Modernist Library: Blue Monday vol. 2 – Absolute Beginners

img338Title: Blue Monday: Absolute Beginners (plus webisode scripts)
Script: Chynna Clugston-Major (edited by Jamie S. Rich; intro to webiside scripts by Rich)
Illustration: Chynna Clugston-Major
Published: Oni Press, 2001; (original comic book miniseries, 2001)

You know, for some reason, I just didn’t like this increment in the Blue Monday series as much as i liked The Kids Are Alright. In general, the quality of the story structure is just as good, like like the fact that she’s developing the other characters a little more, and even introducing new ones, but here are the main issues i have with this:

The general plot for this installment is “Bleu gets humiliated by the boy who likes her”. OK, for a high-school setting and dramady, but the specifics are something I find kind of beyond the pale. As it’s such a central thing to this four-part book, I doubt it’s going to count as a “spoiler” to anyone who doesn’t expect a complete blank-slate for their stories, so I’m just going to say it: Alan and Victor, the primary supporting male characters in TKAA, covertly take a video of Bleu getting undressed and taking a bath, and quickly spread it around the school. Now, OK, this is set in the early 1990s, before even tame staples of childhood, like the naked-on-a-bearskin-rug photos of us as infants were considered “child porn”, much less a more-or-less fully-developed fifteen / sixteen-year-old young woman, who just happens to still be in high school, and since Alan and Victor are in her class, there’s no “pedo factor”, but for hell, this is just ineffably creepy on so many levels, and I can’t really get into it played for comedy in the way that it has been. Now, how the video incident played out, i can totally see within the realm of believability for 15-20-year-olds (I mean, hell, I did something similar in New Dance), but I dunno, maybe I’ve seen too much SVU lately to see the comedy in this sort of thing (at least when I did a similar thing, it played for drama).

I’m also pretty unfond of the character development for Erin O’Neill (who finally has a surname) morphing from The Good Bad Girl into a Bitch in Sheep’s Clothing. While it certainly lends to drama, this is not only a development I’ve seen several times before (and for clearer reasons than we’re given in this volume), it’s a development that’s pretty predictable at this point, and honestly, this was a character that I wanted to like as I was reading the first book.

While I like the new character of Rissa, she’s just sort of sprang on readers and feels less fleshed out that Erin was in the first volume; aside from how she’s drawn, we know pretty much nothing about her personality other than that she likes football (soccer, to Americans). Now, Ms Clugston addresses this, humorously, in a filler comic at the end of the fourth chapter, which is a nice touch.

Another positive is the “mini comics” in the margins. Having never seen this in anything but GN form, I assume at least some of these were added for the compilation into graphic novel, as there’s an “aside” about Clugston mislabelling a song by The Beat as being by General Public that lasts several pages, to much amusement. When the next edition comes out, she needs to point out that she misspelled “Dexys Midnight Runners” on a t-shirt Clover wears as “Dexy’s Midnight Runners” –no, seriously, there’s no apostrophe.

I was also really enamoured with the introduction of Seamus, a pwcca taking the form of a six-foot-tall otter and who is apparently only visible to Bleu and clover, though he can clearly interact materially and psychically with other characters, even though they can’t see him. Again, I’ve done something similar in Peacocks & Fairies, so this not only serves as a reminder to crack down on myself and schedule in more writing time, but now I’ve got confidence that this sort of thing has appeal to more people than myself (which is a nice thing for a writer trying to stay in booze money to learn).

So yeah, in structure and development, it holds up as well as the previous book, but I didn’t like Clugston’s decision to play a borderline-assault for comedy, and I was disappointed with her character development choices for Erin. I would’ve rated about a full target higher if not for the video incident. It happens.

Poppare

So, here’s my latest Mod-influenced find, thanks to The Internet:

Pandafrisyr / 60’s mod from Amanda Lindblom on Vimeo.

“Poppare” (“pop fan”, according to most translations i’ve found on fansites) is a near-exclusively Swedish subculture style (a few people, usually girls, in “poppare” style have been noticed in Denmark, Finland, and even Paris, but for the most part, it seems contained to Sweden) that seems linked to a fans of shoegaze-influenced indie rock and pop music. Swedish bands like Broder Daniel, Florence Valentin, Kent, and others are popular, as are English bands such as The Smiths and Morrissey solo, The Cure, Franz Ferdinand, Joy Division, and a few others. The usage example of “poppare” in urbandictionary.com likens the look to “Emo from the 1960s”, and it doesn’t seem that far off a description.

