We’ve had a year of wall-to-wall Donald Trump coverage, and we’re all experiencing a big dose of Trump fatigue. Now that the Donald has formally allied with the crackpot motherfuckers at Breitbart—shudder—I think we may possibly have passed the final moment when someone could say with any seriousness the words “President Trump.” He’s a solid 7+ points behind in the polls and the big viral sensation yesterday was footage of Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen bristling at the suggestion of CNN personality Brianna Keilar that Trump is “down” to Hillary Clinton by a few points. Quoth Cohen: “Says who!?”
Recently Trump himself floated the trial balloon of “2nd Amendment people” acting to resolve the all-too-likely problem of a Hillary Clinton presidency… so while we’re on the subject of assassinations and presidents and stuff, someone made what very well might be THE fucked-up punk image of Trump for 2016…
As you probably know, back in the day Glenn Danzig had a fondness for pulpy horror iconography from the 1950s and a talent for penning a fast-paced ditty, and his band the Misfits have been a favorite of rock and roll fans ever since. (By the way, the Misfits with Glenn Danzig on vocals are playing Denver and Chicago next month.)
One of the Misfits’ best songs is “Bullet” which is a fast-paced ditty about the assassination of John F. Kennedy in which Danzig barks, “Texas is an outrage when your husband is dead! Texas is an outrage when they pick up his head! Texas is the reason that the president’s dead, you gotta suck, suck, Jackie suck!!”
The single had a predictably fantastic cover art, which is shown above. Now someone had the bright idea of repurposing it for the election with everyone’s favorite never-will-be-president-oh-help-me-lord, Donald Trump.
Now this is not to say that we advocate or condone or recommend any manner of “Second Amendment” remedy to a “President Trump” no matter how unlikely that shit-drenched possibility might be. Just the opposite! In fact, we here at Dangerous Minds wish for the GOP’s idiot clown prince to have a long, long life. Trump’s done more to fuck up the Republican Party than anyone since… well, I was going to say Barry Goldwater, but even that comparison makes no sense anymore. (Goldwater had the “conscience of a conservative” whereas Trump is more like Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi come spectacularly—and ignorantly—to life like a lumbering Godzilla character.) No, we wish only good health on Mr. Trump. May he be around to torment the feckless Republican establishment that allowed his coronation to occur for decades to come. Let’s hope Trump becomes immortal. Maybe we can keep him in a jar—forever—like the Face of Bo?
If you’re about my age, you now desperately want to hear “Bullet” from start to finish and LOUD. It’s waiting for you after the jump…
I could feel it before I got there. Several miles out and the dark vibes curled through the air like a toxic vapor. Serpentine streams of people twisted through the hills, uncertain of exactly where they were going. There were no maps. No trails. No signs. Nothing pointing toward our destination: Altamont.
Like some hippie version of The Walking Dead, we just followed whoever was in the lead. We assumed the people in front knew where the fuck they were going. It soon became clear we were on the right path when we started encountering people scattered throughout the hilly scrub lying on their backs, curled up in fetal positions or sitting upright with fear etched on their faces. We were on the periphery of a psychic warzone and these were the first casualties – people tripping on low-grade LSD, speed and alcohol. I parted from the zombie march and went to the nearest person struggling through a bad trip. She was a young girl and she was severely freaked-out. This encounter set the tone for most of my experience of the Altamont rock festival.
Like thousands of young people living in the Bay Area in 1969, I got the news of a free concert headlining The Rolling Stones via radio. Time and date were to be announced and we waited. This was going to be the West Coast’s Woodstock and people were psyched. When the word went out that the festival was taking place at a racetrack 50 miles east of San Francisco it seemed like an odd choice. But it didn’t deter the hundreds of thousands of people who ended up there on Saturday the sixth of December.
I hitchhiked from Berkeley to Altamont more out of a sense of obligation than excitement. The distance was a hassle and I wasn’t interested in most of the bands on the bill other than The Rolling Stones and The Jefferson Airplane. The Grateful Dead and CSNY were the other major acts and I wasn’t a fan of either. But as a card-carrying member of the hippie counter-culture this was a call I couldn’t ignore. California had always been the rock festival capital of the world and Altamont was going to shift the attention from Woodstock back to where it belonged. Little did anyone know that Altamont would draw the kind of attention that would later be described by some as the death of the Sixties.
