Sunday, July 3, 2016

Gilbert & Jaime Hernandez's Love and Rockets Returns!

Love & Rockets
Mighty good news for fans of the original series…Fantagraphics Books has announced that Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez’s legendary, influential comic series Love and Rockets will return in September 2016. The brothers had been doing stories in their L&R universe these past few years, published by Fantagraphics in graphic novel format. The new stories will return to a magazine format for the first time in over a decade, presented as quarterly 32+ page comics in 8½” x 10¾” size with a $4.99 retail price.

The original Love and Rockets series ran for 50 issues between 1982 and 1996. Created by brothers Gilbert, Jaime, and Mario Hernandez, the three artist/writers self-published the first issue of L&R, which was later reprinted by Fantagraphics. Over the run of the original series, Mario gradually dropped out while Gilbert and Jaime developed their own distinct storytelling style.

Gilbert’s tales, such as Heartbreak Soup, were set in the fictional Latin American village of Palomar, were more literary with a degree of fantasy, while Jaime’s Hoppers 13 stories were set in punk-rock SoCal and followed the lives of a group of mostly Chicano characters, including the beloved Maggie and Hopey. Both brothers created detailed worlds for their stories, and relatable characters that would take on intricate personalities as the series unrolled.

The brothers have been recognized for their efforts with multiple Eisner and Ignatz Awards, most recently for their New Stories series, and their eleven Love and Rockets trade paperback collections continue to be among Fantagraphics’ best sellers, year after year.

“Over the past few years, Gilbert and Jaime had each casually mentioned more than once that it might be fun to try their hand at a regular comic book series again after a decade of creating the new annual every year,” says Fantagraphics Associate Publisher Eric Reynolds in a press release for the new series. “Gilbert joked at one point that he would simply love to be able to draw more covers — with he and Jaime trading covers, he was only creating one new L&R cover every two years! We agreed that something needed to be done about this, and we’re very excited to return L&R to its comic book roots.”

Watch for the new Love and Rockets on your comic vendor’s shelf in September.

Check out the Fantagraphics Books website!

DVD Review: FM (1978)

FM, the movie
The late 1970s were a time of idealism, a time of hope that reflected the values and dreams of the ‘60s counterculture. The evil President Nixon was gone, Viet Nam was over, Darth Reagan had yet to be elected, and if inflation was running wild, well, there was still meaningful work to be done to improve society. A thread of this idealism could be seen in the music industry where, on one hand, young punks in England and New York sought to overthrow the conventions of the music biz with attitude and conviction.

On the other hand, there were still people who thought that, the corporate side of the industry aside, it was the music itself that mattered and that radio was the vehicle for connecting people and the music that would change their lives. There have been numerous songs written about this concept through the years, but only a few movies have told the story. The film FM reflected that sense of idealism like no other movie before or since.

A moderate box office hit at the time, FM was released in 1978 and featured an ensemble cast that included talents like Martin Mull, Cleavon Little, and Eileen Brennan. It’s the story of a funky little L.A. rock radio station – QSKY-FM – and the staff’s battle with the station’s corporate ownership. Everything is copacetic at QSKY, where program director/morning jock Jeff Dugan (Michael Brandon) serves as the ringmaster over a quirky group of deejays.

The station makes money and pulls an audience, but not enough to satisfy the suits in Chicago, who send a new sales manager to shake things up and pump up the profits. When Dugan refuses to program a series of ads for the military, he’s forced to resign, prompting the staff to launch an on-air strike. After a near riot out on the street by the station’s loyal audience members, the conflict is resolved and the maverick QSKY staff is allowed to continue broadcasting the tunes as they see fit.

