The Rock Gods Return

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On the outskirts of London yesterday, Led Zeppelin completely and utterly destroyed the rock landscape for the first time since I was a little lad. I was not there. I thought I would be okay with not being one of the supremely lucky 20k people who were on the inside but reading the reviews, viewing the photos, seeing the set list…let’s just say that I am super & seriously sad that I did not see it live. Now I’m I am dying for either the DVD or a tour to arrive immediately. Immediately meaning yesterday.
In terms of learning what when down across the pond, you could turn to the UK Times has a good review and our own NYT has a decent review as well. So does New Music Express. I’m waiting some other good music publications to post their reviews. When they do, I’ll update the site.
12/11 UPDATE: The Rolling Stone review is quite good.
In terms of pics, the NYT has an okayslideshow of photos from in and around the Ahmet Eretugan tribute show. Rolling Stone has a decent one too. By later today, a few hundred other news outlets will as well and again, if they are worth noting, I’ll update this post.
I have a sneaking suspicion that I’ll be listening to Zep a lot in the upcoming days… [“When the Levee Breaks” is on right now]


Rock & Roll Bookend

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I wish I always could be so lucky: this past week I started and ended it at a concert. On Monday, I saw the Foo Fighters play an acoustic show at the Beacon Theatre (Frank Black – Pixies – opened). Last night, I saw Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (CSNY) perform at the Theatre at MSG after two different people in my life, separated age-wise by over 20 years, both raved about their performance on this tour. While I immensely enjoyed both shows, I was struck by the amazing emotional gulf between the two, mostly in terms of relevancy and importance. One was simply music – the other was music and so much more.
The Foo show was great and left me all smiles. Dave Grohl was engaging, a regular chatty Kathy actually, and their expanded roster of musicians (Pat Smear was back w/ them – gotta love a punk rock dude who was in a band called the Germs whose name rhymes with pap smear) played a lot of the new tracks off of the acoustic side of their new record along with a good number of older songs – “Its all about the catalog dude!” Dave yelled at one point. The songs were all really well done but one song sticks out in particular after last night’s show: “In Your Honor,” the title track from their latest album. Dave wrote that in honor of John Kerry while he was out on the campaign trail with him. He sung it well and the band rocked it out but he never mentioned the campaign, the current world we live in, Bush or anything political at all. He simply played the tune and moved on to other tunes, like “Everlong.” Looking back, it was like listening to rock & roll cotton candy – all fluff and no substance.
Comparabily, the CSNY show didn’t feed you at all: it threw a bucket of cold water in your face and let you know that shits all sorts of fucked up and then worked up your appetite to do something about it. I thought that CSNY would stick to a “safe” show of their classic hits but instead they grabbed the show by the balls. In a surprise, the group played a ton of songs off of Neil Young’s new album Living With War which completely slams the Imperial Bush Presidency and the GWOT (global war on terror for those not up on the lingo). I urged you months ago to listen to the Neil’s new disc and I urge you again now. The group displayed on a huge video screen US deaths broken out by month and lambasted the president for not attending a single soldier’s funeral. They showed a picture of every single dead soldier thus far – 2,607 of them (a fact I know because of last night’s show) – while they played a song dedicated to the troops. They put the words to the new Neil Young song “Let’s Impeach the President” on screen and urged the crowd to sing along. They played “Teach Your Children” and Crosby said “Every teacher’s salary should be tripled!” before launching into it. They played “Ohio” and as everyone was singing “4 dead in Ohio” it felt in a way like Kent State could have just happened.
My friend and I over and over again just couldn’t believe that it was 2006, almost 40 years after these gents made their debut, and that we were watching these 4 strong, clear voices belt out songs with such meaning, harmony and clarity, that we were watcing their fingers run wild and pluck out tunes that scarily matter more than ever. Their stamina too must be commended – they played for a total of 3 hours (with only a 20 min break in the middle so the show was almost 3.5 hrs long). Their message of peace is still a sound one. The peace symbol on the stage wasn’t a dated relic of the 60’s. It was a stark reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same. There is a battle for peace too and that battle needs to be fought and not ignored.
Sitting around reflecting this morning, I wish every concert now packed the same emotional punch that the CSNY show did. Art for art’s sake in a world gone crazy sometimes is not enough. Someone has to be out there making art with a purpose, art with a message. It was like watching Lou Reed’s perfomance at the Hurricane Katrina Summerstage benefit for 3 hours. I feel blessed, energized and motivated. Maybe if every show packed this type of punch I would feel battered but a good slap in the face once in a while to me is a good thing.


Siskel Versus Ebert

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Today, I was sent a link to a blog post that had a sort-of funny clip of Gene Siskel and Robert Ebert bickering with each other while taping a promo for their show a few years back. On that post however, which again was only sort-of funny, MC left a comment which pointed me to the longer and much better clip to which I have linked.
Hang in there until the 2 min mark because that is when things get Gibsony good and yes, I mean Mel Gibson because WASPs and Protestants get absolutely trashed, like when someone says, “G-d damn Protestants, biggest thing to happen for them on Sunday is a bake sale.” Ebert even mentions the “Fucking Jews” just like Mel, though he doesn’t blame the Jews for all the wars in the world.
In keeping with my established theme:
A) Siskel = bald
B) Ebert = fat
Via Neu