Between the vast quantities of freely distributed toxic LSD, the huge mistake of hiring the Hell’s Angels to provide security and a stark and ugly location, Altamont did just about everything wrong. There was plenty of blame to go around, mostly on the part of The Rolling Stones and The Grateful Dead. But none of us at the concert were aware at the time of the behind-the-scenes fuck-ups. We knew that The Dead had cancelled their gig as soon as they got to the site and we could see the sociopathic behavior of the Angels. Mostly, we could feel the energy. And it was dark. I’ve never taken the concept of black masses seriously. It always struck me as dress-up for losers. But if there is such a thing as a black mass, Altamont would be my reference point.
I saw very little of the actual performances by the bands. I witnessed The Jefferson Airplane’s Marty Balin being assaulted by the Angels while Grace Slick begged the bad guys to calm the fuck down. The bikers were upstaging the bands, pathetically and repeatedly trying to hog the spotlight. The Hells Angels thought they were the fucking show. I moved as far away as I could from the macho stench and spent most of my time talking people down from bad acid trips and escorting the completely helpless to the emergency medical tents. Between being Florence Nightinghale to weekend hippies, I would stand on a hill behind the Hell’s Angel’s modified school bus and watch musicians struggling to get through their sets alive. There was so much chaos near the stage that no one in their right mind (and I was in my right mind) would go near the mess. The stage itself was about about four feet tall and held together by twine. The bands were barely visible. The whole thing was rinky dink. I waited out the horror show for the Stones. Every cell of my body was telling me to get the fuck out and go back to Berkeley. But I’d come a long way and wanted to see the headliners.
The Stones finally went on after the sun had set. The temperature was dropping and people were burning whatever they could find to create some heat in the cold. Bonfires blazed as far as the eye could see. It was hellish.
When The Stones hit the stage they were bathed in red light and Jagger was draped in a scarlet and black cape. In the context of the bonfires, the Hells Angels’ mayhem, and the wailing of people on bad trips, Jagger’s infernal image spooked the living shit out of me. When the opening chords of their third song of the set signaled they were playing “Sympathy For The Devil,” I turned on my heels and headed toward the nearest highway.
I was not alone. People were leaving in droves. Many couldn’t find their automobiles in the dark. It was pandemonium. I got lucky when a van full of freaks slung open the door and yelled “get in!” The further we got from the site, the better we all started to feel. The drive back to the Bay Area took hours but there was a collective sense of relief in the van and we all started talking about what we had just experienced. We were all weary and heartbroken. Altamont was a disaster.
Without repeating the usual grandiose statements holding Altamont responsible for being the death knell of the Sixties, Selvin has done the far more difficult job of investigating the massive fuck-ups that led to the worst rock festival in history without resorting to a bunch of apocalyptic mumbo jumbo. With the precision and liveliness of a hard-boiled crime writer, Selvin digs deep into the murder of 18-year-old Meredith Hunter who was killed at the festival by an Angel. It makes no apologies for the borderline criminal and reckless behavior of the people who organized the festival. Among those responsible were amateur promoters, the clueless Rolling Stones who were following directions from the hippie dippy Grateful Dead, the sleazeball owner of the racetrack and the utterly ineffectual local police. The fact it was so poorly organized makes it’s hard to know exactly who did what, when and where. Selvin sifts through the mess and gives it about as much shape as is humanly possible. People who were acting on behalf of The Stones had no authority to do so. Scammers and hustlers were intertwined with arrogant rock stars who had little knowledge of what was going on and wanted to keep it that way. The less the bands knew, the better. When it came to laying blame, The Dead and The Stones could claim ignorance. Or they just didn’t care. In an attempt to create the ultimate hippie love fest, the people behind Altamont created the world’s biggest bummer. The festival was free but it came at a cost. The last big concert of the Sixties was Vietnam without the big artillery and the Vietnamese. We only had ourselves to blame for this one. No Nixon. No Kissinger. Our good karma had run out. We were devouring ourselves whole.
Hells Angels go apeshit. The Stones lose control. Video after the jump…
I recently discovered the fascinating world of QSL cards, artifacts of an era before the Internet and iPhones when truckers and ham radio operators employed lines of communication made of tubes, transistors and magnetic coils. While surfing the ‘net, I stumbled upon Michelle Cross’s truly amazing collection of QSL cards. It was a stunning find: Thousands upon thousands of some of the weirdest art I’d ever encountered. It was mysterious and evocative. An underground culture where taboos were broken and secret off ramps lead to hidden worlds where truckin’ met fuckin. Racist, sexist, mucho macho and sometimes satirical, QSL cards were Facebook for the men (and few women) who drove by night. Lonely, restless, jacked-up on greenies and white line fever, looking to connect on the asphalt Interweb, always suspended in a state between here and there.
