The theoretically still-upcoming and terminally ill-fated Broadway musical disaster porn Spider-Man:Turn Off The Dark has taken on the comic proportions of a Max Bialystock production, particularly as no sign has yet been given that they’re going to call it off. One imagines Bono and Julie Taymor are probably creeping through the theatre’s basement with sticks of dynamite cradled in their arms, amazed that no one’s called their bluff before now.
Of course, way-y-y-y back in 1975, Marvel (and Lifesong Records, a company which couldn’t sound more like a front for the kind of skeevy cult you’d find on episodes of The Streets of San Francisco or ChiPs if it had a permed guru in a white dashiki and Italian sunglasses talking to the cops at poolside), there was Spider-Man: Rock Reflections of a Super-Hero! An admittedly impressive – if inordinately obnoxious – rock opera based around the life and hardships of Peter Parker, narrated in intervals by Stan Lee and featuring the musical stylings of the Marvel Universe, if the flipside of the album art was to be believed (I bet The Falcon rocks the handclap. I seriously bet he does).
|The irony is that if he did|
this while he was flying,
he'd fall to his death.
As for the album itself, it’s twelve(ish) tracks of original songs recounting in what certainly feels like painstaking detail the origin and general big-event storylines of Spider-Man.
In-between the tracks, Stan “The Man” himself tacks on handy narration in a surprisingly deliberate and clearly enunciated tone so very unlike every other narration, interview or audio track I ever heard the guy put together. He’s enunciating so clearly and speaking so deliberately that, after the second or third narration track, you can’t help but suspect that he’s being held captive somewhere and is sending coded messages through the dialogue tracks. Let’s see, if we take the first letter of every stressed word from alternate sentences, and omit proper names whenever Stan rattles his gold-link necklace ... yes, I think Stan’s telling us the cross-streets near the building where his kidnappers have taken him! Let’s roll, team!
|"But Mom, all the other|
Gods are outside playing
stickball! Why do I have to
stay inside and practice?"
The songs are performed in a variety of styles, starting with "High Wire" - a celebration of web-swinging and definite gender assignment (chorus lyric: “I’m a man – I’m a Spi-i-i-i-i-ider-Ma-a-a-a-n!!”), the intro of which sure keeps you guessing. There’s a touch of Diamond Dog-era Bowie, but then there’s some classic R&B-influenced guitar, so maybe there’s a dash of Jeff Lynne and ELO? But wait, maybe it’s a little more … yeah, Meat Loaf. This could be Meat Loaf. Except the singer sounds like Neil Diamond. ANYWAY THERE’S YOUR FIRST TRACK.
|He's actually quite skilled,|
but it was still a mistake to
have let him play a drum
memorial at Captain Mar-
Vell's funeral ...
From there, it’s an upbeat and peppy “New Point of View” with the Sears-bought synthesizer set to “reggae” and the songwriting tuned to “primetime Gabe Kaplan vehicle theme song” (Here’s a second one for free: It sounds like the Starlight Vocal Band haunted by ghosts). Then comes the eponymous “Spider-Man” (which starts with a Who-like riff and makes the most advantage of the lead vocalist’s Neil Diamondesque qualities by sounding exactly like a Neil Diamond song), and “No One’s Got a Crush on Peter”, which has a bit of a Wild Cherry sound to it BUT keep in mind, too, that the backup singers who carry this piece are supposed to be the Fantastic Four. The Seventies were a goddamn mess.
|Surprisingly, Ben Grimm is|
Following “Count on Me”, which sounds like the Partridge Family, frankly, we get to the first song dedicated to Spidey’s impressive rogues gallery: “Dr.Octopus Pt 1” and “Dr.Octopus Pt2”.
|You might remember his|
book, "Power Man and
Now, the thing with this musical is that, however trite and reedy some of the songs were, everything the villains sang was pure gold. The villainous genius Dr.Sedgwick sings “Revenge”, a delightfully funny song of exceptional value to anyone who cares to remember the billing order of all the Nobel Prizes given out for science in a particular decade. Gossip columnist Max Mencken attempts to seduce Lois Lane with a nihilistic ballad about man’s existential irrelevance in “We Don’t Matter”, while the pair of them team up for the very catchy “You’ve Got What I Need” ode to evil bromance. On top of this, there’s salacious secretary Sydney (played originally by Linda Lavin) trying to steal Superman away in his identity of Clark with “Possibilities”, a song which has had legs outside of the musical.
So where I’m going with this is that – no matter how bad the hero’s musical material – you should expect that the villains might have the GOOD parts, the songs that really rock. THIS IS NOT WHAT HAPPENS WITH DOCTOR OCTOPUS, because he instead gets a very weird, bombastic version of The Who’s Tommy with maybe the most obnoxious chorus in musical history:
“We love Doctor Octo-
Doctor Oc – To - PUS!”
(repeat til dead)
|"...And to hear the |
lamentations of their cellos."
The coda to Doc’s braggadocious rap is this series of threats offered to the world of super-herodom:
"Captain America, The Avengers, you will fall at my feet, you will all surrender /
Fantastic Four, and you, the Hulk, you’re gonna cry like a baby and you’re gonna sulk /
Power Man, and you Silver Surfer, you messed with me long enough and I’m gonna hurt ya /
Thor, Black Panther, I’m gonna turn you all into go go dancers"
He says something after that, but I can’t make it out (anyone?), but also I don’t care because I’ll still smarting that he rhymed “Surfer” with “Hurt Ya”.
Anyway, following that is “Green Goblin”, a narrative piece spoken over music and a song I hope to have played at my funeral, then two forgettable outros in the form of “A Soldier Starts To Bleed” and “Time Will Show Me The Way”, and what I hope you take away from this article is that while Turn Off The Dark is going to be a mega-disaster, I sure hope you take a moment to realize that it’s not like it’s gonna be the first bad Spider-Man musical. Now. What do we have to do to get Adam Warrock to cover this album?
|"AHHH! THE MIC IS LIVE!!! AHHH!"|
By the way: I don't know why I never thought of doing this before, but if you'd like to share the pain and also contribute back to this site a little bit, you can download a digital copy of Rock Reflections of a Super-Hero from Amazon here, or order a real honest-to-goodness CD here. Proceeds go to my subsequent therapy.