Soundtrack of My Life: 1984

This is the eighth entry in a “soundtrack of my life” project — one song that is representative of each year of my life since about 1977, when I was five years old and was approximately the time when I have specific memories of music.

1984: “Rock Box” by Run D.M.C.

Check out the list of the top 100 singles for 1984 sometime. Then go take a look at 1984’s top-grossing movies at the box office. Finally, take a look at the great stuff we were watching on TV in 1984. You can make an incredibly compelling argument that 1984 was the best year of all time. Berlin Wall comes down? Not with Knight Rider on Sunday nights. Man landing on the moon? Come on – on Friday night in 1984, NBC was showing “V” and “Miami Vice.”

1984 was amazing.

There’s something conspicuously missing from the three lists of 1984’s awesomeness above – a self-titled tape from a trio of guys dressed from head-to-toe in black Adidas sweat suits and Kangols, huge gold chains and white sneakers who called themselves Run-DMC Those three guys — Run, DMC and Jam Master Jay — changed the world.  On the band’s website, they are called “the progenitors of hip-hop.” The Sugar Hill Gang get credit for bringing rap into the forefront of the music scene, but it wasn’t until Run-DMC came along a few years later, in nearly perfect lock-step timing with the explosion of breakdancing, that rap started to spread everywhere.

Rap was what we listened to, for years, almost exclusively. We listened to Whodini, we took sides in the rap battles that waged between L.L. Cool J and Kool Moe Dee (which, in my opinion, Moe Dee won in triumphant fashion with “Let’s Go,” a decimation of L.L. that was, of all things, part of the soundtrack for “A Nightmare on Elm Street 5.”). We bought all of the Fat Boys tapes and we watched “Krush Groove” and any other movie featuring rapping, breakdancing or some combination of the two. We even watched “Disorderlies,” and “Tougher Than Leather,” the movie that Hollywood tried to turn Run-DMC into actors with, and we totally loved them. We even had to make crazy playground and lunchroom deals to get copies of mix tapes when somebody would come back from a visit to the U.S. with new stuff, like Man Parrish’s “Boogie Down Bronx.”

I could make a list of the ’80s rappers I listened to that would be dozens and dozens of artists long, but any list I make always starts with Run-DMC. They weren’t only my introduction to rap, they were my favorite band in the world for a long, long time. Their new albums were day one purchases for me, or as near to day one purchases as I could manage.

Late-’80s rap music was great, and most of all it was fun. It’s still fun today; completely harmless music that for the most part was about the people singing it being famous and rich and awesome. My brothers followed along with rap when NWA kicked its doors in and threatened to kill everyone with AK-47s and ushered in the Gangsta Rap era; I didn’t go with them. That music never really appealed to me, and really still doesn’t. I bought Eazy-E’s “Eazy Duz It” in 1988, but by that time I had, for the most part, moved on to metal (with a notable exception: the piles of Public Enemy tapes I bought in the late 1980s and early ’90s).

Run-DMC is one of those groups that I can still listen to today, and on occasion will even still buy. I’ve picked up greatest hits collections off iTunes just to have their music available to me at work, since all of their music that I bought is on cassette tapes in my parents’ basement. There’s really no way to overstate just how fantastic Run-DMC was.

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I bought a Livescribe pen

Yesterday, I picked up a two-gigabyte LiveScribe pen on clearance at Target for a pretty ridiculous $24 (75% off). I had some hiccups getting it set up yesterday, so I came back today for Round 2 and it seems to be working just fine.

I take tons of little notes at work, for phone messages, etc., and I discovered last week while doing an interview with one of our languages professors for a story that I was working on that I liked taking notes by hand in interviews (it *seriously* helps with my retention), but I wished later I would’ve had some audio backup. However, I have absolutely no interest in taking a recorder into an interview and having to manage taking notes and running a recorder.

The LiveScribe pen seems to provide all the functionality I am looking for; I can take notes with an actual pen on actual paper, while also simultaneously creating a digital copy of my notes and capturing audio. However, it also has the drawbacks of requiring special paper to operate, has the drawback of requiring paper to operate in the first place, and you obviously eventually will have to purchase replacement ink cartridges, etc. There’s also the specter of battery failure, and battery replacement in the LiveScribe pens isn’t a user function.

