Negro Terror: Hardcore Street Punk from Memphis

Unfortunately, it seems that I am finding some bands after a member has passed away. I found Negro Terror through another band called 2Minute Minor that featured Omar Higgins on a song:

Negro Terror, the brainchild of bassist and reggae frontman Omar Higgins, is an all American, all hardcore punk group that just happens to be all black. But the music that’s played has no color, just the crimson red of pure aggression.

Omar Higgins passed away in April of this year from a stroke. It sounds like he was a pretty great guy from what I can read online:

Higgins was a beloved figure in the local music community, both for his work on stage and off. In addition to his bands, Higgins was also a church youth leader and praise tam music director, a musical ambassador for Le Bonheur, and an activist on the front lines of anti-racist and anti-fascist efforts in Memphis.

His band certainly was awesome. Just listen to what is probably their most well-known tune below. While they are playing some killer skate/street punk, Omar and company seem to infuse it with a fresh take that is much needed in this musical genre. I was a thrasher in the 80s, and I can without a doubt say that Negro Terror would have ruled the day in the 80s skate punk scene. You can hear their songs on BandCamp, or go watch a documentary on Amazon Prime (I just found out about it, so I will watch as soon as I can). Negro Terror had finished a full-length album called Paranoia, but I am not sure if it will still be released or not.

“Coming up playing this music, people looked at me funny. They’d say, ‘That’s white-boy music.’ But music doesn’t have a color,” said Higgins. “And it’s not about being an ‘all black’ punk band either. The whole idea is for young African American kids to feel comfortable doing whatever it is they want musically. [Negro Terror] is about destroying those old ideas.”

Going Extra Dark With Dark Crystal: The Age of Resistance

posted in: Nostalgia Culture | 0

To be honest, I really had not thought much about the Dark Crystal movie since I saw it in the 80s. My brother and I liked it… and were creeped out by it. It really wasn’t a kids movie. The Henson company was convinced that muppets needed an adult image I guess, and they set out to prove they could be more than funny kids props.

Of course, the movie opened the door for thousands of years of history to explore in the Dark Crystal world, and a brave new world of possibilities to think about after the ending. But apparently not enough people were interested in that back in the day to make a sequel or prequel movie. Now with 80s nostalgia culture worship in full swing, it seems like we get the prequel series that not many were asking for? Or maybe many were and I just didn’t know.

I have to admit that I was intrigued by the idea. I am not against re-visiting older properties just for the sake of being against the idea. Sometimes – like in the case of Battlestar Galactica – revisiting older ideas can produce entertaining (even if imperfect) results. But focusing so much on gelflings before the time frame of the movie… knowing that they will pretty much all die? That’s dark, man.

To me, the beginning of the new Netflix series felt like 9.5 hours of “gee, look at the cool puppetry we can make” mixed with a half hour of plot development. Even once the series finally did pull me in and get me interested halfway through, they still needed to cut the character count way down. Just too many plots and creatures to keep track off.

And the darkness just kept getting darker and darker. At one point in the series, I felt that the 10th episode was just going to start off with a black hole mysteriously appearing next to the planet, followed by an hour of all of the characters screaming in agony as they get crushed by it. It was really just that bleak. I had to listen to some bleak black metal just to cheer up my mood.

Will I continue watching the next season when it comes out? I don’t know. I don’t mind dark themes, but I can’t really take as much as they put in this first season. And they didn’t even get to where the movie itself starts, where most of the “good side” in this series is all…. dead. But I will say that the rich mythology they have created for this world is interesting. Sure, it is rather Tolkien-esque in some ways (and hard to track fully without charts handy), but that is not a bad thing.

Even though the creators stuck with puppets and/or people in costumes for a lot of the effects, they did get an upgrade with some CG elements that does help. However, sticking with the puppets at times ends up falling flat, like when they try to show feet running. It looks about like what you would think – stuffed animal feet or paws hitting the ground with all the impact of cotton stuffed fabric, and all of the speed of someone moving those feet with their hands rather than being actual running legs.

