Songs About The Senses

As you may know, although I often write about the law at the Abnormal Use blog, I occasionally stray into other topics, including popular (and obscure music). In so doing, I’ve become acquainted with a number of lawyer bloggers who fancy themselves music aficionados (or vice versa). This, sometimes, results in unusual contests of musical knowledge. This week is no different. In a recent post about a Florida appellate court’s new opinion interpreting Daubert, attorney Steve McConnell of the Drug and Device Law blog recently dared me to name more songs about the sense of smell than he could. (Apparently, the case at issue had something to do with a Plaintiff losing that sense.).

McConnell and I have a long history of such exchanges. Back in 2010, he quipped that “any rock band with four letters in its name will produce wretched music” (a troubling remark to which I felt compelled to respond here). He redeemed himself, though, with a fine post about the work of The Beatles and the Sixth Circuit. In 2011, our law blogs created dueling lists of songs about lawyers, judges, and attorneys (and our blog’s list, of course, included Don Henley’s fateful tune about expert witnesses). He doesn’t limit himself to music, either. Six years ago, McConnell wrote about one of our favorite topics: Star Wars. Later, in another post,, he compared a qui tam action to a scene from The Godfather Part II.

You get the idea.

So, I can’t say I was surprised when I received an email from him this week directing me to his latest post. His challenge to me can be found at the end of this two paragraph excerpt:

In his poem “To Summer,” Blake begs the season to “curb thy fierce steeds, allay the heat/That flames from their large nostrils!” That is typical Blake; he takes our favorite time of the year and turns it into a satanic beast. We’d prefer to consider the delightful aromas that Summer brings to our nostrils: beach, fresh cut grass, BBQ, citronella, funnel cakes, empty courtrooms, etc. Plus, if we believe the Seals and Crofts song “Summer Breeze,” the scent of jasmine is out there. Summer is redolent of youth and hope.

Sometimes we get the sense that the sense of smell does not get its due. We are taught that seeing is believing. McCartney sang, “Listen, do you want to know a secret?” Morrison insisted, “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon and touch me, babe.” It took us a moment to think of any olfactory songs, but there are more than you might suspect. Primus inter pares, of course, is Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” A mellow Mac Davis asked his fans to “Stop and Smell the Roses.” Lynyrd Skynyrd rocked out to “That Smell.” Todd Rundgren might have been floating in that ocean of cash he got from producing Bat Out of Hell when he wrote “The Smell of Money.” And what was the reason for the great guitarist Buddy Guy’s fixation on all things nosey? His huge catalog of classics includes “I Smell Trouble,” “I Smell a Rat,” and “Smell the Funk.” Does all that Chicago blues stinkiness have anything to do with the fact that the name “Chicago” comes from an Indian word for a malodorous onion? [Meanwhile, expect the Abnormal Use blog to issue a challenge about which roster of legal geeks can come up with more smelly songs. Hey, Dedman, we’re waiting.]

Of course, McConnell named several songs which we all know, including Nirvana’s’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit Spirit” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s’s “That Smell.” (Fun fact: This is not the first time McConnell has written about Nirvana’s epic anthem). He referenced “Summer Breeze” by Seals and Croft but not the 1993 cover by Type O Negative. But what other songs about the sense of smell leap to mind besides those he mentioned?

Scouring my memories, I can conjure up a number of punk anthems, but I suspect it may be best not to quote the subversive lyrics in this post. The White Stripes released “I Think I Smell A Rat” on 2001’s White Blood Cells, while R.E.M. raised eyebrows with its “Mine Smell Like Honey” from 2011’s Collapse Into Now. As Weezer began its inevitable slide into irrelevance, it released “Dope Nose” on 2002’s Maladroit. Green Day offered us “Geek Stink Breath” on 1995’s insufferable Insomniac, while Nirvana gave the world “Scentless Apprentice” on 1993’s In Utero. The Stinky Puffs, a band composed of the children of some early 1990’s alt-rockers, released a 1995 album called A Little Tiny Smelly Bit Of . . . . which included a tribute to the recently deceased Kurt Cobain called “I’ll Love You Anyway.”

