Pop Culture

Cool It, Geeks


Alec Guinness in Bridge On The River Kwai, a role he probably would’ve preferred that you remember him for.

Alec Guiness liked to tell a story that has become legendary or infamous, depending upon your take. This kid came up to him somewhere and told him that he had seen Star Wars over a hundred times, and asked for his autograph. Sir Alec’s response:

“Well, do you think you could promise never to see Star Wars again?”

The boy burst into tears and his mother took him away after scolding the erstwhile Obi Wan that he had done an awful thing. In later reflections, Guinness said “Maybe she was right, but I just hope the lad, now in his thirties, is not living in a fantasy world of secondhand, childish banalities.”

Full disclosure- I’m a lad, now in my thirties, and I kinda do live in a fantasy world of secondhand, childish banalities.

But I’m aware of it, and these movies and comics and genre material of various mediums are not my whole world. There’s two things that I can tell you are the absolute keys to healthy living, after having some major tests to my mental health over decades. One is self awareness. The other is balance.These two things added together equal the sense of perspective that leads to healthy living.

I watch many of my fellow geeks really struggle with a sense of perspective in their obsessive compulsive tendencies. Being a fan of genre entertainment is much like being a connoisseur of fast food. A steady diet of it is not healthy, and you probably don’t need to spend too much more time contemplating The Walking Dead than you would the McRib.

Here’s Jim Steranko from a Rolling Stone interview:

“Comic books are trash. But that TV set is trash, and so much of music trash. And books like Peyton Place and Gone with the Wind and The Power of Positive Thinking and The Love Machine. It’s all trash.” I asked if he considered the stuff he did to be trash. “Of course,” he said. “So you like trash?” “Well, yeah, of course I like trash. Of course, human flesh is trash, too.”

Well, that’s the nail on the head. But we get into things, and we like to know everything we can about them and talk to other enthusiasts about them and compare and contrast, and that’s a beautiful thing. However, this gets really ugly when we inevitably turn hypercritical and start to scratch at ourselves, and tear at things we should probably just embrace, accept, or ignore.

An anecdote I often tell- Once I was at a comic shop (Comic Book World, for those familiar with Louisville) and there was a guy -kind of a goober, but he meant no harm- that we’ll call Fanboy Type A. He was very excited about Wrestlemania, which had occurred over the previous weekend. He couldn’t wait to tell us all about the Undertaker’s new look and the way the stage was set when he came out. Apparently it was as if the Gates Of Hell had opened and unleashed a powerful warrior, and it was the greatest thing this guy had ever seen.

This showing of enthusiasm did not sit well with a gentleman across the room that we can call Fanboy Type B, and it seemed as if he had absolutely no recourse but to piss on the parade. The indictment came on quickly and furiously. The stage looked fake. Undertaker is fat. He’s too old to be out there. And in the ultimate kick to the downed opponent, his hat looked stupid. Now, keep in mind that nobody asked this guy.

Type A blanched, looked at his shoes, and muttered “Well….I thought it was kinda cool…” He had actually allowed the Type B to steal his joy on something as mundane as the validity of a professional wrestler.

This sort of thing happens every second of every day on every subject imaginable on the internet, where the effect above is the same, only on a much larger scale. The dissenting voice is always the loudest and the effect is always destructive. The greatest thing about the internet is that it gives just about everyone an equal voice, but the worst thing about the internet is that it gives just about everybody an equal voice.

Too many of those thirtysomething lads with their secondhand, banal fantasies aren’t even enjoying them, either because they’ve allowed them to be ruined by malcontents or they are malcontents themselves.

One of the best new comics is Saga, created by Brian K. Vaughn. I’ll leave you with something he said:

I realized that making comics and making babies were kind of the same thing and if I could combine the two, it would be less boring if I set it in a crazy sci-fi fantasy universe and not just have anecdotes about diaper bags … I didn’t want to tell a Star Wars adventure with these noble heroes fighting an empire. These are people on the outskirts of the story who want out of this never-ending galactic war … I’m part of the generation that all we do is complain about the prequels and how they let us down … And if every one of us who complained about how the prequels didn’t live up to our expectations just would make our own sci-fi fantasy, then it would be a much better use of our time.

Comics, Music

Leaning Into Jazz

Nick Fury: Agent Of SHIELD #2, 1968

Jim Steranko created this dialogue free and almost completely wordless page for Nick Fury: Agent Of SHIELD #2, circa 1968. The Comics Code Authority changed the final panel from an image of Fury and the Contessa embracing to the perhaps actually more suggestive panel of the gun placed snugly in it’s holster. The Code also put the telephone back on it’s hook, it had been depicted as removed. Steranko has been known to quip that he now finds telephones found off their hooks to be very exciting.

It’s been said that you should never meet your famous heroes, but I can only recommend it. I’ve met most of mine that still walk the earth and had golden experiences. Perhaps I’ve been fortunate, but as Robert Evans likes to say, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” My advice is simple: ask good questions.

My first query for Jim Steranko proved to be an easy one. “What’s the record on the hi-fi in this scene?” I had imagined Sam Cooke’s That’s Where It’s At, a slow burning number that lyrically describes what you see on the page before you. I guessed wrong. Without a moment’s hesitation, Steranko delivered the answer: Eddie Lockjaw Davis, a saxophone toting jazzman. The mistake I made was to look for words and lyrics when the mood and music is the heart of the matter. This exchange was my first step on a trip I had been planning for years, for the time I had the emotional maturity to take it. Time to get into Instrumental Jazz.

Growing up on Pop, Soul, Rock & Roll, and some Standards and Vocal Jazz in more recent years, the work of guys like Miles Davis and John Coltrane eluded my grasp the way foreign films are beyond many of us. I admired the zen of the people I’ve known who dug it and equated the music with a certain attitude. By no mistake, the term cool as used to denote a state of mental and emotional being originates in Jazz Culture.

There’s an unfortunate attitude sometimes found that to be into Jazz, one must reject everything else but classical as beneath them. That pretense is poison. Look no further than Miles Davis covering Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time for proof in the fallacy of that mindset. A variety of musical genre is a must for a healthy mind. You wouldn’t just consume one kind of food throughout a life well lived. The same holds true for music, nutrition for the soul.

No one wants sushi for breakfast, just after brushing their teeth and before going off to work. In a similar mode, Jazz has certain situational conditions in order to work it’s magic. I’ve found that it’s best between 8 PM and 4 AM, or sometimes on a Sunday morning. If you’re alone, it would be best to be reading, writing, maybe smoking something. Driving in a metropolitan or urban area. If you’re not alone, you want to be making love or conversation. Or both. In any case, the music should settle nicely into a background. If you can interact with interesting people at nothing much louder than you would in a silent room, it’s going to work out fine.

The best tastes are those acquired. It’s no coincidence that those are usually the kinds that are treasured the most. Looking back over your life’s loves, I would bet that you will find the best spots in your heart are held by the things that challenged you.

That’s Jazz.