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Music Legends: The Beastie Boys

It seems like only yesterday that the music world first turned on to three dudes from New York City. But ever since they exploded onto the scene, the Beastie Boys have defied all expectations.


Elder statesmen of Hip Hop: the men called Beastie.  From left: Mike D (Michael Diamond), King Ad-Rock (Adam Horovitz) and MCA (Adam Yauch). 

Has it been 25 years already? Originally considered a novelty act, the Beastie Boys have endured and grown musically. Now the men known as MCA (aka Adam Yauch), Mike D (Michael Diamond) and King Ad-Rock (Adam Horovitz) are respected elder statesmen of the Hip Hop movement. Recently inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, the Boys have accumulated total sales exceeding 20 million albums and have carved out a lasting musical legacy.

At the beginning, they were just three white guys trying to make rap music – and have fun. The band originally had two other members and the Beastie Boys played primarily Punk Rock, or some variation of it. But they were in New York right at the time when Rap started taking off and they eventually channeled their inner MCs.

In celebration of their recent Hall of Fame triumph, we thought we’d sift through a quarter-century of Beastie madness and salute a handful of their top tracks:

Track: “Cooky Puss”
Album: Some Old Bulls*&% (1983)
Why You Should Listen: In the beginning, there was the turntable. And it was funny. At least it was how the Beasties used it in their ’83 breakthrough single, “Cooky Puss,” a series of prank phone calls overlaid on a Hip Hop beat and mixed with plenty of turntable scratching.

It’s difficult to decide which is more amusing—the goofy sounds of a Steve Martin comedy album being slowed down and stretched on the turntable or the comical rudeness the Beasties display when phoning a local Carvel Ice Cream shop. At first, the Carvel worker mistakenly assumes that the caller wants to order a Cooky Puss ice cream cake. Instead, the Beasties act as if the cake were a real person. “Yo, I said I’m calling you, babeee!” Mike D tells the unlucky worker. “Yo man, Cooky Puss there? I want to speak to Cooky Puss!” (The Carvel worker then hangs up, prompting a hilariously unprintable response from Mike D.)


The early Beastie Boys yukking it up, not long after emerging from the New York club scene with “Cooky Puss.”

Now collected on 1994’s Some Old Bulls*&%, “Cooky Puss” first appeared on an EP with three other songs. As fate would have it, a British Airways TV commercial used a piece of one of the other numbers (“Beastie Revolution”). In what may have been the first lawsuit based on illegal sampling of music, the Beasties successfully sued the airline for $40,000. That sum provided the seed money for the Beastie Boys to rent an apartment in New York’s Chinatown district, where they dug in and worked on mastering the rhythms of Rap and the nuances of Hip Hop. Meanwhile, the group released a series of 12-inch singles which stoked their following within the New York club scene. The Beastie Boys were on their way. And within just a couple of years, they would be world famous.


The inspiration for the Beasties’ first success: Carvel’s “Cooky Puss” ice cream cake.

Track: “Fight for Your Right” (To Party!!!)
Album: Licensed to Ill (1986)
Why You Should Listen: The cover illustration shows the back half of a sleek Beastie Boys jet; the back-cover illustration shows the front half—with the plane crashed right into the side of a mountain. Such humor pervades Licensed to Ill, the first Beastie Boys album and the very first Rap album to shoot to the Number One slot on the Billboard charts (where it remained for five weeks). Furthermore, the album got positive acclaim, even from publications like Rolling Stone, which titled its review, “Three Idiots Create a Masterpiece.”

What made Licensed worthy of becoming the best selling Rap album of the 1980s? For starters, it was brilliantly assembled by Rick Rubin, who is now acknowledged as one of the music industry’s greatest producers. It was also successful in part because people didn’t quite know what to make of it. (Was it a serious Rap album? Was it a novelty comedy record? And why was there Heavy Metal guitar and drums on some numbers?) Furthermore, there was a racial aspect that surrounded the Beastie’s success. At the time, there really were no commercially successful white rappers, although Licensed would inspire legions of white kids to pick up a mic and get their MC on. (One of them was a 14-year-old from Detroit named Marshall Mathers, aka Eminem.)


When Licensed to Ill exploded with sales of 5 million albums, the Beastie Boys became a headlining act.

