Marillion

Some time around 1984 or so, when I was heavy into progressive rock, I became aware of a fast-rising British band called Marillion.  They had a freak hit in the US called “Kayleigh,” a tale of early adulthood love and loss. The music was a throw back to a Genesis that had not existed for about ten years at that point, but that was fine.  I loved the album that spawned “Kayleigh,” the trippy concept album Misplaced Childhood.  The best way to describe it is to imagine a young Peter Gabriel writing and performing his own version of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, only with a happy ending.

So, glomming every bit of prog rock I could find, from Yes’s psychedelic classics to the overblown Emerson, Lake, and Percussionist to the weirdgasm that was the ever-reincarnating King Crimson, I happily bought Misplaced Childhood for some semblance of normalcy. Besides, their Garbielesque lead singer called himself Fish. How could you go wrong with that?

Li’l Sis and my future ex only fed this new obsession. Li’l Sis gave me copies of their first two albums, Script for a Jester’s Tear and Fugazi. Fish and I were on the same apparent wavelength. We were both angry young men in our twenties frustrated with our lives. Fish, more so than me, as the Scottish poet made no secret of his love-hate relationship with chemical recreation (“He Knows, You Know”) and letting off screaming diatribes about the politics of the day (“Fugazi”).  Yet when Marillion worked best was when the original Genesis worked best, taking that prog sound and writing broadly appealing tunes that had a sense of mischief about them. “Garden Party” and the single “Market Square Heroes” (which inspired the short story “Gotham Square Hero”) were the ones I remember best.

Here are the boys after they found their permanent drummer and before Fish’s hair left the band.

What struck me more than Fish’s voice was the guitar of Steve Rothery. Rothery is a guitar player of the David Gilmour school, feel over flash. No one puts more Gilmour through his guitar than Gilmour. Ditto for Steve Rothery. The repeat effect that “Kayleigh” is built around is probably one of the most brilliant bits of song writing from the 1980’s.

But Marillion is one of those bands that peaks in popularity before it’s actually complete.  When the writing began for Script, only Rothery was a member of the band, and he had been a replacement in an earlier incarnation called Silmarillion. Fish was recruited early on, and during the writing, the keyboard player was replaced with Mark Kelly, who probably is more responsible for Marillion’s sound than even Rothery. Kelly, however, stepped the band’s game up a notch, requiring a better bass player than the one who joined with Fish in 1980. They recruited Welshman Pete Trewavas (also known as a member of Transatlantic these days). Trewavas is one of the greatest bass players I’ve ever heard. In fact, I can only name two better that I’ve heard: My nephew and John Entwistle. My nephew is an absolute freak on the bass who makes Entwistle sound like an amateur, and you can say that about such geniuses as Geddy Lee, Chris Squire, and Tony Levin in comparison to Entwistle. In short, I think Pete’s brilliant.

During their first three years as Marillion, they went through what Fish termed “a Spinal Tap drummer period” before settling on Ian Mosely, who played on Misplaced Childhood. In 1987, the band burst out with the more mainstream tale of tour alcoholism, Clutching at Straws. Marillion was becoming a smoother, more accessible group. So they were ready to buck the coming Brit pop and grunge waves brewing in London and Seattle. Right?

Um… No.

Marillion hadn’t really found its lead singer yet. By the time I saw them live in 1991, Fish had left in a huff and in dire need of rehab. Instead of looking for a guy who would sound like Fish or Phil Collins or Peter Gabriel, they rebooted with the former lead singer of The Europeans named Steve Hogarth, better known as h to Marillion fans.

But was he a poet?

Hard to say at first. Panicking that they might not find a lyricist of Fish’s caliber, Marillion hired one. It was probably a mistake. Hogarth is very much a poet in the same vein as Fish, with a more soulful voice and a bigger vocal range. But some of those early efforts lack the mix of mischief and sorrow Fish provided. Season’s End, while interesting, has less poignancy than, say, Clutching at Straws.  It’s when h writes his own lyrics (“Easter,” “Holloway Girl”) that we see the wisdom of the band opting for same-but-different with a guy steeped in the 80’s new wave movement.

