Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Kickin' down the cobblestones, lookin' for fun and feelin' groovy

An accurate representation of my mental state today. 

So where were we?

If you've been following my little saga since the beginning, you might remember an anecdote from my work last week in which I was involved in an endless circular argument with a coworker over a technical triviality. That incident, more or less, is what caused my brain to stop functioning that fateful day. It was, in a broader sense, the catalyst for my recent move toward getting help for myself. At the time, though, it was just damned frustrating.

Well, anyway, that particular coworker was fired for across-the-board incompetence this morning. I had nothing to do with it, I assure you. My superiors had been wanting to oust him for a while, and today was when the axe fell. Truth be told, he was not an unpleasant guy at all. He was really nice. He was just a lousy coworker who didn't give a damn about his job, and I simply could not work around him.

In a way, I'm grateful to him because (very indirectly and inadvertently) he led me toward managing my depression and anxiety. I don't know whether this was ironic or appropriate, but I wound up filling in for him today since there is no immediate replacement available. How about that? Funny old world.

My body continues to adjust to the meds. My appetite is starting to come back somewhat, though I'm not exactly craving food these days. We got free taffy apples at work today, and mine is just sitting uneaten in my fridge. A year ago, I would've been all over that!

I'm still not in a "funny," creative mood either. How do I know this? Well, I wake up very early for work each weekday even though I'm the opposite a morning person. To help revive myself, I often make up absurd little songs and sing them in the shower or in the car on the way to work. It comforts me. Some of the little ditties I've performed on Mail Order Zombie were written this way. But I haven't been making up songs in the mornings lately. That part of my brain is shut off, like a deserted wing of an old mansion.

I've not felt much of an urge to play music, listen to music, or draw. I'm writing in this blog pretty often these days partly because I'm forcing myself to do so. I don't want my creative muscles to atrophy. (Gah! What a crummy analogy!)

WTF With Marc Maron
But there are positive aspects, too. I've been calm all day and even cheerful and upbeat for long stretches of it. There have been no panic attacks or crashing lows. There have even been times when I felt like "myself," whatever that means.

I'm almost getting too cocky about all of this. I don't know if you listen to the podcast called WTF With Marc Maron, but you really should. It's one of the few non-fan-created podcasts I listen to, and it's basically a stand-up comedian interviewing other comedians and people in the creative fields. I'm bringing it up because in today's episode, Marc was talking with one of his guests, Jake Fogelnest, and they're both recovering substance abuse addicts. One topic that came up during their interview was a common mistake made by recovering addicts: they're doing so well that they decide they are strong enough to break the rules and indulge in their old habits again. That's sort of where I'm at.

Today was pretty easy for me, and I felt like I got a lot accomplished. There's the temptation to say, "Hey, maybe I don't need meds or therapy or any of it. I can just do this on my own." But I've done that all my life, and it's taken a toll on my mind and body. I have to stick with the plan this time. No backsliding.

Miscellaneous thought: It's so weird that jack-in-the-boxes have endured as a toy. I mean, have you ever really thought about them? They have exactly one use, and that use is terrifying and disturbing. They're like some weird Pavlov-meets-Clockwork-Orange experiment to get children to associate music with fear and alarm. "Oh, yay! I'm listening to a catchy song! And I'm making the song myself by turning this handle! This is.... AHHHHH!!!! SCARY CLOWN MAN!" What a world we live in!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Being even feels so odd

A pivotal scene from John Waters' A Dirty Shame

John Waters' A Dirty Shame (2004) -- to date, the Baltimore provocateur's latest film --  is a crude, often lowbrow and childish slapstick sex comedy which features CGI squirrels, gigantic fake breasts, obscene shrubbery, and a David Hasselhoff cameo. In other words, even though I'm proud to have it in my DVD collection, it is not exactly Oscar bait.

But it does contain a scene which has been running through my head a lot these last few days.

The plot in a nutshell: uptight Baltimore wife and mother Sylvia Stickles (Tracey Ullman) gets a concussion which turns her into an unapologetic, promiscuous sex addict. Soon, she finds herself part of a cult of sex addicts led by the mysterious Ray Ray (Johnny Knoxville) and realizes that many seemingly "normal" members of her community are sex addicts as well. Ultimately, there is a chaotic war for control of the neighborhood, with sex addicts on one side and the prudish, judgmental "neuters" (led by Waters' resident villainess Mink Stole) on the other. I think you can guess who wins.

Anyway, at one point, Sylvia's concerned husband and mother have a doctor visit the Stickles household, and there he tries to convince both Sylvia and her similarly-libidinous daughter Caprice a.k.a. Ursula Udders (Selma Blair, wearing an absurd prosthetic chest) that their problems can be solved through pharmaceuticals. Selma Blair vehemently protests ("I'm NOT depressed!") but ultimately is coerced into taking the pills.

