Kool Kat Musik PURR 2061
Produced by Dana Bonn and Carl Cafarelli

1. MEGHAN JEAN CAFARELLI: Perseverance
2. THE SPONGETONES: (Our Guys) Dana & Carl [TIRnRR ID]
3. POP CO-OP: You Don't Love Me Anymore
4. RAY PAUL: I Need Your Love Tonight
5. CIRCE LINK & CHRISTIAN NESMITH: I'm On Your Side
6. VEGAS WITH RANDOLPH FEATURING LANNIE FLOWERS: The Weekend's Coming
7. THE SLAPBACKS: Make Something Happen
8. P. HUX: Better Than Good
9. IRENE PEÑA: Must've Been Good
10. MICHAEL OLIVER & THE SACRED BAND FEATURING DAVE MERRITT: You Won't Do
11. THE RUBINOOS: Nowheresville
12. STEPFORD KNIVES: Her Reputation
13. THE GRIP WEEDS: Strange Bird
14. POPDUDES: She Is Funny (In That Way)
15. JOSEPH R. BALINT JR.: Civitas Romanas [TIRnRR ID]
16. RONNIE DARK: '70s Van
17. THE FLASHCUBES: No Promise
18. CHRIS VON SNEIDERN: Insomniac Summer
19. THE BOTTLE KIDS: Let Me In On This Action
20. 1.4.5.: Your Own World
21. THE SMITHEREENS: Got Me A Girl
22. PAUL COLLINS BEAT: She Doesn't Want To Hang Around With You
23. THE HIT SQUAD: Best Of Me
24. THE RULERS: I Want My Ramones Records Back
25. THE LEGAL MATTERS: Don't Look Back
26. MAURA & THE BRIGHT LIGHTS: Maybe Someday
27. MR. ENCRYPTO: Harmony Cathedral/Daisy Bang [TIRnRR ID]
28. MR. ENCRYPTO & THE CYPHERS: Home On The Radio
29. LISA MYCHOLS: Almost Didn't Happen

You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby!