FUNNYBOOK REVIEW: ARBEITEES EINER INDUSTRIUM DOKUMENT! GOOD-BYE JOEY! CHRIS BURNS & FRIENDS DO THE BEATLES' "WHITE ASSBUM"! RIPPED AT THE SEAMS: THE METAPHYSICAL PURGATORY OF FAULTY MATTE-LINES!
All contents © 2000-2001, Rick Trembles
UNAUTHORIZED REPRODUCTION STRICTLY FORBIDDEN
April 26, 2001
Funnybook review: ARBEITEES™ : EINER INDUSTRIUM DOKUMENT! (Pictured below: enlargement from Rupert Bottenberg & Marc Bell's B&W mini-microcosm)
Space-suit garbed cherubs mining hostile landscapes. Fictitious logo-adorned bubble-bots vacuuming bustling streets. Overpopulated clown cranes & futuristic techno-hotrods intersecting. Studious passengers floating off inside industrial-strength amoebae bubbles. Undersea surveyors & armed modules, colonizing strange new mini-terrains. The playful, tiny (4X4 inch) world of Arbeitees brings to mind those old fraudulent comic book ads for Sea Monkeys that promised a packet of brine shrimp would end up looking like a colony of smiling Dr Seussian cartoon characters in an underwater kingdom. One feels compelled to "just add water" to a freeze-dried copy of Arbeitees & watch it grow big & squishy. Cartoonist & Montreal Mirror music editor Rupert Bottenberg, & the prolific Marc Bell (who now has a weekly strip in the Mirror) split the chores on Arbeitees halfway down the middle so imperceptibly even they probably couldn't tell you who originally drew what. I spoke to Rupert about their modus operendi…
SNUBDOM: Could you translate the word Arbeitees?
RUPERT: Arbeitees is a word that doesn't really exist. It's a play on a German word. It's not even a play, it's something my brother & I used to say when we were little because we couldn't pronounce the German words for "men at work" which was "männer an der arbeit." The rest of the text in there is all nonsense. Marc & me were sitting there making up fake German, Russian, Hungarian, East Bloc...
SNUBDOM: How did you work on it?
RUPERT: It was a series of Sundays. I went over to Marc's place when he was living here in town a block from me. We'd start pretty early in the day, like around 11AM & go on into the afternoon. We were physically hunched over, like 12-year-olds draw. Our heads almost leaning on the table, arm kind of curved around, you know, really kind of absorbed, like a regression thing. Both of us going back to drawing robots when you were 9 years old. We'd each start one & pass it to the other guy & pencil a bit, ink a bit. Say, pencil two thirds & then ink one third & then pass it to the other guy & he would pencil one third & ink two thirds.
SNUBDOM: There's no real way of telling who did what, it's so perfectly intermeshed.
RUPERT: Yeah, each drawing is us together, acknowledging each other's styles I guess. And being very careful to kind of mix it around so it all fuses together really smoothly.
If you're in the Montreal area pick up this 16 page mini-comic at Fichtre for the unbelievable mini-price of ONE DOLLAR! Outside of MTL, add 2 bucks postage & order it direct from Crunchy Comics, CP Du Parc # 48082, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, H2V-4S8.
By the way, check out local photographer Linda Dawn Hammond's photo diary of the recent Summit of the Americas (FTAA) protests in Quebec City. I protested by sitting on my ass watching more boob-tube than usual. Those riots sure made for some good TV last weekend.
April 19, 2001
GOOD-BYE JOEY! A few reminiscences about Joey Ramone, who passed away over the weekend. (Pictured right: read Lina Lost's painful paean below)
SPIDER LEGS, by Rob Labelle
Spider legs sheathed in jeans that seemed made to measure. White putty face mostly hidden by lavish, long straggly hair. Barely perceptible eye seen through shades. Black leather motorcycle jacket worn throughout a long, thundering stage show under scorching white lights. Hanging onto a mike-stand for dear life, while counting into songs strung together with his "ONE, TWO, THREE, FO-!"...
I first heard about The Ramones while watching TV with my parents in our cozy suburban home back in the seventies. It wasn't a music show we were watching; it was the news. I guess it was the seventies equivalent of the current Eminem kerfuffle. The shaky camera interview showed the brothers "all with the last name of Ramone" sitting in a row. It was Johnny who said, "Yeah, when we get bored we sniff some glue & we like to share it with our fans." I distinctly remember my parents sniffing in disgust, as if they were trying to rid themselves of a toxic odor.
