Friday, 16 December 2011

"The World Will End in 1983!" A Random Rummage Through My Comic Box

An anonymous commentator who has used my critique of Pudgy Pig for his research project into Charlton humour comics (a project he's mysteriously carrying out despite the fact he doesn't like them very much - I salute you, sir - and, though you don't specify, I'm somehow sure you're a sir rather than a miss) has stirred me to return to the 'blog-o-sphere', where we can all share that same joyous futility of expression, disguised by a nebulous idea of 'community', while never leaving our bedrooms. 

I note that while I was away 'Blogger' have fiddled with things to make it all a bit less straightforward to do, and it's all a bit uglier behind the scenes, but I remain undeterred. I will never alter my fonts, add fancy backgrounds, or make any kind of stylistic changes at all. The more obsolete this looks, the better I shall like it. So there. Meanwhile, while they come up with new ways to make it harder to keep things exactly the same, I'm easing myself back in with some brief rummages through the comic box. I had some crazy idea that I might catalogue all the rotting periodicals therein on a computer 'spreadsheet' (who says I'm not 'hep'?) Another glorious exercise in empty industry...I haven't got round to it yet.  But it's a good chance to pull a few comics out and take a look.

If you scoot back up to the top there you'll see issue two of the early 1970s Gold Key series, O.G. Whiz. As you can see, he is the boy boss of the Tikkletoy Company (reminds me of an episode of The Monkees where they used that idea) and you won't be surprised to discover that I bought this one purely on the strength of its bizarre cover. A reversal of the ol' secretary sitting on the boss' knee chestnut, but with a vaguely perverse twist which inevitably I find appealing. The comics inside are an entertaining late work by the legendary John Stanley (I think) but can't quite live up to the weirdness of the exterior.  Now, talking of weird exteriors...

Might I draw your attention to Exhibit 2 above? I don't know about you, but I can never resist comics with gorillas robbing banks on the cover. This is a British 1950s reprint of Australian Mandrake the Magician newspaper strips, by Lee Falk, I believe (that chap who famously did The Phantom - but I always thought Mandrake was a more interesting creation). In this case, the innards are just as odd as the outards, and I can heartily recommend this old nonsense. Note the claim that these are "new adventures" (they're not) and the wonderfully awful efforts of the editorial hacks at L. Miller (the British publishers) to resize a small panel of artwork to fit their superbly badly-designed cover template. Such charming amateurism is neither attempted nor accepted these days. I love the awful criss-cross lines on the 'floor', the bank clerk's swollen hand, and his glasses flying in the air. Splendid. I have another issue of this somewhere that, if I recall correctly, features giant worms. 

Here's another terrific cover. However bad Charlton humour comics were, you can't complain about their space/horror/mystery titles, which were invariably fascinating and often very good. As is this one, Space Adventures, a 1980s comic reprinting what looks like 1950s or 60s material. These were the kind they used to sell in the newsagent down the end of my road in the days of my youth; maybe I saw this one down there. I didn't buy this back in the day; this was a fairly recent purchase. I can't remember what's in it exactly, but I remember I enjoyed reading it. It probably includes a thinly-veiled story about the Cold War, and cautionary tales about the inhumanity of a giant computer and some robots, and a man who invents a time machine but then naughtily uses it to win on the horse races. You know the sort of thing. What a cover, though. I guess they're supposed to be fighting, but I prefer to imagine they're doing some kind of groovy extra-terrestrial disco-dance at the interplanetary palais, while a green-afro'ed dance-contest space-judge checks their moves and looks on approvingly.

And finally - an ill-fated but rather excellent Jack Kirby magazine-format comic book from the early 70s, Spirit World. There are some wonderful and experimental tales of ghostly weirdness and witches inside, yet for some reason the kids failed to dig it. I paid £3 for this (wondering at the time whether it was worth it) but I'm told this is quite a desirable and scarce item. Note that it has been reduced from twelve and a half new pence to five pence, and the relish with which the 'rubber stamper' plonked his 'brand' between the spooky eyes. Note also at least one prophecy which failed to come true on the cover. Sadly, my copy did not come with the free Giant Poster of the Occult World. If it had, you can be certain it would be straight up there on the wall next to my Cycling Proficiency Certificate. 

I hope you have enjoyed this brief rummage amidst the decaying newsprint...and that we might meet again some day, here in THE HOUSE OF COBWEBS. 

Friday, 18 March 2011

The Incomplete Buddy Holly

The second Buddy Holly LP I owned had 20 - yes, 20! - tracks. Some of them sounded a bit odd - "electronically reprocessed for stereo" - but it didn't matter.

One of the many scary things about this bloated modern computer world we live in, chums, is that you can have pretty much everything you want, right now, delivered to you in an instant (well, a few days) with just the click of a button. As you know, I'm a nutty, nerdy collector of old stuff, and I'm just as bad as everybody else, snapping up more books than I will ever read, more CDs than I can ever listen to, more DVDs than I can ever watch; but every now and then I suddenly find myself freaking out in a vague sort of way, staring at the piles of dusty old gubbins that fill my sordid garret, waving my hands and going "AAARGH!" as I realise that, once again, I risk being consumed by my own desire to possess more stuff than is good for me.