So on a nostalgia culture scale between “okay, this works like Battlestar Galactica” to “this is just pure mindless worship like Ready Player One“… I guess Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance falls somewhere in the middle? Either that, or it is just off the scale somewhere in the “you might need counseling to deal with unseeing much of what the Skeksis do.”

Here is the original movie trailer:

And the trailer for the new series:

Knock-Off Mystery Toys From the 80s

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One of the more fascinating aspect of toys the 80s (and I am sure the decades before as well) is the fact that there was an abundance of cheap knock-off toys available everywhere. There was some effort to enforce copyrights on some things, but that really didn’t seem to have much effect until later decades. So your favorite toy you remember fondly might end up being a cheap knock-off of some more famous toy – and now you can’t find much (if any) information on it because it was so unofficial. Sometimes a few rare things will pop-up on blogs like Plaid Stallions, but that is a rare occurrence.

So you also have to wonder about the safety standards of the material used in these toys… especially the bane of all old childhood toys: lead paint. Yay.

While I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family that could afford some of the bigger name Star Wars and Mego toys, I also had many family members that were “thrifty” shoppers – meaning they frequently hit the bargain toy racks at Gibsons, Eckerd Drugstores, and local mom and pop toy stores in the mall. These places were havens for stuff that would never be legally allowed today. And lets be honest – my parents also like to save money on things when the could as well.

One of my favorite toys in Kindergarten was this robot:

So much so that it is one of the few toys I have a picture with. I have cropped this old pic of me down to just the robot, and of course the awesome t-shirt with Spider-man playing football. Obviously, the first guess with this is that it is a Shogun Warrior toy. I have looked through every online collection I can find of Shogun Warrior toys – and can’t find one that looks like this. I have looked through their competitors – nothing. This toy was possibly an unlicensed knock-off. It was all plastic (Shogun toys this size at the time were die-cast metal), but the fists did shoot out… at first (until my parents decided that was too dangerous and they hot-glued them into the arms).

So who knows – maybe someone will see this and be able to tell me where to find more information about this toy?

Tengger Cavalry: Nomadic Folk Metal from Mongolia

I read a music discussion online about different combinations of things that people mix with metal. Someone made a joke about how you never hear about “Nomadic Folk Metal” and thought: there has to be someone. Turns out there are many nomadic folk bands. Probably one of the more well known ones is Tengger Cavalry. They blend a bit of an epic nomadic horseback vibe in their metal with traditional Mongolian elements like Tuvan throat singing for some vocals and instruments like morin khuur. They also speed up things to incorporate elements of death metal-ish vocals as well – its really an interesting mix.

My favorite songs are the ones like “Cavalry in Thousands” below that mix the throat singing, metal instruments, Mongolian instruments, and a slower epic nomadic vibe. There are many other Mongolian nomadic metal bands out there with different mixes of traditional instruments, metal styles, and vocals styles that I will be covering in the future. Unfortunately the lead singer of Tengger Cavalry – Nature Ganganbaigal – passed away this year. You can find a lot of their music on BandCamp, or follow the future of the band on their Facebook page.

Believe the Hype: You Need to Read “Children of Blood and Bone” Now

posted in: Modern Geekery | 0

I know that a lot of the buzz for Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi was last year, but I just finished it this year and I loved it. Many people call it “Young Adult Fiction,” which is true in many senses, but to be honest it reads like high quality high fantasy to me. Can’t wait for the sequel and movie that are both in the works. Probably the best summary of the premise of the book, the underlying meanings of the events, and the inspiration for the book is by Adeyemi herself on the Tonight Show (worth watching even if you don’t like Fallon):

Adeyemi describes Children of Blood and Bone as “Wakanda with magic,” which is a good way to describe it in some ways… but the country of Orïsha in her book is not a a fictional country that exists in a different version our world like Wakanda does. It is its own world and culture and gods and social structures and so on, which is why I put it in the “high fantasy” genre myself.

Adeyemi also teaches creative writing. To be honest, I have read many things written by people that teach creative writing that really aren’t that creative. This book is. There is a main character throughout the book, but Adeyemi decided to write each chapter from the viewpoint of the main character or two other important characters. The title of each chapter lets you know which point of view you get for that chapter.

