Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Adieu, 2013

It’s almost embarrassing, what with all the people I know complaining about how bad their year was. I’m racking my brain trying to think of a better year than 2013.

In 2009 my wife took the children to see her family in Alabama. I had the house to myself for two weeks, for what was one of the sweetest vacations I ever enjoyed, even if I was working part-time then. I was Public Affairs Officer for my son’s Civil Air Patrol squadron. I got my MCSA (remember those?) and, with that and the public relations work I was doing with CAP and other people, the Good Money seemed just around the corner. 

This is normally the place where one snarks about how the Good Money didn’t turn out. Well, it didn’t. But I was happy, and it looked like I was going somewhere, even if I wasn’t. That still counts for me. 

By way of example from the opposite corner, nothing really earth-shattering awful happened in my life in 2011. But I was sick with worry and grief that year, full of terror for how my family was going to get by. Twenty-eleven was a write-off year. A year-long anxiety attack.

The year 2007 is the last fully happy year I can think back to. We quit loathsome Newport News, Virginia, for a home in Colorado Springs. I went to the Royal Gorge and Seven Falls in the summer. I enjoyed my best birthday yet, the best (and last ever really good) Halloween with my then-young son. Then came the legendary Christmas That Lasted All Day. I’d gotten a job with Community Activities at the U.S. Air Force Academy. My wife still had time left in the Navy, and we had no inkling of how utterly awful her job prospects would be in a couple of years. We felt secure.

In computer terms, 2007 represented the Last Known Good. Whenever I’m feeling remotely happy, I find myself comparing that feeling to how I felt at peak moments in 2007.

This year was simply the best. Even with that vicious suicidal depression that nearly did me in late August/early September—well, it didn’t do me in, now, did it? I recognized that for what it was, and beat it.

Looking back, it was in what I overcame that really put points on the board. I suffered the expected writer’s block after getting my book contract in March, and again after Bleeding Kansas got printed. Then I found out that the first book I wrote, which was to be the second in the series, was too clunky and stupid to be adapted. I’d honestly thought I’d have the second book in the Dead Silencer series finished in two weeks. Instead, that first book I finished writing, which was to be the second book in my trilogy, turned out to be my third novel altogether. Which I’ll be lucky to finish in another two weeks—two weeks into 2014!

Terrible, huh? Not at all. I’m many times the writer I was when I started The Roiling River of Dead project in November 2011, or when I finished it in May 2012. I’m many times the writer I was when I finished writing Bleeding Kansas in May of 2013.

We may be at our lowest point financially, but for the first time since, oh, 2009, I am not afraid. I’m not counting on a job anymore to pay the bills. I’m confident in my abilities to make it work.

The solution to all my problems lies in my own ingenuity and time better spent planning and completing projects. I know I can do this now. This isn’t drunken bluster on a New Year’s Eve, it’s the knowledge I’ve acquired since November 2011 when I set out to finish writing a novel: I actually love writing. From brainstorming that concept, writing that first line, to posting pages on my door and attacking them with a Sharpie until there’s nothing left to take away—I’m talking pure bliss here. I’ll pick up my paperback author’s copy of Bleeding Kansas, open it to a page, and laugh. Not just because I’m good, but because I remember what it took to make it good. It was worth it, after all.

I take my leave to celebrate the passing of one good year, and to ring in an even better one. I’ve come this far; I won’t tolerate one step backward now.

Twenty-thirteen, thank you and good night. Twenty-fourteen, let’s take it up another bunch of notches.

Peace of mind and strength of heart to all who have read this far. Happy New Year!
All we needed was love. Who knew? On to the Next Thing, then.

Anthem for a New Year: Roxy Music’s “The Thrill of It All”

This little masterpiece by Bryan Ferry and Co. opened 1974’s Country Life album, and it’s a good choice to open your New Year. I love the breaks in the song where Andy McKay’s saxophone does a sweet li’l devil’s lounge boogie, as ghostly falsetto voices augment Bryan Ferry’s vocal:
And before you go to sleep at night
Preying shadows—do they ask you why?
And in the morning through the afternoon
Do you wonder where you’re going to?
Most people don’t think of themselves as people with a mission when they’re working their day jobs. If we’re going to bust out of our respective ruts, we need to stop thinking like most people. Simple, right? Easily said, anyway.

Like the best anthems it runs on a driving beat and a sense of gotta-have-it urgency. If this doesn’t do it for you—or even if it does—I’ve got links to a couple more songs after the embed:

For a “let’s get that brass ring!” adrenaline pumper, you can never go wrong with Republica’s “Ready to Go.” Or more Roxy Music, in this case the 2001 live version of “Both Ends Burning.” The go-go dancers who appear at 1:11 and leave before the coda restore the heat to my blood whenever I feel a little too chill. This is my go-to video whenever I’m in the least little danger of feeling down.

