Thursday, 21 May 2015

Green Lantern's 75th Anniversary

"In brightest day, in blackest night,
No evil shall escape my sight.
Let those who worship evil's might
Beware my power--Green Lantern's light!"
(the Green Lantern Oath)

It is often difficult to determine the date that specific Golden Age comic books hit the newsstands. The cover date of any given Golden Age comic book is somewhat useless, as comic books at the time were published a month and a half to two months prior to their cover date.  According to Comic Vine it was on May 21 1940 that All-American Comics #16 (July 1940) hit newsstands. Comic Vine does not provide a source for this date, but there is little reason to doubt it. Even if All-American Comics #16 was not first published on May 21 1940, given its cover date of July 1940 it would have been very close to that date.

As to why All-American Comics #16 matters at all, it is because it marked the first appearance of the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott. All-American Comics was the flagship title of All-American Publications, a company that grew out of National Allied Publications (publisher of Superman) and Detective Comics Inc. (publisher of Detective Comics, the home of Batman). The company was founded by Max Gaines, who had played a large role in the creation of the very first American comic book, and Jack Liebowitz, who with Harry Donenfeld was co-owner of  National Allied Publications and Detective Comics Inc. All-American Company was then very much a sister company to National Allied Publications and Detective Comics Inc., to the point that the companies cross-promoted their various characters and all of them were published under the DC imprint. It should come as no surprise, then, that All-American Publications was one of the companies that would become the modern day DC Comics.

As to Green Lantern himself, he was Alan Scott, an engineer for a railway company. Scott's company had beat out another company in a bid to build a bridge. Unfortunately, the owner of the rival company did not take this well at all. He planted explosives under the bridge so that they would detonate with the first train to go over the bridge. When Scott's company sent a train across the bridge, then, there was a huge explosion. Everyone aboard the train was killed, save Alan Scott. Scott's life was saved by a green train lantern made of some unknown metal. To make a long story short, the lantern told Scott to remove a bit of its metal to make a ring. By touching the ring to the lantern every 24 hours, the ring would have the power of the lantern's magic green flame. The lantern's green flame was a very potent weapon. With it, Scott could fly, create various objects using the flame, fire bursts of energy, deflect attacks, and so on. Its only weakness was that was ineffective against wood (this at a time when superheroes rarely had weaknesses--it would be several years before Kryptonite would be introduced into the Superman mythos).

The idea for Green Lantern originated with comic book artist Martin Nodell, who would later leave comic books for advertising (he would be part of the team that created the Pillsbury Doughboy).  Martin Nodell had began his comic book career in 1938 as a freelance artist. It was in 1940 that he was working for editor Sheldon Mayer at All-American Publications. All-American had only recently entered the field of superheroes in a rather spectacular way, publishing the first issue of Flash Comics (January 1940). Flash Comics #1 introduced such legendary characters as The Flash and Hawkman. It was then natural that Mr. Nodell wanted to create his own superhero. For him inspiration came on a day in January 1940 at the 34th Street subway station in Manhattan, where he saw a trainman waving a lantern along a darkened line of track. As to the inspiration for Green Lantern's power ring, that came from Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen.

Editor Sheldon Mayer was not particularly taken with Martin Nodell's creation. He felt that Mr. Nodell's  drawing was "crude", but he went ahead and sent Mr. Nodell to see publisher Max C. Gaines. Fortunately, Mr. Gaines gave his approval to the new character. Sheldon Leonard then brought writer Bill Finger into work with Martin Nodell. Bill Finger was already an established name in the comic book business. Indeed, among other things he was responsible for co-creating Batman with artist Bob Kane and writing the bulk of that character's early stories. Bill Finger rewrote the origin that Martin Nodell had initially provided the character.

Particularly in the early years Green Lantern would undergo several changes. An engineer for a railroad company in his origin, Alan Scott would be established as working for a radio station for the rest of the character's run. Initially Alan Scott worked for a radio station called Apex. This would eventually be changed to WMCG with Green Lantern #12 (June 1944). With Green Lantern #20 (June 1946) it would change again, this time to WXYZ. Even Green Lantern's base of operations would change over time. Initially he was based in Capitol City, although it was not long before he moved to Gotham City, the hometown of the superhero Batman. Curiously, except in the pages of All-Star Comics (featuring the Justice Society of America), Batman and Green Lantern never crossed paths.

