Saturday, July 28, 2007

In Appreciation of Frank Sinatra's Watertown

Frank Sinatra pretty much gave birth to the "concept album" in the early fifties, with discs like Swing Easy!, Songs for Young Lovers, and his greatest artistic triumph, In the Wee Small Hours.

And while his greatest moments on record came during his Capitol years (1954-1961), a lot of people seem to remember his mid-sixties Reprise years more fondly. Probably because a lot of his stuff wandered closer to "pop" music in those years, and can still be found on oldies radio now and then. And there's a ton of great stuff from that period, too. He was still flourishing creatively, with albums like The September of My Years (in which he confronts aging) and Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim (in which he tackles one of the world's greatest songbooks). And, of course, the Reprise years saw him release a string of classic hit singles: "It Was a Very Good Year" (#28 on the pop charts), "Strangers in the Night" (#1), Summer Wind (#25), "That's Life" (#4), "Somethin' Stupid" (#1), and "My Way" (#2). And, commercially speaking, he did have thirteen top ten albums between 1962 and 1969. Not bad in the era of the Beatles.

One often overlooked Sinatra gem, Watertown, didn't have a hit single, and didn't even hit the top 100 (peaking at #101 on the Billboard charts in 1969). It's probably his most overt concept album, and I think it's brilliant. It's a true song cycle, detailing the breakup of a marriage, and the lingering impact on the singer. I think it's probably Sinatra's last hurrah as an interprative singer. The pain and loneliness is palpable, and it's hard not to buy into the concept when you hear Sinatra's broken lamentations on what he's lost. The album was generally written by Bob Gaudio, who was responsible for many of the Four Season's biggest hits.

The album starts with the title track, with swirling baroque pop insturmentation, as Sinatra tours the lonely town and ends at the train station in the rain, as his wife leaves him behind. The last sound we hear is the train pulling out of the station and heading away.

From there it segues into "Goodbye (She Quietly Says)," in which Sinatra struggles with what's happening to him, detailing his wife's calm "goodbye" in a coffee shop: "She reaches out across the table, looks at me and quietly says, 'goodbye.'" It's clear that she's made her mind up, and nothing this man can say will change it, and also that she has no real interest in explaining herself. It's a very real feeling track.

The third track is "For A While," which opens with a brief crescendo of horns, dovetailing into Sinatra trying to live his life without her, finding moments of happiness in the day-to-day, reinforced with the recurring "I forget that I'm not over you--for a while." He's still feeling the pain, but finding it easier to get along without her.

One of the more painful tracks comes next, in "Michael and Peter." The song starts with a quiet examination of his children, noting the things the boys have in common with he and his ex-wife. After a pause, things pick up, and take the form of a letter written to his ex, letting her know how the house looks, what the boys are doing, and how life seems to be going in the world she left behind.

"I Would Be In Love (Anyway)" is a summery tune, with some lovely woodwinds fluttering in the background. Sinatra reflects that even had he known how things would end up, he would have been in love with her, anyway. Sinatra really stretches his pipes on this one, insisting he wouldn't change what happened to him. Do we believe him?

"Elizabeth" comes next, and we learn the name of the ex, as he fondly (and sadly) remembers the early days of their courtship.

This theme continues in the next track, "What a Funny Girl (You Used to Be)," as he relates his positive and loving impressions of the girl he married. The song sounds as if it's being sung with a melancholy smile, and you understand what the man saw in the girl he loved. But always lingering in the background is the paranthetical, "You Used to Be," reminding us that, in his mind, at least, something changed in this girl he remembers so fondly.

The narrator begins to unravel a bit with "What's Now is Now," a direct confrontation with the reality of his relationship's collapse. It sounds as if he's discovered an infidelity, and, now assuming he knows "what really happened," is earnestly pleading that it doesn't matter, she can come home, and all will be forgiven. Sinatra sells the hell out of the sentiment here, and it's almost heartbreaking to hear him plead so openly for a reconciliation that the listener understands is really out of his hands.

With "She Says," the shortest track on the album, Sinatra relates what his wife is up to now without commenary, as if he's reading a letter to the kids. This is punctuated by the children's chorus of, "so she saaaaays" that rises up at times during the song. And then a dramatic kicker concludes the song, hammered home by a quick burst of strings: "She says...she says...she's coming home."

And so, next we find Sinatra waiting for "The Train." The sun comes out, the kids are coming home from school, and she'll be back soon. He details all the things he'll do right this time, and all the things he's changed since she "went away." Told largely in the present tense, we hear the excitement in his voice as he watches the train pull in, and the passengers disembark, and he looks for his wife, only to realize--she's not there. And our hopes are dashed with his. This may be my favorite track from the album. There's a very modern sounding cello line running under much of the song that adds an urgent weight to things, and the outro bubbles along, seemingly oblivious to this final crushing blow.

