There’s nothing worse than writer’s block; particularly one that lasts the better part of six months.
That’s where this editor-in-chief found himself. You’ll be spared the screenshot of how many articles I started and never completed on the back end of the site, because there’s more than I would like to admit. And it’s a real bummer because there was some good ideas there, unfortunately I just couldn’t find it in me to fully execute on any of them. It’s absolutely frustrating to be in a situation like that. Writing is the thing I’m good at and to just have this seemingly unmovable mental block in my way was absolutely disheartening.
However, the picture above marked the end of all that. It was Sea.Hear.Now 2023 (a mere two weeks ago), and I worked with two great photographers — Al Mannarino (our managing editor who was on assignment for NJ.com) and Jenna Murray — covering two very long days of music on the Asbury Park beachfront. I don’t know if it was the saltwater in the air or hanging with two wildly creative photographers, or the music, or the reunited sense of community I felt back in Asbury Park, or the fact I was out there covering something as an accredited member of the media — but I felt like John Wick. Yeah, maybe I am back.
But, what was the easiest way to do that? My schedule is absolutely absurd — full-time job, editing, posting and doing socials for Pop Break, being a dad, husband and son, various sporting events for my daughter, podcasting, looking for freelance gigs on the regular and working to keep my mental and physical health in check.
Thankfully, surrounding oneself with smart people lead to the reintroduction of an old column that I wrote all the way back in 2010 and 2011. Our podcast director Alex Marcus suggested I do a short list article to get the ol’ creative juices flowing which reminded me of the old “Self High-Five” column that ran regularly back in 2010 and 2011. I would literally talk about anything in that column — food, podcasts, music, film, stand-up, wrestling, etc.
And that’s what the Pop 5 will be — a catch-all for my pop culture musings and thoughts. This column is more of a pop culture conversation than my traditional review and editorial work, so expect writing in the first-person and the dreaded word “I” appearing in this column. Of course, I’ve given each category names that are weird and are basically there to pop me, and me alone.
Now unlike the Self High-Five, this column will be monthly. There’s literally no way I can do this weekly given my work schedule combined with being a parent, running Pop Break, recording podcasts and working on my physical and mental health. So at the end of every month you’ll see one of these bad boys. I hope you enjoy this romp through the my pop culture headspace and you can discover something new for your pop culture life.
I Read Comics Now: For the first time since 1993, I purchased a single issue of a comic book. Over the past year plus, I’ve been picking up Marvel graphic novels (which I’ll write about more in future iterations of this column). However, over Labor Day Weekend my daughter and I went to our local comic book store (The Geekery in Matawan, NJ) and our goal was to pick up Ms. Marvel: The New Mutant #1 — co-written by Ms. Marvel, herself, Iman Vellani.
My daughter is a big fan of Ms. Marvel and Kamala Khan (The Marvels is her #1 most anticipated movie of the year), so she was desperate to read this. As a dad, I read the book first to ensure it was appropriate for her third grade eyes. Spoilers: It is. The book revolves around Kamala — who has just come back from the dead and is now a mutant (and in-human) — taking college classes at Empire State University. However, her motives are not just to score college credit, it’s as an undercover operative for the New Mutants who are trying to figure out the ulterior motives of the anti-mutant group that runs the school.
The issue is your typical set-up issue loaded with tons of exposition. However, the emotional story of Kamala coming back from the dead, not being able to tell Bruno and her family she died, discovering she’s a mutant, taking college courses, and trying to determine where she belongs in the superhero world (which haunts her dreams) is so engrossing. This is thanks to Vellani’s intimate knowledge of how Kamala Khan ticks. It’s an odd thought, but it also feels like it’s an autobiographical story, as if Kamala herself sat down with artists to bring her anxiety-riddled and trauma-filled experience to life. One has to hope Vellani’s writing in the Marvel Comics world is not one and done, because she definitely has a great storytelling mind.
Oh The Random Things You’ll Hear: This the name of my ever-evolving Spotify playlist that was created back in 2011 (currently at 2,583 songs). Every month I’m going to give you some recent cuts from this list that I’ve added that are in heavy rotation…
“Ex-Files” by The Bamboos: This is brand new track from the Australian “funk revivalists” is an absolute bop. It’s got a thick throwback bassline complete with beautifully melodic and dance-y vocals.