Green Lantern would eventually pick up a sidekick, not to mention comic relief, in the form of Doiby Dickles. Doiby was a taxi cab driver with a Brooklyn accent who helped Green Lantern on a case, which soon led to his position as the superhero's sidekick. Doiby first appeared in  All-American Comics #27 (June 1941) and was created by writer Bill Finger and artist Irwin Hasen. Green Lantern and Doiby were inseparable for a time, with Alan Scott and Doiby even enlisting in the United States Army (after which they spent several issues doing special missions for the government).

Even the iconic Green Lantern Oath (quoted above) would change over time. For those unfamiliar with the Green Lantern mythos, when Alan Scott (as well as every Green Lantern since) recharged his power ring, he would recite an oath. The original oath that appeared in Green Lantern's origin in All-American Comics #16 was very basic, "and I shall shed my light over dark evil. For the dark things cannot stand the light, The light of the Green Lantern!" The oath would soon change, with two different versions alone appearing in Green Lantern #5 (fall 1942) alone. Several more versions of the oath would appear before in Green Lantern #9 (October 1943) there finally appeared a familiar variant of the Green Lantern Oath as we know it, "In brightest day, in darkest night,/No evil shall escape my sight./Let those who worship evil's might/Beware my power--Green Lantern's light!" This version of the oath also appeared not long afterwards in Comics Cavalcade #53 (December 1943). Other oaths would still appear for a time and the words "darkest night" would become "blackest night" in short order, but this version became the established Green Lantern Oath and has remained so ever since. As to who wrote the classic Green Lantern Oath, it has often been credited to science fiction writer Alfred Bester. Mr. Bester always denied writing the oath, but then the first several stories in which the oath appeared were written by Alfred Bester.

The nature of Green Lantern's opponents would also change over time. In the earliest stories Green Lantern faced off against common gangsters. With the advent of World War II he often found himself battling Nazis. Despite this it would not be long before Green Lantern found himself battling supervillains. In fact, Alan Scott may have had the best rogue's gallery of the Golden Age outside of Batman. The first supervillain Green Lantern faced may also be his most famous opponent: Vandal Savage, who first appeared in Green Lantern #10 (winter 1943/1944).  Vandal Savage had originated as a caveman in 50,000 BCE who found himself exposed to radiation from a mysterious meteorite. Afterwards he not only found himself to possess a vast intellect, but to be immortal as well. He claimed to be various historical personages over the years, from Cheops to Alexander the Great to Genghis Khan. Regardless of his claims, he was most definitely dangerous. He not only fought Green Lantern, but as part of the Injustice Society he fought the Justice Society of America as well. He would make his first appearance in the Silver Age in The Flash #137 (June 1963) and has remained one of DC Comics' most high profile villains ever since.

Of course, Alan Scott would have other notable opponents besides Vandal Savage. Aside from Vandal Savage, the most famous villain he ever faced may well be Solomon Grundy. Solomon Grundy was a man who had been murdered in Slaughter Swamp outside Gotham City. Fifty years after his murder his corpse was reanimated as a monstrous creature a group of hobos call "Solomon Grundy" after the famous nursery rhyme. Solomon Grundy first appeared in All-American Comics #61 (October 1944). Like Vandal Savage, he was revived in the Silver Age and has been an important character in DC Comics ever since. Among the other supervillians Green Lantern faced were: The Gambler (a master thief and expert knife thrower);  the Sky Pirate (a modern day buccaneer who uses an airship for transportation); The Sportsmaster (a former athlete who used sports themed gadgetry); Harlequin (Alan Scott's secretary who pretty much became a supervillain just to get Green Lantern's attention); and The Icicle (a scientist who developed a gun that could  freeze the moisture in the air--this well before the Silver Age Flash's archenemy Captain Cold).

Throughout the years several notable artists would work on the Green Lantern feature.  Sheldon Moldoff, best known for his work on Hawkman and Batman, provided several Green Lantern covers. Joe Kubert, who worked on The Flash, Hawkman, and later Sgt. Rock, also provided covers for the character.  E.E. Hibbard, best known for his work on The Flash, provided covers and artwork for stories. Among the artists most closely associated with Green Lantern was the legendary Irwin Hasen, who co-created Wildcat and would go onto co-create the comic strip Dondi. Irwin Hasen drew a much more dynamic Alan Scott than many other artists. When he drew Alan Scott throwing a punch, the reader could feel it. Another legendary artist closely associated with Green Lantern was Alex Toth. Alex Toth drew Alan Scott in such a way that one could actually believe the character could fly.

