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Appearances Today!

I look forward to seeing anyone who can make it to my two appearances (see “Appearances” on this website for details) today in Santa Monica and Alhambra.

Hi-De-Ho Comics in Santa Monica is one of the L. A. area’s best comic book and illustrated book shops.

The Nucleus Gallery in Alhambra has quickly become the hippest gallery in Southern California. They have an incredible selection of art books for sale in the front of the gallery, including hard-to-obtain art books from mainland China.

My picture of the Jabberwock is in their Alice in Wonderland-inspired show which premieres this evening at 7:00 PM. I’ll be there for the first hour or so of the opening.

I hope to see you at both venues! Bring stuff for me to sign!

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New Ray Bradbury Play

One of the great things about living in the Los Angeles area is your close proximity to lots of amazing cultural events. The entertainment business is based here and Los Angeles is an important gigantic city, so on any weekend (and most weekdays) one can see extraordinary concerts, speakers, dance exhibitions, art exhibitions, plays and musicals. We have four major art museums here in Pasadena alone.

Because of this, the finest artists, writers, actors, dancers and musicians are drawn to this area.

One of them that actually grew up here is my friend, Ray Bradbury. And, lucky us, Ray puts on plays of his work for nine months out of the year at the Fremont Centre Theatre in South Pasadena. Ray is there every Saturday night to introduce his plays and sign his books. Like I said, lucky us!

This last Sunday (Valentine’s Day) was extra special. Prior to the usual 3:00 PM matinee performance of one of his plays, Ray himself spoke for nearly an hour on the subject of Love.

I brought my youngest son James to the show. James is a big Bradbury fan but had never met him (it’s usually my other son Andy helping me out at my booth at Comic-Con when Ray comes by). I was pleased to be able to remedy this situation.

If you’ve never heard Ray Bradbury speak (a man I consider one of America’s Living Treasures), you have my sincerest sympathies.

One of the anecdotes in Ray’s talk concerned Gene Kelly and Singin’ in the Rain. After a screening of that film at which Kelly was present (only in L. A.!), Ray congratulated Gene on making one of the finest science fiction films ever. Mr. Kelly was taken aback at first until Ray explained that the backdrop subject of the film was how a new technology introduced into our culture can change everything. In this story’s case, it was the addition of sound to motion pictures.

Gene lit up. He and Ray were fast friends ever since that moment.

My son James insisted we watch Singin’ in the Rain after we returned home. You don’t need me to tell you what a flawless masterpiece that movie is — every single second. After hearing Ray talk about it, however, I saw it with new eyes.

The play we saw after Ray’s talk was Wisdom 2116, a musical originally written by Ray for his friend and mentor Charles Laughton and Laughton’s wife Elsa Lanchester, whose marriage inspired the play. Unfortunately, Laughton passed away before the play could be put on with those two as its stars.

This musical is based upon Ray’s O. Henry-like short story, “Marionettes, Inc.” Ray has altered the ending, changing it from a chilling horror tale into a meditation on love and aging. Magnificent!

This play will be up until February 27. If you live in this area (or will be visiting this area during its run), don’t miss it!

PS: Heads up! My big one man show career retrospective opens this Thursday at the Laguna College of Art + Design (see “Appearances” on this site for details). Don’t Miss it!

Me and Ray (sorry about the blur!)
Me and Ray (sorry about the blur!)
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Doug Fieger, R.I.P.

Doug Fieger, the leader of The Knack, died from cancer on Valentine’s Day. He was 57.

I had first heard the local buzz about this fast rising L. A. band riding the crest of the New Wave music movement in the late 1970s. I knocked off work one night to catch The Knack at Madame Wong’s East, a small club in L. A.’s Chinatown.

The Knack were just as good as their buzz if not better. They led off their set with what would become their biggest hit, the magnificent and compelling “My Sharona.” This song, with its driving oompa beat, would become their signature number.

That night The Knack (despite a nearly empty house) were extremely high energy, bursting with charisma and an infectious enthusiasm. Since there was barely a crowd, they exuberantly played both for us and each other. It was hard to take my eyes off of Doug; physically, Doug was a sort of handsome version of Pete Townshend. He radiated the sheer devilish mischievousness of youth. They did several covers that never made it to their LPs, my favorite being the Jay & the Americans song, “Come A Little Bit Closer.” They closed their brisk set with — what else? — a second playing of “My Sharona.”

They were dressed in what would become almost a New Wave uniform: skinny black trousers, white business shirts and long skinny black ties. Doug later told me he got their wardrobe from my old bandmates, The Heaters (Doug was good friends with The Heaters, wrote and recorded songs with The Heaters’ brilliantly talented Melissa Connell and played on some of The Heaters’ band members’ later recordings).

The Knack became a rock ‘n’ roll phenomenon. In what seemed like a blistering short blip of time, the national success of “My Sharona” (and their non-stop energy and charisma) had them headlining gigantic arenas across the country.

Although The Knack continued to produce plenty of fine subsequent work, the band fell from the public’s fickle attention almost as quickly as it had risen.

Despite the public’s short attention span and a heroic conquering of issues that led Doug to be a prominent force within AA in helping his fellow musicians, Doug never lost his optimistic spirit.

I got to know Doug a little bit in the past few years. We were introduced by Harold Bronson, my long time friend and the co-founder of Rhino Records. No introduction was necessary, however. I loved The Knack, Doug’s writing and his onstage persona. It turned out, unknown to me, that he was a huge fan of my art.

We were together at Harold’s for a screening of the outstanding Showtime Brian Wilson documentary, Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of Smile. I had met Brian and was there on the historic night when Brian “rejoined” the Beach Boys to perform live with them at the Whiskey A-Go-Go, something the reclusive Brian had not done for years, preferring the solitude and control of the studio.