When citizen’s band (CB) radio technology emerged in the early 1960s, operators initially used QSL cards in much the same way as ham operators did, to confirm and follow up on contacts made over the air. As CB radio grew in popularity in North America in the late 1960s and early 1970s, QSL cards became a more creative and freeform hobby, and a community formed around them. Participants would design a card or have one designed for them, get copies printed locally or by mail order, and start trading and collecting.
Not every CBer got involved with QSL cards; to put it in perspective, there were tens of millions of people on CB radio during its heyday, but only tens of thousands making and exchanging QSL cards. Those who did would often make and exchange hundreds or thousands of cards each, often without ever having spoken to one another over the air.
Professional illustrators and printers began to offer QSL card services. Some artists would create collectible numbered series of their work. Enthusiasts would order multiple cards from different artists and printers. QSL swap clubs were started to facilitate collecting and would have dozens and sometimes hundreds of members. CBers would meet up at events, jamborees or what they’d call “coffee breaks” and could trade and order more cards in person. The hobby spread across North America, and had a presence in Europe and the UK as well. It began to decline in the late 1970s and was essentially over by the early to mid 1980s.
I first encountered some QSL cards in an antique shop in the early 2000s. Growing up in the 90s I was really into independent and underground art, media and culture, especially zines, so I’d always gravitated towards obscure printed matter. QSL cards definitely resonated with me on a similar level as zines had, but it took a while to figure out what on earth they were. I did some research and found a few more, but there was almost no information outside of what was contained in the cards themselves and whatever I could find out from people who were originally involved. There was no evidence that anyone had made a systematic attempt to preserve and document them, so I started a website and kept collecting. It’s now the largest known collection of its kind. It currently numbers around 200,000 cards but is by no means complete or exhaustive. Information is hard to come by. Often the original participants have passed away or have forgotten many of the details after half a century, so the history is patchy, but the cards themselves provide a lot of information and insight.
The cards were a form of social media for their time, a snapshot of almost everything going on in society and culture, taboos and all. I like to showcase the cards that hint at strange, underground and taboo activities and themes, but as a whole, QSL cards were never limited to one particular subculture or scene.
QSL graphics range from primitive line drawings to R. Crumb-like stylishness. I have yet to track anyone down who can tell me anything about Michel Dumais and his artist Henry Paul. They designed hundreds of cards and were pretty much the only professional QSL card printer and artist in Quebec. “Runnin Bare” is a man named Jesse from the Pacific Northwest. He was not only an artist but a printer too. His company printed millions of cards designed by him and other artists in the 1970s. He designed a few thousand Runnin Bare cards himself, and also hired a few artists to draw series under his name. Runnin Bare himself was not a very sexy or explicit artist—his cartoons and jokes are mostly tame and lighthearted. Between the demands of the work and a personal tragedy (the loss of a young daughter) he eventually burned out on the caricature cartoon style and gravitated more towards nature drawings by the end.
If there’s one show that’s generating a ton of buzz right now, it’s the Netflix original miniseries Stranger Things. A lovingly-crafted homage to the 70s/80’s “Golden Era” works of Steven Spielberg, Stephen King and John Carpenter, this show is inspiring the kind of love we haven’t seen for a TV program in a long time. Having heard so much good stuff about Stranger Things, I went into watching it with high hopes indeed. On paper this show is so my kind of thing that it’s not even funny: John Carpenter is my all-time favorite director. Stephen King is the guy who inspired me to write, and I can trace my obsession with movies back to formative experiences watching Spielberg’s films obsessively as a child.
So what could possibly go wrong? Well I have a confession to make: Having watched the show now, for the most part I found it… well… kinda boring. I certainly didn’t hate Stranger Things or anything but I definitely didn’t find it anywhere near as “awesome” as everyone else did either. I think it’s basically just… okay. For most of the viewing experience I had a nagging sensation of “Is this it? THIS is the show people are losing their shit for?!” But in truth anything that gets this sort of across-the-board, almost scarily uniform praise—like this particular show—it should raise suspicions.
