Friday, August 8, 2014

Well here's another clue for you all

When I was a kid growing up in Jersey, I basically listened to two radio stations out of New York City: Z-100 and WNEW. Z-100 was the modern Top 40 station which I just kind of fell into the habit of tuning in to, out of some sense that I was their target demographic and I was supposed to be a listener. Technically there were two stations playing the same music and in competition for the same listeners, the other one being WPLJ, and nothing really solidifies a pre-adolescent's rooting interest than an appeal to their innate us-versus-them tribalism (cf. Marvel Comics versus DC Comics, the Yankees versus the Mets, &c.); I perceived Z-100 as the cooler of the two, and thus was devoted to their airwave dominance. I also rather enjoyed their Morning Zoo.

WNEW was the classic rock station, and obviously was my dad's dial destination of choice. In my room, or once I finally had a walkman, I could listen to my station, but in the garage in the summer or in the living room after dinner or being driven around in the family car, Dad tuned in to his station. I'm sure there is an enormous amount of nostalgia factoring in here, but I really think WNEW in the mid-80's was an exceptionally well-run radio station, in the last halcyon days when such a thing could exist, before the corporate interests homogenized everything from coast-to-coast. I didn't necessarily appreciate it at the time, but all of the things I consider emblematic of DJ'ing as actual stewardship of musical knowledge are bits I picked up listening to WNEW with my father. The DJ's would play deep cuts, not just the biggest singles. They would play stuff from when my dad was a kid, but since a lot of those acts were still around in one form or another, they would play newer stuff, too. And since they weren't limited to "hits of the 60's" or anything like that, they would play newer acts, too, not just the dinosaurs.

And they would do theme shows, too. Specifically, I will always remember Dad tuning in to Ticket to Ride on Sunday mornings after church, hosted by legendary DJ Scott Muni. An hour of Beatles tunes, always with a different theme, from early rarities pre-Ed Sullivan, to the evolution (and dissolution) of the McCartney-Lennon co-songwriting process, to influences on the Beatles and influences the Beatles had on others. Ticket to Ride was where I first heard about the whole "Paul is dead" phenomenon, which my father was only too happy to discuss further once the show was over, pulling out his vinyl copies of Sergeant Pepper and Abbey Road to show me the OPD patch on Paul's shoulder or the reverend-undertaker-corpse-gravedigger get-ups. Good times.

I've been thinking a lot this week about all the Beatles trivia that was crammed into my head as an impressionable youth, mostly as I've been enjoying all the positive reactions that the Guardians of the Galaxy movie has been getting. You might think that I was spastically jumping mental tracks from Redbone and Blue Swede and The Five Stairsteps and the rest of the movie's groovy soundtrack to The Fab Four, but it's actually because of this guy:

Throughout the film he's referred to simply as Rocket, but all my fellow comic geeks know him as the pleasingly alliterative Rocket Raccoon. And if you're a fan of the White Album, then you are probably familiar with the ballad of Rocky Raccoon, and you might note a significant overlap in the two names. This is entirely uncoincidental, as Bill Mantlo, the writer at Marvel Comics who came up with the character, was himself a Beatles fan and intended the character as a direct reference to the song. Rocket Raccoon was introduced (or re-introduced, appearing for the first time in color, comics are complicated) in an issue of The Incredible Hulk, when Hulk was off having adventures in outer space. Hulk's adventures often involve him sleeping off his latest rage-fueled rampage:

Just in case the name wasn't a dead giveaway, there's your whole riff on the opening lines of the Beatles' song. Oh, and the "Wal" being asked a question in that opening panel? That would be Rocket's buddy Wal Russ.

And now even the slow kids in the back of the class should be up to speed, right? By now it should just be taken as a given that everything is in constant conversation with everything else, but I was feeling the need to share this particular confluence, since as I say it's been top of mind lately anyway.

Not to end on a buzzkill note, but there is a sad fact that I would be remiss not to acknowledge: Bill Mantlo was the victim of a hit-and-run car accident in 1992 and he is now severely disabled. And not in the best financial shape, either; no matter how many billions of dollars the Guardians of the Galaxy movie ends up making, Mantlo won't really see a percentage of it, because that's not the way the ownership of characters and intellectual property works in the comics biz. There is a fund that people can make direct donations to, in order to help with Mantlo's medical/life expenses: Greg Pak is another comics pro and advocate for Mantlo. If you're so inclined, check it out.

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