Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

Jeff Ellis, Young Lovers, Cool Toys and One Weird Cat

The PopCulteer
March 26, 2010

The Forgetting Place

Jeff Ellis, the prodigal poet of West Virginia, is back with a new collection of songs that show his continued growth as a rock and roll artiste of distinction. “The Forgetting Place” is now available at Taylor Books and Budget Tapes & Records. Backed by a studio band led by Bud Carroll, this CD features crisp production and sounds better than most major-label releases. From the first notes of “If He’s So Good To You,” with it’s Stiff Records pub-rock sound and classic love-triangle lyrics, you know you’re in for an amazing ride.

Falling roughly into what is generally called “Americana,” this new CD captures Ellis at the top of his craft, bouncing from country story-telling in “Russell and HoneyBee” to Pink Floyd-esque trippiness with “Is Something The Matter Here.” The CD manages to show off Jeff’s versatility without sounding like a hodge-podge. There’s a real cohesiveness to this album that’s remarkable given the genre-hopping musicality on display.

The title track, “The Forgetting Place,” is a slow swampy-blues number with some of the album’s most poetic lyrics. Musically, it’s just about a flute away from sounding like Jethro Tull in places. It’s a sonic delight, with a spectacular arrangement and mix.

The playing on this album is terrific. With excellent organ, harmonica and mandolin work and a killer rhythm section, I hope that this is the band that Ellis takes out on the road with him. Unfortunately, the press materials don’t identify the players, save for Carroll. It sounds like a top-notch all-star assemblage of talent.

There are so many gems on this CD. The Bluesy rocker, “Fooled,” is a little masterpiece of observational social commentary. “Fade” has it’s roots in the late 1970s New Wave sound of The Cars and Moon Martin. “I’ll See You Soon” is an country ballad of lost love that could have a bar full of bikers crying in their beer if it came on the jukebox.

“The Forgetting Place” is yet another CD by Ellis that would, in a perfect world, break out and become a national hit. Jeff is currently doing a mini-tour while he’s on leave from his duties in Iraq (read Bill Lynch’s profile here). The RFC cameras were on hand at The Empty Glass last night to record him and his band for a future episode of our little web show. You can catch Jeff Ellis with his full band tonight at The Smiling Skull in Athens Ohio, and Saturday at The V Club in Huntington. Next Wednesday, he’ll be performing as a duo with Bud Carroll at the “Newsong In The Round” show at the Rockwood Music Hall in New York City.

Romeo And Juliet: A Rock Opera

You still have plenty of chances to see “Romeo And Juliet: A Rock Opera.” This CYAC production stars Austin Thomas, Micah Atkinson and Donnie Smith, and can be seen Friday and Saturday night at 8 PM and Sunday afternoon at 2 PM at The WVSU Capitol Center Theater. Tickets are $9.50/$5.50. You can also see the show next week, Thursday through Saturday, at 8 PM.

This musical treatment of the Shakespeare classic also features Craig Auge, Phil Fisher, Maddie Gourevich, Suzanna Tucker, Michael Harris, Jim Balow, Kiril Gura and RFC’s own Melanie Larch, along with a large chorus. This is another Dan Kehde/Mark Scarpelli masterwork, and it’s well-worth catching. You can see a preview of this show on the latest episode of Radio Free Charleston, which is posted below for the sake of annoying redundancy.

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Toy News: Two New Hobby Books

As you probably know, if you’ve been reading PopCult for a while, I collect toys. And you may have noticed that I focus on 1/6 scale action figures, like GI Joe, Captain Action and Johnny West. There are two great new limited-run resource/reference books in the hobby, and I’m going to tell you about them now.

First up, we have Tom Heaton’s 3rd Expansion Module for his invaluable Johnny West collector’s guide, “The Encyclopedia of Marx Action Figures.” This edition focuses on “The Canadian Differences” with detailed color photos and information on the cool variations and totally different characters that Marx Toys released in the Johnny West line North of the border. This includes such curiosities as the green-body Johnny West, “Dangerous Dan,” a bad man with flocked hair, and Johnny’s brother, “Jimmy West,” who never showed up in the United States.

I met Tom in Wheeling last year at the Marx Toy Collector’s Convention at the Kruger Street Toy Museum, and I told him then how much I enjoy his books, not only for information they hold, but also for the lively writing and the humility with which he writes. Tom doesn’t present himself as the authoritative final word on the subject of Marx Toys, because there is so much room for variation and surprises. It makes his books refreshingly honest.

You can order this module, along with copies of the other expansion modules and Tom’s original book, at his website, The Vintage Toy Room, which is loaded with tons of other reference material. You can also order vintage Marx toys at his site.

Another branch of the 1/6-scale hobby is the customizing end. My pal Terry Rosler publishes Sixthscale Magazine, which is devoted to the denizens and designers of the ultra-high detail 1/6 scale action figure hobby. His books are always filled with detailed step-by-step articles that give you tips and hints on how to best create and display your action figure masterpieces.

