Graturday (Extended Get Up and Go Mix)

I didn’t post a Graturday post this Saturday because I was busy having an absolutely smashing weekend. I have a lot to be thankful for, so I’m going to weave it into this tale of my adventure in…WICHITA, KS!

But first, let’s go back a few years. Through my online friend Bonnie Burton, I found out that Jane Wiedlin, guitarist, back-up singer and songwriter for the Go-Go’s, was on Twitter and was a massive science fiction nerd. I immediately started following her. Jane tweeted about Jon Stewart being her “#imaginaryboyfriend” and said she wanted to get that hashtag really going on Twitter. I tweeted at her, “Would you be my #imaginarygirlfriend?”, and much to my amazement, she replied with, “Yes! I’d be honored!” This began an exchange on Twitter in which she would often refer to me as her “imaginary boyfriend” (or “IBF”). Meanwhile, back in 1983, 13-year-old Josh was utterly astonished at how this could be happening.

Jane was a guest at the 2010 Planet Comicon in Kansas City, promoting her (sadly short-lived) comic, Lady Robotika. The first day of the con, I nervously walked up to her booth, fully expecting that she wouldn’t remember who I was at first. (Surely she gets a lot of people tweeting at her, so why would she remember li’l ol’ me?) I stood in front of her and said, “Hey, it’s my imaginary girlfriend!” She smiled and said, “Josh!”, then came out from behind the table, gave me a hug, and posed for a photo with me. She insisted Berkie and I stay and chat with her for a bit and asked us to come to her panel the next day. Which we did. In the middle of the panel, she saw me sitting in the middle of the second row, stopped what she was saying, waved to me and said, “Hi. Josh!” She then informed the entire room that I was her Twitter friend. I blushed. Berkie tweeted about me being a rockstar.

Since then, Jane and I have continued to tweet to each other, usually about nerdy stuff like Star Wars or Star Trek, sometimes about more serious stuff. I have been very grateful for Twitter for giving me the chance to interact with someone who I consider a major star, but on a level where we’re both equals, just goofy nerds becoming friends.

A couple of weeks ago, I found out the Go-Go’s would be starting their new tour with a show on the last night of the Wichita River Festival. What with it being so close, I absolutely had to go. I never gotten to see the band perform when I was younger, and their recent tours haven’t taken them anywhere particularly close and affordable. I sent Jane a direct message on Twitter to let her know I was going, and she said, “I’ll get you some after-show backstage passes so I can say hi!” Not “so you can meet the band and bask in our glory” but “so I can say hi.” I asked 13-year-old Josh how he felt about that, and he said, “ASKJMFTHPFRTLN!!”

On Saturday morning, my daughter and I lazed around the house for a bit before getting in the car and driving down to Wichita. (Sadly, Berkie couldn’t go, due to work and other commitments.) I’m very grateful I had Morgan with me, because although she’s a 16-year-old, she’s very calm and easy-going. When we got lost in Wichita trying to find our motel (thank you, Google Maps!), Morgan merely shrugged and said we’d find our way eventually. It helped that she was using her smartphone to navigate. She makes an excellent co-pilot. I’m also very grateful for pharmaceuticals, because when we left for Wichita, I was rocking a powerful, stabbing headache and was feeling anxious about that night’s plans. I loaded up on decongestants, ibuprofen, anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds and was feeling much better by the time we reached Wichita.

When we finally found our motel and got checked in, I pulled out my laptop, got online, and found a message from Jane that the plans had changed. “Meet us at our hotel, in the lobby or bar, after the show.” Ummmm, OK? Like…this is my life? Meeting the guitarist from one of the biggest bands in the ’80s at her hotel after a show? It seemed so unreal.

Morgan and I got to the River Festival as Me Like Bees were finishing their set as part of the “Go-Go’s Beach Party.” (I’d never heard of Me Like Bees before, but they were quite good.) It was starting to lightly rain, but I didn’t think much of it until a woman came on stage and announced that a thunderstorm was heading in from the west and should be hitting the area in around 15 minutes. They didn’t consider the weather safe for performing or spectating, so they were asking everyone to head inside the convention center to wait out the storm. Despite this setback, the show did go on, albeit about an hour and a half later than scheduled, with rain still coming down at the beginning of the show.

