LONG JOHN UPDATE:
The radio silence over the last month has not been due to laziness, negligence, or ignorance––I've been hard at work to get Chapter 3 done. Specifically, I wanted to get it done and printed by this year's Free Comic Book Day on Saturday, May 5. I'll be celebrating it this year like I did last year at Sacramento's own Empire's Comics Vault; every year their event seems to get better and more refined, becoming more than just a venue for people to line up around the block to get free comic books. I'll post more about that specific event rather soon (since it is rather soon), but for now I can say that I'll again be a part of its local talent round up mini-convention. Last year was a blast and this year I wanted to have something to celebrate (though not giving away for free): the premiere of Long John Chapter 3: Making Smoke.
Luckily, the month away from the site was not wasted as I was able to finish, proofread, get outside readers to respond, and send the files off to the printer by my self-imposed due date. I have since received the proof from the printer––Long John's regular printer, RA Comics––and approved it. So, I should be receiving the books very soon.
I'm incredibly excited about this book, more than I was for Chapter 2. I was going to add "for some reason" to the end of that last sentence, but I very much know the reason. Chapter 2 was definitely a "middle chapter" and, as such––as well as being absolutely exhausted as I ran that book to the finish line––it felt like it was an unfinished narrative. It ended on a cliffhanger and was a very quiet book, one that I know was (and was intended to be) a stark contrast to the bombast of Chapter 1. I knew what was coming, but as a reading experience, I went into its printing fully aware that many readers may find the chapter a much lesser experience than the first book, which seemed to be universally well-received.
With the completion of Chapter 3, I get to close the book, so to speak, on the promise of Chapter 2 and it now feels complete. I've said before that Chapters 1 through 3 are kind of a complete package, nearly standalone (while dropping threads for future chapters), but it's really two pieces: Chapter 1 is its thing and Chapter 2 & 3 are their own thing. In my notes, I even called Chapter 3 "Chapter 2.5."
So, I'm very excited and proud of what Chapter 3 has turned out to be and I can't wait to get it to you either as a book or when it updates online.
I tend to get a bit manic when I'm in full-on work mode, so my usual routines and patterns become super focused and tightly wound. Basically, I search around for what keeps my creative train moving forward and just hit repeat on that moment so I can, with hope, keep that going to the end.
With that in mind, two albums led the charge to get this book done, and they couldn't have been more different from each other, but I played them so much that they have become a complementary pair in my mind.
I really love heavy metal music, but I don’t sop up the genre like a sponge on a spill. Instead, I’m mildly familiar with a lot of things, but only really a fan of a few things. I like singing, I like melody, and I like melodrama. Because of this, I tend toward the subgenre of “power metal” comprised of musicians like Dio, Iron Maiden, Twisted Sister, and Judas Priest.
My wander into the world of Judas Priest started a few years ago. I came across a collection of their deep catalogue along with that of Iron Maiden. I have always equated these two bands and was, as tated before, nominally aware of who they were, their history, and their big songs. Iron Maiden was “The Trooper” band and “The Number of the Beast” and Priest was “Youv’e Got Another Thing Comin'” and “Breakin’ the Law.”
Being a nerd, I did some research into both before cherry picking their respective catalogues. Based on the reading I did, I thought that Iron Maiden would be the band I would prefer. Their music ticks off all the boxes a metal-appreciative English major would love: songs based on classic horror novels? Check. Songs that tell stories as well as being catchy? Check. Songs about historical moments and battles? Check.
But I bounced off of their music pretty fast. I don’t really have an answer as to why, but it just wasn’t connecting with me on any meaningful level. So, I put on a Judas Priest album––Screaming for Vengeance, specifically––and loved every second of it.
The music of Judas Priest is definitely built around a pop mentality: short songs, songs that have universal application, songs acting more as snapshots of emotions and simple ideas rather than complex narratives. They also have a loose mythology woven through their albums (specifically album art), but it’s obviously just silly fun.
Judas Priest released their first album in 1974 and have been pretty consistent with regular releases since then, with a few hiccups and major lineup changes along the way. In 2014, they released their first album in a long time, Redeemer of Souls. I like Priest but wasn’t expecting much. Redeemer, however, felt like a band at the start of its career. It was so vivacious and inspired and vocalist Rob Halford sounded stronger than he had in a decade that it blew my mind, to the point that I swore it should be their final album because there was no way to bring even the same level of enthusiasm from an aging band to another album.
Then, at the beginning of March, they released Firepower. It’s better than Redeemer of Souls. How is this even possible?
I’ve never seen a musician really come back as strong or stronger than they had been in their prime. It’s an astounding work of heavy metal and I can’t stop listening to it. The masters of their craft in peak form after almost 45 years in the business.
Priest speaks much more to the music of Twisted Sister––my baseline for all music, in truth, but especially hard rock and heavy metal––but no matter how “commercial” they got, they always did things their way. Their lyrics are often clever and layered and the musicianship is much more emotive than technical, which I really respond to. I have realized that music is very much my vehicle for emotional connection and expression. I care more about how a song makes me feel and what tone the music and lyrics are generating than what they’re saying, usually.
I like songs that are personally applicable, that help codify my thoughts and emotions and moments in my life despite my love for literature and complex technical ability. I like that stuff, too, but it isn’t what I look for in music. When I find that, I appreciate and can parse it, but it’s not what brings me back. I like music that makes me feel like I can accomplish anything or encapsulates perfectly my sadness or whatnot. That’s why I like things like Dio, Twisted Sister, and Judas Priest (and, more recently, High Spirits and Dawnbringer). Their exaggerated musical posturing and indefinite lyrics are wide enough to be rather inclusive and they allow me to sew the lyrics and tone to my narrative rather than asking me to follow theirs.
Like any self-conscious person, I don’t like to paint myself into a corner with regard to my musical tastes. I like to think I’m open to anything by anybody, but, if we’re all honest with ourselves, by a certain age we tend to paint the lines around our own lane and are more than happy to stick to it.
I found the band of sisters, Haim, completely by accident and in probably the worst possible way. But I’m incredibly glad I did because their debut album, Days Are Gone, quickly entered into a strange satellite-like orbit around my fevered workflow along with Judas Priest’s Firepower despite the fact that they couldn’t be more different from each other.
On Facebook, I came across a hilarious joke photo album that basically says, “Guitar players’ faces make more sense when you replace their guitars with slugs.” Google it; it’s hilarious.
One of the pictures featured a blonde woman who looked like she was actually retching and I had no idea what kind of guitar she was meant to be playing before the slug was superimposed. After running through the comments, I learned it was Este Haim, the bass player for the pop band, Haim. Soon after her name was mentioned, a slew of comments came forward praising her “bass face.” Though I only saw it as a still image, I had to see how her face got that way and what kind of music would cause a person to contort in such an extreme fashion.
A few YouTube videos later, I not only saw some impressive bass face (Este is really into playing bass and it’s fantastic to watch and listen to because she’s really good) I came away not only appreciating the musician but quite impressed with their music.
Haim makes really interesting nostalgia-laced pop with experimental elements sewn throughout to prove a very unique listening experience. There’s a lot of ’80s-type pop music in there evoking bands like Bananarama, Prince, and Wilson Phillips, but there’s also raw modernism in there that evokes everything from Beyonce to the weirdest stuff from Gotye. To top it off, they’re all really good musicians, which is more than can be said for many pop artists. Watch any live performance to get a sense of their ability, but listen to their albums if you just want excellently written, played, and sounding pop music.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BUD
Lastly, today is the third birthday of my dog, Rusty (formally Russell T Buckets). He’s a good boy.