The older I get, the more I feel like an alien who doesn’t get the concept of Christmas at all. Don’t get me wrong — I like basically anything that lights up, and I think we should all try a little harder to be nice to other people. But what is up with this mythological mish-mash of elves and biolumenescent caribou celebrated by christians on the date of a Roman pagan festival? Why is there an old man with time-travel powers putting lumps of coal into wooden shoes and breaking into my house to shove candy canes in my socks in the middle of the night? What does any of it mean?!
Well, now there is a song made by aliens just for me and everyone else who feels like I do — and it totally rocks.
This holiday masterpiece was composed and performed by the legendary Old 97’s who have been rocking out for thirty years and spent three hours getting made up like aliens, with lyric from James Gunn who directed this Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special that is available for streaming on Disney+.
My most idyllic holiday memory, other than reading comic books from Gramma’s garage, is of curling up inside a fuzzy blanket or afghan my grandmother crocheted, staring at the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree, and listening to music. I felt warm, safe, and peaceful, and the music and lights together were magic.
My family was far from wealthy, but we had a bomb-ass stereo system. When Dad worked as a manager for Radio Shack, he put stereo equipment on layaway—which somehow made it less expensive—and applied his manager discount to it.
The resulting tuner, tape decks, graphic equalizer, and speakers in our living room—complete with a pair of stupendous headphones for private listening and eardrum damage—were one of the great joys of my childhood. During summers, snow days, or any other day my sister and I had “off” as kids while Dad was working, we danced around the living room like maniacs to the radio or cassette tapes. Looking back now, I guess Dad copied a lot of the tapes on a cassette deck at work. We also had a dual-cassette deck at home, wired to the receiver, so my sister and I could record songs from the radio any time we wanted—or even combine them into mix tapes!
Yes, it was a time of lawless piracy. My sister and I caused the collapse of the music industry. It was us. Us, and our bad-ass tape deck in the living room.
I don’t know how Mom put up with us. She might have been happy we were entertaining ourselves instead of fighting or pestering her. I don’t doubt my sister and I were a handful. I nearly electrocuted myself, set the house on fire, broke the car, got in trouble at school, and would talk at Mom so much that she would have to tell me to shut up so my sister could learn to talk, too! My dancing on the couch was the least of Mom’s worries.
I will not incriminate my sister in any other childhood crimes, especially because many of them were my ideas in the first place. Like when I was seven and she was five, and I cut her hair in the backyard when my parents weren’t paying attention. It… did not turn out well. That one’s on me!
But one day, at the end of her wits with my sister, Mom blurted out, “You’re as dumb as your brother!” It became one of my family’s longest-running jokes. So, maybe we were better off indoors listening to the radio under closer supervision.
My sister recalls that when no one else was home, she sometimes cranked up the stereo and sang to the wall like she had a concert audience. I recall that Mom and Dad used to go on “dates” to a store called Central Hardware, which was probably code for “Let’s get out of this house for an hour before our children drive us insane!” I loved my parent’s date nights, because I could crank up the stereo speakers and ROCK OUT. I would play shit so loud that when Mom and Dad pulled into the driveway, they heard the music from inside the car.
I still love listening to music at an unreasonable volume. Granted, the music has changed over the years. In the mid-80s, my family wasn’t listening to John Coltrane’s Interstellar Space or BongRipper’s Satan Worshipping Doom. In fact, the songs I most associate with my dreamy, twinkling holiday light memories are a ridiculous number about how farm animals talk, and a minor-key ballad called “Fum, Fum, Fum” on the same album.
Besides music on a cold winter’s night that was so deep, my other favorite holiday entertainment was trying to discover my presents. One December, after my parents left the house for Central Hardware, I convinced my sister to take part in my evil schemes and swore her to secrecy. Under the tree, armed with a sharp blade and Scotch tape, I sliced open the tape on the wrapping paper on our presents so we could see what they were. The most noteworthy gifts were a pair of phones, which I taped back together with meticulous precision.
The laugh was on me. On Christmas morning, we discovered my sister and I weren’t just getting two phones. We got our own phone line! In the mid-80s, that was a big deal.
Over the years, I spoiled many surprises and became adept at re-wrapping opened presents. My parents lied to me about Santa, and I lied about being surprised about what Santa brought me. I figure we’re even! But the gift I most treasure spoiling came to me in the year when my entire wish list consisted of issues of the comic book Nexus, from which this blog takes its name.
I’d read many Nexus issues thanks to my high school pal Brian who was also my gateway to punk rock, but I didn’t own many of them. So, I made a wish list, and I imagine it was related to Mile High Comics, which became a large mail-order back-issue distributor in the 80s and ran ads in my favorite Marvel books.
Cue another December and a night when I had the house to myself. I snooped everywhere! At last, I found Nexus in a nondescript cardboard box on the back of the upper shelf of the closet in the room my father used as his library and ham radio shack.