Tony Hendra: Who he is and why I interviewed him

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Recently I posted my review about The Messiah of Morris Avenue, a great debut novel by Tony Hendra. Through the power of social networking and email, I recently had the opportunity to interview this author and greatly enjoyed doing so because I not only found the book interesting and engaging but he coincidentally is the creator of one of the funniest bits of television I have ever seen. Ka is a wheel. While my questions were relatively short, I found Mr. Hendra’s answers to be much more insightful, interesting and frankly lengthy than I ever could have hoped to receive. I guess that it is like how the essays written for an in-person exam are much shorter than those provided when given a take-home test.
In trying to keep things to a nice round number, I asked Tony a total of 10 questions. 8 questions were about the book and his career and the last 2 were about some recent controversies to which he has been linked. Here is the exchange:
JL: First off: Do you believe in God? If so, how would you describe this higher power?
TH: I do believe in god but less as a person or presence than as than the inescapable conclusion to a couple of very fundamental questions: Why not just nothing? Or Wittgenstein’s ‘the question is: why does the universe exist at all?’ This is not to detract in any way from science, in particular astrophysics, quantum physics, relativity theory, string theory etc. I believe the science-religion face-off to be a totally phony one. On the other hand I think these disciplines don’t answer – and often dismiss – such fundamental questions as irrelevant or superstitious or semantic, when they’re not. They’re a profound part of human inquiry: questions that have always existed and always will. That said, the imminence of this force, reality or dimension, its presence in our lives once accepted is also inescapable – in the minute grungy details of everyday life as well as the vastness of the universe(s). As Jay says ‘we’re (meaning god) the architect of all existence but we’re also its super’ I find that idea exciting even comforting. If there is a god he she or it, is just as present in the pixels of this screen I’m writing on as in that nebulae a trillion light years away across the immeasurable reaches of space.
JL: I believe that Christianity took about 400 years to truly catch on from the time Jesus lived (Constantine the Great legalized the religion in the 400’s). How long would it take for a new religion to make its way into the mainstream these days?
TH: Historically I’m not sure about that. Christianity certainly took 300 years to sort itself out and find its way through the thickets of what it called heresy but were actually competing versions of Christianity or vestiges of other older belief-systems that had attached themselves to it. The Council of Nicaea in 325 called by Constantine might be considered some kind of watershed I suppose. As to the far more fascinating prospect of how long it would take now – well I sort of address that in my epilogue. If the Messiah is successful enough I would love to write a second volume taking as my starting point the epilogue: the development of a new Christianity in the mid-21st century and tracking it through say its first century. Could be fantastic.
There was a fabulous book in the mid-50s called Canticle for Lebowitz, which did much the same thing. After the nuclear holocaust which wiped out most of the world, a new organized religion begins, akin in many ways to the Christianity of the early Church but weirdly skewed; the author creates a grim and magical version of the Dark Ages but set in the future – and what’s more in the US not Europe. It’s a great model. I’d love to have shot at that.
JL: How realistic of a portrait does the book paint about what is going on in America and the rest of the world these days?
TH: Very close – I think this is fiction that might almost be considered non-fiction. The way the book came about was: in November 2004 as I watched these Republicans preening themselves over a victory they attributed to their ‘Christian’ values, I couldn’t help thinking how far it was from the Christianity I grew up with and was nurtured in by Father Joe. And the best way I could think of to do that was to have the real Christ showing up and revealing these people for the unholy thugs they were/are.
I had toyed with this idea – Christ returning or versions of Christ – before but always satirically. To make this premise stick I had to write it for real – create a credible Christ figure who however entertaining had to be convincing in contrast to the fundamentalists’ caricature of Christianity . It was quite a challenge but in another way a fascinating journey: because I was forced to consider at some depth what in fact I did believe or would like to.
Mark Twain I believe it was, said if Christ came back the Christians would crucify him. And in the Grand Inquisitor passage of The Brothers Karamazov, the Grand Inquisitor threatens to execute the returned Jesus. So the returned Christ is hardly new as an idea. Making it convincing in slightly future New York (Morris Avenue is in the Bronx one of the five boroughs – and the poorest – of New York City) was what made the book so intriguing to write. One of my favourite parallels to the Gospels is when Jay walks on the water – except it’s the filthy polluted East River. There are many darker parallels in the ‘Passion’ chapters in which the Messiah is tried, ‘scourged’ (tortured) and crucified (executed by lethal injection). I remember very clearly the day I first Googled an image of the lethal injection gurney and realized that when condemned prisoners are strapped to it, their arms and legs are in precise cruciform shape. As a writer it was an exhilarating discovery; as a human who loathes the whole notion of the death penalty it was chilling – not I suspect a parallel that had ever occurred to anyone, except maybe some sadistic fundo Baptist. So there are many realistic parallels to what’s going on in the US under the Bush gang.
As to the future I believe that at no point in the close to half a century I’ve lived in the States has the very nature of the US been so under threat. And I mean from within. Although I saw my book as set in a palpable future – 1984 was my working model – many interviewers and reviewers have barely noticed that – preferring to see my ‘parallel America’ as essentially modern, set now. And certainly I’m pessimistic that the theocratic pressures of the Christian right on the US are going to go away. On the contrary we’re going a lot further down that road, before true resistance sets in. One of the main reasons is that the liberal-center-left opposition – and I don’t mean only the Democrats – believes that the Christian right’s success is some kind of temporary aberration in the system, which will soon correct itself, without them having to put much effort into the process. Suicidal if you ask me.
JL: How would you describe the unique perspective that the English “bring to the table” when analyzing and writing about America and Americans?
TH: Well, as I said I’ve lived in NY for a long, long time – 42 years to be exact, far longer than I ever lived in England. I actually tend to be impatient with Brits who come here and start holding forth about the nature of America and Americans, after a whole month spent in NY and LA – however entertaining they may think they’re being. I learnt early on in my American life that you can’t really make people laugh (I was a comedian at the time) unless you’re inside the culture to a degree that you’re saying things from a shared subconscious, a shared set of assumptions and references no-one has to state consciously. In fact it was more of a problem when I went back to England in 1983 to write and produce Spitting Image and realized that in the twenty years I’d been away I’d lost touch with that shared subconscious in England.
That said I do think the tradition of satire I was born into is an immensely useful and solid grounding in both form and attitude. Brits do tend to be more sure of themselves – you might say more fearless – than Americans when attacking institutions and the humans responsible for them. And they understand more instinctively the fundamental irony of satire – that you are saying the opposite of what you actually believe, exaggerating it in fact, to get at how absurd or disgusting (or both) it is. I’m afraid a lot of Americans – at least younger Americans – have been inculcated with deadly literalism which makes them believe that when you’re saying the exact opposite of what you believe, you really mean it. Sigh.
JL: Throughout your career, why has your humor specifically focused on satire?
TH: Once again I’m not sure how true that is anymore. Most of my life I’ve been a satirist/humorist but I began to find that very unsatisfying about ten years ago. I’m proud to have been part of the creation of the Lampoon and Spinal Tap and Spitting Image, but as you get older, you realize that just getting laughs feels like you’re only firing on a couple of cylinders. The process of creating humor often means suspending your belief in the totality of life and reality, refusing to acknowledge the dark as well as the light. That doesn’t have to be the case – great satirists like Waugh Swift, Voltaire, Nathaniel West come to mind. And what-if is one of those forms of satirical suspension (I mentioned 1984 earlier, one of the most famous examples of what-if; another is Doctor Strangelove one of the greatest satires ever written).
I stuck to satire for so long though – what I believe to be true satire as opposed to political or topical humor (see 4) – because when it does work it’s sublimely satisfying, and once or twice in my life it really has. National Lampoon’s Lemmings comes to mind or The President’s Brain Is Missing aka Ron and Nancy on Spitting Image.
JL: How does this book fit in with other the bits of satire you’ve done on American society, specifically the “Spitting Image” series? (As an aside, my sister, father and I know most of the words of the entire “Spitting Image” White House themed episode, including the entire “Ronnie and Nancy” theme song. We believe that to be one of the best bits of satire ever produced and love it with a special love.)
TH: Following on from 5 really: this book is a satire in that what-if style – I have recently written pieces in the American Prospect and HuffPost that do this kind of satire also, taking on the voice and attitudes of my antagonists to do them in. But this premise is more complicated – at a certain point when the flesh-and-blood messiah shows up, the narrative has to becomes much less ironic in tone. That’s why I chose to have a narrator who would make that very tricky transition smoothly – he is a skeptic both towards the theocracy the Christian right has wrought and towards the teachings and spirituality of the messiah. That’s a good thing because as one reviewer pointed out (Jesse Kornbluth for satires can be a lot of fun for the first hundred pages but become very tiresome as they works they way out to a conclusion; whereas I shift gears into a much more passionate fiction at – according to Mr Kornbluth I hasten to add – just the right moment.
JL: Speaking of “Spitting Image”: Why where only four Spitting Image episodes produced in America? What happened? Did its humor not translate well to the American audience?
TH: A painful question in some ways. I was a co-creator of SI (with the puppeteers Luck and Flaw) and part of our plan was that in due course – once it was up and running in the UK – I would bring it to the US and put down SI roots there too. Of the SI team only I had the feel for American audiences (as described above in 3.) that would have made a show this extreme palatable to Americans. You would have to get it absolutely right to get away with it. On the other hand the declining Reagan years – not to mention the years of the unspeakable moron Bush 1 – would have been fertile soil. In the event TV politics intervened and I left the show long before I intended. The writers who wrote the HBO specials that were done here (as I recall there were only two), holed up in a hotel in NY for a fortnight with a pile of newsmagazines and tried to write material from that. Needless to say they didn’t have a clue what Americans thought funny or were willing to laugh at, and the specials bombed. Self-destructive these Brits. Had the original plan been kept to, we’d all be a lot richer than we are.
JL: Regarding your memoir Father Joe, Father Joe was obviously a very powerful influence on you. If that is so, then why did it take you more than forty years and two marriages to “straighten up and fly right”?
TH: An enormous question and one which I had to write a 250-page book to answer. Briefly put the world is a very attractive place and I lost my faith; perhaps we all do in a way even those who start with no formal faith. But few people are lucky enough to have so forgiving, and gentle and therefore immensely strong a person in their lives waiting for them when they’re ready to return. In biblical terms my Father Joe story was a modern version of the Prodigal Son; and I think it appealed to so many people because many men and women – even those without faith – feel themselves to be somehow prodigal children and long to return home and see a Father Joe waiting for them at the door. I owe whatever good I found in life – and myself – to him.
My last 2 questions were ones that Mr. Hendra declined to answer. I would be remiss however if I did not post them along with Mr. Hendra’s reasons for not answering them so here they are:
JL: First, in doing research about you, I was surprised to connect the dots and see that you are the same person that is involved with the controversy caused by the publication of your daughter’s memoir “How to Cook your Daughter.” How do you address its charges of sexual abuse, mental cruelty, explosive rages and exposure to danger that she suffered at your hands?
Second, why would Michael McKean accuse you of taking too much credit on “This is Spinal Tap?” especially as he made these accusations over 20 years after the movie came out?
TH: I don’t see the relevance of [questions] 9 and 10 to the current project (the messiah) which is a novel and whose content and thrust has nothing to do with my personal life. other than to reiterate that my daughter’s charges of sexual abuse are and always have been, utterly false, i cannot discuss any issues relating to her, as i have undertaken legal actions in the matter. Question 10 i will be happy to address – there are unaired issues here interest to spinal tap fans – but not in this context.