The uneven John Waters
John Waters always does hilarious, informative commentary tracks on his movies, and his remarks during this scene are fascinating:
"I always have in all my movies, like, different doctors forcing medication on people. You know, I think tranquilizers are good for people that are chemically depressed, but I also think every brand is completely over-prescribed. What happened to 'the talking cure' with psychiatrists? They don't have that anymore! I'm for that! I don't want to be 'even.' I'm on her side here when she says, 'I'm not depressed!' Being 'even' sounds worse than being depressed."
I may well be chemically depressed. I don't know. I'm not a doctor. But I share Waters' skepticism of being "even." If there were one word I wish I could ban from the critical vocabulary, it would be "uneven." Critics, both professional and amateur, are constantly complaining these days about works being "uneven." Since when did evenness become the standard by which art is judged. Whatever happened to consistency being "the hobgoblin of little minds?" To me, evenness is for sideburns, suburban lawns, and wallpaper. It's not for art and definitely not for comedy.

I used to theorize that the rise of the word "uneven" as a critical cliche was a side effect of all the mood-stabilizing drugs we've been gobbling up as a society. Well, now I'm actually on at least two of those drugs, and I worry about being too flat emotionally and losing the highs and lows which make life entertaining. It's true that I have some crushing, even life-threatening lows, but there's a goofy, playful side to my personality, too. I don't want to lose that side of myself. Lately, that part of myself seems to have evaporated.

Fortunately, I had my first meeting with my new therapist today, and it went very well. I explained a lot of these fears to her, and she completely understood what I meant. She said that my body would eventually adjust to the medications and, if it didn't, those medications could be switched until we could find a combination which worked for me. That was extremely encouraging news. I want Joe Blevins to be well, but I don't want "Wayne Kotke" (my silly side) to go away either.

Financially, I think I'm going to be able to handle this treatment without having to ask relatives for help. I'm fortunate to have a bit of a cushion to fall back on and no existing debts or dependents. But if I end up selling pencils on the street, you'll know what happened.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Weakened Update (get it? it's a pun)

Sorry, no Stefon monologue here. Just me.
A very busy day today, so not a lot of time to write on the blog, but I thought I'd give you a brief update on this very pivotal and (potentially) scary day of my life:

I went back to work for the first time since my hospitalization. I cannot express how nervous I was about this moment. But as it turns out, everyone was very nice in a low-key, nonchalant way. I'm not exactly sure how much everyone knows about what went on last week. Because I work so closely with my immediate supervisor and have known her for nine years, I decided to tell her everything. She was very understanding, and this put me at ease. It looks like there are some extra hours coming my way, which is a good thing since I want to stay busy and may have some nasty medical bills coming my way soon.

The whole bill thing has me freaked out, honestly. I'm phobic about spending money because I never want to feel like I owe anybody anything. But I'm trying to not concentrate on it and get on with my life. I have some money squirreled away, and if spending a little of it is what it takes to get well, so be it.

My body is still adjusting to the meds. Personally, I think I'm being over-medicated and that one or maybe two of them could be eliminated. We'll see. Of course, I won't do anything without medical approval. The pills haven't exactly killed my appetite, but they leave kind of a dry, vaguely unpleasant taste in my mouth all day and they've killed my usual cravings for junk food and candy. I now have to remind myself to eat, which is new for me. I'm perfectly capable of eating, and it's not nauseating or anything, but I no longer derive pleasure from the act of consuming food. I'd like to reverse that, if possible.

Tomorrow afternoon is my first appointment with a therapist. I've tried therapy a couple of times in the past, and it's never really worked for me. But maybe this time will be different. Who knows? In the past, I've always felt obligated to please the therapist by pretending I'm making more progress than I really am.

Wow. None of what I just wrote is remotely funny. Sorry about that. As Edith Massey once said, "You can't be a winner every time, hon."

But now it's off to band rehearsal. It's the first time for that since my hospitalization, too, of course. I think it should go fine. We're probably rehearsing Christmas music by now. Oh, god, Christmas. Another whole set of neuroses!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A medical long shot: the Mill Creek comedy cure

Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton: More efficacious than Xanax and Celexa?

$10 worth of comedy
A few months ago, readers, I saw that a bargain bin at the local grocery store had a selection of Mill Creek boxed sets -- you know, those massive boxed sets of cheaply-purchased or public domain films bundled together into packs of 25, 50, 100 or more. Of these, one in particular caught my eye: Comedy Classics a 24-disc set containing 100 vintage comedies almost none of which I'd actually seen. I figured for $10, I could hardly go wrong, so I purchased it. But it's remained unwatched on my shelf since then. As longtime viewers of this blog may remember, I made a valiant attempt to make it through Mill Creek's Drive-In Classics set (apparently all culled from the vaults of Crown International Pictures), but I broke down when I reached Malibu Beach, an utterly insipid movie which cast James Duaghton (the uber-WASP villain from Animal House) as the supposedly sympathetic lead. I may well return to that set someday. After all, I still haven't reached They Saved Hitler's Brain yet, and it was the main reason I bought the box in the first place.
Mill Creek: The mark of quantity