I READ THEM ALL. But not at once. My parents never left the house long enough to read all the first fifty issues of Nexus. Over the course of a month, I stole every spare unattended moment to pull a few issues from that box. I read them under my blankets or behind other books, keeping them out of sight until the next time my parents left, when I could put the comics back in their not-so-secret place and get the next few issues.
Maybe I was a horrid child for spoiling the magic of Christmas. But no holiday gift ever brought me as much joy as those illicitly obtained copies of Nexus, and when the day came to officially open them, I could not have been happier to add them to my collection.
Due to the vicissitudes of fortune, I have been separated and reunited with Nexus several times. Every time I read the series, I love it more. But I’ll never forget the thrill of reading Nexus when it was forbidden, when I wasn’t even supposed to know it was in the house. The stolen moments I had with it were intensified by knowing I would soon need to hide it—and quickly.
Speaking of hiding and the holidays, today’s final exhibit is a vintage raccoon radio from Radio Shack. I named mine “Raccy”, ponounced RAK-EE in case you are from Italy or something. Or Racky, if you are from Indiana.
Raccy was my boy. Even before I hit puberty and began a life of totally abnormal sleep patterns, I liked to stay up late. I cuddled under the blankets with Raccy and listened to the radio implanted in his torso. He was basically a cyborg with a black, box-shaped radio inside, and the station tuner and volume knob were his cyborg nipples.
At that age, I didn’t think of myself as a nipple-tweaking animal rights violator who might be crossing the lines of acceptable cybernetic and interspecies relationships. Truth be told, sometimes Raccy was the only person I had to talk to. Most holidays, he was the only one who would stay up with me until midnight and beyond. He snuggled with me in the car on the way home from church-related holiday gatherings after dark. He got tucked in with me. He hung out after everyone else had gone to bed, so long as I listened to him quietly under the blankets.
I’ve stayed up until midnight to welcome the New Year many times, but the first time I remember doing it was with Raccy. It was just me and him, listening to pop songs as the countdown grew ever closer, wondering if we could stay awake long enough.
More than once, we did.
And on that note, enjoy a musical holiday season and have a happy New Year!
Every geek has their own secret origin, a time when the world of comic books magically came to life for them. I’ve never changed into a costume in a phone booth or elevator, but I did transform into a mutant in a garage many times during my childhood vacations.
My family lived in rural Missouri for many years. My parents’ families mostly lived in small-town Ohio back then. In most Decembers of my pre-adolescent years, Mom, Dad, Sister, and I packed our bags to drive roughly ten hours north and spend Christmas with the families.
Mom’s parents had a detached garage off their modest but cozy three-bedroom house. The backyard had trees, a bench swing, a small garden, a clothesline. To get to the garage, I walked along square, concrete tiles with black pebbles in the spaces between. A waist-high chain-link fence separated the small path from the driveway. A wooden door opened into the darkness of the garage, which at that time of year was always cold. When the moon was up or the back porch light was on, I saw my breath.
The garage possessed a unique scent. Grampa smoked cigarettes in there and framed pictures at his work bench. Dust, sawdust, stale cigarette smoke, and mold. Dampness, but frozen. It’s not the bouquet you might associate with happiness, twenty-five years later–unless you were there with me to turn on the dim light, squeeze between the cars, and approach the ramshackle shelves on the far wall. Those shelves held every comic book my grandparents had purchased for their four children from the 1950s through the 1970s, and some that Gramma still liked to follow in the 1980s, like Conan, Dr. Strange, and Mike Grell’s Warlord. She always called them “funny books”, whether they were funny or serious.
Every year I dug out a new section of the stacks–hundreds, maybe thousands of books. Some years, I excavated completely unknown buried treasures. Some years, I found an issue I’d read before: a copy of World’s Finest #147 featuring Superman and Batman, or Tales of Suspense featuring Thor, Iron Man, or the Human Torch. With a year between visits to Ohio, it was like meeting an old friend. Early issues of X-men and Spider-man sat under so much dust and time and disuse that I sometimes got sick. I had pretty bad allergies to dust and mold at that age but zero qualms about risking my health to read those books. I would take an armful back inside the warm house, find a comfy spot to curl up, and be absorbed for hours. If the adults wanted to stay up late and play Euchre at the kitchen table, I might even make two or three trips to the garage.
Some of those books wouldn’t interest me now as an adult reader, but many have stood the test of time or have such intense nostalgia value that they’ve appeared on this blog. I regret that I wasn’t able to buy the collection when it was sold in the 1990s. Despite the books not being in great shape after decades of exposure to the elements, even a collection of Fair to VG+ vintage comics is a wonder to behold.
Those books took my mind on so many adventures and fantasies as a kid, and you can’t really put a dollar figure on fuel for your imagination. But these days, if the nostalgia becomes too acute, I can find most of them at MyComicShop.