Book Review Time: The Messiah of Morris Avenue

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Recently I read Tony Hendra’s debut novel The Messiah of Morris Avenueand found it to be a quite interesting read that I would suggest it to anyone who is interested in religion and/or politics. The ideas presented, especially the idea that our world is not tolerant to the message of peace, really resonated with me. Religion in all aspects has forever fascinated me: the good that it brings, the mysticism, the hypocracy, the evil that is done in the “name of God;” all of these aspects utterly amaze me, particularly how religion often provides a way and an excuse for the wicked to act even more wickedly.
While I am not a deeply religious person, I believe and acts as if “Ka is a wheel” and that we are all human beings deserving of love and respect, regardless of race, creed or color, as long as we in turn show love and respect towards all. Things do come full circle and its best to act with kindness for you never know when you’ll need kindness in return. I enjoy when anyone challenges traditional religious dogmatic thought, whether it be Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman series or Arthur C. Clarke’s The Light Of Other Days. The same way that The Master and Margarita plays with the idea of “What if the Devil came to Moscow but no one believed he was the Devil because they were all atheists,” this book plays with the idea of “What if Christ returned today yet no one believed that he was in fact Jesus?” I commend Hendra for putting down on paper such powerful ideas in such an entertaining manner. Hopefully this is just the start of good things for Hendra as he embarks on the novel writing part of his vast career.
Not only did I read the book, I spoke with the author which I find is always quite a treat. Coming later this week I will publish my expansive interview with Tony Hendra, the author of The Messiah of Morris Avenue. This is now the second WGTCTIP2 book review and author interview and I’m looking foward to doing this more often in the future.


We're Number 9!

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, going to Bingo was a good value and if there one thing that I’ve been programmed to do since birth is to recognize a good value. It seems that Bingo is now the 9th best public university in the country according to US News and World Report (see below).


Go Colonials/Bearcats!


Poke versus Tomoe

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I have been a big fan of Poke, an incredible sushi restaurant by me, for some time now. Since I moved nearby last April, I’ve eaten there on average 2 – 3 times a month. Its BYOB policy is fantastic for oenophiles and budget conscious connoisseurs alike. When the topic of sushi restaurants pops up in conversation, I boast about my neighborhood haunt, going as far to say that it’s the uptown Tomoe. Yes, the legendary Tomoe, where my good friend Mike ordered so much food one time, they refused to serve him, saying that he couldn’t possibly eat all of that fish. We convinced the staff that he’s a whale when it comes to sushi and that no fish would go to waste. Sure enough, he ate everything on his plate (which was more than what the other 3 people ate combined). The staff was so impressed that they brought us a bottle of sake on the house to honor this incredible feat. It was funny then and its still funny now.