Green Lantern would prove to be one of All-American Publications' most popular characters, perhaps surpassed only by The Flash and Wonder Woman. He received his own title with Green Lantern #1 (fall 1941). He appeared in All-Star Comics and in All-Star Comics #3 was one of the founding members of the Justice Society of America, the first superhero team in the history of comic books. He was also one of the characters featured in Comic Cavalcade (the first issue was cover dated December 1942), which  featured All-American's most popular characters: The Flash, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman. There was a point during the Golden Age that Green Lantern appeared in four different publications: All-American Comics, Green Lantern, All-Star Comics, and Comic Cavalcade.

While Green Lantern was a founding member of the Justice Society of America, he would be absent from the feature for part of the Forties. It was a policy at the time that once a character received his own title, he would no longer appear as part of the Justice Society of America. Having received his own title, Green Lantern, Green Lantern stopped appearing in All Star Comics with issue #7 (October-November 1941). Green Lantern returned to the Justice Society of America in All Star Comics, #24 (spring 1945) and remained in the feature until it ended with All-Star Comics #57 (March 1951).

Unfortunately following the end of World War II superhero comic books would begin to decline in popularity. To help bolster the popularity of Green Lantern he was given a canine sidekick in the form of Streak the Wonder Dog with Green Lantern #30 (Feb.–March 1948). Eventually Streak would begin to overshadow Green Lantern and even outlived the Green Lantern feature, with Streak's adventures continuing to appear in Sensation Comics until issue #93 (September 1949) of that title. Slowly but surely Green Lantern began disappearing from the pages of comic books. All-American Comics would shift to a Western format as All-American Western with issue  #103 (November 1948), after which Green Lantern no longer appeared in its pages. Comic Cavalcade would switch to a funny animal format with issue  #30 (December–January 1948). Green Lantern's own title would be cancelled with issue #38 (May–June 1949). By the end of the Forties Alan Scott only continued to appear as a member of the Justice Society of America in the pages of All-Star Comics, making one last appearance with issue #57 (March 1951).

Fortunately, Alan Scott would not remain gone forever. In 1956 editor Julius Schwartz assigned writer Robert Kanigher and artist Carmine Infantino to create a new version of The Flash. This new version of The Flash first appeared in n  Showcase #4, October 1956. He proved such a rousing success that Julius Schwartz decided there should be a new version of another Golden Age character, namely Green Lantern. Like The Flash, this version of Green Lantern was entirely different from the Golden Age version. Instead of Alan Scott, the new Green Lantern was test pilot Hal Jordan, who is given a power ring and a lantern by the dying alien Abin Sur, a member of the Green Lantern Corps. Like the Silver Age version of The Flash, this version of Green Lantern would also prove successful.

While the Silver Age versions of The Flash and Green Lantern were successful, many long time readers wanted to see the Golden Age versions of the characters again. The Golden Age version of The Flash (Jay Garrick) would make his first appearance in the Silver Age in The Flash #123 (September 1961 ). It was with Jay Garrick's next appearance that Alan Scott would make his first appearance in the Silver Age, although only in flashback as part of the Justice Society of America, in The Flash #129 (June 1962). Alan Scott would finally appear in the present, although as part of the Justice Society of America, in The Flash #137 (June 1963), which was also the first Silver Age appearance of Vandal Savage. Alan Scott, the Golden Age Green Lantern, would first meet Hal Jordan, the Silver Age Green Lantern, in Green Lantern volume 2, #40 (October 1965). Alan Scot would make regular appearances in comic books during the Silver Age and in the Seventies, both in the pages of Green Lantern and as part of the Justice Society of America in their regular team ups with the Justice League of America.

Since that time Alan Scott has appeared in various comic books over the years. He appeared as part of the Justice Society of America in the short lived revival of All Star Comics in the Seventies.  He also appeared in issues of All-Star Squadron, a comic book set in World War II, in the Eighties. He appeared in various revivals of the Justice Society of America through the years, including the short lived Justice Society of America in the Nineties and the somewhat more successful JSA and Justice Society of America in the Naughts as well. For a time in the Naughts he went under the name "Sentinel", but he returned to the name "Green Lantern" soon enough.