And before anyone jumps in to tell me that I “just don’t get it!!“my fanboy credentials are more than sound. The fiction I write is horror with teen protagonists! From 2004-2008 I was part of the synth/prog group The Evil Eye, taking influence from John Carpenter and Tangerine Dream and soundtracking various short films including the 80s/video nasties-inspired web serial TV Face. On top of working on these things I am also a child of this era, so I’m as surprised as anyone that I didn’t love the shit out of the show. And trust me, I don’t wanna be The Grinch Who Stole Your 80s Nostalgia Buzz, either. Stranger Things has some serious problems that people seem willing to overlook in the rush to hype it up. So in the interest of fair and balanced journalism, I have put together a guide to what I find to be eight of the major flaws with Stranger Things.
Dare you taste the Hatorade?
1. Winona Ryder
Don’t get my wrong, I love Winona. She’s the beating heart of some of my all-time favourite movies. I’m a Veronica. But BY GOD did her performance do my head in! To the point where I zoned out whenever she was on screen. Her role as “Joyce” (and I had to look that name up, that’s how unmemorable the character was) never strayed from the single, overbearing note of “despairing mother.” Which is not necessarily Ryder’s fault as she was given so little to work with. Still, color me disappointed. I lay the blame for this squarely at the feet of the writers/creators Shawn Levy and the Duffer Brothers. Stranger Things’ characters were paper thin despite some great performances from the child actors. But the adults? From Winona Ryder to Matthew Modine, not to mention the oddly clueless suburban parents and the totally clichéd sidekick deputies… sorry. In the end it seemed like only Steve and Will were genuinely changed by what they had experienced.
But I was willing to forgive all that until it got to:
The treatment of Barb neatly sums up everything wrong with this show. I knew “who” Barb was before I’d even seen a single frame of Stranger Things, which is why I was expecting a lot more from this “beloved” character’s role. But the way they handled her storyline left a bad taste. [SPOILER] After her abduction at the end of episode 2, Barb gets, what, maybe three more mentions over the course of the next six hours? And in the middle of one child disappearance investigation, the disappearance of another kid gets completely and utterly overlooked by the police? Please! I’ve seen mention that this is a comment on the general lack of urgency placed on missing-girl cases (which IS a thing) but that’s retroactively applying something to the show that just isn’t there. Once Barb has served her purpose to the plot she’s basically forgotten about. I get the feeling that the show’s creators expected the audience to feel a lot more empathy for Barb than they ever showed her. Simply put, it was cheap and lazy. And her predicament left dramatically unexplored.
3. The Pacing/Plotting
Let’s be honest here, the pacing was wildly uneven. Long stretches—entire episodes, in fact—passed where the plot barely advanced a single inch. Perhaps this is another homage as Stephen King has been guilty of this kind of uneven pacing and self-indulgent mood-setting in his fiction. But when he has to, he can knock that shit out of the park. Much of Stranger Things felt saggy and repetitive. It’s clear the Duffer Brothers and Shawn Levy haven’t got a grip on writing episodic television yet. Compare the plotting to the 2013 conspiracy-adventure drama Utopia (a masterpiece in my opinion, and a benchmark for mystery-thriller-TV, written by Dennis Kelly.) Utopia covers roughly similar ground: a world-threatening government conspiracy is uncovered through a pop-culture cypher by a ragtag gang of geeks along with a mysterious woman with major ass-kicking abilities. The twists and turns of Utopia‘s plot in the first three episodes alone took the viewer deeper into an unpredictable, exciting story while serving up some boundary-pushing scenes. By contrast, the plot of Stranger Things only really seemed to get going by the end of episode 3, and rather than shock us or surprise us, every plot twist had an almost mind-numbing familiarity. Like how is Will hiding in the electricity? Oh yeah: Because Spielberg.
4. The Relentless Pastiche-O-Rama
It got bloody tiring! While I did enjoy the show in places, at no point did Stranger Things ever transcend its influences to become something truly great with its own unique voice. And that is something the films it references managed to achieve, lest we forget. The show instead relies on a checklist of “spot-the-cliché” (well-produced clichés, but clichés nonetheless.) Despite a couple of entertaining peaks, after the end credits rolled I was STILL thinking about Spielberg, King, Carpenter, Lucas, Craven, Cronenberg, et al, and not the actual story I’d just watched. This seems to be true of almost everyone else talking about the show, too, which says a lot. That’s the fundamental problem with pastiche: not only does it have to be as good as the classics if it’s going to constantly remind us of them, it actually has to stand apart from them too if it wants to eek out its own place in that canon. Otherwise the referencing becomes distracting and makes a viewer wish they’d just watched the originals instead. “We have consumed more 80s pop culture than you!” is really not the best basis for telling a story. It certainly never answered the question as to why I should use eight hours of my life to watch it when I could watch a quadruple-bill of ET, Close Encounters, The Goonies and Poltergeist. With still time for a lil’ Freaks & Geeks thrown in.