The calling card for both of these establishments is a stark décor coupled with superb and sublime sushi. Poke is completely devoid of any décor – it is a plain white empty box with literally nothing on the walls. You feel like you are in somebody’s studio apartment which has been gutted and is in the process of being rebuilt. Tomoe has a bit of décor compared to Poke but all it really has are posters tacked onto the wall. In Zagats, Poke gets a 26 for food and a 4 for décor; a difference of 22 and the only difference I know of that is greater than twenty in the entire guide. Tomoe has less of a spread, though only slightly, as it gets a 27 for food and an 8 for décor; a difference of 19. I guess a poster or two goes a long way.

Mike has been dreaming about his epic meal at Tomoe for years now so I recently took him with me to Poke so that he could compare the two. Unfortunately, my ego took a slight hit as he was not head over heals for the joint. While he loved the rolls, which he declared to be better than those served at Tomoe, he said that the sushi was just okay. He didn’t think the toro was anything special and overall he thought that the pieces were on the small to average size (Tomoe is known for its oversized pieces of sushi). The more I thought about it, the more that I thought that he may be right.

My plan is to, for the first time in over a year, head back to Thompson Street to hit up Tomoe and see what that extra point for food gets ya. Hopefully the line won’t be too long (i.e. over a half an hour) and hopefully I’ll be bringing Mike with me. While I’ll be brown bagging a Sapporo while I wait on the street, as I cannot bring my own alcohol, I’m hoping Mike’s eating prowess once again nets us some free booze.

In case you are curious, here are the reviews from Zagats:

Poke: “Exceptional sushi” sliced by a “friendly chef” at “bargain” rates is slightly muted by the “grim”, “cramped” setup at this East Side Japanese BYO – but regulars say “if you drink enough sake, you’ll think it’s Nobu.”

Tomoe: “Neither rain nor sleet nor snow” deter diehards from this Village Japanese and its “affordable”, “monster-size” sushi that “melts in your mouth like buttah”; defying the “nonexistent decor” and “postage stamp”–dimensions, “ouch”-inducing lines wrap “around the block” every single day.


Best Books of 2005

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For your reading and gift-giving pleasure, I have grabbed the NY Times’ 100 Notable Books of the Year list for 2005 and posted it to this site. Keep in mind this isn’t the be all end all of lists. For instance, Blink by Malcolm Gladwell is not on the list and I’ve heard from a ton of people that it was a great book. That being said, here is the list:

Fiction & Poetry
BEYOND BLACK. By Hilary Mantel. (John Macrae/Holt, $26.) Neurotic, demanding ghosts haunt a British clairvoyant in this darkly comic novel.

A CHANGED MAN. By Francine Prose. (HarperCollins, $24.95.) A neo-Nazi engages a Jewish human rights leader in this morally concerned novel, asking for help in his effort to repent.

COLLECTED POEMS, 1943-2004. By Richard Wilbur. (Harcourt, $35.) This urbane poetry survived the age of Ginsberg, Lowell and Plath.

EMPIRE RISING. By Thomas Kelly. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25.) A muscular historical novel in which the Irish erect the Empire State Building in a cheerfully corrupt New York.

ENVY. By Kathryn Harrison. (Random House, $24.95.) A psychoanalyst is unhappy but distant until Greek-tragedy things start happening in this novel by an ace student of sexual violation.

EUROPE CENTRAL. By William T. Vollmann. (Viking, $39.95.) A novel, mostly in stories, of Middle European fanaticism and resistance to it in the World War II period.

FOLLIES: New Stories. By Ann Beattie. (Scribner, $25.) This keen observer of the surface of life now slows down for an occasional epiphany.

HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE. By J. K. Rowling. Illustrated by Mary GrandPr. (Arthur A. Levine/ Scholastic, $29.99.) In this sixth volume of the epic series, the Dark Lord, Voldemort, is wreaking havoc throughout England and Harry, now 16, is more isolated than ever.

HOME LAND. By Sam Lipsyte. (Picador, paper, $13.) Lipsyte’s antihero, a loser but unbowed, asserts in endless letters to his alumni magazine that all the others are losers too.

THE HOT KID. By Elmore Leonard. (Morrow, $25.95.) Many seek fame in this rendering of America’s criminal landscape in the 1930’s; the title character, a killer lawman, achieves it.

HOW WE ARE HUNGRY: Stories. By Dave Eggers. (McSweeney’s, $22.) A shining miscellany peopled by characters in close touch with childhood.

IN CASE WE’RE SEPARATED: Connected Stories. By Alice Mattison. (Morrow/HarperCollins, $23.95.) The stories concern a family whose members couldn’t lose each other if they tried.

INDECISION. By Benjamin Kunkel. (Random House, $21.95.) This postmodern, posteverything, fresh and funny novel by a young writer seems to develop a nonironic social conscience.

KAFKA ON THE SHORE. By Haruki Murakami. (Knopf, $25.95.) Two characters alternate in this dreamish novel: a boy fleeing an Oedipal prophecy and a witless old man who can talk to cats.

LUNAR PARK. By Bret Easton Ellis. (Knopf, $25.) A novel starring a brat named Bret Easton Ellis, who knows everybody and has more fun than ever happens to real people.

MAPS FOR LOST LOVERS. By Nadeem Aslam. (Knopf, $25.) Unhappy Pakistani exiles in a cold, hard Britain populate this intricate novel.

THE MARCH. By E. L. Doctorow. (Random House, $25.95.) Characters in this absorbing novel are transformed by distress and destruction as Sherman marches to the sea in 1864.

MEMORIES OF MY MELANCHOLY WHORES. By Gabriel Garcia Marquez. (Knopf, $20.) A strange and luminous novel whose elderly hero pays for sex but finds love.

MIGRATION: New and Selected Poems. By W. S. Merwin. (Copper Canyon, $40.) Half a century’s work, from archaic allegories to unpointed lyrics to secular prophecy and wisdom verses.

MISSING MOM. By Joyce Carol Oates. (Ecco/ HarperCollins, $25.95.) This novel peers into the void left by a woman’s sudden absence.

MISSION TO AMERICA. By Walter Kirn. (Doubleday, $23.95.) In his new novel, Kirn invents a religion whose believers hit the road to recruit.