This is an important choice, because it allows Adeyemi to explore different perspectives without the jarring effect of switching points of view so many authors fail to handle well. But even more importantly is how each different point of view serves a deeper purpose of helping the reader to examine their own privileges and prejudices from different angles. If you are really engaging with this book, you will come away convicted of how you need to change, despite the fact that you are reading about a fantasy world called Orïsha. Prejudice against those that society sees as “lesser” due to skin color, social, status, past conquest, or any other factor is framed in this book as a problem that exists even in other worlds that never knew Earth’s religions, power structures, and historical events. This in turn removes objections that readers would have of “if I had been alive back then” and examine yourself in ways that our ahistorical revisionism tends to prevent us from doing.

Of course, layered on top of that are some intriguing story lines and character developments that also entertain at a pure surface level as well. Lots of twists that you didn’t see coming… including an ending that is not what you would expect. Well, you kind of come to expect a twist ending by the time you get there, but the one you get is not what you think it was going to be, but it kind of is if you think about it. Of course, you are only given a peek at the entire twist at the very end, meaning we have to wait until the next book in this trilogy comes out. Can’t wait!

Bloodywood: Street Metal / Rap with Traditional Instruments from India

Bloodywood is a “street metal” band from India that mixes modern metal riffs, rap + screamed + sung vocals, and various traditional Indian instruments (especially the dhol, ektara, and Indian style flute). Karan Katiyar and Jayant Bhadula started the band by recording covers of various pop songs, but then morphed into a band that does originals. The metamorphosis seemed to occur after they released “Ari Ari,” which is technically a cover of the Punjabi folk song “Baari Barsi” that is about fighting for unity (“despite all our differences, we are one”). I say “technically” because about 70%+ of their version of the song is original to the band – the riffs, the rap vocals, the way the various instruments play together, etc. But after this song, it seems that they started doing all original songs.

The video to “Ari Ari” is also an excellent place to start with the band, as it mixes in scenes from the streets of India with a local Indian dance group (Master Academy of Dance) they found that was able to come up with some great choreography for the song. Note that the rapper Raoul Kerr was not a part of the band at this time, but a guest on this song. He worked out so well in the mix that he is a member of the band now. Their new songs are awesome as well, and I will probably write about them here in the future. Follow them on Facebook or YouTube, and for now enjoy the awesomeness that is “Ari Ari” (FYI there is some language in here in case you are listening at work):

The Tale of Two Dungeons & Dragons

posted in: Nostalgia Culture | 0

Growing up in rural Southern U.S., the entire Dungeons & Dragons brand was pretty controversial. D&D was ground zero for the Satanic panic, Christian boycotts, school watch lists, and general FUD (at some point I will need to write about how during the Satanic Panic I made it onto my high school’s “List of Students Most Likely to be Satan Worshippers”). I was a somewhat fan of D&D that tried to get some games together in a rural Texas town… with very little luck.

However, for three brief seasons between 1983 and 1985, I did have the Dungeons & Dragons Saturday morning cartoon to fill my fantasy gamer dreams. How on earth a kids cartoon show about D&D made it on network television in the 80s is a mystery to me. The idea of children running away from scary looking monsters surely inspired a massive number of Sunday School sermons on the evils of witchcraft, playing with magic, and fantasy in general. Wikipedia even notes: “In 1985, the National Coalition on Television Violence demanded that the FTC run a warning during each broadcast stating that Dungeons & Dragons had been linked to real-life violent deaths” (I believe those deadly D&D connections were debunked decades ago).

Somebody actually took the time to add a nice collection of all of the cartoon’s episodes on to YouTube, with the added bonus of a radio play that is designed to give closure to the series that was cancelled early. Sort of. Here is the playlist:

I recently finished watching all of these videos. I was surprised at how many I vaguely remembered from the first season, and how many I didn’t from the second and third seasons.

I might have blocked out the second and third seasons, because to be honest… it got really dark somewhere in the middle of season 2. It went from weekly fun tales of a bunch of kids and teens romping around a strange world getting out of troubled spots (usually through some bumbling mistake), to a dark exploration of the PTSD these kids faced being trapped away from home and having to fight monsters every week only to have a sliver of hope for return snatched away. Every time.

