Chris Whitley Unplugs at Old Town’s Birchmere

[cowritten with Karen Weis]

Chris Whitley performed an intimate show at the Birchmere a week ago Thursday. During a solo acoustic set, he switched between two National Steel guitars as he played new material and songs from his debut album “Living With The Law,” which “Rolling Stone” magazine chose as Record of the Year for 1991.

Whitley took brief smoke breaks in between songs, tuning his guitars as he took a puff before launching into another song.

The dinner theater setting of the Birchmere allowed Whitley to connect with his audience, whose enthusiasm never faltered. Songs from the album were especially well received, although there was incredible response for his intricate solos in the new songs.

Expulsion bugged people backstage until granted an interview. At least, the manager said, “You can go back there. He’s in a crowd, but if you can talk to him, be my guest.”

Expulsion: Are you going into the studio soon?
Whitley: Yes, in December for another album.
E: Will you be playing with a band or solo acoustic?
W: I like playing solo a lot, but I like a band too. I do a little of both on the record – one acoustic track, then one that’s in your face.
E: Is most of it written already?
W: Yes. Tonight I played most of the stuff I’ve been writing.
E: On the night of the L.A. riots, you were playing a live show at the Palace in Hollywood that was being recorded for Westwood One Radio. What did it feel like?
W: It was wild that night. We had to shoot a video the next day and then hop a bus to Phoenix. We almost couldn’t get back. The audience in L.A. is all people in the music industry. On the way out of town, all the record execs were scared that their homes in the hills would be torched, and that they’d get killed on their way home or something. To come to L.A. from Europe, as I did, to flat America, was culture shock. L.A. was so weird, it was fitting that someone was trying to burn it. Here in America, someone was pissed off. It was a weird vibe. E: Did you write a song about it, like Tom Petty with “Peace in L.A.”?
W: No, I don’t write topical things. They don’t inspire me much, though I like when people do it well. It’s interesting – I released a B-side from that show in Europe, a live version of “A Pint Of Lotion.”
E: You’ve appeared on the “Arsenio Hall Show,” “David Letterman,” and the “Tonight Show,” playing electric with a band. Did you ever try doing an acoustic set?
W: I could have. I did on MTV in Canada. It was never a question. Part of it is that TV’s so promotional. The record execs wanted to show something that represents the record. I like playing live and being able to improvise. When I was opening for Tom Petty, they played all their songs exactly the same, every night. My band’s a trio. Even electrically we can play off one another – we’ve arranged it so everyone can step out and solo. It’s organized for the record, but live it’s unrestrained.
E: What inspires you?
W: Whatever – I can’t really pick subjects. I have phrases, come up with chords, or look at something I haven’t done a hundred times and try to pull lyrics from the music. I come up with a melody in my head. I wrote “Big Sky Country” that way, hummed it into a Walkman and came up with chords.
E: How is this upcoming album different from your previous one?
W: This record’s different because I’ve been living differently since the last one. I don’t write well, meaning that I don’t choose subjects that are really accessible. I used to try, but don’t anymore. It’s deliberate for me.
E: Who are your favorite bands?
W: I like the Flaming Lips, My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive – soft but washout noise guitar. Americans…Nirvana, Hendrix, Zeppelin – stuff my parents listened to. I never listen to blues, but every now and then I listen to blues from the 50s, like Muddy Waters. Nat “King” Cole…the man had a perfect voice. Iggy Pop is my favorite lyricist in the States.
E: What were influences on your picking style?
W: Johnny Winter’s first record in 1969 – that song “Dallas” gravitated me toward using a National Steel. I listened to Andy Summers of The Police and Gary Numan. The Earth, Wind and Fire horn section syncopated it; the syncopation they had was so funky. I love it. It’s not uncommon for white guys who play Delta blues to have a peculiar style but syncopation’s important. My favorite guitar artists are still Hendrix and Jimmy Page. I don’t strum. David Pirner of Soul Asylum asked me to give him lessons, but I couldn’t.
E: Where did you get your guitars?
W: I bought both in New York. One’s ’28, the other’s a ’31 – they’re dobros. I use them, but play mainly electric guitars, mostly 50s and 60s Les Pauls or Fenders.
E: Where do you go from here?
W: I’m going back to New York tomorrow. Playing tonight was a one shot thing, not part of a tour. I’m going to Australia and New Zealand next.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]

Drivin’ N Cryin’, Cheap Trick Rock in Richmond

[cowritten with Karen Weis]

In order to experience DnC at its best as a hard driving rock and roll machine, it is recommended that you see them play live. At least twice. Preferably in a twenty-four hour period, if possible. And in two different states. There’s a limited time span in a band’s career when the opportunity arises to see them as both headliner and opening act in the same week. Such was the situation recently when Drivin’ N Cryin’ headlined in Richmond, VA and opened in Annapolis, MD.