MOTHER’S MILK. By Edward St. Aubyn. (Open City, $23.) In this novel an ancient family’s sins are visited on its offspring, who repeat them.

NATURAL HISTORY: Poems. By Dan Chiasson. (Knopf, $23.) This second collection conjures a postmodern landscape where folk knowledge and superstitions arrange into oddly moving litanies.

NEVER LET ME GO. By Kazuo Ishiguro. (Knopf, $24.) This bold novel imagines a school where clones are trained for a terrible destiny.

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. By Cormac McCarthy. (Knopf, $24.95.) Women grieve, men fight in this hard-boiled Texas noir crime novel.

ON BEAUTY. Zadie Smith. (Penguin Press, $25.95.) The author of ”White Teeth” pounces on a place like Harvard in a cultural-politics comedy.

OVERLORD: Poems. By Jorie Graham. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $22.95.) Politics and World War II, mediated by a major poet.

THE PAINTED DRUM. By Louise Erdrich. (HarperCollins, $25.95.) A ceremonial drum is magically linked to children and death in Erdrich’s latest novel set among the Ojibwa.

PLEASE DON’T COME BACK FROM THE MOON. By Dean Bakopoulos. (Harcourt, $23.) When the fathers in the Rust Belt town of this novel abandon it en masse, their sons take over.

PREP. By Curtis Sittenfeld. (Random House, $21.95.) A scholarship girl at a nifty prep school is thrust into a world of privilege in this novel.

SATURDAY. By Ian McEwan. (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $26.) This novel traces a day off in the life of an English neurosurgeon who comes face to face with senseless violence.

THE SEA. By John Banville. (Knopf, $23.) Banville’s new novel, which won this year’s Man Booker Prize, concerns an aging art critic mourning his wife’s recent death – and his blighted life.

SEVEN TYPES OF AMBIGUITY. By Elliot Perlman. (Riverhead, $27.95.) An Australian novel so large in its concept of fiction’s grasp on the world it takes seven narrators just to tell it.

SHALIMAR THE CLOWN. By Salman Rushdie. (Random House, $25.95.) Beauty loses out as Kashmir and Rushdie’s characters who live there turn brutal.

SLOW MAN. By J. M. Coetzee. (Viking, $24.95.) Crippled at 60 in a car-bike accident, instructed willy-nilly by a know-it-all female novelist, Coetzee’s hero studies the diminished life.

STAR DUST. Frank Bidart. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $20.) The fastidious and the primal join in poems concerned with man as maker.

THE SUCCESSOR. By Ismail Kadare. (Arcade, $24.) A whodunit tragicomedy by Albania’s pre-eminent novelist, about a loyal Communist who dies before succeeding to power in that unlucky land.

TOWELHEAD. By Alicia Erian. (Simon & Schuster, $22.) A bluntly erotic novel whose narrator’s budding sexuality gets her driven from home.

VERONICA. By Mary Gaitskill. (Pantheon, $23.) A novel that ruminates on beauty and cruelty, told by a former Paris model now sick and poor.


THE ACCIDENTAL MASTERPIECE: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa. By Michael Kimmelman. (Penguin Press, $24.95.) A study of the unpredictable, by the chief art critic of The Times.

AHMAD’S WAR, AHMAD’S PEACE: Surviving Under Saddam, Dying in the New Iraq. By Michael Goldfarb. (Carroll & Graf, $25.95.) A memoir of a good man murdered for his decency.

AMERICAN PROMETHEUS: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer. By Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin. (Knopf, $35.) The first full biography of the atom bomb’s father — rich in new revelations.

ARE MEN NECESSARY? When Sexes Collide. By Maureen Dowd. (Putnam, $25.95.) The Times’s twice-a-week Op-Ed columnist for the last decade expands her observations on the gender situation, from the Y chromosome up.

ARMAGEDDON: The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945. By Max Hastings. (Knopf, $30.) Though obviously beaten, the Germans wouldn’t give up; an experienced journalist pursues the apparent paradox.

THE ASSASSINS’ GATE: America in Iraq. By George Packer. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.) The New Yorker reporter reviews the pride and ignorance he blames for the war.

THE BEATLES: The Biography. By Bob Spitz. (Little, Brown, $29.95.) Spitz’s broad, incisive chronicle breathes new life into the familiar story of the Liverpool boys who conquered the entertainment world.

BECOMING JUSTICE BLACKMUN: Harry Blackmun’s Supreme Court Journey. By Linda Greenhouse. (Times Books/Holt, $25.) A Times correspondent tells how a Minnesota lawyer became the author of the Roe v. Wade decision.

BEYOND GLORY: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling, and a World on the Brink. By David Margolick. (Knopf, $26.95.) A heavyweight chronicle of good’s symbolic clash with evil in the ring.

BOSS TWEED: The Rise and Fall of the Corrupt Pol Who Conceived the Soul of Modern New York. By Kenneth D. Ackerman. (Carroll & Graf, $27.) The colorful master of graft, our greatest.

BREAK, BLOW, BURN. By Camille Paglia. (Pantheon, $20.) Smart, lively essays on 43 poems, written without ego for a popular audience.

BURY THE CHAINS: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves. By Adam Hochschild. (Houghton Mifflin, $26.95.) How the struggle availed, especially when black Haitian armies beat white French and British ones.

COLLAPSE: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. By Jared Diamond. (Viking, $29.95.) In ”Guns, Germs, and Steel” (1997), Diamond speculated on how the world reached its present pecking order of nations; his latest book examines geographic and environmental reasons some societies have fallen apart.

CONSPIRACY OF FOOLS: A True Story. By Kurt Eichenwald. (Broadway, $26.) A meticulous dissection of the rise and fall of Enron by a correspondent for The New York Times.

DE KOONING: An American Master. By Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan. (Knopf, $35.) An exploration at length of de Kooning’s life and work and their role in art’s midcentury upheaval.

DREAM BOOGIE: The Triumph of Sam Cooke. By Peter Guralnick. (Little, Brown, $27.95.) This exhaustive biography surrounds Cooke in the overlapping worlds of gospel, the civil rights movement and rock ‘n’ roll.

ELIA KAZAN: A Biography. By Richard Schickel. (HarperCollins. $29.95.) The stranger-than-fiction life story of the distinguished stage and screen director.

AN END TO SUFFERING: The Buddha in the World. By Pankaj Mishra. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25.) An intellectual autobiography: what Mishra has learned from the Buddha’s legacy.

