I cried when Spock died in “The Wrath of Khan”
My heart skipped a beat when Leia kissed Han
But when I saw you at the Bi-Mon-Sci-Fi-Con
I didn’t feel like a loser
You’ll forgive me if I seem a little timid or shy
I’m not what you’d call a self-confident guy
And I’ve never kissed a girl, but I’d like to try
So I’ll ask you if you like Doctor Who
Then I’ll sweep you off your feet
Take you to Sha Ka Ree above
We’ll sweat through my blood fever
And fulfill our geeky love
When you laughed at Leonard Nimoy’s jokes, you changed my world
I could be your Captain Kirk if you would be my green-skinned girl
I get a little queasy every time you appear
My heart is like a starship, and you’re the one who steers
I know I’m pretty smooth after a couple of beers
Or a flagon of Romulan ale
So I’ll lock my phasers, set my sights on you
This isn’t no-win, no Kobayashi Maru
And now here you come, I don’t know what to do
I’m like Spock without his brain
I’m staring at my feet
With Ewok fireworks above
I’m not dancing with the princess
I can’t express my geeky love
You hold the cards; you turn the screws
I’m trapped in Carbonite
You’re every fanboy’s fantasy; I should take you home tonight
But love is a Thoalian Web of contradictions
And my fear controls my movements like the Force
You don’t know your own power
You could let me off the hook
With a single Vulcan mind meld
Or a sly come-hither look
Then you’ll hit me with a smile
Like a rainbow up above
Within seconds, I’m unfrozen
Falling into geeky love
I will lay you on my Star Wars sheets
We’ll make like it’s Pon Farr
And we’ll live in our obsessions
With our heads caught in the stars
Lyrics by Steve Millies and Matt Springer
Music by Matt Springer
This year we’ve put together another month of holiday-related celebrations, Grok the Halls. You may recall our 2008 holiday effort, Jingle Bell Grok, with fondness, fear, or just plain disgust. Well, we’re at it again. Suck it up.
To kick things off, I’m pleased to debut the fifth volume in my endless (and endlessly self-indulgent) holiday music mix series, The X-Mas Files!
As part of the festivities this year, we encourage you to donate a few dollars to Child’s Play, the awesome charitable organization for gamers & geeks that helps put toys, games, and other essentials into hospitals for sick children.
The X-Mas Files, Vol. 5 (2010)
1. “Countdown to Christmas,” Glam Chops
2. “Jingle Jane,” Divide & Kreate
3. “On the Rooftops,” Gentleman Auction House
4. “Santa, Teach Me To Dance,” Debbie and the Darnells
5. “Christmas Is,” Lou Rawls
6. “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer,” Irish Rovers
7. “Tonight Mrs. Claus Sleeps Alone,” The Brunettes
8. “Snow Snow, Beautiful Snow,” Piney Gir
9. “I Hate Christmas,” Oscar the Grouch
10. “J’ai Vu Maman Embrasser Le Père Noël,” Herman Apple Ses Carillons Et Ses Percussions
11. “Santa’s Blues,” Charles Brown
12. “The Man in the Santa Suit,” Fountains of Wayne
13. “Little Drummer Nemo,” Doctor Octoroc
14. “Christmas Wrapping,” The Waitresses
15. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas,” George Thorogood
16. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” The Ventures
17. “Wish You A Merry Christmas,” Kim Weston
18. “White Christmas,” Corporal Blossom
Cover art by Albert B. Feldstein from Panic #1, EC Comics, Feb-Mar 1954
Manic pixie dream girl. Manic pixie dream girl. Manic pixie dream girl.
I repeat those words in my head as I navigate the winding road into the hills of Rancho Palos Verdes. I am trying to manage impatient speed and overcautious care. It’s tricky.
Zooey Deschanel. Natalie Portman. Kirsten Dunst. Veronica…I don’t know her last name.
I fell for some manic pixie dream girl bullshit and now I’m an accomplice to a major theft and it is FREAKING ME OUT. But of course, it wasn’t a magic indie fairy spell; it was my own insecurities, my own gaping financial maw, my own loneliness. She helped me do this to myself, and now I need it to be over.
What I really need is for someone to hit me and make this all go away. But the barriers of our reality aren’t so flimsy.