I haven’t seen the latest issue, since I just ordered it this week, but you can take my word that it’ll be well worth the price for the dedicated 1/6 scale hobbyist. You can order a hard copy, or purchase a download of the newest issue at this link.

Arts Council Of The Kanawha Valley

The Arts Council Of The Kanawha Valley is in its nascent stages. Meetings are being held to pull together people to help formulate and create a plan to tackle the Council’s first major project, a comprehensive interactive arts calendar that will allow all the arts groups in the area to keep track of what each other is doing, and when. Of course, any patron of the arts will also be able to go to this one website to find out what is going on when, and where.

This could be a fantastic tool for the arts community in this town. Not only is it a great avenue for promotion, but it could also help prevent potential conflicts when scheduling events.

The mission of The Arts Council of KV is to enhance the community’s quality of life through the arts. A compressive calendar is a pragmatic first step toward that goal.

But this can’t happen without support from the public and the arts community (and I mean ALL the arts community–painters, writers, poets, actors, musicians, band leaders, dancers, filmmakers, animators, sculptors, potters, conductors, directors—anybody who does anything creative should try to make it out to the exploratory meetings to make their voices heard.

Here’s a list of upcoming meetings.

March 31, 6 p.m., Hurricane City Hall
April 1, 6 p.m., WVSU Student Union
April 2, noon, Taylor Books
April 7, 8:30 a.m., Charleston Area Alliance
April 9, 11:30 a.m., WVSU Capitol Theater
Expect me to pound any further meetings into your heads in the coming weeks. Next week’s PopCulteer is going to be about local arts funding in the post-Clay Foundation world. That’s another issue that the Arts Council can help us face.

Weekend Music

Lot’s of RFC faves are playing out this weekend. Lee Harrah, front man for WATT 4, debuts his side project HARRAH Friday night at 10 PM at The Sound Factory. Lady D is performing cover-free at Bruno’s at 9 PM Friday. Future RFC guests, Buckstone, will be at Sam’s Uptown Cafe at 10 PM Friday.

Saturday night, InFormation bring their newly-tooled line up to Sam’s Uptown Cafe at 10 PM. Ric Cochran and friends are playing, cover-free, at Bridge Road Bistro, starting at 7 PM. Future RFC guests Strangled by Statues and Linework are at The Blue Parrot, beginning at 10 PM.

Cool Comic Of The Week

Our cool comic this week was actually first published six years ago, but I just read it again last week and was reminded how cool it was. 2007’s “Alias The Cat” collects Kim Dietch’s Fantagraphics series “The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of” into a single volume.

I’ve been reading Dietch’s work since I was a kid. He’s got a distinctive art style that sets him apart from his underground cartoonist colleagues. His work is steeped in a skewed nostalgia that sees him revisiting this incredible alternative history where the early days of cartooning, film, animation and vaudeville intersect with surreal elements, such as Waldo the cat, who is either a low-rent contemporary of Felix the Cat, or a real-world blue-skinned demon who torments disturbed people, or just a horny troublemaker, depending on the story Dietch is telling.

“Alias The Cat” tells the story of Dietch and his wife, Pam, as they start to accumulate as much Waldo memorable as they can find via eBay and other methods, in an attempt to uncover the truth. “Alias” takes a series of wild turns. There are murders at sea, espionage, early film serials, WWI arms dealers, midget bakers, midget terrorists, and Muslims who accidentally blow a hole in Montana. Waldo The Cat is mixed up in it all.
Dietch makes all this work in a compelling way that comes across almost like a combination of “The DaVinci Code” and “American Splendor” (the comic book, not the movie).

This is not Dietch’s most recent work. That would be “Pictorama,” which will probably be the cool comic in a week or three, once I have time to re-read it again. But “Alias The Cat” is a killer read, a bizarre thrill-ride through a decadent golden age that never was. You can order the book here, or you can get it through Taylor Books downtown by using this ISBN number, 978-0375424311.

Next Week In PopCult

You can expect Sunday Videos, Monday Art, a very special Thrusday RFC and a serious topic in The PopCulteer.


  1. Lee Harrah

    Rudy! I love ya man! Thanks so much for the plug! Oh Marx peices, what great fun! I still have to take a pic of my Geronimo and see if you can help me complete it!

  2. Mountain Woman Phd

    What a diverse collection of goodies you brought us this week!

    I hope to see Romeo and Juliet this weekend. I know it’ll be wonderful.

    Your comic pick looks fascinating. I may try my first “graphic novel” now.

  3. Elvis Capone

    I never knew there was a “Liberace” Johnny West with a chrome hat and cape.

    The green-bodied Johnny West rattles the foundations of my assumptions about the universe. It shakes me to my very soul. I felt lost before, but I feel loster now. Thank you, POOP CULT, DESTROYER OF WORLDS!

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