Tuesday, September 29, 2009


This morning I had a talk with my old buddy—and certified mad genius— Keith Giffen to discuss the current Metal Men story we’re collaborating on.  (We’re doing ten pages a month, illustrated by the amazing Kevin Maguire, in the back of the new Doom Patrol series.)  Back in the 80’s, when we worked on Justice League, Keith and I didn’t talk much at all:  things were incredibly spontaneous.  Keith would write the plot (well, actually, he drew it out, creating a little mini-comic) and I wouldn't see it till it arrived at my door.  Then I'd sit down to dialogue and pretty much write the first thing that came into my head.  Sometimes what I wrote hewed closely to Keith's story and sometimes I created entirely new plot lines and character relationships that had nothing to do with what Keith had done. The real fun was watching Giffen take the twists and turns that I'd injected into the story and build on them in ways that always surprised me.  Then he'd throw it all back in my face and I'd twist it again.  It was an incredibly exhilarating way to work:  no egos involved, we just kept trying to top each other. 

These days, we’re more likely to talk about a series, discussing the characters, the stories, where we want them to go—but, because our approach remains as anarchic as it was back in the JL days, our conversations don’t necessarily reflect what ends up on the page.  Once Keith starts plotting, the final product might have nothing to do with what we've talked about.  Once I start scripting, I'll go off and follow the muse wherever it leads me.  I don't know if that kind of creative relationship would work for other people, but it certainly works for us, pushing us both to be better.  (I think the Hero Squared series we recently completed for Boom! Studios is the best thing we’ve ever done together.  And we’re having so much fun on Metal Men that I’d do it for free.  Almost.)

It still amazes me that Keith and I have been working together this long—more than twenty years, on and off.  Well, maybe it’s not so surprising:  Despite the fact that Keith desperately wants people to think that he’s surly and cynical, Earth’s Biggest Malcontent, he’s actually an incredibly nice guy.  As gifted, and generous, a collaborator as I’ve ever had.  When people ask me what it’s like to work with Giffen, one story always comes to mind.  I’ve told it before—apologies if you’ve heard it—but it really defines the man. 

It’s the late 80’s.  We’re standing in the halls of DC Comics on a Friday afternoon.  Keith is telling me his idea for a new story:  the secret origin of one of our most ridiculous characters, the brain-dead Green Lantern named G’nort.  Keith spends five or ten minutes spinning the entire tale, in detail.  You can see he’s excited.  He likes this wonderfully goofy story and he wants to do it—just the way he’s envisioned it.

The problem is, I don’t like it.  And I tell him that I don’t.

Does Keith get angry?  Does he tell me I’m a talentless jackass who has no right passing judgment on his incandescent genius?  No.  He just looks at me for a second, takes a breath, shrugs—and then launches into an entirely new origin of G’nort, which he’s creating on the spot.  And it’s perfect.  I can’t think of many people who could switch creative gears like that, but Keith has more raw creativity than just about anyone I’ve ever known:  a tsunami of stories and characters and odd, brilliant notions.  

It’s been a joy working with Keith all these years.  But don’t tell him I said so:  it’ll wreck his self-image.

© copyright 2009 J.M. DeMatteis

Friday, September 25, 2009


Right now I’m listening to Time to Die by the Dodos.  The past few weeks I’ve been pretty much submerged in the gorgeous musical landscapes of Finally We Are No One by Múm and the serpentine pop of Bitte Orca by the Dirty Projectors.  I point this out not to prove how sharp and contemporary my musical tastes are:  it’s actually the opposite.  I wouldn’t have heard of any of these bands if not for my son, Cody.  There was once a time when I prided myself on being up on the best new music out there—as both a musician and music critic, I had to be—but those days are long gone.  For more than a decade now, I’ve depended on Cody’s uncanny ability to take my stuck-in-the-past tastes and translate them to Now.  Back when he was a teenager—he’s a full-grown human now, editing comic books for Devil’s Due—Cody was the one who turned me on to Oasis and Radiohead and, over the years, he’s force-fed me some amazing music:  everything from Death Cab For Cutie (and their brilliant spin-off, the Postal Service) to Sigur Rós, The Album Leaf, Coldplay, Robert Rich—well, the list goes on and on.

