LifeMusic

I know, I know. It’s been a long time since my last article and now the first new thing I’m writing is a music review? And not just a music review, but a review of an album by a 15-year-old YouTube star? Well, yeah. That’s exactly what I’m doing. And I’m just as surprised as anyone! 

While I would never claim to be as much of a melomaniac as some of my peers, I am an avid listener with a healthy iTunes library of music from the 1930s to the 2000s. From Gershwin to Grizzly Bear. From Ella to NWA. From classic Disney Soundtracks to Hamilton (The Musical)…well, you get the picture. But even though I swore I would never be one of those people who weren’t on top of the latest bands and trends, for some reason my audio collection stops around 2012. I think St. Vincent was the last artist that made me take notice and go on a run finding her entire output to that point (and isn’t it a great feeling when you have those kinds of sudden discoveries?) But when it comes to what’s being played today I don’t know Billie Eilish from Billy Eichner. 1In part I think my new car was responsible; the presets for Sirius XM only had six spots and of course I had them set chronologically from the 1940s to the 1990s as any rational person would. Why am even I telling you this? 

Anyway, as a charter member of Generation X, I’ve been bred to be cynical and unimpressed by pretty much everything. And I am! It’s served me well in life!2Not true. So with the advent of podcasts to keep me company during my 2+ hour daily commute I didn’t realize that I was missing new music. Truth be told, I was dismissing much of it out of hand as “American Idol” bred pop. And while I’m being honest, it wasn’t just music that had grown stagnant. Life, in general, has been at a standstill for many years: same job, same house, same dogs, same friends, same routine. Every day. Every year. Rinse, repeat. The only non-work creative thing I’ve done in ages was a quick, barely fleshed-out game concept. 3 Although I still want to make this game!

So that’s the way it was as of a few weeks ago when a YouTube clip hit my Facebook feed; a cover of “La Vie En Rose” by some kid in her bedroom. 4 I should mention here that I love cover versions, especially songs from the 1950s and 1960s. Somehow we lost the days when major artists would routinely cover hit songs or turn more obscure songs into hits with the covers. It would be commonplace to see multiple people have the same song out at the same time. Thank God YouTube artists have brought this tradition back around. If I didn’t like the song so much (and already owned so many covers of it) I never would have watched this: 

Adorable, right?  And when YouTube suggested I watch another of her videos, a cover of Panic! At The Disco, I was intrigued. 5 Yes, I did listen to Panic! At The Disco when they first hit. They were inescapable on alternative stations, and their Musical and Pop influences made them stand out, especially on their second album which totally aimed for “Beatlesque” and ran with it. But then there was a nasty breakup, and I followed Ryan Ross over to his new group, The Young Veins, and holy cow did this kid want to be part of the British Invasion! But I digress. And then I watched a few more videos, finding this young girl, Chloe Moriondo, more endearing with each one. The covers were perfectly fine, if uneven, as some fit her voice better than others 6 And here’s where I have to say I HAD NO IDEA who most of the people being covered were. #OldMan but what shone through was Moriondo’s very distinct personality. And about that time she announced that she had an album for sale online, so I bought a copy on iTunes…and forgot about it. 7 I do this a lot, actually. Not having kids or anything I tend to reflexively support people who impress me or donate to GoFundMes for those in need. Because that could be me one day and karma and all that. About a week later I’m having to spend my Sunday painting germs for work (don’t ask) and fired up iTunes to play while I paint. I honestly hadn’t expected to do much more than skim this kid’s songs and move on to my standard random playlists.  And then it starting playing. 

DAAAAAAAAAAMN. 8I actually said FUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK.   

