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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

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“Why is it that so many of our favorite characters from film and television wear masks?” asks the Hal Leonard website. “Jay Bocook examines this disturbing phenomenon in this intense yet entertaining medley.”

Bocook is a staff composer/arranger for the Hal Leonard music company, biggest supplier of sheet music to middle schools in the U.S. Including my son’s, Lylburn Downing Middle School in Lexington, VA. Their spring band concert featured Bocook’s arrangement “Who’s That Masked Man?” The company owns the rights to over 200,000 titles, but he whittled them down to just five mask-themed songs.

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The medley opens with “March of the Swiss Soldiers,” the fourth and last section of Gioachino Rossini’s overture to his 1829 opera William Tell. I know it from the black and white reruns of The Lone Ranger I used to watch on my aunts’ ancient TV set. The 1950s series went off the air a decade before I was born, but the Overture had been the masked ranger’s theme since his 1933 radio debut.  The galloping beat originally belonged to the Swiss folk hero known for shooting an apple off of his son’s head with a crossbow—an evil Austrian overlord’s way of punishing Tell for not bowing to his authority. Tell eventually assassinates the overlord, sparking the Swiss rebellion.

spider-man 1967

Bocook uses the Overture for a ten-second intro, no saxophones, so my son doesn’t come in till the key-changing transition to Spider-Man. The 1967 cartoon started Saturday mornings on ABC the year after I was born. Disney now owns both Marvel and ABC, but the company that originally produced the show went bankrupt after two seasons. The cost-cutting third season is notorious for its recycled bits.  The theme song is better—or at least better known—than the cartoon, though my son found the sax line repetitious. Composer Robert Harris also scored Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation Lolita—a very different kind of “disturbing”—but lyricist Paul Francis Webster started writing hits in the early 30s, including for Shirley Temple and Duke Ellington. I would love to hear either sing, “Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can,” but it’s always Homer Simpson’s “Spider-Pig” version playing in my head.

phantom of the opera title

A very different kind of webber wrote the 1986 The Phantom Of The Opera. The Andrew Lloyd Webber musical is the longest running on Broadway—over 10,000 performances and counting—but I think Bocook cheated with this one. Yes, the deformed Lon Chaney character wears a mask, but not the heroic kind of Spider-Man and the Lone Ranger. 1925 audiences reportedly shrieked in horror when the Phantom’s damsel-in-distress unmasked him: “Feast your eyes—glut your soul on my accursed ugliness!”But in Bocook and Webber’s defense, my son likes the sax parts.

the incredibles

Instead of operas and pretend operas, Michael Giacchino is better known for his Pixar films (RatatouilleUpCars 2), J. J. Abrahams TV shows (Alias, Lost, Fringe), and first-person shooter video games (Call of Duty, Medal of Honor). When he scored the 2004 The Incredibles, he was channeling the 1960s. “The Glory Days” theme is an amalgam of retro spy beats. My son is fourteen, so the 30s and 60s and 90s are all the same to him—but he did recognize the James Bond knock-off chords. Director-writer Brad Bird confirmed last month that he’s finally getting around to making the much deserved sequel too.  The Incredibles was my son’s first drive-in movie. He thought it was pretty cool that we could just park the mini-van somewhere and a movie would start playing. He was four.

THe_Mask_of_Zorro_(soundtrack)

His favorite of Bocook’s selections is “Zorro’s Theme” from the 1998 The Mask of Zorro staring Antonio Banderas. James Horner also scored The Rocketeer and The Amazing Spider-Man, but I appreciate how the faux-Mexican melody gestures back to the 19th century, mirroring the medley’s authentically 19th century opening the way “Glory Days” mirrors the authentically 1960s Spider-Man. Zorro is even a revolutionary like the legendary William Tell. He also has the best rhythm for sax.

I don’t have a recording of the LDMS 8th grade band, but here’s another middle school performing the same “Who’s That Masked Man” medley. I admit to wishing the 1966 Batman TV show theme were in there, or John Williams’ 1977 Superman film, or Danny Elfman’s 1989 Batman, or my all-time favorite, the 2003 Teen Titans cartoon theme, “Go Teen Titans!” Our whole family used to watch those reruns. But I doubt Puffy AmiYumi is on Bocook’s list of available Hall Leonard music.

Fortunately, my son is also in Jazz Band, and they closed the concert with “Smoke on the Water.” Which makes up for any other omissions.

smoke on the water

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