There are many wonderful reasons for having children and “because they’ll keep me from being an old fart mired in musical nostalgia” clearly isn’t at the top of the list—but it’s up there.  Thanks, Cody.

©copyright 2009 J.M. DeMatteis

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


The comic book world is abuzz with the news that the heirs of Jack Kirby have filed notices of copyright termination for characters Kirby co-created while freelancing for Marvel Comics back in the sixties.  (The list includes the Fantastic Four, Thor, the Hulk and X-Men.  Some of you may have never read the comics, but I bet you’ve seen at least one of the movies.)  I’m not the person to step into the legal waters and analyze the situation, but I do want to comment on some of the internet chatter I’ve seen:  extraordinarily nasty, and infantile, attacks on the Kirby family, calling them, among other lovely names, “leeches” for doing this.

“Leeches”?  Really?

Jack Kirby was a genius, yes, but he was also a husband and father who worked tirelessly to provide for his family in a business environment that was often hostile.  One of the reasons Kirby turned out as many comic book pages as he did was because he had to.  If he didn’t, the mortgage wouldn’t get paid, there wouldn’t be food on the table.  He wrote and drew stories for the joy of creation, certainly, but, by all accounts, he also did it for the love of his family.  And that family deserves everything they’re legally entitled to.  These name-callers, who are allegedly devoted to the characters Jack created, should look into their hearts and find a little more devotion, and a little more compassion, for the man behind the stories.  And for the people he loved.

The characters Kirby co-created are the reason Marvel Comics has grown into a multi-billion dollar entertainment conglomerate.  If not for Jack, the comic book business as we know it wouldn’t exist.  Hell, it might not be here at all.  Those of us who write and draw comics, and those of us who read them, are all in his debt.  At the very least, we owe him—and his family—our good will and support.

©copyright 2009  J.M. DeMatteis

Sunday, September 20, 2009


In 1997, I fulfilled a dream and released a CD of my songs called How Many Lifetimes?  Despite the fact that I've spent the past three decades as a professional writer of fantasy stories, I was making my living—such as it was—as a musician, singer and songwriter first.  Music touches a space in me, sacred and magical, that few things can and recording How Many Lifetimes? was one of the single most satisfying creative experiences of my life.  

Writing stories is a bit more problematic.  As Oscar Madison—quoting Dorothy Parker—sagely observed, "I hate writing; I love having written."  I suspect Parker was exaggerating to make a point.  I
 certainly don’t hate writing (well, most days I don’t):  there are times when I catch a story wave—or, more likely, the wave catches me—and storytelling becomes a blissful act of channeling.  Something deeper, truer and higher enters through the doors of my unconscious and won't let go until I've given it expression.  (For instance, I'm convinced that Abadazad truly exists and that I was simply chosen to write about it by the inhabitants of that extraordinary world.  Writing those stories often felt like taking other-dimensional dictation.)  I live for those moments of grace and, as the years pass, that door seems to open more and more easily.  That doesn't change the fact that writing sometimes feels less like bliss and more like wrestling a demon into submission.  It’s when the story is done, and done well, that I feel a profound satisfaction and, more, grateful amazement at what’s been created.  (Let's not talk about the times when the stories suck.)

In music, the act is the reward.  It’s all about the Now.  Writing songs is rarely an effort for me—in fact, when effort rears its head, the song is usually dead.  And singing is all about connecting to Who I Really Am (as opposed to Who I Think I Am.  No wonder Meher Baba called it the highest path to God).  Of course it's possible—maybe likely—that music brings me such unique joy because it's not what I do for a living. Perhaps if one of those bands I was in had hit it big and I'd spent the past thirty years in the studio and on the road I'd be telling you how wonderful it is when I write stories and what a herculean task songwriting and performing are.

Let me be clear:  I love what I do for a living.  About ten years ago I seriously entertained the idea of walking away from writing and taking up a new career.  After time and thought, meditation and prayer, it became very clear to me that writing isn't something I do, it's who I am.  I'm a storyteller. 
 I see the entire Creation as one unfolding fairy tale and I'm lucky enough to be a character in that tale, adding some new universes to the mix.  Really, who could ask for anything more?

But I can't help thinking that somewhere, on some parallel Earth, I’m in a recording studio, working on my twentieth album.

And blogging about it.

