Strange Ways, Here We Come: Marvel’s Dr Strange and his psychedelic secrets

Strange Ways, Here We Come: Marvel’s Dr Strange and his psychedelic secrets
From LSD to Ayn Rand to Satanism, the roots of Marvel’s latest superstar are a tangle of the American unconscious. John Naughton elevates to the astral plane to investigate. 

“Open Your Mind,” advises the trailer to the forthcoming movie of Doctor Strange. “Change Your Reality”, it adds, as cityscapes fold in on one another Inception-style and the titular Marvel comic-book hero – made flesh in the form of Benedict Cumberbatch – opens the doors of perception and inspects his new, deceptively spacious surroundings.

Though he’s had to bide his time patiently to take his place on the big screen in the new Marvel Comics Universe, behind the likes of Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America and the rest, Doctor Strange arrives on the big screen this month and expectations are, well, high.

Because from his very earliest appearances in July 1963 in the pages of Strange Tales #110, Doctor Strange, with his cosmic wanderings across astral planes, protecting Earth from dark forces often only with his mind, has been intimately linked to LSD and the counterculture.

Since that time, he has been reimagined successfully by writers such as Roger Stern and most recently, Brian K. Vaughan in the excellent one-shot, The Oath. But most comic book aficionados would agree that there have been two iterations of the Sorcerer Supreme that stand out above the rest. The first was the original run, drawn by his creator, the enigmatic, reclusive, comic book genius, Steve Ditko and the second was during an intense period of creativity at Marvel in the early 70s when writer Steve Englehart and artist Frank Brunner took over his story. Continue reading “Strange Ways, Here We Come: Marvel’s Dr Strange and his psychedelic secrets”

Nothing is real: We’ve turned the 1960s into an empty fantasy

Nothing is real: We’ve turned the 1960s into an empty fantasy
The V&A’s latest mega-exhibition You Say You Want A Revolution? promises the last word in ’60s nostalgia… again. But to Paul Du Noyer, a 1960s with only gilded youths and radical-chic celebrities is no 1960s at all. 

I.

In 1966 there were two great cultural revolutions getting under way. One was in China, where its figurehead was Chairman Mao and the aim was to purge the nation of lingering capitalist tendencies. The other took place in the affluent west: its unofficial figureheads were probably The Beatles and the aims were various. But getting laid, getting high and having a damned good time were top of most people’s list.

In both revolutions, youth led the charge. China’s Red Guards were paramilitary students who forged a violent upheaval that caused untold havoc and horrific casualties. In the West, there were some campus riots and the odd demo, but our collective memory is of a nice psychedelic wonderland. There were agit-prop trimmings, but hardly anyone died. More people changed their style of trousers than their ideological outlook.

And yet, even in the West, the effect of those years is still felt, and still debated. What really happened in the late 1960s? Was our society deeply transformed in some way? And if so, for better or for worse?

This is where the V&A’s latest blockbuster exhibition comes in. You Say You Want A Revolution? takes its title from The Beatles’ 1968 song ‘Revolution’ and the question mark is important. Did people literally want a revolution? Or just to throw the biggest party in history? Even John Lennon wasn’t sure, and he wrote the bloody song. Continue reading “Nothing is real: We’ve turned the 1960s into an empty fantasy”

In the battle for The Beatles, Macca’s greatest PR coup

In the battle for The Beatles, Macca’s greatest PR coup
With his new McCartney biography, can famous Lennon man Philip Norman cross the floor to join Team Macca? PAUL DU NOYER explores Norman’s long and winding road from Lenninist to Macolyte.

A small annoyance of being in The Beatles, alongside all the good stuff like money and the adulation of millions, was the typecasting. Each Fab was given an official personality and nothing they did could ever shift it. We all know Paul McCartney’s: he was the cute one, the crafter of winsome ballads and (a double-edged attribute, this one) the diplomatic fixer. The PR man.

It was all a bit reductive, as stereotypes will tend to be. But it persisted, because there was just enough of the truth in there to make the image stick. And now, with the publication of a mammoth new book about him, it could be that McCartney has scored his greatest PR coup so far.

Philip Norman, author of the latest biography, was for years our bassman’s journalistic nemesis. Even before the publication of Shout!, his 1981 biography of the Beatles that casts Macca as a scheming lightweight, forever in John Lennon’s artistic shadow, Norman was no friend to the Paul faction. He had penned, most notoriously, a brutally dismissive poem in the Sunday Times that all but called for his assassination. Continue reading “In the battle for The Beatles, Macca’s greatest PR coup”

How Dylan’s ‘Blonde On Blonde’ created the modern album

How Dylan’s ‘Blonde On Blonde’ created the modern album
Fifty years ago Bob Dylan turned pop entertainment into a vehicle for dazzling visions – and it’s been that way ever since. James Medd investigates the album that invented an art form.

In 2016, the single is king. iTunes’ unbundling of the album into single tracks for sale individually changed the way we buy and listen to music. We all know it, but we often act is if it isn’t so: though we most likely access music through streaming services or downloads, we still talk about “new albums”, and newspapers and magazines still review them over individual tracks. Strangely, many artists think this way too. The most innovative and ambitious of them, such as Kanye West or Kendrick Lamar, release albums and even a pop sensation like Miley Cyrus turns to the long format when she wants to be taken seriously. We continue to view the album as the mode for music worthy of attention, for art. The reason for that is ‘Blonde On Blonde’.

Released 50 years ago this May, ‘Blonde On Blonde’ still sounds fresh and unlike anything else – a sprawling double album that’s the perfect entry point to Bob Dylan’s sprawling career. Even unbundled, it is astonishing. There’s ‘I Want You’, a pop song that could compete with The Beatles for catchiness; ‘Just Like A Woman’, a torch song Sinatra could have covered; ‘Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands’, the original epic love ballad; and ‘Visions Of Johanna’, a stream-of-consciousness tone poem that’s as enigmatic and atmospheric as anything in popular music – and none of them are the best song on the album.

Crucially, though, it’s the other tracks, the “filler”, that make it. What ‘Blonde On Blonde’ has, above all, is cohesion: it’s an album – in fact, it’s pretty much the album. It’s where rock – or pop as art – started, and where a new kind of listening began, one that’s only just coming to an end now. Continue reading “How Dylan’s ‘Blonde On Blonde’ created the modern album”