What I really need these days, though, is laughter, and here are 100 (!) movies which supposedly provide that. So what I've proposed to do is make my way through as much of this set as I can and determine whether I feel the films are funny or not. I've decided to tackle the films in the order in which they are presented in the set, so the first item on the docket is 1946's Colonel Effingham's Raid with Charles Coburn. As soon as I get it watched, I will report back to you and tell you whether it deserves to be called a "classic," comedy or otherwise. Stay tuned for further development, precious readers. In the meantime, if you'd like to play the home game, you can find the entire movie of Colonel Effingham's Raid on YouTube. and judge for yourself

It turns out I'm actually Steve Buscemi in "Ghost World"

"Oh my God! He just ordered a giant glass of milk!"

Well, that didn't turn out as planned.

"Tai chi, chai tea."
If you read my last post, you know that I was expecting to meet up with a young lady I'd met while in a behavioral health center. We'd exchanged several phone calls over the past two days, and she suggested meeting at a local Starbucks at 5:00 tonight. Long story short: I showed, she didn't. I got to the agreed-upon rendezvous about twenty minutes early and waited outside in the cold for her to appear. At the appointed time, I went into the establishment (side note: this was literally my first time ever in a Starbucks) and ordered a tall chai tea latte, largely because Lisa had recommended it in an episode of The Simpsons once. She was right, by the way. It was delicious. I sat at the counter and nursed that chai tea for about twenty-five minutes before heading for the door and beginning the long walk back to my car. Being a homebody, I'm not too familiar with the layout of my own city's downtown, so I parked rather ridiculously far from the coffee shop.

All the while, I could not help but think of a scene from the movie Ghost World. If you haven't seen it, the film concerns two young women (Enid and Rebecca) who have just graduated from high school and generally realize over the course of a summer that their lives are going in different directions. Before their friendship slowly dissolves, however, they do spend a lot of time hanging out together and snarking on the rest of the world. Just to amuse themselves, they pretend to answer the personal ad placed by a rather hapless nerd, Seymour (portrayed by Steve Buscemi), so that they can stalk him and see how he reacts when he realizes he's been stood up. Surprisingly, this prank proves to be a major catalyst in the plot, and the lives of Enid, Rebecca, and Seymour all change because of it. I do not know Helen's reasons for skipping our meeting. Maybe she has a perfectly good excuse. When I got back home, there were no new voicemail messages. I have decided not to call her but to wait for her to call me if and when she is interested in doing so. If that turns out to be never, then so be it.

I'm surprisingly chill about all of this. Hey, at least I got out there and made an attempt. That's more than I might have done six months ago. I can't call this a victory, but I'll say it was a tie. In the meantime, here's a relevant clip from Ghost World.

EPILOGUE: I just got a call from Helen. (It's so weird to keep calling her "Helen," but I want to protect her privacy and anonymity.)  I asked her what happened and she said she'd just had a really bad day and couldn't talk about it right at the moment, but she wished me luck in my return to work tomorrow and told me to let her know how it went. She was glad I hadn't taken it too badly. ("Good! You're still alive!" were her words.) So I guess we'll leave the narrative there for now. It's a long, strange trip, readers.

Depress-A-Date! Or: How I learned to stop worrying and become a manic pixie dreamgirl

Image courtesy of Wacky Packages
I have a date tonight.

Or maybe not. I don't know. Maybe I shouldn't be thinking of this as a "date," but I've had so few of them in my life that I'm tempted to chalk this up in the "win" column. In any event, I've decided to use this blog, at least for the time being, to discuss what's going on in my life. And this, readers, is what's going on in my life.

First, some background. As a person whose life has been ruled to this point by fear and depression and whose default mode is seclusion, I have had very few interactions of a romantic nature in my waking life. I've had a string of crushes and hopeless infatuations since I was probably 11, but nothing meaningful or beneficial has ever occurred because of them. My one date in high school was escorting a young lady to our school's Sadie Hawkins dance. Yeah, that's the one where the girls ask the guys out, and this particular young lady was pretty insistent. Our evening was a mini-masterpiece of tragicomedy which might make for a good short story someday. Needless to say, it did not lead to a sequel.

Ain't it the truth?
After high school, I lived alone with my father and felt a strong obligation to stay home and keep him company as much as possible. My college years were strictly about studying and getting good grades. There was not even a hint of "fun" involved and certainly no dating. Not that my father would have discouraged it (he's never brought up the subject), but I would have felt like I was betraying him somehow. Particularly since my mother died, I've tried not to change much from the person I was at 17. It's a routine that has grown sadder and sadder with each passing year as my body has aged while my lifestyle has not kept pace. A couple of times over the years (two to be exact), I have mustered all my courage to ask out coworkers, since those are generally the only women with whom I ever interact. In return for my efforts, I've received the expected polite, gentle, slightly condescending rejections, which actually sting quite a bit more than women may realize. I would so much rather have been slapped across the face or cussed out than to be treated as a slightly slow-witted child. (Of course, I would have preferred acceptance to any of these options.) These experiences crushed me so badly that I swore to myself that I would never again pursue romantic relationships. Who needs 'em, right? Shouldn't I just be happy to be myself? Why do I need another person to validate that? Trust me, I've had this argument with myself countless times over the years. The trouble is, it gets a little stale after 37 years.