Aside from great production and an intriguing mix that seems to change its sound with each track, Licensed had attitude—massive, unyielding tons of attitude. And nowhere was that ‘tude louder and prouder than in the classic rock ‘n’ roll anthem, “Fight for Your Right.” Promoted through a hilarious MTV video, “Fight for Your Right” is about a teenager’s defiance of social restrictions and parental authority.

Upon its release the song was already being compared to great previous statements of teenage angst such as Kiss’s “Rock and Roll All Night,” Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” and Cheap Trick’s “Surrender.” Before Licensed, the Beasties had already toured with big acts like Madonna, Run DMC and LL Cool J. After Licensed sold 5 million copies, the Beasties returned to the road as headliners.

In the scandalous tour that followed, there were lawsuits and arrests. At one unhinged 1987 performance in Liverpool, England (the Beatles’ home town), the crowd went completely nuts and a riot ensued…only 10 minutes into the show. The Beastie Boys were now officially a phenomenon.

Track: “B-Boy Bouillabaisse”
Album: Paul’s Boutique (1989)
Why You Should Listen: The term sophomore slump is used in the music business to illustrate what happens to many recording artists who are lucky enough to strike gold with their first album. What do they then do for a follow-up? Few understood this dilemma better than the Beastie Boys. Sure, the group had made a big splash with Licensed to Ill, but was there anything else they could do? The answer would come with 1989’s Paul’s Boutique, one of the strongest and strangest albums that any branch of popular music has ever produced.

Tired of their label (DefJam) and unsure of their next move, the Beasties relocated to Los Angeles in 1988 and hooked up with the Dust Brothers production team. Together they spent 16 months crafting Paul’s Boutique. Now considered one of the touchstones of Rap (as well as a production masterpiece in the same league as The Beach Boy’s Pet Sounds and The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band), Paul’s Boutique was initially considered a failure, largely because it only rose to Number 14 on the Billboard album charts.

The album contained a couple of moderately successful singles (“Hey Ladies” and “Shake Your Rump”), but nothing like its predecessor. And few listeners knew what to make of it, considering that its densely layered sound was like nothing else that existed anywhere in commercial music. And it was a song cycle that contained few (if any) breaks between the tracks, which made it even more difficult to follow along and know which song you were listening to at any point.


One of the most iconic images in Rap music: the cover shot of 1989′s masterpiece, Paul’s Boutique. As you can see, it was a real clothing store in Brooklyn. (The album even contained a brief radio spot for the boutique.)

A wonderland of cultural references, Paul’s Boutique seemed to draw inspiration and samples from everywhere…Rap songs, Rock music, TV shows, movies, whatever…and contained samples from more than one hundred songs (most of which were cleared for use by their copyright holders, to the tune of approximately $250,000). And because it’s the odd Rap album indeed that includes a sample from Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” Paul’s Boutique remains a piece of music that requires numerous repeat listenings in order to untangle all the lyrics and pop references.

Its odd sonic touches remain endearing, such as the brief hillbilly hayride that opens Side 2 (“5-Piece Chicken Dinner”) and the starting seconds of “3-Minute Rule,” when we clearly hear the unmistakable back-and-forth clip-clop of a ping-pong match.

The album closes with “B-Boy Bouillabaise,” a conjoined 12-minute suite of 9 mini-songs which itself contains 24 individual samples. Among the album’s tracks, this may be the best overview of Paul’s Boutique. Like the album, it’s crammed with pop references and showcases the band’s intense creativity and artistic ambition. Before Paul’s Boutique, many considered the Beastie Boys a fluke. Afterward, most critics were in awe of a musical group that could capture a sound this wild and dense. The Beastie Boys were now artists…and Paul’s Boutique would eventually be understood as the group’s magnum opus.

Track: “So What’cha Want”
Album: Check Your Head (1992)
Why You Should Listen: It’s important to remember that the Beasties started out as a Punk/Thrash band before sliding into Rap and Hip Hop. After Paul’s Boutique stiffed, the group was looking for a new direction—so it went backwards. For their next album the band members returned to their roots and started playing their own instruments again…with Mike D pummeling the drums, MCA mastering the bass and Ad-Rock attacking the lead guitar (as he had done in an earlier band named “The Young and the Useless”). Is there a Grunge influence to Check Your Head? Quite possibly, given that this same period saw the meteoric rise of bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. And the playing has a rough edge that was common to Grunge.


