Monday, December 8, 2014

"The Toy Collector" - a novel by James Gunn (Bloomsbury Books 2000)

The Toy Collector

a novel by

James Gunn

Bloomsbury Books 2000

It wasn't an accident that James Gunn burst into the public consciousness as the writer/director of Guardians of the Galaxy.  For years, Gunn has proven himself to be a fearless storyteller, highly individualistic, and full of spirit and emotional honesty. These were all elements that helped endear Guardians to millions of fans around the world.  In fact, these roots dig all the way back to 2000, years before his directorial film debut, with the publication of his first and only novel, The Toy Collector.  Without any hyperbole, it's a brilliant piece of work. 

As far removed from the epicness of Guardians as is humanly possible, The Toy Collector is a painfully honest factual-fictional account of Gunn's own life experiences.  Any protective skin has been stripped away and Gunn leaves all of his nerves fully exposed to the reader, confessesing thoughts and past actions normally locked up tight in the darkest hole in the brain. His openness is unexpected and refreshing.  The James Gunn in The Toy Collector is an emotionally damaged hospital orderly who sells stolen pharmaceuticals to fund an all-consuming toy robot obsession. The toys of adulthood - sex, drugs, and alcohol - are poor substitutes for the plastic relics of his youth. As Gunn desperately tries to escape adulthood and reclaim his lost childhood, his chemical-fueled self destruction threatens to destroy anyone unlucky enough to be caught in his orbit. 

Be warned, The Toy Collector is not pleasant, by any means.  In fact, it's pretty unrelentingly fucking brutal.  The book is a powerful ride through almost purely distilled emotions with nothing held back.  There is laugh out loud pitch black humor, gratuitous violence, bright wide eyed childhood innocence, graphic sex, and soul shattering sadness throughout. The Toy Collector is told in a non-linear narrative that randomly skips through Gunn's timeline, flashing from his despondent 20-somethings to his childhood and teenage memories. Occasionally we dive straight into the surreal blur of pure childhood playtime, where imagination and reality magically meld as kids work through their kinks with their action figures.  Gunn's writing is vivid and the words effortlessly flow from the page.  It's a fascinating read.

The Toy Collector is merciless right up to the very last sentence, with barely a single thread of hope for Gunn's redemption to hold on to. But now that the real-life Gunn has created a film that has embedded itself in the imagination of kids and adults around the world, there is an added dimension to this book. The Toy Collector is an important prologue to James Gunn as a writer and  filmmaker, and reveals his raw, beating heart in a way that his movies will never be able.  And in a way, Guardians is a hopeful epilogue to the James Gunn of The Toy Collector... that he eventually earned his hard fought redemption by making peace with adulthood, but only by keeping one foot firmly in the imagination of his youth.  By keeping the two alive and close, Gunn was finally able to create something beautiful, rather than tear it down to the ground like he always did before.

Check out an excerpt from the book on Google Books HERE

The Toy Collector is long out of print, but buy a used copy or the e-book HERE.

~ art and writing by kojak   2014

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Dahga Bloom - "No Curtains" (Captcha Records 2014)

Dahga Bloom
No Curtains

Dahga Bloom's second album, No Curtains, is warped danger muzak for those chemical-fueled police chases you keep getting yourself into, with a suitcase full a' money and a dead body in the trunk.  These four guys from Orange County have that ragged, ugly mutt sound of the late 80s/early 90s Pacific Northwest that i miss so much, like Love Battery and Screaming Trees and Mudhoney and Soundgarden, but all out of its mind from huffin' on model airplane glue. it's interesting to note that not only is Dahga Bloom guitarless, but they feature not one, not two, but THREE  fucking basses, and holy shit are they making a racket.  an unrelenting hallucinogenic wall of noise. whatever you are running from, No Curtains will aid you in your getaway.  drive safe.

and they were kind enough to provide some tasty mind-melting eye candy to soak in while listening. god bless them. i wish more bands did this. 

and they sure seem to bring it live, too.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Fantasy Art of Hannes Bok

Hannes Bok, (real name Wayne Woodward) (1914-1964), was an American illustrator best known for his Science Fiction and Fantasy magazine work.  His full color covers are lush and luminescent, influenced by the heavy layering of glazes by his hero Maxfield Parrish, and his black and white interior illustrations are odd and deeply compelling.