I ended up letting it loop the whole 7 or 8 hours that I was painting. I was not expecting to hear such a polished effort and one, on the whole, that was fairly different from the covers Moriondo posts. Let’s get the caveat out of the way: this is the first work from a 15-year old artist.9I really hate myself for including a caveat; It’s not like “I Want To Hold Your Hand” is a work of great lyrical complexity (to say nothing of the songs The Beatles were really writing when they were 15!) But many of Moriondo’s songs feel more ambitious than pap like Justin Bieber going “Baby Baby Baby” and more experience will help her hit the goals she’s aiming for a bit better. And it shows…but only in the ways that a more mature singer or composer can draw on experience to create a richer composition. To be fair, I don’t listen to original music made by High School kids that often. But I have known many musicians throughout my life, and I can’t say that hearing any of their music has ever hit me quite the way this album, Rabbit Hearted, has. 10 I’m so sorry, you all know I love your music! From the very first song, Waves, it’s obvious that there is a dark undercurrent running through the album (which, if you know me, you know how that speaks to my black heart.). Even before Moriondo posted “liner notes” on the YouTube posts for each song it was evident that these songs were very personal and dealt with subject matter from her own life. Yeah, that means that you have the usual high school subject matter of Unrequited Love and Joy Rides11Still universal subjects!, but there is a higher concentration of themes of Anxiety, Disassociation/Depression, and above all else, this pervasive sleep imagery that conjures a mental picture of both the highs of dreams and lows of insomnia. And in the title itself, Moriondo refers to anxious feelings being analogous to rabbits’ hearts beating super fast (i.e., someone who is always anxious would be “rabbit hearted”). 

You might think that means these songs would be downers. But no! I tell you; many of them are quite upbeat. Using mainly a ukulele 12 I tried to learn the ukulele a few years ago when it was all the rage. It’s now a nice present to my co-worker’s kids. C’est la vie. and layers of her voice, Moriondo creates an incredibly dense sense of atmosphere to these songs, making them almost haunting. Usually, when I hear young artists singing with a single instrument I think about how much richer it could sound with a band or full orchestration. But these songs sound perfect already. And with nearly 25 years of enervating sleep problems and my own intense bouts of stress, songs like “Exhausted” spoke to me very deeply.  And “Stagnant” could very well be a snapshot of my life, in general, these days. 13 Ha ha. Kill me now. “Spaceland” isn’t the work of someone who has read about neurological disorder it’s the work of someone who has lived it, sketched out in particular, vivid language. And it sounds beautiful at the same time. The very best of these songs have clever turns of phrase throughout; again, these are incredible for a first effort. And that’s not to diminish the craft of these songs, just acknowledging Moriondo is still very young, and it’s reflected in her lyrics. 14 Any mentions of being in Math Class or catching the school bus was a stark reminder of the reality that I’m a 49-year-old listening to a 15-year-old. So much fun. Sigh. But the hooks are there. These might not be catchy pop sing-a-longs, but they are pervasive little earworms. I found myself playing phrases and choruses in my head all week while we were moving offices. Rabbit Hearted even joined my commute playlist! 15 And the cover art by Sha’an d’Anthes is wonderful as well! 

And you know what really sells these songs? Her voice. Watching the covers on YouTube, Moriondo’s voice is tough to pin down: she’s singing live (-ish, there is a fair bit of polishing being done in post, but I don’t think she’s sweetening her basic vocal track at all), she’s adapting to other singers’ styles16 When I first heard her cover Billie Eilish I thought she was having trouble singing until I actually HEARD Eilish herself and realized that Moriondo was just mimicking her very breathy delivery. , and it’s hard to divorce watching her perform with just hearing her voice, isolated. Listening to the album, however, is a whole other experience. While Moriondo’s voice can sound more girly or more mature from song to song, her voice is always very natural and has such a dreamy character to it, for lack of a better word. In three or four years this might translate more to a sultry quality, but for now, it’s such a unique quality where nothing feels forced or whispered, it’s simply clear and smooth and…dreamy. Not to throw shade on Lana Del Rey, but I listen to her, and I always feel that she’s trying to force a specific sultry “noir” sound to her voice that just sounds unnatural. Chloe is the opposite of that. I’ll state again that I don’t listen to contemporary artists (maybe they all sound like this), but to me, her vocal quality is much more akin to singers from the 1940s than her peers. I think this is why her rendition of “La Vie En Rose” has resonated with so many people (it’s her most popular video with 3.5 million views) and her second highest viewed cover is P!ATD’s homage to Sinatra.17Out of all the covers, and I enjoyed being introduced to many new artists, this one was my favorite. Oh, I just checked and Creep by Radiohead was the second most views, because of course it was. I stand by P!ATD. I also think she would be well-suited to covering songs in that same vein occasionally, and there are lots to choose from (even ones that carry a dream motif!) I made a playlist with some apt selections, but I’d really love to hear her own arrangement of a song like “Stay Awake”, from the great Disney concept album of the same name. I think she’d kill it. 