The Flood Zone is a small club located in the heart of Richmond’s downtown area. To get the appropriate feel for the place, imagine Hammerjacks at half the size. The opening act, Raging Slab, a hard rocking Skynyrdesque band from Pennsylvania who recently released their second album, took the stage at 10PM. They performed songs from both of their albums, including their current single, “Anywhere But Here,” and a cover of the Beatles’ “I’m Down.” Other than that, the songs blended together in a blur of slide guitar riffs and the writers were relieved when it was over forty-five minutes later.

After what seemed like an eternity of roadies testing equipment, Drivin’ N Cryin’ arrived on stage at midnight in a cloud of smoke. They began the show with several slower songs, including “With The People,” which borrowed a line from the R.E.M. song “King of Birds,” before picking up the pace with “Around The Block Again.” The band’s set list spanned all five of their albums, from their newest release, “Smoke,” to their earliest, “Scarred But Smarter.” By the time they played the title song, the crowd’s energy level had resulted in the formation of a mosh pit, which continued for the next three songs and then restarted periodically for the rest of the show.

The set featured a variety of old and new songs, including half of the new album, including their latest single, “Turn It Up Or Turn It Off” and three or four from the others. Highlights included premieres of new songs such as “If I’d Been Born On The Right Side of the Tracks” and a solo performance at the close of the show by lead singer Kevn Kinney, who sang a song that may appear on his next solo album.

In contrast to the rowdiness of the Flood Zone crowd, the audience at the Naval Academy Alumni Hall was extremely restrained, probably due to the fact that ninety-nine percent of them were midshipmen. To get the atmosphere, just imagine a lame Patriot Center concert with all the GMU students dressed in white uniforms. Drivin’ N Cryin’ came on sharply at 7:30 and promptly launched into a nonstop rocking set.

This set focused more on their well known songs, such as “Fly Me Courageous,” “Build A Fire,” and “Straight To Hell,” which was a change from the previous night in which some of them were omitted. The lighting crew was also more in control, particularly during “Scarred But Smarter,” which gave the song added impact. The pace of the show never let up as the band sped through its forty-five minute set, forcing the crowd to participate.

The headliners, Cheap Trick, played a fairly short hour and ten minute set, including their hits “I Want You To Want Me” and “The Flame.” Absent, however, was their version of “Don’t Be Cruel.” Lead guitarist Rick Nielsen constantly kept the crowd amused by switching guitars at every song, throwing handfuls of picks, and pompously overreacting to the audience. The band’s encore, “Dream Police,” involved half the front row joining the band on stage to sing backup and play guitar and drums.

DnC’s forty-five minutes, while not as fulfilling as their two hour plus Richmond show, was a much more concentrated performance that left one wanting more. But many of the songs were expanded significantly in the club setting and were more enjoyable. In particular, “Indian Song,” which the band always plays live but has never recorded, was enhanced by the story that served as its introduction in the club. Kevn Kinney lamented the visible lack of symbols of Native American heritage in our culture. In addition, “Pushin’ Too Hard” featured an autobiographical vignette from Kevn on his choice of occupation before launching into “So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star.”

When the band headlined, they had the chance to kick back and relax and respond when a business card was tossed on stage by licking it and saying, “If you want me to look at your business card, you’d better have a tab of acid on it.” At the Naval Academy, however, they were more tense, with nearly no reaction to the audience, resulting in a faster set.

The first set was looser and more diverse, giving increased exposure to the band’s catalogue, but the second set was more powerful and intense, leaving one breathless. Both sets could have stood on their own, but seen back to back they offered more insight into the unique rock and roll experience that is Drivin’ N Cryin’.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]

Mason Registration: Add a Class and Drop the Lines

I thought that already working for Expulsion would make my enrollment into the graduate program easier. Boy, was I wrong.

My tangled path started last January, with the School of Information Technology and Engineering’s Graduate Program Open House. It was extremely informative, with advisors from every program there to answer questions. From that, I was easily able to decide which program to apply for.

I applied in April, and received my acceptance letter in June. With it, I received the Fall Schedule Of Classes. I tried to analyze its cryptic contents and determined that I had to register sometime between then and August. I decided to wait and see if anything else would arrive that would make things more clear.