But none of those selections serve as a perfect response to McConnell.

For the past few days, I’ve dwelled on the issue, hoping that my mind would direct me to an appropriate solution. Then it hit me: the perfect response to McConnell’s inquiry.

Never suspecting that the effort might aid a lawyer blogger 34 years later, The Replacements released a fifteen minute EP in 1982 It is the perfect answer.

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Stink by The Replacements. I win.

What’s Brewing with Regional Alcohol Laws?

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If you find yourself in Charlotte, North Carolina in early June, please join us for an upcoming brewery law CLE. As you might know, I serve on the Mecklenburg County Bar’s Continuing Legal Education Committee. As such, I propose and plan CLE programs for members of the local bar. In the past, I’ve organized presentations on the Salem witch trials (featuring colonial historian and novelist Katherine Howe), the fascinating tort of alienation of affection (for a Halloween event at which presenters also explored the legal implications of the Ashley Madison hack), and of course, the regulation of breweries.

My next program is the Mecklenburg County Bar’s “What’s Brewing with Regional Alcohol Laws?” event, which takes place in a few weeks here in Charlotte. The roster of speakers is impressive; it includes lawyer and South Carolina Brewers Guild executive director Brook Bristow of Bristow Beverage Law, Raleigh beverage industry attorney Laura Collier of Strike & Techel Beverage Law Group LLP, and Carrboro trademark law guru Ed Timberlake of Timberlake Law, PLLC. Both Laura and Ed have spoken at past events I’ve planned, and they are not to be missed. For two years, I’ve attempted to plan a program featuring Brook, and now it has finally come to be. The event will take place on the afternoon of Thursday, June 9, 2016 at the Birdsong Brewing Company on North Davidson Street in Charlotte. Known for its famed Jalapeño Pale Ale, Birdsong also brews a seasonal wheat ale called Fake Plastic Trees, named for the sublime 1995 Radiohead single. (The image above of the cans of Fake Plastic Trees is courtesy of Birdsong’s Tara Goulet.).

If you’re an attorney desiring CLE credit, it can be yours, but if you’re not and/or you don’t, there are other pricing options. Registration information can be found here.

By the way, if you find this subject matter appealing, you might also be interested in “Free The Brews: The Perils of Craft Beer Regulation,” an upcoming program sponsored by The Bastiat Society’s Charlotte chapter (of which I am the chapter director). Featuring the Civitas Institute’s Greg Pulscher, host of the “Free To Brew” podcast, the event takes place at Kickstand Charlotte on the evening of Thursday, June 30, 2016. (The podcast’s tagline is: “Without beer there can be no liberty, and without liberty there can be no beer.”). Additional information about this event can be found here. The best part: It’s free.

For posterity, I’ve compiled a list of the past alcoholic beverage regulation programs I’ve planned. You can find it below along with links to the program information for each event.

PAST ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE REGULATION PROGRAMS

Blogging for Lawyers and Related Ethical Issues

If you find yourself in Columbia, South Carolina this coming Friday, May 13, 2016, please join us at the The South Carolina Bar Employment & Labor Law Midyear Meeting, at which I’ll be speaking. I’ve been asked to present on the issue of “Blogging For Lawyers and Related Ethical Issues,” which is a broad enough topic to permit me to stray into some new opinions that have been released this year which may affect lawyers’ work online.