©copyright 2009  J.M. DeMatteis

Thursday, September 17, 2009


I was recently reading a book called Celebrating Divine Presence:  Journeys Into God.  It’s an anthology, collecting a series of essays—originally presented during a symposium at Northern Arizona University—about major world faiths.  A piece on Hindu spirituality by Kelly William McCabe contained a small, glittering jewel of wisdom that totally resonated with my view of the universe.  Talking about those moments when the miraculous suddenly intrudes on our (seemingly) mundane lives, McCabe writes:

We don’t need to believe or understand everything told to us about such things, but the more we can open our hearts and minds to the limitless possibilities in this universe the better off we are.  It’s always a dicey game to limit the limitless.

It’s been my experience that, once we get beneath the layer of illusion that I call The Skin Of The World, the universe is a truly magical place.  The impossible isn’t a limitation, it’s an invitation.  The unbelievable is the very thing we should believe in.  Miracles are all around us, just waiting to be discovered.  

Deep thanks to Mr. McCabe for mirroring that truth back to me.  I don’t know about you, but I always need reminders.

©copyright 2009  J.M. DeMatteis


Tuesday, September 15, 2009


The fifth, and final, issue of The Life and Times of Savior 28 came out last week.  As some of you know, this was a story that evolved over twenty-five years.  Savior 28 started life as a rejected Captain America concept, back in the 80’s when I was writing that series, and then grew into something very much its own:  a saga that spanned seventy years of American pop culture and politics.  The story follows a man named James Smith—also known as the world’s first and greatest superhero, Savior 28—through his life from the 1930’s to today, with the primary focus on the Bush Years, when Smith finally realizes that the way he’s been living his life has been completely out of balance.  He seeks a better way and ends up becoming a global peace activist...much to the chagrin of the government and his fellow super-heroes.  

I can only think of one other comic book project that I’ve worked on in the past decade—that would be Abadazad—that has creatively challenged and energized me the way S-28 has.  The series was designed and illustrated by the amazing Mike Cavallaro—one reviewer said that if Jack Kirby had drawn post-modern superhero comics they might have looked like The Life and Times of Savior 28—and our collaboration was a joy, personally and professionally.  Mike and I both poured our hearts into this series and to say I’m sad to see it end is a massive understatement.  The Savior 28 universe was rich and vast:  there were so many stories I wanted to tell that couldn’t fit into our five issue format.  Maybe one day.

Three reviews of our final issue really seemed to grok (as Heinlein’s Valentine Michael Smith might have said) the series, one from Russ Burlingame at Newsarama, one from Matt Adler at Ain’t It Cool News and one from Rich Johnston at Bleeding Cool.  Give them a read if you’re so inclined. 

IDW will be putting out a collected edition of the series in December.  It will be nice to have it all together under one roof—but I’m going to miss Jimmy, Dennis and all the rest of our characters.  Here’s hoping we meet again. 

©copyright 2009  J.M. DeMatteis 


Monday, September 14, 2009


Since I ran down my Beatles Top 20 last week, I thought it would be fun to point people to a lengthy John Lennon piece I wrote over at my Amazon blog, which included reviews of JL’s major post-Beatles albums.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Amazon has pretty much torched the archives on their blogs (it was only a stroke of luck that allowed me to track down the Paul Levitz piece I linked to the other day), which means I either allow the Lennon essay to dissolve in cyberspace or repost it over here.  No surprise, I’m sure, that I’ve chosen to repost.  And I may do the same—call it the occasional rerun—with a few of the other lengthier essays I posted over at Amazon.  But for now (with one minor edit), here’s Johnny—


On December 8th it will be twenty-nine years since the night John Lennon was murdered.  To those of us of a certain age, and cultural sensibility, it’s a day as significant, and traumatic, as the Kennedy Assassination or 9/11.  

When Lennon died he became an instant martyr:  the peacenik saint—”Martin Luther Lennon,” as Paul McCartney famously put it—thrust up on a pedestal he would have loathed.  But the man never sold himself that way.  “Sing out about love and peace,” he wrote in “Scared”—one of the brilliant songs on his brilliant 1974 album Walls and Bridges—“don’t wanna see the red raw meat...the green-eyed goddamn straight from your heart.”   