As an aside: there is a rich tradition of young singers like Paul Anka or Hanson hitting it big through contacts in the recording industry or by dropping out of school at an early age and street performing, etc. With an act that is signed and pushed by a Studio, it feels natural to listen to their music or see them on a Late Night show plugging their latest record (after all, we watched Taylor Swift at 14 doing this exact same thing.) Now, however,  YouTube levels the field in such an incredible way, opening up an audience directly with the performer. Labels and Management have always needed talent more than talent has needed them, but now Talent has the means to do it all themselves and cut out middlemen entirely. (Probably not wise to cut out a good financial manager, though!) I’m sure it’s different for the generation that grew up with social media, but I struggle a bit with the sense of intrusion watching performers in their homes (even if they are explicitly inviting us in). Moriondo seems to understand this, too, with her standout “Little Moth” reading as both a comfort to her fans and a tacit caution to not try to intrude into her life too far.18Or is she the Moth in the song and needs protecting? Metaphors are fun!  And I can’t imagine what it’s like to have to go through high school today dealing with mental problems in addition to social media, even though Moriondo seems pretty smart and self-aware, definitely more than I was at her age. Props to her parents for a strong support system. 19I mean, I’m making an assumption here, but all in all, she seems like a great kid and kids don’t raise themselves. AmIrite??

But back to me: hearing this album really knocked me for a loop. After doing the ‘same old’, ‘same old’ for so long you forget what it’s like to accidentally discover something new and wonderful. And it really made me depressed! I couldn’t believe that someone so young had made such an accomplished work, while I had barely made anything for ten years or more. I went to sleep that night pretty bummed. And woke up at 3 am with my first migraine in 4 years (and the first one EVER that I could recall happening while I was asleep.) I’m not going to assume the events were related (the germ thing was pretty stressful) but when I finally woke up the next day I felt like I had had a real moment of clarity: I remembered back to when I was 15 and was painting canvases nearly every single day. When I was compelled to CREATE, all the time. Making movies, writing stories, drawing, drawing, drawing. 20 I had started writing a long “in my day” passage here about how I had to use a silent Super 8 camera and edit with a razor blade for 3 minutes of grainy footage while kids today have iPhones and Final Cut to make pro-level videos when I realized that being an early adopter of Photoshop let me jump over the old guys using markers to color Xerox copies who probably thought the very same thing about me. The circle of life, it moves us all. And I wasn’t depressed anymore. Heck, I was almost euphoric. Sure, I could wish I was 15 again 21Lord, do I wish I were 15 again! But it’s not my age that has changed me from that naive, idealistic, driven young man. It was very, very clear to me that the only thing holding me back was me. It’s a decade of conformity, of choosing security now over potential rewards later after 20 years of chasing dreams. I can’t stress enough how much it felt like I was awakening from a fog that I didn’t know I was in for the first time in a long while. I want to create FOR ME again for the first time in a long, long while. 

