Sunday, February 21, 2016

CD Review – Voices from Heaven, by Runar Halonen and Tron Syversen

The title of this collaboration between vocalist Runar Halonen and keyboardist Tron Syversen couldn't be more apt, as the magical and mystical sounds pouring forth from the celestial realms onto this divine album demonstrate.

As he has proven on his previous releases, Syversen is an undisputed master of the sonically ethereal and lush, creating dimensional layers courtesy of his synthesizers. He continues to construct themes that both please the senses and stimulate the intellect.

Halonen is an interesting collaborator in that he transcends the typical implementation of vocals and utilizes his voice to maximum effect, enhancing and embellishing and becoming one with Syversen's synthesized tones. Halonen sounds almost like another instrument, but one that is man rather than machine.

The end result is a fulfilling musical journey that will delight, enlighten, and illuminate no matter your approach to and taste in music.

--Raj Manoharan

Friday, February 19, 2016

Happy 50th Anniversary, 1966!

1966 was a tremendous year for pop culture. Within the space of those 12 months, the world saw the debut of the Batman television series, as well as The Monkees and Star Trek.

Batman and The Monkees were phenomenal right off the “bat,” spawning both “Bat-mania” and “Monkee-mania.” Star Trek, on the other hand, didn’t get as much attention in its original 1966-1969 run on NBC, only becoming iconic years later.

1966 was also the year my mother immigrated to America, eventually becoming a legal resident and ultimately a citizen. The reason I bring this up is because although my mother’s arrival in America and the debuts of the aforementioned cultural phenomena both happening in 1966 were entirely coincidental, they are inherently connected.

My mother was definitely aware of Batman and The Monkees when they debuted and watched them when they were popular. She saw Star Trek after it ended in 1969 and began life anew in syndicated reruns. She would continue to enjoy all three in one form or another in the years since with her future family.

For example, we faithfully went to the cinema every two or three years in the 1980s and early 1990s to see the Star Trek movies starring the original 1960s TV series cast; we watched some of the modern Batman movies (although not directly connected to the ‘60s show) starting in 1989; and we enjoyed Monkees reruns in the 1980s and even recently attended a concert by Monkees member Michael Nesmith (

In addition to being a fan, I have been privileged to have had professional connections to these three iconic properties.

When I was a master control operator at a local cable television station in the 1990s, I met Monkees member Peter Tork, who was a celebrity guest on The Rik Turner Show. He personally autographed a Monkees album for me, and later, he came in to the master control room and asked me for a bandage for his nicked finger. I don’t remember if I had a bandage on hand for him or had to refer him to someone else, but I’ll never forget him asking me. One of the Monkees asked me for a bandage!

As a cable/satellite magazine writer from 1996 to 2005, I got to interview Eartha Kitt, one of the actresses who played Catwoman on the Batman TV show. I also interviewed original Star Trek actors William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy (as well as Star Trek: The Next Generation cast members Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, and LeVar Burton). All of the interviews were by telephone, of course, since I was on the East Coast.

All three shows/franchises have something big going on in 2016, their 50th anniversary year.

In news not specifically related to the 1960s TV series, the character of Batman, who’s been around for 77 years, will soon be seen in his first live-action, big-screen pairing with his DC Comics predecessor and label mate Superman, in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which opens in theaters on March 25. The 50-year-old Batman TV show, meanwhile, airs at 6:30 p.m. on Me TV’s Super Sci-Fi Saturday Night.

Star Trek will also be beaming back into theaters on July 22 with Star Trek Beyond, the 13th Star Trek motion picture and the third feature film starring new actors as Kirk and his Enterprise crew. The original Star Trek series continues to air at 9:00 p.m. on Me TV’s Super Sci-Fi Saturday Night.

Finally, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork will record a new Monkees album called Good Times! (which is scheduled to be released on June 10) and will hit the road for a 50th anniversary Monkees tour from May through October. Michael Nesmith will not be a part of this tour as he is working on other projects, but one of his recent songs will be featured on the new album, and he might yet contribute some vocal and/or guitar parts as well. The Monkees airs on Antenna TV and IFC.

Happy Anniversary, 1966 (and to Batman, The Monkees, and Star Trek – and my mom)!

Good Times indeed!

--Raj Manoharan

George Gaynes (1917-2016)

My generation will always remember him for Punky Brewster and the Police Academy movies.

That alone makes him a pop culture and comedy giant.

Richard Mulligan (1932-2000) of Soap and Empty Nest kind of reminded me of George Gaynes, and vice versa.

Both were and will always remain comic geniuses.

--Raj Manoharan

Boy Wonder Goes Under: Johnny Duncan (1923-2016)

Johnny Duncan was the second of four actors (thus far) to play the Dark Knight's trusty teen sidekick in live action, in the 1949 15-chapter movie serial Batman and Robin.

Duncan was 92 years old. To provide some perspective on Duncan's longevity and how long ago Duncan played Robin, Jack Larson, who played cub reporter Jimmy Olsen in the 1950s Adventures of Superman TV series, passed away last year at the age of 87.

Duncan's immediate successor, Burt Ward, who played Robin in the phenomenal 1960s Batman TV series, is 70 years old.

As one of the seminal superhero actors in the first decade of live-action comic book crusaders, Duncan will always have his place in the pantheon of onscreen costumed crime fighters.

Holy rest in peace, Robin!

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, February 14, 2016

CD Review – Day Star, by Jonn Serrie

The latest album from Jonn Serrie provides further proof as to why the veteran keyboardist is one of America's leading composers for planetariums and other space-related exhibitions, installations, and programs.

Serrie synthesizes traditional and electronic sounds and timbres that perfectly convey the cosmic scale and quiet introspection of his musical vision.

This album truly is perfect accompaniment for imaginative explorations of the deepest reaches of outer space, as well as the inner, private space that resides within the listener.

--Raj Manoharan

Thursday, February 11, 2016

TV – Don’t Make Him Angry. You Wouldn’t Like Him When He’s Angry. But He’s Definitely Entertaining When He’s Angry. Watch The Incredible Hulk on Me TV.

DC Comics icons Superman and Batman are giving up 30 minutes each and will share the 6 p.m. hour to make room for The Incredible Hulk at 7 p.m. on Super Sci-Fi Saturday Night.

Although Marvel Comics’ monstrous mainstay has since starred in two of his own big-screen movies as well as the Avengers films, his definitive and most critically-acclaimed live-action interpretation remains the classic hit television series of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Bill Bixby stars as mild-mannered scientist David Banner, who, after exposing himself to an accidental overdose of gamma radiation, reacts to the slightest provocation by hulking out in the form of green-painted bodybuilder and muscleman Lou Ferrigno (another actor interviewed by me who’s now on Me TV).

While on the run from unrelenting newspaper reporter Jack McGee (Jack Colvin), who has a penchant for making Banner angry even though Mr. McGee wouldn’t like him when he’s angry, Banner and his beastly alter ego end up helping all manner of people in all manner of despair.

After Banner finishes hulking out, Super Sci-Fi Saturday Night continues with DC Comics’ Wonder Woman at 8 p.m., followed by Star Trek at 9 p.m., Svengoolie at 10 p.m., and Irwin Allen productions Lost in Space and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea at midnight and 1 a.m.

--Raj Manoharan