The most popular hairstyle on girls seems to be these painstakingly-sculpted A-line bob-influenced bouffants (the back tends to be up higher and hair hangs lower in the front at a sharp angle), and popular dress for young women includes 60s Mod-influenced A-line skirts and shift dresses, Mary Jane shoes, Go-Go boots, heavy eyeliner and thick false lashes. The most common variants are “glitter poppare”, which is colourful, and hair is often accessorised with baby barrettes, and cheap plastic jewellery also seems popular with that style; then there’s “panda poppare”, named for the stark black-and-white colour scheme and often smokey eye make-up, and the look is generally more “grown-up”, in comparison; and then there’s a more casual look, with ‘smaller” hair, cigarette-slim jeans and Capri pants, oversized t-shirts, and big sunglasses. While photos of the boys, tagged popparpojke on Fuck Yeah Poppare, seem rarer, I’ve found a few pictures that seem to pick up on some later Mod and Mod Revival influences:

(above images found on the Tumblrerg “Fuck Yeah Poppare“)

(image found from Tumblr user olaf-g.tumblr.com)

Image found on the emocore.se forum

more popparpojke photos, are here.

Broder Daniel “Shoreline” musicvideo from Karl-Johan Larsson on Vimeo.

I’ve been listening to a few Broder Daniel albums, lately, and I have no idea why these boys didn’t break into the UK or US indie pop/rock scenes, cos they go really great alongside shoegaze staples like The Smiths, The Cure, The Go-Betweens, or My Bloody Valentine —the guitars are a little heavier, but really no moreso than the heaviest offerings from the Jangle Pop and Paisley Underground scenes of the mid-1980s (a scene I plan on writing an entry about, soon), which does make some sense, as they formed initially in 1989, and their first album was released in 1994, so it would make perfect sense if a lot of their influences lay in British shoegaze and jangle pop. Their emphasis on emotionally-charged lyrics rather than what they’ve referred to as “musical correctness” could’ve also given them a bit of a cult following when Emo was big a few years ago, but alas, I guess it wasn’t meant to be, and unfortunately, they disbanded in 2008, so short of a reunion, any cult following they gain outside of Sweden will be posthumous.

As I’ve previously noted, a lot of shoegaze and Australian Swamp seems to borrow bits and bobs from the 60s Mod and garage sounds, as well as jazz, rhythm & blues, and old blues inflused with a post-punk sensibility, which certainly helps a lot of the music more closely associated with those scenes appeal to Mods, even if the fashions associated with those scenes seldom seem to display much in the way of Mod influence, unless you count the fact that a handful of bands seem to be outfitted partially by old clothes from the mid-1960s that ended up in charity shops between 1979 and 1985. Here, i see a bit more in reverse —while the music tends to draw from newer sounds and influences, the associated fashions are clearly 60s-inspired, though with a few “updates” here and there.

That said, I think I’m showing my age when I see pictures of poppare girls in outfits like this:

and i immediately think of Strawberry Swithblade:

…and again, we do see a clear bouffant made with the hair, and if you’re familiar with Rose McDowall’s work after Strawberry Switchblade, then you’d know she did a record and EP of some pretty spot-on covers of 1960s folk rock, beautiful music, and chanson, (including Nancy & Lee‘s “Big Red Baloon”), under the name Spell.

To further align the poppare scene with Mod Revivals and similar scenes, an apparent influence and reference I keep seeing in the Tumblr tags is Mats Johnsson’s autobiographical graphic novel, Hey Princess, which apparently features a lot of references to 1990s Britpop, especially Oasis.

So yeah, I’m sure a lot of purists in the Modernist Front Party would insist that three’s no relation between the two scenes, but i think it’s pretty apparent, glaringly so, at times.