For much of my life Alan Scott has been my favourite Green Lantern. While I will admit his costume is outlandish (it was bizarre even by Golden Age standards), I always found the idea of someone finding a magic lantern more appealing than belonging to an intergalactic police force. At any rate, the Golden Age Green Lantern did play an important role in comic book history. He was one of the first superheroes with a weakness, his ring's ineffectiveness against wood pre-dating Superman's Kryptonite by a few years. Along with The Flash and Wonder Woman, Green Lantern was one of the most popular characters at All-American Publications. As a result he was one of the founding members of the Justice Society of America, the first superhero team in comic book history. Two of Alan Scott's archenemies, Vandal Savage, and Solomon Grundy, would become important characters at DC Comics, making several appearances beyond their battles with Green Lantern.

Of course, it must be pointed out that had Alan Scott never been created, then the Silver Age Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, would never have been created either. While the second version of The Flash sparked the Silver Age, it was in part the success of the second version of Green Lantern that would insure it took place. While Alan Scott may not be as well known as Hal Jordan, let alone such big names as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, he did play a very important role in the history of comic books.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

"Metal Guru" by T. Rex

I have been busy preparing a blog post for very important anniversary tomorrow (hint: it's comic book related), so I really don't have time to do a full blog post this evening. I will then leave you with my favourite T. Rex song of all time, "Metal Guru". It hit #1 on the United Kingdom singles chart on this day in 1972. It was T. Rex's last #1 record.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Happy 70th Birthday, Pete Townshend

It was 70 years ago today that Pete Townshend was born in Chiswick, Greater London, England. He would go onto found one of the most influential bands of all time, The Who. The Who would have a lasting impact on rock music, influencing such subgenres as power pop (in fact, it was Mr. Townshend who gave the genre its name in an interview in the May 20 1967 issue of The New Music Express), heavy metal, punk, and hard rock in general. The Who have always been my second favourite band of all time, after The Beatles.

In celebration of Pete Townshend's 70th birthday I thought would post one of The Who's more famous (or perhaps "notorious" would be a better word) moments in their history. This is a clip from the September 17 1967 edition of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour on which The Who performed "I Can See For Miles" and "My Generation". Before the performance Keith Moon and "a sloppy stage hand" overloaded his drum kit with explosives. The resultant explosion left shrapnel in Keith Moon's arm, singed Pete Townshend's hair, and left Pete Townshend afflicted with tinnitus the rest of his life. Even if it had not been for The Who's fantastic performance on the show, then, they would have made quite an impression on the American viewing audience!

Happy birthday, Pete!

Monday, 18 May 2015

Farewell to Mad Men

I don't talk about it often, but 2008 was one of the lowest points of my life. At work I had been temporarily reassigned to what was considered the worst department in which to work. My stress level increased and I was eventually diagnosed with what is known as an adjustment disorder. My absolute lowest point that year came on July 19 2008. I had gone to see The Dark Knight with my best friend. While I thoroughly enjoyed the film, I got sick to my stomach while at the theatre. In other words, not only was I stressed out and suffering from an adjustment disorder, but I had also contracted  a severe case of the norovirus.

Fortunately, the next day AMC was airing a marathon of the first season of Mad Men in anticipation of the start of its second season. I had seen the last few episodes of the first season, but missed all of its earlier episodes. Fortunately, lying in bed and recovering from what was the worst stomach bug I had ever had, I had nothing better to do but get caught up on Mad Men. Before the end of the day I was hooked. I would be a loyal viewer of Mad Men ever since. While I cannot say it is my favourite show of all time, it is my favourite show of the modern era.

Mad Men made my life a lot more bearable in 2008. In many respects it was the perfect show for me. The Sixties has always been my favourite decade, particularly the early to mid-Sixties. I love the music, the fashions, the movies, and TV shows from that era. And I have always been fascinated by advertising. Even before Mad Men debuted I was familiar with its history. Leo Burnett and  David Ogilvy number among my heroes to this day. I probably would have liked Mad Men even if it had not been very good. Fortunately it would turn out to be one of the greatest television dramas of all time.

