Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Passion

An exact quarter of my mom’s homemade lemon meringue pie.

That’s what I had for breakfast this morning. I haven’t eaten sweets since Tuesday, Feb. 5, and I had to make up for lost time.

Veteran readers and close friends all know that for the 40 days leading up to Easter, I observe Lent by abstaining from sweets. I’ve been doing this for years. I love the challenge, and feel detoxified from the Christmas gorging. Plus… there is just something about Lent.

No, I don’t really practice my Catholic upbringing any more. But I am certainly grateful for it, particularly the Lenten season.

It was during Lent that I experienced one of the most profound and influential musical experiences of my childhood which fueled and ignited my passion for music, and had a direct impact on the direction I would take music in my life.

When my father was stationed at Quantico, VA for the second time, I was in grades 3-7. This was the time in my life when we were most active in the church; my mom played guitar for the Saturday night masses, and I sang in the children’s choir which sang in the Children’s Masses (once a month I think). I’ve mentioned this before, but the director of the children’s choir and the Saturday night Folk Masses was named Carol Hayes. She had the most beautiful singing voice I had ever heard and in many ways I idolized her almost as much as Wonder Woman. Listening to her and my mom play every week definitely showed me how meaningful and fun music could be.

One year, the CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) staged a Living Stations of the Cross. Mrs. Hayes and my mom were involved in producing the music for this presentation which used only narration, silent acting, and music to tell the story behind each station. I remember sitting up in the choir loft with my mom, peering over the railing, and watching the tragic story unfold to the mournful melodies of the choir. I remember how eerie and shocking it was when the music cut out, heightening the drama as a boy portraying Jesus was nailed to the cross- the silence interrupted by the sounds of the hammer hitting the wood and the boy crying out sent bolts down my spine and still cause my stomach to flip when I think of it now. I had never at that point in my life been so moved or felt such passion as a result of music and drama. I was brought to tears, which I innocently let fall.

In the following years, I became more involved in the Living Stations, singing and later (after a move to Camp Lejeune, NC) directing the music. I remember searching for instrumental incidental music (as I now know it’s called) and settling on the soundtracks from Somewhere In Time and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (still two of my favorite scores). I remember cutting and cuing the tapes (yes, cassette tapes- this was the early 90s folks!) and fading the music in and out as I watched the action below with a hawk’s eye so that I could perfectly time the music for ultimate dramatic effect.

My 9th grade year was my last involvement in the Living Stations as a bad experience involving a youth retreat, the beach, and Zima severed our relations with that church. In the years since, my distance from the Catholic Church has grown considerably. But I am always brought back just a little at Lent. I have never forgotten the passion felt first as an observer and later as a participant in the Living Stations.

More importantly, I attribute those Living Stations experiences to my drive to tell stories and portray dramatic empathy through my compositions. It’s practically impossible for me to write anything if there is not a story, real or fictional inspiring it. I understand now that it is that same emotional reaction that I had to the Living Stations that I hope to create for my listeners and players.

Today on Easter Sunday, as I type away on the Amtrak heading back to NY, eating my mom’s homemade tea cookies to the envy of my seat partner, I marvel at the realization that my life’s goals may not have been cosmically predetermined, but rather a result of an isolated experience. And I can’t help but smile as I am again reminded that children do not always learn the lesson you are trying to impress upon them. I remember the Living Stations like I do my dreams- by the emotion felt during the telling. I do not remember what each of the stations is about, or even how many there are, but I will not forget the lesson of how music (or lack of) can be used to tell a story. And because of that experience, no matter how distant I find myself from the spiritual meaning of Easter, I will always be brought back, just a little, by the music.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

On a side note...

Does anyone else using Blogger have problems with the html and image formatting? I find their interface extremely frustrating and unreliable. What I see in the compose view, and in the preview view, is never what I see when I publish the blog. I am always forced to edit the post over and over trying to get spacing, etc. correct. It seems to adjust on it's own when I hit the "publish" button.

