Today marks the last episode of the Legacy Music Hour podcast. Every week, comedians Brent Weinbach and Rob F. Switch played, dissected, and introduced scores of 8-bit and 16-bit music from 80s and 90s video games.
LMH changed my life. Let it change yours.
Poster designed by Vic Roman
I discovered the Legacy Music Hour pretty recently actually – last January for their 1990 episode – and instantly became obsessed. I mean, look… I really enjoy those old chunes and can listen to the few I’ve managed to amass over the years. There I was, sitting long hours at the drawing table and marathoning podcast after podcast. I had embarked on a massive project and was running out of content to listen to (I’m still considering baseball games or just AM radio static hums). But then there it was – a show that talked about a very specific interest of mine extensively and passionately. I was hooked. User for life. It made a world of difference.
If you weren’t an Atari/Ninetndo/Sega kid, there’s a chance you might not like this stuff. It’s not a strict generational thing, though; there are young musicians making original Bit music (and rock bands that cover the old ones, too), but there’s nothing quite like the high degree of quality from composers that were limited by technology and in service of a new, juvenile type of pop entertainment. We were bound to end up with a lot of content at the rate video games grew. Brent and Rob, week in week out, looked back to separate the wheat from the chaff.
The highlights include the first Experimental episode and all the Sports (every single one). With episodes like New Age, Elevator Music, and Slow Jams, what else does one need? Let’s not ignore Movies, Horror and Fighting. Oh, and Toys! If it wasn’t for the Toys episode, I wouldn’t be aware of this masterpiece. Don’t like listening to voices? They got you covered.
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From my personal collection: I’ve always loved this Quick Man theme – every single second of Mega Man 2, really – and its Latin Freestyle flavor is so obvious to me. I see the dots and I don’t think it’s my nostalgia that’s connecting them. There has to be some shared sensibility at work here. I even hear it in industrial music from the same era. cevin Key must’ve traded notes with Keiji Yamagishi and Ryuichi Nitta.
Oh, and Yellow Magic Orchestra or Ryuichi Sakamoto? They’re the godfathers of this bit world.
If you’re gonna bring Latin Freestyle to the table, you’ll eventually mention Depeche Mode (according to Miami DJs in ’87) and New Order. Then you have to mention Afrika Bambaataa, which loops right back to Latin Freestyle. You can say I’m just making convenient connections to fit my preferred tastes, and I can live with that! But I do think there’s something more to it than a personal checklist.
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I don’t mean to digress. I guess I’m putting off the inevitable. It actually just happened. Today, hours ago. The Legacy Music Hour is over.
The weekly shot of fresh 8 & 16-bit won’t be coming around anymore, but the LMH archives can and should be combed through. They’ve made it easy for us: iTunes, Nerdist, or through their very own impeccably documented blog (in which they’ll occasionally update). Keep up with them on YouTube and Facebook, in case they decide to throw a west coast dance party (which they do every so often; I haven’t wanted to live in California this bad since I first saw Point Break).
Gentlemen, as a creature of habit, a child of the 80s, and a person who has to sit for long periods of time, I will sorely miss this show. But who can be sad when faced with the many great episodes you guys spent your energies on? Every track was handled with loving detail, thorough research, and genuine humor. This is a well deserved break.
There’s always the replay button. Thanks for reminding us of that.
It’s not uncommon to find me going through podcast after podcast these days. If it has a person with recording capabilities and they’ve pressed record, I’m your man. If you emit sounds and then you file those sounds under “opinions”, then go ahead and slap a clever title on it; I’m probably the right guy for you. Comics, music, comedy, whatever, I’ll take it. But there’s one that rules them all. The one to beat is Gelmania.
“You ain’t worth nothing but the money in your pocket and the articles written about you. That’s where it starts and that’s where it stops. Don’t think for a second that you are like me… [I’m an artist].” – Hustle, Brett Gelman
You know who else makes with the podcasts? Tucker Stone*. He’s knee deep in it and loving it. I mentioned to Tucker how pathetic I felt when I recently read a couple of 70s horror comic books and immediately felt the need to post about it, a hunger to document and expose this totally quiet and tiny moment of genuine pleasure and make a– a thing about it. As if I had to validate my sense of place in the world by appropriating some crappy little images and pumping them into an empty, fleeting beat in time, simultaneously failing to absorb true value and reflecting cultural emptiness.