Modernist Library: Blue Monday vol. 1 – The Kids Are Alright

img295Title: Blue Monday: The Kids Are Alright (plus short stories)
Script: Chynna Clugston-Major
Illustration: Chynna Clugston-Major
Published: Oni Press, 2003; reprint 2007 (original comic book miniseries, 2000 and short stories originally printed variously in 1997, 1998, and 1999)

As with the later Scooter Girl miniseries by Ms Clugston, which I had previously reviewed, the story of this one is simple and kinda predictable, but the characters are lively enough to make it engrossing.

The title of this series, Blue Monday, is not only a clear nod to the song by New Order, which references the running themes of largely British music from the 1980s, but also play’s on the name of one of the primary characters, Bleu Finnegan. Between the main story pf the first volume and the “short stories” included in the back of the tome, Bleu is presented as a lead with others in a close-knit supporting cast, but other characters are given just as much personality, sometimes arguably more. The first such character to really do this is Clover Connelley, an Irish-speaking punk girl who’s given dialogue thick with mid-prole British Isles informalities, slang, and phonetics, in spite of a setting of what’s clearly an American high school, likely based in a fictionalised Fresno, California, area. Unfortunately, in this volume, very little other information about Clover is given, and most of that is within the short stories that pre-date the main story. Other characters that fill out the main cast are Victor and Alan, the boys, and Erin, all three dressing in a fashion typical of the 1977-85 Mod Revival, in spite of a year set as approximately 1992/93, judging by a fantasy sequence involving members of Oasis and Blur, and the main story of the three chapters: Bleu tries to see Adam Ant in “what’s probably his last” concert.

In all seriousness, that is pretty much the entire story of this first volume of three chapters — the quest of fifteen-years-old Bleu Finnegan to see Adam Ant in concert. Seems a ridiculous topic to drag out into three individual issues of a comic book, just written out like that, but Ms Clugston makes it work. It’s never boring, even if the suspense and drama is more cartoonish than realistic at times, but as a story loosely based on Clugston’s own high school years, it’s more realistic for how these events tend to feel to a teenager.

The short stories are well worth the read, as well, as they establish how many of the characters met and developed, and also gives a well-deserved appreciation of Clugston’s growth as an illustrator-storyteller.

Overall, it’s cute and enjoyable, and the characters really pop to life.

DJ RJ’s Modcast for 15 July 2013

 

Saint Etienne – “Railway Jam”
Department S – “Whatever Happened To the Blues?”
Dexys – “You”
Paul Bevoir – “Changing Places”
Madness – “Believe Me”
Gli Evangelisti – “Un ragazzo di strada”
Tony Clarke – “Landslide”
The Out Cast – “You’ve Gotta Call Me”
The Smiths – “Work Is A Four Letter Word”
Purple Hearts – “Plane Crash”
The Small Faces – “Tin Soldier”
The Meddyevals – “Place called Love”
The Kinks – “Village Green”
The Ordinary Boys – “Over the Counter Culture”
The Monochrome Set – “Two Fists”
Prince – “4 the Tears In Your Eyes”
Skandalous All-Stars – “Cult of Personality”
Alexei Sayle – “The Winebars of Old Hampstead Town”

RetroFuture Pop

This is not a “real genre”, but more a Last.FM tag I’ve grown fond of using. See, Wikipedia defines Power Pop as a Pop-Rock music that takes a lead from the early-to-mid-1960s, as far as musical structure is concerned. Just about anything Mod Revival is Power Pop, and so are many things that Mod Revivalists would probably never listen to. The Cars? Power Pop. Tom Petty? Power Pop. Well, OK, I’d listen to The Cars, but then, I’m apparently not a big snob about my music.

Where I draw the line between Power Pop and RetroFuture-Pop is where Power Pop remains more guitar-driven, even when there clearly are keyboards and synthesizers, RetroFuture-Pop is giving a callback to the 1960s, but points its face forward, toward the future. Guitars and bass guitars, and even live drummers are often be employed, but the primary instrument is usually keyboards, synthesizers, and other electronic instrumentation, or if it’s not the driving instrument, it’s taking the front passenger seat; guitars are sometimes electronically processed in the studio, and so forth, the “Hammond sound” is usually an electronic keyboard set to mimic that sound. Some Power Pop bands will indulge in the odd RetroFuture Pop song, but this is typically considered a bit of a novelty or experiment for the band, and it’s never considered as something that defines their sound —the inverse is sometimes true for RetroFuture Pop bands, so the occasional “organic guitar” driven songs may creep in, but it is not a defining point in their sound.