Anyone else have this problem? Thoughts? Suggestions?

Mingus in the New Frontier

The last couple of weeks have been good comic weeks for me.

I'm back on board with Birds of Prey. I've always loved Black Alice and wished Gail had used her more. I'm finally warming to Misfit and am over the ridiculous robot destruction of Metropolis.

I am also surprisingly enjoying Teen Titans: Year One. Okay, maybe that's not surprising as I am a sucker for all Year One stories.

More accurate is the kick I got out of Tiny Titans. Maybe I've been teaching elementary school too long now, but I found the little tykes adorable and the light story lines refreshing.

I am also psyched about the return of The Gunslinger. I love Jae Lee and Richard Isanove's art and don't think I could have imagined Hambry or it's inhabitants any better. I loved reading the Dark Tower and book 4, though a slower read then the last 3, was one of my favorite of King's worlds. I haven't started The Long Road Home yet, but look forward immensely to it.

However... the highlight of the past few Midtown trips has by far been Justice League: The New Frontier.

I became a huge fan of JLTNF a couple years ago when a friend loaned me the original singles. I am currently saving up for the $75 Absolute HC edition.

I thoroughly enjoyed the animated version that just came out and regret not springing for the extra bonus edition DVD. I thought the art stayed consistent with the original comics, and loved the opening music (though found some of the later scoring to be a little too cliche superhero fanfarish). The total running time was around an hour and half and so a lot of the supporting story lines were cut, which was the only real downfall.

In addition to the DVD, I picked up the supplemental Justice League: The New Frontier Special. I read this while in the laundromat and shared it with a little 4 or 5 year old that was hanging out while his mom was doing laundry. He was really into it and I considered giving him the comic, but then got really greedy and kept it for myself.

My favorite out of the three stories was the last one, featuring Wonder Woman and Black Canary (SPOILERS) infiltrating a Playboy type night club (will WW never be able to escape association with Playboy?!) It was my favorite only for the following two reasons:

Wonder Woman's Burning Breastplate


Charlie Mingus Cameo... sorta

Now, this is the Mingus Trio as drawn by J. Bone:

Here is a picture of the Mingus Trio circa 1951:

Notice a distinct difference in instruments and, um, race? The bass player in the comic definitely looks white to me, but if Cooke was in fact referencing Charles Mingus, then he should have been drawn to match Mingus's mixed heritage of Chinese, Swiss, and African-American decent (this according to Wikipedia.)

I did a cursory Internet search of trios that Mingus played with in the 50's and could find no instance of him playing in a trio with a pianist and trumpet. Not that he didn't. In fact, if anyone knows of such an ensemble, please let me know! The trio that I did come across most often is the one pictured above, with Tal Farlow (guitar) and Red Norvo (vibes) in 1950 and 1951.

While I appreciate the nod to one of my favorite jazz musicians, I do wish the proper research had been done to assure authenticity.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Superman Day

Happy Belated 70th Birthday, Superman!!

On February 29, in addition to Leap Year, many fangirls and boys celebrated the birth (sorta) of the Man of Steel. But as with, well everything in the DCU, there is controversy regarding Big Blue's b-day. explains:

Superman's creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster designed the Man of Tomorrow around 1932 but it took six years of rejections for the pair to sell the character. Finally, in Action Comics #1, Superman debuted. The comic magazine, an anthology which included other stories including DC mage Zatara, was cover-dated June 1938. As anyone who reads comics today knows, comic books -- like magazines -- are post-dated several months so Action Comics #1 actually hit newsstands (remember there weren't any comic book stores back then) in April 1938. So naturally, with a first appearance in April of a comic dated June, we celebrate Superman's anniversary in February. Wait a second, that doesn't seem right.

The idea that Superman's birthday is February 29 initially began as a lark. DC editors explained tongue in cheek in comic book letter columns that Superman remained eternally youthful because he was born on Leap Day, February 29, which occurs only once every four years.