For those of you who don't remember or are too young to remember, in the Naughts television was still dominated by the broadcast networks and HBO. The broadcast networks had the audience, their viewing numbers dwarfing those of even the most successful basic cable channels. HBO didn't have the audience, but they did have acclaim. It was not unusual for HBO to take home several Emmy Awards each year. While original programming had existed on the basic cable channels since the Eighties, the shows on basic cable were always overlooked in favour of the networks and HBO's shows. Eventually shows such as Monk on the USA Network and The Closer on TNT would prove very successful and develop cult followings. Even then, however, their audiences were dwarfed by the shows on the broadcast networks and they never received the acclaim that the shows on HBO did. Mad Men changed all that. While it never had an audience as large as shows on the broadcast networks (in fact, its audience was smaller than that of the recently cancelled Constantine), it received as much acclaim, if not more, than HBO's shows. Mad Men proved that basic cable channels could create quality dramas. It would pave the way for such cable dramas as Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, American Horror Story, and Fargo. And while its audience was dwarfed by the shows on the broadcast networks,  Mad Men developed a fiercely loyal following.

Of course, there should be little wonder that Mad Men should not only receive widespread acclaim, but develop a cult following as well. The show was both very well written and very much a character driven show. Unlike many shows of the modern era, Mad Men happened to be somewhat slow paced. The first season of 13 episodes spanned only from March 1960 to November 1960. This afforded the show a lot more time in which to develop both its characters and its subplots. What is more, Mad Men captured the look and feel of the late Fifties and early Sixties with very little in the way of anachronisms. At the same time the many cultural references made during the series, everything from the movie Gidget to Planet of the Apes, never felt forced. I have to suspect much of the success of Mad Men stems from the fact that its creator Matthew Weiner sought to capture the milieu of the Sixties as realistically as possible.

That is not to say Mad Men was perfect. While they were rare, anachronisms did occasionally slip through. In fact, perhaps the most glaring one occurred in the very first episode, "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes".  Don Draper pitches to Lucky Strikes the slogan, "It's toasted", a slogan that had been used for the brand since 1917!  A better slogan to have been pitched would have been the slogan the brand had actually used in the early Sixties, "Lucky Strike separates the men from the boys...but not from the girls." In the fourth season episode "Public Relations" Don watched an NFL game aired in primetime on television in 1964, when in reality NFL football would not have aired in primetime until 1970. Scattered throughout the series were various anachronisms, although they were surprisingly few when compared to other period pieces and often not easy to spot.

As to how accurately Mad Men depicted the world of advertising in the Sixties, that probably depends upon whom one asks. In a recent article in Time, Jane Maas (one time creative director at Ogilvy & Mather and Wells Rich Greene, and president of Earle Palmer Brown) wrote, "Mad Men gets a lot right." She also said that she didn't "...think men were hitting on women so overtly," but notes, "There was a lot of adultery and sex going on, in the office, at night when people were working late, and in hotel rooms near the agency." Jerry Della Femina, a copywriter of the Sixties who later founded his own agency, said of the show in The New York Post, "Picture a bunch of drunks talking to each other through a cloud of smoke--that's really what the '60s was." On the other hand, Allen Rosenshine, one time CEO of BBDO in The New York Post, said of Mad Men, "I won’t deny that there was drinking, but it was never like that. And if anybody talked to women the way these goons do, they’d have been out on their ass." I have to wonder if drinking and the treatment of women did not vary a lot from agency to agency.  Mad Men may be an accurate portrait of some ad agencies in the Sixties, but not others.

From purely a story point of view, in my humble opinion I do think Matthew Weiner made a mistake in skipping most of the year 1964. Never mind it would have been interesting to see the characters' reaction to Beatlemania (I can't see Don being a Beatles fan), it was in September of that year that the notorious "Daisy" commercial  for the campaign for Lyndon B. Johnson aired. It was a monumental event in the history of political advertising, the first time a political advert had been made using Madison Avenue techniques. While the commercial was referenced on the show later, it would have been interesting to see the characters' reactions to it immediately after it had aired. I also think Mad Men faltered slightly in its fifth season, with far too much time devoted to Megan Draper (who, if she isn't the most unbearable character in the show's history, is definitely in the top five). Fortunately the show did recover and, even at its worst, Mad Men was better than many other shows at their best.