Hogarth couldn’t be Fish. Fish was a poet who drove the music. But what h brought was that missing fifth musician. It’s quite likely, if called upon, he could drum. He regularly plays keyboards and guitar and co-writes the music as well as writing lyrics. So how does Mr. H stack up against his Scottish predecessor?

This song, the title track to Marillion’s last major label release, was about the danger of celebrity destroying the person it is bestowed upon, drawing its inspiration from the tragedy of James Dean. The album also references speed boater Don Campbell, OJ Simpson (who was on trial when the album was released), and Elvis (“King”).  The line that strikes me the most in this song, one that Fish himself might have had on his mind when Marillion’s popularity peaked and overwhelmed him in the 1980’s, was “I’m already dead. It’s a matter of time.” It captures that fear that when one’s star burns out, they’ll burn with it.

Marillion went independent in the mid-1990’s, their initial popularity fading as grunge and Brit pop took over. But it meant they could shed the shackles of being a “progressive” band. Good. Because there are no more annoying or pretentious fans of rock than prog fans. I pour myself a nice cup of smug every time I hear one whine that Marillion doesn’t sound progressive anymore. That’s a good thing. Bands that stagnate are boring. Just look at Yes after 1973.

So who do I prefer? Fish? Or H? Well, let’s put it this way. Fish and I are still of like mind (only I drink more than he does these days, if only because he no longer drinks at all). And Fish and I very much like what Steve Hogarth has done with Marillion. But while Fish is happy his old friends found someone with whom could make the music they want to make, I started listening to the latter-day Marillion when my writing career stalled, my first marriage disintegrated, and, more importantly, as I met and married Nita. Shortly after Nita and I married, they released what is arguably their best album ever, Happiness Is the Road. The title track is an autobiographical song about Hogarth emerging from a dark period in his life to some sort of awakening.  Those events very nearly paralleled what was going on in my life at the time he was writing.

Happiness is the road indeed.

Ebookery: The Feature

Over the past year and half, Tuesdays have been my day to pontificate on all things ebookish. However, you can only go so far before you sound like an idiot on his soapbox. If I wanted that, I’d watch cable news pundits.

So instead, I’m going to talk to the authors. And I’m going to talk to editors. And while we’re at it, I want to hear from the indie bookstores. How are they coping with this brave new world?

So starting next week, Tuesday is your day to get ebook commentary and interviews and…  Who knows? I promised Dusty Rhoades he could come on and make fun of Michele Bachmann. (Why not? Chris Wallace did.)

A Load Of Quertermous By Bryon Quertermous

A while back, Bryon Quertermous decided to become a pioneer in the ebook realm and collected three of his short stories into A Load of Quertermous. They are three rather original stories, beginning with “Load,” a story about a sperm bank robbery that does not go as planned. It’s one for Jerry Springer.

In Mr. Saturday Night Special, a Flint, MI, private investigator has an unusual client, his wife’s divorce lawyer. Is he really in trouble, or is this a setup?

The collection finishes up with Alter Road. In it, Quertermous paints a stark picture of a shrinking Detroit in this story of a preacher with a violent past out to avenge his daughter’s death.

All these stories show a Michigan past its industrial prime. The characters are getting by as best as they can. Not a bad set.

Duke Nukem Forever Vs. Chinese Democracy

Chinese Democracy took 13 years to record.
Duke Nukem Forever took 15 years to develop.

Chinese Democracy saw the entire band leave to form Velvet Revolver, which broke up and reunited.
Duke Nukem Forever saw its development team laid off when the original company went out of business.

Chinese Democracy started work when Napster was legal.
Duke Nukem Forever started work before Playstation, Xbox, or Wii even existed.

Chinese Democracy doesn’t sound like Guns N’ Roses.
Duke Nukem Forever still sounds like Duke Nukem.

Chinese Democracy doesn’t sound like an album that took 13 years to record.
Duke Nukem Forever looks like it was developed in 1996 in places.

So which one is better?

Axl Rose whines a lot. Duke Nukem has balls of steel.

Put in Bay

Out in the middle of Lake Erie lie the Bass Islands. North Bass has a year-round population of about 25 and is taken up mostly by Vineyards. Middle Bass has a somewhat larger population, but exists primarily as a destination for people already on South Bass looking for something else to do. Why are they on South Bass in the first place?

