Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 67: Geek Recap Summer 2016

episode-67-website-coverMore con talk! I wrap up my coverage of the 2016 Baltimore Comic-Con by sitting down with Professor Alan to talk about our experience at this year’s convention. We discuss con prep, creators we met, what we bought, and what we thought. Then, join me, Stella, and The Irredeemable Shag for a conversation over Mexican food during Shag’s recent visit to Charlottesville. Plus … listener feedback!

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The Rising

I am sure that if you were to scroll through your Facebook feed on the day I am posting this essay, which is the fifteenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, you’ll see a lot of images of eagles and flags and people posting their own memories of the day (despite their relevance to the events themselves).  I don’t tend to participate in these displays of patriotism, keeping whatever thoughts I have to myself or to the occasional blog post like this.  I also have particular pieces that I read every year, some that I incorporated into lesson plans back in my journalism teaching days.   But I do post one thing to Facebook on an annual basis, which is this:

If you aren’t familiar with this song or this performance, this is the performance that Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band gave of their song “The Rising” to open the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards.  The song, which was released on June 24 of that year, was the title track to the album of the same name and won two Grammy Awards (Best Male Rock Performance and Best Rock Song), and even though it didn’t do very well on the Billboard Hot 100, is well known because of its lyrics, which are from the point of view of a firefighter in the World Trade Center on September 11:

Can’t see nothin’ in front of me
Can’t see nothin’ coming up behind
Make my way through this darkness
I can’t feel nothing but this chain that binds me
Lost track of how far I’ve gone
How far I’ve gone, how high I’ve climbed
On my back’s a sixty pound stone
On my shoulder a half mile of line

Come on up for the rising
Come on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight

Left the house this morning
Bells ringing filled the air
I was wearin’ the cross of my calling
On wheels of fire I come rollin’ down here

Come on up for the rising
Come on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight

Li,li, li,li,li,li, li,li,li – li,li, li,li,li,li, li,li,li – li,li, li,li,li,li, li,li,li

There’s spirits above and behind me
Faces gone black, eyes burnin’ bright
May their precious blood bind me
Lord, as I stand before your fiery light

Li,li, li,li,li,li, li,li,li – li,li, li,li,li,li, li,li,li – li,li, li,li,li,li, li,li,li

I see you Mary in the garden
In the garden of a thousand sighs
There’s holy pictures of our children
Dancin’ in a sky filled with light
May I feel your arms around me
May I feel your blood mix with mine
A dream of life comes to me
Like a catfish dancin’ on the end of my line

Sky of blackness and sorrow (a dream of life)
Sky of love, sky of tears (a dream of life)
Sky of glory and sadness (a dream of life)
Sky of mercy, sky of fear (a dream of life)
Sky of memory and shadow (a dream of life)
Your burnin’ wind fills my arms tonight
Sky of longing and emptiness (a dream of life)
Sky of fullness, sky of blessed life

Come on up for the rising
Come on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight

Li,li, li,li,li,li, li,li,li – li,li, li,li,li,li, li,li,li – li,li, li,li,li,li, li,li,li…

I first heard this song when it was released in the summer of 2002 and eventually bought the album when it came out, which would have surprised nobody at the time because I’m a fan of The Boss and this was the first album he had recorded with the E Street Band since Tunnel of Love in 1987.  I knew going in that the album was about the September 11 attacks, and so I knew it was going to probably be somewhat different, but that also intrigued me because I had not been very receptive to the songs that were being played in response to the attack, most notably Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning?,” which I found cloying.  Springsteen had already performed “My City of Ruins,” a song he wrote about Asbury Park, New Jersey, at a telethon on September 21, but many of the songs on the album were written in late 2001 and early 2002, and the entire thing is packaged as both a statement of and contemplation of the events.

springsteen_rising_8x8_site-500x500Maybe it was the fact that it was The Boss that made me consider “The Rising” more than anything else I’d seen or heard about September 11.  The song is not subtle–Springsteen rarely is–but it doesn’t feel as blunt or saccharine as a “tribute song” would.  Instead, Springsteen uses a character to tell us about the events of that day, and he does this through several other songs on the album.  As I mentioned, this one is about a firefighter, but there are others that are from the point of view of other victims, their families, and the average citizen, a presentation that effectively tries to give them a voice while trying to interpret what happened for its audience.