By the time the Beasties recorded Check Your Head, the group was playing its own instruments, as it had when just starting out.

Of course, it’s still a Beastie Boys album and that means plenty of Rap along with lots of Rock. The album’s biggest and best single, “So What’cha Want,” seems more like a traditional bragging Rap, wherein the Rapper calls out the weakness of other MCs. Mighty MCA wastes no time putting all chumps in their place: “Well, I’m as cool as a cucumber in a bowl of hot sauce/You’ve got the rhyme and reason but no cause/So if you’re hot to trot, you think you’re slicker than grease/I got news for you crews, you’ll be sucking like a leech.”

Track: “Sabotage”
Album: Ill Communication (1994)
Why You Should Listen: Check Your Head provided the rough blueprint for the Beasties’ next album. Like its predecessor, Ill Communication was part Rap and part Rock, along with a few novelty bits and a couple of instrumentals. And although Check Your Head had broken into the Top Ten, by the time Ill Communication dropped in 1994, the group had amassed a sizeable following—enough for the new album to enter the Billboard Hot 200 chart at Number One. And when ticket sales began for the following year’s tour, few were surprised to find that tickets sold out within only a few minutes.


The action-packed music video for “Sabotage” replicated the opening of a 1970s cop show.

While Ill Communication was well-executed with numerous memorable songs (e.g., “Sure Shot,” “Heart Attack Man”), the album’s stand-out track was a three-minute howl of rage called “Sabotage.” Built around a savage one-chord guitar riff invented in the 70s by Rock wild man Ted Nugent, “Sabotage” is Hard Rock with a Rap lyric. By this point, the Beastie Boys had become so free with their allusions that they weren’t afraid to mention a once-famous Jazz drummer who was known as much for his explosive temper as his skill (“But make no mistake and switch up my channel/I’m Buddy Rich when I fly off the handle”). Of course, few members of the Beasties’ audience would have had any idea who Buddy Rich was…but that’s part of the point with the Beastie Boys. They don’t pander to their audience and never really have.

The Beats Go On…
This past summer, the Beastie Boys returned with the long-anticipated Hot Sauce Committee Part Two album. Despite a cancer scare that had temporarily sidelined Adam Yauch, the group came back strong with another wily mix of sounds that leans more toward the group’s Hip Hop heritage (as did 1998’s Hello Nasty). And through tracks such as “Too Many Rappers (Not Enough MCs),” “Here’s a Little Something For Ya,” and “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win,” the group proved conclusively that despite more than 25 years as a performing and recording unit, the world hasn’t heard the last from the Beastie Boys. Not too bad a legacy for three punks from New York.


From bratty punks to respected studio masters, the Beastie Boys have defied time and expectations.

Making Beats Like the Beasties
The Beastie Boys have long been able to come up with fresh and complex beats, and use those rhythm tracks in interesting ways. Today music production is an elemental part of all forms of mass communication and is used in everything from TV commercials to the latest chart-topping album. If you’re still wanting to learn how to make your own beats and take you rightful place among the next generation of musicians and music producers, why not start now? Music production is a multi-million dollar industry, and music production summer camps like the one sponsored by The John Lennon Educational Tour Bus can get you on your way.

The Music Legends series pays tributes to influential artists, music personalities and styles of music. If you have an artist or type of music you’d like us to showcase, let us know via the comments.

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posted by DMA Jordan in Music Production,News Blog and have No Comments

The Best 9/11 Documentary: Making Sense of Tragedy

Ten years after the tragedy known collectively as “9/11,” people are still unraveling the theories and conspiracies of how a beautiful fall morning was transformed into a modern “day of infamy.”

It was a watershed moment in American history. And although there’s a tendency to lay the blame exclusively with Osama bin Laden (who was indeed the leader of terrorist alliance Al Qaeda), there were many different actors involved in the tragedy. There’s no single documentary that could hold the title of “Best 9/11 Documentary.” On the contrary, there are a number of documentaries and films that help sort out the various criminals and explain the series of events that led up to September 11, 2001:

Inside 9/11 (2006)

The story of 9/11 is long and complicated. So much so that the U.S. governments official explanation, The 9/11 Commission Report (2004), required a 567-page document. This National Geographic presentation provides a complete overview of the themes and events involved. See how the seeds of the 9/11 attacks were sown over the last few decades and how the plan (which contained many moving parts) finally came together. National Geographic’s 280-minute presentation is very comprehensive; it not only touches on all the issues but also raises many questions about subsequent U.S. foreign policy (including our ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan).