I don’t know Veronica’s last name, so I sure as hell don’t know where she lives, which stops my plan A right dead. I won’t be speeding over to her house and demanding that she turn over the stolen property.
I pursue my plan B, which involves appearing at Sid’s front door on a Saturday morning to confess everything. Shit, I don’t even want the fucking job anymore. I’ll temp, I’ll flip burgers, I’ll janitor at the local public school. I’m ready to move on; if nothing else, I’ve learned that much from this escapade.
I guess the real plan would involve me not being such a pussy and actually going through with the final stages of the crime. Instead, I spent the night on that awful couch, tossing and turning as a nameless bile crept further and further up my throat, until I could feel it burning constantly at the base of my tongue. I knew what the bile was trying to tell me–I’d behaved like an idiot, made a huge mistake, and the flimsy index card of a “moral code” I kept in my soul’s back pocket got ripped when I fell back onto that awful couch for some illicit nookie.
Blame it on the superheroes, I guess–when you spend as much time as I have reading the adventures of unimpeachable men in tights, you tend to end up on the right side of the law. I didn’t want to imagine myself as the type of person Superman would knock into a light pole and then deposit into the Metropolis jail. Scratch that–I didn’t want to imagine myself as the type of person Superman would knock into a light pole on his way to deal with Brainiac or the Parasite. I don’t think I’d even rate the Man of Steel’s full attention.
Sid bought a really amazing house with his proceeds from one-hit wonderment. It overlooks the ocean and has a tiki bar. Add those to the list of reasons I’m jealous of this ungrateful fuck.
I pull into the driveway and realize I don’t have much of a plan. I feel like knocking on his front door is a good first step. So I knock, several times, and no one answers, several times.
Finally I absentmindedly check the handle, and it’s unlocked. Go figure.
I’ve been to Sid’s house often enough, usually to drop off a hot book that he refuses to come pick up at the store but insists upon reading immediately. Sometimes when I stop by, he’s in his boxers and I can see a high-end Apple laptop open to a major comic book message board, as though he’s literally planned his entire day around reading a comic book and then sharing his thoughts online. These moments make me feel well-balanced by comparison. Other times, he’s in his boxers and there’s porn open on the laptop and I need to take a shower stat.
“Sid?” No reply. I cautiously step down the main hallway. To my left, Sid’s obscenely large television mocks me with its majesty. To my right, down another long hall, is the kitchen…and Veronica. Raiding the fridge. In her underwear.
She turns her head, sensing someone watching her, and I can see her mouth the word “Fuck” from twenty feet away. I’m frozen on the spot, so after a long second of regarding each other, she pads down the hall toward me, a box of Swiss Creme Rolls in her hand.
“What are you doing here?” she hisses.
“I could ask you the same.”
“I…slept over. Gotta keep up appearances.”
“You appear to be keeping up really good appearances. You appear really good. Apparently.” I completely fuck up the repartee, and I know it, and there’s nothing I can do but work hard to keep from gawking down at her mostly-naked body.
“Was that an insult?”
“I’m not sure.”
“I can’t keep this up. I have to come clean.”
“’Keep this up’?! It’s been twelve hours. You don’t even have the comics; they’re in my apartment.”
“I think they need to go back to the store, or I think I need to tell Sid.”
“Is that what you were coming here to do? Or were you looking for me?”
She’s smirking now, and that’s appealing. Suddenly I wonder if I really expected to find Sid and tell him all my sins. Maybe deep down I was actually checking to see whether Veronica would be here, to determine whether the all-too-brief tryst we’d shared the previous night was something real, or just a show. Or is Sid the show? I think I really hope Sid’s the show.
“I have no idea what I’m doing. This is hard.” My resolve softens. Seriously, that morality index card is super flimsy. She puts her hand on my chest.
“Take it easy. We’re fine. There’s no reason–”
A door slams open upstairs. A clamber like two bowling balls dipped in Crisco comes tumbling down the stairs as Veronica pushes me into a closet.
“Shit, babe, where’d you go? Little Sid misses you.”
“I was hungry, babekins. I got a snack. Let’s eat and then we’ll see what we can do about Little Sid.”
