New by me over at Radio New Zealand:
Month: December 2021
The life and times of a newspaper columnist (plus a free e-book!)
Once upon a time, I was a columnist.
I’ve written thousands and thousands of words for work and pleasure, and drawn hundred and hundreds of pages of comics. I’ve written music reviews, breaking news, feature profiles, police reports, posted tweets and edited more stories and wrote more headlines than I can bear to count in my 25+ years in the industry across several countries.
But I have to admit, my columnist days are still close to my heart. I was a newspaper columnist in the fading days of when such things mattered, in the glittering early days of the internet and long before social media was a gleam in pre-pubescent Zuckerberg’s eye. I admired the great columnists who were big in the 1990s – Leonard Pitts, Lewis Grizzard, Jon Carroll, Molly Ivins – or the ancients like Herb Caen, Mike Royko or H.L. Mencken.
I wrote a newspaper column under various dire titles in various sometimes dire places for more than 10 years across several states, starting in my university newspaper in Mississippi and carrying on across California and Oregon newspapers too, until one day around 2005, I just kind of stopped. I sometimes wrote about the issues of the day, but more often, I just kind of wrote about me.
Back in 2006 I put together a little book of what I thought was the best of my column years for friends and family. I’m glad it exists, as a kind of hefty memorial to one part of my life. And hey, you can view and download the PDF of said book for free right here:
Spatula Forum Greatest Hits 1994-2004
Some of these pieces are among the best writing I’ve ever done, I think, and some of these pieces are kind of embarrassing to read now – but also, I’m glad they’re there. They are a time capsule of friends and feelings I had, of people I’ve lost touch with and people I’m still very good friends with. Your twenties are like no other time in your life, and boy, they go by fast. They’re artifacts of a time when every moment in my life seemed filled with drama and I sure wouldn’t have imagined what the world of 2021 turned out like.
I wrote with my heart on my sleeve a lot more than I’d ever do these days – the struggles and egos of a twenty-something trying to figure out the world, slowly morphing into a thirty-something married and with a kid on the way. I admit, sadly, I think I was less angry and the world less angry then.
There aren’t lot of real columnists left now. There’s a lot of what I call “outrage merchants,” who spout off political opinions aimed to get the clicks or terrible pieces complaining about sausage rolls, but the art of crafting a kind of gentle, thoughtful essay printed on an actual newspaper or its website is kind of vanished.
The great writing has migrated online to other places, magazines and websites, and unlike when I started scribbling thoughts about old friends and familiar places almost 30 years ago, there are plenty of outlets for it. There is still a lot of wonderful writing out there, but the column as it once was is pretty much a dying art form. Hey, things change. It’s the never-ending story.
I started blogging regularly in like 2004, stopped that in 2010 or so and then picked it up again a few years back. I never stopped writing, but I started writing about different things, some for money, some for pleasure.
Writing columns also is a finite thing for most. In previous lives, I’d hire columnists myself for various newspapers, and often people would come in with one great idea, maybe two. “And what will you write for the third column?” I’d say. I wrote a few hundred columns myself over a decade and then I knew that the well was kind of dry.
I gave it up when I realised I didn’t have much more to say in that candid columnist’s fashion about my life and times, and I had little new to add to the debates of the day, and went on to write other things in other ways. These days, everyone shares their feelings all the time in a never-ending fashion on the internet and social media in real time, and I have to admit, like many people, I’ve kind of gone from being eager and excited by social media to loathing a great deal of it and its effect on the world.
I’d write a column about that, but honestly, do we really need another outraged column these days, at all?
Still, I’ll be back with more bloggery in 2022. Have yourself an excellent holidays.
The Beatles Get Back, and why it’s worth slowing down sometimes
Who knew that watching nearly 8 hours of the Beatles noodling around in a studio could be so addictive?
Yes, Peter Jackson’s Get Back documentary is long. It’s rambling and has very little “plot” to speak of. But as a window into the creative process of one of the greatest bands of all time, it’s absolutely amazing to watch hours and hours of footage unearthed during the making of the Let It Be album.
Watching the crystal-clear footage of the Fab Four and their friends unspool, I felt like I was watching a time machine portal open up in front of me. It’s immersive and both poignant and celebratory for Beatle-maniacs – which, to be clear, is an awful lot of us.
Let It Be isn’t even my favourite Beatles album by a long shot – I find it too polished with Phil Spector’s later orchestral additions, Paul McCartney’s sappy side a little too prevalent and John Lennon’s surreal wit and bite mostly missing in action. Eight hours on the making of Sgt. Pepper, good god, yes, but Let It Be? The album that took so long to put together that it came out after the band’s actual final album, Abbey Road?
I’ve still never seen the original Let It Be movie, a mere 80 minutes long, but I’ve seen enough segments from it to get the idea it’s viewed as a dour portrait of a band’s dissolution, the end of a dream. Jackson dove into the 60 hours or so of video taken at the time and crafted an entirely new take on the sessions. Contrary to some of the hype, Get Back doesn’t rewrite history – but it expands our view of it.
It’s being hyped hard by the Disney Corporate EmpireTM as entertainment for all, but Jackson has rather sneakily made what almost is a Beatles art film. Like one of Andy Warhol’s endless panoramas of the Empire State Building or people sleeping, Jackson’s slow, relaxed pace with Get Back forces us into its own rhythm, the world of jobbing musicians trying to find the right chord or lyric. For a society used to quick fixes and instantly accessible content, that might seem too plodding. Others of us welcome the chance to unplug a bit.