And THAT’S why I’m writing this review. Is this album meant for me? Probably not. But as a wise person once said, “Like what you like, don’t what you don’t,” and I LIKE this album. I don’t expect many people to see this; I’m writing it to write something. To get moving, to be productive. I’m writing it for me (like everything else on this site). And I’m writing it to show the impact that even a small artist can have on someone they never met. In retrospect, ANY chain of events leading to a singular moment looks like fate in reverse; I don’t know why I saw that video when I did, right before she dropped an album that I would never have heard in a million years. But it happened. And now we’ll see if any real change will take hold. (And at least I did the illustration at the top of this article! That’s something, right?)

As for Chloe Moriondo, I see big things ahead for her. It’s no accident she’s blowing up right now or that she has a bigger subscriber base than some of the very artists she’s covering. And I don’t know if it’s by design or instinct, but her online persona is a marketer’s dream (and I say that as a marketing exec!22Although I market Twizzler and Takis, not musicians. Alas. ) The glasses, the ease of conversing with her audience, the yellow room, the building of a brand with her use of repeated gestures and great custom thumbnails…it’s the same reason why Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift are where they are. Good music will get you noticed but being unique will make you a star. Just…stay a kid as long as you can. Surround yourself with good friends and steadfast protectors. Aggressively have fun. Go to college; the world will wait. (And just to throw it out there, Chloe Moriondo was made for Austin, Tx. Or New York. But Los Angeles grinds down talented people.23My Angelino buddies might disagree, but I saw it all too much in the seven years I lived there.

So Rabbit Hearted is very good and if I’m grading on a curve made up of albums from teenagers it’s a 5 out of 5. (But I’m not going to give grades to someone still in school!) I can’t stop listening to it right now. And I’m really excited to see what she does next, and in 3 years, in 5 years and so on. But I think at that point the world will be watching along with me. And dreaming. 

TL;DR – This kid is amazing! Go buy her album!!

One last note: if you like a YouTube artist, watch the ads before their videos all the way through. They don’t get much for them in the first place and they get nothing if you hit skip. Just FYI.24That said, I refuse to not skip the ads on half the poorly made shit on YouTube. That’s why I like stuff like Patreon, so I can actually pay the artist for each video and only steal from corporations.

DesignLifeNostalgia

Update – 7/06/2015

comicstripssSo in the nine years since the first installment of this post, the vintage comic strips reprints has absolutely exploded. I would never have imagined in 2006 that what I was calling “The Golden Age of Comic Strip” would REALLY be a gold age. Seriously, I don’t know how this will ever be surpassed, except that someday everything will be available digitally. But for the quality of the reprints that are being made now and the sheer quantity of titles, I don’t see how it could get better. Pretty much all of my personal grails have been addressed, and a lot of secondary ones are on the way. I mean, we’re on volume 25 of Peanuts! Volume 19 of Dick Tracy! Volume 14 of Mary Perkins, which wraps up over 20 years of continuity, just as that strip’s creator, the very talented Leonard Starr, died last week. It’s good that he was able to see such love for his work at that stage of his life. I’m happy I got to meet him briefly during a San Diego Comic Con a few years ago (as he was chatting with Ray Bradbury!) It would be even better if someone would reprint his run that revived Annie in the wake of the hit stage show. In any case, it’s not unusual now for comic strips to be back in the headlines. There is a Peanuts movie hitting the theaters soon (the first since Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown in 1980), the New Yorker is running articles about Gasoline Alley, you can go on a cruise with the top cartoonists of today, and there is a recent documentary that has hit Netflix and VOD about the gradual fall of the comic strip and newspapers in general, and what that means for the future of the medium.

Having begun as a successful Kickstarter campaign, this documentary, Stripped, is pretty good and for those who haven’t been following the industry very informative. Director Dave Kellett interviews over 70 people connected to the comic strip biz including most of the stars from the past 30 years. But there’s one “get” that is truly astounding, seeing as this person doesn’t general give interviews, talk to the public, or have his picture taken: Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes. I don’t think anyone who was alive during 1985-1995 needs to be told the hold that Calvin and Hobbes has on that generation. Or that Bill Watterson is considered a genius for the way he translated universal feelings about growing up into the adventures of a boy and his (stuffed?) tiger. But since his voluntary retirement in 1995, Watterson has been as reclusive as Thomas Pynchon or J.D. Salinger, not making any appearances, not giving any interviews, just generally staying away from any kind of limelight. He preferred to let his work speak for him, which it did indeed, being continually in print throughout the years. And a massive hardcover box set reprinting every single strip was produced in 2005 with a paperback version following in 2012. And that was it. For nearly 20 years only the strip remained to remind us of his genius.