Happy New Year! 

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Eve of Another New Year's Rockin' Eve

It took me long enough, but I finally figured it out. I won’t run any more Christmas stuff until next Christmas season. I’ve got the posts started and I’m working on them in between other writerly errands, but I’ve got them scheduled for dates throughout November and December 2014. As good as it feels writing about Christmas now, I realize no one else is in the mood for reading about Dickens’ ghosts and the weird disconnect between the media’s vision of Christmas and how Christmas is actually lived.

We’re all game for the New Year, though, right? I hope so. It pains me to think there are people out there whose spirits are so crushed they can’t even imagine something better for themselves. 

Cue a song from when Ambrosia was a wannabe prog rock outfit, getting inspiration from the fictional Book of Bokonon in Kurt Vonnegut’s apocalyptic farce Cat’s Cradle. Yes, this happened, long ago in the 1970s. This is why I can’t get excited for anything going on musically these days. No life, no gamble, as the poet said. “Nice, Very Nice” by Ambrosia satisfies most existential and aesthetic needs for the impending change of calendar. I’ll have other tunes, of course:

Saturday, December 28, 2013

For the Dogs Left Alone in the Yard

Christmas 2013 After-Action Report, Part 2

I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave New Year
All anguish, pain and sadness
Leave your heart and may your road be clear.

        — Peter Sinfield’s lyrics for Greg Lake’s
            “I Believe in Father Christmas”

One of the best Christmas gifts was delivered at 11:15 p.m. Christmas night, just as I was saying good night to the stars over my back yard and getting ready to turn in. That was when my next-door neighbor turned on his light and called the dog into the house. The poor animal had spent all of Christmas Day and most of the night alone in that yard. There would be no time to play but at least she wasn’t alone anymore. 

(Ah, Dog People. Gotta love ‘em!)

This gift worked on another level by reminding me of the conflicts I have yet to resolve regarding the book I’ve always wanted to write about Christmas. All the bad music and commercialism aside, I believe Christmas is one of the Good Things in life. I want it to be good for me. I’d like it to be good for everyone.

But I have no answer for the dogs left alone in the yard. 

The blithe cruelty of ordinary existence does not take a holiday. For those without family and friends Christmas is a bleak, claustrophobic cell in the coldest sub-basement of Hell. With a few mitigating nuances, I spent nearly every Christmas in the 1980s like that. To this day, all these years later, I have no wisdom to offer, no answer for that lonely young man in his 20s. “Do something else!” comes off like a cruel taunt when all that young man can see are the walls of that cell. 

By the way, that song I quoted above? I respect Peter Sinfield immensely for his work with King Crimson and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, but he screwed the pooch with these final lines of the song:

They said there’d be snow on Christmas
They said there’d be peace on earth
Hallelujah! Noel! Be it heaven or hell
The Christmas we get we deserve.

What arrogant, pig-headed pretension! Yes, we all have a degree of agency in regards to the happiness of our lives. And I’ll always maintain that if Christmas is a misery for us, we’re doing something wrong with our lives. We need to change. We need to do something else.

But there are a lot of people out there who got dealt a really bad hand. Maybe they just lost someone. Maybe they lost their job and face a bleak, unemployed New Year. You can fill in the blanks from here.

So what do you say to these people? “Merry Christmas?”

My best attempt at an answer is in the first set of lyrics I quoted. You must remove the emotional wreckage from your life. Clear the obstacles so you can move forward. Walk away from Ground Zero and into the Next Thing.

Do something else.

For those for whom such is easier said than done, I can only wish you the strength and imagination you’ll need to cope. You can outlast this, too, if you have to. At least long enough to have a peek at the other side of your current misery.

I thought to leave off with Greg Lake’s “I Believe in Father Christmas” but I heard a better song on the way back from dropping my daughter off at work. “Gunfight” by Sick Puppies examines the wisdom of picking one’s battles, and bringing the right tool for the job. “If you stand in front of tanks/The tanks are gonna win!” Don’t stand in front of the tanks. Sometimes you just have to slip off to the side and wait it out.

Until we find a solution, here’s to all the dogs left alone in the yard.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas 2013 After-Action Report

Most of this Christmas bounty is from thrift stores, Wally World,
the Dollar Tree, etc. We're happy for it. I got what I wanted.
Once more, we enjoyed another great Christmas that, by the numbers, had no right to happen whatsoever. Or maybe it did. I suppose this is the one benefit one might glean from expecting the worst of everything.