“The Rising” is one of the album’s best pieces, both musically and lyrically.  Springsteen mixes the persona of a firefighter with religious imagery (“I was wearing the cross of my calling,” being a reference to the Cross of St. Florian) and while it does stumble a bit with his “catfish dancing” simile, the song transcends any of its minor lyrical faults through its music, especially the bridge, which is where Springsteen has the fireman seeing visions in “the garden of a thousand sighs” and then describes the sky while a bass line kicks in and the music begins lifting and lifting and lifting until it explodes into the song’s final chorus, personifying “The Rising” in the title.

This is one of my favorite parts to a song ever and this is one of my favorite songs ever because there is something about how Springsteen finds and expresses hope in the face of such a monumental disaster that is more genuine than manipulative saccharine pop or as tawdry as disaster porn.  He is finding humanity in all of this, which is something that often gets lost in memorial after memorial.  Yes, we remember that people died on September 11, but as the years go by, September 11 becomes more and more of an abstract idea and the individuals and the true human toll gets lost.  And it’s sad when this gets lost because that makes it harder and harder to teach to younger generations, because to the students I am teaching right now, September 11, 2001 is about as abstract a concept as the Kennedy assassination or Watergate were to me.  It’s something they’ve heard about, and something–depending on their family’s political leaning–they may have heard about incorrectly.

When I taught September 11 in journalism and later in English class, I focused on the reporting of the day in newspapers, the mis-reporting of the day in history textbooks, and then primary sources and interpretations.  I stopped teaching the unit after a couple of years of students not doing the reading and having nothing to say about it, figuring that they obviously weren’t finding it engaging.  But “The Rising” was always something I finished the unit with because it was about interpretation and finding meaning.

And you do have to wonder to yourself if September 11, 2001 is the type of thing that is open to interpretation.  Now, of course it is because anything is certainly open to interpretation.  But for years there has been a prescribed meaning or interpretation that our culture has been using.  What I have always loved about “The Rising” is that it doesn’t subscribe to that unless you want it to.  Springsteen wants us to take what we’re feeling and go along with this person, then release whatever that is, hopefully healing along the way.


Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 66: Like a Kid in a Comic Store

episode66websitecoverIt’s that time of year again–time for the Baltimore Comic-Con! And this time, I’m not alone!

In the first of two episodes covering this year’s convention, I am joined by my son, Brett, as we take a look at the Kids Love Comics portion of the Baltimore Comic-Con and he experiences his very first convention. Along the way, we have footage from the “Create Your Own Superhero Logo” session as well as the “Scribble Scramble” competition. Plus, creator interviews with Franco (Aw Yeah, Superman Family Adventures, Tiny Titans) and Alexis Fajardo (Kid Beowulf). AND … Brett winds up on TV! Come check it out; it’s loads of all-ages fun!!!

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If you’re interested in the people who were on the podcast, either as panelists/session hosts or who were interviewed, here are some links to their sites:

Carolyn Belefski, who hosted the “Draw Your Own Superhero Logo” session.

Mark Mariano, host of the Scribble Scramble

Franco, artist of many comics including Tiny Titans.

Kid Beowulf by Alexis Fajardo

Plus, below the jump are some pictures of cosplay and the convention from this past Saturday. Thanks again to the Baltimore Comic-Con for putting on such a great show!


Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 65: Cherry-Flavored Pez

Episode 65 Website CoverThirty years ago, Rob Reiner directed the seminal coming-of-age film Stand By Me. To celebrate its anniversary, Michael Bailey and I take a look at the film as well as the Stephen King novella “The Body,” upon which it’s based; as well as the music on its soundtrack. We also discuss why it’s an essential movie for anyone who grew up in the 1980s.

iTunes:  Pop Culture Affidavit

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Stand By Me Poster 2

After the cut are are some of the clips featured in the episode:


In Country: Marvel Comics’ “The ‘Nam” — Episode 74

IC 74 Website CoverChuck Dixon and Kevin Kobasic bring us “Creep,” the story of an American sniper that is more legend than man, in The ‘Nam #66. As always, I’ll have a synopsis and review of the comic and this time around, my historical context section will be focusing on the second half of 1970 and January 1971.

You can download the episode via iTunes or listen directly at the Two True Freaks website

In Country iTunes feed

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Nam 66

Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 64: The Music of the Summer of 1996

Episode 64 Website CoverIt’s time to throw your Sublime CD into the stereo of your teal Mustang and then do the Macarena while downing some Molson Ice because we’re going back to the summer of 1996.  Join me and my special guest–my wife, Amanda–as we take a look at the lineup from the 1996 HFStival and then discuss the music of that summer.