In addition to reviewing the daily challenges faced by lawyer bloggers, I also hope to discuss the recent “Ruling Rejecting Jury Questionnaire” and “Order Re Internet and Social Media Searches of Jurors” by U.S. District Judge William Allsup in Oracle America, Inc. v. Google, Inc. (No. C 10-03561-WHA) currently pending in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. I also plan to address John J. Robertelli v. The New Jersey Office of Attorney EthicsA-62-14, 075584 (N.J. April 19, 2016), in which the New Jersey Supreme Court found that two lawyers could, in fact, be prosecuted for ethical violations arising from improper usage of Facebook. If time permits, I may also share my thoughts on the State Bar of California Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct’s recent proposed opinion on lawyer blogging and advertising.

The program will be held at the South Carolina Bar Conference Center on Park Street in Columbia, South Carolina. Scheduled to last an hour, my presentation begins at 3:45 p.m. Registration information can be found here.

Many thanks to Greenville attorney Matt Johnson of Ogletree Deakins for the invitation to speak at the seminar. In addition to being an employment lawyer, Matt is also a fan of fine music. In fact, in late 1985, he saw The Minutemen and Jason and The Scorchers open for R.E.M. on the second night of a two-night stint at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre. How about that?

The Postponed Concert Blues

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Matt Wake, an entertainment reporter for AL.com, recently interviewed yours truly for “The Postponed Concert Blues,” a piece in which he chronicles the perils of concert cancellations and their effect on ticket purchasers. In our brief but lively conversation, we addressed Bruce Springsteen’s recent cancellation of his Greensboro, North Carolina show (to which I had tickets, which are depicted in the image above). Any discussion of artist cancellations must necessarily include Morrissey, who I once beheld in concert in 2007. However, on several subsequent occasions, the former lead singer of The Smiths thwarted my attempts to see him perform again by axing shows to which I held tickets. Of course, I lamented those fateful experiences to Matt, as well.

Here’s an excerpt of the piece which features some of my quotations:

Dedman was living in Greenville, S.C. when he saw Morrissey, the moody crooner formerly of ’80 British band The Smiths, perform there in 2007. “And he was great,” Dedman says. “He played (The Smiths’) ‘Death of a Disco Dancer,’ which was the one song I wanted to hear most of all. When you lose yourself in the moment like that and the songs that have transfixed you for so long are being played by the original performer, it’s just magic.” A couple years later, Morrissey was touring again and Dedman purchased tickets to see back to back shows in Atlanta and Asheville, N.C.  He booked a hotel room and drove from Greenville to Atlanta to meet up with a friend there for the concert. The afternoon of the show Dedman and his friend went to that city’s High Museum of Art beforehand.

“So we’re just walking around the art museum and I get a text or a call from Ticketmaster saying that the show is cancelled,” Dedman, now 40, says. “And of course Morrissey has a reputation for cancelling. And I’m already there. I’ve already got the hotel room.” A message on the singer’s website indicated the show had been cancelled due to “illness.” The Asheville show was also cancelled. “So I’m out a hotel that night too,” Dedman recalls.

You can read the full article, which offers a handful of other anecdotes, here. If you’re feeling nostalgic for news of Morrissey, you can revisit the original Slicing Up Eyeballs coverage of his March 2009 tour woes here.

Many thanks to Matt for allowing me to share these memories with his readers. I first became aware of him five or so years ago when he worked as a writer for the Greenville News. I’ve followed him on Twitter for a number of years, and if you’re interested, you can do so as well at @MatthewBWake. By the way, he also owns Echo Records, a vinyl shop in Huntsville, Alabama, which I hope someday to visit.

Prince (1958 – 2016)

Prince_logo.svgPrince, the resplendent, bizarre, and extraordinarily talented musician, died this past Thursday of as of yet unconfirmed causes. The cruelest of recent years, 2016 continues to rob us of our most beloved artists and performers. What words are left for us to express our bewilderment and grief when we’ve been forced to use them so many times before in just the past few months? In the past several days, we’ve seen multitudes of eulogies and tributes, and I too feel compelled to write about this devastating loss to popular culture.