It's still a lousy habit that needs to stop. There were many factors I wasn't taking into consideration. After all, I wasn't a published author this time last year, was I? I won’t finish Grace Among the Dead by New Year’s but I’ll come close enough. I’ll have more than one, maybe more than two books out this time next year. They’ll be exceptionally readable and entertaining books because I’m acquiring a level of mastery of narrative one week at a time. I see the results transform the door of my very office. My son and I spent Christmas night looking over other people’s book trailers on the Web and talking of doing our own (much better) video shorts. If we can build a proper YouTube following....
My vegan wife made this for her family
on Christmas morning. I love my vegan wife.

I’ve come to appreciate what a delightful ultimate middle finger to the world my family is—because we are a family. I asked my grown daughter what she was doing for Christmas and she looked affronted, “I’m doing it at home!” By which she meant she was spending the night on the sofa after doing what is now the traditional gift-wrapping on the floor of my office.

There are wealthy men who can’t buy the love I have in my life. The realization and full appreciation of this fact only kicked in this year. Better late than never, though.

Buddha Cat says, “YOU are your own best gift!”
I can laugh at fear and the terror of ordinary days because this Christmas I understand I am loved by extraordinary people. How dare I even consider the possibility of letting such people down?

Scripting and execution. Here we go. Towards even Merrier Christmases!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Kristin Hersh and Throwing Muses’ Finest Track and Christmas Jam

Alas, this is out of print. There’s someone on Amazon
who will sell it to you new for $118, though.
Befitting their status as critics’ darlings, Kristen Hersh and her band Throwing Muses are generally a dismal chore of a listen. I sought out their music upon hearing this track on Rhino Records New Wave Xmas compilation and heard nothing more than badly produced, unfocused compositions with lots of Yoko Ono-esque squawking.

There’s some of that Yoko Ono vocalizing on “Santa Claus” but the production is bright, the drums are tight, and Ms. Hersh shows her guitar chops to superb effect. The lyrics are stoner-weird, but the way Hersh works her repeater pedal, with the band bringing the drama in full effect behind her, makes it all worthwhile. Altogether, it’s a great Christmas anthem, and one I’ll have on loop in my head as I do my Christmas shopping on this Last Chance Christmas Eve. “Santa Claus” was Throwing Muses’ finest moment, and now it’s yours:

Sunday, December 22, 2013

“Trio”: A Devotional by KING CRIMSON

At the First Touch of Winter, Summer Fades
,” Valentine Cameron Princep, 1897.
It’s not all apocalyptic guitar-bashing and long, noodly solos. Sometimes it’s just achingly beautiful. You’ll have to turn the sound up to hear the plaintive introductory notes calling out like a lost kitten. It’s a slow, gradual process, but love finds it, as we pray it finds us all.

King Crimson’s instrumental “Trio,” from their 1974 album Starless and Bible Black, speaks of loneliness, the solace found in stolen moments of quiet beauty, the rare blessing of those cherished few who come and go in our lives. It evokes the preciousness of a single, special afternoon, a night, a shared dawn—and how heartbreakingly transitory it all is. To think that an arrangement of notes on musical instruments can convey the emotional enormity of such an idea....

This is more than a meditation. It’s a devotional. Listen to this right before bed and you should sleep with your heart and guts properly unclenched.


Serendipity-Doo-Dah Days

By a stroke of wild luck I landed a temp gig that I’ll be working through the first week of January. Ironically, I’d wanted to spend this time talking about Christmas—yet I’m too busy working to fund Christmas to think about it much, let alone write about it. Just like everyone else slaving to make it happen.

Yeah, I know. Aside from the extra cash, it’s good to have that perspective if I’m planning on liberating Christmas for those of us in the 99% who could use some liberation ourselves. That book will be better for it. When I get around to it....

I love the physical component to the job (repeatedly lifting and unpacking boxes up to 50 lbs.) that makes me sleep like a proper cadaver when I come home. The only downside, if it can be called that, is that Saturdays and Sundays are my best chance to think and write. This Saturday is the Solstice, and my last, best chance of getting my office cleaned and decorated for the revels to come, limited as they will be with my work schedule.

As always, I’ll just have to do the best I can.

With ten days to go, I can safely declare 2013 as the Year to Beat. The ups were way up, and the downs at least gave me something to think about. In a sense, it started with my birthday in October 2012, when I decided I was too old to be suffering in a call center, or any other job that involved such chained-to-the-desk humiliation. My best bet was to take a chance on finishing and selling a zombie apocalypse trilogy. I had already finished one book in May. Why not write the first book of the trilogy, drop in the second, and move from there? 

