The Brief 2016 Beat-Down: or, Blowing Up the Death Star and Blasting On to a Better Year, Yeah?

We need to blow this thing up and fly on.

Yes, indeed. In my mind – a mind that seems to comprehend everything through Star Wars analogies – 2016 is the Death Star and so I’ve come back at the climax to fire some farewell shots to set-up the spectacular finale where we destroy the big gloomy grey sphere o’doom and swoop off into a starry future full of hope. (Woohoo!)

So here we are primed for the finale and here I am, back out of nowhere (Hyperspace) after going missing for a while. (Sorry about that. I’ve been busy, y’know?) I’m Han Solo/James Clayton, it’s the end of the year and we’ve all had enough of 2016 so let’s be done with it and get on with 2017. In (very) brief, here’s my beat-down of the year that’s been this year, and the year that hasn’t been this year. (I really liked the year that wasn’t. Can we go back and have that instead?) After a cursory glance over some photos, I reckon that this is the image that encapsulates 2016 best…

Ruins, rumination...

Ruins, rumination…

Yeah, I’m feeling that (and as a big believer in ‘Show, don’t tell‘, I won’t write an essay explaining why this particular photo of me moping in Pompeii is the perfect summary of 2016). In total, 2016 has been, erm, ‘interesting’. To paraphrase the lady who works in the Asda down the road and who’s convinced that she’s the re-incarnation of Charles Dickens: “It were, like, sometimes like the best a’times, weren’t it? But then it were like, y’know, the vurry worst, in’tit y’know?

She’s right (about 2016, not about being the re-incarnation of Charles Dickens) but because I’m sick of dwelling on the dark, depressing, disappointing and just-too-damn-deathly I’m going to focus on the fun bits. Thus, [INSERT YOUR OWN END OF YEAR ROUND-UP OF POLITICAL AFFAIRS AND CELEBRITY OBITUARIES, ‘CAUSE I CAN’T DO THAT CRAP ANY MORE AND I HAVE NO DESIRE TO NOW… *single tear*]

First up, the personal stuff: over the course of 2016 I’ve taught a lot of English lessons, doodled many doodles, had a number of adventures and misadventures, geeked out on some great culture and not written as much as I’d have liked to. I’ve shared good times and bad times and rad times with ace old friends and excellent new friends. Lots of learning. Lots of experiences. Lots of stuff that is worth talking about, reflecting on and sharing with people. In total, I guess that means that the year can’t just be dismissed as a bad one to write out of the history books.

I’ve been places this year (geographically, I mean). I returned to Milan at the beginning of the year and enjoyed it afresh for a couple of months. Moreover, I explored Italy further this year and highlights include falling in love with all the creatures in Genoa’s aquarium (awww, the manatees!) and with Naples and its surrounding historical wonders (see photo above).

Later on I had a fantastical time in Prague with my bro, my dad, the Golem and Franz Kafka’s nightmares. Moving on to summer school work, the Surrey countryside and weekends hanging around in London were lovely and then I got to autumn when I completely upped sticks and moved to live and work in Bologna. Bologna is beautiful and now, at the end of the year, I find myself in Italy again – teaching at a superb language school and based in a city that, in so many ways, is brilliant. I’ll write at length about Bologna in the future. (Yes I will. I promise.)

As for cultural stuff, shout out to all the art galleries and museums I’ve popped into this year; thanks for blowing my mind. Shout out and thanks as well to Welcome to Night Vale (now 100 episodes weird!) and the Bruce Lee Podcast for stretching my mind and accompanying me on all these long walks I keep on taking. (Why? Because Bruce Lee once said: “Walk on…“) Musically, this year my favourite fresh things have been Babymetal, Weezer’s White Album and Square Hammer by Ghost (which I believe is one of the greatest rock songs of all time, for the record).