Lower Manhattan was rocked by the attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Inside 9/11 shows in detail why the events that transpired on Sept. 11, 2001, were actually set into motion decades earlier. 

A two-disc set, the first DVD sets the stage for 9/11 by going into necessary detail about the various global events that led to al Qaeda’s decision to attack the U.S. mainland. The second disc focuses on the day of September 11, 2001, providing a minute-by-minute cataloging of everything that happened on 9/11 itself. Taken together, this is as complete a video record of what happened as is likely to ever be produced.

Lasting Impression: The 9/11 attacks were both brutally cruel and brilliantly organized. Al Qaeda and the 9/11 terrorists who perpetrated the attacks were the very models of efficiency. They correctly identified vulnerabilities in America’s transportation system and then exploited them to inflict the maximum amount of damage possible.

9/11 (2002)

Two French brothers were staying with the New York firefighters of Engine 7, Ladder 1 and in the process of making a documentary about what a new firefighter experiences during his first year on the job. Suddenly, as one brother was filming a team of firefighters examining a potential gas leak, the hijacked plane from American Airlines Flight 11 flew directly overhead and crashed into the North Tower. From that point on, the brothers (Jules and Gedeon Naudet) found themselves shooting the most significant moment in recent American history. 9/11 gives you a ground-eye view of the mayhem taking place in Lower Manhattan, including the horrible moments when firefighters in the lobby become trapped by falling debris as the South Towers implodes and collapses.


Jules and Gedeon Naudet (holding cameras) were actually in New York to make a documentary film about a rookie firefighter. They got much more than that, including one of the only filmed sequences of the first hijacked plane crashing into the WTC.

The documentary (simply titled “9/11”) earned the Naudet Brothers an Emmy and a Peabody Award for broadcasting excellence. Approximately six months after 9/11, CBS aired the documentary in its entirety (including the uncensored profanity of the firefighters, struggling to deal with a situation that was unlike any ever previously faced). CBS has aired the documentary three times, each time prefacing the film with a brief introduction by actor and native New Yorker, Robert DeNiro.

Lasting Impression: Tough, seasoned NYFD firefighters looking about the WTC lobby nervously as they continue to hear loud explosions all around them—the terrible sounds of people jumping or falling from the Tower’s upper reaches, and crashing through glass ceilings far below.

United 93 (2006)

Named after the 9/11 flight that began with hijacking but ended with heroism, United 93 tells the story of the passengers on the fourth plane. It was being flown to Washington, D.C., but was brought down by the Americans on-board, who understood (from cell phone and air phone calls to the outside world) that their plane was going to be used for a kamikaze mission. Instead of resigning themselves to their sorry fate, the passengers acted with passion and energy and fought to overtake their captors. And while it’s true that the passengers of United 93 were all killed instantly when a cockpit struggle to retake control of the plane resulted in the massive 757 barreling nose-first into an empty field in Shanksville, Penn., the rebellion of passengers on United 93 foiled al Qaeda’s attempt at destroying the U.S. Capitol. It was the only point of pride in a long and terrible morning that witnessed the killing of thousands of Americans.


The cast of United 93 was made up of mostly unknown actors…for a reason.

Paul Greengrass’ United 93 is a powerful and disturbing film, shot like a hybrid of feature film and documentary, where some of the original players involved portray themselves and recreate their actions, while mostly unknown actors play the passengers. (The reason for choosing unknown actors: So the audience wouldn’t be identifying a passenger by previous roles they’ve played, and that the people on the plane would simply look like normal Americans.) The strength of the film is that it sticks to its story and simply lays out the events as they happened.