The B-52s are probably the quintessential RetroFuture Pop band, employing not only basic musical structures from 1960s pop music and driving it through synthesizers and processed guitars, but also employing vocal harmonies of many singing groups, from Phil Spector’s well-loved girl groups, to Tamla-Motown’s men’s and women’s singing trios and quartets, to The Mamas & The Papas:

The band’s aesthetic is also famously retrofuturist. Outfits and wigs also giving a call to the mid-1960s, but sometimes reaching outlandish heights, and often bearing cuts and angles and shapes clearly taken from Atomic Age visions of the future. They’re pure Atompunk, aesthetically.

DEVO (pronounced dee-VOE, not DEE-voe) is another obvious choice to get tagged as RetroFuture Pop. Musically, especially after their first LP, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are DEVO!, they’ve been very synth-driven, and more blatantly so than The B-52s; on the other hand, the structural themes of their music are just as influenced by 1960s Pop and Rock (though just as much, they often employed unusual time signatures), and in fact, their history as a band (forming in 1972) technically pre-dates that of most of the influential punk groups that came to prominence in the late 1970s —of course, like most early US punk bands, DEVO formed and started out in the Midwest (Akron, Ohio, to be precise) rather than either coast (The Stooges -Ann Arbor, MI; The MC5 -metro-Detroit, MI; ? and the Mysterians -Bay City, MI [and the first band to ever be referred to as “punk”]; Rocket From the Tombs and The Dead Boys -Youngstown, Ohio —and that’s just everybody off the top of my head). Lacking much significant musical resemblance to punk rock, DEVO still shares a lot of the “rust belt” cultural influences that helped shape the early punk bands.

In spite of proving highly influential, DEVO’s mainstream success, Stateside, has always been limited, and probably peaked with a cameo appearance on the 1982 cult sit-com Square Pegs (set in the fictional Weemawee, Ohio); I hear from friends in Oz that they were HUGE in Australia. DEVO was a band whose lyrics, mainly written by Mark Mothersbaugh or Gerry Casale or a combination of the two, were caustic, deadpan satirical, and occasionally very pessimistic and bitter. This added to the band’s surrealist appear as the delivery and instrumental tracks for each song were straight-up poppy, more often than not —there are some exceptions, especially very early on —their cover of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” is especially stilted and robotic, as a quick example. Their fascination with kitschy visuals can also give The B-52s a bit of a run for their money.

By default, the major Japanese Shibuya-kei groups tend to get tagged as RetroFuture Pop, and how can they not? The influences of 1960s French Pop, English Baroque, Bossa-Nova, and Hammond beat is undoubtable, and always with a sort of modern focus that’s favourable of the future. This is in sharp contrast to DEVO’s bleak look of a De-Evolved future and cynical look at the present. To be fair, I don’t speak or understand Japanese, and barely make sense of French on a good day, so I’m relying heavily on other people’s translations, but it seems that P5 might be incapable of being near DEVO’s levels of cynicism.

QYPTHONE is certainly more dancefloor-driven and, looking at their discography, has more explicitly aligned themselves with the Mod scene that P5 did (though P5’s clear influences are undeniable):

Capsule is among the most electronic, by far, and their visuals ripped straight from the earliest scenes in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, all the while maintaining a very retro-influenced vision of the future:

A recent addition to this list (well, recent for me) is Saint Etienne. The GraceNote auto-tagging in WinAmp says they’re DreamPop, which Wikipedia editors trace as a descendant of late 1960s Psychedelic Folk and English Baroque, and I can see that in Saint Etienne’s music. A lot of their instrumentation is giving a callback (intentional or not) to mid-1960s pop, lounge, and English Baroque, and Sarah Cracknell’s vocals are giving a direct nod to jazz singers of the late 1950s and Tamla-Motown girl groups.

I have nearly everything listed (and then some) in with my “Mod” music because clearly the 1960s Soul and Rhythm & Blues sounds, and the late 1970s/early 80s Power Pop bands are merely a starting point for me. To explicitly mimic that sound just seems a bit too much like hosting a re-enactment than building the subculture and showing it as something rich, vibrant, alive, and not to mention timeless and relevant.