House of Mystery #245, September, 1976. There’s a story called A Talent For Murder in there. David V. Reed was hacking it out under the name Coram Nobis, but artist Leopoldo Duranona is the clear winner on this one. Wait, the art is better than the writing? In a comic book? WHAT… a fucking shocker.
There was another story in that issue that took two writers (one of them a lawyer), but it was drawn by Alex Niño, which automatically catapults it to greatness.
Haunted #31, January, 1977. I do indeed like the late Tom Sutton. So much so that I clipped an interesting bit of history from his TCJ interview. His Planet of the Apes spread is a classic, an unbelievable effort, and I loved his short story in a Daredevil annual. But I really like the slapped together experiments he used to write and draw for Charlton. Check this page out… it’s like a Trevor Von Eeden pages trying to do 70s Toth, except it’s between the two. I’m a fan of low budget risk taking in comics.
Oh, you, too? You also like the the more unique low budget attempts in comics? Well, I recently hosted Dennis Fujitake Week, where I wrote a few brief notes and scanned a whole lot of material featuring this amazing, underrated fanzine-artist-turned pro. Like I mention in one of the posts, I’m so taken by this late 70s era of comic book fandom (which Fujitake fully represents, I think), and I know it’s borderline obnoxious to dwell on the past in that fetishistic way, a past I was clearly not a part of, but I can’t help notice the visceral excitement on these smelly pieces of newsprint. That shit just looked more fun than anything.
Enough about comics. Here’s another obsession: Ferrante and Teicher’s Denizens of the Deep album, which is the only music on repeat around here. I thought it’d be easier to find any clips of this rare album online, so I’ve put up a couple of examples:
I did find this video which shows the duo masterfully playing and manipulating their pianos to achieve those specific sounds. Ferrante and Teicher are mostly known as schmaltzy lounge composers, but there was a brief period of groundbreaking brilliance that cannot be shared enough.
Ah, music. Music! I’ve been fantasizing about playing drums in a band again. I have a very specific sound that I want to help make, though, something out of a TJ Hooker scene change, dirty but full of chops. I want to make music that will make me wish I was back in 1980 NYC getting blown somewhere in Time Square. A mid-life crisis can wait, I want this now. Or at least until I finish writing and drawing some comic books.
*Be sure to check out my upcoming podcast with Tucker called Truth Telling In Mark Making. Catch it!
It took director Jennie Livingston several years to complete her debut film, the great 1991 documentary of the underground 80s New York City drag scene and its ball culture, Paris Is Burning. That timeline makes sense given Livingston’s level of care and attention to detail, as well as the difficulties of funding and finalizing such a controversial project. Touching upon the black/latino gay & transgender community is a huge undertaking in itself; developing a narrative for mainstream consumption couldn’t be anything but challenging.
In documenting ball culture, Livingston gives her subject matter the room it needs to address the details of this specific environment, but she peers just long enough to respect its boundaries. It’s a direct piece of work, reflecting on the participant’s lifestyle with little to no fanfare, no ambiguity. It’s a blunt mix of glamour and dirt and style and sweat. You can easily imagine being cramped up in those tiny NYC apartments in the middle of the summer, but you’d be too busy hanging onto every word coming out of Pepper LaBeija’s mouth to notice.
In a move that will surprise no one, I drew correlations between ball culture and the comics scene I deal with. It wasn’t my intention to do that – I enjoyed the movie on levels that have nothing to do with comics – but I noticed a couple of faint philosophical approaches that can be applied to our clubhouse. It’s a testament to the small group pulling together in order to move forward. That’s the Hallmark version of it but it doesn’t make it any less accurate.
Plus, any movie that starts with Noel’s freestyle classic Silent Morning automatically wins.