The vast majority of new movies I’ve managed to see have been terrific and my top five flicks of 2016 would be: Kubo and the Two Strings; Captain America: Civil War; Tale of Tales; The Revenant; and, of course, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It always comes back to Star Wars, and that brings me back to blowing up the Death Star and hurtling on into 2017. Right now – with a slightly fatalistic head on – as I face up to Reality and the challenges ahead I feel that my spirit animal is a bizarre amalgamation of all the lead Rebels in Rogue One. (In other words, in my mind I’m running around a cruel and ruined galaxy, fighting for impossible causes and I know I’m going to die but I know that I am one with the Force and the Force is with me and it’s all fantastically cinematic so I don’t give a crap.)

More optimistically, I’m psyched for 2017. I’m resolved to do even better and have some fun. I’ve got fresh inspiration and motivation to create things and I’ll be blasting ’em out as a work ’em out. (Yes I will. I promise.) I’ve got a very, very long New Year’s Resolution list but I won’t bore you with that. Ultimately, it’s all about positive energy and enthusiasm, essential humanity, creative action and love. It doesn’t matter if that sounds simplistic and vague – love is easy and it’s blatantly clear to me that, after 2016, we need to go forward with more love.

Let’s go do that then. Now I’m going to blow up a Death Star ’cause it was just too doomy and hug a Wookiee. So long, 2016. Here’s to 2017…

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2015: A Brief Blast Back Through the Year Fantastical…

2015: thanks and ta-ra to the Year Fantastic…

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2015! Whoa! Yeah, that happened. Way back on New Year’s Day I doodled up a unicorn and, with a hopeful spirit, hailed 2015 as the ‘Year Fantastical’. Turns out that it lived up to that title and then some. From my perspective, it’s been a pretty damn fantastic and quite incredible year.

So much happened in 2015 and I feel like I’ve done a lot, experienced a lot and learned a lot. Come the end point where we get all reflective and retrospective (it’s customary and inevitable) I’m struck by how ‘big’ and full of stuff this year seems. I’ve got so many memories of moments streaming through my mind and from all of them flow a multitude of thoughts and feelings. Some people say that I think and feel too much (tsk and hush, you people!) but, hey, I can be no other way. Plus, thinking and feeling are what make us human beings and what make us realise that we’re alive. The alternative is living on autopilot and if you’re living on autopilot you’re probably not engaging with life and consciously appreciating it. Hey! Life! Existence! Appreciate it!

So then, here I am thinking and feeling over 2015 and appreciating it before we say ta-ra. It’s been a year in which I thought and felt a lot. I smiled a lot. I cried a lot. (It was the death of Spock, the Norwegian Eurovision entry and Inside Out) I had triumphs and I also had some disappointments, but the good stuff far outweighs the bad bits. I’ll focus on the good in this brief personal look-back, ’cause there’s no point me dwelling on the crappy and/or grave bits here. (Though I will give a shout-out to several late, great cultural icons and my all-time favourite t-shirt which is lost somewhere in Italy. *sighs* I miss ’em all.)

Off the top of my head, here are some of the things I did and experienced that made 2015 genuinely awesome (as in they inspired awe and made me go “awwww!” or “awwww yeah!“): I got a tattoo; I levelled up as an English teacher by passing a CELTA course; I got to explore Dublin and Zürich among several other culture vulture trips; I took a train ride through the Swiss Alps; I saw what’s left of the Magna Carta; I got to enjoy la dolce vita over and over in bella Italia in places familiar and new (including Verona, Padova, Venice, hitherto unexplored sections of the Liguria coast and Emilia-Romagna to name a few); I went to the opera and enjoyed that experience in Verona’s ancient Roman arena; I became a hero to a whole new set of Italian children in Milano, Torino and the countryside near Padova; I composed the summer hit single that was ‘Pineapple Hands‘ and that became a minor cult phenomenon; I gave ‘Free Hugs’ on Valentine’s Day in the world’s most beautiful shopping arcade; I witnessed Italy’s biggest food fight – the all-out insanity that is Ivrea’s Battle of the Oranges.