Kevin Payravi, Wikimedia Commons

Kevin Payravi, Wikimedia Commons

Put in Bay is a tourist mecca that was also the site of a famous naval battle during the War of 1812. Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry used Put in Bay’s enclosed harbor to shield his fleet from the British, on their way to invade Ohio from Canada. As the British approached South Bass Island, Perry moved out and captured the fleet. Hence, his famous line, “We have met the enemy, and they are ours.”

Today, Put in Bay is one of Ohio’s best kept secrets. A summer destination, it largely gets ignored in favor of nearby amusement park Cedar Point on the mainland. It’s a quiet getaway with bars surrounding downtown, including the Boardwalk, which houses three restaurants, and two wineries. Being in the middle of one of the Great Lakes, Put in Bay has all the attractions of a tropical island (except the topless beaches), but without the heat or the huge waves.

Nita and I stayed in Put in Bay last summer for our anniversary. We stayed at the Put in Bay Resort, a recent addition to this tiny village. Open only between April and October (Do you really want to stay on Lake Erie in the winter?) We had to get around on golf carts as the island is not very car friendly. We were able to see the state park on the northern tip of the island and visit the Perry Monument, the 500-foot granite column commemorating Perry’s victory over the British. As the village is very much a summer village, a lot of bars are open air and have live music every night.

But if you’re looking for Starbucks and McDonald’s and Applebee’s, forget it. There’s a Subway and a Dairy Queen, and that’s it for franchise food. All the restaurants are local mom-and-pop places. Most are quite good. A couple left Nita and I a little flat.

The ideal vacation for me and Nita would be a week-long jaunt arriving Monday evening and leaving on Friday. Resort rates and condo and home rentals are cheaper during the week. Day two would be spent over on nearby Middle Bass bar hopping and sampling the local wine. There is the Motz Winery visible from the Jet Port Express Ferry that brings you into Put in Bay from the mainland, but part of the building collapsed. Motz now operates in Sandusky. Still, Middle Bass is a bit more wild than South Bass. There’s something about being someplace that’s on the very edge of civilization. The next island up, North Bass, has a village, St. George’s, that has only 25 permanent residents. Any children there or on Middle Bass are flown or ferried to Put in Bay for school.

The third day would be spent over on Kelley’s Island, which has multiple parks, a beach, and a number of bars downtown. Kelley’s is more like a mainland town than Put in Bay, which could double as Haven from Stephen King’s The Colorado Kid.  There’s also a winery. Kelley’s is where you go to live. Put in Bay is where you go to vacation. Which is where we would spend the final day.

If you’re going to go, leave your car in Sandusky or Port Clinton. The Jet Port Express will carry you from the mainland to Put in Bay for about $30 a person. While there, you can rent a golf cart to get around.

It’s not the hippest place to vacation, but it’s a great getaway.

Bond. James Bond.

During my state-funded enforced vacation earlier this year, I started watching James Bond movies. The BBC ran all the Connery movies at the beginning of the year, except You Only Live Twice.  TBS had a run on the Brosnan Bonds. USA is running all the Moores and Daltons with the exception of Live and Let Die. So where’s Daniel Craig in all this? I got Quantum of Solace from the library along with my DVD of Casino Royale and tested out AJ’s new big screen TV while he was at school. Casino Royale on 42 inches rocks!

During all of this, I also watched the questionable Connery effort Never Say Never Again and the rarely screened parody Casino Royale, the original with David Niven, not the Daniel Craig franchise reboot. So, having seen all the Bonds but On Her Majesty’s Secret Service‘s George Lazenby in action, how do they rank?

Here now is one of those obnoxious lists everyone thinks makes great Internet content.

Number 6: Roger Moore

Roger Moore

Eon Productions

Don’t get me wrong. I like some of the Moore movies. For Your Eyes Only and The Spy Who Loved Me are some of the best Bonds ever. And Moore was smart to play Bond more low-key and comedic than Sean Connery. But six actors have played James Bond, seven if you count Niven. Just as somebody has to be first in a list like this, someone has to go last. Roger Moore was funny and charming as James Bond, but he most certainly wasn’t playing a spy created by Ian Fleming named James Bond. He behaved more like The Saint or Beau Maverick.