The film opens up with a father’s admonishment, “You have three strikes against you in this world… You’re black and you’re male and you’re gay. You’re going to have a hard fucking time. If you’re going to do this, you’re going to have to be stronger than you’ve ever imagined.” Paris Is Burning isn’t a mere portrayal of New York City drag in the 80s, that’s the obvious byline and it’s almost cheap to describe it as such. The real story is about being part of a subculture within a subculture. Despite or maybe in response to those three strikes (and other express concerns such as poverty and AIDS), this community developed its own nurturing, albeit competitive, social pool.
Gender roles and sexual identity operate as more than expression. It aims to reach for truth through an outside role. I don’t assume to know anybody’s motivation, nor do I want to describe it in blanket terms, but the members of this community do whatever they must to feel comfortable in their own skin, sometimes within roles that aren’t easy to hide, roles that shouldn’t be hidden to begin with.
The issue gets more complicated when you take gender identity issues and factor in the class rule of the times. Reaganomics didn’t cultivate an atmosphere that was kind to the poor, and although the glitz and the grime mingled in select club scenes, class crossovers were transient affairs. Fortune was not the domain of minorities, which makes the individual dreams expressed in Paris more fantastical than one would normally imagine. Whether it was dreams of fame or living a “regular” family life, they were always tempered with the more immediate thrill of shining at the ball. Dorian Corey put it best, “No magazine is gonna run up a cover of me if I go to a premiere. But it’s still a fame. It’s a small fame, but you absorb it, you take it, and you like it.”
Small fame is a version of something that’s just a placeholder for what we all want on a primal level, to be loved and accepted and recognized, and it may be too much to ask for. We may feed that longing for acceptance with cheap, empty dosages of pretend interaction, but it’s only because we need to feel something. If you press the issue, you’ll discover that Big Time Fame calls out to the worst in people, making them do deplorable things in the name of something that promises to love them back. As for people in the moment, though, like me writing this and you reading it, we look to reward ourselves by way of looking for proof that we are indeed loved. I’m still not quite sure if that’s an ugly thing or not.
Fame, how can something that has been cheapened still have so much power, and yet it never really meant anything?
Waiting to be famous is one of the subtexts in Paris, which in some regards isn’t unlike the Decline of the Western Civilization Part 2: The Metal Years directed by Penelope Spheeris. As far as movies that should be in print, you cannot find one more deserving that Decline 2. I clearly remember almost every featured band was shamelessly upfront about wanting nothing more than fame. The heartbreaking thing about Decline 2 is that you saw these future failures being unreasonably confident and sure that their success was simply a matter of time. Believing in yourself is one thing, but buying your own bullshit to the point where it’s probably masking some deeper damage is the stuff of sociopaths. There is something weird and sad about looking back knowing those bands’ trajectory, how they never made it within their own genre, and how that genre itself barely made it at all (Spheeris brilliantly ended the movie with a live Megadeth performance, perhaps as her final contrarian statement on the matter). That bulletproof certainty can cripple the people without the ability to call themselves out on their ridiculousness, and that’s the difference between those metal bands and the queens from 80s New York City.
Those attending the ball knew where they stood, as shaky a position as that was, and that small corner meant the world to them. It was a corner that went through many changes in a small amount of time, the way a vibrant and dangerous neighborhood makes room for a safer, richer citizen.
The spirit of that corner changes as it could no longer addresses the same concerns. But the fact that even the purest and most exciting of scenes will evolve into something arguably less magical makes it that much more special. It’s a thing that happens in the moment, and it’s usually gone by the time you notice it.
Those that make up the small world of comics may get genuinely excited about projects and creators and events, but it doesn’t come free from its own set of nonsense. Every art form has its fair share of problems, but I think comics are too small to survive this continued assault on ethical concerns, a treacherous value system, and a steady supply of self promotional delusion. This can be summarized as baby drama, especially if you throw in petty backbiting, but it still messes with our enthusiasm and stunts our growth.
It is the last thing I want to do, to compare 80s gay minority conflict to the troubles in comics, but the immediate connections I made were that both of our tiny worlds are made up of fragile egos driving an art form that’s punctuated by blips of innovation. I sensed joy and achievement in witnessing those ball competitions, especially knowing that poor kids had assembled gowns out of scraps just to shine for a night. Cartoonists want to shine in that spotlight as much as the next, but it stings when that spotlight is considered useless by the majority of those inhabiting that same small world.