In July, I got a copy of the graduate catalog, and received two pieces of mail from Mason. The first was about a general graduate orientation to be held on August 23rd. The second was about an orientation for computer science graduate students the night after. It also said that registration forms would be signed. Great, I thought. I could learn everything I needed and take care of registration at the same time.

I arrived for the first orientation in SUB II about halfway through the opening speeches (Hey, it ain’t my fault I don’t get off work until after six). I signed in and received an interesting packet and the Mason Student Handbook. The packet contained a graduate newsletter, a handout on resources, a schedule for The Center For The Arts, a handout for music classes, a pamphlet on sexual harassment, and an ad for Mason Money. I found it interesting that the Mason Money ad mentioned that you could use it at Domino’s, but didn’t mention that it was the only off campus merchant to have the system in place to use it. I also filled out an application for a parking sticker (which of course I haven’t received yet.)

Anyway, what I heard of the speeches was an explanation of some of the handouts, plus some Mason propaganda. It’s interesting that people think Mason is going to have a great basketball season, even though the new coach hasn’t been in an actual game yet.

But I digress. After the speeches, I went to an information session on the Mason computer system. Miracle of miracles, it was actually informative, covering topics such as how to get a computer account, how to find documentation, how to figure out an Internet address, how to logon to Mason mainframes from a home computer, and how to get help, as well as a brief discussion of where various software and hardware are.

The orientation the next night was held in a classroom in S&T II. The professor who hosted it provided information on people CS graduate students should know, some information on email and getting accounts, and most importantly, waited patiently to answer every question on courses and signed registration forms.

I left the orientation feeling moderately prepared and ready to register for classes. I thought perhaps I would register the next day. Further examination of the Fall schedule and consultation with other students made me change that plan, as registration was closed each of the next three days. The earliest I could register was Monday, the first day of classes.

I arrived in Fairfax about 8:50 that next Monday. I found a parking space about 20 minutes later, aware that perhaps all of these people were here for a reason. When I arrived at Krug Hall, the line for registration stretched out of the office and down the stairs. After several minutes of waiting in line, it quickly became obvious to me that I wasn’t going to make it to the front of the line within the half hour I had left before I had to be at work. I left, and decided to come back the next day, when the office was open until 8.

The next evening I came back, and the line was much shorter. I sat down in the office and of course discovered to my dismay that my first and second choices were both closed. I signed up for my third choice, which had already had the first class the previous day. As a matter of fact, the professor who teaches the class is an adjunct and doesn’t have an office, so the only way to talk to her is to go to the class, which kind of blows the idea of finding out what the assignment is.

I went to the course I really wanted, to see if I could talk to the instructor. Unfortunately, about 15 other people had the same idea as I did, forcing the instructor to cut the class short since there was no air conditioning and the room wasn’t designed for that many people. The professor did offer to try and find a new room to teach the class in, though.

I learned from this experience that in the future I’d better sign up for classes at least several weeks in advance. I would like to see a little more information sent to new students, like an abridged version of the information presented at the orientations, plus a suggested timeline of events, such as talking to advisors and registering.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]

Bootlegs: The Real Story and the Ones to Get…

You know who you are. You’re a college student. You’ve got a favorite band. You’ve seen them live. You’ve got all their albums and videos, or so you think. That’s right, you don’t have all their albums. Don’t give that crap, I know what I’m talking about.

One of the fastest growing areas of the record collector’s market is bootlegs. Bootlegs are unauthorized audio and video recordings of a band, mostly live recordings, but occasional studio outtakes surface. And unlike regular commercial live recordings, like Van Halen’s recent album or George Michael’s just released EP, these are mostly one uncut and untouched concert. Of course, these make perfect souvenirs, especially if one is available for the show that you went to.

The largest area of bootlegs is CDs. Until the mid 80s, the preferable method of distribution was vinyl, but the obvious benefits of CDs soon became apparent. The sound quality of bootlegs can vary. Some are recorded by the soundboard (the mixing board between the guitars and mikes and the speakers), while most are audience recording. Surprisingly, the audience recordings are often very good, and some are in stereo.

Some bootlegs are actually legal. Some countries in the EEC, such as Germany and Italy, have laws that recordings that are at least ten years old may be produced, as long as royalties are set aside for the artist. Ironically, the artist can’t accept the money, because that would indicate approval of what the bootleggers are doing. Most CD bootlegs have an import stamp on them, and owning them is legal.