A little trivia: It’s well known that Moore was considered for the original Bond movie, Doctor No. What’s not well known was that Maverick producers wanted to cast an Englishman as a new Maverick, cousin Beau. Moore took the job, but another British actor turned down the role. His name was Sean Connery.

Number 5: George Lazenby

George Lazenby

Eon Productions

Of all the Bonds, former skier George Lazenby looks the most like Bond (An argument could also be made for Timothy Dalton). His movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, was the closest to its source, almost a scene-for-scene shoot of the novel (one of Fleming’s best efforts). Had Lazenby had a competent agent, he would have had Moore’s run as James Bond. Alas, while Lazenby manages to play James Bond, he’s not quite the actor of his other five counterparts and maybe hamstrings his rank on this list by turning down a multi-film deal. Certainly, he’s a more logical successor to Connery than Roger Moore, which puts him ahead of Moore on the list, but he’s not the same caliber of actor. Too bad. Lazenby’s best moment, his grieving over Tracy Bond’s murder, might have provided an excellent lead-in to Bond’s almost murderous rampage at the beginning of Diamonds Are Forever. I totally would have bought the man who wept over his dead wife trotting the globe in a rage growling “Where’s Blofeld!”

Number 4: Pierce Brosnan

Pierce Brosnan

Eon Productions

Now here’s an actor who should have been Bond a lot sooner. Producers discovered him during the filming of For Your Eyes Only, around the time Moore started talking about leaving the franchise. When Kevin McLory made his ill-advised Never Say Never Again with Connery, producers panicked, whipped up Octopussy, and brought back Moore to compete. After Moore retired, they approached Brosnan again for The Living Daylights, but NBC screwed Brosnan over, making him do one more season of Remington Steele. Too bad, because Brosnan’s personality would have provided some continuity from Moore’s tenure while getting Bond back to his intense Connery days. Brosnan himself was the perfect Bond, cool under fire, delivering those trademark quips perfectly, yet showing more emotion than previous Bonds. Still, after the strong start that was Goldeneye, the Brosnan Bond movies started to fall in quality. Tomorrow Never Dies rode roughshod over its own plot. The World Is Not Enough was better suited for a novel than a movie. And Die Another Day, the end of the original Bond storyline, went a little too over the top. Still, it would be better to watch it with Brosnan than a lot of other actors.

Number 3: Timothy Dalton

Timothy Dalton

Eon Productions

At last, a Bond who looks and acts like the James Bond Ian Fleming wrote about. Dalton is one intense actor, and his Bond might crack wise, but you can tell he’s covering up the stress he’s under. Dalton was approached after Connery originally quit, but Dalton considered himself too young. Again, he was approached around the time of For Your Eyes Only, but like Brosnan, was discounted for Octopussy when producers freaked over Sean Connery’s return in a rival Bond film. Dalton’s Bond is intense, yet can turn on the charm at the drop of a hat. Dalton’s performance was so intense that he stayed in character for promotions, chain smoking cigarettes and moving about parties like a tightly coiled spring.  This was the blunt instrument M called upon to save Britain.

Number 2: Daniel Craig

Daniel Craig

Eon Productions

 

In order to reboot the Bond storyline, you need an actor who can be the Bond that Ian Fleming wrote about. Craig is intense, arrogant, and cold compared to the other Bonds. Never mind that he’s a blond while his predecessors were all dark-haired (even Niven, who’s not on this list.) Daniel Craig’s Bond is cocky and a loose cannon, a younger Bond than we knew over the years between Doctor No and Die Another Day.  M doesn’t trust him, and there’s no Moneypenny or Q to back him up behind the scenes. This is Bond before he becomes Bond, and you could make an argument that he’s even better than Sean Connery. You could, but I wouldn’t advise it.

Number 1: Sean Connery

Sean Connery

Eon Productions

Are you even surprised? The man invented the movie incarnation of Bond, and it is Connery to whom all Bonds are compared. While Moore tried to be different from Connery, the other actors had to incorporate Connery’s persona into their Bond to make it work. Connery invented the way Bond quips, the cool under pressure, the suave moves and ways with the ladies. A number of other actors were considered for Doctor No, and had any of them been cast, James Bond as we know him would not exist. Connery is so ingrained in the Bond legend that producers paid him huge sums to return for Diamonds Are Forever, and Kevin McLory cast him in his Thunderball remake, Never Say Never Again.