So I finished my second book, the first in the proposed series—and thanks to James Robert Smith dropping a dime on me to the publisher, I got picked up by Severed Press. An editor there read the excerpts I’d published on this blog beginning in January and liked what he saw. So did several other people, who swelled the page hits here from single-digit views per week to...well, a little bit more. My stats are still a joke compared to the most obscure blog you know, but they’re better than they were. Look at the graph in the upper left hand corner of the screenshot:

The graph begins its precipitous rise with Bartcop.com linking to my New Year’s Day post, “Old Dead Man’s New’s Year’s Sucking Eve.” The rise continues as I begin running excerpts from Bleeding Kansas that same month. (I removed most of the chapter-long excerpts after Severed Press bought the book in March.) The most prominent peaks are May, when I first cracked 1,000 hits per month, July (I don’t know what drove that one) and November, when I cracked 2,500. To get those kinds of numbers per day will be the challenge for 2014.

Near-total obscurity still beats total obscurity. I’ll work with it until I reach the next level. Which still won’t be enough, but minor Internet fame beats near-total obscurity, so I’ll work with that...when I come to it.

I have GOT to find a way to top this
bit of digital badassery!
I finished Bleeding Kansas on 25 May, and after exchanging proofed galleys and other assorted back-and-forth with the publisher, the book became available for download on 28 June, with the paperback available shortly after. One week later Luzifer-Verlag bought the German language rights. The cover for that edition, as seen in the graph above, turned out to be the fourth most popular post I’ve done for this blog.

It hasn’t been all champagne and kisses, though. I’d thought most people would relate to my protagonist Derek Grace’s anger at the contracted job market, being a professional thrown into the disposable wage-slave class, etc. I could not have been more wrong. It turns out there are a lot of people out there who believe if you just smile for Master, broadcast a positive attitude for Master, “take a job no one else wants,” et al., the Big Break will come. As Derek Grace observed of Tanner in Chapter 6, “for people like him, the Great Recession is an attitude problem.” 

I laugh now to see how uncomfortable I’d made most of the critics slagging my book in the Amazon reviews—in a couple of notable cases, I could tell these people knew I was describing hard truths about the job market, but felt compelled to denounce me by way of maintaining their own good fortunes. For all their vitriol it was nothing more than them knocking on wood while whistling past the graveyard, avoiding the cracks in the sidewalk and mumbling the correct lines to keep the demons outside the protective circle. Still, the bad reviews did hobble sales. 

I should have known. People who have their jobs, their (secure, unlooted) pensions, their set-ups are the only ones in a position to buy and read zombie apocalypse adventures. They don’t want their boats rocked. They don’t even want it pointed out that they’re in a boat, and always at risk of getting crushed by the giant yachts piloted by the Good People. People who would relate to my character are too busy working to keep that fake smile looking genuine and hustling for one more interview to worry with such fantasies.

It’s hard maintaining that most basic Positive Attitude (as opposed to the culturally sanctioned bright-eyed delusion) one needs to keep on keepin’ on when it looks like all you’re doing is rolling that same rock back up that same hill, and the thing that happens every time near the top will happen yet again. My first book was getting buried in hate and I had two more to write. 

I couldn’t think of writing anything else that might sell. On top of the usual bleed in savings both our vehicles needed work if they were to keep running. My “best bet” turned out to be a bummer after all.

So I became suicidally depressed towards the end of August. I’m not a celebrity so no one wants to know the details—reading about financially secure people talking about their fits of blues as if it takes genuine heroic effort for them to get through is galling to me as I have genuine threats to my family and myself to be depressed about—suffice it to say that my inability to leave the house during that hard week saved my life. Curiously, it never occurred to me to order a gun online and have it delivered. Good thing my brains and spirit were so broken I didn’t think of that, huh?

They weren’t so broken that I forgot I have people in my life who actually give more than two shits for me, even depend on me to keep them smiling and going through the motions in this vale of tears. I have yet to get past my own surprise at myself for not resenting these people for obligating me to live. It’s quite morbidly hilarious to consider that the unforgivably Bad Attitude my critics would condemn me to poverty for is so incomplete!

I couldn’t tell you how I came out of my depression. Like every abuse I’ve suffered in my life, large and small, I somehow outlasted it. My birthday, the one year anniversary of pissing off the temp agency and taking my Grand Chance, came and went. Halloween and Thanksgiving weren’t epics for the books, but they didn’t suck, either. Hell, I enjoyed them, which is the most anyone can ask.

So here we are, facing the Great Report Card for the Year that is Christmas. I’m still without a proper title for my third novel, which will be second novel in The Saga of the Dead Silencer. But I’m winding up Chapter 20 of 25. Severed Press wants to reissue Bleeding Kansas with another, snappier cover. They offered me the chance to write all the offending attitudes out, and I took it. (The old e-book has been pulled from Amazon; your last chance to read the controversial first edition is only available in paperback.) It’s all much more comfortably generic now, which is fine by me. I need to sell books. 