It was their first show of their tour, the weather was pretty miserable, but the Go-Go’s put on a hell of a show. Yes, they played all of their big hits–“Get Up and Go,” “Vacation,” “Head Over Heels,” “Our Lips Are Sealed,” and “We Got the Beat,” which they mashed up with Kiss’ “Rock and Roll All Nite”–as well as classic songs from their early albums, Belinda’s “Mad About You” (my favorite of her solo songs), the song Jane sang with Sparks, “Cool Places” (with Belinda singing Russell Mael’s part), and a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black.” Jane wore a classic Star Trek dress (blue, which maybe makes her Nurse Christine Chapel?), further endearing her to me. Belinda commanded the stage effortlessly; she just radiates this sort of zen confidence. It was also a lot of fun to see the way Belinda and Jane interacted with each other on stage. There seems to be a lot of love and respect there. Meanwhile, Charlotte, Gina, and their new bassist (whose name I don’t know) solidly rocked out for the entire show. (If you’ve never seen her on drums, Gina Schock is a fucking powerhouse. Seriously.) By the end of the show, I was all pumped up on rock and roll, bouncing down the streets of Wichita.

Morgan and I walked to the hotel where the band was staying and found Jane hanging out with members of her boyfriend’s extended family who live in the area. She jumped up and greeted me with a hug and a “How are ya, buddy?” She was very nice to Morgan and introduced us to her other guests (saying proudly, “Josh and I met on the internet!). We chatted about the show, then Jane posed for picture with everyone. Meanwhile, 13-year-old Josh was screaming, “THERE IS NO WAY THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING!” But Jane is so sweet and funny and modest, it all felt completely natural to be hanging out with her. Thank you, internet, for making this experience possible!

The next morning, Morgan and I hit The Donut Whole to get some breakfast (and tasty treats to bring back to Berkie). The Donut Whole is ZOMFG AMAZING! I would spend so much time there, drinking coffee and eating donuts, if I lived in Wichita. It’s probably best for my wallet and waistline that I don’t. But damn, their donuts are tasty! Thank you, Donut Whole!

I’m so grateful to everything and everyone who contributed to this fantastic weekend I had! What a wacky, wonderful, nerdy world I live in!

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Share With Me

What’s exciting you right now? What books, comics, games, movies, TV series, music, plays, art movements, people, places, things are thrilling and delighting you these days? If you’re excited about stuff, please share it with me (and others) in the comments. Let us all know what you’ve been reading, watching, playing, experiencing that is getting you all excited.

Here, I’ll go first. I’m currently reading (and listening to the audiobook of) The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I am madly in love with this book, savoring every word and sentence and paragraph. I’m also reading DC Comics’ Earth 2 and really enjoying the hell out of it. The current season of Castle is, I think, the best yet, and the new season of Grimm is really building into a great show. Also, the new crowdfunded album by Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra, Theatre is Evil, is so good, I started crying tears of joy the first time I listened to it.

Now it’s your turn. Share your excitement with me!

Love, Peace and Soul

Today is the first day of African-American History Month. It’s also the day the world learned that Don Cornelius, the creator and most famous host of Soul Train, committed suicide.

I hadn’t thought about Cornelius in ages, but Soul Train was huge for us kids of the ’70s and ’80s. I’m about as Caucasian as they come, and my parents’ tastes in music have never been…funky. Soul Train was my primary introduction to Afro-American music and, more importantly, culture. Soul Train was a direct result of  the Civil Rights Movement and “Black is Beautiful.” It didn’t just showcase Black music and Black dancing, it showed African-Americans proudly being themselves. They had big afros. They wore stylish clothes (that would probably be called “urban” today) and African-influenced fashions. They were proudly and joyously not trying to fit in to “mainstream” White culture. (As I remember it, Soul Train was also free of a lot of the clownish caricatures of African-Americans that sadly dominated much of American TV and movies of the time.) Soul Train was unapologetically in your face without being confrontational and angry. Soul Train was Black Pride while also being inclusive and multi-cultural. Soul Train was the embodiment of Emma Goldman’s “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” Damn, it was cool and funky and beautiful!

I’m sad and sorry you felt you had to leave us, Don Cornelius. But your legacy lives on. I wish all of you love, peace…and soul.

Wanna Live Underground in the Third Age

Just before the epic move, I decided I needed some comfort reading to balance the stress in my life, so I started rereading The Hobbit. Besides superhero comics and Saturday morning cartoons (especially Scooby-Doo), the Rankin-Bass animated adaptation of The Hobbit was one of the first things to really catch my imagination. I read the book and filled my head with fantasies of maps, runes, moon-writing, elves, dwarves, goblins, hobbits, wizards, spiders and dragons.