The fastest growing bootleg area is videos. The majority of these are recorded on a camcorder that was sneaked in, though some are unreleased concerts. The only equipment needed to produce a large number is two VCRs and a supply of blank tapes. This results in a number of people selling copies of the same shows, and a large quality difference between the generations of copies. Since the videos can be produced quickly, shows are available that are little more than a week old.

The following are totally subjective lists of my favorite audio and video boots:
Audio
1. Led Zeppelin – Tour Over Europe: Zurich, 6/29/80
Zeppelin are the unsurpassed kings of the bootleg market. Every Zeppelin show found, no matter how poor the quality of the recording or the band’s performance, has been issued on CD. At last count, that is over 400 discs. There are a large number of notable Zeppelin bootlegs, with large amounts of unreleased songs, but this double disc set is incredible. It captures the masters of rock, on their best show on their last tour.
2. Una Noche A Sevilla (A Night In Seville): Guitar Legends Festival, Seville, Spain,10/19/91
An annual concert featuring guitarists is held in Seville, Spain. In 1991, the concert was extended to five nights to feature a different genre of music each night. This particular recording is the heavy metal night, and features the remarkable talents of Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Brian May, Nuno Bettencourt, and Joe Walsh. The only time my four favorite guitarists have performed together. Simply amazing.
3. Rush – The Spirit of St. Louis: St. Louis, 2/14/80
A great recording and performance from an awesome band, featuring a complete rendition of “2112”.
4. Great White – Live From Electric Ladyland: New York City, 5/31/91
A boot of a radio broadcast. The Electric Ladyland shows are recorded in the studio of the same name, and the sound is incredible.
5. Van Halen – “7227”: Tokyo, 1988
The name refers to the playing time. A very good show, importantly featuring a live performance of “Summer Nights”.
6. Queen – Merry Christmas: London, 12/25/76
An early show from a great band.
7. Pearl Jam – Unplugged …and a little plugged: MTV Unplugged 3/92 & England 2/22/92
Their amazing MTV performance, plus most a live show. What a bargain!
8. Guns N’ Roses – Lies and Dollars: New York City, 1988
The audio to MTV’s Live at the Ritz recording, with all the swearing left in.
9. Metallica – The Four Horsemen: Meadowlands, 4/8/92
This three disc boxed set features the complete show from the masters of thrash
10. David Lee Roth – Live at Selland Arena: Fresno, 12/14/86
Steve Vai is an incredible guitarist. ‘Nuff said.

Video
1. Brian May – Hammerjacks, 3/5/93
All right, I haven’t actually seen it yet, but I was at the show, and he’s incredible. Go buy his new album, in stores now.
2. Extreme – Baltimore Opera House, 2/1/93
I went to the next night, but this is a great show.
3. Guns N’ Roses – Capital Centre, 6/19/91
Yes, their first night, where Axl dives into the crowd to fight security before St. Louis!
4. Led Zeppelin – Compilation
There are a number of compilations out there, but look for a black and white TV performance from ’68, as well as their Live Aid and Atlantic 40th anniversary reunions (there’s rehearsal footage from the latter)
5. Queen – A Concert For Life, 4/20/92
Yes, I know a legitimate copy went on sale last week, but it’s still amazing.
6. Nirvana – Dallas, 1991
Kurt Cobain dives into the crowd, then hits the security guard trying to retrieve him with his guitar. The guard then attempts to beat the crap out of him.
7. Metallica – Albany, 1992
A complete show.
8. Pearl Jam – New York, 1992
Good show.
9. Whitesnake – Albany, 1990
Steve Vai – still amazing.
10. Van Halen – US Festival, 1983
Lousy copy, great show.

For those interested in going to a record show where audio and video boots are available, the next one is this Friday, at the Holiday Inn Dulles Airport, from 6-12PM.
The next after that is on June 6, at the Tyson’s Best western, from 10-5. The admission for both is $3.00.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]

Commuting Sucks… So Hit the Damn “Snooze…”

You know, I thought this was going to be a good week. So l work full time, so what? I can deal with no Spring Break, just stay out of my way during the week.

The Frey household is usually prepared for anything, and this storm was no exception. No last minute trips to the store for bread and milk for us. We were snowed in Saturday and Sunday, but everyone else was, so no big deal. My Siberian Husky loved it, and we just relaxed and shoveled the driveway and our cars.

The first sign of trouble was Monday morning. I woke up, threw the alarm across the room, went upstairs and looked out the window. Our street wasn’t plowed yet. Great, at least 10 more minutes added to my commute. I started up my car, backed it out, and started down the street, only skidding twice before the corner.