I’ve faced plenty of New Years with far less hope in my heart. I don’t have money, but I’ve got family, and that’s something most “successful” people will never know. My vegan wife brings plates of sausage and eggs right to my desk where I work. I don’t ask her to; I certainly don’t expect it. Would Kim do that for Kanye? Donald Trump would have to threaten to fire someone. Your average faceless hedge-fund managing parasite wouldn’t even know what I’m talking about.

This wonderfully serendipitous love in my life does require me, however tacitly, to make myself worthy of such unasked-for kindnesses. A small part of me insists I should resent this but the rest is too busy enjoying breakfast. My wife not only likes to cook for me, she’s damned good at it. Too bad, so sad, sucks to be you! Maybe you should try working a job no one else wants. Yeah, that’s the ticket...keep smiling, chumps! No one likes a sore loser! It’s all in the attitude! You make your own luck! Blah-blah-blah.

Doesn’t sound so good hearing it as it does saying it, does it?

For those of you with genuine good hearts whose joy isn’t contingent upon the failure and misery of unlucky others, I wish you the best Christmas money can’t buy. I’d say Happy New Year, too, but there are those of us for whom the year begins anew everyday. We know who we are. We’ll be there when the calendars get replaced, doing our best to top the one that just got tossed. 

We’ll take that cup o’ kindness, though, for days of auld lang syne. We only have so much time together. Let us take a moment to raise a glass to whom and what we have that makes it all worthwhile. Salud!

And then back to work.

UPDATE: I came up with the title for the second book in my zombie trilogy on New Year’s Eve. I’ll announce it on the Ides of January 2014.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

How the Grinch Lived to Carve the Roast Beast on Christmas

...makes no sense whatsoever.

As one  Facebook commentator noted, he probably
made off with the Who-kah, too.
My first introduction to Coleridge’s concept of the willing suspension of disbelief was at an early age with the Grinch story. I never could suspend my disbelief at the unbelievable great mercy of the Whos—that the residents of Whoville would not lynch the Grinch’s green furry hide for breaking into every house and stealing not only the presents, but the food. (In the middle of winter. Think about that.) Whether the Grinch had had a change of heart or not, his best bet for his continued survival after pulling his mass breaking-and-entering stunt was to flee for a new home, far, far away from the people whose houses he had robbed. He should dye his fur and get a new look, too. The story of a Christmas-jacking Grinch would no doubt spread, and Whos in the surrounding villages would be arming themselves. (“We can’t let this happen again. Think of all the poor Cindy-Lou Whos!”)

Seriously, the Whos of Whoville wake up on Christmas morning to find their houses sacked down to the contents of their very refrigerators, and instead of panic and wailing for the cruel tragedy of it all, they gather calmly in a circle to sing? That’s no Christmas miracle, that’s pathological denial.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Tweets for the Historically Curious

I don’t do much with my Twitter account, but there are a few people I follow who make having it worthwhile. One of these is @1813now, which tweets quotes from notable personalities of the day as they are made precisely two centuries ago, as well as “breaking news” of the time.

As of this writing we are precisely 200 years from the War of 1812 and Lord Byron in his strutting prime. I hope the person or persons responsible for this continue on into 1814. This is proof of the great good that can be done on the Internet by capable people who care:

I’ll grant that this won’t be for everyone. But it sure is for me.

As seen in the header for the @1813now account, the creators sponsor an excellent Web site, pastnow: History, Arts and Stuff, which is far more comprehensive as befits the format. Whenever current events get me down (which is often enough), I’ll escape there, and maybe pick up some perspective along the way. The love for the subject matter alone is inspiring.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Let Us Give Thanks to the Censors

...for they point the way to the Good Stuff!

I was at the tail end of eighth grade in 1975 when I read in the paper that parents in South Dakota were burning copies of Slaughterhouse Five because some high school cheerleader complained to her mom about having to read it for class. So I snagged a copy with my lawnmowing money on my next trip out to Waldenbooks in the mall, and blazed through the entire novel in one day of stolen minutes at school. 

I’ve always been a slow, leisurely kind of reader, so this alone was shocking. The way I so easily fell into the groove of the “unstuck in time” motif was another shocker. I’ve never been a fan of most literary gimmicks, but my cool new best bud Kurt not only made his non-chronological approach to telling the story seem perfectly natural, but the only way to explain his memories of surviving the Battle of the Bulge, starving in a German POW camp, and the firebombing of Dresden. 

Shocker #3 was learning that veterans of the Last Good War weren’t entirely sold on the idea of it being a particularly Good War. I picked up quickly that the people who were most high on war (like, say, the then-recently wrapped Vietnam debacle) were the blowhards who never served — or if they did, they were in the rear with the gear, and well out of harm’s way. 