Group meetings: an unlikely spot for "meet cutes."
All this brings us up to today. Even though I have theoretically given up on finding "the right girl" or "any girl who will tolerate me for more than five minutes," I cannot help but fantasize and, if I am feeling especially brave, flirt. The very first day I was in the behavioral health center -- scared out of my wits but outwardly projecting calm -- I attended my initial group meeting, a session about anger management, and was struck by the comments made by a fellow patient, a young woman I'll refer to as Helen (not her name). I'd seen this young woman earlier when I was being admitted, but I didn't approach her because (1) I was shy, and (2) she had a black eye and seemed to be in a state of subtle distress. Anyway, during the session, she explained to the counselor that she couldn't believe that she was really there and that the whole situation felt like a dream or a nightmare. She also expressed a strong desire to get back to her life. Other patients tried to reason with her and rationalize with her, but I just listened in amazement because she had just vocalized my exact thoughts. After the meeting dispersed, I approached Helen in the hall and told her how relieved I was that she'd said what she said, and we ended up going off to a more secluded spot in the ward to talk for a while. I learned that her black eye was self-inflicted as part of a suicide attempt and that she was very nervous about being away from work for so long. From that point on, Helen and I were close companions. We ate our meals together, attended groups together, and had nice long conversations during the frequent "down times" between scheduled events. She was always on the verge of lapsing into pessimism and despair, so I took it as a personal mission to give her frequent pep talks during the day. "You're the most positive person in the world," she'd tell me, which was definitely news to me. During my stay, Helen's parents visited twice, and both times she made a point of introducing me to them. On her penultimate night in the ward, Helen and her family gathered in a semi-circle in one of the day rooms, and they invited me (unique among the other patients) to be a part of their discussion.

Helen and I were discharged within a few hours of each other last Friday, and before she left, she gave me her phone number and told me to call her. I have not yet mentioned that we live in the same town just minutes from each other, but that's a huge part of the story. As with my childhood friendships, geographical convenience might play a major role in my adult relationships. Anyway, the Saturday after I got out, I hemmed and hawed a bit but finally wound up calling her number. Since then, we have talked over the phone a few times, and she suggested that we meet up at a downtown Starbucks tonight.

Somehow, I've become Zooey Deschanel
I know, I know. No sane, rational person would call this a "date." There is nothing remotely "romantic" about any of this. This is not a Hollywood romcom. If this were a romcom, though, I would be the "manic pixie dream girl" in this script. So far in this relationship, I've been the quirky, kooky, fun-loving one trying to pull the other person out of the doldrums. But let's be serious here. This is just plain, old, ordinary, disappointing real life. Two people who have been through a common experience are meeting at a Starbucks. That's it. In all likelihood, it will lead to nothing. Maybe all we have in common is this terrible thing, and once we stop talking about that, there will be nothing left to say.

But, still, this story shows that I'm trying. At least I'm getting "out there," whatever that means.

Wish me luck.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Depression and (time permitting) recovery: a post about my non-zombie life

This is me shortly after my time in the hospital. Smile, darn ya, smile!

This will be a very different kind of post on the Dead 2 Rights blog. Depending on my whims, it might be the first in a series of very different posts. I don't know right now. I've just been through an experience and wanted to write about it, and I figured this place was as good as any.

First, some introductions are in order. My name is Joe Blevins. Although I've lived in Illinois for the past 11 years, I was born in Flint, Michigan in 1975 and lived in that area until 2001. I am 37 years old, live alone in a one-bedroom apartment,  and currently make my living at a market research firm in Chicago. Single. Never married. No kids. Since 2008, I've been contributing regularly to the Mail Order Zombie podcast as a character called "Wayne Kotke," and I've been writing this blog under his name since October 2009. In fact, we are just about coming up to the third anniversary of this blog. If you'd like to wish me a happy anniversary, please feel free.

I also suffer from anxiety and depression, and this week I was hospitalized for those conditions.

Let me explain. Depression is something I've had in my life since I was a child. It's always been a part of who I am. If I have a sense of humor, that humor is informed by my depression. As silly as they are, my posts on this blog and my segments for MOZ are manifestations of my feelings of inadequacy and sadness. They're my attempts to channel those emotions into something positive. I'm not sure how well it has succeeded, but if you have derived any pleasure whatsoever from my work, that is deeply satisfying to me. Thank you.

