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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Hembeck is 55

Fred turns 55 today, that wonderful time of the year when he's older than I for about five weeks. The interview I did with him, which I posted a few days ago was only the first half. Unfortunately, technological difficulties precluded getting the second part. But since I still have the questions written, I'm going to piece this together based entirely on my recollection of a conversation ten days ago, and hope for the best.

I asked him about his comic influences: Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, the original team on Spider-Man; his recently expressed love of Lee/Kirby circa 1964; how he came to DCs first, and he told some wonderful tales, none of which I can summarize properly. Since he's not reading new comics heavily, he doesn't have strong opinions about the Brand New Day reboot of Spider-Man, with Peter as a single guy, Harry is back, etc., although, for most of Fred's reading of the character, Peter IS single, so it doesn't bother him much.

Fred is indeed a member of the Bing Crosby fan club. "Probably among the youngest members when you joined," I opined. Apparently his wife Lynn had said something similar. He first noted Der Bingle in those Hope/Crosby Road movies, and he thinks Hope is underrated as a singer, but that Crosby's voice he really appreciated. I noted that he turned me on to an album that Bing did with the Andrews Sisters.

I asked, "You seem to have more than a passing interest in Soupy Sales. You even have an album of him singing pop songs. One is forced to ask the question why?" He laughed, noting that his love of Soupy came from watching him on NYC TV growing up.

He claims to be less obsessed with Jerry Lewis, although he still watching the Labor Day weekend telethons and will catch him in whatever dramatic roles he takes. (I recall a Law & Order franchise show that Fred had mentioned in a column.)

A couple years back, I gave Fred some slight grief over his youthful affection for Al Jolson. He noted that, at the time, pre-Beatles, he hated all things rock and roll, and that he was fascinated by just how huge Jolson was, to have two movies of his life story, one played by Jolson himself and one by Larry Parks. (Sidebar: there was a video clue of Parks mimicking someone, not in blackface, in a video clue on the second day I was on JEOPARDY; I got that it was Jolson.) No, Fred has not seen the recent movie The Savages, where Jolson figures into the storyline.

I asked what old movies did he grow up watching that he thought most affected his sensibilities now. He demurred, saying that it was more old television that helped turn him into the man he is. He specifically mentioned Sgt. Bilko, and I almost asked him about Allan Melvin, who had died, but that Fred had not yet written about; he has subsequently. We talked about our shared affection for the Dick van Dyke Show, of which he's watched all five seasons on DVD AND has been reading a book about it. He needs to blog on how well it's held up. He professes that Car 54 Where Are You was a much better show than The Munsters, though they shared actor Al (Grandpa) Lewis.

His affection for Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys is legendary. I made him record the Kennedy Center Honors segment on Brian. He's glad, because he was touched, especially by Lyle Lovett's singing, surprising to him because he's not such a Lyle fan, though he knows I am. He was less impressed with Hootie and the Blowfish, who he though had broken up anyway. Always interesting to see Brian looking uncomfortable, we agreed.

I asked him what was about the Beach Boys and Brian’s solo work that he finds so appealing. He wished he were more versed in music terminology so that he could answer that better.

I noted that we’re both Beatles’ fans, but he leans towards Paul, Brian Wilson’s near twin, while I tended toward John. Fred clarified that, up to Rubber Soul or so, it was about even, and perhaps he was leaning a little towards John, before Paul took over. He noted John's near-absence on Revolver, which, of course, would have been the American version that Capitol Records had butchered. Yes, he was you watching Sullivan on February of 1964, and that was a transformative time in his life. He has seen both Paul and Ringo live.

He's gone through phases of music, which has involved everyone from Lesley Gore to Michael Jackson to Nellie McKay.

Fred has gotten over last season's colossal collapse by the New York Mets.

I went on to some personal stuff. He was born an only child of parents who were a bit older than his friends' parents. His father was 50, his mother 39. I noted that they were YOUNGER than I was when Carol and I had our daughter Lydia. He grew up on Long Island, in Yaphank, but went to college in Buffalo, where he met Lynn Moss. He spent a time in the Kingston/Woodstock area. Then he came to the Capital District when Lynn went to RPI. I had thought that was when he started hanging out with the FantaCo folks, even me. In fact, he had met Mitch Cohn in Kingston. He recalled that he had only known Mitch for a couple weeks before Fred and Lynn got married, so he didn't invite Mitch to the ceremony. They did invite people they soon lost track of, but Mitch was someone Fred especially would know for several years thereafter.

When Fred and Lynn moved downstate, I lost track of them. Somehow, probably through Rocco Nigro, I did know that they had a baby girl, Julie, who’s now 17, and getting ready for college. She has her first serious boyfriend, and I wondered if it messed with that strong father-daughter bond I’ve seen them have. He explained that he likes Julie's boyfriend quite a bit.

I asked about some friendships he developed in the comics field. I think I heard from Rocco that Fred had turned Terry Austin from a Luddite to a technological wizard. Fred noted several names, including Joe Staton, Joe Sinnott and Professor Herb Trimpe, but there may have been others.

One day in October 2004, I ran into Rocco, and he said to me, "Have you seen Fred’s website?" Of course, I hadn’t. Hembeck, of Germain origin, is an unusual enough name that when he registered, it was available. I asked him, "What was the goal when you started the site and how has that evolved?" Don't recall the answer to the latter part, but as to the former, he wanted to be all things to all comics and comics-related people, which I sensed almost immediately when I saw his list of links. When I discovered, I e-mailed Fred and he e-mailed me back. And I got a little obsessed with his site, as I sent Fred a SERIES of e-mails noting broken links on his prodigious links page. And, we recalled, I gave Fred a couple of blog ideas, one on Herb Alpert’s 70th birthday and another about those variation on album covers site.

"Ultimately, I thought I had enough ideas that I thought I could have my own blog. So, it’s YOUR FAULT, Fred Hembeck, for getting me to blog, curse you!" He just laughed.

Fred has a MySpace page where he actually get comments for some of the stuff he republishes from He also has The Fred Hembeck Show, which started on IGN and is now on Quick Stop Entertainment. Ken Plume brought Fred to IGN, so when Ken left, and Peter Sanderson as well, Fred followed.

That column was interrupted by the book, but now he's back at it. It used to be a weekly, but now he's re-examining what he should be doing there that he isn't doing at his home site. So recently, he's been doing strips that, one day, can be gathered for a collection.

My family’s been to the Hembeck palatial estate three years running now. I think the first year, Fred and I unintentionally seemed to be speaking in code and said, "Oh, yeah, I wrote about it on my blog" about a dozen times. Drove my wife crazy. I noted that Fred's wife is more likely to read my blog than my wife is, and that I’ve learned to accept that.

So, that, in peculiar summary form, was the second part of the interview. Happy birthday, old man. Let me know what double nickel is like.

[PHOTOS: Various combinations of Lydia, Carol (in the red) and me visiting Fred, Lynn (in the white) and Julie (in the blue), August 2007, all taken by me, except the one I'm in, taken by Julie. Discovered perhaps a week ago.]

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