Slaughterhouse Five turned out to be quite the gateway drug. One of my favorite memories of the Summer of ‘75 was reading a friend’s dad’s hardcover edition of Kurt Vonnegut’s earlier novel, Cat’s Cradle. Until then, I’d mostly read throwaway science fiction, and studiously avoided anything an adult said was “good” for me. Now I knew there was such a thing as Outlaw Literature. (Hell, Outlaw Science Fiction. Thanks to Vonnegut, I was good and ready for meeting Harlan Ellison.) As Dr. Thompson would put it, I’ve been riding for the Gonzo Brand ever since. 

All this, because of a book-burning mob in South Dakota. Thanks, book-burning mob of South Dakota! If you've read this far I encourage you to click this link and see how many these banned books you have read. Fill in the gaps. I can’t say you’ll find anything to change your life as Slaughterhouse Five did mine—but you’re sure to annoy a controlling busybody who’s certain she knows what’s Best for You. As such people seem to really like raging at other people for not toeing their peculiar political line, you’ll be doing them a kindness. It’s a win-win all around.

John Lennon’s Final Tour de Force

After 40 years of listening to their music I can say I am not a mere fan of The Beatles, but a student. I understand them better now as four distinct individuals who were bigger than the sum of their parts, but in the earliest years I was a John partisan. 

John Lennon was the difficult one. The hard-drinking, sharp-tongued, not-so-cute one. The older boy Paul and George had to impress to get into what started out as his band. The bomb-thrower who dared note that his band was bigger than Jesus on a broadcast interview. That gifted-mad composer who gave the world “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “I Am the Walrus,” and “Revolution 9.” John was the natural choice for a budding young iconoclast like myself.

Christ! You know it ain’t easy....
Even that curious business with Yoko Ono—how, by all the natural laws in the universe, does a wealthy, famous Man With Options become such an abject emotional slave to a woman who is so far from conventionally beautiful? The man even defied rock-star logic. 

I considered it the rankest injustice that John never was as popular than Paul—and it did not escape my notice that most people didn’t give a fuck for John until after he was shot in December 1980. Over the years, however, it’s become easier for me to understand and accept that there are good, very reasonable reasons John never cracked the top of the charts with the ease Paul did. 

John’s solo career had its moments, but it was never entirely about the music. It was about exorcising demons (“Mother”), and making Grand Statements (“I Don’t Want To Be a Soldier,” “Imagine,” “Power to the People,” “Working Class Hero,” etc.) when it wasn’t about professing his love for Yoko. By name, God help him!

John wrote some fine anthems for the ages after 1969. But it’s not summer-fun sunshine, hangin’ by the pool, throwin’ the Frisbee, drivin’ down the boulevard, makin’ out with your girlfriend music like Paul’s was. 

That’s not to say Lennon wrote bad music. It was different music. It seems to me that there were a lot of air bubbles in his creative line as the years went by, however, and I can’t help wondering if Lennon wasn’t running out of creative mojo early on. It’s been noted that, late in The Beatles’ life as a band, that John had complained to Paul that he couldn’t keep up with Paul’s output. (To be fair, I think Paul was finished as of 1979. Once Wings was done, so was his songwriting.) 

Released 29 October 1973, though I mostly
associate it with the Christmas season that year.
John had one last burst of Beatles-worthy brilliance, though, and that was the title track/lead single from his 1973 album Mind Games. It sounded at once bombastic and dreamlike through a single speaker on the AM radio when it first came out. The 2010 remaster is a revelation on the headphones. Beneath the three-note octave-spanning riff on the strings that anchors the song are a reggae guitar, a very McCartney-esque bass, and any number of odd things going on. 

John drops everything and the kitchen sink into this and, by God, it works. If nothing else, I’m reminded that John Lennon, even if he had never formed The Beatles, would still have been one of the greatest rock vocalists of all time. He blew us all away in 1963 with “Twist and Shout.” Ten years later he sings “Mind Games” and takes it to another level entirely. Listen to what John does with the word “love” near the end of the coda. Don’t try this at home, kids. Musically, creatively, and artistically, John Lennon never got any better after this. 

Monday, December 02, 2013

A Special Holiday Message from America's Last Poet

The message, of course, applies to our lives as a whole, the way we should live in the each and everyday. Mr. Bukowski was not a fan of Christmas.

In case the long nights and cold weather have you feeling a little more introspective than usual, though—that’s a big part of the season after all—listen up. Here is Truth:

I don’t know who made this image but it’s a beautiful job. Here’s hoping we all find the courage to dismiss the trivialities we impose upon ourselves and learn to love better. Easier said than done, I know, but it’s not like there’s anything on TV this time of year. Why not give it a shot? People do  dumber things at Christmas parties.