When I finally got out on 236, it looked pretty good, plowed, sanded, and little traffic. It was obvious to me that my usual collection of back roads I use to get to Reston was going to be impassable, so I took the Beltway and the Dulles Toll Road. The Beltway was clear, but the Toll Road was nasty. I finally got to work, and it turned out to be one of those days. For those lowlifes who’ve never worked a day in their lives, let me explain that. Have you ever had a really boring and dull class, where the only thought going through your head is that it’ll be over in an hour? Just multiply that by 8, and you’ll be somewhat close. The way home was easier. The Toll Road and Beltway were completely clear, and I only skidded once.

Tuesday morning dawned as another alarm clock bit the dust. The street still wasn’t plowed, but I could deal with that. My first hint of danger was when I went outside to start my car. The car of one of my neighbors was parked in the street parallel to it, blocking any attempt to get past it. Hmm, I thought, this could he trouble. It was.

Unknown to me at the time was the fact that every idiot with a car was under the mistaken impression that they could drive in the snow. Let me give you a little hint: If you weigh more than your car, stay home. After a good ten minutes to get my neighbor’s car out of the way, I was on my way, or so I thought.

At the end of my street was a hysterical Hispanic woman in a Volkswagen Rabbit, with bald tires. I pushed it out of the way with my pinky, and finally got out on 236, twenty minutes after I started. It was then that I discovered that every idiot with a car was on the road. I couldn’t deal with it for very long, and got off the Beltway after one exit, certain that the back roads couldn’t be as bad as the world’s largest parking lot.

To my surprise and relief, they weren’t. In fact, they were all plowed. I arrived at work half an hour late, only to face another of those days. On the way home, I discovered that my street had finally been plowed. Heck, the rest of the week couldn’t be that bad, could it.

I made a 3 point shot into the trashcan with my alarm clock as Wednesday morning broke. It was raining, but it was above the freezing point. Good, I thought, and it was, at least on the way to work.

Did I mention that I had a dental appointment that day? What kind of masochist invented this torture, where a lady wearing rubber gloves scrapes your teeth for half an hour with sharp metal objects? I don’t know, but my teeth still hurt.

Anyway, on the way home, I found out that rain plus melting snow equals twice as much water. Six inches of water doesn’t seem like much, but a current can change things. I finally made it home, though. I could rest and relax, right? Did I mention that I live in a basement? That leaks? Yes, for the second time in two weeks, one of my rugs got completely soaked. I really hate mopping, too. Oh well.

The alarm clock made a plaintive beep as I flushed it down the toilet to greet Thursday. I mopped again, then set out on my commute, and discovered that any water left on the ground had frozen into ice patches, as I slid into work. It was another of those days. Actually, it wasn’t.

I’m working on a project where Thursday I performed the intellectual equivalent of banging my head against the wall. What fun. The temperature never got above the freezing point, so the ice was still there in the evening. Yuck.

A 60 ton weight did not destroy the alarm clock on Friday, so I was forced to call in a tactical nuclear strike, code named “The Big Snooze”. The ice was still there, and it was another of those days, but it was the last one.

Let me give a piece of advice to all people who drive in the left lane. If you’re not doing at least the speed limit, GET OUT OF MY WAY!!! This week was probably payback for a couple of good weekends, but it still sucked. If you can, I advise you to spend an extra year or two at school, just to put off having to commute.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]

I Have Seen the Light and it Was Good: Brian May

[This was written by Katherine E. Kessler; I was the “fellow staff member” mentioned, also got to shake Brian’s hand and probably assisted in the writing. Still one of my top 10 concerts, and available as a video recording]

7:50 a.m. Friday morning. My first thought “What the hell am I doing awake at this insane hour? I only went to sleep four hours ago.” My second thought “Did the guy on the radio just say Brian May… at Hammerjacks? Tonight!” Well, I guess my pledge to not go to Hammerjacks this weekend (it would have the first time in a couple of months that would have happened) was about to be shattered. And so began the best day of my life.

I tried to go back to sleep. I really did. I tried real hard. I tried to count water buffalo, but it was just to damn noisy and the neighbors started to complain. So I gave up.

Now it’s 8:10 in the morning. I really needed to tell someone, but I value my life and don’t particularly want to lose it over a phone call. I debated over it in my mind for about three seconds, then called my friend at UVA.