Like all things of brilliance, the first album sounded strange at first. Just coming off of Black Sabbath & Zeppelin, it wasn't the nuclear bomb the reviews had described it as. Ridiculously simple & short songs about mean little things like "Beat On The Brat," accompanied by a buzzy chainsaw of a guitar & punctuated by cymbal crashes that sounded like pools of kerosene being ignited. And on top of it all Joey: defiantly retarded, his voice made you laugh & then all of a sudden you were singing along & playing their songs in your first band, 'cause theirs were the easiest to play. Way easier to approximate than their surly British cousins The Sex Pistols.
I saw him once in New York at a pilgrimage to CBGB's around the time their first record had come out. He wasn't performing but just sitting by himself at the bar. I think, but I'm not sure, that he gave me an approving nod as I walked by. I was trying to look cool, not to stop, stare, or drop to my knees...
SHIT-BOYARDEE, by Rick Trembles
It goes without saying but I'll say it again anyway. For better or worse, I, along with countless others, would never have picked up the stupid guitar if it wasn't for The Ramones. The first song I ever learned to play was "I Don't Care" from Rocket To Russia & I played it the first time I ever stood in front of an audience in my first band, The Electric Vomit. The first time I ever saw The Ramones live was when they played a Montreal nightclub in the late seventies. Figuring I shouldn't drink on an empty stomach, I made the mistake of quickly gobbling a can of Beefaroni before chugging a pile of beers with my friends for the show. Finally seeing my favorite band was too much to bear. By the time The Ramones ran onstage & hollered "ONE, TWO, THREE, FO-!" with their barrage of pumped up power-chords, I could no longer contain my excitement nor the Shit-Boyardee & beer bubbles percolating within my turbulent tummy & ran for the can to spend the WHOLE show retching my guts out, dizzy & hunched over a grimy toilet bowl, listening to the set through the walls. I was never able to live that one down & did my friends ever rub my nose in it. They said it was the best show they'd ever seen. I saw The Ramones properly several times after that, but it was at bigger, more oppressive venues & without the original members.
Oh, yeah, & when I tried to look like The Ramones, my horrified mom said the ripped holes in the knees of my jeans (that I'd put there intentionally to look like Joey) caused the washing machine to mysteriously shred my pants into little bits & pieces as if someone had taken scissors to them. Therefore, she said, they were destroyed so I couldn't walk around in public with them anymore. How convenient (& suspicious).
I got Joey's autograph once (pictured right) when a gang of us was wandering around Manhattan in the early eighties, drinking beer outside in the middle of the night. Suddenly we literally bumped into him coming out of a building, crossing the sidewalk to a waiting car. We freaked & I pulled out any old rotten slip of paper from my back pocket I could find & slurred; "uh, can you write…" & before I could finish "your name here," he interrupted & said, "of course I can write, you don't think I know how to write?" And then he was quickly whisked away into the car by some guy that looked like his bodyguard.
ENTERTAINING JUGHEADS, by Dave Hill
It was 1976. I was 16 years old & living at my aunt’s house. I’d been listening to the first Ramones album pretty regularly for a month or so. One day, as I walked up the stairs to do my homework, I caught my aunt looking at me with what could only be described as fear in her eyes. Reconstructing the scene moments later, I realized that I'd been singing “Beat On The Brat” to myself. The songs were so infectious that I had often played them in my head but now I was voicing them out loud. Like most readers of Rock Scene magazine, I considered The Ramones to be comic book characters, a bunch of musically inept yet highly entertaining Jugheads. But through the eyes of my aunt I now realized how twisted & threatening the songs actually were. To her, I might as well have joined the Manson family. It was a very good feeling.
I saw The Ramones for the first time at the New Yorker in Toronto a couple of months later. As I recall, the band played all the songs they knew in about twenty minutes. They only made it all the way through maybe half of them; as soon as a song started to fall apart, Dee Dee would yelp the intro to the next & off they’d go. It was blisteringly loud & a masterful performance. Most of the audience cleared out within minutes. I remember worrying about possible brain damage; I actually visualized my brain being reduced to hamburger. It was a very good feeling.
I ran into Joey Ramone after the show in the men’s room of the New Yorker. He had pulled his hair behind his ears. He was one ugly fucker. One can only hope that the chemotherapy he endured for the last month of his life didn’t result in hair loss. As I watch mourners creating a shrine to Joey outside CBGB's on the 11 o’clock news, I wonder why is it that Rod Stewart can still walk this earth while Joey Ramone must shuffle off this mortal coil while listening to U2? Life is so... urmm... unfair.
WITH LOVE, by Lina Lost
When I heard the news I couldn't stop crying. I didn't know Joey personally, (I only met him once briefly for an autograph & then there was the time I hugged his leg onstage -though that doesn't count, of course!), but I am so saddened by this news. He was my idol for so many years ...I always had hopes of one day meeting him (not just as a crazed fan hugging his leg), but in a regular casual way. The Ramones were such a big part of my life & Joey was the most important part of all that. When I was a young suburban teenage outcast, I felt that Joey Ramone was the only person in the world that would understand me, when he sang "I'm an Outsider" -you knew you were not alone. And when he sang "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend," I dreamed of the day when some guy would sing that to me. You know, all that stuff teenage girls dream of.