When DC celebrated Superman's 50th anniversary in 1988, they treated February 29 as the Man of Steel's birth date. Even a "TIME" magazine cover-story (March 14, 1988 cover dated magazine) commemorating the 50th anniversary (with a cover by John Byrne) declared for all of America that Superman's birthday is February 29.

DC even held a Leap Day birthday party for Superman's 50th in 1988 which I attended (and I cannot believe that was 20 years ago). The party was held at the Puck Building in downtown Manhattan. There were cheerleaders clad in Superman sweaters. Superman artist Curt Swan was there signing autographs. There was a Superman cake. Party goers got to walk through a room made of Kryptonite (actually green lights and cellophane). And of course there were truckloads of Superman merchandise for sale to those in attendance. I remember it well.

Except it was all a lie if comic book continuity had anything to say about it.

In 1950, Action Comics #149 claimed Superman was born on Krypton in October. However, in 1958's Action Comics #241, it's revealed that Superman celebrates both the date of his birth on Krypton and the date his rocket landed on Earth. The birth date given in this 1958 comic was June 10. Then in Superman #263, Clark Kent's birthday is revealed to be June 18 and it's explained that this is the day his rocket landed on Earth. Notwithstanding these stories, a 1976 calendar published by DC Comics listed February 29 as Superman's birthday.

None of these previous revelations mattered anymore after 1986. Writers John Byrne and Marv Wolfman rebooted Superman's continuity from scratch in the comics. In Byrne's "Man of Steel" miniseries, which introduced the rebooted Man of Tomorrow, Superman isn't born until he reaches Earth. His Kryptonian parents, Jor-El and Lara, grew baby Kal-El in a genetic incubator of sorts. The Kryptonian escape rocket was essentially built around the matrix. When the rocket landed on Earth, the matrix opened up and the infant Kal-El was technically born on Earth when the Kents removed the baby from the ship.

In this post-"Crisis on Infinite Earths" rebooted DC Universe, Clark Kent's birthday is in November. Shortly after the Kents brought the baby back to their Smallville farm, there was an early snow storm which kept them isolated from their rural neighbors for several months. When Spring came, the Kents told the neighbors that Clark was their natural born son.

To confuse matters more, on episodes of TV's "Smallville", Clark celebrated several birthdays in episodes that aired in early May (and a season five episode declared Clark's birthday to be May 3). Except the first meteor shower which brought Clark's rocket to Earth in the first episode of Smallville" took place on October 16, 1989. This makes sense as Smallville High School was celebrating its homecoming the day of the meteor shower. Kal-El emerged from his rocket looking like a three-year old toddler. He even walked from the rocket to the Kents' truck which was overturned by the meteor shower. This is consistent with the origin story as it was told in 1978's "Superman: The Movie" where it was revealed the trip from Krypton to Earth took three years. In "Superman", Kal-El is an infant when he leaves Krypton and a toddler able to walk on his own on his arrival. This continuity is also embraced by 2006's "Superman Returns".

Whenever Clark Kent and/or Superman were "born", Superman the fictional character celebrates 70 years of fictional existence in 2008. DC Comics has not made any official pronouncement of Supes' birthday being February 29 this year as they did back in 1988. The city of Cleveland, Ohio -- hometown to Superman's creators Siegel and Shuster -- plans to celebrate the 70th anniversary in June.

Absent any consensus on when Superman and/or Clark Kent were born, the Superman Homepage honors the Leap Day tradition. Happy Birthday Superman!

I too, plan to pay my homage to Supes.

Today I work from home with a little lite copy-work. In honor of Superman I am currently wearing my favorite Superman PJs (ah, the joys of working from home!) and plan to watch (listen to) a random mix of Superman movies, Lois & Clark episodes, some old Max Fleischer cartoons, and maybe even a CD or two of the radio series, depending on how long it takes to enter this music.

Happy Birthday Superman!