I like this photo as an image to encapsulate the beauty, adventure and feeling of 2015...

Yeah, this photo sort of encapsulates the feeling and adventure flowing through 2015…

Throughout, I doodled like a demon and have spent most of the year with inky fingers. I also wrote some pretty good stuff and had a lot of fun working away at various creative projects. Daredevil , WiiU videogames and hanging with my family made home downtime a good time when I wasn’t off on (mis)adventures. Otherwise – turning to ‘important stuff’ and current affairs for a second – in spite of it all, there were progressive political and social moments in 2015 that gave me hope. The same goes for technology and science (there’s water on Mars!) and, sportswise,  I’ve been enjoying the Boston Celtics’ continued upward trajectory towards contender status.

Sonically speaking, my soundtrack to 2015 was mostly Dinosaur Pile-Up and Ghost and they gave me immense live shows to experience and brilliant new albums to crank to death. As for films, there have been so many superb movies released this year but my two favourites of 2015 were Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Mad Max: Fury Road. They beat all the rest for spiritual reasons, sentimental reasons and because they are stand-out supreme imaginative visions and masterpieces of cinematic storytelling.

I decided to close the year in suitable style by watching The Force Awakens again and that makes me even happier as I head into the future. Having had my nice nostalgia moment I’m now going to close this self-indulgent rear-view-mirror ramble. First though, before I hurl myself heart and soul into 2016, I’d like to hail all the human beings who shared the experiences and really made 2015 something special. I had a blast with both old friends and new friends this year and I’m grateful for all the energy, the companionship, the generosity and the niceness that people have directed my way over the past twelve months. It means a lot and I truly appreciate it. High-fives, hugs and ‘awww yeah!’s to everyone.

So, that was 2015 then, and thank you 2015. I say it’s high time we hit the New Year and moved on to the fresh adventures and experiences lying ahead in 2016. Awww yeah. I’m excited…

Heart…

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2014: Cue the Upbeat, Uptempo Montage Moving Through My Year Gone Past…

It’s the end of the year! So there! Yeah! 2014, then -. thanks, ta-ra. Aww, but I feel like it wouldn’t be the right thing to just skip on into the shiny/shitty future without noting its passing and pondering a (short, very short) moment on the past twelve months. I don’t really want to dwell on things and get caught up in zeitgeist ectoplasm and retrospective navel-gazing so I’m going to fly through it in an upbeat, uptempo montage. Cue the montage…

*OOGA-CHAKA, OOGA OOGA. OOGA-CHAKA, OOGA OOGA…*

(… and I’ve filmed everything in Dutch angles so we’re all anxious and on edge, ’cause this is the age of being-on-edge and anxiety…)

Hey! I am James Clayton and I am moving through space-and-time-and-emotions-and-ideas. Pleasure, pain, ups, downs, upside-downs, down-upsides, maybe-sideways. Uncertainty, near-certainty, false-certainty. Something of nothings and nothings that might actually be something. Ambiguity and ambivalence. No, I don’t know. Really, I’m very lost and reckon (hope?) that time and, in fact, the entirety of existence is an illusion. Even so, conventional time-comprehension and the calendar says that we’ve been going through 2014. What happened? The following things happened, in no particular order. (A lot of current affairs and huge real-world socio-politico-economic things occurred, flamed and roared over. They’re all rounded up, reacted to and wrestled with elsewhere. A lot of those things make us sad and angry, so I’m going to stay in my ludicrous world of 2014 for this, pausing only to say that’s its not as ludicrous as Kim Jong-un’s. Hey Little Kim! You ludicrous, man!)

