Wednesday, May 31, 2006

"Mary Poppins Opens the Door" - P L Travers

"Mary Poppins Opens the Door" is the third book in PL Travers' surreal series about the tough, magical nanny and London's Banks family. Travers' books are, as is often the case, are much richer things than the Disney movie. Shamefully, the movie is such a powerful icon Travers' books seem almost unknown.

She was born in Australia in 1899 and lived until 1996. She was a poet, author, student of mystic Gurdjieff and comparative myths and religion. She knew Yeats and Eliot. All these things clearly influence the stories she told about Mary Poppins and are missing from the Julie Andrews' movie.

All the books so far (I've read 3 of 5) follow the same basic pattern. Mary appears mysteriously, corrals the Banks children into order and brings them on strange trips and adventures which she later makes no indication of having any knowledge of. Then she leaves as strangely as she arrived. The following book then opens with the Banks' household having fallen into disarray after Mary's disappearance which is promptly set aright by her return.

Mary is tough, opinionated (and always right), strong willed and smart. Everywhere she goes she is treated with great deference and respect. She most assuredly does not break into song and Bert does not speak in Dick Van Dyke's atrocious Cockney accent.

Check them out. All except the last one (Mary Poppins in Cherry Tree Lane and Mary Poppins and the House Next Door) are readily available.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Cheap Trick

In addition to Heart, I've been listening to a lot of surf music and Cheap Trick lately. They really are the great missing link between great power pop, proto-punk, and arena ready music. Their lyrics are off kilter and slightly subversive and they combine great musicianship with tight song writing and a great theatrical presentation; two oddballs with two blow-dried pretty boys.

From 1977's "Cheap Trick" through 1983's "Next Position Please" they released 8 dang near perfect albums. From the unfiltered roar of their debut, to the almost too clean "In Color" and "Heaven Tonight", followed by the utterly triumphant "At Budokan", the insane maxed out production of "Dream Police" and "All Shook Up" and finally the slow return to earth and hints of being mere humans with "One on One" and finally "Next Position Please", they just cranked out some of the most inspired and often goofy music of my youth.

After that they had some big and crappy hits (ie - "The Flame") and put out a bunch of unlistenable albums. They finally returned to form in 1997 with another "Cheap Trick" and a series of shows that culminated with their 25th anniversary (with a mega show in their hometown of Rockford, Illinois recorded as the album "Silver").

A fun band with more great albums than most other bands I can think of and great showmen. I wish there was a place for their sort of music in this day and age of crappy hip hop and sludge metal and awful American Idol style pop but there doesn't seem to be anymore.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Calvin and Hobbes

I actually sat down (or laid down in bed more often) and re-read all of Bill Watterson's "Calvin and Hobbes" compilations for the first time in a fair while. It's a little much to read ten years worth of a daily strip in a go but it was interesting and ultimately a bunch of fun.

Sure you get to see a a couple of gags get recycled and played around with a bunch of times of the strip's daily run but it only proves tiresome once in a while. But as way of recompense there's lots of dinosaurs, space aliens and insane sleigh rides.

Along the way you can clearly see the strip's evolution both graphically and writing wise. Over time the artwork becomes more refined (in the best sense) and more expansive. When Watterson gained the upperhand with the syndicate and papers he was able to draw his Sunday strips in great big panels and he let loose like a latter day George Herriman.

The stories become less gags and Dennis the Menace on steroids and take on a more surreal tone as well as direct commentaries on modern life. The strips ridiculing much of modern art and literary academia are priceless.

"Calvin and Hobbes" is often place in a triumvarate of daily strips that marked the last great age of daily comics. The other two were "Bloom County" and "The Farside". Try rereading "Bloom County" and I dare you not to be somewhat ashamed you loved as much as you think you did. I know I am. It's also hideously dated and I'm less willing to cut its deliberate "Doonesbury" stylistic ripoff much slack. "The Farside" still holds up as extremely funny (though I've read enough Kliban books to see some strong similarities), but it's pretty much a miss in the graphics department.

Rereading Watterson's collections reminds me how much I miss his daily bit of humor in my paper, particularly in a time when "Boondocks" is held up as some sort of work of brilliance and "Cathy" and "Garfield" still haunt us. Last year they released a great big collection of all the "Calvin and Hobbes" strips and I sort of want to get them. Till I take the monetarily stupid plunge I'll hold on to my time and use worn collections. Besides, with title like "Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat" and "Scientific Progress Goes "Boink"" I don't really want to give up those individual books.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

"The Jungle Book" - Rudyard Kipling

Forget singing bears and monkeys and think monkeys being eaten by snakes and limping man-eating tigers and sniveling jackals. Think brave little mongooses, brave horses and noble white seals. That's the reality of Kipling's "The Jungle Book" and not Phil Harris and Louie Prima. The real Shere Khan's nowhere near as silkily evil as George Sanders.

"The Jungle Book" is really a collection of short stories; 3 about Mowgli, the boy raised by wolves and 4 others about the lives and opinions of other animals, most notably Rikki Tikki Tavi the Mongoose. For all the anthropomorphization inherent in talking animals these creatures live in the real world where nature's "red in tooth and claw." There is death, both justified and simply as a matter of fact in the daily course of nature. Some of the tales are also interesting insights into life during the Raj.

The stories are exciting and beautifully told. Kipling has too often been dismissed as just a stooge for imperialism but here's a place where that arguement won't even come up. If you only know the story from the Disney movie do your self a favor and read the originals. They're true children's stories from a time when children weren't just spoon fed self congratulatory crap.