The problem with the making of the album Let It Be is clear from the start – the Beatles are wiped out, exhausted and grumpy, except for Paul, whose incessant cheerleading in the first episode never stops. The Beatles had already conquered the world a few times over. Lennon’s zoned out with Yoko, my favourite Beatle George is clearly filled with his own quiet anger, and Ringo is… well, he’s Ringo. Get Back starts with a dark time for the Beatles, but as it unfolds and the group starts to come together, you appreciate their rich history – these kids, still not even 30, had been through so much together already.
Get Back encourages us to slow down, to zone out like Yoko Ono reading magazines, to get lost in the minutiae of Paul and John working out lyrics, or Ringo smoking cigarettes. To take in fully the glorious fashions of Glyn Johns, the slow creep of George’s facial hair over the weeks it chronicles, the endless cups of tea and toast. Nobody is staring at their phone during the lulls in Get Back, obviously, which now more than ever makes it seem like a portal into a very different world. A musician’s life isn’t all drugs and parties and live gigs, and the leisurely stroll through a few weeks in the life of the Beatles demystifies them a bit. It rescues them from that gold-plated celebrity icon status a bit to see them reading the morning papers, having morning chit-chat about what they watched on the telly the night before.
And many times over Get Back‘s languorous eight hours, you have sudden moments of sheer magic, like watching a song you’ve known for practically your whole life come into the world for the very first time:
For Beatlemaniacs – and yea, we are legion – it’s akin to watching the holy grail be forged to see songs like “Get Back” or Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” slowly take shape out of a few strummed chords. Perhaps for me the most beautiful moment was watching Ringo shyly debut his goofy little “Octopus’ Garden” to George, and the two of them amicably noodling away, shaping it. They were mates, having a go at making some art. Or a scene where Paul’s adopted daughter Heather joins in with the band jamming, playing like any little kid would, but with THE BEATLES. Or any scene when Billy Preston bops into the room, bringing a welcome energy and fanboy’s good cheer. Or any one of the dozens of song fragments, covers and unfinished works that Get Back reveals.
Time haunts Get Back, right from the earworm title song’s chorus – “Get back to where you once belonged.” There is a wistfulness to it all, watching these vividly alive people and knowing how many of them died too young – Lennon and Mal Evans by gunfire, Harrison and Linda McCartney to cancer. The documentary is so immersive that when you lift your head out of it, you feel like you’ve lost something and some time that’s irreplaceable.
Get Back is long, maybe too long for many, but I could also have watched it forever from the vantage point of weird old 2021, hoping that somehow, from 50 years in the past, the Beatles might help everyone in the whole world get back to where they once belonged.
Hey, it’s the Amoebargain end-of-year back issue sale
Hello good people! It’s time for the AMOEBARGAIN year-end sale – if you’ve been after some of my rare 1990s Amoeba Adventures issues or waiting for a chance to pick up the newer issues, now is the time to step forward for a holiday deal.
So many, many years ago I moved to New Zealand, long enough now that I say “petrol” instead of “gas” and I call everybody “mate.” Anyway, mates, when I moved a small box of my vintage Amoeba Adventures comics and other zines from the 1990s languished, forgotten, in my parents’ basement. More than 20 years after they were published, it’s time to set some of them free into the world to new homes, so here’s your chance to grab some long, long out-of-print Amoeba Adventures print issues by myself, Max Ink and others!
There are only three to five copies left available to sell for most of these issues. Once these are gone, they are GONE. They’re going pretty darned cheap, and I am doing very small print runs these days as it’s easier to predominantly publish digitally.
By December 31, the sale is OVER forever and ever so don’t sleep on it!
Amoeba Adventures Starter Pack #28-30 – US$15 – SOLD OUT!
Amoeba Adventures #29, #30 – Just a few copies left, $6.50 US each.
Here’s what is available right now of vintage Protoplasm Press issues – will be updated if items sell out:
Here’s what is available right now of vintage issues – UPDATED – Some issues are starting to sell out, folks, so don’t sleep on this!
Amoeba Adventures #11 – Great jumping-on point and the first issue with Max Ink as artist. $3
Amoeba Adventures #13 – It’s the return of Herr Heinous and a night out to remember. $3
Amoeba Adventures #14 – Max Ink goes solo. $3 ONE COPY LEFT!
Amoeba Adventures #15 – The debut of Mindmaster and more. $3 TWO COPIES LEFT!
Amoeba Adventures #18- A two-part tale featuring the Asbestos Mushroom and the Period! $2
Amoeba Adventures #19 – Part two, featuring a jailbreak and Prometheus’s transformation! $2
Amoeba Adventures #20 – “The Dark Ages” begins with Rambunny’s worst day ever. $2
Amoeba Adventures #21 – A guest-star filled party, and the Dark One makes his move. $2
Amoeba Adventures #22 – At last – the real origin of Prometheus. $2
Amoeba Adventures #23 – The final battle for one of the All-Spongy Squadron. $3 TWO COPIES LEFT!
Amoeba Adventures #24 – The endgame of “The Dark Ages” as secrets are revealed. – $2
Amoeba Adventures #25 – The Dark One’s origin as the final battle begins. – $3 TWO COPIES LEFT!
Son Of Spatula Forum – A massive 90-page collections of my non-comics writing and columns from 1997-2000, $4 each
Rambunny #1 – The big rabbit’s action-packed solo debut! – $2 each SOLD OUT
Prometheus: Silent Storm – A rare guest-artist packed 1992 AIDS benefit story of the All-Spongy Squadron. $3 – ONE COPY LEFT!
Chiaroscuro #1 – An offbeat collection of incredibly strange comics I did for alternative newspapers in the 1990s – $3 SOLD OUT
You can pay direct to my Paypal account right here:
Postage via media mail anywhere in the US $4.00 for 3-4 books, $5.00 for 5-8 books. Any orders over $20 get FREE postage. Non-US orders inquire first. Books will ship starting mid-December. Contact me if questions!