LifeNostalgiaPoliticsToys

So I was browsing through Netflix the other night, looking at their range of mediocre to abysmal choices of things I haven’t seen when I stumbled across the newish documentary “The People vs George Lucas”. With no better choices at hand I proceeded to watch it as I wrapped up some late night editing for a project I’m behind on at my “real job”. Let me rephrase that: I tried to watch it. I got about halfway through it before I had to turn it off and put on a Beatles album (FYI: A Hard Day’s Night) to wash away the taste it left in my brain. At its most basic, this was nothing more than what any Star Wars fan has seen thousands of times in every nerd/geek/fanboy forum online since the special editions were released in 1997 up through Revenge of the Sith in 2005. And honestly, I’m kind of tired of going over the same ground over and over and over (Han shot first, Jar Jar sucks, George doesn’t care about us, fans have equal ownership, ad infinitum).

To make it perfectly clear, I didn’t really care for the film. Decently made, but I didn’t see the point to it (even if you tell me at the end they defend George’s right to do whatever he wants with his films…who cares? That point was debated a decade ago). But it did really open my eyes to something I’ve never really thought about before: George absolutely did the right thing when he made the prequels. What did he do right, you ask? Well, going all the way back to Star Wars in 1977, George has continually said that these are kid’s movies. Made for kids. Now, most fans see that as a cop-out. An excuse, a shoddy justification for everything they don’t like about the prequels. And I’m not the first person to point out that he is right, these are kid’s movies. We fell in love with them as children. If you really go back and look at Star Wars today with a clear, cynical grown-up’s eye, you can see how juvenile the first movie was. How black and white. How simplistic.  And there is nothing wrong with that.

Somewhere down the line, “kid’s movie” became synonymous with “dumbed down crap”, but it wasn’t always that way. E.T. is a “kid’s movie”. Every Disney classic is a “kid’s movie”. You can say that The Wizard of Oz is a kid’s movie. But what we’re really saying is that these are family films- enjoyable for all ages. Now, the prequels are regrettably lacking in finesse. They definitely could have used a rewrite or two and a little better character motivations. But look around: kid’s today still love these movies. They like Jar Jar. They think the Battle Droids are funny. Go read Drew McWeeny’s great series on introducing his sons to the Saga: http://in-my-head.org/2011/11/07/recommended-reading-drew-mcweenys-film-nerd-2-0-star-wars-edition/

George made the right call here. He kept aiming that target in the same place he aimed it in 1977 and 1980 and 1983. And the kids that are enjoying the prequels today (and the Clone Wars, and the video games, and the toys) are going to grow up thinking just as fondly about all of this as we did 20-30 years ago.

I know what you’re thinking. I know, I know. You wanted to see something else. You want Jar Jar gone. You didn’t want silly Battle Droids and endless Jedi fighting. Or C-3PO’s antics. I get it, I really do. But let me point you in the direction of a comparable genre that didn’t take the path that Lucas did. No, this property at some point decided that instead of staying aimed at kids, it would grow up with them. It would evolve and start experimenting with just how far it could push the characters and the existing boundaries. It would get dark, it would get edgy. You know where I’m going with this: it’s comics.