Surprise, surprise. I woke her up. Weil, sort of. I told her that Brian May was going to be at Hammerjacks and it was free. She said that was good and went back sleep, before she even hung up the phone.

I waited awhile, then called another friend at work. She couldn’t come. I called yet another friend at work, he couldn’t come. Called a couple other friends. They weren’t home. Great. It was beginning to to look like I was going to Hammerjacks alone.

I wasn’t going to even consider not going. My chance to fulfill my greatest dream, and I was not going to miss it just because no one else could go. Seeing Brian May live would not only give my life meaning, I would then be able to die happy. Brian May is my hero.

For those of you who for some strange, deranged reason don’t have any clue who Brian May is… you should be taken out and shot… several times. He is a rock icon. He was the lead guitarist for one of the best bands ever, Queen. The man is amazing.

10:30. The phone rings. The voice end says “Did you say Brian May?” I spent the next half hour listening to my friend convincing herself that she really didn’t need was to go to her class or her meeting.

I was supposed to go pick up a friend in West Virginia, but I wasn’t supposed to leave until 3 p.m. However, I wanted to leave for Baltimore by 6 p.m. Big problem. So I talked to my friend (who’s boyfriend I was picking up) and told her to call him at 2:30 and tell him that I should be there in a few minutes. I left here at 1. Plenty of time.

Then I sat in the lounge waiting for him for 45 minutes. Finally, he showed up. Apparently, she had just called him. It was 3:15. Well, I guess I wasn’t going to get back to Virginia (all get away from all the trucks) by 4. Oh, well. I finally got home around 5:20. Just barely enough time to get ready.

About 6:15, my friend from UVA, a fellow staff member, and I left for Baltimore. An hour and a half later, we finally got on 95. Then I hit seventy-five mph and didn’t slow down until we hit Baltimore. Amazingly, we got there in time. Actually, we got there a couple hours before the show actually started.

With two hours to kill, what did we do? We chat with the T-shirt dude. By the time the show starts, we are on the guest list for his next show in New York, I have a free T-shirt, and he’s going to try to get us backstage after the show. And we didn’t even have to promise to sleep with him. Wonders never cease.

Around ten-thirty the show finally starts. The smile doesn’t leave my face from the moment Brian May walked on stage until, well, actually, it’s still there. The shock that I am actually standing only ten feet from the one and only Brian May wears off sometime during the second song of his first encore. The show is amazing. By far the best one that I’ve ever been to. I’m on cloud nine just about now. And am libel to stay that way for months to come.

After the show was over, we went down and waited for the T-shirt guy to close up. An extremely long hour later, he went to put the shirts away and see about getting us backstage. Five minutes later, he’s waving for us to follow him.

We walked through the DJ’s booth and into a rather small back room. The security guard tells us to close the door behind us. I notice that the only other people in this room either work at Hammerjacks or for the band. Then I see him. Standing by the door in a full length leather trench coat.

One of the security guards said “We need to move some people out of here.” A deep thick British accent pipes in “Does that include me too?” That voice, it was Brian May.

We started to walk towards another small room and just happened to pass by him. I shook his hand. I said something to him. He smiled and responded. In complete and total awe and shock, I can’t remember what was said for the life of me.

I meet Brian May.

About one minute later, he left for the airport. Talk about timing.

As we piled in the car, I made a comment to the effect of “Now I can die happy. If I died tomorrow, it would be O.K. because my one dream has been fulfilled.”

Then, as we drove away over the train tracks, we were almost hit by an oncoming train that my friend swore wasn’t there.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]

New Sci-Fi Series, “Deep Throat 69,” Sucks [parody]

Have you seen the best new show to hit TV in years? That’s right, I’m talking about Deep Throat 69, new from Paragraph, the same company that brought us Star Pecker. Deep Throat 69 is the name of a space station, orbiting around Babylon 5 in the ZZ Plural Zed Alpha sector, many parsecs from Earth (a parsec is a measure of distance that is impossibly far to convey, but can be reached in about three weeks by a Marie Celeste class starship, traveling at Warp 42). It existed before humans explored that portion of space, and is presumed to have been built by the same people who are building SUB III. Starfleet is currently using the station as a toll booth, as it is conveniently located at the end of Interspace 95.