There are apps for the iPad that appear to offer similar, if not identical, functionality to the LiveScribe pen – things like SoundNote, for example. And at $4.99 for the app and $20 for a stylus, it’s significantly cheaper with the potential for vastly more storage. Depending on the app, iPad+stylus also opens the potential for taking notes in color, and being able to change pen nibs or brushes for alternate line styles. This doesn’t seem possible with the LiveScribe.

The only advantages the LiveScribe would seem to have over an iPad+SoundNote solution would be portability and the ability to write on actual paper. The latter is not a minor consideration; if taking long notes spanning multiple pages, paging back to refer to previous notes and then returning to your current position is still, for me, far easier when working in a notebook.

The likelihood that I would’ve bought a LiveScribe pen had it not been on such ridiculous clearance at Target at the same time I had a $20 gift card burning a hole in my pocket is basically nil. However, it’s always fun to play with new technology, and if it ultimately has no impact beyond finding new and better ways to use my iPad, it’ll be a completely worthwhile investment in time and gift card.

Review: “G.I. Joe: Cobra Civil War #0”

Here’s the review of IDW Publishing’s “G.I. Joe: Cobra Civil War #0” that I posted for The Terrordrome tonight. I fell off the wagon doing these regularly for the ‘Drome last fall; this is the first of my efforts to get back to doing three of these a month for the site, one for each of the three G.I. Joe series IDW will have running starting in May.

G.I. Joe: Cobra Civil War #0
IDW Publishing
Street Date: Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Cover price: $3.99
Cover A: Tom Feister
Cover B: Gabriele Dell’otto
Cover C: Antonio Fuso
Cover RI: Javier Saltares
G.I. Joe #0
Written by: Chuck Dixon
Art: Javier Saltares
Colors: Romulo Fajardo, Jr.
Letters: Shawn Lee
This story serves to introduce us to Krake, one of the nine potential candidates to be the next Cobra Commander. Six Joes – one we know and five we’ve never heard of before – travel to Springfield to investigate a Cobra energy signal. Since there are five Joes in this story we’ve never heard of before this story, you can likely guess how this ends. Even the Joes need redshirts.
There was some message-board rumbling about Javier Saltares taking over art duties on the main Joe series from Robert Atkins, as he was known for his rougher style from “Ghost Rider,” and there was curiosity as to how his style would translate into the G.I. Joe universe. Ten pages isn’t much time to get a feel for how well this will come off, but with the short story everything was fine. He draws a good explosion and a fun bullet-riddled target, so the likelihood is he’ll fit in just fine. Krake likely would’ve gotten a full-page splash as an intro in a story longer than 10 pages.
Cobra #0
Written by: Christos N. Gage
Art: Antonio Costa
Colors: Arianna Florean
Letters: Shawn Lee
It’s good to see Costa back on art duties in “Cobra” as Vargas, another of the nine candidates to become the next Cobra Commander, is delivered to a meeting by Crystal Ball. We also meet Commander candidates Oda Satori and Khallikhan, as Baroness lays out the contest that will determine Cobra’s future leadership. This is all action-free setup; Baroness introduces us to the characters who’ll be participating in the contest, and little else.
Snake Eyes #0
Written by: Chuck Dixon
Art: Agustin Padilla
Colors: J. Brown
Letters: Shawn Lee
If you are one of the G.I. Joe fans who hated the 1992-1993 swords-and-neon explosion that was Ninja Force, this is a 10-page story you’ll enjoy. T’Gin-Zu, T’jbang, Nunchuck, Bushido and Banzai all make guest appearances for the Joes, and Snake Eyes sets out to discover the identities of the two mysterious Cobra agents who have slain them — agents who also turn out to be familiar to Ninja Force fans. The only things missing are Snake Eyes’ blue sword, Zartan’s orange mohawk, and Scarlett’s mile-wide hips.
Padilla’s art is nice here, although there are more trees in the Page 1 splash than exist in the entire real state of North Dakota. For some reason, he got a bum rap early in his work on the G.I. Joe: Real American Hero continuation, but his work here is just fine. He draws a good Snake Eyes, and nothing seems distracting or out of place.
This story raises more questions than anything, even though it sets up how the new Khallikhan character intends to pursue his candidacy for the Cobra Commander mantle. Why is Snake Eyes worthy of this kind of attention? There’s been a disconnect with the way Snake Eyes has been presented for nearly the entirety of IDW’s presentation of G.I. Joe; he has this reputation as an absolute bad-ass, but this still feels like it’s based entirely on how the character existed before IDW’s universe came to be. In the first iteration of the ongoing series, he was defeated by a single Viper so badly he vanished for six issues, then we were told he was going to train the entire G.I. Joe team to be more awesome – which we never saw. Then he goes on a commando raid with Helix in the last two issues of “season one,” and he’s what we expected him to be. It’s just an odd way for the character to have evolved in this universe. Hopefully this ongoing series will allow the character to take his rightful place at the forefront of the G.I. Joe universe. IDW claims that it’ll be obvious as to why he deserves it.
These 10-page stories offer an early look at each of the contenders for the vacant mantle of Cobra Commander, setting up what each of the three distinct IDW series will portray as the Cobra Civil War gets rolling. The contest itself seems a little hard to wrap one’s head around; it’s difficult to imagine an organization of the size and scope as Cobra would actually select its next leader in the fashion portrayed in the book. The contestants are all selected by the mysterious “council” that Baroness refers to several times in the Cobra story, which eliminates the possibility that, say, Road Pig might win, so there’s at least a baseline understanding that each of the nine candidates are ultimately qualified for the job on some level.
As with the “season one” of IDW’s run at G.I. Joe, there’s a large degree of “we’ll have to wait to see how this plays out” at work here. That didn’t work out so well with Season One, which came off its tracks when the writers seemed to put as much effort as possible into ignoring the MASS Device which, like it or not, was the central plot element to that series, until it had to wrap that storyline up as quickly as possible. Fortunately, the standalone Cobra series was so good it became easier to overlook the shortcomings of the main series.
Season Two looks to blur the lines between the three main titles, as this zero issue indicates they’ll be telling three different stories occurring as part of the overarching Cobra Civil War umbrella. There will still be an opportunity for a stronger series to carry a weaker one, but with all three series tied so closely together thematically there’s a chance for a weaker series to really bring this idea down.
Again, we’ll have to wait to see how this plays out. The ball gets rolling in May with G.I. Joe #1, Cobra #1 and Snake Eyes #1.