Finally, the album and song cycle conclude with "Lady Day." It's time, he realizes, for the rain to clear up, and for the sun to come out again. Of course, we get no real indication that's going to happen...

All in all, it's one of my favorite albums. It's definitely a product of the times in which it was released, and it's much more of a light pop album than almost anything else Sinatra did. But it works for me. If you're so inclined, dig it up.

Con Days Go By

I'm not at San Diego, but I am home alone. I'm watching Welcome to the Parker on Bravo. All I can tell you is that Joey Big-Time, bartender, is an asshole.

Reading all of the announcements out of Comic-Con is mildly depressing. You want to be out there promoting stuff, talking your books up, and sitting in Kansas City while everyone else is doing that sucks. I've decided that, at the very least, I'm going to do something at Newsarama or CBR during Wizard World Chicago, outlining plans for the next few months. I can at least discuss Hawaiian Dick and '76. Hopefully by then I can discuss JSA CLASSIFIED in more detail, as well as my second DC tidbit (I really want to talk about the art team). I have my fingers crossed that a DC pitch is approved between now and Chicago, as well as a new creator-owned book that will make people go, "No shit??" Also waiting on contracts on some Oni stuff, so I could chat about those. And Jeremy and I have been talking with a publisher about what may be the coolest license out there (go ahead and guess! I dare you!). And, actually, a second almost as cool license. In a perfect world, this stuff would all come through soon, and I could breathe a little easier. Sadly, the world is not perfect, my friends.

One encouraging thing to emerge from Comic-Con (via late night phone calls) is that Universal has a director attached to the Leading Man, and he and his writing partner actually skipped San Diego to work on the script. I'm not exactly sure why Oni hasn't announced this, but I'm sure they or UTA (their representing agency) have their reasons. Whatever the case, I'm very happy with the guys involved, so I hope it all comes together.

Speaking of Oni, Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt's THE DAMNED was optioned by Dreamworks. If you haven't read this book, do so now. I read the first issue months ago, but sat down and read the trade last week, and it's as entertaining a comic as I've read in a while. A real rarity.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Dick Inspiration

Poking around an old hard drive, I found a couple of drawings I'd done that indirectly led to HAWAIIAN DICK's creation. I think these must have been from around 2000 (I started developing HD in late 2001, I think, and Steven Griffin came on board in Spring of 2002).

I had this notion of an occult/supernatural investigative team made up of fifties archetypes, meeting in the suburbs surrounding a city known for its tendency to attract odd occurrences.

I did a couple of concept drawings, just playing around:

I haven't thought about the concept in years, so I'm not sure I can remember all the details. But I think I had a playboy, an ex-boxer, a trumpet player, a suburban architect and a suburban housewife in the cast. They'd hold meetings around the architect's backyard barbecue, and then convene to the paneled basement for cocktails and planning sessions. The housewife's husband would come along to the meetings and drink himself silly while the others plotted.

Anyway, kicking around the fifties, cocktails and the supernatural eventually led me to HAWAIIAN DICK.

Monday, July 23, 2007

So Good to Me....

I'm fully expecting this coming week to be one of the worst in a long time, for a number of reasons.

Personal reasons first and foremost, followed by the fact that San Diego kicks off midweek, so it's all but pointless to attempt to do any business with publishers or editors. Waiting for word on projects, and you know that word will be delayed an extra week (at least) thanks to the world's largest gathering of the geek afflicted.

And, barring a miracle, I won't even be there.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Owl Eyes

Peck mentioned seeing an owl up close last night in his latest blog installment.

When we lived in our old house, I was lying in bed one night and heard what I thought was an owl, but it was a tremendously loud "hoot," so I wasn't sure. I hopped out of bed and took a peek out the window to see what I could see. There was a bit of moonlight, but as I looked around I couldn't see anything out of the ordinary.

Until I looked directly across from me, to the top of my neighbor's chimney, about fifteen feet away. There was the biggest fucking bird I've ever seen in my life sitting on the chimney staring back at me. Imagine a two foot tall bird with eyes like this:

Staring at you. At midnight.

I screamed like a woman.

Dry Spell Ends soon

Man, the one drawback about slowing down to make sure your books drop on time is that you disappear from the racks for a while.

I've had little coming out over the past few months. The Troma anthology here in the next month, which barely counts. But I just turned in solicitation copy for HAWAIIAN DICK #1:





The entire cast of Hawaiian Dick returns in this brand new ongoing series. Byrd meets a World War II flying squadron, who soon find themselves under attack by a Japanese fighter plane--in 1954! Meanwhile, old enemies begin to re-emerge. Art by TEK JANSEN and NORTHWEST PASSAGE artist Scott Chantler.


