Figplucker's 21st Century Blues: Drunken Spree (Skip James)

It's the Year of the Blues here at the Mighty Blowhole...

As we move further into the new millennium, it's appropriate to look at a musical genre that, as it ages, seems to become more a part of our distant past than our musical present,even though the influence of the blues is still vibrant in the music of today...

So, to honor the blues, Figplucker's handpicking a variety of vintage blues songs, rerecording em for the 21st Century (seemed a bit disingenuous to rerecord 'em + try to make 'em sound like they were recorded 100 years ago), + posting 'em here on the blog for your enjoyment. Or whatever.

First up: Drunken Spree, originally recorded by Skip James, a classic Delta blues...

Leave a comment + let me know what you think.


Nasty, Nasty Part III: in which the bugs/rats/gators/abortions eat half our hero's ass

Greetings, ummm, whoever shows up for these things we do here!  Welcome to First-Draft Theater!  I'm your host, Whichever Name I Use On This Particular Website!

Do you remember my previous posts on "nasty novels?"  Well, you don't have to, because this is the Internet and they're still up there and you can go read them whenever you wish by clicking LINK I or LINK II.

Well, I've gotten just the least lil' ol' bit obsessed and have been buying up a lot of the sumbitches on ABE and Amazon marketplace, wherever I can find 'em cheap, so I have quite the shelf of bug/rat/critter/fish reading ahead of me.  I also have a lot of it behind me, but unfortunately I wasn't writing reviews back when I went through a lot of these books.  I also read most of them so long ago that I don't remember much of anything about them.  And, since I've got a big stack I haven't even read the first time, it's not likely I'll be re-reading these anytime soon... but, that's no reason you can't have fun looking at the covers, which, as much as it bruises my ego, is probably most of the appeal of these posts, really.  And if I do re-read 'em, I can always put up a more in-depth review later, right?  Who among you is mighty enough to stop me!?  

So, here's a gallery of covers, and I'll tell you whatever I happen to remember about any of 'em, by way of really-really half-assed reviews.

We bought a zoo!  A zoo of endless horror!  First priority - as in life - is a visit to the cathouse!

I don't remember much about this book.  I think it was kinda mild for a critters-on-the-rampage book, but I think I liked it okay. 

Don't remember this one, either, but I always like Nick Sharman's writing, so I'm sure it's good and probably ruthlessly gory.  I may have to re-read this...

From the cathouse to the bughouse! 

I don't remember much about this one, either... I think it was kinda ordinary.  But I have a thing for hoards of flies, so I may have to re-read it, too.  Plus, it's Signet, and I have a fondness for Signet.  (Yes, I am weird enough to like publishing houses.)

Neurotic, babbling comedian and frequent Letterman guest in the 80's Richard Lewis wrote killer-critter books? No, no.  I'm pretty sure it's a different guy (a British dude) and I have a sequel to this called The Web, so I may end up having to re-read this first.  I remember it being fairly standard for the genre, but that's not a bad thing.

I remember this one a bit, and I lovvvvvve Squelch.   My relationship with this book began well, when I was purchasing it at the bookstore and the lady ringing it up went "Ewwww, what is that!  Why do you want to read that?!" and my lil' punk-rock self was sooooo happy that this book could upset citizens that I knew, whatever kind of trash actually lurked between the pages, it would be a venerated object for me.  I remember reading it in my time between classes in college and digging the sicko amounts of gore as hideous caterpillars gnawed away at human flesh, only to turn into big moths which also made humans miserable.  Yay!

 I think I read this more than once.  It's a pretty quick read.  And since it's a novelization of the really stupid 70's giant-ant movie, it's pretty stupid.  But I liked it when I was a grammar school kid, so, if you're a grammar school kid, you might like it.  And you should probably leave the blog immediately, 'cuz I use words like "fuck."

On to the wiggledy stuff...

The author of Squelch returns with... KILLER JELLYFISH!  That walk on land!  Yes!  This book grabs you by the collar, throttles you, and then crams fistfuls of stupid down your throat with relentless glee!  It's way-stupid, but in the funnest, sickest way possible.  You will love this book even if you have to hate yourself to do it!

I recently re-read Slugs, so that'll be a full-length review appearing here next time I amass a few more critter-books read to make a slew of 'em, but Breeding Ground is the sequel.  I remember it being more of the same... which is exactly what you want if you liked Slugs.  Flesh-eating slugs!  Does it get any nastier than that?  We can hope, but I don't think so.

Now, to the Reptile House...