Seriously. The second half of season two started having main characters betraying the group, 8 year olds yelling and crying about wanting to go home, fights between the characters that you never saw on other cartoons, sad emotional looks from characters losing yet another hope of getting home, kids plotting to kill their enemy Venger, and so on. Wikipedia even notes that one episode almost got shelved as too dark and violent. Yikes! The last televised episode was a straight out horror themed episode that probably never should have played on Saturday mornings.

In some ways, I should have seen the change coming – because the first several episodes were the same basic plot over and over again: the episode opens with the kids wrapping up a former quest for Dungeon Master, who usually appears again and gives another easy to translate riddle, the kids don’t get the riddle, Dungeon Master disappears when they look away (stop. looking. away. already.), Eric complains about Dungeon Master, they head off in some random direction hoping to be able to follow DM’s riddle (seriously – couldn’t the guy just at least point in the right direction occasionally?), a few mistakes or mishaps happen, you see the answer to the riddle coming a mile away, the kids finally get the riddle at the last minute, they perform a few brave moves, they always have to choose to save people / sentient creatures in exchange for losing their chance to go home, DM appears and gives some obvious lesson, Eric complains, Eric does something goofy, they all laugh, end of episode.

The interesting thing about the cartoon was that the people drawing the backgrounds and creatures did an incredible job translating existing D&D monsters/backgrounds, as well as creating some creative ones of their own. As formulaic and simple as the plots and animation was, the design was very interesting and expansive.

The series also suffered from the 80s version of “diversity”: basically, almost all human characters were white except for Diana the Acrobat, a black female. But wow was she the badass of the group. She was braver than Bobby the Barbarian, but with better tactical skill than Hank the Ranger. The few times she got captured by an enemy just felt too forced.

Of course, a lot of things about the series didn’t make sense. One of the biggest ones for me was how Hank’s electric bow was an awesome weapon of power that could take out mountain sides with a single arrow, but also some how form bridges and nets that didn’t burn the feet or clothes of those touching them. Weird. To be honest, every episode should have ended early with Hank blowing up whatever bad creature got in their way. They showed it having that much power at times, but others… not so much.

Because the magic bow couldn’t be shown killing creatures on screen, it often suddenly became the electric version of Mr. Fantastic’s stretchy arm in the middle of a battle. Saturday morning cartoon morality story telling was a weird thing – very inconsistent and wrapped into everything.

But if you wonder why so many people today think diversity is a simple fix that already happened a long time ago, or that powerful weapons can be utilized safely just because the owner wielding it is a “good guy”… might want to ask them what cartoons they watched as a kid. Sometime later I will have to dive more into this aspect with cartoons like G.I. Joe.

Anyways, if this cartoon was a modern day Netflix show, you would have sworn they were setting it up for Bobby to kill Hank and Venger (the main big bad for the series) while assuming the mantle of Venger. That is how dark it was getting. Of course, it was an 80s cartoon, so all Bobby had to do was laugh about something and be okay. That also sounds strangely familiar to how some people deal with problems today.

The sad thing is, the series was cancelled before the third season was finished, so we never know if the children got home. Well, I should say we never knew if Dungeon Master quit using them to fix his problems long enough to let them go home. I had thought it would be cool if they found a way to open a permanent door home – maybe through Presto the Magician finally learning to use his hat right. Dungeon Master would call them when there was evil to fight, they would go fight it, and get home in time for dinner.

Several people did record a series finale in a radio-show format for the DVD release in 2006. I’m not sure why they didn’t just make a cartoon in the 80s style – it wouldn’t be that expensive in the 2000s. But, oh well. This radio show featured the children actually getting the chance to choose if they wanted to go home or stay…. but it ends before they choose. Argh!

Apparently this was on purpose as they were trying to set-up a new format for season four. So I will just pretend that they were going to go with with my version of the “permanent open door” concept.

