Posts Tagged ‘Tolkien’

A Rock Legend Passes – Meat Loaf Dies Aged 74

January 21, 2022

One of the big stories today, which isn’t about the military build-up around Ukraine and Boris Johnson and his wretched parties, has been the death of Meat Loaf. One of the things that surprised me in the news items about him was that he was in 65 or so films. I was aware that he played Eddie, a zombie in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. I’d also seen him as a man suffering from testicular cancer who joins the underground boxers in the 1990s film Fight Club, based on the book by Chuck Palahniuk. But I wasn’t aware of any others, and certainly not that he’d been in so many.

He’s best known, however, for Bat Out Of Hell, which is now a Rock classic. I can remember the exciting amongst the rockers and metal freaks I was at school with when it came out. It even got played at a school assembly by one of the teachers. He wasn’t disapproving, just using it to illustrate some point about different moods in music. Bat Out Of Hell, in contrast to other, more soothing pieces, was pure, raw aggression. It was, but not violence. It was loud, fast, melodic rock. His co-writer, Jim Steinman, appeared on a Beeb rockumentary a few years ago. The interviewer commented on the operatic quality of the piece. Steinman agreed, and said that it was because he was listening to a lot of opera at the time.

Bat Out Of Hell came out just as the Satanism scare was beginning, and the real-life modern witch-hunters went to absurd lengths to claim that there was a terrible Satanic conspiracy to corrupt American youth. Dungeons and Dragons was supposed to include real spells and was turning young people to crime, sex, and suicide. I’ve friends who were into it, and that very definitely wasn’t the case. D&D was an imaginary Tolkienesque world of goblins, orcs, giants and wizards, but these were the staple characters of children’s fantasy. For the vast majority of youngsters, it was just a great way to spend a couple of evening with your friends. Rock music was particularly singled out for condemnation. Now there are metal bands, which I think genuinely are aggressively anti-Christian. But for many, it’s just theatre, as Satanic as a Hammer Horror flick. Bat Out Of Hell got some of this, because the album cover showed a motorcycle erupting out of a grave watched by a demon. This was occult imagery. It is, but again, it’s fantasy occult imagery. You could and can see pretty much the same kind of imagery on any genre horror, fantasy or sword and sorcery paperback. And there’s absolutely no mention of the occult or the Devil in the track itself. I bought the sheet music awhile ago and I’ve played it. What it tells me is that Meat Loaf liked the dark imagery of rock, and had a taste for awesome motorbikes. As for groups labelled Satanic, back in the ’90s the accusation was levelled at the American band Ossuary. Or it was until they issued a statement explaining that they were all good children of the Roman Catholic church, and their songs attacked the preachers who were bringing the church into disrepute. Then someone had the idea of checking with their parish priest, who confirmed what they said.

But to me, one of the most memorable of Meat Loaf’s appearances on British TV was when he outwitted Clive Anderson. Anderson had his own chat show, Clive Anderson Talks Back, in which he made light banter poking fun at his guests. Sometimes he went too far, and offended them. He did that to the Bee Gees. There’s a clip of them walking off, one by one, after he told them their music was rubbish. Anderson was left with his mouth hanging open, looking pleadingly at them. Finally only one was left, and as he turned to go, Anderson said to him, ‘You’re not going as well, are you?’ ‘Sorry,’ the pop musician replied, ‘but I don’t do lone interviews.’ That never happened to Meat Loaf, but he did think of a getting a few chuckles from his name. ‘What should I call you – Meat? Mr Loaf? What do your children call you?’ Meat Loaf had answer to that: ‘Mostly they call me ‘Dad’.’ as Jazz Club would say on the Fast Show ‘Grrreat.’

Farewell, Big Guy. You will be missed, and rock is poorer without you.

The sheet music for the album Bat Out Of Hell, which was written and composed by Steinman, arranged for piano with guitar tablature and lyrics, has been published by International Music Publications Ltd. Apart from the title track, it has ‘You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night), Heaven Can Wait, All Revved Up With No place to Go, Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad, Paradise by Dashboard Light and For Crying Out Loud’.

The cover image was dreamed up by Steinman, and painted by fantasy artist and comics legend Richard Corben.

Way back in the ’90s there was a slew of tribute bands – the Bootleg Beatles, Elton Jack and so on. Meat Loaf did not escape. His was called ‘Fat Out Of Hell’.

May he, like Elvis, keep ’em rocking.

Comics and Political Satire: Diceman’s ‘You Are Ronald Reagan’

October 13, 2016

diceman-reagan-cover

I’ve written a several pieces about comics and political satire and comment. The 1960s counterculture produced underground comics, which dealt with taboo subjects. These included sex, and issues of sexual orientation, such as homosexuality, as well as explicit political commentary and satire. These continued well into the 1980s and 1990s. Over here, adult strips with a strong political content included Crisis, many of the Knockabout stable of comics, and Pete Loveday’s Russell: The Saga of a Peaceful Man. Mainstream comics, such as 2000 AD, also contained elements of satire and political comment, particularly in the strips created and written by veteran recidivist and script droid Pat Mills.