Bok's entry into the world of commercial fantasy art came through his friendship with a young and then unpublished Ray Bradbury.  By 1939, Bradbury was committed to becoming a sci-fi/fantasy author and hopped on a bus from Los Angeles to New York City to attend the World Science Fiction Convention.  Since Bok was unable to attend the convention himself,  Bradbury brought along an armload of his friend's work to show off to the editors there and to kill two birds with one stone.  It worked, and the rest is history. Bradbury etched his name in sci-fi/fantasy granite, and Bok became one of the most beloved illustrators from the Golden Age of sci-fi illustration.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Al Lover - Sacred Drugs (Psych Army/Crash Symbols 2014)

Al Lover
Sacred Drugs
Psych Army (vinyl)/Crash Symbols (cassette/digital) 2014

San Francisco DJ Al Lover has been an unrelenting force on the international psych scene for a while now.  If there is a beautiful meeting of psychedelic minds somewhere in the world, chances are he is right there at the epicenter of it all, spinning a tripped out dj set for everyone's enjoyment.  There are hours and hours of his remixes and cut-ups and mix tapes floating around, all of them worth checking out, but for Sacred Drugs, his first official LP of original material, Al Lover stretches his tether out  further than he ever has before.  The work here is deeper, more personal.  The beats are more subdued and heavily sedated. The atmosphere is thicker.  Everything is more ambient.  Sacred Drugs seems less designed to drag your ass out on the dancefloor and more for laying you out like a fucking rug in the comfort of your own home, gently holding you down and opening cosmic portals for altered states.  Most of the tracks seem like brief snippits of infinite loops, and explore a wide variety of sounds and textures... there are meditational soundscapes, slow-crawling trip hop grooves, and weird alien noise.  But make no mistake, this is not a relaxing experience by any stretch of the imagination.  The listener is kept discombobulated throughout as the album meanders through these strange sounds, and there is a bit of a paranoid feeling dripping off of the walls.  Sacred Drugs is the soundtrack for a dark, personal voyage, allowing your mind to wander deep inside of itself.  So get comfortable, relent to it, and ride it.  Safe travels.

Buy the vinyl HERE, and the cassette and digital download HERE.  follow Al Lover on Facebook and Twitter.  Check out HEAD MEDICINE's Al Lover interview from 2013 HERE

Stand out tracks: "The Shaman's Hand is Infinite," "The Shadow Self Shake," "7 Senses of Cosmic Understanding," ""Up Is Down and All Around Is Within"

guest appearance by Morgan Delt on "Super Strength (Power Plants)"!!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

John Alton: Master of Light and Shadow

                                                                                                                                    from Raw Deal (1948)                                                               

     In the world of Film Noir in the 1940s and 50s, few filmmakers had as profound an impact as John Alton.  The Hungarian-born photographer/cinematographer took the highly stylized shadows of German Expressionist masterpieces like Fritz Lang's M and it's American descendents Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon and applied them to low budget American gangster movies to great success.  His mark was made with his early collaborations with director Anthony Mann on T-Men in 1947 and Raw Deal in 1948 and peaked in 1955 with The Big Combo.  These films dove deeper into the shadows than anyone else had dared, a place that only Alton was able to navigate and accurately capture on film.  He had complete mastery over light, oftentimes giving only a sliver to slice dramatically through the darkness.  The actors puppeteered long shadows across the walls and ceilings until these silhouettes were almost characters themselves.  Gangsters oozed out into view from a sea of black ink on the screen, and beautiful damsels stood silhouetted under a street light with an eerie fog rolling in, photographed like an urban Ansel Adams piece.  Alton had an impeccable eye for composition and possessed flawless design instincts.  Nearly every shot is perfectly balanced, every element from the foreground, middle ground, and background worked together, and the actors oftentimes walked through these various levels as if they are on completely different planes.  Shadowed figures in the background lurch towards us through a back lit hallway, and just when they disappear into the murk, they emerge in front of us under dramatic lighting.   He utilized the full range of camera angles, from low worm's eye views to high, tight down shots,  extreme closeups balanced with wide panoramas and everything in between.  Alton also had an adventurous eye to place the camera in unusual positions... looking up through a table lamp to a group of scheming thugs, impossibly dramatic shadows drawn on their faces... behind a heavily silhouetted figure in the extreme foreground, dividing the screen down the middle with action to the far left and right. He was fearlessly creative.  Alton's early Noir films were created cheaply and on the fly for small independent studios and was given complete creative control. Later, while neck deep in the rigid confines of the Hollywood movie making machine, Alton still played by his own visual rules, but it came at a price. He constantly battled for his visions. Eventually, Alton had enough fighting with ignorant producers and retired from filmmaking in 1960.