FM, the album
Not so much a cohesive story as a series of vignettes that lead to an eventual conclusion, FM is about the music and the people who bring it to us. The cast offers up a rogue’s gallery of radio biz stereotypes – the laid-back program director, the sensitive ladies man (Mull), the earth mother (Brennan), and the funky soul brother (Little) – as well as some nice reality-twisting touches such as the stoned Army officer. The film’s soundtrack – one of the first mega-successful soundtrack albums that would launch a trend in the decade to come – sounds like a veritable “who’s who” of 1970’s-era rock, including the title cut written and performed exclusively for the film by Steely Dan. Live concert performances by Jimmy Buffett and Linda Ronstadt are worked into the film, as are cameo appearances by R.E.O. Speedwagon and a then relatively-unknown Tom Petty, and the soundtrack album also includes cuts from Bob Seger, Joe Walsh, Steve Miller, and the Eagles, among others.

What’s most interesting about the idealism shown by FM is the reality that would come afterwards. The writer, Ezra Sacks and director John Alonzo obviously believe that by standing up for what is right, we can make a difference. I wonder how the fictional QSKY staff would react if they knew that, little more than twenty years after their courageous strike, the radio biz as they knew it would be gone.

Dominated by corporate interests and media conglomerates, the radio industry today is just one part of a philosophy of synergy where large corporations mix radio and television stations with newspapers and publishing in their profit portfolios. More than a bit dated and somewhat na├»ve by today’s standards, FM evokes a simpler time when, perhaps, the music really did matter… (L.A. Entertainment, released July 22, 2016)

Buy the DVD!
Buy the CD!!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Book Review: Michael W. Dean's $30 Music School (2003)

Michael W. Dean's $30 Music School
The music industry is a brutal business. I've seen young bands, innocent and hopeful, chewed up and spit out by the great maw of the industry star-making machinery. Trend-driven and dominated by marketing, the corporate music biz is all about one thing – how many units have you sold – and "art" has to hide its pretty little head lest it be trampled underfoot by almighty commerce. Musicians that flirt with a major label deal (and many indie label deals) often end up broke, broken and disillusioned, driven into bankruptcy and addiction while working on the record company plantation.

Writer/musician/filmmaker Michael Dean is a major label survivor, a talented musician and gifted wordsmith that has seen it all and done it all at least twice. Primary songwriter and bass player for early 1990s alt-rock band Bomb, Dean has recorded music with a dozen bands and served his time touring the country in the back of a van. Dean's excellent documentary film – D.I.Y. Or Die – offers interviews with a diverse range of artists including Lydia Lunch, Mike Watt, Ian MacKaye (Fugazi) and Ron Asheton (Stooges), among many others. Dean knows what the hell he's talking about when it comes to making art and music.

Hot on the heals of his informative guide to digital video, $30 Film School, Dean follows up with $30 Music School, an essential guide to making music and maneuvering through the industry minefield. Dean is a stone-cold realist but he is also a dreamer, an artist working on his own terms while preaching a holistic, Zen-like approach to making music. It's no surprise that $30 Music School should lead off with a chapter on "band politics," perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects of making music. Interpersonal relationships in a band context are often tricky and fraught with the perils of clashing egos and expectations. Dean's experienced perspective on the subject offers invaluable ideas and information on the dynamics of making a band work, how to handle industry relationships with managers, producers, etc and what issues and pitfalls to expect as you begin your career.

From this meaty first chapter, Dean delves into songwriting – what makes a good song, the writing process, the elements of a song – basically a primer on capturing your thoughts in words and music. Chapters on instruments, accessories, electronics and equipment provide useful information for even the veteran musician while chapters on recording and its various aspects, computer software and making your own CDs are fine examples of Dean's D.I.Y. aesthetic.

Where Dean really shines, however, is in the business sections of $30 Music School. From booking gigs, promoting yourself and selling your CDs to dealing with labels and contracts, lawyers and managers, Dean's experience and knowledge provides a blueprint for young bands to follow. Dean offers a realistic perspective on the industry and what the young musician should expect, starkly outlining both the positive and negative aspects of a career in music, pulling no punches as he shares stories from his own life and career. Interviews with musicians such as Henry Rollins, Joan Jett and David Brockie of Gwar offer varying viewpoints on making music while an included CD offers software demos, examples of Dean's music and film and other valuable tools for the aspiring musicmaker.