I remember really really liking Death Tour.  I don't remember a whole lot about the actual plot - something about people going into the sewers and getting stalked by alligators living down there - but I remember liking the writing style a good bit, and being surprised that it was a lot better than I expected it to be.  Probably need to re-read this one.

I loved this book in my high-school study hall.  I bought my copy at a garage sale at a preacher's house across the street (where I also bought my first Edge Westerns - "The Most Violent Westerns In Print.")  It made me wonder what the hell was goin' on in the secret lives of preachers, all this violence.  This isn't really a horror novel so much as an adventure-in-the-wilderness thing, with people trapped in a swamp, confronting a giant alligator and having to take it on with primitive weapons.  All I can say is, liked it at the time, don't know how I'd feel about it now.

Don't remember much about this other that it was kinda ordinary, but had a few instances of impressive gore, such as a gravely injured guy who wipes at something that's dangling on his face and it's his eyeball.  Yay, casual-wiping-aside-of-eyeballs!  The 'gator in the book is pain-crazed because it's missing half its jaw, which made me wonder how it could so effectively eat people, but, it manages.

Rats in battalions!

This is The Rats, which I previously reviewed in one of those linky-things up there.  But, I remembered I had this copy, too, so here's the cover.  This one was a re-release to tie-in the movie version, which featured dachshunds in rat suits, scampering around, being every bit as terrifying as you think dachshunds in rat jammies would be.  They'll adorable you to death!

This is the sequel to The Rats, which I actually read first.  I remember it being good and gruesome.  There's a third, Domain, which I have but haven't read yet, so maybe later on that one.

Now, assorted other various and unsavories...
I liked this book a lot, it impressed the hell out of me at the time.  Some weird toxic fog is unleashed in London and makes everybody exposed to it become a murderous psycho.   A team of scientists in hazmat suits roam around trying to stop it, encountering people who'd committed all sorts of depraved acts.  Total gore that Herbert used to be famous for.

And this was basically the same kind of deal except a darkness makes everybody go nuts.  Strangely, I remember not liking this one much and thinking it was just a rehash.

And now, for the daycare section of our zoo.  Prepare to be offended!  Especially if you're one of those right-to-lifers (although I'd be amazed if we had any rabid right-wingers on this site after all the overtime I've put in trying to offend and alienate you)....

SPAWN!!!  Possibly the sickest concept for a nasty-novel ever created!  I think I remember this right, but correct me if I don't: A sick-minded damage case whose sibling died in a fire as a baby has a job burning amputated limbs and stuff in a London hospital.  Sometimes he's given aborted babies to dispose of.  He can't stand to do it, so he takes them home and gives them funerals in his backyard instead.  One night lightning strikes his yard, revives the fetus-corpses, and they become little prenatal zombies who need blood to survive.  Soon he's covered with self-inflicted infected wounds that they suck on, and he becomes desperate for more to feed his "children."  Yeah.  You want this book, you know you do!  And who am I to judge?

Okay, that's all I've got for now.  In the meantime, Twitter me!  And Twitter our blog-brother KickerOfElves while you're over there!  You won't regret it!  And if you do, you won't regret it much because it's just a couple of Twitter follows.  If that's the biggest mistake you ever made, you lead a blessed life, my child, and shall probably never be eaten by bloodsucking-zombie-fetus-babies! 


Might tell you some stories but I won't tell you no lies...

I don't read a lot of nonfiction books - not as much as I probably should, anyway - so putting enough of those together to make a decent post takes some time.  But, I think I've got a few interesting ones for you, so, here goes, an all-non-fiction book review post.  And that's the truth, phhhhttttbbh!

The Hate Factory - W. G. Stone as told to G. Hirliman  (Dell/Paisano, 1982)
Eyewitness account of the infamously violent 1980 New Mexico State Penitentiary riot, which left 33 people dead, and most of those getting the hard way out, by torture and mutilation.  After enduring inhumane treatment and living conditions, prisoners managed to take control of the prison and went on a rampage, destroying cellblocks, getting insanely loaded on drugs from the prison pharmacy and glue and paint thinner huffing, and exploding in rage against guards and snitches.  The guards were kept as hostages and weren't killed, but they were raped so repeatedly that many were driven psychotic by the experience.  Prisoners from the protective ward were killed slowly and brutally; they were burned with blowtorches, had iron bars hammered through their heads, had eyes carved out,  their heads were sliced off and paraded around on sticks,  they were raped with billy clubs, etc.  Crazy, heinous stuff, which the book claims was a logical reaction to the vicious treatment prisoners received at the hands of the system. The prison was geared not to reform but to breed hate, violence, and prejudice.   The author (or reportee, at least)was not a riot participant; he was awaiting parole so he hid out while the destruction and murder was going on.  It's pretty detailed and gruesomely intense, and serves not only as a record of the carnage but as an indictment of the prison system's practices.  This was probably the best-selling book that Easyriders magazine offered in the 80's, back when it was an outlaw biker mag instead of the tamed-down "motorcycle enthusiast" junk it later became, and it's written in a style that will be familiar to anyone who read the magazine during its heyday -- from the gut.  Biased, to be sure, but an important and worthwhile read -- I've read it twice (the first time way up in a tree because I'm a bit odd).