Way back in the 1980s, 2000 AD also launched a spin-off, aimed at the RPG crowd. This followed adventure game books, like the Wizard of Firetop Mountain, in which the reader also played the central character in the adventure, and their decisions reading the book/game determined how it ended for them. 2000 AD’s Diceman was similar, but the games were in comic strip form, rather than simple, unillustrated text. Most of the games were straightforward strips using 2000 AD characters like Slaine, Nemesis the Warlock and Rogue Trooper. There was also the ‘Diceman’ strip of the title, which was about a 1930s occult private eye in America, hunting down weirdness and assorted monsters and human villains assisted by his own occult monster, Astragal, the demon of the dice. The strip was set amongst the grim tenements of Depression era New York, though it could go further afield into Nazi Germany, and so also had more than a little similarity to the Indian Jones films then playing in cinemas. It was based on the writings and life of Charles Hoy Fort, the writer and researcher of the bizarre and weird, such as falls of frogs and other strange events. Fort was the inspiration for the magazine The Fortean Times, which continued Fort’s work of documenting the bizarre and the scientifically ‘damned’. The Fortean inspiration behind Diceman probably came from the fact that many of those involved in the British comics scene, like the late Steve Moore, were also contributors to the FT.

Most of the strips seem to have been written by Pat Mills, and the readership seems to have been somewhat more mature than that of the parent magazine, 2000 AD. So in a couple of them, Pat Mills let rip and dealt explicitly with two of the politicos then running amok on the world stage. These were Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Illustrated by the great underground comic artist, Hunt Emerson, these were ‘Maggie Thatcher: A Dole-Playing Game’, and ‘You Are Ronald Reagan’. I found the issue with the latter yesterday looking through a pile of old magazines. Published in issue 5 of the magazine in 1986, the game had the reader take over the brain of the American president and journey back in time to avert an impending nuclear war. During the game you were faced with such tasks as deciding whether to send the troops into Nicaragua, negotiating arms reductions with the Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev, researching your family tree to boost your popularity with the American electorate, and trying to prevent a full scale nuclear war with Russia. While also trying to sort out what to do about Britain and Maggie’s plea to turn it into America’s 51st State. The reader also had to successfully maintain the illusion that they were indeed the real Ronald Reagan. If they didn’t, they were fried in the electric chair as a Commie infiltrator. Along with Maggie and various aides, one of the whom looked like an American eagle, was Reagan’s buddy, Bonzo the Superchimp, named after Reagan’s co-star in the film Bedtime for Bonzo.

Some idea of the style – both visual and narrative – of the strip can be seen in the sample page below.

diceman-reagan-1

The strip mostly has a light touch, even when Reagan fails to avert World War 3 and civilisation is ended in a nuclear holocaust. But it dealt with extremely serious issues. For example, nearly all of the options for solving the crisis in Nicaragua involved military force to a greater or lesser extent, and all of them would result in misery for the people of that nation. Which were illustrated with the same depiction of starving peasants and crying children for all of the choices. As with many of Mills’ strips, it was based on solid research, with some of the books consulted listed at the end of the strip, along with the terrifying real incidents where the world had come close to nuclear war through mistakes and stupidity.

The strip was also similar to some of the computer games then being created for the new generation of home computers, like the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum. Some of these also had a satirical slant, including one called The Tebbitt. This followed the Tolkienesque adventure game format, but you played a politician running around Whitehall trying to solve political issues. Hence the title, in which the name of one of Thatcher’s cabinet thugs, Norman Tebbitt, was substituted for The Hobbit.

Sadly, Diceman didn’t last long. There are still underground comic strips and graphic novels with a strong political content. Counterpunch a few weeks ago carried an article about one attacking the current situation in America. And two years ago Mills announced another graphic novel containing an anthology of strips to counter the establishment propaganda about the First World War. Role-Playing Games like Dungeons and Dragons and various others based on H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos are still played, despite being overtaken by video and computer games. And Judge Dredd and 2000 AD and its other characters, like Slaine and the A.B.C. Warriors have survived into the 21st Century. Unfortunately, so have the Conservatives, Neoliberal economics, a political cult based around Reagan and Thatcher as visionary politicians, for whom it is tantamount to horrible blasphemy to criticise. And Obama and the Conservatives in this country also seem to want to pitch the world into another nuclear confrontation with Russia, this time over the Middle East.

Perhaps it’s time for a few more politically orientated satirical strips. Maybe one in which you play David Cameron, and have to avoid destroying the economy, making millions homeless and starving, and trying not to break up the UK while fighting the EU. All the while breaking trade unions, protecting the rich and powerful, and keeping the population as poor and desperate as possible. With the option of doing it all again as Theresa May.