Some people, attached to the cuddly mop-top Beatles image, are shocked that Lennon—who was, by most accounts, profoundly idealistic, generous to a fault, fiercely intelligent and a brilliant wit—could also be a perfect idiot:  rude, angry, cynical, cruel, and, on occasion, violent.  That’s precisely why I’ve always felt a profound connection to the man:  He was wonderfully, horribly, fully human—trapped in a yin-yang spiral, constantly seeking transcendence through mind-altering substances, God, politics, family.  Throughout his career, his songs painted the portrait of a man always reaching for Heaven—and often tumbling straight into Hell along the way:  forever questing—desperately, defiantly, and always with a sense of humor—to understand himself.

I was in the fifth grade—just ten years old—when the Beatles made their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in the winter of l964.  I remember sitting in front of the television set during Week Two of the British Invasion.  The previous Sunday my mind had been completely melted by the Beatles first Sullivan appearance.  Oh, sure, if you were a guy you still had to make obnoxious remarks about their haircuts and the way the girls were squealing over them; but the fact of the matter is we were all squealing in our souls.  Sullivan and the Beatles were in Miami that second week and what I remember more than anything else is the song “This Boy.”  Lennon coming in for his solo during the middle eight.  That voice—that achingly honest, angry, wounded voice—rising above the pubescent shrieks:  “...till he’s seen you cry-hi-hi-hiiiiii!”  Unbelievable.  If I wasn’t sure the previous week, I knew it unmistakably in that moment:  I wanted to take guitar lessons.  I wanted to be in a band.  I wanted to be John Lennon.

Looking back, it’s easy to see why I identified with Lennon more than the other three.  Paul was too cute, too perfect, all toothy grins and charming eyebrows.  Even his voice was perfect:  from Little Richard shrieks to the Broadway crooning of “Till There Was You,” he never wavered, he never missed.  Ringo seemed an endearing doofus, possessed of a sort of divine idiocy, shaking his head and making teenage girls faint without seeming to know why.  George was cool, very cool, there was no denying that, but he wasn’t a leader:  He was more the Tonto, or perhaps Mr. Spock, of the band.  Lennon didn’t have Paul’s good looks or Ringo’s easy charm and he wasn’t the impeccable guitarist George was; but—with that  pointy noise, those squinty eyes, and that aforementioned voice—he radiated attitude and charisma.  Plus you just knew that he was the one the other three looked up to.  

(These, of course, were just images transmitted over a flickering black-and-white screen.  Instant icons projected out of and reabsorbed into the collective unconscious of a generation.  Paul wasn’t just an eyebrow, he was a musical genius.  Ringo wasn’t an adorable dummy, he was a phenomenal drummer, and a great wit, who had the good sense to marry a Bond girl.  As for George, it always seemed he was exactly what he appeared to be:  quiet, efficient, and extremely cool.) 

I remained a Beatles diehard through the group’s awkward and ugly demise—and on into the following decades.  Beatles music—from “Love Me Do” to “I Am The Walrus,” “Please Please Me” to the grand finale of Abbey Road—is woven into my soul.  When the band split, I followed their individual solo careers with equal enthusiasm (although that enthusiasm was occasionally tested).  But the career that meant the most to me was John’s:  his post-Beatles work was more erratic than his work with the band, but it also reached levels of brilliance he never attained as a Beatle.  Taken as a whole, the material Lennon recorded between l970 and l980 is the greatest musical autobiography in rock ‘n’ roll.  His best songs were as honest, intimate—and, occasionally, embarrassing—as diary entries.  Whether he was campaigning for peace with Yoko, primalling with Arthur Janov, on a Homeric bender in L.A. or experiencing the joys of born-again fatherhood in the Dakota, Lennon’s personal story —as reflected in his music—never failed to resonate with my own life.  

What follows is one Lennon Freak’s tour of those extraordinary—and shockingly brief—solo years.

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band  A+
After several experimental albums with Yoko Ono and a trinity of brilliant, unforgettable singles—”Give Peace A Chance,” “Cold Turkey” and the Phil Spector-produced “Instant Karma” (all of which are available on Working Class Hero and other Lennon compilations)—Lennon went into the studio and created his first “official” post-Beatles album:  the result was one of the greatest rock albums ever made.  Forget the multilayered production of Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road:  This was music stripped down to bare essentials, with Lennon screaming his way through childhood pain and adult madness.  Along the way he managed to put the final nail in the coffin of the sixties and anticipate most of the major musical trends of the seventies—from singer-songwriter confessionals to punk’s naked rage—all in eleven glorious tracks.  (Each one is first-rate, but “Mother,” “Working Class Hero,” and “God” are the three monoliths that overshadow everything else on the record.)  The dream was over—but Lennon’s idealism wasn’t easily extinguished, as the title track of his next album would make clear.    