As a child in the early 1980’s, when MTV first introduced him to me, Prince seemed to be some type of phantasmagorical oddity. He, along with Michael Jackson, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper, and Boy George, defined the popular culture of that era. Taken together, that curious coterie of artists reigned over MTV in its early days. His singles permeated the airwaves, and I have vivid memories of listening to them in the car as my parents drove me to and fro in suburban Houston all those years ago. Then came the summer of 1989. Thirteen years old that year, I greatly anticipated Tim Burton’s Batman for which, of course, Prince authored the vibrant and daring soundtrack. My favorite moment of the film remains that electric sequence during which The Joker vandalizes the priceless works of art in the Gotham City museum as Prince’s “Partyman” echoes throughout the building. It was as if the song became its own character in the film.

His music served as the soundtrack to countless moments of my life. Each time I hear the mad genius of “Let’s Go Crazy,” a song released more than thirty years ago, it’s as if I’m experiencing it again for the very first time. In the early 1990’s, as a high school student, I often drove around Houston listening to the anthemic “7” (after spending the entirety of an afternoon searching for its compact disc single at various local record stores). Music fans of all stripes once quested for the mysterious, unreleased Black Album, which for many years existed only as an elusive bootleg. I never found it, although the album ultimately saw its commercial release in late 1994. In December of 1998, and of course, at the end of the following year, Prince’s “1999” was inescapable, despite the fact that the song had been released more than a decade and a half beforehand. In 2004, the cast and crew of Pleadings, the independent film I wrote and produced, joined together to sing “Purple Rain” at a Houston karaoke bar to celebrate the end of principal photography.

Culturally omnipotent, he worked with or otherwise influenced throngs of other musicians, and references to Prince’s work would often crop up in the work of other artists. He wrote “Manic Monday,” which became a hit for The Bangles in 1986. Sinead O’Connor’s 1990 cover of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” still haunts listeners 26 years later. Known for their catchy 1990 single “Pure,” the members of The Lightning Seeds chose their name after mishearing the lyrics to “Raspberry Beret.” In 1996, a group of Austin bands, including Spoon, contributed tracks to Do Me Baby! Austin Does Prince, a tribute compilation. In 2002’s “The Real Slim Shady,” Eminem revealed that he had “been suspenseful with a pencil ever since Prince turned himself into a symbol.” In 2009, The Fruit Bats released “Singing Joy To The World,” a wonderfully melancholy song which tells the story of a love which germinated, in part, due to Prince’s “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man.” His influence abounds, and without a doubt, it will continue to do so.

In early 1978, when Prince released his first album, I was a mere toddler, meaning that until this week the only world I knew was one which included him. Upon hearing the news of his death, my mind leapt again to the sense of loss we communally felt upon the passing of another great, David Bowie. In January, just a week after Bowie’s death, I wrote:

Now we find ourselves a part of a popular culture absent David Bowie, once its ubiquitous fixture. For many, including myself, there was never until this week a cultural landscape that existed without Bowie thriving therein. As Jemaine Clement, a member of New Zealand’s Flight of the Conchords musical duo, remarked on behalf of that group, “Both born in the ’70s, we hadn’t witnessed a world without Bowie.” To fans and followers of popular music, Bowie remained omnipresent in both his output and influence, and we always anticipated that he would soon release something intriguing and new.

We are, as one Twitter user recently observed, “losing the unloseable.” Like intrepid concert photographer Ben Stas, I now marvel at “the degree to which the man has been omnipresent in my life since I first took a serious interest in music.”

The same is true of Prince, the cool and cryptic crooner, the guitarist, the producer, the actor, the enigma. Unlike so many makers of music in those halcyon days of the early 1980’s, he endured, becoming one of the artists whose work nearly all of us knew. He continued to experiment with both his art and its delivery to his fans. To toy with his listeners, he once released a 45 minute album featuring nine songs combined into a single track on the compact disc. When fans purchased a ticket to a Prince concert, they would often discover that they had also bought a copy of his latest album as a part of the transaction. However, his notorious hostility to the streaming services made it rather difficult to revisit his oeuvre in our bereavement. As one writer noted, “[i]t was a strange mourning, to be at work and wanting to listen to the songs that we all knew but knowing that they wouldn’t be available to illustrate the shared grief.” Despite his reluctance to embrace the Internet, he remained omnipresent in the culture, prompting the great manifestation of adoration we beheld on that sad, sad day.

