The Beat’s Gregory Paul Silber has been accused of having a bit of an… obsessive personality. Each week in Silber Linings, he takes a humorous look at the weirdest, funniest, and most obscure bits of comics and pop culture that he can’t get out of his head.
The Tokyo Olympics are winding down, and it’s my honor to award the coveted Silber Medal to some of the world’s greatest artists, writers, musicians, and filmmakers. It’s a time-honored tradition that dates back to ancient times, when my ancestor Gershom Palti Silber traveled from ancient Judea to Greece at the tail end of their Olympics, spreading word of his favorite poets and shofar players and awarding Silber Medals to the great storytellers he met along the journey.
(I had to google “ancient Jewish names starting with P” to make that joke work.)
Nah, Silber Medals are just an excuse for me to highlight some miscellaneous pop culture stuff I like but don’t necessarily want to write a whole essay about. There’s no real rhyme or reason to how I created the Silber Medal categories so please don’t take the exercise too seriously, although the recommendations themselves are utterly sincere.
So without further ado, here are the Silber Medalists of the 2021 Greglympics!
Best Comic I Reviewed Already But Haven’t Written About in a While:
I reviewed every issue of writer Ryan K. Lindsay and artist Owen Gieni‘s Negative Space when they came out (that’s my pull quote from AiPT if you get the trade paperback), in addition to interviewing Lindsay, but it’s been about five years and this 4-issue sci-fi miniseries from Dark Horse is still on the obscure side. So I’d just like to remind you all that Negative Space exists. It’s still one of my favorite comics, and it’s still one of the best comics you’re likely to read about depression, suicidal ideation, corporate commodification of mental illness, and much more. It’s in turns funny, thrilling, tragic, boldly satirical, and huge-hearted.
Best Movie That Apparently isn’t as Universally Beloved as I Thought:
Alien is a stone-cold classic. We can all agree on that, right? Well apparently not, because ever since I rewatched it Wednesday night, I’ve had conversations with multiple unrelated people undermining the 1979 sci-fi horror masterpiece’s greatness. Some folks disagree with my assessment that it could be released today virtually unaltered and still be a critical and commercial smash, while others, somehow, have never even heard of Ridley Scott‘s tour de force starring a stellar ensemble cast that includes Sigourney Weaver, Harry Dean Stanton, and the recently-deceased Yaphet Kotto.
What gives? I haven’t even been the one to bring up Alien in all these conversations! Is there some kind of elaborate yet wildly inconsequential conspiracy to make me question my Alien love?
In any event, if you haven’t seen Alien, or it’s been a while since your last watch, it’s more than worth your time. I can’t think of a single thing about it that doesn’t hold up, from the aesthetics anchored by H.R. Giger‘s timelessly creepy designs, to the anti-corporate themes, to the unadulterated terror of the final act.
Best Local Band I Discovered Since Moving to Brooklyn in 2016:
In November of 2016, I had only been living in Brooklyn for a few months when I went to see the indie rock duo Diet Cig with Ross, a new friend from work and cohost of the Sad Dad Radio Hour podcast. Diet Cig is a smart, high-energy band that you should all check out, especially if you can catch them live. But they were upstaged by their opener, Thick, an all-female pop-punk power trio neither Ross nor I had heard of previously. It was a wild set, full of jumping and spitting and shredding, with songs about hot dudes and sexism and getting too drunk to make a good impression on a romantic interest. When the set ended, Ross turned to me, beaming, and said “now that was a rock and roll show.”
It sure was, and I made it my mission to see Thick as many times as I possibly could after that. Between that show and right before the pandemic hit, I’d estimate I saw Thick thirteen times. It was easy because they were a little-known Brooklyn band that mostly played in New York City, and all their shows cost little-to-nothing. And of course, they rock hard. I was and remain happy to be part of their growing cult following, and now that they’ve been signed to Epitaph Records, with their first full-length album, 5 Years Behind, released last year after a string of excellent EPs, I’m excited to see their star rise.
So I’m not just recommending that you check out Thick specifically, but that you find a little-known local band to support in your area. It’s so rewarding to watch musicians you’ve supported from the beginning finally get the recognition they deserve.
Best Standup Comedy Special for which I Attended the Taping:
Gary Gulman: The Great Depresh
I’ve always wanted to attend the live taping of something, like a talk show or a live album from a band I like, to immortalize my live entertainment experience. I finally got to do that when my brother and I sat in the second row for comedian Gary Gulman‘s latest HBO comedy special when it was filmed in 2019. There are barely any audience shots, so I don’t think I’m visible at any point, but you’ll hear my laughs mixed in with that of a few hundred people.
But of course, the only thing that really matters about The Great Depresh is that it’s a damn great stand-up performance, centered around Gulman’s lifelong struggle with depression. Unlike a lot of comedy from the past few years, Gulman doesn’t make clear distinctions between “the funny parts” and “the serious parts.” He takes mental illness seriously, and his commentary on such a meaningful aspect of his life is weaved seamlessly into an hour of belly laughs. Stream it now on HBO Max (You can subscribe to HBO Max at this link. Note this is an affiliate link and The Beat may receive a small commission if you subscribe).
What makes it even more remarkable is that, if you listen to Gulman’s 2017 appearance on the podcast The Hilarious World of Depression that preceded his writing of The Great Depresh, you know that Gulman had to pull himself out from rock bottom before he could be this funny and wise again. I highly recommend that podcast hosted by John Moe and the one that spun out of its cancellation, Depresh Mode, but fair warning: Gulman’s episode is bleak.