Imagine  A-
“Imagine,” the song, has deepened in meaning and significance as the decades have gone by:  it’s become a kind of planetary anthem—and deservedly so.  The more our world appears to spin out of control, the more we need its optimism and hope.  Imagine, the album, is the one time John managed to be both Lennon and McCartney.  In fact, he managed to embody everything the Beatles stood for, offering up angry rockers, idealistic anthems, political diatribes, and heartfelt love songs—with “Jealous Guy,” “Gimme Some Truth,” and “Oh, Yoko” the real standouts.  (“How Do You Sleep?”—Lennon’s infamous attack on Paul McCartney—may have been cruel, but it certainly made for a great track, especially with George Harrison’s vicious slide guitar added to the mix.)  For all that,  there’s something strangely distant about Imagine:  Lennon seems just out of reach.  It’s almost as if, having revealed himself so nakedly on his previous album, he wanted to hide himself behind the album’s icy, ethereal production.

Some Time in New York City  C-
Not quite the disaster it seemed back in l972 (I remember it being one of the first Beatles solo albums—along with McCartney’s Wildlife—that left me feeling both disappointed and depressed):  there’s some great material alongside the political self-indulgence.  “New York City,” “Woman Is The Nigger of the World” and “John Sinclair” are great—and “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is a fierce, honest piece of outrage.  Yoko has one amazing song, “We’re All Water,” and another, “Born in a Prison,” that’s a terrific composition, but a clumsy performance.  The rest of the material fails because it sounds like the Lennons are simply going through the motions.  There may be political conviction at work here, but there’s precious little emotional conviction.  And John Lennon without a heart is a musical Tin Man.  

Mind Games  B+
There’s great writing to be found on Mind Games.  Where Lennon failed himself was as a producer and arranger:  it sounds as if he wanted to get in and out of the studio as fast as possible and couldn’t be bothered building a musical environment worthy of his material.  (Given that, at the time, the U.S. government was hounding him and his marriage was falling apart, perhaps that’s understandable.)  That said, the title track and “Meat City” are certifiable classics, “Out The Blue” is one of the most touching love songs Lennon ever wrote and the rest (with the exception of “Intuition”—a gentle, introspective song that’s undone by a truly dippy arrangement—and the forgettable “Only People”) are all first-rate.  A few years ago, Ono released a remastered version of the album that was spectacular, bringing out a richness in sound and texture that wasn’t there in the original.  Which only makes one wonder what this album could have been had Lennon taken his time.

Walls and Bridges  A+
Plastic Ono Band is a grander artistic statement, Imagine more universal in its appeal, but Walls and Bridges, a product of Lennon’s so-called Lost Weekend away from Yoko, combines the emotional nakedness of POB with the melody and warmth of Imagine to create an album that sounds better every year.  Each song—even the wonderfully goofy instrumental, “Beef Jerky”—is a gem, with “Going Down on Love,” “Bless You,” “Scared” and the Beatles-esque “#9 Dream” real standouts.  The album closer, “Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down And Out)” is one of the most magnificent songs Lennon ever wrote:  every bit as majestic as “A Day In The Life” and “God.”  It’s Lennon utterly lost at sea:  washed overboard, encircled by sharks, yet clinging to the life raft of his music with his sense of humor miraculously intact.  The production—which has more in common with George Martin than Phil Spector—is perhaps the best of any Lennon solo album.

Rock ‘N’ Roll   B
A heartfelt, but somewhat slapdash, journey through the past.  Lennon is clearly having a great time singing Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and Fats Domino—and it’s great to hear him so relaxed and playful; but the only really memorable tracks are the album closer, “Just Because”—at the end of which Lennon bids adieu to the audience he would soon abandon for five years—and “Stand By Me”:  the definitive version of an already-classic tune.  