Personal shenanigans: I wrote some things, doodled some bits ‘n’ bobs, ran a few month-long projects here and there and daydreamed a lot. Things I wrote and doodled went up on the internet and in zines but the best stuff is still in my head. Alternate reality incarnations also unleashed groundbreaking epics and art masterpieces but I’m playing catch-up to those guys (Yeah, they see me comin’). Lots of stuff on the internet, and then I flip between my things and the fog of information, disinformation, Wikipedia entries and basketball highlights reels. The pixels burn me out a bit, cyberspace seethes, the Twitter stream turns into a steaming torrent and portals on Facebook show me prettier pictures of places that seem more appealing. Andiamo! Adventure! Go travel…

I discover Dublin this year, find solace in a Shropshire countryside writing retreat and dig London again during the annual videogame convention bro-trip. The most epic adventure, however spans the summer and takes me further afield. I jump on a plane and then I jump on another plane to go back to and, again, go back to Italia. Lo adoro – è il luogo dove il mio cuore è. Italian friends old and new. Refamiliarised with familiar places and enjoying an array of new cities and experiences. I realise that I have a spread network of extended families for life and I feel alive, connected and soul-fulfilled. And then there are all the old and new friends from all over the world and we’re all brought together and share the sacred summer camp tutor bond. (It is sacred. We have rituals, shared hallucinations and an unshakable faith and sense of vocation.) It’s all-singing, all-dancing, educational entertainment English-teaching action. It’s fun and games and frustration and trauma and battle scars and war with demonic bambini. It’s physical and mental exhaustion but it’s also triumph and exhilaration and it’s the greatest time of my life. This summer was the best summer, so grazie.

Away from the best place with the best people, best food and best quality of life (yeah I’m in love), the other most-excellent stuff is culture. A vast celluloid sea of supreme movies inspired many smiles, many tears, many emotional and cerebral moments in the dark space of the cinema. Oh my Godzilla: Inside Llewyn Davis; Her; erm, Godzilla; Guardians of the Galaxy; Boyhood; The Wind Rises; Edge of Tomorrow; Captain America: The Winter Soldier; Nightcrawler; The Babadook; Pride; Dawn of the Planet of the Apes; FuryThe Raid 2; Black Sea; The Double; Calvary; Only Lovers Left Alive; The Grand Budapest Hotel; The Lego Movie; 12 Years a Slave; and so many more to make this movie-maniac go wild over and over. There are too many genuinely awesome films, so I have less time and inclination to watch much TV. The most terrific telly is Cosmos and BBC documentaries in my 2014.

There are also lots of books and comics, but they’re mostly old books that weren’t published in 2014. Fresh music moving me most would be Monster Magnet Milking the Stars and Weezer telling me that Everything Will Be Alright in the End. “EVERYTHING WILL BE ALRIIIIIIIIGHT… IN THE EHHH- EEEEEEHNNNND!” Now I’m dancing and all the freak misfits of the galaxy are having an empathetic moment where we realise that we’ve been losers and been through some noxious crap but that, hey, we’re okay. We’ve grown and we’ve learned some things. We’re better for the experience. We’re moving forward together into the future, ’cause we’re slightly crazy, cosmic quirky heroes hooked on a feeling and high on believing…

I think that’s what I’m taking from 2014. Am I forgetting a lot of things? (most definitely yes) What did it all mean? I’m not really sure and I don’t really care anymore, to be honest. I’m already in 2015. See you there, in the future. TO THE FUTURE!