So many things and problems with North American 80s culture have been touched on here, so much more to unpack with those issues, so many obvious influences on the problems in the world today. I am sure I will get to that. But I also still have fond memories of playing Dungeons & Dragons cartoon characters with family and friends when we would get together and play make believe. Thankfully we didn’t do the dark parts.

Voice of Baceprot: Hijab-Core Funk Rap Metal from Indonesia

Voice of Baceprot (also abbreviated as VoB, meaning “noisy” in Sundanese) is a metal / rap / funk band from Indonesia, often referred to as Hijab-Core because all three members are teenagers that wear Hijab head coverings. Their lyrics are mostly in Sundanese (their native language), with a few lines of English as well.

In addition to breaking all of those molds, the really amazing fact about this band is that they had not even heard of heavy metal music until their school teacher introduced it to them fairly recently. They loved it and started learning instruments.

As you can see from the video, they didn’t just learn their instruments… they dominated them. That is some serious power behind how they play all of their instruments. Lest you think this is just a gimmick or trick of the camera, they can also pull off their impressive skills live as well:

I don’t totally know what exactly they are singing / rapping about, but it appears to be they are talking about equality and social issues, which is a brave thing to do seeing they are children of farmers from conservative Muslim rural areas Indonesia.

But for those of that grew up on 80s heavy metal, which got a bit stale and repetitive every time a new sub-genre hit it big, bands like VoB are a breath of fresh air. Metal didn’t die here in the U.S., of course, but interesting to see it being kept alive (and totally shredding) by teenagers on the other side of the world. They have a Facebook page that seems to be the best place to keep up with their new music (they only have a few songs so far – looking forward to more).

In Search of the Mighty Orbots

posted in: Nostalgia Culture | 0

Some time around 15-ish years ago, I started noticing there were a large number of websites dedicated to various toy lines, television shows, cartoons, and other aspects of the past decades (especially the 80s and 90s). Sometimes it would be an entire website dedicated to one specific thing, other times it would be larger areas like “early 80s kids cartoons” or whatever. These websites had been around for a while, I just had not noticed too many of them before.

So I looked through these sites, reminisced about the past, and remembered many, many things I had forgotten about my childhood. I also started remembering obscure things that weren’t on some of these websites… and that I couldn’t remember what they were myself. A few quick web searches helped me pinpoint names of some. But others still eluded me. I soon developed a short list in my head of stuff I was trying to remember, but couldn’t quite discover online.

For a few years, I really couldn’t find anything on any of the items on this list. Well, considering I would only do a search once or twice a year, that is not saying much. But I was just missing too many details to really pinpoint many of them.

Finally I had a random connection on one item that seem to start a string of obscure memory discoveries from my childhood.

I had a somewhat vague memory of a cartoon that was about 5 or so smaller robots that joined together to form a larger robot, but it wasn’t Transformers or Voltron or any of the other more popular cartoon/toy lines that most people associate with the concept (“Combining Mecha” is the technical term). In fact, I didn’t remember there being any toys associated with the show at all (a really rare occurrence). All I could vaguely remember was that we would watch the show and then go outside and play like we were the robots from the show, usually singing the show’s theme song.

Then finally I saw a word in a list of obscure “Combining Mecha” shows: Orbots. Sure enough, once I knew the title, I found all kinds of tribute websites and even the catchy theme song on YouTube:

And sure enough, it was a one season show with apparently few toys connected to it… which ironically got cancelled because of some dispute or lawsuit from the makers of Go-Bots (they thought the idea was too close to theirs).

This kind of shows how different things were before the Internet. We know that television shows, music groups, movie franchises, etc will go on hiatus after a season or tour or movie release or whatever. Today we tend to still hear a slow to drowning stream of updates, tweets, and news bits from all types of artists and entertainers even during these cyclical down times. We know when they are and aren’t working on new songs or seasons or material or whatever. We all know the minute that our shows are cancelled or renewed. Its all pretty standard now.

But back in the 80s? Stuff would go on hiatus after a season finale and never be heard from again. Sometimes you would hear in the news that a prime-time show was cancelled. But a cartoon like the Orbots could stop go off the air over Christmas holidays or summer vacation or whenever, and just never come back. You might not even notice it because there was a whole slew of new cartoons capturing your attention.