Double Fantasy  A
The first thing to realize about Double Fantasy is that it’s not a John Lennon album, it’s a John and Yoko album:  the first musical union between the pair that succeeds as a sustained work of art and entertainment.  DF  is a concept album (a more sustained concept than Sgt. Pepper), about the Lennon-Ono marriage, with husband and wife offering up alternating glimpses into their lives.  What’s fascinating is that John plays McCartney to Yoko’s Lennon:  she’s the hard-edged rocker (and her music, for the most part, is terrific here), he’s the reassuring balladeer (although the bluesy edge still cuts deep in “Losing You” and the introspective inner-space traveler is very much evident in “Watching The Wheels”).  Taken as a Lennon album, it’s a little disappointing.  Heard as the genuine collaboration it is, Double Fantasy is just about perfect.  Whether the Lennon-Ono marriage was as perfect as the image the pair presented to the world in l980 is—according to some biographers—up for debate.  The power of the music they created together isn’t.  

The John Lennon Anthology  A+
Of all the posthumous Lennon releases, The John Lennon Anthology is far and away the best:  We get startling alternate versions of familiar songs and home demos that reveal the inner workings of the Lennon psyche.  The alternate studio tracks are stripped down and in some instances—most notably the Rock ‘N’ Roll excerpts—they actually improve on the “official” versions.  The home demos are magical:  My favorites are “Real Love”—Lennon, alone at the piano, singing  the song later recorded by his three former band-mates for The Beatles Anthology—and “Serve Yourself,” a gleefully nasty—and sadly prescient—rant against the dangers of religious fanaticism.  

That’s the solo tour.  One of these days—soon, I hope—I’ll recount my close encounters with John Lennon.  Yes, I actually met my rock and roll hero, twice, in the mid-1970’s.  And I didn’t even embarrass myself.  


©copyright 2009  J.M. DeMatteis

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Well, the past couple of weeks have certainly been interesting ones in the comic book world.  First came the Disney purchase of Marvel, then Warner Brothers’ transformation of DC Comics into DC Entertainment.  A few thoughts about both:

My first reaction when I heard the news was, "How will this impact the comics?”  But I think (and, really, in the end, what do I know?  It’s not like I spend my weekends hanging out with Bob Iger) from Disney's POV it's all about movie and TV franchises and attracting the male version of the Hannah Montana audience.  When Variety covered the story, there wasn’t a comic book image accompanying the article, there was a photo of Robert Downey as Iron Man.

That said, I can't help but wonder:  if you're Disney and you see an opportunity to sell Marvel comics at your theme parks and then you realize that the vast majority of these books aren't "family friendly" in the least—  Well, what happens next?  Then I wonder about the comics companies that currently have Disney licenses.  I'd guess it's only a matter of time (and expiring contracts) before those licenses end up at Marvel.

One other thing:  Way back in the early 90's I got involved with a comic book company, owned by Disney, called Touchmark.  Edited by Art Young—who had been Karen Berger's assistant at DC—the Touchmark line was Disney’s bid to enter the "mature readers" comics market.  (They’d already started up their own kid-friendly Disney Comics, edited by my old friend Len Wein.)  I was doing a graphic novel for Art and Grant Morrison, Peter Milligan and others were contributing to the line.  Then one morning someone at the Mouse House woke up and realized, "Hey, we're Disney!  We can't put out stuff like this!" and they sold the whole lot of projects to DC.  All of that material, including my graphic novel, Mercy, became part of the Vertigo launch some months later.  So keep your eyes open for the "Hey, we're Disney!" moment.

For me, the big news at DC isn’t the fact that Warner Brothers is taking a more direct hand in the company’s operation, it’s the fact that Paul Levitz, who’s been with the company for over thirty-five years and has been one of the few constants in a business that’s about as stable as quicksand, is stepping down as President and Publisher.  Paul is one of the few people who truly understands the business aspect of comics and yet knows what it’s like in the trenches, as a creator (he’s as terrific a writer as he is an executive).  More important (to me, anyway):  he was the guy who—way back in December, 1977—bought my first comic book script.  Who shook my hand and said “Welcome to the business.”  (Read the whole story here.)  You can understand why he holds a special place in my heart and why I’m incredibly sorry to see him go. 

What the future holds for DC remains to be seen; but it seems, from the little we know at the moment, that this is different from the Disney-Marvel deal in that Warner Brothers is pretty much taking over the whole DC circus.  For now, at least, Marvel remains an independent entity with a fat, rich, mouse-eared parent company.  Changes might be coming down the line, but not yet.  With DC, I think we’re going to see those changes coming much sooner.