Joey was the sensitive & romantic Ramone, he was the outsider that finally got some respect & got to be cool. Back then, I owned every album on vinyl AND cassette and I bought anything & everything that said Ramones on it. I so much aspired to be like Joey Ramone that I started to dress like a Ramone. I always wore those Joey Ramone shades and tried to "style" my long black mop like his. I remember once at some party, a guy who was flirting with me kept insisting that I stop wearing my shades because he said I had pretty eyes -but I really didn't care about looking pretty -I wanted to BE Joey Ramone. I wanted to be reminded of him every time I looked in the mirror because I desperately needed to believe that a geek like me could be cool too. If I tried hard enough, maybe some of Joey's coolness would somehow rub off on me.
Joey Ramone gave a whole generation of people HOPE and STRENGTH TO ENDURE -I don't think I would have survived my adolescence without The Ramones. Not to mention my twenties! Ramones songs were the backdrop to almost 15 years of my life. I know there are other people out there who are crying just as much as me & spending this week thinking of Joey. My deepest sympathy goes out to Joey's mother & his friends and family. I know that this will probably sound really cliché, but I really feel like a part of me has died along with him. I had to wear dark sunglasses all day yesterday because I kept feeling like crying. Courage to all, & let's celebrate the man who made all of our lives a better place. Here's to you, Joey Ramone -thank you for everything. With love, Lina Lost
Post your condolences here
April 12, 2001
CHRIS BURNS & FRIENDS DO THE BEATLES' "WHITE ASSBUM"! (Pictured right: Chris playing guitar in The American Devices circa one billion years ago)
Boy, does this take me back to the good ol' bad ol' days. Goddamn it, did we ever have a sweet deal back then. Me & Chris Burns shared an ultra-cheap apartment building smack-dab in the middle of The Main, run by an absentee slumlord who couldn't give crap one what went on inside her dilapidated dump. So my living room became free rehearsal space for both our bands. I could roll outta bed & make all the noise I wanted any time of the day. Our drummer used to have a car mirror attached to his kit so he could watch the hockey game while we practiced (the TV was just out of reach). Circa '94, Chris decided to get acquainted with a record he'd never really given a listen to; The Beatles' White Album, by going through each tune chronologically & recording his own skewed versions per song as he went along. One night he crept upstairs with his 4-track recorder, crappy toy Casio keyboard, Doctor Rhythm beat-box & a six-pack to get me to sing duet with him on "As My Guitar Gently Weeps." Our version deteriorated into giggling, "weeping" & chewing sounds (?) but still managed to remotely resemble the original. He only got as far as "Birthday" (I was dying to do the next one on the list, "Yer Blues" but I wanted to do it legit; it has one of my all-time favorite minimalist guitar solos ever concocted). Maybe a sequel's in the works. Highlights from "The White Assbum" include a great schizoid version of "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" by Nick Grant (of Sam Shalabi's old band Swamp Circuit), haunting vocals on "The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill" & "Julia" by Mia MacSween (of Gearbox) & Mike Burns (Crackpot, Steak 72) singing a funeral dirge version of "Blackbird" with what sounds like bagpipes, backwards guitar & R2D2 chirps. Most feature Chris himself on vocals along with a slew of unexpected fuzz/noise guitar outpourings, silent-but-deadly fart muted drum punches, fake British accents & Alvin & The Chipmunks vocal accelerations. You can even occasionally hear the original damn vinyl White Album itself (scratched to hell) in the background from time to time. 18 song cassette all for only TWO BUCKS at Casa Del Popolo's "Distroboto" machine (Louis Fishpiss' gutted cigarette-machine turned local knickknack artifact dispenser), 4873, boul. St-Laurent. Or outside of Montreal, add 3 bucks postage & order directly from Chris Burns c/o CKUT Radio, 3647, University Street, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, H3A-2B3.
April 5, 2001
RIPPED AT THE SEAMS: THE METAPHYSICAL PURGATORY OF FAULTY MATTE-LINES!
"Matte-lines" are what occasionally appeared (in pre-computer days) during live-action shots composited with SPFX that couldn't be filmed at the same time. The shift in grain that might make up misplaced seams joining different elements together revealed evidence of an alternate world outside the film. Kind of like the "gutter" that separates comic strip panels: "Comics panels fracture both time and space..." suggested Scott McCloud in his 1993 analysis of the medium, Understanding Comics, "in the limbo of the gutter, human imagination takes two separate images and transforms them into a single idea." "Closure allows us to connect these moments & mentally construct a continuous, unified reality." Matte-lines were never meant to be detected, any noticeability of them defeats their purpose. But I'd like to suggest that in these times of no-fault CGI SPFX they're a thing of beauty unto themselves denoting a portal to a metaphysical limbo or purgatory, a junction between live-action personnel that people the films, the mechanically fabricated dream-world they were made to interact with & audiences alike.