It is like a documentary in that the film doesn’t provide back-story details about anyone on the plane, such as a standard Hollywood drama might. The film also does an admirable job of showing how many different players were involved in America’s response to the terror that unfolded that beautiful fall morning. Pluckiest of all: FAA National Operations Manager Ben Sliney (here portraying himself), evaluating the information he has and making the fateful call to lock-down America’s entire air space and ground more than 4,000 domestic air flights. It was a decision which cost the airline industry many millions of dollars in lost revenue, and marked the only time in U.S. history when the nation’s entire air space was completely shut down. It was Sliney’s very first day on the job.

Lasting Impression: Even though we know how this story ends, United 93 is gripping and suspenseful. And while the passengers of the first two hijacked planes had reason to hope they were part of a traditional hijacking crime, the informed passengers of United 93 knew better. That these American heroes were able to fight through their fear and band together to resist the terrorist plot is nothing short of inspirational. The film is often uncomfortably tense to watch, but the material is handled expertly and with great sensitivity. It’s difficult to imagine this part of the 9/11 story being told any better. The DVD also contains a behind-the-scenes documentary that shows the surviving relatives of United 93’s passengers meeting the actors and actresses who were portraying their loved ones.

Man on Wire (2008)

It’s been 10 full years since 9/11. Life in America hasn’t been quite the same since 9/11, but it has gone on. Even after enormous tragedies, life must go on. That spirit infuses a recent documentary that immortalizes the Twin Towers without a single mention of what occurred in 2001. Man on Wire takes us back to a slightly happier moment (in August of 1974) when the Towers were still new and recently crowned the tallest buildings on earth.

The majestic and dazzling Twin Towers—which loomed more than a quarter-mile over New York City—drew tourists from all over the world, including one adventurous Frenchman named Philippe Petit. Petit, a trained wire-walker (and juggler and magician) who had pulled off grand stunts at Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral and the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia, became fascinated with the idea of stretching a tight wire between the Twin Towers and walking at cloud-level across the 200-foot chasm that existed between the buildings.

Petit realized that he would never receive permission to attempt such a fool-hardy stunt, so he assembled a team of like-minded helpers. Together, through a plot that plays like a caper film, Petit and his accomplices smuggled a half-ton of wire equipment to the building’s top floor, then (during the middle of the night, when the WTC was deserted) assembled the different parts to create the wire.


That first step is a doozy: The tight-wire walker’s long look downward through the clouds, as he began his famous journey across.

The next morning, Petit carefully but confidently stepped on that wire (which was only ¾-inch thick) and started walking. After a few scary moments (“Death was very near,” he recalls), Petit mastered the wire and suddenly was filled with an inner peace. Not only did he make the full pass between the Towers, he repeated the trip seven more times. He walked on the wire, and at times he kind of danced on it, too. He also dropped to one knee at one point; saluted the crowd of onlookers far, far below; laid down on his back on the wire; and even sat down on the wire and stared straight down at the amazed watchers 1,300 feet beneath him.

He only agreed to come in from the wire after 45 minutes because NYPD helicopter cops were threatening to pluck him off the wire (a rescue move that would probably have blown Petit off the wire and to his certain death). Why did he do it? Petit laughs about the question he was asked repeatedly by cops and reporters. “Such an American question,” he chuckles. Nor does he explain why, immediately after being arrested for his high-wire act, he decided to (successfully) pick-pocket the watch of the arresting officer. Call it an encore.

Lasting Impression: A movie that radiates a certain joy, Man on Wire is about one man’s attempt to use his skill to conquer the Towers, not destroy them with explosives. With its simple but beautiful piano score, set against the images of the Twin Towers in all their sky-scraping glory, Man on Wire has a healing effect.

Telling Your Story: Learning Documentary Filmmaking 
The documentary film medium is enormously powerful. When it comes to telling an emotionally wrenching story, such as 9/11, only a narrative film rivals the ability. Some would agree that reality is never beaten by fiction. Now, thanks to digital cameras and desktop video-editing solutions like Final Cut Pro X, the world of film is now open to any aspiring filmmaker with vision and imagination. If you’re considering becoming a filmmaker or even changing your career, get film instruction from industry professionals and you’ll be introduced to the mechanics involved in making movies and get up to speed on state-of-the-art editing software. Whether you’re interested in reflecting modern history or shaping film history, there’s never been a better time to unlock the filmmaker within you.