Best Alternative Rock Jukebox Musical about Time Travel:
Ludo’s Broken Bride
Ludo might have been the first band I fell in love with that, at least when I was 17, nobody else I knew had heard of. But from the moment I caught their song “Go-Getter Greg” (even if it’s not quite the fight song you might assume it is from the title, as it pokes fun at a creep) on SiriusXM’s Alt Nation station while driving my dad’s car, I was a fan for life. Imagine what Weezer might sound like if they fully committed to their weirdness, and also stopped making music before they could become parodies of themselves.
That description doesn’t do Ludo justice, but I really was heartbroken when they went radio-silent shortly after the release of their third and final LP, Prepare the Preparations. They were dropped from their label, they all got day jobs and started families, and I wondered if anyone else would ever remember this great, unapologetically bizarre pop-rock band.
So imagine my shock when I discovered that one of the featured stage musicals at the 2016 New York Musical Festival was Ludo’s Broken Bride, based on the band’s 2005 rock-opera EP of the same name (consider the boldness it takes to make your second-ever release following your first album a goddamn rock opera). To think that anyone else in the world would be interested in such a thing, let alone fund and produce it!
Needless to say, it was a blast, using clever stage effects like puppets and lasers to tell the story of a scientist who goes back in time to prevent his wife’s death, only to overshoot his distance “…before the birth of Christ… pterodactyls swarming.” Music from throughout the band’s three full length albums filled out the rest of the production, and it’s probably the best time I ever had with musical theater.
And if that wasn’t enough, Ludo frontman Andrew Volpe traveled all the way from his hometown of St. Louis to see the show, and was seated right behind me! I thanked him for his music and told him that Ludo’s 2010 show at the now-defunct Highline Ballroom was still the best concert I’ve ever been to.
Best ’90s Superhero TV Theme Song (Non-Power Rangers Division):
X-Men: The Animated Series
I recently wrote about how the headbang-worthy Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers theme song composed and performed by Ron Wasserman is an honest-to-goodness great song that was formative for my taste in guitar-driven hard rock. But Wasserman is a prolific TV composer, including another one of the most memorably awesome themes of my youth: 1992-1997’s X-Men: The Animated Series.
What a legend. If Wasserman’s Power Rangers theme planted the seeds that grew into my love of shredding guitar heroes like Jimi Hendrix and Randy Rhodes, perhaps the intense, slightly abrasive synths of his X-Men theme had something to do with my current love of synthpop bands like Depeche Mode and Chvrches, or even the industrial sounds of Nine Inch Nails.
Most Prized Physical Comic in my Collection:
Co-Mix signed by Art Spiegelman
One of the greatest moments of my life, full-stop, was meeting Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Art Spiegelman at FanfaireNYC 2019, a small comic book convention held at the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan.
Thanks to devoting the past decade to my love of comics, as well as living in the New York Tri-State area where much of the industry is still centered, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some of the biggest names in comics. But I honestly wasn’t sure I’d ever meet Spiegelman. I’ve written before about how seminal graphic memoir Maus made me fall in love with comics, but Spiegelman, while hardly a recluse, appears to be much more selective about his public appearances than the creators I became somewhat used to seeing at comic festivals, cons, and related events around the city, from randomly finding myself next to Matthew Rosenberg on line at Midtown Comics, to running into political cartoonist Eli Valley at a party thrown by leftist Jewish magazine Jewish Currents. Living in Brooklyn pre-pandemic, these encounters just kind of happened.
Between his age and having long since secured his legacy as an elder statesmen of comics legitimacy, I had long since assumed Spiegelman was well past the point where he’d ever bother to make himself available to the general public again. So I was shocked when he was announced as a guest at a con as small as FanfaireNYC.
He gave a speech about attending the High School of Art and Design as a teen and his continued relationship with the school as his career progressed through adulthood. I was starstruck. Here was the man who laid the foundation for a huge chunk of my personality, and I was just a few feet away from him as he told his life story to just a few dozen attendees, including some chatty teens seated behind me. I never felt as I old as I did when I turned around and whispered “hey, can you please show some respect?”
Amazingly, he even did a signing. After his speech, I made my way to his line at Artist’s Alley, outside his own little room where he and his handlers could keep him sequestered from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the crowd. I was fast enough to be second on line.
I was a bit flustered by the camera crew – I signed a release form for a documentary I was told is in the works about Spiegelman, so you might see me in it if it ever comes out – but I tried my best to say everything I wanted to say to him in under a minute, so as to respect his time and the other fans waiting to meet him. I told him that his work made me fall in love with comics, and inspired me to write comics myself, although I don’t draw.
“That’s so interesting to me, that kind of collaboration,” he said. I wasn’t prepared for him to respond. I also wasn’t prepared for him to start drawing a large sketch in my copy of Co-Mix: A Retrospective of Comics, Graphics, and Scraps as he signed it. “I don’t think I could ever do that. What do you write?”
I panicked. “Well, I’m still just getting started, sort of.” Then I remembered my short story Laser Eyes, which in a few months would be published in my first anthology. It’s about a man who gains a cookie cutter superheroic ability, but isn’t interested in changing his mundane lifestyle. “But I guess I’ve always been drawn to magical realism.”
“Huh. Magical realism. That’s a great genre.” It wasn’t until weeks later that I realized he may have been making a cheeky nod to the magical realism of his own work. “I wish you the best of luck.”