I'm not exactly sure where the depression comes from. I was raised in a stable and loving middle class home, and I have no major illnesses, handicaps, or chemical addictions. I was bullied and ostracized frequently as a child in school, though, and I think this is where a lot of my fear originates. I have a deep, stubborn distrust of others and a formidable fear of rejection, so it is difficult for me to make connections with other people. It's fortunate that, either thanks to geographical convenience or participation in extracurricular activities, I always had a support system of friends through those troubling school days. 

Your blogger in high school
However, all of my problems intensified in 1993 when my mother died of cancer. I was in my last year of high school at the time, and I was closer to her than to anyone else in my family. My only sibling, an older sister, left home a year or so later and wound up getting married and starting a family in Indiana. I was left alone with my father, who was shattered by my mother's death and still to this day has not totally recovered.

Post high school, I spent a very dark decade living with my father. During that time, while my friends went away to school and started their lives, I lived at home, commuted to college by car, and wound up working at a nearby call center as a customer service rep, a job for which I was especially unsuited. After high school, I lost touch with most of my old friends and never bothered (or risked) making new ones. This was the beginning of my still-ongoing reclusive stage.

In February 2001, I attempted suicide by taking every pill I could find in the medicine cabinet. After two harrowing days in the ICU and one very scary night in the psych ward, a locale that haunted me for years, I returned to working at the call center and living with my father. But this arrangement would not last long.

In August 2001, despite a lot of guilt-tripping from my father, I moved to Illinois in order to take a teaching job. Even though I was happy to be out on my own and living independently for the first time in my life, I soon realized that a person's problems travel with him when he moves to a new location. My old issues of fear, anxiety, and depression prevented me from being a good teacher, and I failed miserably at the profession for two grueling, discouraging years. By that time, I was so overwhelmed by fear and sadness that I didn't feel I could accomplish anything.

After a few miserable months of unemployment and inertia, I managed to land a low-paying temp job in an office environment in November 2003. All I wanted at that point was a place to hide away from the world, and a cubicle at this company would provide that. So I stayed with that temp job until it turned permanent, and that's where I've been for the last nine years. Although it was extremely boring and repetitive, it was also quiet and stable. Best of all, I could do the job with very little human interaction.

I have not exactly "thrived" in this job, but I have survived for nearly a decade. Meanwhile, though, my social life was nonexistent apart from my participation in a local community band. Even there, I tended to be shy, sullen, and withdrawn. Still to this day, any public performance fills me with fear. Don't get me wrong. The band has brought me a lot of happiness, and I have met some genuinely nice people there, but I don't know if I'll ever be 100% comfortable with it.

In the last few years, my workplace environment has been changing rapidly and frighteningly. The financial crisis has meant rounds and rounds of brutal layoffs, all of which I have (thus far) survived. A few months back, our company was bought out by a rival. Not only has this meant more layoffs, but existing jobs have been consolidated. One person will now be doing the work of two or three. This is how my most recent crisis occurred. 

This Monday (October 22), my supervisor was taking a vacation, and I was attempting to fill in for her while simultaneously doing my own job. I genuinely felt I could handle this, but the day was plagued by technical errors and computer setbacks that I could not solve. I found myself talking in endless, circular arguments with coworkers, and eventually my brain just stopped processing information. 

After 11 hours without a break and with many problems left unresolved, I simply left the office and took a commuter train home. I could not sleep that night and began having unspeakably dark thoughts. Remembering my horrifying experience from 2001, I decided to call the National Suicide Prevention hotline at around 2 in the morning on Tuesday, just a few hours before I was supposed to wake up for work. I spoke with an operator there for about an hour, and she advised me to go to my regular doctor and get a referral to a therapist or counselor. 

I called in sick on Tuesday and was attempting to make my way to my doctor that morning. I don't have a "family doctor" per se, but there is an immediate care facility that I have used for colds, earaches, etc. I must not have been thinking very clearly at the time, because I literally did not get beyond the first block before having a minor fender bender. Even though neither car appeared damaged, the other driver was apoplectic and immediately called the police. 

When the officer arrived, I desperately told him my story. He summoned the paramedics, and they took me to the nearest hospital, where an ER doctor made the decision to hospitalize me. This particular place was out-of-network for my insurance, so I was transferred by ambulance to a behavioral health center in another town. (Does it help my story at all if I tell you that the ambulance drivers were two extremely dim-witted guys who initially drove me to the wrong hospital and bickered back and forth about which streets they "should have tooken?" Sad but true.)

Don't worry. The stamp washes right off.
From Tuesday afternoon to Friday morning, I was a patient at the behavioral health center, which seemed to be part of a much larger hospital. If you're thinking it was like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest or Shutter Island, you've got the wrong idea. It was more like being held captive at a combination of a summer camp and a Motel 6.