*blows a kiss to 2014. Love you and remember you always, sugar…*

Saying "Bye!" and jumping off 2014…

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Barbarians Work (and Kill) on Bank Holidays…

Yesterday it was a bank holiday, but I don’t think we should have holidays for banks. Really, banks are among the most awful institutions ever conceived. I’m thinking about banks and feeling nauseous. Ick. Oh, I’d love to to live in a world bereft of such things alongside people and creatures who do not care for economic systems and suchlike. Barbarians who inhabit fantastical realms only visitable within the imagination care not for banks. Barbarians of said fantastical realms do not take bank holidays either. Yeah, let’s trip back to yesterday and head over to those realms…

Yesterday The Working Barbarian was working (what bank holiday?) for a new chapter surfaced in cyberspace. The collaborative crowd-sourced saga continues apace and it fell up on me to take the narrative on after the climax of our hero Jala’s boss battle with the dread Magebane. Readers voted on the story’s direction and decided that Jala should kill the villain, so I have duly killed her. You can read that in the new instalment – chapter the two-and-twentieth which is titled Death Drives. After reading you then get to cast your vote and choose where we go from here. I encourage you to do so, and you can always go back through the various chapters or check the Recap-O-Rama I wrote if you need to get up to speed with the unfolding story and surrounding mythos we’ve built up.

I will leave you with the power metal-heavy Working Barbarian Workout Mixtape I used as mood music for writing the fresh episode. Savage sounds for scripting slaughter can be found in the playlist. It might make excellent motivational music for your next visit to the bank…

 

Rock ‘n’ Roll, Sonic Sensations and My Retrospective 2013 Musical Mixtape…

Rock ‘n’ roll! I hope you, reader (hey you! Thanks for stopping by!), had a very excellent Christmas. I did (thanks for asking. Sweet of you.) and I’m now in the post-Christmas, pre-New Year place of reflection. I am reflecting. I’m like a mirror. No, I’m like a looking glass. No, I’m now through the looking glass, Alice, and everything just gets curioser and curioser. I don’t know – bear (white rabbit?) with me. Everything is all a bit weird in this still-Christmas-but-not-really-Christmas-anymore phase. It takes time to get into some kind of rhythm and reason, y’know?

Anyway, back to rock ‘n’ roll action after a rest and on to rumination at the end of the year. ‘Tis the season to do navel gazing, drink down some Nostalgia-Lite (it never goes down smooth) and work out what you did over the course of the past 12 months, just because that’s what people do. This stuff gets really boring and self-indulgent really, really fast so I’ll keep it brief because I don’t want to be really boring and self-indulgent and you don’t want me to be really boring and self-indulgent either.

The vital info: last night I joined my Old Man and Sean McGinty on BBC Radio Lancashire again for the final FNAT show of the year. We talked about curry-dusted parsnips, Professor Brian Cox and the phenomenal lack of body odour in Korea (none of them are related but, actually, all of them are related because everything’s connected and we’re all made of the same matter that exploded out of the Big Bang at the very beginning of the Universe and it’s amazing). We also did a fair bit of retrospective stuff looking back at the past year in rock music and if that sounds interesting to you you can find it on the iPlayer for the next seven days.

To prepare for that programme I took a sweep across the year’s sonic landscape and, in doing so, I realised that I haven’t been listening to a massive amount of new music. Altogether it reminds me that my approach to music is still shamefully immature and rigid and that’s a rut I’m eager to get out of. The majority of the time I’m on autopilot, listening to the same things over and over and over again, ad nauseum until I get bored. Too much of a good thing is actually overkill, Liberace

When I do consciously attempt to take control over the reflex insta-groove it takes a while for fresh material and new (or ‘new old’) artists to sink in. I can put this down to several factors: 1. I (ab)use music as background noise and that means that it’s degraded when it deserves to be appreciated properly as something more than supplementary aural wallpaper; 2. I’m using digital streaming services and that means I’m no longer buying CDs and physically handling music which, in spite of the positives (space, instant availability of near-infinite material), also induces passive indifference and decreased imminence when it comes to listening to music; 3. I’d say I’m still slightly hindered by the sensory damage done during a prolonged past period of depression in which enjoyment of music was impossible. I have to work a bit harder to establish a relationship with music but it’s well worth doing ’cause I want to rock out and feel some rhythms.