Whatever happens, watching both these stories unfold is going to be fascinating.

©copyright 2009  J.M. DeMatteis

Thursday, September 10, 2009


I've been blogging—however irregularly—over at Amazon.com for a few years now, but I've always felt that arena was for the "official" JMD. It was as if I was standing in the aisle of a book store, greeting potential readers: sharing my thoughts, certainly—but also trying to get them interested in my wares. I'm hoping that this blog will be more like a living room: a little more casual and personal. A place where I can talk about, well, anything that comes to mind, from the trivial to the profound. And I hope to do it at least once a week. (I'll wait a moment for the laughter to die down.)

So to those of you who have been following the Amazon blog—which will continue with once a month (or so) postings—welcome. And to anyone else who stumbles across this little corner of the net, come on in, pull up a chair and enjoy (I hope).

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


With The Beatles: Rock Band and the much-hyped stereo/mono remasters coming out this week, the Beatles are getting more press than they have since 1964. I haven’t heard the remasters yet, so I can’t comment on them, but I thought this would be a good opportunity (perhaps excuse is a better word) to indulge my Beatle-obsession and run down my list of top twenty Beatles tracks. Yes, everybody else at every newspaper, magazine, website and blog on the planet is doing something similar, but, hey, it’s the Beatles.

A word of warning: these are my top twenty selections today. The Beatles treasure chest is so deep, and filled with so many musical jewels, that I could probably compile another list, with twenty different songs, tomorrow.

20. “Please Please Me”
Their first number one single. As fresh, as exciting, as filled with humor and energy, as anything that followed. Right out of the gate John Lennon proved he had one of the greatest voices in rock and roll. And he kept getting better.

19. “Don’t Let Me Down”
As honest, and emotionally naked, a song as the Beatles ever recorded. No surprise that the wounded, desperate voice at the center of the song is Lennon’s. “Don’t Let Me Down” provides the blueprint for much of John’s solo career: autobiography, straight from the heart.

18. “Come Together”
“Come Together” isn’t the greatest Beatles song, but it’s one of the most brilliant recordings the band ever made.  Abbey Road may have been the group’s last album—with tensions high and everyone pretty much desperate to get out—but you’d never know it from the way they played together on this track.  McCartney’s bass and Ringo’s drums alone are worth the price of admission, with Harrison’s guitar work not far behind—and it’s all topped with a snaky Lennon vocal that manages to be as inspiring as it is sinister.  But the real hero here may be producer George Martin, who gives the track an incredible polish, without ever obscuring the song’s down and dirty roots.  

17. “If I Fell”
According to myth, John was the acerbic rocker and Paul was the melodic, tender-hearted balladeer. In reality, McCartney was one of rock’s great screamers and Lennon’s hard shell masked an incredibly soft center. Here John offers up one of his most beautiful, and honest, love songs—with Paul'’s harmony offering perfect support.

16. “We Can Work It Out”
I still remember hearing this come over the radio in 1965. It didn’t sound like any other Beatles song I’d ever heard—especially the middle section, with that funereal harmonium pumping away and Lennon and McCartney—sounding more desperate and anxious than two rich, happy rock stars should—telling us all that life was very short and there was no time for fussing and fighting. The Beatles were clearly changing and that fact was as thrilling as it was disturbing.

15. “Tomorrow Never Knows”
Psychedelia went into labor with “Rain,” but it was born with this extraordinary track: Lennon channeling Timothy Leary channeling The Tibetan Book of the Dead. “Lay down all thought, surrender to the void...it is shining, it is shining...” Still great advice, if you ask me.

14. “A Hard Day’s Night”
The essence of Beatlemania—all the joy and wit, euphoria and lunacy—boiled down to two minutes and thirty-three seconds. Once again Lennon and McCartney are in perfect balance—you could write an entire book about the blending of those two incredible voices—and George Harrison offers up a glorious opening chord that musicologists are still dissecting.

13. “All You Need Is Love”
There are some who dismiss this song as so much hippie claptrap. Me, I’m of the opinion that it’s one of the wisest, truest songs ever written. The message is so clear a three year old could understand it, but listen to the lyrics and they open up a whole universe of meaning. Not a hint of claptrap to be found.

