Sunday, July 08, 2018

Steve Ditko Letter

This is my sole letter from Steve Ditko. I was working on what turned out to be a two-volume set on the history of Cracked Mazagine about 10 years ago. I was trying to contact and interview as many Cracked creators as I could and ultimately interviewed about 60 people for the books. Ditko worked for Cracked in the late 80s thanks to Mort Todd. I knew that Ditko was reclusive and thought that he wouldn't talk about Spider-Man, but perhaps he would talk about his Cracked work. I figured that I wouldn't be doing my due diligence if I didn't at least ask. So, I wrote him a letter asking him a few questions about his work at Cracked. This card is what I received back. I found it so amusing that inspiration hit me. I decided to print his letter as a Foreword for my book, just as a joke. Some people asked me if I thought I would get in trouble for doing this without getting Ditko's permission. I said I didn't care. If Ditko would have raised a fuss, I might have taken it into consideration to altering the book, but nothing ever happened, and so the Foreword by Steve Ditko remains in Volume Won of If You're Cracked, You're Happy.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Defending My Monkees Credentials

My co-author Michael A. Ventrella and I aren’t immune to criticism, but one criticism we received on our Monkees book: Long Title: Looking For The Good Times concerned what made us qualified to do critiques of The Monkees’ songs. I’ll let Michael speak for himself, but as for myself, I don’t have a degree in music. However, I have written one other book that totally featured my critiques of Beatles music called Mark Arnold Picks On The Beatles (2011). which was based upon the old book by Roy Carr and Tony Tyler called The Beatles: An Illustrated Record (1975; revised 1978, 1981).

When I became a Beatles fan in 1977, I got this book and pored over its pages and virtually memorized Carr’s and Tyler’s reviews. What I discovered after I did further research is that many times I disagreed with Carr’s and Tyler’s assessments and would think, too, “How dare they? What qualifies them to make this judgment on an album or group I love?” Later, I realized, that nothing they did really qualified them to critique their music. Yes, they worked for music publications, but working for a music-related publication doesn’t qualify one to make disparaging remarks on a group “I” love. Still later, I realized that they’re critiques were truly based upon their love for The Beatles, and their sadness that the solo material in most cases didn’t live up to the level established by them as a group.

So, that’s where I am coming from. My love for The Monkees propels me to like or dislike their material. If you need more qualifications, I studied piano and classical music theory for 10 years from age 7-17. I have written songs, some of which won me Composer’s today awards. Our Monkees book was my 10th book published, so I have previous writing experience. Yes, most of my other books were about comic books or animation, but a knowledge of music helps appreciate animation, as many classical music pieces that are associated with Bugs Bunny are derived from much earlier origins due to necessity of time and cost.

My BA is in Broadcast Communication Arts with an emphasis on television. After graduating in 1988, I quickly landed a job at KBHK-TV 44 San Francisco in 1989 and worked there for five years. What I learned working for a major metropolitan TV station was that it wasn’t as exciting or glamourous or creative as college made it out to be. When I worked there, it essentially was the last gasp of what was fun about local TV, and it wasn’t part of a major network or media conglomerate.

My boredom was alleviated by creating and publishing my own fanzine The Harveyville Fun Times! In 1991 and realized that I could write. I also realized that there were pop culture history books that I loved and ones that I hated and it boiled down to this: good writing.

People have also asked why our other book didn’t list all the players on all The Monkees sessions. Michael and I made a conscious decision to not include this material as the focus was to be on what the actual members of The Monkees did on each track. We did like the songwriters, but as far as the other performers on the songs, I will refer you to two sources: The Monkees: The Day-By-Day Story of the 60s TV Pop Sensation (2005) by Andrew Sandoval, and the DVD documentary of The Wrecking Crew (2016). Both of these focus on the players who actually played on a majority of the sessions during the 1960s.

A third source was the booklets of the various Monkees CD reissues over the years. The earliest CD issues were completely sparse to non-existent, but Rhino Records (and later Friday Records) have made up for this oversight on later issues thanks to the tireless work and access by Andrew Sandoval. We never wanted to step on Sandoval’s toes with our book and I personally secured his blessing on our project. Sandoval is still preparing an update to his 2005 book, and I like many Monkees fans, are looking forward to its release.

With that said, Michael and I are hard at work on a book about The Monkees' solo years....