The shortcomings of Mad Men were ultimately very few. In fact, so well written was Mad Men that its characters changed and grew (or failed to grow) over time. As a result a viewer's feelings towards various characters could change over time as well. As hard as it is to believe, I really did not care for Joan in the first season. She seemed a bit too catty, a bit cross towards the secretaries, and downright mean to Peggy (then as now my favourite character). As time passed, however, I grew to like Joan, to the point that she would become one of my favourite characters. My feelings towards Betty would be a bit more complex. I started out basically liking Betty, only to grow to dislike her as she became more abusive towards her children and Henry (her second husband), only to start liking her somewhat towards the end of the series' run.

Of course, it is one of the signs of the brilliance of Mad Men that one can often like characters against one's better judgement. In real life I would want to have nothing to do with the womanising, hard drinking Don Draper, yet he is one of my favourite characters. Harry Crane has always been a bit smarmy and, I suspect, not particularly talented, yet I have always liked him too. And then there are my favourite characters, the ones with whom I think I would get along in real life. Peggy was always my favourite character, and one of the characters with whom I could identify (if I was a woman I would like to think I would be like Peggy). One of my all time favourite characters was Sterling Cooper's art director Sal Romano. He was one of the few truly good, truly honest characters on the show, someone with whom I would not mind working in real life. Sadly, he was written out of the show in the third season. And then there was Dr. Faye Miller, the psychologist with whom Don had an affair. I have to admit I had a crush on her and was flabbergasted when Don threw her over for Megan (possibly my least favourite character on the show). I mean, Faye was intelligent, beautiful, and a psychologist (my minor in college was in that subject).

Of course, Mad Men is one of those shows that has always generated a strong response in its viewers, to the point that criticising the favourite character of another Mad Men fan can be fighting words. The show certainly developed a fiercely loyal following, so that despite its low ratings there is a tonne of Mad Men merchandise to be had. There are several different books (from The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook to Sterling's Gold: Wit and Wisdom of an Ad Man--the memoirs of Roger Sterling), coffee mugs, T-shirts, notebooks, pinback buttons, laptop skins, and even clothing lines. For Mad Men fans there is no shortage of Mad Men gear.

Not only did some fans want Mad Men merchandise, there were many who had to insert themselves into the show after a fashion. Many fans created their own Twitter accounts for various characters, tweeting in character. Almost no character was overlooked, not even Betty Draper's fainting couch. The various Mad Men Twitter accounts would even roleplay various events, such as the Great Blackout of 1965 and a funeral for Lane Pryce (I actually took part in that one--more on that in a bit).

I never created a fake Twitter account for a Mad Men character, although in my head I did develop my own Mad Men persona. For me this started with AMC's Mad Men Yourself avatar maker, which allows one to create his or her own Mad Men avatar. AMC came out with Mad Men Yourself to celebrate the show's third season in 2009. I created my Mad Men avatar right away and updated his look every year. Of course, in my head I created my own backstory for him. He was a copywriter at Sterling Cooper who had previously worked in television in the Fifties, writing scripts for some lesser known shows. When Harry Crane was appointed Head of Media in the third season, my character found himself working under him, writing commercials and eventually directing them. Unfortunately, with Harry Crane as my character's boss, his career was pretty much stalled. When McCann Erickson absorbed SDP, then, I figure my character took the chance to make his escape and moved onto J. Walter Thompson. He would stay there a few years before founding his own agency (Olson, Rizzo, and Towles has a nice ring to it). Along the way he would have married Dr. Faye Miller, the psychologist with whom Don Draper had an affair (and the one Mad Men character I actually had a crush upon). I never created a Twitter account for my Mad Men character, although I did take part in the funeral for Lane Pryce, tweeting in character. That was fun.

In the end I think the success of Mad Men can be chalked up to a number of factors. Certainly the fact that it featured realistic characters in realistic situations was one of them. Another was the fact that it recreated the milieu of the Sixties, even those parts of the Sixties that we would like to forget, somewhat realistically. I have to suspect that much of the show's appeal was also probably due to nostalgia for the era, particularly for those of us were children in the Sixties. Once the show got to the late Sixties (at which time I was old enough to have clear memories) there were many things mentioned that I could remember myself.