Beyond the "gutter" of the original 1933 King Kong's matte-lines lurked the baroque special effects genius of tinkerer extraordinaire, Willis O'Brien, hunched over scores of miniature tabletop sets, matte paintings & pliable homunculi. No matter how obsolete nowadays, the jerkiness of O'Brien's stop-motion-animated rampaging beasts adorned them with a sort of hyperrealism comparable to nothing else (& that digital technology only seems to gloss over). Since they were shot frame by frame, each pose is crystal clear, unlike live-action footage where fast-moving objects blur realistically. The results are otherworldly, like putting concentrated rage under a magnifying glass. Every minuscule manipulation's infused with O'Brien's personality.
The occasionally flawed matte-lines of antiquated special effects cinema such as Kong melded crude technology of the day with effervescence of life like a carefully constructed puzzle where seams preferably ran across similar lines in the imagery or else ran the risk of drawing attention to themselves. Sleight of hand played a role, no doubt harking back to vaudevillian magic shows O'Brien must have been exposed to, where attention would be drawn somewhere other than technically contentious areas. For example, as a live on-stage lecturer during screenings of his films before moviegoing replaced vaudeville, cartoonist Winsor McCay (contemporary to O'Brien) would seemingly talk to the lead creature of his groundbreaking (hand-drawn) animated silent film star, Gertie The Dinosaur (1914) while cracking a whip, ordering it to raise it's feet & bow it's head for the audience. One aspect of McCay's interaction with the dinosaur that was fascinating in its attempt to manipulate the audience, was the selective placement of extra-diagetic tampering relying on a simultaneous convergence of both the off-screen lecturer (himself) & a premeditated portion of the narrative conspiring to create a corrective diversion from what McCay perceived of as a weak moment in his footage. Such a perfectionist was he that when the time came, he'd wave a pointer at a pterodactyl & say, "Oh look at the flying lizard," to distract the audience from seeing the animation of his lead dinosaur getting up. He wasn't sure he'd precisely enough pulled off animating the mannerisms an actual dinosaur would display while lifting!
Kong abounds in such tactics, yet O'Brien had only to manipulate Kong & the incidental creatures that populated the giant ape's realm to divert attention away from any glitches, so captivating was their conduct. But after repeated viewings (I must have seen Kong over twenty times) & an insatiable desire to know how every animated sequence was executed over the years, one's eyes can stray from designated actions. I take pleasure in identifying O'Brien's cleverly placed, transcendental seams. It's kinda like playing "Where's Waldo."
The same glue was unfortunately holding together a world coming unglued. Kong was released in depression-era USA, & in October of '33, O'Brien's despondent wife shot & killed their two sons & attempted suicide. Then O'Brien began seeing another woman, who was subsequently diagnosed with breast cancer & rather than face disfigurement, she left him a suicide note & leapt to her death from the seventh floor of a building. Evidence of that unfortunate alternate world exists in the form of a photograph of O'Brien that he reportedly tore to pieces, despondent over his predicament & the strife & turmoil his creatures depicted. Cinefex Magazine (the indisputable authority in special effects journalism) ran a copy of this photo, with tear visibly intact. The caption under it read: "Taken shortly after the death of his sons, this photo was torn in half by O'Brien who despaired at the anguish reflected in his features," (from Don Shay's definitive article on O'Brien, "Willis O'Brien -Creator of the Impossible," (CINEFEX #7, January, 1982, p.40). Staring into the destructive crevice splitting O'Brien's picture in two evokes anything but closure, no sleight of hand can mask the grief visible on his face. A "matte-line" that can't be camouflaged, or attention be diverted away from. One can almost imagine mournful ghosts dwelling within its shifts of grain. But in contrast to the disheartening events that dwell beyond the torn seams of the tragic photo, his playful shadow will forever lurk within the jittery matte-lines of his filmic masterpieces.
To see the photo for yourself, order Cinefex # 7
For more on the ectoplasm that constitutes the grain of a matte-line see The Ghost of Nicki Brand
For more exquisitely skewed spectral matte-lines be sure to peruse SPFX masterpiece, The Ten Commandments (1956) or any of Ray Harryhausen's early work.
For more information on Winsor McCay, seek out John Canemaker's essential WINSOR McCAY, HIS LIFE AND ART, (New York, Abbeville Press, 1987).