Feels good to get back in the game.

Also, just got off the phone with my DC editor, Mike Siglain, and it looks like the second thing I wrote (heretofore unmentioned) will probably debut in December, with the JSA CLASSIFIED arc debuting a month or two behind it. Ramon Perez sent me some of his inks for the first JSA issue last week, and they are fucking sweet. Mike loved them, too. Thank you, Ramon, for backing up my faith in you with brilliance.

As for the first thing, the art team may be in place this week. If so, I'll be a seriously happy camper. While I know I don't always control it with work-for-hire, I've been elated to be able to work with guys I want to work with to this point.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

True Dreams of Wichita

I'm going to Wichita--
far from this opera evermore

I don't usually talk about pitches here. Or anywhere, really. But I think I'm about to pitch something set in my longtime hometown of Wichita, Kansas.

It was suggested to me by an editor that I set a book in the South or a "red state," and I've been kicking it around. Frankly, Wichita is the virtual epitome of the heartland. Of the true Midwest. It's probably the largest "small" city in the Midwest. The largest city in Kansas, which is located in the literal center of the country. It's flat and windy, brutally hot in the summer, brutally cold in the winter. Spring and fall tend to pop in and out randomly for a day or two at a time, dancing briefly between nasty, hot days or frigid, blustery days. The people in Wichita lean just to the right of center generally, but, like anywhere, there are pockets that lean to the far right and to the far left.

but I must have been dreaming again 'cause there's nothing around the bend
except for that flat fine line, the Wichita skyline

Wichita was home to "BTK," a serial killer who snagged headlines a year or two ago when he came out of hiding and found himself busted. Also to the Carr brothers, two young black men who, one winter night, broke into a home in East Wichita and robbed, sexually tortured, beat, shot and ran over five young white people. One of the victims survived the ordeal to testify against the brothers. Of course, a less publicized event had occured a week or two earlier when five young black people were shot to death in a home in a less upscale part of town.

come to Wichita
won't be there in forty days
this is an evil land
brings a devil's cloud

One of the things about a city the size of Wichita (roughly 300,000 people) is that when a major event occurs, you can be positive someone you know was affected. So, as it would happen, one of the victims of the Carr brothers was the sister of a friend's girlfriend's roommate. My friend's girlfriend took the call from the Wichita DA the morning after the murders. And, so, the BTK killer was married to a woman who attended my in-laws' wedding. Wichita is really just a big, small town, and you can't really wander too far without running into someone you know, and, often, it's someone who knows a bit of your business. When my wife and I first found out she was pregnant, we told our parents (all of whom still live in Wichita), and that was it. Within three days, a friend from Wichita had called my wife, wondering why she hadn't been told "the big news."

Jack Straw from Wichita cut his buddy down
and dug for him a shallow grave and laid his body down

There's money in Wichita (which houses more than one corporate headquarters, and, as "the Air Capital," is the epicenter of the nation's aviation industry), and people with money will sometimes grow bored with Wichita's slightly limited entertainment options, and embark upon sloppy affairs or reckless second childhoods.

wiped-out wasted Wichita
watch out where I am
last time I's in Wichita
I did not give a damn

There's also something hard to define about Wichita. Something kind of melancholy. It's a place you either know you're leaving when you're young, or you know you'll never leave. The edges of town appear quickly, and within moments you can drive from a congested intersection to wide open highway, with nothing in view but stars and road. When I'm back in Wichita, it feels like I'm in a giant fishbowl. There's almost no way to get lost in Wichita. Drive a few blocks one way or the other, and you'll hit one of the numbered streets that runs East to West all the way through town, and you're on your way back to wherever it is you thought you wanted to be. And once you get there, it's often tempting to just keep right on driving into the endless skyline.

I hear you singing in the wire
I can hear you through the wire
and the Wichita lineman
is still on the line

Anyway, I'm working something up set in Wichita. If it flies, we'll see how the folks back home like it.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Tales of Ashcans Past

Digging around some old files from old computers today, I stumbled across this photo:

I'd forgotten about this. I printed up some special ashcans for James Sime's Isotope Lounge in San Francisco, and if memory serves he used them in some contest or another. James was our first big-time supporter, God bless him. The "Bruised Kidney for a Hawaiian Dick" drink recipe in the first trade sprang from an Isotope contest.

The date on these is November of 2002, a month prior to the first issue shipping. Seems like ages ago that I was enthused about self-promotion ahead of the game.

Having said that, Scott Chantler's doing great work on the new Dick book. I'm about to polish up solicitation copy for the new series, which is always fun...