“Hold up, babe. I gotta show you this rad new helmet I picked up–”
The closet door opens, and there I am, almost trembling, and there’s Sid in nothing. He’s a hulking mass of formless douche who could not even be bothered to put on a pair of fucking BOXERS whilst scampering around his own fucking HOME.
“Ike?” There’s confusion, even bemusement.
“Hey, uh, Sid.”
“What the fugggggggghhhhhh”
I don’t even see it happen; I just see the result. Sid’s a pile on the floor and Veronica’s standing behind him with a trampy Batgirl statuette in her hand. There’s a small wound on the back of Sid’s head bleeding, and if he’s not unconscious, he’s damn close.
Veronica grabs my arm in her underpants and we hit the door and we get in my car and we drive, drive, drive. She’s still clinging to the Swiss Creme Rolls.
Retcon Punch returns in January!
I wake in the chair, sun stabbing its stabby light into my eyes, groggy for a second. Then I recall it’s Petty Larceny Friday at Superb Comics, and that gets me up.
I stop for a McGriddle on the way in, barely making the 10:30 a.m. breakfast cutoff, and pull into the strip mall lot to see Tara leaning up against the locked door, reading an issue of McCall’s. Take a snapshot every Friday morning, lay them on top of each other over the years; the only thing changing is Tara’s ugly sweater.
“You see Survivor?” Tara barks as I stick the key into the door and flip the bolt. She is insufferably devoted to reality television. Sometimes I am too, if only to give us something to talk about all day.
“No, I missed it last night. I was out.”
“Big date?” Tara snorts. Yep, a snort escapes her face. It must have been making a break for it.
“Just busy.” My grin is tight.
And that’s the sum total of our conversation on this slow Friday, which I spend mostly working on the next month’s comics order and surfing the internet when my mind becomes too distracted by thoughts of blowtorches melting away the hinges on a giant safe to steal the valuable contents within.
By seven-thirty, the Friday after-work crowd has come and gone, and Tara tips a folding chair at our gaming tables onto its back legs as she continues her voyage through McCall’s.
“You can head out if you want,” I say, trying to appear as nonchalant as possible. “I’ll wrap things up here. Probably scoot a little early myself.”
“Thank God,” Tara sighs. “This magazine sucks.”
Slowly, it unfolds in my brain that she’s been reading (perhaps re-reading?) that self-same sucky magazine all day. For the thousandth time, I puzzle over Tara, and the strangeness of her existence–the kind of person who would not only continue to read, but possibly re-read, a magazine she does not like. How bored do you have to be to do that, especially in a store that is literally full from ceiling to floor with reading material?
By the time I complete that train of thought, the little tin bell on the door handle has rung, and Tara is long gone.
It’s a little after nine when I hear the tap-tap on the shop’s back door. In fact, it wakes me up; there’s an awful couch in the back room where I sometimes take a brief siesta when the relentless pressure of selling periodical comic books gets to be too much.
“Do you want a Snickers?” Veronica asks. There’s a candy bar hanging from between two of her fingers; in her hands are two packed bags from Home Depot.
“Thanks. You paid with cash, right?”
“And you didn’t withdraw the cash anywhere in the vicinity of this shop or the Home Depot this evening?”
“Of course not.”
“And you wore, like, a hat or something, so that the checkout people wouldn’t be able to identify you?”
“I used self-checkout, jackass.”
She’s dumped the bags on the awful couch by this point and is seated next to them, quickly withdrawing an assortment of tools that in theory will be used to pry open the giant old safe. I think I see a blowtorch and the reality of what’s happening hits me pretty hard.
“Holy shit,” I whisper.
“I had a feeling this would freak you out a bit. Here, help me move this.”
We remove a pile of detritus from atop the safe, then wobble and scoot it away from the wall, so as to cut into the back. The activity doesn’t do much to help my mood; by the time we’re done, I’m shaking a little bit. Veronica grabs both of my hands.
“Listen, go eat your Snickers out at the counter. I’ll knock again when I’m done.”
I walk out into the store, slightly dazed. I stand behind the counter and begin to fire up the computer, then realize that if I log onto the internet, I will effectively be providing proof that I was in the store while the robbery was taking place. Paranoid as all get-out, I turn toward a large pile of back issues under the counter that have needed filing for weeks.
I’m working with my head down and my brain almost not even thinking about thieving when that tin bell tinkles again. I almost don’t hear it, until the tinkling gets more forceful, and is joined by the thump of an angry fist on the shop’s front door.