Watching that Mad Men marathon in July 2008 and then the second season of the show made life a little more bearable in what was in many ways a very bad year for me. Fortunately, my life would improve during the year. I got  out of the department at work that I hated so much and my stress level would go down as a result. No longer stressed out I made a full recovery from my adjustment disorder. Of course, I continued to watch Mad Men even as my life improved and I watched until the very end. Now I plan to watch the show again from the very beginning on Netflix. I will certainly miss seeing new episodes of the show. I would like to know what becomes of Peggy, Don, Joan, Roger, and the other characters throughout the Seventies. Mad Men was a singular show for me, one of the few modern shows I liked as much as the classics from the Fifties and Sixties. I don't know that I will care as much for another show for a long time to come. 

Saturday, 16 May 2015

"The Thrill is Gone" by B. B. King

I am feeling a bit under the weather, so I will leave you with a song. In honour of the late B. B. King, here he is with his song "The Thrill is Gone".

Friday, 15 May 2015

The Late Great B. B. King

As many of you already know, my sister is 17 years older than me. One of the advantages of having a sibling so much older than myself was that I was introduced to music that I might not otherwise have been under different circumstances. Among the works of music talents to which my sister introduced me was the oeuvre of the great B. B. King. In fact, I think it is quite possible that B. B. King my have been her favourite music artist of all time. And it would be the music of B. B. King that would introduce me to the whole world of blues. Discounting rock stars who were heavily influenced by the blues (such as The Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin), B. B. King was the first true blues artist I ever listened to. If I had not been introduced to B. B. King, I might never have known of John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf, or Robert Johnson. Throughout it all, however, B. B. King remained my favourite. Sadly, B. B King died yesterday, May 14 2015, at the age of 89. The cause was a series of strokes due to Type 2 diabetes.

B. B. King was born Riley Ben King on September 16 1925 on a cotton plantation named Berclair near Itta Bena, Mississippi. He always considered the nearby town of Indianola, Mississippi to be his hometown. When he was four years old his mother left his father, and he was raised by his maternal grandmother in  Kilmichael, Mississippi. As a child he sang in the choir at Elkhorn Baptist Church in the town. It is unclear how Mr. King obtained his first guitar. Some sources say he bought his first guitar at age 12. Other sources say that he was given his first guitar by legendary blues guitarist Bukka White, who happened to be his mother's first cousin. Regardless, Mr. King took up playing guitar at a young age. It was in November 1941 that King Biscuit Time debuted on KFFA in Helena, Arkansas. The legendary programme, which is still on the air,  featured the  blues artists Sonny Boy Williamson and Robert Lockwood, Jr.  The show gave young Mr. King what would be the direction for the rest of his life.

B. B. King served very briefly in the United States Army during World War II. He was released from the Army not long after basic training because he worked in an industry essential to the war effort, farming. He reconnected with his cousin Bukka White, who further taught him how to play blues guitar. He received his big break when he appeared on Sonny Boy Williamson's radio show on KWEM in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1948. His appearance on the show led to regular engagements at the the Sixteenth Avenue Grill in West Memphis and then a ten minute show on Memphis, Tennessee radio station WDIA. It was there that he earned the nickname "Beale Street Blues Boy", which was later shortened to "Blues Boy" and then to "B. B."

It was in 1949 that B. B. King began recording. His first single was  "Miss Martha King" for a small recording company named Bullet.  It was not long afterwards that he began recording for Los Angeles company RPM Records. His first single on RPM was "Mistreated Woman". As might be expected of a recording artist, B. B. King toured the country, playing both major theatres and smaller clubs. It was at a performance in Twist, Arkansas that a fight broke out and a kerosene stove was knocked over. The building was soon on fire. B. B. King fled the building, only to realise he had left his guitar inside. He rushed inside to retrieve the instrument, only narrowing escaping with his life. The fight was over a woman named "Lucille". Thereafter B. B. King named his guitar and every subsequent guitar "Lucille" so as to remind him never again to rush into a burning building.

B. B. King's first hit would come in 1951, his version of "3 O' Clock Blues". It went to #1 on the Billboard  Rhythm and Blues chart. During the Fifties Mr. King had several more hits. He hit no. 1 on the  Rhythm and Blues chart again with the songs "You Know I Love You" (1952), "Please Love Me" (1953), and  "You Upset Me Baby" (1954). He would also have hits with such songs as "Story from My Heart and Soul", "Woke Up This Morning", "When My Heart Beats Like a Hammer", "Every Day I Have the Blues", "Ten Long Years", "Please Accept My Love", and "Sweet Sixteen, Pt. I".  His first album was Singin' the Blues in 1956. Throughout his career Mr. King would record over forty studio albums.