So I started rereading The Hobbit. Then I heard about the forthcoming tabletop RPG The One Ring, a new Middle-earth game set right after The Hobbit. The more I found out about it, the more excited I got. I broke down and bought it (the PDF came immediately, but the physical game should arrive some time this month), more jazzed about a role-playing game than I’ve been in a long time. To celebrate and help me get even more into a Middle-earth mindset, I finally started reading and listening to an audiobook of The Silmarillion.

I’ve never read The Silmarillion before, but I’ve quickly come to LOVE IT SO VERY VERY MUCH!  I wish I’d read it when I was a kid. I think I would have had trouble with some of the language and the more boring bits, but it’s got gods, elves, dwarves, orcs, giant dogs and wolves, giant spiders, werewolves, vampires, weird magic and epic quests! My inner child is kind of bouncing up and down in his seat just writing that.

(Right now, I’m imagining Jack Kirby had done a comic book adaptation of The Silmarillion. It would have been one of the BEST! THINGS! EVER!)

With all this Middle-earth stuff going into my eyeballs and being absorbed into my brain, I have the major themes of Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings score playing over and over in my head, along with some of the songs from Rankin-Bass’ The Hobbit. Strangely, the Trevor Jones/David Bowie music from Labyrinth has also started playing in my head a lot, mixing with Howard Shore’s score. (Yes, I do realize that Bowie’s songs from Labyrinth are extremely silly and so far down the list of Good Bowie Songs, it’s not even funny. But I adore the movie, and the songs are part of that adoration.) I don’t really understand why Labyrinth is mashing up with Lord of the Rings in my head, but it is, in a fun and powerful way.

The really goofy thing? This entire blog post was written just to provide the context for me to say that Labyrinth and Lord of the Rings has gotten all mixed up in my mind. I was going to tweet it, but I felt that without the proper context, it was just kind of lame. So you all get a blog post instead. Hooray!

Now write me some comments worthy of Mordor!

Spaceage Daydream: Lady Robotika

I do not hide the fact that I am a Jane Wiedlin fanboy. She’s cute, she’s funny, she’s geeky, she’s friendly. And when I was younger, so much younger than today, I thought the Go-Go’s were incredibly cool. (Well, I still think that.) She’s been heavily promoting her new comic, Lady Robotika, for months now. (And not quite so heavily promoting it for the past couple of years.) The first issue finally came out last week (co-written by Jane and Bill Morrison, with art by Bill, Tone Rodriguez and Dan Davis), and I bought it mostly to support this awesome lady, but also because it sounded like a pretty cool comic. I’ll admit, though, that I was a little nervous that the comic would turn out to be…well, kind of lame. I mean, I thought Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park would be cool, and boy, was it not!

I’m happy to say I had nothing to worry about. Lady Robotika is many things, but lame isn’t one of them. Is it corny? Yup. Is it goofy? A little bit, yeah. It’s also well-paced, lighthearted fun, with lots of snappy dialogue and amusing pop culture references. As far as science fiction goes, it’s no Blade Runner, but it is kind of The Last Starfighter meets Barbarella, which is very OK with me! I read too many serious comics these days. Having something as cheerfully fun as Lady Robotika helps balance things out.

My only concern now is: how many people out there are fans of SF & superhero comics featuring lighthearted, angst-free adventure stories? I hope there are a good number, because I’d like Lady Robotika to continue with healthy sales. And can we have some more comics that are this much fun? Please?

Kings of the Wild Frontier

I was 7 years old when Elvis Presley, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, died. I still remember hearing it on the news. Elvis’ music hadn’t had much of a direct impact on me, but I knew who he was. Everyone knew who Elvis was. And his death was an utter shock, a moment of frozen time and disbelief. As time has gone by, I haven’t really ever been an Elvis fan, but I still have to acknowledge the cultural impact of his life and death.

Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, died yesterday. He was older than Elvis when Elvis died, but not by much. I was never a huge Michael Jackson fan. I never owned Thriller or any of his other albums. Like most people, I made jokes about Jackson’s strange life and behavior. But as someone who grew up in the ’80s, I’d be lying if I said Michael Jackson had no impact on me, and I really did like a number of his songs. Like Elvis, Michael Jackson impacted everyone. And his death is an utter shock. I can barely believe he’s gone.

These two kings, Elvis and Michael, lived strange lives that just got stranger. They were twisted, tortured, abused and abusive, living in baroque bubbles of unreality. Is this what it takes to be a king in pop culture? Maybe. Despite the accusations of terrible, abusive, possibly criminal behavior, I feel sorry for these two men. They led sad, carnival-mirror lives that took them from this world at an early age. At the same time, they touched–and continue to touch–millions of people all over the world in brilliant ways.

Pop culture is a funny thing.