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. By Charles C. Mann. (Knopf, $30.) This sweeping portrait of pre-Columbian civilization argues that it was far more populous and sophisticated than previously thought.

FREAKONOMICS: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. By Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. (Morrow, $25.95.) A maverick scholar and a journalist apply economic thinking to everything from sumo wrestlers who cheat to legalized abortion and the falling crime rate.

GARBAGE LAND: On the Secret Trail of Trash. By Elizabeth Royte. (Little, Brown, $24.95.) A chronicle of the weird stuff that happens to what we discard.

THE GLASS CASTLE: A Memoir. By Jeannette Walls. (Scribner, $25.) Walls and her three sibs, dragged all over the country by damaged parents, thought it a glorious adventure. Tough kids.

A GREAT IMPROVISATION: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America. By Stacy Schiff. (Holt, $30.) A wise account of Benjamin Franklin’s diplomatic brilliance, revealed in Paris at 70.

IN COMMAND OF HISTORY: Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War. By David Reynolds. (Random House, $35.) How a very busy man and a staff of busy assistants managed to turn out six volumes in 1948-54.

JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU: Restless Genius. By Leo Damrosch. (Houghton Mifflin, $30.) A life of the self-taught Swiss who proclaimed the noble savage and denounced conventional social distinctions.

JOHN KENNETH GALBRAITH: His Life, His Politics, His Economics. By Richard Parker. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $35.) The career of a public intellectual, ambassador and aphorist.

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE BRONX IS BURNING: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City. By Jonathan Mahler. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25.) A narrative that captures New York City’s about-face from rot to rehab.

THE LETTERS OF ROBERT LOWELL. Edited by Saskia Hamilton. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $40.) Confessions, opinions and other people’s secrets animate these missives from a fine poet.

LINCOLN’S MELANCHOLY. By Joshua Wolf Shenk. (Houghton Mifflin, $25.) In an era before the relentless good cheer and glad-handing of modern politicians, Lincoln passed through shadows to triumph.

THE LOST PAINTING. By Jonathan Harr. (Random House, $24.95.) The adventures of Caravaggio’s ”Taking of Christ,” painted in 1602, rediscovered by scholar-hunters in 1990.

MADE IN DETROIT: A South of 8-Mile Memoir. By Paul Clemens. (Doubleday, $23.95.) Clemens (born in 1973) recalls growing up working-class white in a black city losing both people and jobs.

MAO: The Unknown Story. By Jung Chang and Jon Halliday. (Knopf, $35.) A huge, meticulously researched biography that paints Chairman Mao in authentic Hitler-Stalin 20th-century hues.

MARK TWAIN: A Life. By Ron Powers. (Free Press, $35.) A wise and lively biography of an American paradox, always lively, rarely wise.

MATISSE THE MASTER: A Life of Henri Matisse. The Conquest of Color, 1909-1954. By Hilary Spurling. (Knopf, $40.) The final volume of a huge, careful study of a 20th-century wizard.

MIRROR TO AMERICA: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25.)A riveting and bitterly candid memoir by a seminal African-American scholar, raised and educated in an era of stifling race prejudice.

NEW ART CITY. By Jed Perl. (Knopf, $35.) The art critic of The New Republic explores heroic Abstract Expressionism and its cool, empirical successors in New York.

NIGHT DRAWS NEAR: Iraq’s People in the Shadow of America’s War. By Anthony Shadid. (Holt, $26.) An Arabic-speaking reporter on life in the Red Zone, outside American control.

OH THE GLORY OF IT ALL. By Sean Wilsey. (Penguin Press, $25.95.) A coming-of-age memoir by a writer so skillful his account of his sufferings as a rich kid never becomes insufferable.

OMAHA BLUES: A Memory Loop. By Joseph Lelyveld. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $22.) A memoir of a complicated childhood by a former executive editor of The Times.

102 MINUTES: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers. By Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn. (Times Books/Holt, $26.) A skilled reconstruction by writers of The Times.

THE ORIENTALIST: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life. By Tom Reiss. (Random House, $25.95.) The bold writer and impostor Lev Nussimbaum (Kurban Said) (Essad Bey) and his lives from 1905 to 1942.

OUR INNER APE: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are. By Frans de Waal. (Riverhead, $24.95.) De Waal addresses the similarities between humans and their closest relatives, bonobos and chimpanzees.

POSTWAR: A History of Europe Since 1945. By Tony Judt. (Penguin Press, $39.95.) An inquiry into why the condition of Europe is so much better than anyone would have dared hope in 1945.

THE PRINCE OF THE CITY: Giuliani, New York and the Genius of American Life. By Fred Siegel with Harry Siegel. (Encounter, $26.95.) Giuliani seen as the Machiavellian prophet of an alternative urban policy and as an eligible president.

THE RISE OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY: Jefferson to Lincoln. By Sean Wilentz. (Norton, $35.) A clear, readable and monumental narrative work of scholarship, full of rich detail.

THE RIVER OF DOUBT: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey. By Candice Millard. (Doubleday, $26.) A vibrant retelling of Roosevelt’s postelection expedition through the Rio da Davida; what was supposed to be a well-provisioned safari became instead a survey of an uncharted capillary of the Amazon.

1776. By David McCullough. (Simon & Schuster, $32.) A lively work that skewers Washington’s pretensions and admires citizen soldiers.

SPOOK: Science Tackles the Afterlife. By Mary Roach. (Norton, $24.95.) A diligent, cheerful account of efforts to learn whether science can show that there is (or isn’t) life after death.

THE SURVIVOR. By John F. Harris. (Random House, $29.95.) An assessment of Bill Clinton’s performance in the White House; by a reporter for The Washington Post.

A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS. By Amos Oz. (Harcourt, $26.) A memoir by the Israeli novelist, mourning the death of his mother long ago and the demise of the socialist Zion in his own time.

TEAM OF RIVALS: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. By Doris Kearns Goodwin. (Simon & Schuster, $35.) An elegant, incisive study of Lincoln through his relationships with his former political rivals turned cabinet members.

THE TENDER BAR: A Memoir. By J. R. Moehringer. (Hyperion, $23.95.) As an only child abandoned by his father, the author found an adoptive family in a Long Island bar (now defunct).

THEATRE OF FISH: Travels Through Newfoundland and Labrador. By John Gimlette. (Knopf, $25.) Gimlette explores the provincial psyche by journeying through the barren regions whose chief resource, fish, has departed.