It is worth noting that although Alton is most famous for his shadowy Film Noir films, he put his stamp on several color films later in his career.  He won his only Oscar Award for his work on the famous ballet scene from An American in Paris, world-renowned for its beautifully saturated hues.  Also worth mentioning is his work on the pilot for the Mission: Impossible television series in 1966.  Alton curiously emerged from retirement to work on this single episode and it still looks fantastic, like a piece of technicolor pop art (and a precursor to Jim Steranko's innovative Nick Fury books for Marvel Comics later that year).  He returned to retirement when filming was finished and faded into obscurity.  In the years since, filmmakers like Martin Scorsese have hailed him as a visionary and his work has now come back into critical view.  John Alton passed away in 1996 at the age of 94.

Here is a short but effective documentary on Alton:


T-Men (1947) (full movie)

Raw Deal (1948) (final sequence.  full movie streaming on Netflix)

He Walked By Night (1948) (full movie)

The Big Combo (1955) (full movie)

Mission: Impossible (1966) (full pilot) (streaming on Netflix)

Mission Impossible 1966 S01E01 - Pilot by madonna-jackson

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

GOAT - Commune (Rocket/Sub Pop/Stranded 2014)

Gathering of Ancient Tribes art by KOJAK


(Rocket Recordings/Sub Pop/Stranded 2014)

commune 1 |ˈkämˌyoōn|
1 a group of people living together and sharing possessions and responsibilities.

commune 2 |kəˈmyoōn| |kəˈmjun| |kəˈmjuːn|
verb [ intrans. ]
1 ( commune with) share one's intimate thoughts or feelings with someone or something, esp. when the exchange is on a spiritual level

     For the uninitiated, GOAT is a shamanistic psychedelic music collective from Arctic Sweden who just might be the best band around right now.  A steadily growing number of hypnotized devotees would agree. Since they emerged from the ether two years ago, few bands (if any) have been burning hotter, pushing further, or digging deeper than GOAT. They have a fantastical origin story, and their rise from obscurity has been absolutely fascinating to watch unfold, but it's too long of a story to tell here. Luckily i've been doing all of the legwork and chronicling their career since their debut so you can get caught up to speed.  Check it all out HERE.  It's worth it.

     GOAT's new album, Commune, is the sound of a frighteningly confident and talented band going full supernova. As crazy as it may seem, this album has evolved far beyond its brain-melting predecessor, World Music (which just happens to be one of the best albums of the last decade in case you weren't aware). Commune is even more diverse, performed even more masterfully, with warmer and richer production. Every raw edge has been shaped and formed to precision. Creatively, GOAT has broken through to an entirely different dimension, drawing from an even deeper well of influences than they were before... exotic sounds and styles from every remote corner of the globe, boiled down to their most primal core, and cranked to the point of spontaneous combustion. Technically, the band members have developed to a point where they can pull off just about anything their minds can conjure up.  Most notable are the strong performances from the anonymous dueling guitarists--among the very best in the world, in my opinion--and the bassist, who is on a John Paul Jones-level trajectory. These elements are combined with their trance-inducing percussion and the hair-raising wails of the twin priestess vocalists to create a limitless sound unlike anything else out there. Tranced out dance music from the past, beamed in from the future. As if that wasn't enough, GOAT continues to tap deeply into something that few others are even conscious of... an ancient tribal mysticism from a time far different than our modern day technological hamster wheel culture...traveling to the spirit world and returning to relay what was found... a strong sense of community where everyone tunes into each other on a far deeper level, attempting to create something together that no one individual could ever in a million lifetimes achieve.  It's a welcomed perspective in such a depressing, cynical time.


     The album opens with a tolling temple bell, slowly fading in with each ring.  It is a meditational introduction to clear your mind and align your focus... Commune is one of those mesmerizing, perfectly sequenced travelogue albums that will pick you up and carry you to exotic lands, if you let it.  The more attention you pay, the more you will find.  Headphones are a must.

     "Talk To God" lifts off with hypnotic, cyclical guitar riffs that echo the sounds of the Tuareg -- Saharan desert nomads and their modern ambassadors Tinariwen, Bombino, and Terakaft.  Images of vast desert expanses float in... camel caravans off on the horizon.  The guitars magically weave through eachother for what seems like forever, in no hurry at all, in complete defiance of typical Western song structure.  and really, that's kind of GOAT's defining trait... zoning off for waaaaaayyyy longer than most while attempting to achieve transcendence through repetition.  At one point, the guitars and vocals drop out and all that is left is that sick Rickenbacker bassline and percussion gnawing at eachother.  It's an eyes-rolled-back-in-the-head moment and for the rest of the track, everything warps together into a hazy mirage.