The Sixties would see B. B. King release more successful singles. What is more, several of his singles would enter the Billboard Hot 100, although only a few would reach the top forty. "The Thrill Is Gone", released in 1970, would be his biggest hit. It reached #3 on the Billboard R&B chart and reached #15 on the Billboard Hot 100. His 1964 single "Rock Me Baby" reached #12 on the R&B chart and #34 on the Hot 100. Among his other singles to reach the Hot 100 were "How Blue Can You Get", "Beautician Blues", "Paying the Cost to Be the Boss", "So Excited", "Hummingbird", "Ask Me No Questions", and "Chains and Things". He toured as the opening act for The Rolling Stones on their 1969 tour.

The Seventies saw B. B. King continue to hit both the Billboard Rhythm and Blues chart and the Billboard Hot 100 regularly. His 1973 single "To Know You Is to Love You" went to #38 on the Hot 100 while his 1974 single "I Like to Live the Love" went to #28. Every album he released throughout the decade made the Billboard album chart. He maintained a busy schedule throughout the decade, not only recording, but also performing several dates a year and appearing regularly on television.

After 1979 Mr. King's recoding schedule slowed a bit. He would only release a few more singles, with "Riding with the King" (with Eric Clapton) in 2000 being his last. He did release several more studio albums: five in the Eighties, eight in the Nineties, and four in the Naughts. His last album was One Kind Favour in 2008. In 2006 B. B. King went on a farewell tour of the world, although he would continue to perform very nearly until his death. He played at Eric Clapton's second Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2007; the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee;  the Glastonbury Music Festival in 2011, and several other music festivals and concerts. On October 3 2014 he could not continue with his performance at the House of Blues in Chicago. He was diagnosed as suffering from dehydration and exhaustion, and the eight remaining dates of his tour were cancelled.

It is quite possible that B. B. King was the most famous bluesman of all time. Those unfamiliar with blues might not recognise the names of such legends as Blind Lemon Jefferson or Willie Brown, but they knew who B. B. King was. And there was little wonder that B. B. King should become so well known. There was no other blues musician, let alone any musician in any other genre, quite like him. His style was certainly distinctive, using such techniques as vibrato and bent strings to make his guitar (always named "Lucille") to sound like something human. He brought a feeling to his music that few others did, even in a genre as well known for evoking emotion as blues.

B. B. King would prove a profound influence not only on other blues musicians, but on entire generations of rock performers. Such diverse rock stars as Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Carlos Santana, and Stevie Ray Vaughn, among many others, were influenced by B. B. King. In the end B. B. King would prove to be among the most influential bluesmen of all time. There should be little wonder given the magnitude of his talent and the sheer length of his career.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

TCM Fan Favourites Round 3

If you pay attention to Turner Classic Movies programming, then you are probably familiar with the "Fan Favourites"segments in which TCM fans talk to Ben Mankiewicz about one of their favourite films. The first batch aired this last November and included Aurora--better known as Citizen Screen (who introduced Meet Me in St. Louis), TCM Party co-founder  Paula Guthat (who introduced The Lemon Drop Kid),  Miguel Rodriguez of the Horrible Imaginings Podcast (who introduced The Thing from Another World), and TCM Party regular Joel Williams (who introduced Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). The second batch aired just this past April and included Christina Rinaldi introducing Footlight Parade, myself introducing A Hard Day's Night,  Donna D'Andrea introducing The Way We Were, and Steve Zeoke introducing The Defiant Ones.

Yesterday Turner Classic Movies announced on Google+, Twitter, and Facebook that they are looking for four more classic film buffs for another round of "Fan Favourites". If you are interested, they have a form to fill out in which you give your name, your email, your favourite film, and why you love it so.

If you would like to talk about your favourite film with Ben Mankiewicz, I encourage you to submit your favourite movie to TCM and why you love it via the above cited form. I really had a lot of fun doing my Fan Favourites segment. The folks at Turner Classic Movies are very nice and Ben Mankiewicz is very easy to talk to. I will tell you that you will want a hardline connection to the Internet (WiFi will not do) and a place with plenty of natural light.

Anyhow, to any fans who want to be on TCM fan favourites, good luck!