The moral is don’t get depressed and take time to consciously experience and enjoy music in open-minded, highly-aware fashion. Attempting to take my own advice and embrace aural exploration, I put aside some time and space to go over the new releases of 2013 that I actually got round to listening to. I then picked my top 10 tracks from the records I’ve really dug and compiled my 2013 Primo-Grade Supreme Sonic Splash Playlist Mixtape on Spotify. Here’s a run-down of those righteous jams…

  1. KvelertakÅpenbaring from the Meir album. I can dig Norse metal that makes you want to rip holes in mountains.
  2. Föllakzoid9 from the II album. I can dig Chilean cosmic psych-dirges that make you want to go for a float through interstellar space.
  3. AirbourneReady to Rock from the Black Dog Barking album. I can always dig stright up fist-pumpin’, headbangin’ Aussie rawk ‘n’ roll.
  4. MelvinsDoctor Mule from the Tres Cabrones album. I can dig bizarro bludgeon riffola that makes your eyebrows dance of their own accord.
  5. Monster MagnetMindless Ones from the Last Patrol album. I can always dig more psychedelic space rock jams from the Bull God.
  6. KavinskyProtoVision from the OutRun album. I can dig French electro instrumental concept albums about an undead ’80s Testarossa crash victim who’s come back to haunt his girlfriend..
  7. Queens of the Stone AgeThe Vampyre of Time and Memory from the …Like Clockwork album. I can dig it when QotSA get really dark and broody and produce the most beautiful and poignant soundtracks to an existential crisis.
  8. Dinosaur Pile-UpLip Hook Kiss from the Nature Nurture album. I can dig surging, bittersweet alternative rock anthems that make me want to fall in love with a girl with a lip ring.
  9. PixiesAndro Queen from the EP1 EP. I can always dig Pixies, especially when they do the washy-dream surf guitar thing.
  10. Daft PunkContact from the Random Access Memories album. I can always dig Daft Punk and RAM was my most-played, favourite album of the year. Electric throwback French disco was, thus, my jam of 2013 and the absolute absolute of the whole thing is the final track which sends me a transcendental cosmic trip. I hear this and feel at one with the Universe. Yeah, after the disco comes the deep and metaphysical…

I guess that works as a Top 10 then and probably does a decent job of representing the kind of stuff I’ve been crankin’ repeatedly alongside old familiars and a few ‘new old familiars’. Gigwise I got to see The Sword, Whitesnake, Avenged Sevenfold, Pixies and Airbourne supported by Orange Goblin so they were all a bonus. Back home, I also listened to a lot of movie soundtracks – my personal favourites of 2013 being the Maniac OST – because I love film music and its easier to write and work to scores because there are fewer distracting singalong moments. I’ve also got an extra shot of impetus to seriously delve even further into classical and opera music. That came from watching the BBC documentary series Howard Goodall’s Story of Music and from visiting La Scala in Milano when I was over there in the summer.

I need to open my mind and ears more in 2014, so feel free to throw sounds at me. I’m all amped up for aural exploration and new sonic sensations and I will now go and listen to them and curtail this self indulgent, boring ramble about what I did in 2013. A few more brief retrospective blogposts may surface in coming days before 2014 but I’ll keep ’em brief. Less talk, more rock. Cut the chatter, spin the platter.

Ah enough, I’m getting up and going off to dance to some French disco…

Crankin’ Up the Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas Audio Carnage…

 

Yulekulele solo! *shreds*

Rock out! That above is the Yulekulele and it’s one of the Magical Christmas Artefacts on my Advent Calendar. I’ve got a lot of air Yulekulele action going down at the moment because I’m listening to a lot of festive rock music. Nay, I don’t just listen to the music – I feel the music. I respond in harmony. I thrash around, howl out th’words, throw shapes and headbang like a ho-ho-ho-mofoco. ‘Tis the season, after all…

I do this because ‘Christmas is Awesome‘ and because the sound of seasonal music is, erm, music to my ears in a period I figure with should appreciate with a perky, celebratory attitude. It’s also been sweet to discover that certain artists have laid down surprising festive tracks that I never knew they existed. Sir Christopher Lee has done multiple heavy metal Christmases! Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish have a beautiful cover of Walking in the Air! Bad Religion have recently released an EP called Christmas Songs and it’s a wonderful, spiritually-uplifting irony-free punk rock blast!