Yes, it was humiliating to have to surrender my belt, shoes, and wallet. And yes, the food was terrible. (It is the tilapia that will haunt me from this experience.) Most of the people were quite nice, though, and there were only one or two people with obvious mental illness. The majority of the patients were like me -- average-looking sad sacks who just seemed burned out and overwhelmed. We had group meetings several times a day, and I was an active and cheerful participant in nearly every one of them.

The comment I heard the most from my fellow patients was: "You seem so positive! Why are you here?" Honestly, I didn't know. I mean, I could retrace my steps and understand how I had gotten there, but somehow it didn't quite feel "real" to me. I used the opportunity of the program to work on my social skills and made a point to introduce myself to as many staff members and patients as possible. The patients, especially, were generally bright, funny, and friendly individuals. Perhaps some of us will stay in touch.

In any event, I "graduated" the program with flying colors. My doctor was very impressed by my progress and moved up my release from Monday (October 29) to today (October 26). Having no relatives or friends in the area, I took a $40 cab ride back to my apartment this morning. I am now supposed to be taking Xanax, Celexa, and drugs for sleeping and for lowering blood pressure. My blood pressure shot up about 30-40 points while I was in the program even though I was outwardly very calm, upbeat, and composed. Maybe it was my body's way of protesting.

I am home now, back in my little apartment, and I am quite comfortable. It's nice to be able to write on this blog again, since patients were not allowed to use computers while they were on "the unit." My hospitalization is behind me now, but this problem is not merely part of my past. I still have to conquer my depression and anxiety, and this time I really want to do it right so that I can finally start living my life to the fullest. (I know that's an odd thing for a fictional zombie to say, but there you go.)

Phew! This was a tough post to write, but I'm glad I got it out there. I'm trying not to be embarrassed  about my condition, and I want to be able to talk about it openly and honestly. I'm sorry if this was a little heavier or more depressing than you wanted, but here's a song that might make up for it. I think this song is going to be my personal recovery anthem.

P.S. - Here's a Zomby from before my hospitalization. Enjoy it before the happy pills cure me of my creativity.

Monday, October 15, 2012

10 mind-bending novelty records inspired by Batmania!

The hills are alive with the sound of Batman!
The 1966-1968 Batman series is, without fear of exaggeration, one of the great accomplishments of Western Civilization in the Twentieth Century. I need hardly list its many attributes here, but one of the best side effects of the show was that it created a merchandising bonanza whose impact is still being felt on Ebay today. Everybody wanted a slice of the Bat pie, so to speak. Naturally, this included the always-greedy music industry. The show's indelible Neil Hefti-composed theme song became a Top 10 smash hit for the Marketts (a surf rock combo whose "Out of Limits" is prominently used in Pulp Fiction) and was covered by a whole host of artists in a variety of styles. But that was just the beginning! Batman-related novelty singles and albums flooded the market in 1966 and 1967 -- some of them recorded by people in the show's cast, others recorded by opportunists looking to cash in on the fad. Here's a sampling of some of my personal favorites:

1. Dickie Goodman - "Batman and His Grandmother"

Dickie, formerly half of the duo of Buchanan & Goodman, was the king of the so-called "break-in" records. These were audio comedy skits which take the form of fake news reports and use clips of pop songs in place of people's answers. Both with Bill Buchanan and on his own, Goodman used his "break-in" records to comment on seemingly every political and cultural trend in America between the 1950s ("The Flying Saucer") and the 1980s ("Hey, E.T.!"). You didn't think he'd skip the Bat fad, did you? By the way, that weird clip which is used to represent the grandmother (the high-pitched "Ah! Ah! Ah!") is from "Juanita Banana" by Henri Salvador, who in turn cribbed the melody from the "Caro nome" aria from Verdi's Rigoletto.

2. The Scaffold - "Goodbat Nightman"

The Scaffold were a satirical British musical trio of the 1960s who enjoyed several years of chart success in their native country, including the #1 hit "Lily the Pink." Their records are funny and well-made and still hold up pretty nicely today. All this would be pretty impressive, until you consider that one member of the group was Mike McGear, a.k.a. Mike McCartney, brother of Paul. With that perspective, the accomplishments of the Scaffold seem sort of insignificant. For you Monty Python fans, another member of the Scaffold, Roger McGough, makes a cameo in The Rutles. He's the Liverpool poet who only gets to say two words before Eric Idle cuts him off.

3. Burt Ward - "Orange Colored Sky"
4. Burt Ward - "Boy Wonder, I Love You"

It seems almost inconceivable, but somehow Burt Ward -- Robin himself -- teamed up with one of the leading lights of avant garde rock, Frank Zappa, to make these records back in 1966. At the time, Zappa was preparing the debut LP of his band, the Mothers of Invention, for MGM Records when he was hired as an arranger and composer for these sessions. "Orange Colored Sky" is a warped, wildly off-key take on an old standard, while "Boy Wonder" is a hilarious Zappa original.