Deep Throat 69 is commanded by Abraham Sissy, who is portrayed by Anyway Books. Books is a classically trained Shakespearean actor, last seen on TV dressed in black leather as a hitman, frequently saying, “Yo”. Books brings a commanding presence to his role as (a) Sissy (commanding means having very little or no hair and speaking quite loudly). Sissy, a single parent, was formerly starship commander, but was forced to command the far outpost after it was learned that he had hired an illegal alien to take care of his son, Jake (We’re talking

    really

alien here, as in the dude was blue, had antennae, and had a strange craving for Brussels sprouts). Books must be happy with his increased vocabulary, as he is now able to say things like, “Fire photon torpedos,” and “Yo, beam me up!”

Transporter chief O’Fryin was beamed over from the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise Zone, the stars of “Star Pecker: The Next Penetration”. Fans of that show will be relieved to know that he still utters his best line, “Stop calling me Scotty!” O’Fryin is also joined by his lovely wife and their kid.

Jax-in-the-box is a very unique creature. A woman in a fast food restaurant ate a tainted hamburger that made her hallucinate and swallow a bottle of tequila. Unknown to her, the worm at the bottom of the bottle was still alive, and sentient. The body of the creature is that of the woman, the only hint of her inhumanity being that she always has as strong craving for burritos.

As we later discover, Commander Sissy met the worm earlier in his career (previously in a male form), but refused to swallow.

Major Krrrch! (to reproduce this sound, just stick your finger down your throat), Sissy’s second in command, is a Bewhoran. Bewhorans are a race of people that look like a humans, but could really use some plastic surgery in the nasal area. The Major, being a woman, is forced to wear a tight fitting uniform emphasizing her breasts, to the ever-lasting delight of male Expulsion editors. She took her tight fitting jacket off in the first episode, causing most of the male staff to breathe heavy.

Nodoze is the head of security for Deep Throat 69. He is made up entirely of used condoms, and is able to form himself into anything he can think of. For an unknown reason, he really gets a kick out of making himself into jello, then exploding when anyone eats him. He also enjoys turning himself into a (Trojan) horse. The effects used in this involve the computers used to create the special effects in 1991’s hit movie, Sperminator II.

The producers were smart and hired Ross Perot to play the Faringo, Spork. He brings a much needed comic impact to the show in his continued lectures to Sissy on how he should be Commander. Mitilik redrum redrum redrum… excuse me, I don’t know what I was thinking. Anyway, Perot spends most of his time talking about the Federation’s doomed economic program and hitting on the Clingons women, an alien species that looks something like the brown streak in a pair of dirty underwear.

The villains on the show are the Corpsepasiians, a race of undead zombies who will stop at nothing to eat human food. However, they have poor eyesight and have mistaken Marriot food for human food, much to the delight of Deep Throat 69, who have given them all of theirs. In addition, the replicators keep making copies of the Republican economic program, fortunately short as it is.

The main gathering place on Deep Throat 69 is the Promenade, an intergalactic cantina. Two frequent visitors are Woodward and Bernstein, two reporters who keep asking to meet Deep Throat, then get very violent when everyone sends them to the doctor for observation.

The main action centers around the station’s function as a toll booth. The rush hour traffic snarls up the station every day, and Sissy is forced to disintegrate all drivers who drive on the shoulder. Coming soon to Deep Throat 69 is P, often a guest star on “Star Pecker: The Next Penetration.” P is an omnipotent being, modeled after Gene Roddleberry, creator of “Star Pecker.”

A new position at Deep Throat 69 is Director of Docking Services. The new director will have the responsibility of ticketing all starships within 30 milliseconds after docking, except for ships owned by Docking Services or Pocking Services directors, of course. All starships left unattended will be towed and dumped into a black hole. Deep Throat 69 hopes to generate approximately 70% of its income through Docking Services.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]

The Death of Superman

Let’s start off this column with a discussion of what was probably the biggest event in comics in 1992 and threatens to continue into ’93: the death of Superman.

Let’s get one thing straight: DC Comics, which has been creating monthly Superman comics since 1938, is a business. It is owned by Time Warner Inc., who are responsible fully to their stockholders. The stockholders only want one thing out of Time Warner, which in turn only wants one thing out of DC Comics: money.

Okay. Now, Superman may be the most well known, as well as one of the oldest comics characters, but in comics old and familiar is boring, which translates into poor sales.

DC has been publishing for a while, so they’ve come up with a number of schemes over the years to try to improve sales. The 50’s and 60’s saw the use of the imaginary story, with stories like “What If Superman married Lois Lane” or “What if Superman lost his powers”. The stories came with disclaimers, but the sales were good. In the 70’s and 80’s, Superman was reinvented several times. His origin was updated (so that instead of him being 40, he was now 27), and new themes were introduced (Clark Kent became a television reporter, villains like Lex Luthor got more powerful). The most thorough reinvention was for Superman’s 50th anniversary in 1988. Many parts of his past 50 years were cut, such as the existence of Superboy, Supergirl, the Phantom Zone, and Krypto the Superdog. Sales were much improved, but after the popular writer/artist who had controlled this left, sales started to slip again.