Requiescat in pace, Prince (June 7, 1958 – April 21, 2016).

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Lawyers

Recently, Josh Gilliland of The Legal Geeks kindly invited me to appear on his podcast to discuss the great woe wrought by Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The episode in question is titled “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Lawyers.” As you might imagine, spoilers abound, so listen at your peril if you’ve not yet seen the film.

During the episode, we discuss Zack Snyder’s troubling new blockbuster, John Byrne’s Man of Steel comic book series, and the moral compass of characters like Superman and Captain America. Of course, we also spoke extensively of Batman and the surprising fact that Ben Affleck fared mostly well in his first outing as the Dark Knight.

Many thanks to Josh both for extending the invitation and offering his advice on which microphone headset to purchase in order to best participate in the enterprise.

You can listen to the episode in question here.

The Gen-X Recollection Project

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A few years ago, I found myself wandering the streets of downtown Athens, Georgia on a lazy Saturday morning. After dutifully visiting the local record shoppes, I chanced across Bizarro Wuxtry, an old school comic book store located on College Avenue. A wonderful mess, the place offered its customers the opportunity to sift through immense piles of back issues, nostalgia drenched toys and collectibles, and other miscellaneous pop culture debris. As I strolled through the store that day, I suddenly caught sight of an issue of Elson’s Presents Super Heroes Comics, the cover of which is depicted above. I was instantly taken aback, as I had been searching for this particular comic book for a number of years. This issue – apparently published in the very early 1980’s when “Elson’s Gift and News paid DC to repackage some of [its] comics” – was the very first comic book I owned. I don’t recall very much about the circumstances surrounding its initial acquisition, but I suspect that my father purchased it for me as a gift during one of his business trips. Some Googling confirms that the Elson’s franchises catered to business travelers during that time period. Somewhere along the way, my original copy of the issue was lost to the ages (likely misplaced during a move or otherwise purged from my possessions during some vainglorious effort to achieve a more minimalist existence). But three decades later, there it was again, sitting atop a pile of comic books and beckoning to me. Of course, I bought it and relived a few moments of my lost youth.

Shortly thereafter, I realizedccomicspresentsd that in my late thirties, and now, in my early, early forties, I have been attempting to assemble a collection of pop culture relics from my childhood. Perhaps “reassemble” is a better term, as I continue to purchase items I once owned long ago, whether they be comic books, novels, cassette tapes, or even vintage toys. For example, I recently reacquainted myself with the works of Stephen King and Robert McCammon, two of my favorite horror writers from days gone by. Perched atop a coffee table in my office is an original Millenium Falcon spaceship toy (the one once manufactured by Kenner). Not too long ago, I reacquired a copy of DC Comics Presents #69 which, if memory serves, was an early addition to my nascent comic book collection all those years ago. (Published in 1985, the cover of that issue is at left, and yes, that’s the face of Albert Einstein to the right of Superman.). Sometimes, I wonder what has prompted the rekindling of my interest in these bygone artifacts. Although simple nostalgia prompts the search for such things, the quest becomes an effort to recapture that wonderful sense of possibility that permeates youth. This curious habit occupied my mind again recently because my old friend, the indefatigable blogger Ryan Steans, recently embarked upon something he has dubbed The Gen-X Recollection Project, an effort to gather together the childhood pop culture memories of those who came of age in the 1980’s. In a recent post at his fine blog, The Signal Watch, he asked his readers and friends to recount their childhood experiences with comic books, science fiction, and the like and compare them with today’s far more tolerant environment of such diversions. As Ryan suggests in that post, while knowledge of comic book lore might earn one “indie street cred” in today’s environment, the culture was not as permissive of those pastimes during the Reagan years. As you might expect, Ryan’s invitation to participate in this undertaking prompted some reminiscences of the 1980’s, the era when I first became an avid comic book reader. As a part of his project, he has asked a number of specific questions of the contributors to this effort, several of which I’ve elected to answer in this post (which will be published both here and at Ryan’s site).