Here's a whole article (not by me!) about the Ward/Zappa connection. Enjoy!

 5. Adam West - "The Story of Batman"

While this article is mainly about Bat songs from the show's heyday, I had to make an exception for this unreleased 1971 single which Adam "Caped Crusader" West recorded for the Dunhill label. Truly, this song puts the "bat" into "bat shit crazy" with West giving listeners some less-than-practical advice about what to do with their 45s. Batman only lasted two seasons, but West could never quite hang up the cowl for good. He reprised his signature role on Legends of the Superheroes (a two-part live-action special from 1979), and voiced the Dark Knight in several animated series, including The New Adventures of Batman (1977) and Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show (1984-1985). More recently, West has occasionally been called upon to play Batman (in addition to playing "Mayor West," a fictionalized version of himself) on Family Guy. Speaking of which, please watch this montage of Adam's best moments on that show.

6. Link Wray and His Raymen - "Batman Theme"

I promised I'd limit myself to just one remake of the famous theme, so I chose this blast of unruly gutbucket guitar by one of the pioneers of loud, ugly rock & roll, Link Wray. Link more or less paved the way for punk and heavy metal with an instrumental called "Rumble" in 1958, which heralded the arrival of the so-called "power chord" and which ushered in the era of intentional distortion. (Link supposedly helped create his signature sound by punching holes in his amplifier with a pencil.) Link's songs, always a favorite among juvenile delinquents, were heavily used in the early films of John Waters. The music that plays over the opening credits of Pink Flamingos, for instance? That's Link. His combative version of the Batman theme is especially notable because it features some spoken dialogue, with Link himself portraying the Caped Crusader. ("Right again, Robin!")

7. Frank Gorshin - "The Riddler"

Along with Burgess Meredith and Cesar Romero, impressionist Frank Gorshin was one of the B-list celebrities who suddenly found himself attached to the hottest show on television when he guest starred as The Riddler on Batman. Naturally, he wasn't going to let this opportunity pass by without recording at least one cash-in record. He basically just talk-sings some "joke book"-type riddles over a rockin' beat. The song goes very well with the Batusi dance, too.

8. Peggy Lee - "That Man"

This record is an example of how pervasive Batmania truly was in '66. Peggy Lee was a phenomenally popular jazz singer (plus songwriter and actress) for decades, but even she couldn't resist the siren song of the Bat. But our Peggy plays it a bit cooler than most. Notice the song is called "That Man" and not "Batman." Still in all, the song's lyrics are unmistakably inspired by the series. She not only copies the template of Robin's "holy!" catchphrase ("Holy popcorn!"), but she tosses in some of the show's trademark onomatopoeia for good measure.

9. Sun Ra and the Blues Project - "Joker is Wild"

This one takes a bit of explaining. Sun Ra (1914-1993) was unquestionably one of the most eccentric and bizarre musicians of the last century. Born Herman Poole Blount in Birmingham, Alabama, the jazz bandleader/poet/philosopher took on the extra-terrestrial "Sun Ra" persona and claimed to be from Saturn. Nevertheless, he had a nearly six-decade career as a respected and cultishly-adored figure in the music industry. From the 1950s onward, he led a constantly-evolving ensemble generally known as the "Arkestra." And, as you can probably guess by now, several of these folks decided to get in on the Batman trend in 1966. Only they didn't record a mere single in the crimefigher's honor. Oh, no. They did a whole album! Credited to "The Sensational Guitars of Dan & Dale," it was titled Batman and Robin and featured comic book-style graphics on the cover. The selection above is only one of twelve cuts.

10. Jan and Dean - "Robin, The Boy Wonder" (and so much more!)

You know who else decided to devote an entire album to Batman? Yep, those golden gods of surf pop, Jan and Dean, who released Jan and Dean Meet Batman that fateful year of 1966. J&D may be familiar to modern audiences because of their hits like "Dead Man's Curve," "Surf City," and "The Little Old Lady From Pasadena," but if you spend any quality time perusing their discography (highly recommended!), you'll soon learn that these guys had a profoundly goofy sense of humor and did not take themselves one bit seriously. While the Beach Boys were changing the face of pop music with Pet Sounds, Jan and Dean were releasing an entire LP's worth of songs and skits about a costumed superhero. Imagine a band doing anything like that today! Jan and Dean Meet Batman is such a weird pop culture curiosity that I've decided to leave you with a few more selections from it:

Isn't the Internet a marvelous thing?

Monday, October 8, 2012

A couple new ZOMBY! cartoons, plus a musical tribute to Mr. Christopher Columbus!

First, let's get the unpleasantness out of the way...

Quite amusing, I'm sure. Now, then, let's continue.
Columbus: And he was handsome, too!