My heart pounds and I contemplate sliding behind the counter or exiting the back door screaming. Then I see Tara’s round anxious face peering in the front window, her hands cupped around her eyes so she can see me.
She sees me.
I slap on that tight grin again and undo the deadbolt.
“Sorry, boss.” She practically pushes her way past me. “Have you seen my sweater? It has Mickey Mouse on it.”
“Huh…I can picture it in my head” (which I can, because half of what she wears features a cartoon character) “but I don’t think it’s here.”
“Let me check the back.”
I cannot hear past my heart in my ear. I am engaging in Edgar Allen Poe-style hysterics. I am inventing my own macabre subgenre.
“No, Tara, wait–“
But she doesn’t wait; she opens the door before I can stop her, because she is a speedy small troll of a woman.
Miraculously, the room appears normal. The safe is somehow back into position and looks completely undisturbed. The Home Depot bags are stuffed into the garbage can; the awful couch is the same as it ever was.
“Ugh, it’s not in here. Shit. Anyway. Have a good weekend.”
Tara leaves me in the back room and stomps away to the exit. I hear the tinkle of the tin, the scrape of her tires on the gravel lot out front, a car horn blaring as she merges into traffic without looking first. My heart’s noise returns to my chest where it belongs.
Veronica scoots herself out from under the awful couch, covered in dust mites. A stale Skittle is attached to her hair.
“Holy shit, can you believe–“
She rushes towards me, pulls me in. We kiss and fall onto the awful couch. The Skittle drops to the floor and rolls.
Elvis Presley died on August 16, 1977.
Just a few weeks earlier, Elvis Costello was born, with the release of his first album, My Aim is True. Those obsessed with symmetry (namely, me) could pour plenty of meaning into that coincidence. In the foreground, you have the death of a man whose early career gave rock ‘n’ roll its legs but whose later years represented every bloated excess that the music industry had come to embrace. In the shadow of that death, one of the most intelligent and passionate musical artists of all time quietly set his first album onto record store racks, with every intention of tearing the world apart with his melodic punk. One star fades from the pop hemisphere; another flares to take its place. Out with the old, in with the new. Though not exactly, since Presley has hardly disappeared from our lives since his death and Costello hasn’t exactly become a household name.
Yet if the artistic agendas of a frustrated truck driver from Memphis and a frustrated computer programmer from England can have anything in common, it’s a constant fire to incite, one that Presley slowly extinguished as his popularity skyrocketed and that Costello has fed as the fuel of his career. The same instinct that propelled Presley to mumble “Let’s get real gone” into a Sun Studios microphone and ignite his band into a frenzy on “Blue Moon of Kentucky” would drive Costello in his early concert appearances to tear through a furious set, then storm off stage without so much as a “Thank you” or an encore. At the same time, their respective furies have never claimed a particular focus; for Presley, his literal goal may simply have been to get his listeners “real gone” with his music, while Costello was probably claiming a hefty chunk of the same righteous anger that fueled much of the punk scene in England.
Over the years, Costello has eschewed the “angry young man” label for which he first became known. But when you first hear Elvis Costello, whether it’s his latest album with the Impostors or any of his previous work, it’s that anger that hooks you in, the jerking, fire-spitting spite that is the soul of so many of his albums. It’s always there, in a whisper or a scream, lurking deep within or burning on the surface. You can feel the fire; it singes your ears, maybe in a way that music really hasn’t since the dawn of the King’s reign.
I fell in love with Costello’s music for the same reason that many other angry young men fall in love with it. He was a scrawny, clever pop star who said everything I felt incapable of saying about life and love; I was a scrawny, clever nobody who embraced his vicious tracts like a holy gospel. How many similar post-adolescents have also pledged allegiance to the Man after the inaugural spin of their Costello cherry-busting album, rushing out to buy his entire catalogue in a single pop and nursing a lifelong fetish for thick Buddy Holly glasses and skinny ties? For me, that first Costello record was Spike, which I bought because it had the song “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror” on it, as well as Costello’s wistful pop hit “Veronica.” At the time, I was busy pretending that Costello’s lyrics on “Deep Dark” somehow applied to a woman I was dating: “One of these days you’re gonna have to face a deep dark truthful mirror/And it’s gonna tell you things that I still love you too much to say.” The rest of the record grabbed me enough to send me out for My Aim is True, but I didn’t really “get” that album until at least a year later.