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posted by DMA Jordan in Digital Filmmaking,News Blog and have No Comments

Memories of the Twin Towers, World Trade Center and the Debut of the Sega Genesis

It’s hard for me to fathom — it’s been 22 years since I flew to New York City to cover the debut of the Sega Genesis video game system.

I had just started working for a magazine publisher based in Greensboro, N.C., developing and producing an entire line of instructional videogame tapes as an addition to the company’s line of video game and computer magazine business. Back then, when you talked about home video game machines, the original Nintendo Entertainment System ruled the roost, but it wouldn’t for long. Suddenly, Japanese arcade giant Sega was now challenging Mario with its new 16-bit Genesis system. The Genesis and its 16-bit processor bested the NES in almost every way: More realistic and fluid graphics, and action that more closely emulated arcades of the day.


The first shot in the 16-bit wars was fired when Sega openly challenged Nintendo with its 16-bit Sega Genesis video game system. 

On Assignment in NYC
The year was 1989. Another editor and I were sent to cover the Sega press conference that would announce the Genesis Entertainment System to the world. We flew up late on a weekday afternoon—August  13th, to be exact— in order to get some sleep the night before and be on time for the media event the next morning. On the flight up, I read about the sequel to Ghostbusters in the latest issue of Rolling Stone. Like the first film, this new movie would be set in New York…the very place I was heading. Before I knew it, my travel companion and I were pulling into the gates at LaGuardia and catching a cab into town.


Who you gonna call? The Ghostbusters on a June 1989 cover of  Rolling Stone.  

It takes a while to get to Lower Manhattan from the airport but it’s a great cab ride. As you get closer to the metropolis, the city looms ahead on the distance at first, before consuming your entire field of vision. And suddenly, you’re there…in New York City—the most vibrant city on earth.

Taking a Bite Out of the Big Apple
We were staying in Lower Manhattan for the launch event. In fact, we were staying in one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.

The Towers were cities unto themselves, each full of both businesses and offices. We stayed in one of the Tower’s hotel chains (Hilton, maybe? Radisson?). After checking in, we were escorted by a bellman to rooms about 50 stories up, approximately half way up the massive Tower. The accommodations were first class.


Remember them as they were: the magnificent Twin Towers of the World Trade Center rose more than a quarter-mile into the sky, and were, at one time, the tallest buildings on earth.

There were a number of restaurants in the Tower; we found a spot and ate dinner. Later that night, I woke up and went to the window. I just stood there staring out at Lower Manhattan. My eyes scanned the upward reaches of the Tower and I remember feeling like I was inside of a mountain of steel and glass. I felt safe. I couldn’t envision any force strong enough to bring these Towers down. But that was 22 years ago.

Inside the Box
The next morning was like most for New York; a moderately sunny day. As I looked up I saw the huge skyscrapers partially blocking the sun’s light, giving the city a kind of a gray tint that suited it perfectly.

Following breakfast, we headed over to the press event. The event was being held at the old U.S. Customs House, a grand old building with giant columns that had stood since 1907. In 1976, the building was declared a National Historic Landmark. During our brief walk northward from the WTC, we passed the intersection with Wall Street. Up the street were various financial buildings and the famous stock exchange. You could almost smell the money. Once inside the U.S. Customs House, we were handed press kits within day-glo green folders. There were various crates placed around the enormous hall.

 
The U.S. Customs House in New York City has been around since the early 20th Century. This is where Sega unveiled the Genesis to the press.

After a few minutes, a Sega spokesman welcomed the press to the unveiling of the Sega Genesis. Then the crates were then lifted to reveal the various gaming stations, along with a larger visual display near the front of the hall. Almost instantly, Sega staffers sat down at the various stations and started up the demos. My co-worker and I toured the exhibits, taking the random invitation to play a game as we walked around. Loud techno music was pumped through the building.

At that time, the system had not yet discovered its Mario. That would happen in 1991, with the debut of Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic would go on to become the console’s biggest franchise. Instead we played a near-perfect arcade conversion of Altered Beast and Golden Axe. The visuals looked superior to anything on the NES. The controller was more rounded and felt more ergonomic than the rectangular NES control pad. And the console and controller were manufactured of cool and edgy black plastic (instead of the gray, red and black color scheme of the NES). From the beginning, Sega was trying to distance its console from the NES.