Soundtrack of my Life: 1983

This is the seventh entry in a “soundtrack of my life” project — one song that is representative of each year of my life since about 1977, when I was five years old and was approximately the time when I have specific memories of music.

1983: “Beat It,” Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” album is likely among the seminal music releases of many people of my generation. Having been raised on country music, as you’ve likely noticed if you’ve been following this series of posts since the beginning, I didn’t have much knowledge of The Jackson 5, and don’t remember knowing about “Off the Wall” until after “Thriller,” either. This was my introduction to Michael Jackson.

I was a big fan of Jackson for a long, long time, especially through the era when he dominated MTV after “Bad” came out. I had a red sweatshirt with nylon panels on the shoulders when I was in maybe sixth or seventh grade, and I wanted it in no small part because it was reminiscent of Jackson’s Thriller jacket. There was an identical blue one, but I wanted no part of it. I seem to recall there being a great deal of difficulty getting my parents to part with whatever sum of money that sweatshirt cost. I seem to remember it was $22, which at that time was pretty absurd. I think we got lucky and scored one on clearance.

From the Thriller gateway drug, I got into all the other Jacksons as well. I still love it when Jermaine’s “Dynamite” comes through my iTunes playlist at work, and I listened to the Jacksons “Victory” tape so many times I’m lucky I didn’t break it. And everybody had Janet Jackson’s stuff later in the decade. But that same everybody just though LaToya was weird. I even had a tour t-shirt from the Victory tour that I found at a yard sale in the late 1980s that became a staple in my late-high school wardrobe rotation.

I drew pictures of Michael Jackson. I did a video for his cover of “Come Together” for a project when I was a senior in high school. I had grand ideas of doing publicity for him after I flamed out as a mechanical engineer in college and switched my major to public relations.