5. Eleven’s Psychic Realm
And this was the moment when the relentless pastiching just became TOO much for me. When it spilled over from cute into ugly. When it went from being a constant, wearying nag of “now where have I seen that before?” to “I know exactly where I have seen this before, and GROAN.” The direct lift from Under The Skin (like Utopia, another modern masterpiece) felt incongruous. Not for Under The Skin‘s adult themes or modern setting, but because that film worked so damn hard to take us out of our comfort zones and show us something unique and genuinely alien. Seeing that reflective-black-empty-world (NSFW) again in the context of a cozy-nostalgia-80s-synth-kids-horror-adventure was both jarring and annoying. It was also a hugely missed opportunity: seeing inside the mysterious Eleven’s mind (literally) could have been a chance for the Duffers and Levy to show us something awesome and bizarre and new, but no, they cynically opted for more lazy pastiche. Instead of investing in genuine character insight or visual innovation, we got yet another “have you seen THIS film?” wink-and-nudge reference. Boring!
Which brings me to:
6. The Monster/The Threat
I think we can all agree that the monster in Super 8 was rubbish, right? Both its design and its role within that 80s throwback felt off. But having said that, you have to give JJ Abrams this: at least his monster had an endgame. It had a motivation. A back story. Even a primitive logic. But the Stranger Things monster (as yet un-named, even by the fans. How odd!) had no sense of having its own life beyond being a plot device. Not to mention that its feeding rituals (dead deer or fresh humans?!) and appearances in and out of our dimension were so loosely sketched as to lose any genuine sense of creepiness. Vagueness can be cool if the audience is confident that behind the twitching curtain lurks something truly terrifying (The X-Files coasted on this approach for years until it blew it with a farcically convoluted mythos: We saw behind the curtain and it was just some greasy-haired nerd typing in his Mom’s basement.) In horror for “The Threat” to work it has to be fully realized. This wishy-washy threat never gets satisfactorily explored or convincingly/consistently deployed and this was obviously going to be the case from the first episode. (See also: It Follows.)
To top it all off I just wasn’t a fan of the creature design. The five-second scene of the melting head from The Thing blew it out of the water.
And speaking of John Carpenter…
7. The Score
Everyone’s going on about how fantastic the soundtrack—by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of Austin-based synth quartet S U R V I V E—is. And I’m not saying that it’s bad. It’s certainly authentic sounding, which is good. But just one question—how does it go again? I can’t remember, can you whistle the theme tune for me please? The beauty of John Carpenter’s original synth-based scores was not just in the signature sound palette he managed to conjure up, but in the memorable melodies he lodged in our brains, melodies that came back to haunt us long after the credits had rolled. He’s also the master at using minimal music cues to build genuine tension. In contrast, some of the Stranger Things music cues were way too much. The pounding drums during the sheriff’s breaking in at the research facility didn’t make the scene more tense, it just became grating. One of the things that tripped the score up in my mind, was the inclusion on the soundtrack of some genuinely atmospheric synth masterpieces that put the original score in the shade. I’m thinking in particular of this, one of my favourite pieces by Tangerine Dream (that was used to accompany a fist fight scene?!?):
Which brings me to…
8. The Hype
Ah, the hype. The Stranger Things hype is the thing that is really pissing me off, more than anything actually featured in the show itself. To the point where I felt compelled to write this piece so at least there could be ONE dissenting voice out there to balance the (suspiciously universal) adoration for the show.
The mysterious Steelberg has been re-imagining newly released movies as VHS tapes that you would have rented from your local video store when video stores were everywhere. Housed in beat up cases with torn plastic slip jackets, curling price tags, staff recommendations and various other battered stickers (Beta!), Steelberg replicates the real thing to an eerie degree.
Stranger Things is particularly effective for the very reason that it’s an homage to those 80s movies that packed the shelves of Blockbusters back in the days when you could be kind by simply rewinding. This is what we’re talking about when we talk about form following content.