In 1990, the current writers on the Superman books (three at that time; a fourth was added in 1991 to have a Superman book out every week) decided that they would have Clark Kent pop the question to Lois Lane, in Superman (v.2) 50. This created a surge of media interest and the book sold out. However, this did not translate into increased sales in general in the Superman titles. Take note that there is one way to get out of an engagement without argument.

The Superman writers tried a number of different storylines in 1991, but none proved wildly successful. In early 1992, they were having a meeting when the topic of killing Superman came up. It’s their character; why not? Worked out that day was where and how he should die. They decided to announce it publicly way in advance (they had taken heat over not releasing the engagement plans), and came up with a gigantic alien mental patient to fight Superman (mental patient later changed to escaped prisoner in the interests of PC).

DC was fortunate and released the news about Superman’s death on a slow news day. Every media organization known to man covered the story, and Leno and Letterman talked about it for weeks. The story itself was a long, drawn out “Rocky” movie, a six issue slugfest ending in a typically cliched fashion: Superman’s last punch kills Doomsday, but he then succumbs to his injuries.

The recent storyline has been a huge success. For months, all four books, plus some issues of Justice League America have been selling out. The collector’s edition of Superman 75 (where he dies) has been commanding prices of $25 to $50 around the country. Superman 75 was the third biggest selling comic in history (@4 million), and the fastest selling ever (four printings in a month). The best way to catch the story for yourself is to pick up a copy of the Death of Superman trade paperback, a compilation of the whole storyline, now available at your local comics shop.

Wait a minute, Superman’s dead, right? DC screwed up because they can’t publish a book without its title character, right? Isn’t that the end of the story? Not quite. Most comics readers said “Superman’s dead? So what?” Why? Because death in comics ain’t quite like real life.

If you recall, there was a small media furor in 1987 when DC killed off Robin. However, that wasn’t the original Robin. The original one had a new costume, and the new one had only been around three or four years. Batman has since found another one. In comics, heroes and villains die all the time and come back to life. Readers have become immune to death. What may be original is how Superman comes back.
From Superman’s death until now, the four Superman books have focused on the supporting characters, as well as the attempts to revive Superman and perform an autopsy on his body. Jimmy Olsen has enjoyed success as a result of his exclusive photos of Superman’s death. Lois Lane and Clark’s parents have been shown dealing with his death on a personal level. Jonathan Kent, Clark’s father had a heart attack, slipped into a coma, and apparently died as the Superman titles suspended publication.

Several “one-shots”(one-issue specials) will be published in the next few months will detail how Metropolis handles life without a Superman, especially the large crime wave once criminals realize there’s no one to stop them.

The big news happens on Friday, April 16 when Adventures of Superman 500 ships. But how? Isn’t Superman dead? Yep.

In the double-sized issue, Superman meets his foster father, when both of them are traveling “towards the light”. Their combined force of will enables them to stop themselves passing on to the other side. At the end of the story, Pa Kent awakens from his coma, but Superman is nowhere to be found.

Two weeks later, on Friday, April 30, all four Superman titles ship on the same day, starting a new storyline – “Reign of the Supermen” – That’s right – Supermen. Four different super-powered individuals claim to be the Man of Steel.

Action Comics features a cold, logical (Vulcan?) vigilante who will kill if he thinks it’s necessary. Adventures of Superman features a “superboy” who appears to be a young clone of the original, and apparently has no memories. Superman features a cyborg from space, who claims to be Superman, retooled for the future. Superman: The Man of Steel features a steelworker, John Henry Iron, who was buried alive in the rubble when Superman and Doomsday fought, trashing Metropolis. He creates a high-tech metal suit, becoming a true man of steel.

The kicker is, any or none of these individuals could be Superman. They could be split personalities of the original, or the original is hiding out. In any case, it is unlikely that any of these individuals are Superman, since Clark Kent is nowhere to be found. If sales increase dramatically on one or two titles, that could affect the eventual outcome. If Adventures with the super-boy is successful, watch for him to be expanded into his own title.

Early predictions from fans saw Superman coming back as a grim and gritty vigilante, which is reflected in one of the Supermen.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]