TULIA: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas Town. By Nate Blakeslee. (PublicAffairs, $26.95.) How 38 people, mostly black, were convicted of grave drug charges on virtually no evidence but the word of a single cop.

VINDICATION: A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft. By Lyndall Gordon. (HarperCollins, $29.95.) A biography of the brilliant early feminist.

A WAR LIKE NO OTHER: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War. By Victor Davis Hanson. (Random House, $29.95.) The fate of Athens, the superpower of its day, after it tried to export its political system to the rest of the Greek world.

WARPED PASSAGES: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions. By Lisa Randall. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $27.95.) From a Harvard physicist, advanced cosmological theories for lay folk who are a bit baffled by the idea of 10 dimensions.

WITHOUT APOLOGY: Girls, Women, and the Desire to Fight. By Leah Hager Cohen. (Random House, $24.95.) Cohen thoughtfully tracks girls’ boxing till she herself is converted to pugilism.

WODEHOUSE: A Life. By Robert McCrum. (Norton, $27.95.) The prolific, industrious creator of Jeeves and oh so many dear others.

THE WORLD IS FLAT: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. By Thomas L. Friedman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27.50.) The New York Times columnist maps the next phase of globalization as technological forces level the world’s economic playing field.

THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING. By Joan Didion. (Knopf, $23.95.) A powerful, persuasive account of the crisis of mortality after the sudden death of the author’s husband.


Bat Boy Lives

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A few weeks back I was contacted and asked if I had ever heard of the Weekly World News and if I had any interest in reviewing their new soon to be published compendium. Of course I knew WWN, a shining example of yellow journalism in action, and got very excited about my first foray into “official” journalism. A week ago I received the book and yesterday, I chatted for about 20 minutes with David Perel, the author of
“Bat Boy Lives: The Weekly World News Guild to Politics, Culture, Celebrities, Alien Abductions, and the Mutant Freaks that Shape our World.”
Here it is folks, the very first “We’re Going to Cover That in Phase 2” interview! Enjoy.

JL: First things first, I’m sure my readers want to know simply: Do you take any of the WWN stories that seriously?

DP: Absolutely, you have to because if you don’t you can’t live in this universe.

JL: Really?

DP: If I did, I would be wearing one of those special jackets.

JL: You just totally contradicted yourself.

DP: Maybe.

JL: Okay. So my next question is this: Does Bat Boy really exist?

DP: Of course he exists, my god where have you been? He came from a cave – have you been living in one?

JL: Point taken. Are there aliens walking among us?

DP: Yeah, in fact a recent issue of WWN details that most settled in San Fran – makes sense if you’ve seen the inhabitants of that city or if you’ve dined there. The aliens must have brought good cuisine with them which explains the great restaurants.

JL: We talked about Bat Boy and Aliens. Let’s talk about another rarely seen creature, the compassionate conservative – have you seen one as well?

DP: I haven’t, though theoretically one is possible considering that there are dinosaurs still alive.

JL: When did you introduce Hilary Clinton to her alien lover P’lod?

DP: God, I can’t remember. Early 90s first term. Don’t know the exact date, sorry. Bill was quite jealous. P’lod has a lot of political clout, I mean, he has correctly predicted every election since 1980.

JL: In what setting where they introduced?

DP: I can’t really remember.

JL: Is she still seeing him and if so, is he advising Hilary on policy issues?

DP: No question he is helping her towards a run in 2008. I’m sure she’ll name a human campaign manager but in truth its P’lod running things behind the scenes.

JL: Back to the book. How many copies is the company looking to sell? What is the company’s expectation?

DP: Definitely an Oprah “Book of the Month” selection. Should be in the running for the Pulitzer and I think it will sell couple hundred thousand copies at least.

JL: Are there plans for a sequel or have you used up all up your material?

DP: There are talks in the works. There is a lot of material since the paper appear around since 1979 so we’ll see.

JL: Who do you consider are this book’s greatest competitors?

DP: War and Peace is pretty much it. There are really only 2 literary classics and we are a much quicker read. That guy who wrote War and Peace doesn’t have staying power. Plus, he’s got to make up his mind. War or peace, not both. It shows a lack of focus.

JL: If your book was a dish, what would it be?

DP: I hate questions like this. I don’t know. Linguini with white clam sauce.

JL: Good clams or bad?

DP: Good.

JL: Another food question: Which do you prefer, Mounds and Almond Joy?

DP: Mounds.

JL: Really?

DP: Wait. Which is in the one with almonds?

JL: Almond Joy. You know, ‘Sometimes you feel like a [I made a “honk” sound effect], sometimes you made a “clang” sound effect]’

DP: Almond Joy? Yeah, definitely Almond Joy. You have feel like a nut to do this.

JL: You also wrote Freak!: Inside the Twisted World of Michael Jackson. Who is a bigger freak, Michael Jackson or Bat Boy?

DP: I don’t think there is any question. Bat Boy wants to be accepted by society. Bat Boy never had a sleep over with anyone under the age of 14. Bat Boy never considered cosmetic surgery. Bat Boy has never referred to wine as “Jesus juice.” Bat Boy talks with normal human and looks like he does when born.

JL: Switching gears now. What effect has Photoshop had in terms of the authenticity of your photos?

DP: It was created more opportunities to do more things.

JL: Okay. What written piece are you most proud of?

DP: I wrote a great poem but unfortunately somebody has written one incredibly similar and he gets credit for it instead of me – I think his nameis T.S. Elliot

JL: If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have one book, which one would it be?

DP: The Bat Boy book of course! I have a serious short term memory deficit so every time I open it its brand new to me.

JL: Last, to wrap up, pretend I’m a publisher who has got all sort of advance money to throw around. Say the quarter is ending and I’ve got to clear my books. Basically, if you pitch me a good book idea I’ll give you money to write it. What would you pitch me?

DP: Hmm. (About 10 seconds go by as he thinks about). Hmm. I don’t know. You know what? I’ve got nothing. I probably would just take out my .357 and take your money. Armed robbery is a viable solution in that case.

When we started the interview, David scanned my blog and one comment he said to me was, “I think you spelled ‘Hashanah’ wrong in one of your previous posts. You have two S’s in it and I think it should be ‘sh.'” I just love getting spelling and grammar comments from a man who claims to have snorkeled with the Loch Ness Monster’s baby, especially when the he’s right. Even though there are about 10 different spellings, I’m pretty sure mine is on not of the approved list.