“Saw Red” by Sublime and Gwen Stefani: Just when I thought I’d heard everything Sublime had to offer from its Bradley Nowell days — comes this duet from pre-“Holla Back Girl” Gwen Stefani. This song has a fun, free-wheeling SoCal skateboard punk sound that’ll bring old heads like me back to the early Warped Tour days.
“Tell Me Why” by Death by Unga Bunga: Best band name ever? Yup! This Norwegian rock outfit is more than a cool name and this song illustrates just that. “Tell Me Why” is a beautiful blend of dirty, sweaty rock ‘n’ roll with scratchy pop vocals that sounds like a decaffeinated version of The Hives combined with a taughter version of The Stooges.
“Jane” by Jefferson Starship: Never been the biggest Jefferson fan outside of “White Rabbit” because it’s a psychedelic staple. “Jane” like many things in my life, was discovered while watching wrestling. The theme song of “Freshly Squeezed” Orange Cassidy, “Jane” just hits right. It’s searing vocals combined with fuzzed out guitar noodling is the perfect song for one of the most complex and fun wrestlers on the planet.
“Gateway Drug” by Soul Monde: Ah yes, Bill has to include a jam band on this list, doesn’t he? The version of this song comes from the band’s session with Relix Magazine (one of the best music pubs out there). The song is everything one needs in an instrumental jam — driving drum beat combined with a Hammond B3 rhythm. Perfect driving music.
REEEEEEE-WATCH: The next months are going to be all about timey whimey nonsense. First, my daughter is plowing through The Secrets of Sulphur Springs — a show I’ve dubbed “babies first mystery box” and not in a bad way. It’s a fun little show with good performances, decent scares and a very good plot. Of course, Doctor Who is coming back and I’m hyped as all hell with both David Tennant and Ncuti Gatwa as The Doctors.
However, the show I’m rewatching and living for right now is Loki Season 1. It’s been two years since this bad boy was on Disney+, and even though we reviewed the series weekly on Socially Distanced … I completely forgot how excellent the Tom Hiddleston/Owen Wilson series really is. The first two episodes are packed with comedy, drama, and really well-earned emotional work. Wilson and Hiddleston have some of the best chemistry in the MCU and honestly, this is Wilson’s best work outside of a Wes Anderson film. You owe it to yourself to dive back into this series because given all the Marvel stuff you’ve watched since — you might’ve forgotten how good this series really is.
Of Course, Wrestling: WWE is red hot, but it’s not for me. It’s catchphrases, songs, finishing moves and drama that many consider “cinema.” I’m more an in-ring guy and that’s why AEW is my home for squared circle action. For the past year, the company has been living in the shadow of CM Punk’s meltdown in September 2022. Well, Punk’s gone now, and AEW is firing on all cylinders. Stories are better and tighter. The in-ring is excellent, as always. And they’re getting over characters like Toni Storm, Prince Nana, and the more babyface side of MJF — all while never betraying the mantra that is still says “wrestling on the marquee.” This weekend’s WrestleDream PPV looks awesome and I cannot wait to see what the “new era” of the company (that owner Tony Khan has promised) is going to be.
And Now for Something Completely Different: This is the part of the column where I put over my love of autumn. Seriously, it’s the best season. I know this isn’t “pop culture” but it sorta kinda is. This time of year is a wonderful blend of the waning hot days mixed with crispy nights, gorgeous colors and everything that’s wonderful about the world. It also doesn’t hurt that Hallowen, my wedding anniversary, daughter’s birthday, Thanksgiving (my favorite eating holiday), my own birthday and my dog’s birthday are all in the fall.
Sports-wise there’s playoff baseball, which is the best, most dramatic version of the sport. Football is back, so that means all of us play “Dungeons & Dragons for Dudes” aka Fantasy Football causing us to live and die with every play of every game. Fashion wise, flannel shirts, sweaters and hoodies come blazing back in all its comfortable glory. Film and TV wise, we enter spooky season as well as a season filled with Oscar bait, prestige television and the Bake-Off. And culinarily, it’s time for all things pumpkin and apple. In short … it’s an amazing time of year.