I'm not an acquisitive fellow in the usual sense - no property, no car, for instance - but I am a sucker for the kind of pop cultural bric a brac that I have previously written about here at this Blog. Yes, I love my stuff. But it strikes me that it's so easy to get everything these days that I don't quite always get the same kick out of the things I love as I used to back in those simple pre-internet days of yore.

Let me give give you an example. I am very keen on the music of Buddy Holly. I have been since I was a small boy (thanks to the influence of my Old Man, who, as well as sharing his worn-out collection of Coral 45s with the triangular centres, even used to have the same glasses as Buddy). Back when I was 8 years old, when I was given my first 'box' record player, something like a 1970s Dansette, orange, with cream lid and auto-changer, one of my first records to go with it was this cheapo Buddy compilation LP...

Things were so different back then. First of all, you could only buy LPs that you spotted in a shop - without going through a hefty printed catalogue, there was very little way of checking out all the releases by a certain artist. So your choice was limited to what the shop stocked. Secondly, there seemed to be far fewer 'oldies' records to choose from - unlike now, record companies generally couldn't be bothered to re-release original albums in their original format. All you got, a lot of the time, were strangely packaged compilations, which often seemed to have been flung together with a total disregard for whether the track selection was any good or not. Thirdly, if you wanted to find out more, you couldn't look up Buddy Holly on Wikipedia. You had to track down a book (which you had to go to a shop or the library to order). Often all you had were the notes on the back of the LP - an LP without them was always a disappointment.

So, I studied the notes on the back of this LP many times - soaking up as much information about Buddy as a I could from a dry bit of text by some chap called Roger St. Pierre (the web says he's a travel writer and /or cycling journalist, depending on which unreliable source you prefer) - and, meanwhile, as I didn't own many LPs, played the record over and over, all 12 tracks, the good tracks (Dearest, Take Your Time, That Makes it Tough) and the not so good (Love Me, Now We're One), pretty much until I learned the record.

Nowadays, I have oodles of records and CDs and packages from Ebay and Amazon turn up for me almost every day. I often get CDs that - on paper - are a hundred times better than crummy old budget LPs like this, and contain umpteen squillion more tracks, and booklets full of information, and yet somehow it's not quite the same. Many of them are listened to once, then set aside. Few of them give that raw thrill of my distant yoof.

For instance: recently, after many years of legal wrangles, MCA released Buddy Holly: Not Fade Away - The Complete Studio Recordings.

This was something I'd been hoping for for years. I couldn't wait to order it. Hundreds of tracks on loads of CDs. Everything that Buddy had ever done! Everything! It was going to be great! But when I received it - it wasn't. As I unwrapped the package, there was a strange sense of deflation, of ending. I felt hollow. As I checked out the back cover, and saw all the names of the songs, in neat chronological order, extra takes and all, I was overwhelmed by a sudden sense of sadness and disappointment. This is all there is. There are no more tracks by Buddy hidden away elsewhere, uncollected, unissued. There will be no more exciting discoveries. I need never again hear any more odd juxtapositions of Buddy songs on bizarre greatest hits compilations. Having it all there, in order, in front of me, killed the mood somehow. And as I listened to the discs, I realised that I didn't want Buddy's (sadly short) musical life story laid out in front of me in its entirety like a giant aural tombstone. Nor did I need to hear a pre-pubescent Buddy warbling a bad country cover on a now-wrecked homemade 78 (one of the previously unreleased tracks on Disc 1) or multiple bad incomplete takes of Mona in a row, none of which Buddy would have held on to or wanted released (though, undeniably, the collector in me nonetheless wanted to possess them). And then it occurred to me that if I could and would skip these tracks, as I loaded them into my fancy Ipod, why not skip all the ones that weren't quite of the highest calibre (something I would never have dreamed of doing as I played those old compilation LPs)? What was the point of it all? Looking at it all laid out before me, flat, dead, in a long list, with all the recording dates solemnly documented, was it still music to listen to spontaneously, and for fun, or had it become a historical artefact to be endured in its entirety? Is this what Buddy would have wanted?

I have not been able to answer these questions, and do not intend to, though they disturb me still. But the upshot of this is - even though I have The Complete Buddy Holly, I find myself wishing it was The Incomplete Buddy Holly. I don't want to know all there is to know about it. I want to return to random, badly-chosen compilations of the great man's music, even those oddly fashioned by cycling journalists; I want to savour strange mixtures of tracks, and experience that sense that - as you listen to a particularly uneven collection - something good has been forgotten - but something else you might have forgotten has crept up where you least expected it. They say that enough is as good as a feast - and maybe I don't need everything all the time. Where's the fun in having everything?

The Complete Buddy Holly is indeed in THE HOUSE OF COBWEBS, and, don't get me wrong, I'm glad it is, but so far it has has been played less than those budget compilations it was supposed to supersede. I wonder if Roger St. Pierre has a copy in his saddlebag?