     "Words" is quintessential GOAT... an ancient war drum beat, summoning a fucking colossus out of the earth... phased guitar spiraling into infinity... white hot guitar leads stabbing in and out... this is GOAT distilled to laser precision, unrelentingly driving itself into your head like a railroad spike.  Live, this song will turn a crowd into a delirious mass.

     Shifting gears completely, "Light Within" is a piece of Latin space rock, with a slinky samba vibe.  This tune pushes out GOAT's already boundary-less sound to something far more refined than they were capable of on World Music.  The musicianship is top shelf, and an attentive ear can appreciate the brilliant final mix with light touches of finger-picked acoustic guitar and vibraphone threaded throughout.

     "To Travel the Paths Unknown" is a brief instrumental meditation to chill things out for a moment. Effects drip off of the guitar and what sounds to me like a strummed banjo, bringing Ennio Morricone's spaghetti western muzak to mind.

     This transition leads into the serpentine funk of "Goatchild."  For the first time, we hear men's voices in a mating dance call-and-response with the girls, singing about getting together for some free love.  Things get steamy with layers of 70s porno wah guitar solos stacked on top of one another as the song washes out in a tantric sex blur.  The goatchild is conceived.  Classic.

     "Goatslaves" blazes by like a comet... Everything is fused together tighter than ever before and the girls reach through the speakers and shout "Dying for Freedom/Dying for peace/Too many people live on their knees." Blistering stuff, and should rightly be the band's next single.

     "Hide From the Sun" has an entrancing Middle Eastern sound, reminiscent of  Turkish psych funk pioneer Baris Manco. The mood is more ominous,  with an off-kilter rhythm and a savage fuzzed out guitar solo.

    Named for the creator deity from Haitian Voodoo mythology, "Bondye" aims straight for the psyched out center of it all.  This instrumental is based on a rhythm similar to those found in rural Thailand, recently represented to a larger audience by Khun Narin's Electric Phin Band.  GOAT thrives on the merging of sounds that have never been put together before, so of course there are Gothic Americana fiddle solos flying around with more fuzzed out wah guitar to top it all off.  They make a perfect fit.

     The album's majestic finale, "Gathering Of Ancient Tribes," (note the acronym) brings things back around full circle to the expansive sounds of the opening track, but this is even more focused.  The intensity continues to build higher and higher, and when the girls are screaming "Into the Fire!!" it sounds less like a condemnation than it is an invitation to join them in the flames.  The track totally breaks open here, and all of the tension the band has built up over the course of the album is released in a mind blowing finale.  The tolling temple bell from the beginning comes back around and brings the album to a silent close.

     Commune, comes with considerably more interest and attention than World Music when it first appeared in 2012. Maybe even bordering on hype. With North American distribution this time around (finally) from the mighty Sub Pop, GOAT will have a unique opportunity to spread their gospel to a far wider audience than ever before. And as they have done at every step of their evolving career so far, Goat effortlessly rises to the occasion, unhindered by any outside force or pressure.  They are already in uncharted waters, it will be interesting to see where they navigate to from here.

Buy the album HERE in North America via Sub Pop,  and HERE via Rocket Recordings everywhere else

     GOAT is in the midst of their first ever extended European tour, and if you haven't witnessed one of their rare live rituals, I highly recommend trying your best to change that.  The shows are taking on mythic proportions.  If you can't, here is a taste of what you are missing: 

GOAT just released their first ever official video and it's fantastic.  directed by Sam Macon

For those of you who weren't able to get a copy of the limited edition 7" included with the Commune vinyl, here is the bonus track, "Dig My Grave."  Not only should this have been on the album, it should have been a single!  oh, those tasty guitars never get old...

follow HEAD MEDICINE on Facebook and Twitter

art and writing by KOJAK

Friday, August 15, 2014

Basil Wolverton - "Barflize" (1952)

Basil Wolverton (1909-1978) was an early pioneer during the Golden Age of comic books in the 1930s,  40s, and 50s with books like Spacehawk and Powerhouse Pepper.  His wildly imaginative inking techniques and insanely offbeat sense of humor made deep impressions on youngsters like Robert Crumb who would grow up to forge the 60s Underground Comix movement.

in 1952, Wolverton self published a 32 page book called "Common Types of Barflize or Who Stole My Martini."  here are 10 pieces from that collection, taken from a 1990 Fantagraphics postcard set called "Wolvertoon Postcards."

here are some random closeups to show off Wolverton's talents with an inking pen.