Today, October 8, is Columbus Day. That used to mean something in this country, friends. Well, no, that's not true. For as long as I can remember, Columbus Day has always been one of those B.S. holidays that postal workers and some lucky school kids had off but which no one ever really gave a second thought. I have the day off today myself, which is why I can lounge in bed and write this very post. But it's safe to say that in my lifetime, Christopher Columbus' legacy has completely disintegrated. We weren't exactly taught to love Chrissy C as kids, but we still regarded him as a more or less a hero. After all, he "discovered America." Except, of course, he didn't. Other explorers had been here before, and besides, the land was already, uh, occupied. All Columbus really brought to America was disease, genocide, and oppression. Nowadays, I'm told, Columbus is treated as a villain in our elementary schools. Kids now think of him as a one-man combination of Hitler and the Black Plague. And who knows? Maybe that's what he deserves. But what a bummer for Columbus! He made it as far as the 1990s with his reputation intact -- 500 years! -- only to see it come crashing down in the last two decades. I honestly didn't see that coming for the poor guy. In fact, if I were to name the two societal trends which have surprised me most during my time on this planet, I would say the widespread acceptance of tattoos and the complete downgrading of Christopher Columbus.

But what a run he had before that, huh? In order to commemorate the Columbus that was (but really wasn't), I'd like to present this selection of songs written in his honor.

First up is a song called, simply, "Christopher Columbus." It was written in the 1930s by Chu Berry and Andy Razaf and has been recorded by many jazz and pop performers over the years. It's often done as an instrumental,  which is how I first heard it (in a recording by Benny Goodman), but here it is with words. And even better, it's done by one of the seminal groups of the Twentieth Century, the Ink Spots, a vocal quartet whose sound was a major influence on R&B and rock. Give this one a chance. It's really catchy.

Next up is a selection by legendary American satirist, voice-over artist, and adman Stan Freberg. It's called "Christopher Columbus Discovers America," and it's a track from his landmark 1961 LP, Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America, Volume One: The Early Years, a musical in album form which covered our nation's history from 1492 to 1783 through songs and sketches. This portion includes one such song, "It's a Round Round World," performed by Freberg himself as Columbus and character actor Jesse White (the original Maytag repairman!) as King Ferdinand.

This next one is not so familiar to me. It's an educational song about Chris, and it's credited only to the mysterious Miss Healy. I'm  including it here because it's largely representative of the image I had of Columbus as a kid. You know, "In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue" and all that jazz.

And last? Well, it's a song by Guy Mitchell (1927-1999), a Detroit-born crooner who was intensely popular and successful in the 1950s in the US and the UK but who is all but forgotten today. This particular number, titled simply "Christopher Columbus," hit #27 on the charts back in 1951. It was just one of his nine hit records that year, and Guy's monster hit ("Singing the Blues") was still five years away.

It didn't seem right to end the article without presenting the opposing side, so here to do just that is Winston Rodney, OD a.k.a. Burning Spear, legendary Jamaican reggae singer and Rastafarian evangelist. Since this song makes heavy use of Jamaican Patois, I have included a transcription of the lyrics beneath the clip. The refrain is unmistakable, though: Christopher Columbus is a damned blasted liar. We sometimes forget that Christopher Columbus is given credit for "discovering" Jamaica, too.

I and I old I know
I and I old I say
I and I reconsider
I and I see upfully that
Christopher Columbus is a damn blasted liar
Christopher Columbus is a damn blasted liar
Yes Jah

He's saying that, he is the first one

who discover Jamaica
I and I say that,
What about the Arawak Indians and the few Black man
Who were around here, before him
The Indians couldn't hang on no longer
Here comes first Black man and woman and children,
In a Jam Down Land ya
A whole heap of mix up and mix up
A whole heap a ben up, ben up,
We have fi straighten out,
Christopher Columbus is a damn blasted liar
Christopher Columbus is a damn blasted liar
Yes Jah

What a long way from home

I and I longing to go home
Within a Red, Green, and Gold Robe
Come on Twelve Tribe of Israel
Come on Twelve Tribe of Israel
Out a Jam Down land ya
A whole heap of mix up mix up
A whole heap a ben up, ben up,
Come on Twelve Tribe of Israel
Come on Twelve Tribe of Israel
Out a Jam Down land ya  Yes, Jah!

Christopher Columbus is a damn blasted liar

Christopher Columbus is a damn blasted liar
Yes Jah, he is a liar
Yes Jah, he is a liar
Yes Jah, he is a liar
Columbus is a liar
Yes jah Christopher Columbus is a damn blasted liar

Saturday, October 6, 2012

A new "Zomby" -- plus lots of wrong Batmen

First, the new Zomby cartoon:

Okay, now here are the wrong Batmen:

And here are some more:

Why did I make all these wrong Batmen? Well, there's this site, see, called Blind as a Batman which challenges people to draw Batman with their eyes closed. The scribbles you see above are my attempts to draw the Caped Crusader in Microsoft Paint with my eyes closed. As you can see, I tried over and over again without success. I took some of my failed Batmen, colored them in, and grouped them into collages.

Yeah, I don't know either.