This is pretty much what happened with the Orbots. We watched the last episode of Season 1, probably went out to play as our favorite Orbots, and then filed it all in the back of minds for the next season. But that new season never came, and we got distracted so much by new cartoons that we never pulled the old memory out, and then decades later i am trying to wrack my brain to figure out what that one show that one time was called….

Of course, there were shows that people knew were cancelled and they tried to write in and change minds of the studio executives and all of that, but you have to wonder. Did our current disposable culture of always focusing on the new bands and new movies and new entertainment get trained in us as children? Possibly so. Does the fact that so many of these cartoon shows are just vague memories without a specific title in our minds just reveal that we were trained to focus on the new shiny object as they came out? Maybe, maybe not. But still, its kind of weird that we just forget about something like that – possibly for the rest of our life – without a trace of a flag in our mind that something we used to enjoy immensely is now gone.

Nostalgia Culture and the Worship of the Past

posted in: Nostalgia Culture | 0

So you might have noticed that there is a sort of revival of all things 80s in current pop culture – thanks in no small part to books like Ready Player One and television shows like Stranger Things. Now it seems like the 90s are starting to get their nostalgia turn. I have kind of wanted to blog about the 70s, 80s, and 90s for years before they made a comeback, but never got the chance. Now it seems a little cliche to jump on the band wagon, but that is what we did back then anyways, right?

As many people have noted, things like Ready Player One are really more about celebrating middle class white 80s culture. That was why I have been putting off blogging about any of it – there were many problems and issues with assigning “the 80s” to one specific sociocultural group. In a lot of ways, that is what the 80s were all about. We thought we had solved things like racism, sexism, and hatred just because we had recorded “We are the World”…

Of course, we never really asked anyone outside of white middle class culture if that was really the case. We just knew we had. And yes, it was “we” that recorded “We are the World,” because we often saw ourselves as somehow cosmically part of anything that “we” liked. Even if we never actually even bought the song and just taped it off the radio.

There were always those downer alternative/goth/industrial kids… but what did they know? Oh, we were about to find out the hard way when they rose to the top in the 90s.

Still, its not to say that I can’t both reminisce about the past while also recognizing it as problematic. I was a kid in the 70s, in junior high and high school in the 80s, and in college in the 90s. I kind of got all three decades at about the right age (at least in my opinion).

Today, that hopeless sense of “didn’t we fix this already?” that is left over from the ashes of the 80s is probably what drives a lot of people my age to push back against any kind of movement to fix anything now. Which is weird – we were the kids that took a pseudo-punk / heavy metal attitude of “middle finger to the authority figures” so seriously in high school and college. It was always “adults” and “the man” that was causing all the problems by not listening to all of our solutions in our art and music…. until we were the adults and the authorities. Then it suddenly became the “kids these days!”

When I think back to 80s, I often remember an average Saturday in the summer, when I tended to sleep in until my Dad started mowing the lawn. I would wake up with the sun shinning in the window and bask in how “solved” the whole world felt. My generation had figured out how to perfect music, movies, television, sports, you name it. We were even generous in letting the older generations enjoy success if they were still “good.” Aerosmith, Robert Plant, Cher, Robert Redford, Aretha Franklin, and many other older stars and artists from the past were still in our top charts and top movies and so on. At the end of the 80s, as hair metal tamed down into blues metal and early rap toughened up into street rap, we thought we were just perfecting culture. We were sure it would all carry on for infinity after a few more years of getting it all… right.

Then the 90s happened. And that was a whole other story.

But you see, this was the sense we had in the 80s. We were perfecting everything. We were sending food to Ethiopia, right? We were solving the problems. We kept the nukes from launching just by watching War Games gosh darn it!

Yeah, we were naive. Not all of us. But the white suburban kids you usually see idolized in Stranger Things now? That was me. Well, without the cool supernatural stuff. And we were naive about the problems brewing in other parts of the world as well as on the other side of town until it slapped us in the face in the 90s… or 00s… or 10s… just like many of the kids in Stranger Things were oblivious to the problems lurking around them until they found themselves face to face with something… other.