November 2013 After-Action Report

Yes, it was that kind of a month....

It didn’t exactly start like this...
So much happened between Halloween and Thanksgiving. Bleeding Kansas got taken off the e-book market for a refit and a new cover; I took a week to go through and smack down every last typo we didn’t get on the first three run-throughs. I corrected an error in regards to the use of a firearm and took out what seemed like nine pages of adverbs. It’s a new edition, a new look, and we hope it tears up the charts. I’m definitely thankful for the opportunity to give the first book in The Saga of the Dead Silencer the attention it deserves at the hands of a much more seasoned writer, namely, me.

...nor did it end like this. I have sworn to myself not
to let the jack o’ lantern go like this in the future.
 Seems cruel.
I’m still trying to come up with an alternate title to the second book (working title: The Resilient) (UPDATE: It's Grace Among the Dead), which I’m still scrambling to finish. I’ve made some progress on it, though. It’s hovering around 90,000 words and could easily top out at 100,000. I need to hurry up with this post so I can get back to it.

Still, I can’t ignore the blog, can I? Not when November has had an all-time personal best record of hits—and it would have been much, much more, had I managed to maintain the quality and quantity of posts after a very good start at the beginning of the month.

We lost Thanksgiving to the retailers, but at least we’re talking about Thanksgiving, not ignoring it altogether as we seem to do most years. We had our first really prolonged, hard freeze of five days, which looks to be a pattern for the winter to come. I got sick, thought my diverticulitis had come back, but it hadn’t. My youngest child turned 17.  

December has a hard act to follow. Christmas will be more of a challenge than ever, given my financial situation. But I have a book to finish. I might take time out to play with another book I’ve always wanted to write on recovering Christmas from the commercial and emotional abyss. This being the kind of Christmas I’m looking at, I can’t think of a better time to do it.

I’m already at the point where I can see the other side of this, when the New Year is not so new and it’s just plain winter. That’s what I generally have the most trouble with—all these months of celebration, and now what? The Super Bowl? Valentine’s Day? Please.

Meanwhile it’s the second day of December and I’ve yet to properly decorate my office. We have celebrations to celebrate, revels to revelate. Right now, I’ll settle for finishing one more chapter, so I can go on to the next. Here’s to what happens next.
Thanksgiving Day: the Four Fluffies of the Apocalypse await the annual unpacking of the Xmas Tree. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013 After-Action Report

I’m rethinking a lot of traditions, and one in particular is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC. Granted, I was never really into it until my late 20s, when I wrote a play-by-play for my zine in 1989. After that, I caught the parade when I could. Which really wasn’t all that often, come to think of it. It’s only been in the last ten years or so.

My latter-day tradition has been to get up, get caffeinated, turn on the set, and, upon the first commercial after the start of the parade, go out to the shed and bring in the Christmas boxes, including our artificial tree and its many, decades-spanning ornaments.

The commercial nature of it was part of the appeal—commercialism is an element of Christmas, after all. I’ve always enjoyed watching the high school marching bands and cheerleaders, savoring the poignancy of knowing that this is the highlight of many a career, if not the entire lives of some of these young worthies. That was the year I went to New York! My school’s band marched in the Macy’s Parade! 

I’ll never say no to a decent, all-female dance squad. The Rockettes once again proved themselves as a national treasure. Before getting to the Rockettes at the tail end of the first hour, though, we had to endure one awful Broadway set piece after another. 

The Broadway segment of the first hour was so horrible I don’t even want to mention the names of the shows featured. They were excruciating to watch, nauseating to hear. The Rockettes weren’t on for nearly long enough compared to so much of the crap they lingered over. That goes for the rest, come to think of it. The high school bands don’t get nearly as much time as the celebs singing on the floats.

Alas, the years have not been kind. 
And poor Joan Jett! I never found her boyish, scrawny self sexy in her best days, but now she looks like someone’s perpetually pissed-off mom. I'll give the producer of the show credit for not giving her much face time. That little bit went a long way, lemme tell ya.

I remembered feeling this way last year. So another trend is trending here. Maybe it’s just me, but there was something rather forced about the whole affair. Overall, it was depressing. I should put some distance between me and this thing next year. Make a new tradition.

Seriously, this really works.
Dinner was great, and all the more special as it was cooked by my wife, who went vegan this year. She roasted up a king-hell turkey, though, using the Alton Brown method of putting a tin foil mask across the breast and making sure the temperature in the breast didn’t go above 160 degrees Fahrenheit. The breast meat ends up juicier than the thighs and drumsticks. Every bit of the turkey is a prime piece. No one gets stuck with the dry stuff.

