Neil Peart

The music of Rush is supposed to be a love-it-or-hate-it thing, but somehow I managed to fall in the middle.  Long-term, devoted fans don’t always love their early ‘80s material but I think the Permanent Waves-Moving Pictures-Signals era was magnificent. Alex Lifeson’s guitar had a lovely chorus pedal sound which meshed with the synthesizers that the band was experimenting with, and brought out the best in some of their best songs.

It’s thanks to Neil Peart that I learned something about music.  A couple of high school jazz band friends had whatever the current Rush concert video was at the time, and could not say enough about Peart’s drumming.  One of these guys was a drummer, and the other a serious Rush fan, and I realized that some folks like music not for any song by that artist, but because of the sheer musicianship.

And I hope Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson keep going in some form.

Rest in peace, Neil Peart.

Remembering from 2018 . . .

Some folks no longer with us.

I meant to comment on Harlan Ellison’s passing. A writer who influenced so many people, and probably as much for his never dull, frequently entertaining personality displayed in many public appearances. I was more of a fan in my teen years than when older, but I always enjoyed his comments and just knowing that he was out there.

And, of course, he wrote one of Star Trek‘s greatest episodes:

Also, Steve Ditko. When I was a whippersnapper, I found a torn copy of Doctor Strange Classics in a comic shop, getting it from a reject bunch for something like four-for-a-dollar along with a beat-up Silver Age Tales to Astonish.  Ditko’s surrealist, psychedelic art was mind-boggling, and led me to further joy reading his original Spider-Man stories in Marvel Tales.

Here’s a book-themed (and groovy) look at the weird wonder of the art of Ditko:

And . . . Dolores O’Riordan of the Cranberries. The voice of otherworldly nineties Celtic pop music, and a band that was one of the best things about the nineties:

Rest in peace.

Stan Lee, Rest in Peace

A big, big part of my childhood and those of so many others.

I know I’m not the only one who read “Stan’s Soapbox” in the Marvel Comics “Bullpen Bulletins” and hung on every word like it was cosmic wisdom, at least up to a certain age.  And there was the narration he did for that Spider-Man cartoon in the early ’80s, and all the other appearances.

Since I was such a nerd about reading credits in the comics, I knew that he didn’t write them all by the time I was reading the comics of the late 70s and early 80s, but he was still this benevolent presence in the background of everything Marvel.  And then I found the reprints of old Amazing Spider-Man and others more interesting at some point, and then really discovered Mr. Lee’s talent for cranking these stories out, month after month.  Anyone who can write at that level–regular, little time in between, always entertaining–is a great writer.

And this video takes me back to those days when Stan was Marvel Comics (and see the very insightful writing question from an audience member at 1:30).  Rest in peace, Stan, and Excelsior!

Robert Hardy, RIP

Anyone who saw All Creatures Great and Small almost had to love it, and anyone who loved it had to think the best character was played by Robert Hardy. Siegfried Farnon was a fictional version of a real person created by James Herriott, pen name of a real life veterinarian who wrote fiction based on himself and his friends.

Siegfried was not the main character, but he was the dominant one. Employer of James and big brother of Tristan, his dominant, boisterous, hotheaded and contradictory personality was basically just hilarious and endearing. Veteran actor Robert Hardy brought him to life and made Siegfried unforgettable, a performance that no one could have improved on. Rest in peace, Mr. Hardy, and thank you for Siegfried.

Anne Kimbell, RIP

One of the most enjoyable aspects for me in researching Robot Monster was discovering that writer Wyott Ordung had some talent behind the camera and was a good actor. He directed (at least officially) Roger Corman’s first creature feature Monster from the Ocean Floor, while the film was mostly carried onscreen by its female lead, Anne Kimbell. Hers was the main character, and she more than ably pulled it off. From this write-up of her life, she loved the stage most as a performer, as many actors do, and stayed active in theater and the arts all around. Rest in peace.

Vilmos Zsigmond, 1930-2016


There is a tiny bit I can add to the recent eulogies for the great Vilmos Zsigmond, legendary cinematographer who escaped to the West from his native, communist-controlled Hungary with friend László Kovács.  Before their Hollywood careers took off, the pair toiled in low-budget films, and even together as they did on Ray Dennis Steckler’s The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964).  During this era, Zsigmond had the distinction of shooting Arch Hall and James Landis’ The Sadist (1963), one of the most effective no-budget movies made by anyone, anywhere and the one movie that wipes out the perception that Hall and his son Arch Hall Jr. were not that talented.  (Junior’s Beavis hairstyle, pretty ridiculous in Wild Guitar and Eegah, even makes sense in this movie.)

Zsigmond was still picking up some lower budget jobs by the mid-70s when he worked on the Phil Tucker production Death Riders (1976), a documentary about stunt motorcyclists produced under the working title Star Spangled Bummer.    In 2007, I found an address for Mr. Zsigmond and mailed him a letter, hoping that he might have something to say on the topic of Phil Tucker and this film.  To my delight, he replied with a note written on my letter, giving me his home phone number and the word “Unlisted!” added in, giving me a fun moment of being let in on something.  So I called him a couple of times and got an answering machine, to which I left a message at least once.

Eventually, my phone rang one evening and I was in amazement to see his name on my caller ID.  From there, it was a pleasant little chat of about five minutes in which he remembered the Death Riders production, and related that he was greatly impressed by Phil Tucker’s generosity and overall easygoing personality.  (I got the sense it went less well with the film’s director Jim Wilson.)  Tucker had even, as he remembered, bothered to call him up and let him know how it all went, as Zsigmond worked on it for a couple weeks and departed.  He was a little blindsided when I let him know that Tucker had passed on, which he had not known.  The conversation ending cordially, I got the sense he was in the midst of getting to somewhere, sounds of outdoors being audible throughout the call.  (Or maybe he was just out for an evening stroll, and I shouldn’t assume that the life of a DP is non-stop itinerancy.)

So as I can attest by his kind attention to someone he didn’t know from anyone, Mr. Zsigmond was a classy guy through and through.  But this is obvious from his life: risking capture with smuggled film while escaping communist Hungary, and then a career of always being a consummate professional on the job, eventually making it to the highest pinnacle of his profession.  Rest in peace.