Know Your ABCs: An Album, a Book, and a Cat

Here’s your Sunday edition of Know Your ABCs

Your Album:  The Scenic Route, by Kamikaze Ground Crew
Your Book:  The Masked Man, a comic series by BC Boyer.
Your Cats:  Thomas O’Mally & Marie

 

THE SCENIC ROUTE, an Album by the Kamikaze Ground Crew

Consisting of Downtown New York musicians who begun their collaboration as a pit band for the Flying Karamazov Brothers, the Kamikaze Ground Crew has an ever-evolving sound that changes with their ever-changing line-up.  Able to play jazz and blues with a straight-ahead approach that can quickly veer into avant-garde territory.  Active on both the jazz and theater scenes, not to mention collaborations and projects of their own that fall over the genre map.  As a collective, they’re fantastic, and individually, they’re a treasure map to all types of other great music.

Your album personnel:  Gina Leishman (alto sax, bass clarinet, accordion, ukelele, piano, keyboards, vocals), Doug Wieselman (clarinets, saxophones, guitars, mandolin, penny whistle), Bob Lipton (tuba), Danny Frankel (drums, percussion), Jeff Cressman (trombone, baritone horn, slide whistle), Steven Bernstein (trumpet, piccolo trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn, Tuba), and Peter Apfelbaum (tenor sax, claro-sax, clarinet, recorder).  They all chip in for the Bottle Choir part.

The Scenic Route was released in 1990 on the New World Records label.  It ain’t an album that sounds the same from beginning to end.  There are the joyous shouts of New Orleans jazz, deconstructed assemblages of dustbowl blues, trapeze displays of avant-garde shenanigans, and enigmatic Frankensteins of cabaret, classical, and R&B.  There’s something here for everybody, but nobody gets to have it all.

There are moments of heartbreaking beauty…

… where sometimes I feel Miles Davis and sometimes I hear Tom Waits.  The impressions, I suppose, are limitless with collectives like Kamikaze Ground Crew, because the shifting sounds and alternating personnel mean a limitless supply of contributing voices and visions.

Sometimes they lean back and shout out the blues…

… drenched with the euphoric joy that seems so contradictory to the place the blues comes from.  I can’t get enough of it.

I discovered this album on one of my random browsing trips to Reckless Records (Chicago, IL).  If an album or artist isn’t familiar to me, I give it a listen, and sometimes I am stunned by the simple majesty of discovering a moment of creativity that, somehow, never made it onto my radar.  I think I purchased The Scenic Route back in 2006 (or thereabout), and I’m still in love with it.  I’ve also purchased several other albums my KGC, all wonderful, and continue to collect other recordings.  Also, let me reemphasize, the musicians involved with KGC, on this recording and others, have worked on some fantastic projects of their own.  Steven Bernstein with his Millenial Territorial Orchestra received some Best of 2011 recognition recently, and Kenny Wollesen (who appears on other KGC albums) has been mentioned glowingly on this site, too.  Highly recommended.

Available at Amazon: CD | MP3
*****

 

THE MASKED MAN, a Book by BC Boyer

The Masked Man is really Dick Carstairs, a private detective, who originally dons his simple blue mask as a way of drumming up some stories for his buddy reporter Barney McCallister (the sidekick). He has no special powers. He uses his fists. He’s a brawler. He keeps a watch over his neighborhood. And he’s shows as not just a man-of-the-street, but a superhero-of-the-street, too; no angelic imagery of a caped crusader standing on rooftops and looking benevolently down over the city. He fights muggers, gangsters, various neighborhood lowlifes, and the occasional odd personality.  B.C. Boyer handles both script and art.

By way of comparison, I would describe the Masked Man as Will Eisner’s The Spirit living in a Twin Peaks world.

There are fistfights with mobsters, encounters with inept copycat “superheroes”, a love interest with the mysterious Maggie Brown (who may or may not actually be blind), an undercover cop disguised as a neighborhood weirdo, a newspaper editor who has it in for MM, a wily reporter looking to push Barney out of the way and become MM’s new sidekick, the Architecture Terrorists, and the Rigatoni (a treasure of immense value and unknown identity).