12. “Here, There and Everywhere”
As perfect a love song as has ever been written. If McCartney had retired immediately after recording this, his place in the songwriter’s hall of fame would still be secure.

11. “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”
John Lennon saw this strange, tortuous collision of imagery, angst and varying musical styles as a mini-history of rock and roll—and it certainly is that. It’s also one of the oddest, most disturbing and exhilarating songs in the Beatles catalogue. A journey down the rabbit hole that was the Mind of Lennon, “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” is, even after forty years, a continual revelation.

10. “Let It Be” (single version)
McCartney at his most soulful and introspective. The album version, produced by Phil Spector, is a bad mix, with the drums clomping all over the place, the lead guitar noisily intruding and poor Paul stranded in the middle. The single version, produced by the impeccable and brilliant George Martin, is in perfect balance.

9. “Blackbird”
A gorgeous melody, a flawless lyric, and a performance as honest as any McCartney—who sometimes hides his art behind artifice—has ever given. This is the song “Yesterday” wishes it could be.

8. “In My Life”
For years McCartney claimed that Lennon wrote all the lyrics while he supplied the melody. Then Paul changed his story, claiming that he actually co-wrote the lyrics with Lennon. Lennon insisted that he wrote all the lyrics and most of the music, with Paul helping out with the melody. I tend to believe Lennon, who spoke about this song with great passion, and in great detail, during his last interviews; but, however “In My Life” was composed, this Rubber Soul track remains one of the Beatles’ greatest achievements. It’s not surprising that a Mojo magazine panel of professional songwriters selected it as the greatest pop song of the twentieth century.

7. “Across The Universe” (Let It Be...Naked version)
One of the (many) wonderful thing about the Beatles is the fact that their songs evolve in the listening, the tracks continually revealing new layers and levels, and, because of that, “Across The Universe”—a cosmic cry from John Lennon’s heart—grows closer to my heart every year. There have been several different versions released, but the version on the otherwise unnecessary Let It Be...Naked brings out all the song’s magic and transcendence. No wonder NASA beamed it into space.

6. “I Am The Walrus”
A surreal, psychedelic masterpiece—with a fierce Lennon vocal (there’s some raw anger beneath the druggy haze) and insanely brilliant George Martin orchestration that perfectly matches John’s equally insane, and equally brilliant, lyrics.

5. “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End”
Paul McCartney at the peak of his powers, leading his band-mates through a memorable finale that manages to wrap up not just one of the Beatles finest albums—Abbey Road—but their entire astonishing career.

4. “Here Comes The Sun”
Optimism, cosmic consciousness, shimmering guitars and gorgeous harmonies entwine in George Harrison’s greatest Beatles-era composition: the best Lennon-McCartney song that John and Paul never wrote.

3. “Strawberry Fields Forever”
The first song recorded during the Sgt. Pepper sessions, this is Lennon at his most dreamy and introspective and the Beatles at their most brilliantly experimental. “Strawberry Fields” was yanked from Pepper—along with the wonderful “Penny Lane”—to be the Beatles first single of 1967. Had both those songs been included on Pepper, the album might have lived up to its hype.

2. “A Day In The Life”
Lennon’s vocal is one of the most magnificent in the history of popular music—so cold, it’s hot; so emotionally removed that it becomes extraordinarily intimate—and the collision of John’s cosmic alienation with Paul’s down-to-earth everyman persona detonates an ending that Lennon, accurately, described to producer George Martin as “a tremendous build-up from nothing up to something absolutely like the end of the world.” Yes, Sgt. Pepper is brilliant, a work of genius and blahblahblah—but it’s also the most over-rated album in the Beatles catalogue. (For my money, Rubber Soul, A Hard Day’s Night, Abbey Road and The White Album are all superior efforts.) “A Day In The Life” is the place where 60’s mythology and musical reality meet.

1. “Hey Jude”
Is this the Beatles’ best song? Who knows? Is it my favorite? Absolutely. When I was a teenager, lost in adolescent angst and misery, I’d sit for hours feeding my dour mood, listening to the most depressing music in my collection. Then, when I was ready to get over myself, I’d put on “Hey Jude” and, instantly, hope was back. The song is honest, heartfelt and, by the end, downright majestic. A brilliant, moving—and utterly unpretentious—work of art.

© copyright 2009 J.M. DeMatteis