Some of these things will be getting cranked on tonight’s FNAT radio show on BBC Radio Lancashire. I’m going to be joining my old man and Sean McGinty again from 10pm to 1am and I’m mainly doing it to mash Merry Christmas Rock Music in everyone’s earholes. If you would like to hear some yulerific riffage you can tune in online. It’ll be fun and may boost your spirits and help you battle pre-Christmas stress. You will definitely get to hear some odd versions of old yuletide favourites and it may help you feel a bit more festive if you’ve not already (like me) gone completely Christmas crackers.

For now though, I will leave you with a link to my Christmas Den of Geek column, a  link to my current jam (erm, cranberry sauce?) and a singing gingerbread man because it’s Christmas and ’tis the season for music and magic…

Crumbs, that’s a beautiful rendition of ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’…

A Long Time Ago in a VHS Player Far, Far Away…

May the Fourth be with you! It’s Star Wars Day! I love Star Wars! We love Star Wars! Let’s all dance like the happy Ewoks at the end of Return of the Jedi and celebrate the glorious saga!

I believe we should do this because Star Wars is a bit special and as a fan I think it’s important to take a moment to cherish the precious pop culture phenomenon that’s touched us all, whether we personally wanted it to or not. I will be doing this by listening to John Williams’ scores and by flagrantly dropping quotes and references into as many conversations as possible (this is easy if most of your conversations are with yourself). I will also snatch a few moments to watch some classic movie scenes and may also consider upping the ante on my inactive ‘I Am Han Solo’ campaign.

Swept up in the excitement I thought I might head out today for a frenzied shopping spree and pick up a load of action figures or some Star Wars Lego but I’m best off keeping a tight hold of my few credits and remembering that a Jedi does not value possessions. Still I do have some Star Wars paraphernalia from my childhood knocking around and today is the day for looking at it with a little extra love in my eye. It’s the day for digging it out of cupboards, holding it in a suffocatingly tight grip to then exclaim in your Vader voice “I have you now!

Here’s what I have: triumphant orchestral blast to salute something from a long time ago…

Star Wars! Interactive video board gaming! Destroying the evil Galactic Empire with plastic pieces and cardboard thermal detonator cards!

Star Wars! Interactive video board gaming! Destroying the evil Galactic Empire with plastic pieces and cardboard thermal detonator cards!

Manufactured in 1995, it’s Star Wars: The Interactive Board Game.  It’s here in my hands and I’m desperate to play it with my Rebel comrades for some timely competitive fun on May 4th. Alas, I can’t because I don’t have a VHS player. Star Wars may be eternal, but technology marches on and out-of-date devices die out. Cue sad Wookiee howling or, if you can stand the prequels (and you should stand them and enjoy them), press that Anakin Skywalker Wail button.

Nevertheless, my memories don’t die but linger on and talk to me in moments of cold despair (they’re just like Ben Kenobi appearing to Luke when he’s freezing on Hoth after his escape from captivity beneath the claws of the Wampa). I remember fun sessions in front of the gameboard and TV, listening the instructions of Darth Vader on the screen before me. I remember trying to thwart his villainous plan to destroy the Rebel base on D’rinba IV by depositing bomb cards around his Death Star recreation. Look at those figurines and the nice artwork that graces the playing area!

... nice game with nice details..