It’s possible that we’re just desperately grappling onto something that’s shrinking, something that promises little more than diminishing returns. How can we expect our very own corner of the world to nurture us in economical and artistic ways when it clearly isn’t built to do so?
Therefore, all we’re left with is our own relationship to the medium. We have to dig deeper and find out what our little corner means to us on a personal level, outside of baby drama, outside of small fame. We can’t put any stock into those things that suck our enthusiasm dry. We have to ask ourselves what the point of all of this is, and then have the courage to be honest with the answers we come up with. We may not like them, but our survival as participants in this unequivocally complex medium rests on it.
Paris Is Burning, it’s a beautiful and brutal film. I can’t stop thinking about it. I would’ve been fine watching it once and tallying it as a movie I liked, but it wasn’t built for such passive treatment. It speaks to a larger thing that’s made more potent in context of the underdog.
“I always had hopes of being a big star. As you get older you aim a little lower and say oh, well, you still might make an impression. Then you think [you’ll leave] a mark on the world if you just get through it, and if a few people remember your name then you left a mark. You don’t have to bend the whole world. I think it’s better to just enjoy it, pay your dues. If you shoot an arrow and it goes real high… hooray for you.” –Dorian Corey
An old friend of mine, Erik Mallo, is currently looking to recruit musicians for his original recordings. I was more than happy to tread some familiar ground by making a flyer for his endeavor. I like his music a whole lot, so it was my pleasure to assist him in any way I could.
Click on the image below to read the fine print & feel free to pass it around to other musicians.
Since I haven’t done a flyer in many years, I thought it’d be interesting to pull out some of my older ones. Whether it was for the Knitting Factory or for a pal’s band, drawing flyers was a dominant preoccupation for me. With this new one complete and in looking back at those from long ago, I came to a few conclusions.
First, it’s easy to see that my approach was text-heavy. These things required tons of pertinent information and I also liked the idea of sneaking in mild jabs at the bands and in jokes along the borders. I imagined someone taking a flyer and needing to read something on the subway, so giving them their money’s worth was the way to go.
Secondly, I clearly had an aversion to color. I was resigned to being a strict black & white artist. I didn’t think color would save these pages from looking bland, muddled, or incomprehensible. I certainly didn’t think it hindered me as an artist. I was reacting to what I saw everywhere, the carnival colored rock & roll imagery. I would see pieces by “poster” “kings” like Kozik or KayWolf and scoff at how bland it all was. Every flyer and poster I saw was either generic and boring or derivative and lacking any thematic reason to exist. I thought I was tapping into some new shit by cramming every page with stuff, daring you to take a second from your precious time to hold still and read a word or two.
Looking back, however, I would’ve handled things a little differently. I wouldn’t necessarily sacrifice information for design (even with today’s ultra accessibility), but I would definitely play a lot more with color and patterns. I would scrap the in jokes and focus on making a strong image, especially if the band was already well-known and the poster was just another piece of merch for them to sell. It’s interesting, though, that with this new flyer I tried to make a solid design while incorporating ALL of the information that was given to me (which was of upmost importance). I added no cutesy details and tried to compress the lettering wherever I could. I’m happy with the way it turned out.
Now here’s the old stuff in chronological order, from 2001-2005…
Summer’s here and for the occasion, I made a mixtape for the Inkstuds comics show. Download it now, hop on your bike, and cruise away. There are many other great mixes on the site, so there’s a lot of new music to fill your radio.
That’s not all. If you scroll up, you’ll see Brandon Graham’s amazing collection of comics he likes. It’s more than just comics he likes, it’s an impressive display of great cartooning that spans genre and generation. I can rant and comment on his selections forever, but see for yourself:
Thanks for having me on the show, guys!
Long ago, there came the day when I stopped collecting comic books and started getting into music and girls. It’s a typical story that most boys go through, but it wasn’t that clean cut for me. Comic book reading was a difficult habit to break, and I wasn’t really getting into music anyway. A few friends of mine were eager for me to join them in whatever role they were adapting for themselves: “C’mon, are you a rocker or a hip-hopper?” However, When I first heard the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Mother’s Milk” album through a friend, the decision was made for me: I just liked them and that was it. I was hooked.