What do you do for a living?

For the past fourteen years, I’ve practiced law. As a part of my job, I also serve as the editor of Abnormal Use, a products liability law blog. Each Friday, we run a column called “Friday Links,” in which we oftentimes analyze and comment upon comic books with legal issues depicted upon the cover. On that blog, I’ve even interviewed a few comic book creators, including Daredevil writer Mark Waid, She-Hulk writer Charles Soule, and Tiger Lawyer creator Ryan Ferrier. Back in college, I majored in screenwriting. A few years after I graduated from law school, I wrote and produced a low budget film called Pleadings. You can read a bit more about my background on my “About Jim” page.

Where do you live?

I live in Charlotte, North Carolina. Before moving here five years ago, I lived in Greenville, South Carolina. Born in Tennessee, I spent most of my formative years in Texas.

How did your interest in comic books, science fiction, and fantasy initially germinate? What year was that? Do you remember what was going on in your life?  

Like most members of my geavengersneration, as a youngster, I followed the Star Wars films with great fervor. Equally of interest was 1985’s Back to the Future, which prompted me, along with every other child that year, to request a skateboard and a guitar for Christmas. Michael Keaton was Batman, and of course, Christopher Reeve was Superman. I watched a lot of science fiction television, whether it be reruns of the original “Star Trek” series, new episodes of “Misfits of Science,” or Saturday morning cartoons like “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends.” I read Choose Your Own Adventure books and, later, Stephen King novels. When my Atari 2600 found its way to obsolescence, I began to save money to buy the new-fangled Nintendo Entertainment System. My favorite computer games, though, were the Infocom text adventures games. After learning computers using a TI-99/4A and then a Commodore 64, I discovered telecommunications and bulletin boards using my Tandy 1000’s 1200 baud modem. And there were the boxes and boxes and boxes of comic books. As noted above, my father bought me my first comic: that fateful issue of Elson’s Presents Super Heroes Comics back in the very early 1980’s. Not long thereafter, I began to scour those iconic spinner racks for back issues. Although my initial introduction to the medium was through DC Comics, I quickly became a Marvel reader, finding my way through older issues of The Uncanny X-Men and The Avengers (the cover of issue #250 of which, released in 1984, can be found at left). I obsessed a bit over The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition, a series of comics which featured encyclopedic mini-biographies of super heroes and villains. I shuddered at the drama of the tragic Mutant Massacre storyline and the tale of Scourge of the Underworld, the vigilante who took it upon himself to execute third rate villains. Other favorites included New Mutants and X-Factor (both of which, along with the Classic X-Men reprints, further educated me on the larger backstory of the X-Men). The social and political stakes of the X-Men titles – represented by The Mutant Registration Act, Marvel’s faux political advertisement for which appears below – made the issues presented seem important to young readers. After all, Marvel introduced us to characters who were senators who discussed actual legislation. In the Marvel Universe, mutants were an oppressed class, and X-Men writer Chris Claremont’s nuanced and riveting storytelling during those years was, well, a marvel.

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But, as all things do, that hobby came to an end, just a year or two after the release of 1989’s Batman, the major motion picture blockbuster which, curiously, instigated the incremental process of making comic book superheroes “cool” in the eyes of the general public. By 1990 and 1991, my interest in popular (and obscure) music overtook that of comic books. Who cared to follow the misadventures of Captain America or the West Coast Avengers when there was the output of Nirvana, R.E.M., and U2 to be explored? How could I spend my hard earned money on new issues of comic books when there were compact disc singles to be purchased? So, I stopped venturing to comic book stores, save for the occasional lark. A few times in the last two decades, I’ve thought about returning to the habit, but these days, the storylines and wearisome crossovers are too complicated. I haven’t the time to sift through so many reboots, multiverses, and other gimmicks.