There are stories of what it means to be a hero, of what it means to value friendship, to learn how to trust and hope and strive to be a better person.  The stories are of common themes in an exaggerated world.  They are stories that wear their heart on their sleeve, but express no amount of preachiness or naivete.  These are nuanced tales of good versus evil, with some acknowledgment of the grey areas in between and some thoughtful investigation into the identity of the extremes.  There is also some tongue-in-cheek deconstruction of superhero story themes (as was beginning to happen during the 80s & 90s as the comics industry began to explore its own identity).

What appeals to me about the character: I enjoy the minimalist superhero approach, how the Masked Man barely has a disguise and no powers other than his natural physical abilities, his intelligence, and his courage.  I like how he fights everyday-type criminals and doesn’t have any arch enemies with trillion dollar ray-guns looking to hold the world hostage or mutant genes that turned them into criminal deities. He could’ve just as easily been me.  Or, more to the point, anybody could be a Masked Man.  It was that same quality that made me forever a fan of Daredevil during the Frank Miller run, when DD lost his “powers” and Stick had to mentor DD back to health, telling him that the radioactive isotope that blinded him as a child wasn’t the source of his powers, that the “powers” that DD had were in him all along, that they were in everyone.  That particular view of power, that everyone possesses the ability to be a superhero like DD or The Masked Man, of bringing the heroes back to our level by saying we’re are all made of the same heroic clay, it makes it so easy to personalize people in masks and secret identities as “just one of us”, while still admiring them and calling them heroes because they achieved a plateau of strength and accomplishment that all of us could attain but few of us actually do.  That they direct their achievement for the betterment of society, that’s what makes those like The Masked Man a hero.

The Masked Man was published by Eclipse Comics (RIP).  It doesn’t appear to have ever been collected into a trade.

According to Wikipedia, these are the issues that The Masked Man has made an appearance:
* Eclipse Magazine #7 & #8 (November 1982 & January 1983)
* Eclipse Monthly #1 – #10 (August 1983 – July 1984)
* The Masked Man #1 – #12 (December 1984 – April 1988)

This appears to be B.C. Boyer’s singular contribution to the comics medium.  He had a brief title called Hilly Rose: Space Reporter, and he contributed some art to other Eclipse titles, but Masked Man seems to be the primary dealio.  It’s a hell of an accomplishment.

Available (occasionally) at Amazon: Single Issues
*****

 

THOMAS O’MALLY & MARIE, two tiny Cats looking for a home.

Thomas O'Mally

Meet Thomas O’Mally and Marie.  They are brother and sister who were part of a litter discovered on a farm out in the county.  The farm owners have been wonderful in getting them scooped up, working with us to get the mother and kittens fixed and all their vaccinations, and trying to find them homes.  Out here, cats don’t have much of a life expectancy living wild on farmland… too many natural predators.

Anyways, Thomas and Marie are the only two remaining from the litter who need homes.  They are both sweet as pie and playful as one would expect kittens to be.  While not finicky with their toys, Thomas seems to be more of a “string guy”, whereas Marie likes a fuzzy toy mouse to attack, then cuddle with.  They are both still in that stage where they inexplicably jump straight up into the air, then spin around dizzily chasing after invisible objects.  They also sleep like furry little angels and do nothing to hide the big smiles splashed across their faces when a ray of sunlight falls upon them during a nap or when they find a big pair of arms to cuddle them tight.

Marie

They are both fixed, up to date with their shots, tested negative for feline leukemia, and they both use their litter boxes just like the big cats do.

More information on Thomas O’Mally and Marie is available at the Mercer (KY) Humane Society at (859) 734-9500, mercerhumane.com. If you are unable to adopt, you may sponsor their adoptions, or the adoption of any cat, by contacting the office.

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