I recorded my friend’s “Mother’s Milk” CD onto a tape and played it over and over, day after day. The music sounded like nothing I had ever heard before and I immediately fell in love with those weird, infectious sounds. The band members were all these crazy looking, uninhibited beams of energy and sex and fun. I was 13 and these bare chested goofballs were my idols. I never owned any music prior to that ratty cassette, but that musical discovery led to an obsession. I eventually hunted their older albums down and absorbed them the way I did my already worn out tape. I was especially drawn to the the cover art to their self titled debut which was created by Gary Panter. I hadn’t drawn a single comic book image in months, but I suddenly found myself doodling his Chili Peppers characters all over my school books.
Never hesitant to seek and nerd out over the details of something like this, I asked Gary to shed some light on how he ended up working on that cover. He was kind and generous enough to divulge the details of his involvement:
“Eric Greenspan, who I had met when he bought a painting of mine from a show at Steve Samiof’s (editor of SLASH) SHOFA, on Larchmont Avenue in LA, was really into reggae music and rock. He managed Steel Pulse and later Ice-T and he was always avidly looking for new stuff. He kept telling me about a new band that performed naked and were great. I had heard of them and seen Flea at the premiere of Penelope Spheeris’ Suburbia. He started working with them and finally I went with Eric to see them and they were really great. They lived in my neighborhood and I saw them around at punk shows and stuff and on the street stopping traffic by walking into it. Not a great idea unless you really don’t care. They knew my work from SLASH; I knew the art director, Henry Marquez, socially, as I was schlepping my portfolio around and meeting people, and Eric was another connection. Can’t remember if Henry was art director for both records.”
My teenage brain couldn’t even register how this cover was made, let alone thought up, and even when Gary explains it… it still can’t.
“I made it kind of like the paintings I was doing then, which was a series of thinned acrylic paintings on heavy paper that suggested bad print jobs I saw on the border of Mexico when I was a kid. And bad American print jobs, like the printing on Popcycle wrappers. I went to a rehearsal, which was terrific, and drew them and tried to figure out cartoonish versions of them that alluded to Weirdo plastic kits by Roth and Mouse which to me were powerful styles. Being the only audience for a Chili Pepper rehearsal was swell, especially because they tried stuff in rehearsal that they would never do on stage (which was true of other bands I watched and drew in rehearsal, like the Weirdos and the Screamers), like playing stuff too fast or too slow and doing inside joke chants and stuff.”
Gary also did the cover art for their third album “Uplift Mofo Party Plan” (above) which quickly became my favorite Chili Peppers album upon listening to it. The cover art (mostly covered up by a big picture of the band) is totally different from the first one yet still captures the spirit of the band. Was it mere coincidence that their sensibilities meshed so well?
“I knew them a little better then and they told me things that they wanted on the cover, which were images from songs and also the big car that they had pimped out with fake fur, toys, flashing lights, etc. They took me out to the car on the lot of the record company and I made some notes and sketches. They were a big band by then, so I asked to do a gold foil or gold ink overlay of lines, which I drew separately from the painting. Bigger bands got bigger printing budgets.”
I recently came across a photo of the original album art for “Uplift…”, a 50-inch wide psychedelic gouache drawing on paper. Apparently there was a note on the bottom of the art board: Please Return Art to Gary Panter. It was auctioned off at Christie’s (est. $10,000 – $15,000) a couple of years ago.
“Well. I don’t remember if I gave it away, sold it, or left it so long in a friends garage that she finally had a garage sale. I did not get anything from that resale. The money part of art is generally an illusion. The making of the art and the meeting of people and seeing it float around the world are the neat part.”
The Red Hot Chili Peppers have been a huge institution in rock music for many years now, something far removed from their vibrantly rough identity of the 80s. I’m too emotionally invested in that material to hear them as anything but the greatest music ever; those early records still give me a thrill after all this time. I always found it funny that Gary Panter, an icon who I later discovered to be a critical figure in cartooning, was the artist who visually shaped the Chili Peppers in my mind’s eye during my no-comics-allowed days. These covers are mere pebbles in his expansive body of work, but they’ll always be prime examples of what the world first offered me outside of comics.