Where did you buy comics?

For most of the 1980’s, I lived in either Memphis, Tennessee or Houston, Texas. There are a host of comic book stores from those cities which exist now only in the memories of members of my generation. In Memphis, I frequented the now defunct Memphis Comics and Records which, if I recall correctly, boasted two locations. In Houston, I shopped at Third Planet (which still exists, actually, but in a different location than the one I once visited) and The Silver Penny (which was located within a flea market somewhere near the Town & Country neighborhood). There are others, of course, but their names now elude me. (To no avail, I’ve spent the past few days attempting to recall the name of the comic book store on Gessner Road, just north of I-10 in Houston, which I visited in the early 1990’s.). I can remember patronizing these stores on early Saturday afternoons in the care of my parents armed with whatever money I had cobbled together that week. Decade laters, in an effort to reintroduce myself to comics, my store of choice became Comics Kingdom in Beaumont, Texas, the city in which I first entered private practice as a young lawyer. However, after valiantly attempting to keep pace with the ceaseless onslaught of new titles and issues, I gave up, as the task had become too much of a chore.

Did you have friends who shared your interest? How was your interest in such things perceived by others?

It’s strange what we remember all these years later. In elementary school, my friends and I would debate the various plot points of the latest episodes of “Transformers” and “G.I. Joe,” the two weekday afternoon cartoons we were too young to recognize as mere toy commercials. I clearly recall discussing the merits of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” with a classmate during homeroom at White Station Junior High School in Memphis in 1988. About that same time, my friends and I began to watch the various slasher movies of the period, including releases from the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. Curiously, though, I don’t specifically recall discussing comic books with joker-t-shirtfriends during elementary or junior high school. I likely did, but I have no memory of any such conversations. As Ryan himself noted in his own post in this series, “reading comics [is] something people do on their own, like any reading experience outside of a class.” This is not to say I concealed my interests. In those early years, I brought my lunch to school in one of those metal Star Wars lunch boxes. A few years later, I would occasionally wear a Joker t-shirt, a wonderful image of which I’ve located online and appended at left. I’m not certain what my classmates thought about that particular fashion choice (and I cringe to speculate). Although it is axiomatic that comic books were not a path to popularity, I don’t recall any particular animus directed towards comic book readers. That said, I never took comics to school (a decision borne more of a concern for their condition than a fear of social ostracization). In sum, I knew my peers did not consider comic books to be “cool” in the way that, say, The Joshua Tree, Kick, or Green might be.

Generally, my parents were very supportive of the hobby. At least once a month, they would transport me to the local comic shop to find new reading material. Whenever comic books would make the news, my father would bring the news coverage to my attention. In fact, when John Byrne’s Man of Steel reboot earned national media attention in 1986, my father brought the clippings to my attention (and, of course, that weekend, we made our pilgrimage to the local comic book shop to buy the issue in question).

What is the oddest thing about how comics, superheroes, science-fiction and fantasy have changed in their original form as you knew them?