In fact, neither of those albums were the one that sent me swooning into the depths of my ongoing love affair with Costello. No, it was Blood and Chocolate, a record regularly underappreciated by die-hard Costellites, that drove me mad with pop ecstasy. Again, part of it had to do with reading my own situation into one of the songs; “I Hope You’re Happy Now” seemed written for a guy who had made my own life a living hell because he couldn’t get over the fact that I’d started dating his ex-girlfriend. If there was anyone who I thrilled to imagine “like a matador with his pork sword while we all die of laughter,” it was this guy.
Then I really stopped to listen to “I Want You,” six minutes of pure seething desire burned onto plastic, and I could not believe my ears. Forget the invective in the lyrics themselves. Here was this guy who not only harbored all these sinister desires toward a woman who’d left him in the cold, but could also sustain this constant level of menace for a full six minutes, past any logical point of conclusion, and then let the song come to a gentle stop. Only it wasn’t gentle at all, because you knew it was a conclusion and not a resolution; the singer would simply build up his anger to the point where all this fury would just come bubbling out again. We may never hear about it, but we knew it would happen. It made the “I Want You” songs by Dylan and the Beatles sound like frolicking musical postcards.
I’ve never been much of a rock evangelist, but I couldn’t resist. I played “I Want You” for my girlfriend; she hated it. Some of my friends were confused and it made a few people uncomfortable. Still I raved on throughout the dorm, until one guy finally paid me some real attention.
“This is amazing,” I said. “I can’t believe this exists.”
“What do you expect?” he replied. “It’s Elvis Costello.”
And still, through the pseudo-intellectual bullshit approach and the personal perspective approach, I feel like I haven’t really articulated why I adore the man’s music so much. He has spoken to my heart in ways no other artist has, revealed hidden secrets in the people I know and the world in which I take up space. He has done all this through some of the most exhliarating music and ingenious words that I’ve ever heard. And he’s still doing it; I’m still finding pieces of meaning in albums that I’ve internalized through repeated listenings.
But other than the fact that he’s, um, really good or something, why? In what way does Costello speak to me that the music of my other obsessions, guys like Springsteen and Ben Folds and even Elton John, does not? Yeah, he’s angry sometimes and he’s a genius. So is Dylan; so is John Lennon. I don’t follow their every artistic movement with fierce precision. As I’m sitting here and My Aim is True is firing up on the CD player, I’m thinking of the coincidence that each of Costello’s first three albums opens with his voice. Before a note of music is played, you hear him sing.
There might be something in that. Just like Presley, Costello has always been known as a voice. For the King, it simply meant that vocal swagger that would never die out, even when the man was squeezed into sparkly jumpsuits a few sizes too small and lazily trotting through his past glories on a Vegas stage. For Costello, that “voice” means so much more. It’s the scissors that jab into your soul every time he opens his mouth, and it’s that fire in his music that never burns out, and it’s the words that collide together in ways that I’m not even sure Costello himself could explain. It’s a white-hot artistic totality that has yet to dissipate, even if it has wandered a bit too far afield on occasion.
It’s a conclusion that sounds boring even as I type it, but darnit, his artistic voice is just so damn consistent. You can draw a line from My Aim is True to this year’s When I Was Cruel and find the same themes groping each other within his songs. At the same time, he’s versatile as all hell, both for his stylistic variety (name me one other pop singer/songwriter who’s dared to record an album of R&B stylings and a record with a string quartet within a decade of one another) and for his continually evolving songwriting style. They’re all Elvis Costello songs, but his sound never gets boring. Somehow the style retains its most essential qualities and continues to evolve.
Maybe that’s why I love Elvis Costello’s music so much: the unending variety and brilliance in his voice. Every album he’s ever released has touched me in some way, whether it inspires me to jump around like an ass in my room or drives me to reconsider my views on the female species. And every time he puts out a record, I’m there the day it comes out, because he’s uncompromising and he’s almost never failed me.
But then, what did I expect? He’s Elvis Costello.
This article originally appeared in Pop-Culture-Corn Magazine.