At the same moment that Star Wars was capturing a generation of kids, comics was telling those kids that it was OK to never grown up and leave them behind like the previous generations did. No, once the 1980s hit continuity became king. If you weren’t on board from the beginning it became harder and harder to get on the ride. And every year less and less kids were reading comics. And comics responded by catering to that 80s generation’s every whim in a self-destructing feedback loop. So here we are. Comics exist almost solely as fodder for merchandise and movies and once the 40 and 50 year olds stop buying them the industry is pretty much going to die off (How’s that New 52 treating ya, fans?). Or move onto the web. And collectors alone can’t sustain all the toys or even movies when they are anything but a crowd pleasing, family friendly hit (looking at you, Green Lantern!) But Star Wars? Well, kids will be watching that just like they do the Disney films. Every seven years a new generation will pick it up, and the juggernaut starts up all over again.

Because George Lucas was right.

LifeNostalgiaToys

As the years have gone by and I’ve gotten older (and wiser?) I’ve come to notice that every time one of our “distinguished men of AFi” have posted pictures of their past childhood holiday toy pictures that something has been missing from my life: namely, and similar pictures of MY childhood Christmases filled with toys. For that matter, I really never had any pictures of much of my childhood, period, outside of the typical family portraits. Or so I thought. Last year while home for the holidays I made an off-hand remark to that effect to my mother, who then asked why didn’t I look in all the boxes of slides we had stored upstairs. Turns out that my parents DID take a tremendous amount of pictures, only they were almost all slide film and then put away once we stopped gathering around the ol’ Kodak Carousel. Since I was curious as to what slides we had, I took it upon myself to scan them all and convert them into nice digital files.

fettlegWell, over 6000 slides, 12 months, and many hundreds of hours later, I now know what is on all of those slides (and might I add they date back into the 1950s, well before I was around). And I still have around 2000 more slides to scan…unless they find even more boxes, which is a very distinct possibility. But within all of those pictures, I did find a number of great shots of what I received for Christmases past. I haven’t gotten into the 1980s yet, and if you had asked me before I scanned them what toys I received, I would have told you that I mainly got cars & planes, model trains, and a toy drum set until 1978. At that point my life was overtaken by Star Wars, (I even made my own xmas stocking shaped like Boba Fett’s leg, seen at right!) and I can’t really remember owning any other toys until I started collecting in earnest in college (well after throwing away everything I had in childhood).

LifeNostalgia

The Space Shuttle Columbia Lands at Kelly Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas, March 1979

Or, what the Space Shuttle means to me.

On Thursday, July 21, 2011,  US Space Shuttle Atlantis touched down for the final time, returning from the last mission that the shuttle program will fly for the United States.  The program and the shuttles themselves have been retired, cast aside due to a national lack of enthusiasm and a casualty of the ludicrous economic battles that pass for governance these days. But none of that matters to me when I think of the Space Shuttle.

First and foremost, to me, it remains the last exciting moment of the US Space program that really touched people when I was growing up. Sure, the Mars rover and the various interstellar missions of the past 20 years have been interesting, but the Space Shuttle program was a continuance of that bright, shining age when it really looked as if the science fiction was becoming the science reality. It was totally conceivable that by the year 2000 we might have (small) colonies on the moon, or a floating city in space to replace Skylab.

DesignLife

I’m not a very good artist.

I mean, I’m OK as far as it goes. I can get the job done or at least figure out what needs to be done. But when it comes to guys like Matt Cauley or Kerry Gammill or Dave Hudnut (all guys I know and worked with) there’s just no comparison. And I’m cool with that.  To be honest I never wanted to be an artist; I’m self-taught in the sense that I doodled in the margins of my school papers, and taught myself how to paint just for fun in high school, but I was never one of those guys that just HAD to draw. The ones that spent hours practicing, or laboring over tiny details, or studying the great artists to figure out the secrets

Nope. I just did it until I got bored and then I’d rush through the rest to finish it. I didn’t want to grow up to be an artist, it was just a hobby. It relaxed me, and I wanted to keep it that way. Sadly, life decided that I would end up having no marketable skills and I somehow backed into a career as a designer, first of toys and now of promotions.