Golden Axe was one of the first Sega Genesis games when the system debuted in 1989. It would be another two years before Sonic the Hedgehog would become the signature character identified with that game system. 

The rest of the press event was fairly routine, and before long we were crazily trying to find a cab and our way out of the city.

A couple of years later, I was again sent to New York for business. While walking the streets of Manhattan, up from Time Square to my meeting, I saw a street vendor selling a black t-shirt. On the front, the famous New York City skyline. In front of the skyline was a grinning human skull. The shirt read, “New York City: Where the Weak are Killed and Eaten.” It takes a certain New York sensibility to appreciate why that shirt is so funny. I didn’t purchase the shirt at the time, and I’ve been kicking myself ever since.

Lucky Town
New York’s always been lucky for me. Twelve years before the 1989 press event, I had made my first trip to Manhattan. As a boy I had been fascinated with New York City. I drew the famous skyline endlessly. My parents took me there in April 1977 for a long weekend of sightseeing. Within two hours of arriving at our hotel near Times Square, I had met my boyhood hero, Stan Lee, resident genius of Marvel Comics and creator of icons like the Amazing Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, Thor, the X-Men, and so forth. My father and I caught Stan the Man as he stepped off the elevator after returning to Marvel’s Madison Avenue offices from lunch. I’ve still got his autograph, and another from another famous celebrity.


Andy Warhol used to carry copies of his celebrity magazine Interview to give out to people he’d meet. He autographed this copy of the April 1977 issue and handed it to me on Madison Avenue in New York City. (His signature runs up the left side.)

A half hour before meeting Stan Lee, my Dad and I were walking up Madison Avenue. We passed a celebrity I recognized immediately. We flagged the guy down and spoke to him for about five minutes. It was famous pop artist and professional celebrity-watcher Andy Warhol (the guy who said, “In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.”) Andy, the ultimate celebrity insider, turned out to be a real nice guy. He asked about the weather back in North Carolina. I asked him for an autograph and started reaching for the hotel stationery I had in my pocket. But Andy beat me to the punch, taking the copy of his tabloid newspaper/magazine (called Interview) and signing it up the side. The magazine cover he handed me, now framed,  still hangs on my wall.

The View of a Lifetime
On that first trip to New York, I went up to the top floor of one of the Twin Towers. The lobby inside the Tower was expansive and that’s where you bought tickets to go up to the top floor or roof. (On non-windy days, they let visitors up on the roof, but we were there on a breezy day.) The elevator ride to the top took a while, and involved one elevator change.

Once on the 110th floor, we slowly walked around the perimeter of the building, looking out from all possible angles. It’s difficult to adequately describe how lofty the view from the top of the WTC was, but this should give you some idea: It was so high up that you could see into four different states from the top floor. At one point, I got close to the edge of the glass and ventured a look straight down – more than a quarter-mile straight down into the abyss. It was so severely high up that you couldn’t look straight down more than a couple of seconds without inducing vertigo. You felt like you were in the clouds, and indeed you were. You were so high up that when hard winds blew, you could feel the Tower move a little. Being there was always an unforgettable experience. I am so lucky to have experienced that.


From the lofty top floor of the Twin Towers, you could see into four different states.

A dozen years later, I would spend one more night in one of the Twin Towers. A dozen years after that, the Towers would be brought down in the worst attack on the U.S. since World War II. At that time, I was editing a magazine for firefighters. One of our writer/photographers was brought into Ground Zero on the night of 9/11. He spent all night touring the destruction at the WTC. He shot 15 rolls of film – all that he had – and was scrounging film from other photographers. Every view was historic.

Now I try not to remember the destruction of the Twin Towers. For me they remain proud and tall, rising to amazing proportions out of the depths of Lower Manhattan. And if I need any help remembering the electric charge I felt just from being there, I go look at a poster I purchased in the lobby of the WTC, all those many years ago. It shows a rounded, fish-eye perspective view of the Twin Towers looming over Lower Manhattan. Beneath the photo, huge type reads, “The Observation Deck at the World Trade Center.” Above the  photo, in even larger type, the poster reads: ”

IT’S HARD TO BE DOWN WHEN YOU’RE UP. 

Without a doubt, it was the view of a lifetime.

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posted by DMA Jordan in News Blog,Video Game Design and have No Comments