I don’t really remember at what point I quit caring about his music. The Neverland Ranch weirdness was definitely the start of his slide with me, as it was with most people. Then after Megan was born it just seemed not quite right to have kids and still do things that would put money into his pocket, even if it was only a dollar. He just became a sad caricature of his former self, and what he was doing in the present became somehow wholly detached from what he had been. It was almost as if there were two Michael Jacksons — the bizarre creature demolished by the pressure of global fame, and the guy from “Thriller” who ruled the world with a single white glove.

After a point, the current incarnation just ceased to matter. I never gave the slightest thought to buying “Blood on the Dance Floor.” The last time I spent money on Michael Jackson was to buy the HIStory two-CD set. That’ll likely remain the last time I spend money on Michael Jackson. But I will still never turn off a song from “Thriller.”

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Driver’s license renewal

Pro tip: going to the DMV at 3:30 in the afternoon is a genius move. I left work, went home to get the checkbook, drove downtown, renewed my driver’s license with zero people in line in front of me, went to the comic book store, and returned to work in almost exactly 30 minutes.

It’s difficult to fathom that being more awesome.

Bought a drafting table yesterday

I bought a drafting table yesterday out of this guy’s garage over by Lake Irving for $50. I’ve been looking for drafting tables on CraigsList for months, and have even made contact on a couple of them. But the prices of the tables quickly became not so reasonable when factoring in the $75 in gas and day trip with a borrowed pickup that would be required just to go to Minneapolis and pick something up. The closest table I found that I liked was in Fargo – two and a half hours from here – and even that wasn’t what I was looking for. It was just a nice table. What I really wanted was something like this – a wooden table with storage drawers on the side – and I’ve found a few. But they’ve all been in Minneapolis.

Yesterday I found out there was a drafting table in the classifieds in our local paper, for $50. I called on it, went to check it out, and bought it on the spot.

It also isn’t really what I wanted; it’s just a collapsible red steel frame with a 4-foot-by-3-foot melamine top. I can adjust the angle of the table, etc., but that’s about it. It’s as bare bones as they come, but it’s very sturdy – it probably weighs 60-80 pounds or so. I have no storage for materials, and no work area for pencils or markers or source material or anything like that. It also needs a new top – the previous owner put a vinyl cover on it, which is great, but that cover had been written on with markers by whatever little girls were using it as their art station.

I’ll need to do some work on the top, either completely replacing the top or buying a new replacement cover (new covers are about 38 bucks). I’ll also need to hunt for a clip-on work light that’ll stay in place when I tilt the table surface (I currently have a flat-sitting desk lamp), and I may also hunt for a v-track drafting machine or a floating drafting arm. But mostly I just need to get the top fixed.

I’m glad I finally have a proper drawing table. Now I just need to revamp my work area (again) to accommodate it. I’ll post some pictures once I get everything set up.

Soundtrack of my Life: 1982

This is my sixth entry in a “soundtrack of my life” project — one song that is representative of each year of my life since about 1977, when I was five years old and was approximately the time when I have specific memories of music.

1982: Iron Maiden, “The Number of the Beast”

Up until about 1982, the music we listened to was the music my parents listened to. That year, I clearly remember my first big diversion from that track. At the time, we lived in El Paso, Texas — Dad was stationed at Ft. Bliss, and we lived in an Army neightborhood right across the street from El Paso International Airport. Right next door lived a family that had older son; late-teens, early-20s. He was big-time into motorcycles; he and his buddies would ride like idiots through our neighborhood, laying their bikes so low on the corner our house sat on that their knees touched the ground. At the time, with me being in the fourth grade and my brothers two-year increments behind, they seemed awesome to us. Their status as potential future inspiration for imitation diminished as we heard about things like he and his friends having horrific accidents on those motorcycles — I want to say I remember hearing that one of the guys in that group slid his bike under a moving train and lost a leg. I honestly don’t know for sure if that’s true; I just have in my head somehow that happening to one of those guys.

The kid next door had fun with the little kids in our house who thought he was awesome. One day, he let me borrow one of his tapes. It was “The Number of the Beast” by Iron Maiden. I listened to it a *lot* — for about four days, until my mom saw it and made me give it back.

Listening to that tape didn’t turn me into some little metal kid; in fact, it’d be another six or seven years before I really got into that kind of music. But that tape was the first time I can remember branching away from the country and western stuff that had defined the first decade of my life and started trying to find something different.

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