In its 500+ pages, Dean's $30 Music School provides the reader with a comprehensive overview of the music industry, preparing young musicians for the wild roller-coaster ride that is the music industry while offering valuable, life-affirming reinforcement to jaded veterans as well. Along with its companion volume, $30 Film School – which offers even more of Dean's impressive philosophy on art and life – $30 Music School is one of the most important weapons that a musician can add to their arsenal. Buy your guitar, buy your amp and then buy and read these two books. Nothing else will come close to preparing you for the life you've chosen. (Course Technology, published December 12, 2003)

Originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™ zine, 2004

Related Content: Michael Dean's $30 Film School book review

Educate Yourself, Fool!

Book Review: Michael W. Dean's $30 Film School (2003)

Michael Dean's $30 Film School
The cover of Michael Dean's excellent $30 Film School really says it all – "write, finance, direct, produce, shoot, edit, distribute, tour with, and sell your own no-budget DIGITAL movie." Your humble critic would be remiss, however, if I didn't go into the details as to why this book is one of the most important tools available to an artist. It doesn't matter whether you're making films, playing music, writing books or slapping paint on an old piece of plywood, no matter what kind of art that you are creating (or aspire to create), you owe it to yourself to read $30 Film School. Why? Because author Dean goes beyond the nuts and bolts treatment of how to make your own low-budget film and lays out a lengthy, holistic and people-friendly philosophy for making art the DIY way.

Michael Dean is no neophyte to the creative world. He was the primary songwriter and bass player for the mid-80s San Francisco band Bomb, which recorded a couple of indie and one major label album, and he continues to write and play music today. He's written and marketed a novel, and has crafted two hefty and useful tomes in $30 Film School and its companion, $30 Music School. Dean is also the producer/director/cameraman of the documentary film D.I.Y. Or Die, which features interviews with folks of various artistic persuasions, from musicians (Ian MacKaye, Mike Watt, Ron Asheton) and poets (Maggie Estep, Beth Lisick) to indie filmmakers (Richard Kern) and music producers (Steve Albini). It's the story of the creation of D.I.Y. Or Die that lead to the writing of $30 Film School.

For those who want the cold, hard facts along with a dose of punk-inspired philosophy, Dean provides plenty of technical information and helpful shortcuts. The book thoroughly explains the ins-and-outs of digital video, the benefits of DV versus other film and video formats, the trials and tribulations of computer editing, proper audio editing and other aspects of low-budget (but not low quality) filmmaking. Dean goes into details on specific software and hardware that it available to digital filmmakers and covers DVD authoring, video distribution and the many legal aspects of filmmaking.

It's in the less-tangible areas of filmmaking that Dean excels, however, the chapters on fundraising, producing and directing a film all showcasing the author's hard-won experience and "treat people right" philosophy that every aspiring artist should follow. Information on publicity and marketing your film, touring with the film and interviews with other artists fill out the 500-page guide and an enclosed CD-ROM disc offers demo software, film clips and various forms and other tools created by Dean.

With $30 Film School, Dean shares the knowledge gained not only from his yearlong D.I.Y. Or Die project, but also from a lifetime of working mostly outside the system, of making music and film and literature with an independent spirit. Dean's writing is fluid and entertaining, reading more like a conversation with a new friend than like a boring old technical manual. $30 Film School is packed with information, but it's the subtle ideas that Dean injects between the lessons that serve the artist best. Highly recommended for any creative mind, Michael Dean's $30 Film School is the best of a new breed of user-friendly guides, a book that will inspire the reader to reach for the stars and never settle for less. (Cengage Learning, published May 13, 2003)

Originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™ zine, 2004

Related Content: Michael W. Dean's $30 Music School book review

Educate yourself, fool!