Here’s where to listen:

iTunes:  Pop Culture Affidavit

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And below the cut, here are some scans from the HFStival program:


Comics Prehistory: G.I. Joe #48

G.I._Joe_A_Real_American_Hero_Vol_1_48While I don’t think that I can ascribe great personal significance to any of the comics I’ve covered in this series, I’d have to say that G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #48 is probably one of the most important because this was the series that would become the most read and collected of my brief foray into comics in 1987.  This was also a book that when I would read through the back and current issues that I had collected (and by the time my collecting fell off, there were quite a few) would have a cracked cover and rolled spine, showing the beating it had taken since I first got my hand on it at my friend Chris’s birthday party.

I’ll admit that when I got the book as a party favor, I wasn’t as excited as some of the other kids at the party because some of them got issue #47 (I assume that this issue was part of a Marvel Comics three-pack), and that comic book had an incredible Mike Zeck color of Wet Suit, Beachhead, and Hawk on the Devilfish (full disclosure: I had to look that up) firing weapons and yelling.  Plus, issue #47 conclues with The Baroness shooting and killing Storm Shadown on a beach.  Issue #48, on the other hand, features another Mike Zeck cover–one that is no less great–of Zartan holding Gung Ho in a choke hold with a sign behind them saying “G.I. Joe Headquarters: Level 3.”

That’s basically the main plot of the book, as it’s very much a “bottle episode” of a television show because it takes place mostly at The Pit, which was the nickname for the Joes’ HQ.  Back in issue #46, Ripcord had infiltrated Cobra Island in search of his girlfriend Candy and was knocked out cold.  Zartan decided that this was a great opportunity for him to infiltrate the Joe headquarters, so he disguised Ripcord as himself and then took Ripcord’s form using his morphing powers.  While Ripcord wakes up in a hospital Springfield (a town in the United States that Cobra completely controls) and then proceeds to continue to search for Candy while fighting his way through Cobra operatives, Zartan is “treated” in The Pit’s infirmary, but his cover is quickly blown.

Ripcord’s story continues in the following issue (whose main focus is Destro aiding Dr. Mindbender in the creation of Serpentor), which means that the main focus here is Zartan, who is chased around The Pit and tries to elude capture by changing form several times and nearly gets away with it but is ultimately brought down by a brand new Joe, Sgt. Slaughter, who was a character I always had mixed feelings about because I knew him from the WWF (although in an interesting bit of trivia, Slaughter’s role in G.I. Joe is what led to him leaving the WWF in the mid-1980s, as Vince McMahon did not want to allow him to license himself to Hasbro; Slaughter would return in the early 1990s as an Iraqi-sympathizing heel), and therefore he was more like an “imported” character than one of the more “home grown” characters.  And yes, I felt like this when I was nine years old.  Plus, his solving the problem, while it definitely was meant to be slightly comedic (two Gung Hos come at Sarge and he punches one.  When asked how he knew which one was Zartan, Sarge basically says, “I didn’t.”), also seems a little forced in that “look at how awesome this new character is” sort of way that didn’t always work on television shows, cartoons, or comic books.  I haven’t read much beyond this issue recently, so I can’t really say how much of a role Sgt. Slaughter plays in future storylines, and I know that Larry Hama focused more on the ninja-type characters anyway (as we’ll see when I get into the actual “Origin Story” podcast).

The end of the issue is a meeting between Hawk and several of the U.S. military’s top brass, which carries on one of the running subplots of the time–Cobra has its own island and has managed to get “sovereign nation” status from the United Nations and the U.S. is hamstrung as to what to do.  Cobra is a terrorist organization, so attacking Cobra Island would be considered an actual act of war, so the brass tell Hawk that the island is off-limits.  This sets up what will be a huge story in issue #50, which is where the Joes invade Springfield and ultimately find nothing, something that leads to the team’s downfall (which includes Cobra invading The Pit around issue #53).

It’s a testament to Larry Hama’s writing that he could create such a continuity for an audience whose primary desire in picking up the comic was to see their action figures have adventures, although that’s not something I realized at the time, even though it would be soon enough.

And that’s it for my “Comics Prehistory.”  Tune in on September 30, 2016 for the first episode of “Origin Story,” where I will cover G.I. Joe and The Transformers #1.