At the end of the interview, I told him that he should please check back on my site to read the interview once I post it and to post a comment if he feels that I got anything wrong. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to tape the interview – I merely tried to take great notes. I also told him that he should post comments on other posts as well, even if they are just grammar comments like the one he made on Tidbits. Speaking more about the Jewish New Year, I told him, “My favorite joke about the Jewish holidays is that “Every Jewish holiday boils down to ‘They tried to kill us, they didn’t, let’s eat.'” He laughed and said, “That reminds of my favorite Jewish joke. Q: Why don’t Jews play the piano? A: Because you can’t pick up the piano and run.” I had a nice laugh and said good bye. Once you are swapping Jewish jokes, even though I never went to J-school I think I can pretty safely say that the interview is officially over.

I would like to thank DP, FSB Associates and Jeffery Anderson for making themselves and their book available to me. Hopefully when they have another book that needs to be reviewed, they’ll look me up again.


More Than Meets The Eye

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Mark your calendar now: July 4th, 2007 will the day that a new live-action “Transformers” movie hits the big screens, though right now I’m very wary of it.

First, the classic animated movie, though panned by many critics, is a cult classic and will be hard to improve upon. Orson Welles as the voice of Unicron? An inspired choice! Bah weep grah nah weep ninny bom!

Second, any live-action version of an animated anything is a troubling proposition. See Masters of the Universe (the He-man movie) and Super Mario Brothers as examples.

Third, this new movie is being directed by Michael Bay! In case you never saw “Team America: World Police,” here are all the lyrics to the song “The End of an Act” which was featured in the movie:

I miss you more than Michael Bay missed the mark, when he made Pearl Harbor.
I miss you more then that movie missed the point, and that’s an awful lot girl.
And now, now you’ve gone away, and all I’m trying to say,
Is Perl Harbor sucked and I miss you
I need you like Ben Affleck needs acting school, he was terrible in that film.
I need you like Cuba Gooding needed a bigger part, he’s way better then Ben Affleck.
And now all I can think about is your smile, and that shitty movie too,
Perl Harbor sucked and I miss you
Why does Michael Bay get to keep on making movies.
I guess Perl Harbor sucked,
Just a little bit more then I miss you.

I mean, the entire song is about how shitty he is! The following are Michael Bay movies: Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, The Rock and Bad Boys. Great. Then again, Steven Spielberg is an executive producer so hopefully that will count for something and negate Mr. Bay bringing the balance back to zero and with not one single actor casted as of yet, who knows, maybe another Orson Welles is out there…

In more Transformers related news, a new web site went up Tuesday and Transformers: Cybertron, the latest animated series, launched this month on Cartoon Network. Burger King cooks up a monthlong action-figure promotion beginning in August. And this weekend in San Diego Comic-Con International, an 18-wheel truck touting the franchise’s considerable wares will be beached in the convention hall.

After the jump, read what E Online has to say about these developments.

From E Online:

By Joal Ryan Wed Jul 13, 8:35 PM ET

Optimus Prime has a prime release date: The Fourth of July.

Transformers, the long-planned, live-action movie based on the robot-morphing cartoon, comic and toy franchise, will roll into theaters July 4, 2007, DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures announced Wednesday. Michael Bay (The Island, The Rock) will direct; Steven Spielberg will executive produce.

Children of the 1980s likely will be champing at the tie-in lunchbox.

“The diehard fans will like it as long as it stays true to Transformers roots and doesn’t stray too far from the ideals that we grew up with,” Brendan Reilly, co-Webmaster of The Transformers Archive (, said in an email interview about the movie announcement. “The casual or un-familar fan will need to see something awesome to win them over, although a 40-foot robot is usually pretty cool.”

Cool-looking robots who convert themselves into battle tanks and other vehicles in order blow up things real good are at the mechanical heart of the Transformers, the classic tale of good automaton (the Autobots) versus evil automaton (the Decepticons) in a battle for control of Earth. Optimus Prime is the leader of the Autobots; Megatron, the dark lord of the Decepticons. Both Autobots and Decepticons hail from the planet Cybertron. All this backstory and more was revealed in Transformers, the syndicated cartoon series launched in 1984 with the help of toy-maker Hasbro, which simultaneously–and savvily–launched a still-thriving merchandise line.

No less savvy today, the makers of the new Transformers movie have already begun a full-scale offensive. The new official Website ( went up Tuesday. Transformers: Cybertron, the latest animated series, launched this month on Cartoon Network. Burger King cooks up a monthlong action-figure promotion beginning in August. And this weekend in San Diego, on the occasion of Comic-Con International, the geek world’s largest annual gawkfest, an 18-wheel truck touting the franchise’s considerable wares will be beached in the convention hall.
In theory then, this thing ain’t going to be Transformers: The Movie.

Transformers: The Movie was the little-loved 1986 animated feature that gave Optimus Prime, Megatron, et al., their first crack at the silver screen. Much as Fox is planning to right past cinematic wrongs with an all-new, A-list take on He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, another 1980s cartoon/toy phenomenon that spawned a cheeseball 1980s film, the new Transformers crew is looking to take its property upscale.

In a message board Monday post on his personal Website (, Don Murphy, a Transformers co-executive producer, said Spielberg, DreamWorks and Hasbro are committed to making a film that is no less than “GREAT” (the capital letters are all his).

“It will be GREAT,” Murphy continued, “and then we will make sequel after sequel. There is no doubt that this is true.”

With excellence promised, the powers that be now need only to lock in actors and writers–none were announced Wednesday–and start cameras rolling. Time, after all, is of the essence. In publicly staking claim to July 4, 2007, DreamWorks and Paramount become the first studios to reserve that holiday date for their own. Currently, the only other release on the 2007 calendar is Spider-Man 3, set for May 4 of that year.

Until Transformers debuts in theaters, and after Comic-Con wraps, its considerable fandom can busy itself with BotCon (, described by organizer Brian Savage as being “like a giant group hug for everyone who enjoys Transformers.”

Scheduled for Sept. 22-25 in Frisco, Texas, the latest edition of BotCon–the event is more than 10 years old–is expected to draw as many as 5,000 devotees of the shape-changing robots. “The whole movie announcement just adds more fire and fuel,” said Savage, director of Hasbro’s official Transformers Collectors Club.

The way Savage sees it, the unlikely secret to the Transformers’ success is: Personality. Anyone, he said, can make a transforming robot.

“But guess what? It’s not Optimus Prime.”