Doug had worked with Brian, helping this troubled soul on a number of projects. We were both really looking forward to this documentary.

Doug asked if he could sit next to me during the screening. Prior to the dimming of the lights, Doug and I carried on our conversation regarding New Wave’s heyday, catching up on what had happened to our various mutual friends.

Harold’s home theater darkened and the film began.

I was not prepared for the deeply touching nature of this film. Neither was Doug. In the middle of this profoundly moving feature, I happened to turn to Doug as he turned to me. Tears were streaming down our faces. We emotionally smiled in acknowledgment of each others’ deep feelings for Brian and returned our gaze to the screen.

That night was the last time I saw Doug, although I tried to contact him on numerous occasions when I learned of his cancer battle. All of the second hand reports I got on Doug were both encouraging and devastating. It seemed as if as soon as one tumor had finally been destroyed, several more would appear. Throughout all of this, Doug remained optimistic and amazingly cheerful.

Last month, Doug told the Detroit News (Doug was born in Detroit), “I’ve had ten great lives. And I expect to have some more. I don’t feel cheated in any way, shape or form.”

You were one of the very talented Good Guys I have known, Doug. May you Rest In Peace until another version of this world welcomes your return.

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WOW! Huge turnout at both the Zombies In Love exhibition and the Dan O’Bannon tribute.

The exhibition crowd spilled out onto the street. The New Beverly Cinema (one of the last indy moviehouses in L. A.) sold out at 120% capacity (20 % of the audience left after the screening of Lifeforce, so another 20% of the house was able to be sold). Most of the cast to The Return of the Living Dead showed up for the Q & A before our film.

I saw the new Terry Gilliam movie, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus last night. It’s rapidly disappearing from theaters, and it needs to be viewed on a big screen, so catch it if you can ASAP!

It’s a real return to form for Terry, so if you liked Time Bandits, Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, I’m pretty confident you’ll be as enchanted as I was by Parnassus. It should have been nominated for all of the awards relating to Art Direction, costume design and special effects. There are great ideas galore in this fantasy feast and terrific performances by a cast that includes Christopher Plummer, Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell.

Bless you, Terry, for continuing to be one of the few remaining original visionaries in the film business.

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DAN O’BANNON Tribute Tonight!

As you may know from reading my recent Journal entries, Dan O’Bannon was an important force in the history of cinema and in my life and career.

There will be a screening of two of his films tonight at the New Beverly Cinema (see the “Appearances” section of this site for the address, time and other details). Attending this tribute to Dan will be Tobe Hooper, the director of the first film being screened, “Lifeforce.” I worked with Tobe on another O’Bannon film, the remake of “Invaders From Mars.”

The second film being screened is the cult classic “The Return of the Living Dead.” The cast and I will be in attendance for a Q & A.

Come see both films on the Big Screen with a (for the most part) living, breathing audience! Laugh at all of the jokes together, the way it was intended! Meet the terrific cast of my first released film as a production designer! Meet the director of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”!

See You There!

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First Accurate Full Color Dinosaur

In case you missed my Journal posting under “Spectrum”, here’s a link to a National Geographic rotating 3-D depiction the first accurately colored dinosaur:

Amazing! I never thought I’d live to see this!

Will we soon know the actual coloring of a Tyrannosaurus rex?

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Mavis Staples – We’ll Never Turn Back

The current issue of the magazine Blues Revue has a cover article on the 25 most import blues releases of the last decade. Big blues fan that I am, I was horrified to discover that I only had 5 CDs on that list. The other 20 quickly became an internet shopping list.

They’ve begun to trickle into my mailbox. There has been one disc, so far, that really blew me away: Mavis Staples’ We’ll Never Turn Back.

If you’re anywhere near my age you might recall the Staples Singers’ hits “I’ll Take You There”, “Respect Yourself” and “Let’s Do It Again”, all 70s chart hits. The sultry lead vocals on those hits were by Mavis Staples. The intense eroticism of her performance came as a surprise to a lot of people as the Staples Singers first appeared in churches, beginning as a gospel/folk group. That’s the Staples Singers backing up The Band on “The Weight” in Martin Scorsese’s film The Last Waltz.

This new CD is a Mavis Staples solo effort. Blues Revue described it as the finest album of her career. It would be difficult for me to disagree.

The CD is produced by slide guitar (he can expertly play anything with strings, actually) and production legend Ry Cooder (Ry is the only person with whom I’ve had a total fanboy meltdown. I could write several dozen Journal entries on the amazing Ry Cooder. You’ve heard his fine work all over the place for the last 45 years; if by some chance you’re unfamiliar with Mr. Cooder, check out his Wikipedia entry).

If you liked Ry’s work with Little Village (this incredible group consisted of Ry, John Hiatt, Nick Lowe and Jim Keltner, music legends all), you’ll love We’ll Never Turn Back. Mavis’ CD has got that same spare, tasty production that’s on the Little Village CD.

Ry, with only a few instruments (Little Village’s Jim Keltner is on drums), manages to convey a very personal, rich, steamy mood throughout each track. The songs are a perfectly seamless combination of Mavis’ gospel roots with the thick sensuality of the most deeply felt blues. The music and her performances are profoundly moving and heartbreakingly personal. The painful yet triumphant struggle for civil rights weaves through her well chosen track list; there are a few sad nods to the Katrina disaster as well. We’ll Never Turn Back is true soul music.

This CD came out in 2007. I don’t know how I missed it. I try to obtain every recording Mr. Cooder has ever touched. I am sure glad it made the Blues Revue Top 25 list!