 

My Town Monday Cincinnati: Jerry Springer

Once upon a time, Cincinnati had a mayor. He was a popular mayor. He was a hip mayor. Afternoons, he would do commentary on local rock station WEBN. After his tenure on city council, he became one of the city’s most popular news anchors, then went on to national fame as a talk show host. So who is this man of the people that everyone seems to have embraced?

Justin Hoch, used under Creative Commons

Justin Hoch, used under Creative Commons

Jerry Springer, born in a London Underground station during the Blitz and raised in New York, came to Cincinnati in the late 1960’s to work for local law firm Frost, Brown, and Todd. He also was an entertainer, which helped him get elected to city council in 1971. Maybe a future governor or senator, Springer would never become president since his parents had fled Germany for London, where Springer was born. Still, his political future looked bright in the early 1970’s.

At least until he paid a visit to a Ft. Wright, KY, massage parlor. The massage came with a happy ending. Springer paid with a check. It was the original Anthony Weiner scandal. Except…

Springer resigned and came clean to the public, apologizing. Sure, politicians apologize all the time when they’re caught, but Springer skipped the step where you strenuously deny everything with righteous indignation. Nope. Springer not only went to a prostitute, but he paid with a check police found in a raid. End of career. Right?

Wrong. They voted him back onto council in 1975. Why? He owned up. Tiger Woods, Bill Clinton, Anthony Weiner, take note.

Two years later, Springer became mayor, and he was one of the most popular mayors in the history of this usually conservative town. He was so popular, in fact, that he ran for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1982. Growing up in Cleveland, I never heard of the guy until he ran this ad…

Yes, Cincinnati appreciated Springer’s blunt honesty. The rest of the state’s Democrats opted to nominate a political hack from Cleveland named Dick Celeste, the latest in a long line of boring political hacks to go to Columbus.

Springer then moved into television as a political reporter for NBC affiliate WLWT. He soon became the station’s news anchor, which was his job when I moved to Cincinnati in 1991. Springer would end his 11 PM newscast with his Final Thought. Those of you who watch the current incarnation of The Jerry Springer Show are probably rolling your eyes, but in the beginning, the Final Thought was one of the high points of local news. Thoughtful and passionate, Springer admitted he wrote about whatever struck him, often on the back of a cocktail napkin at dinner after the 6 PM broadcast. It was a continuation of his Springer Manifesto when he was mayor providing the daily commentary for WEBN.

In 1991, as the city basked in the glow of the Reds’ recent wire-to-wire season culminating in a sweep of the Oakland A’s, with two Bengals Superbowls still in everyone’s memories, and the great Paul Brown still alive, Springer and his news team – a couple of whom still work in local television – was considered one of the best local newscasts in the country. From that springboard, Springer decided he wanted to move to the national stage. Not to CNN or the fledgling Fox News Channel. No, Springer had two role models in mind: Phil Donahue and Oprah Winfrey.

So, as I was settling into my new apartment and flailing about in the city’s job market, The Jerry Springer Show quietly debuted. I caught an early taping at WLWT’s old downtown studios, even got to meet the man himself. (Don’t be impressed. We passed in the john.) The show had more in common with Donahue and Oprah than the circus its become today.

Springer caught on nationally, but in the age of Riki Lake and Jenny Jones, it was clear the show would not have a long run. Becoming the next Oprah or Donahue was out. Instead, Springer opted to make the show a carnival of trashy people having cat fights over the most lurid of situations. You know. The quality television we’ve come to expect from Springer today.

Nationally and internationally, Jerry Springer is the Ringmaster whose show is one of the sleaziest on broadcast television. Locally, we still remember the WLWT anchorman and former mayor who owned up to a stupid mistake. Perhaps if Springer had opted for CNN or one of the broadcast networks as a political analyst, the world would think differently of him.

But if Jerry had never become The Ringmaster, someone would have had to invent him.

More at the My Town Monday blog.