… I don’t know what they’ll achieve by putting an R2 unit in the Detention Block…

At a particular point in the game Lord Vader would point at players and say something along the lines of “You! You now taking your turn! I have you now! You will now serve me and exchange your playing piece for the Stormtrooper figure!” And so, the Power of the Dark Side claimed a helpless innocent and they were compelled to bow down and serve the Sith Master. As a child this blatant undermining of any notion of freewill in a boardgame shocked me to the core. Still, the Rebels tended to get it together and triumph over Evil by the time the 60 minutes were up. The Force was strong with them… and they had the remote control to pause if the clock was working against them.

All in all, it was great fun and I’d be forcing it on my family tonight for May the Fourth celebrations if I had the right kit. I don’t so I’m just going to sit and look at it while listening to the Cantina Band tune. It’s also highly likely that I’ll have done a whole load of other saga-related stuff to pay tribute to the space opera that raised me. I urge you to do the same. May the Fourth be with you and May the Force be with you, always…

... and now I'm all choked up...

… and now I’m all choked up…

Wu-Tang Clan and Amazing Wanderer vs The Avengers…

My Wu-Tang name – according to the Wu-Tang Name Generator – is “Amazing Wanderer”. I can dig that alias. Yeah, I could wear that tag as I go about droppin’ rhymes and bringin da ruckus ’cause, uh, Amazing Wanderer ain’t nuthin ta cuss wit’…

Anyhow, the next obvious thing to do with a name name generator is run your relatives through it to see what nicknames it assigns them. It turns out I’m the son of “Irate Madman” and at that point I started getting a bit disturbed and remembered that in the clash of clans I’d probably be on the Shaolin side anyway and, thus, probably shouldn’t get hung up on a Wu-Tang title. (I know I’m confusing hip hop group with single obscure Hong Kong chopsocky films here. It doesn’t matter though, for we’re in a realm of pop culture crossover chaos and it’s been mixed by the Rza who has Iron Fists in both music and movies.)  Wu-Tang can do without me, but I’ll keep the Amazing Wanderer moniker thank you very much. Name generation games always seem to give me a lame nickname, but I like that one and it inspires me to try and be more amazing and do more wandering (both physically, mentally and spiritually).

Ruminating on it a little more, I realise that both I and the regular people I know need to do way more to earn a cool alternate rap persona. I’m not yet worthy of a place in any Wu-Tang Clan formulation or any grand kung fu mythology. There are, however, great icons that do command that prestige. How about putting them through the name generator? Let’s find Wu-Tang-style tags for cultural legends and, thus, arm ’em with the attitude and hip hop identity they need before I put ’em up for a rap battle/martial arts encounter with any version of the Wu-Tang Clan (or another rap collective or martial arts school).

You could do this with any ensemble unit and procrastinate for hours on end rap-ifying famous names. I’ll leave you, dear reader, to knock yourself out doing that and focus solely on one particular popular combo for now. Which infamous fightin’ band is going into the name generator to be reborn with a beat and badass rhymes? *Clears throat* Up from Nick Fury’s chamber! Avengers Assemble to amaze ya!

Tony Stark (Iron Man) becomes “Mighty Watcher“.

Steve Rogers (Captain America) becomes “Violent Criminal“.

Bruce Banner (The Incredible Hulk) becomes “Quiet Samurai“.

Thor (Thor) becomes “Shriekin’ Wizard“.

Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) becomes “Thunderous Destroyer“.

Clint Barton (Hawkeye) becomes “E-ratic Ambassador“.

Nice and all, in some way, actually semi-appropriate. As an extra, support on the SHIELD Helicarrier comes from Nick Fury, a.k.a. “Profound Warrior” and he’s accompanied by the agents “E-ratic Prophet” (Phil Coulson) and “Intellectual Ambassador” (Maria Hill).

So there you have it, and the Battle of New York busts out in a blaze of devastating beats and blockbuster explosions. The pop cultural landscape will never recover from and the sweetest element of the rap album chronicle of the ruckus will be the repeated stab sample of Iron Man/Mighty Watcher saying “we have a Hulk“.