mmmOf course, the Internet has changed nearly everything, and as such, there are countless websites where readers may discuss comics new and old. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a young reader with those resources at the fingertips. I’m not certain that the Internet has revolutionized the manner in which we read comics themselves (despite the prevalence of digital comics). But what do I know? I’ve certainly aware of the sheer number of titles being released of late and the daunting task readers face in attempting to keep up with the deluge of new titles and issues. For me, it’s now far easier to follow the various comic book film and television adaptations than commit to an multiple monthly series. As noted above, confusing reboots abound. In 2011, DC Comics rebooted itself with its New 52 brand, and just this year, the company announced it would relaunch itself yet again as a part of its Rebirth initiative. Marvel is no stranger to unwieldy crossovers, whether it be the “House of M” storyline or “Civil War” or what have you. To me, this modern approach seems far more convoluted than the simpler days of Secret Wars II or the Mutant Massacre storyline, both of which spanned a small number of titles during their heyday in the 1980’s. In fact, in 1986, Marvel created a handy Marvel Mutant Massacre Map (depicted above at right) which was distributed to local comic shops. Easy to follow and relatively small in scope, this storyline allowed the company to introduce readers to other potential titles while not asking their customers to break the bank. These days, such an affair would be far more involved and require a significant financial commitment to follow (especially in light of the increasing cost of comics). As such, these days, there’s just a bit to much noise for me to return.

What is your greatest joy when it comes to your memories of discovering comics?

Reading begets reading, whether it be the message boards on those long forgotten bulletin board systems, the aforementioned text adventure games, or the comics themselves. Without comic books, I would not have become a voracious reader. I would not have found the works of Stephen King, Douglas Adams, and other masters of genre. Without finding those novelists, I would not have later delved into Fitzgerald and Hemingway. So, generally, it is the joy of reading that I cherish most when I reflect upon those days.

What is your greatest disappointment?

When it comes to popular culture, my greatest disappoint remains the Star Wars prequels. Although films released in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s may seem outside the scope of this project, you likely understand the sentiment if you’ve made it this far into a post about the whims and caprices of members of Generation X when it comes to these issues. So, for the record, I formally object to the Star Wars prequels in response to this question.

Returning to the topic at hand, I suppose3181257-15 I regret, at least in part, the early focus on comic books as potential investment properties. Back then, we all fancied ourselves “collectors” in part because we labored under the misimpression that comic books purchased in the 1980’s might somehow exponentially increase in value, making us wealthy beyond our wildest dreams. That folly was the one trait we shared with the baseball card aficionados of the era. Looking back, it is astonishing to consider how high the value of the first issues of Marvel’s Star Wars and G.I. Joe ultimately skyrocketed. I haven’t a clue how much those issues might be worth now, but I suspect their value has plummeted. Like many others, I owned a tattered copy of The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, which assigned a value to back issues based upon their condition. (An image of the 1985 edition of the price guide I once owned is at left.). When a new issue number one was released, I would typically purchase it, prompted in part by the possibility that it might increase in value. That philosophy led to many, many poor decisions (including the acquisition of a number of Star Comics and New Universe titles to my collection). Instead of meticulously archiving my comic books in plastic bags and cardboard longboxes, I should have treated them more like the ephemeral properties they were and enjoyed them as such. I’m not necessarily suggesting that I should have disposed on the comics immediately upon reading them (as one might a magazine), but I suspect I would have enjoyed the hobby to a greater extent had I relaxed a bit about their protection of their condition. Kids should read comics for fun, not financial worries.

Perhaps, though, my greatest disappointment is the slow but inevitable dissolution of the comic book collection I had so lovingly assembled. Bits and pieces of my collection were lost during various moves. I remember essentially donating hundreds of back issues to a used bookstore in Austin when it came time to move to Waco for law school in early 1999. It would have been nice, I think, to have maintained the collection as a whole, as if in a time capsule, such that I could revisit it in later years and remember simpler times. Unfortunately, the logistical demands of adulthood thwart most efforts to preserve our childhood in some sort of nostalgic amber (which is why, as I noted above, I’ve been attempting to reassemble some portion of that collection these past few years).

As a part of this project, Ryan requested that participants include a photograph of themselves. A contrarian of sorts, I choose to share the photograph below. Taken on December 19, 1979, my fourth birthday, it depicts me, standing and showing my friends the Star Wars action figures I just received as gifts that day. I have no recollection of that day. (Many thanks to my mother for unearthing this ancient photograph.).

jd1979

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