The good news is that I’m quite good at computer programs like photoshop and illustrator. With those, I don’t need to be a good artist, I can fake it. But it is somewhat of a regret that I never really learned how to draw well. Now that I’m in my late 30s new skills don’t come quite so easily anymore, and I sometimes really struggle to get something looking how I want it to. It was much harder when I was a toy designer, as my puny skills meant that while I designed a lot of stuff, someone else would do the final artwork. Oh, I was able to design some nice display pieces, but they were almost always not my style or done by committee (which is kind of the default in any graphic business these days). Still, I was able to put my stamp on things by slipping in the random otter or hyrax onto the item.

DesignLifeMoviesStar WarsUnproduced

0111_phantommenaceTen years to be exact. That’s when I left the oil fields (where I was shooting industrial video) and entered the world of product design. I got really lucky, having made some contacts through Raving Toy Maniac when I was running it with Eric G. Myers, to somehow stumble into a new career despite having zero experience and minimal skills at the time. What I did have was a crazy passion for the toy industry. And I think my boss saw that, and took a chance on me.  We were a small start-up agency at first, and chased every opportunity we could come across. Of course, I was happy to be designing crap for A Bug’s Life and Dairy Queen’s Arctic Extreme toys but if you had asked me what I really would like to be working on, super heroes or action figures would have topped my list.

Well, except for Star Wars, that is. In 1998 I was just about the biggest Star Wars nerd around. Not only was I writing about the toys for RTM and hitting Toy Fair and SDCC, but my new co-worker, Steve Ross, was just as big of a nerd as me. Every day at lunch we’d hit Target or TRU trying to find the latest and greatest that Kenner and Galoob had to offer. Our offices were decorated solid with Star Wars. It was always at the forefront of our minds. And then one day our CEO told us that Pepsi wanted us to pitch some ideas of what promotional merchandise they could do for Episode One.

DesignLifeNostalgia

misterdogcrocOk, so I’m in the grocery store the other day and while I was walking down the aisle between the fine products from Campbell’s Soup Company and the displays of healthy Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups there was a sidecap rack with Little Golden Books on it. (Not to be confused with the German dog food brand, seen at right.)

Never one to pass by a literary opportunity, I glanced over at the rack and perused the title held within. What caught my eye was an intriguing tome labeled, “Mister Dog”. Even more intriguing was the fact that in 2008 there was a book marketed to children with a cover illustration of a dog smoking a pipe!

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Now, I don’t know what was in Mister Dog’s pipe, but I do know what it felt like *I* had been smoking after reading this book. I’m not sure I can do the crazy, mixed-up world of Mister Dog justice, but suffice it to say that I bought that book then and there! The story generally follows the adventures of a dog that belonged to himself, with the challenging name of Crispin’s Crispian. Who is Crispin? Is the dog Crispin and “Crispian” is a term of endearment? Is it one of those weird cultural oddities, like “Carl’s Jr.” or  “Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse”? 

8c8a7e93c8f83e5a1aca6ca0d877dcaaAnyway, the dog screws around, then meets a boy who is apparently a runaway. They go buy some food and take it back to the two-story doghouse, where they eat and go to sleep. The boy helps him clean the house. The dog almost never stops smoking. And was he chewing on his own hat? I wouldn’t put it past him, he is a dog. Seriously, it’s just some crazy-ass stuff. But don’t take my word for it, why not read this fine review. I wish Michael Bay would concentrate on classics to adapt like Mister Dog, rather than that Transformers crap.

The sad dénouement of all this was finding out that this was the last story of the author, Margaret Wise Brown. Ms. Brown was more famous as the writer of the wistful tale of nighttime ritual, “Goodnight, Moon”. But while on a promotional tour of Europe she fell ill and was hospitalized. After recuperating somewhat she tried to demonstrate her renewed health to her nurse by performing a high-kick, which triggered a sudden embolism that killed her on the spot. Oh, and she also owned a dog named “Crispin’s Crispian”, so I guess that explains that.