According to my wife, pumpkin pie out of the can cost three dollars a can so she got two small pie pumpkins, roasted them in the oven until their skins slid off, and whipped up a world-beating pie using pecans and such for a gluten-free crust. Her homemade giblet gravy was an all-time personal best. The mashed potatoes were honest to God potatoes that got mashed, and drowned in said gravy.

Welcome to Monsters, Inc.!.
We had cranberries—the real berries, not that jellied goop in a can. There’s also some fruit salad I need to finish up for breakfast tomorrow. By the way of Thanksgiving miracle, both children joined us at the table. We’ve never got the hang of eating as a family. But we made a game attempt at it.

I regret we never made a real tradition out of Thanksgiving. By “real,” I mean visiting with other family and sharing the meal with them. In many ways, I find myself desperately trying to fill the holes left by the tradition I grew up with in the 1970s. But that’s another post.

Bottom line: this year’s Thanksgiving went well. We’re tossing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (I might tune in at the 50-minute mark and see if I can catch the Rockettes) but we need to get something a little more personal going anyway. Next year promises more changes, with my daughter being 21, and my son’s last year of high school. Meanwhile, Christmas 2013 is on. Ready or not!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Last Sunday in November 2013

In which we talk of preternaturally cold weather, electronic music, and the very short, very impecunious Christmas season ahead.

Normally I make a point of going out for an extra-long walk on the last Sunday of the month, using the time to brood over what went right over the previous weeks, and what I can do to make the next month better.

This isn’t normal. Unless I still lived in Alaska, that is, or if it was already February here in Colorado Springs. It was 25 degrees Fahrenheit at half-past noon when I got down to my office. It’s up to a balmy 29 now, just before sunset. I might hazard it if it wasn’t for all the ice and snow on the sidewalks. Even then, I’m certain the only thing I’d get out of the walk is, “Holy smokes, it’s cold out here!” and a raw, runny nose.

Looks like it’s going to be a harder than usual winter. All I ask is that it not be 60 degrees (or higher) and sunny on Christmas. I did move here for the snow. Let’s have some more of that, too, if we’re not climbing much above freezing for so many days in a row.

The highlight of my week, aside from watching my blog stats break all kinds of records after I made a 1 a.m. post last night, was sitting at the stoplight with my son on our way from school. A song came on the radio. This one had a heavy, synth-augmented, bass-thumping beat, with lots of high-end synth drama on the build. My 17 year old son was banging his head to it.

I knew this song, so I knew what would happen next: Steve Perry opened his mouth to contribute his vocal part to “Separate Ways,” and my son’s head-banging morphed into a look of abject horror: what nightmare horror was I just suckered into grooving to?

My son loves classic rock, but like most right-thinking people (his father, for instance), he has a natural aversion to Journey. After we had our laugh—and I expressed my usual caveat not to throw out guitarist/musical arranger Neil Schon with the histrionic singing, stupid lyrics, etc.—my son started talking about his fascination with electronic music. Not EDM*, per se, but the stuff people like Deadmau5 do.

That my son talks to me at all is one of those miracles I will once again give thanks for this Thursday. That my son is anxious to talk to me about music cheers me up even more. He spoke to me about the Ten Thousand Names of Electronic Music and how each was defined by the beats per minute (BPM), and how he didn’t care for that. He just wants a groove he can get behind and nod his head to.

I sat there nodding, thinking how I really need to get him a new graphics card and extra memory sticks for his computer. It’s not the kind of thing I can surprise him with under the Christmas tree. It’s not the thing I can necessarily afford, either. Oh, well. Put it on the card. 

If nothing else, I’ll need him and his improved rig to make Web commercials to promote my books. Overall, though, if he can teach himself how to make his own electronic music as he’s taught himself guitar, and he likely will...well, that settles it. It’s got to be done. It will be done.

It’s going to be another tough Christmas season. Maybe the toughest yet. I’m strategizing how I can make it work without a pile of presents under the tree.

I’m reasonably certain I can pull this off. If nothing else, it will give me something to write about. Of course, if any of you lurkers have any ideas, drop me a line. I know I’m not the only one struggling here.

* EDM: Electronic Dance Music. Formerly known as “electronica” when all the music and youth culture magazines were trying to shove it down our throats in the late 1990s: “You should throw away your Beatles and Led Zeppelin and guitar-based and verse-chorus-verse stuff and EMBRACE THE FUTURE like all the cool rich club kids we hang out with are doing!” Yes, they really published stuff like that, so much so they angered that silent majority of people who liked to going to clubs to dance, but weren’t giving up the other music they liked. Moral of story: when in doubt, rebrand.