Dispatches -- Michael Herr   (Avon, 1978)
Detailed, beautifully-written Vietnam war memoir by a journalist who was embedded deep with the troops and had a great eye for what would capture the experience.  If some scenes seem familiar it's because Herr co-wrote the screenplays for Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket and incorporated some of the real stuff.  It follows the conflict from its early days through its deterioration and final days, and gives you a clear, vivid picture of what went on and what it was like.  A must-read masterpiece of war reportage.  Also available in Volume II of the Library of America's collection of Vietnam War reporting.

Tesla: Man Out of Time - Margaret Cheney  (Dell, 1981)
Biography of the elusive super-scientist who didn't get credit for a lot of his inventions (such as radio, florescent lighting, turbines, and AC power) and -- thanks to corporate greed and crooks like Thomas Edison -- was prevented from developing a lot of other things that scientists still haven't managed to work out, such as wireless broadcasting of power, a death ray particle beam, and robots and flying machines and unlimited free energy from alternate sources.  It's tragic that such a powerful mind was held back by others' greed and that despite all his gifts Tesla remained poor, struggling to feed himself and his pet pigeons, captive to his strange obsessions and neuroses.  It does get dull after a while -- I wanted more focus on his inventions and explanations of them in layman's terms -- but it is well-researched and a good portrait of a very amazing man. 

The Weird World of Eerie Publications - Mike Howlett  (Feral House, 2010)
I've discussed Weird Magazine on this blog before, so you know I have a fascination for them.  My childhood was warped by the depraved things.  Most horror comics were tame, but Weird and its cousins felt wrong and forbidden, like a sort of pornography of sick-minded violence.  Well, this book explores how those magazines came to be, a story almost as sleazy and trashy as the magazines themselves.  The offices of Eerie Publications was a crazy place where editors would sometimes fire guns at the workers, and stories and art were stolen from any place they could snag it from,  such as old pre-code comics and foreign works.  They were real cut-and-paste deals, with things recycled right and left.  When the comics started to run dry they tried branching out into other strange one-off magazines (I'm pretty sure an old "Peter Frampton Joins KISS!" magazine I bought is one of their works).  The book is heavily illustrated but doesn't include stories; for that, your best source is a book called The Zombie Factory by Patrick O'Donnell.  If you're interested in how the small, struggling press operated back in the 70's and early 80's, though, this is a very well-done examination.

Under And Alone - William Queen  (Balantine, 2006)
Can't-put-it-down nonfiction about ATF agent William Queen who, undercover as biker Billy St. John, infiltrated The Mongols, a mostly-Chicano motorcycle gang that's more violent than the Hells Angels.  He maintained his persona undetected for over two years and managed to become a full patch-holder.  This is one brave mofo, and he writes well, too, explaining his conflict at having to testify against guys who, despite being evil criminals, had become like real brothers to him, often treating him with more kindness than his fellow ATF agents.  Scary and compelling stuff, full of tense situations.  Mel Gibson really flattered himself, planning to play this guy in a movie that unfortunately never happened.  Recommended.

No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey To The Inner Circle of the Hells Angels
- Jay Dobyns & Nils Johnson-Shelton  (Three Rivers Press, 2009)
Unputdownable account of an ATF agent who managed the almost-unthinkable and infiltrated the Hells Angels Mjuiotorcycle Club, posing as a hit man/debt collector for another club.  On the way Jay got so wrapped up in the case he lost his real self and almost his family by becoming the outlaw biker he was pretending to be.  The book is extremely well-written and compelling, full of both honest self-criticism about bad things he did and a fair amount of bragging (but hey, anyone with balls enough to infiltrate the big Red & White  has the right to crow a bit).  The Hells Angels come across as sympathetic yet pathetic, criminal yet noble in a way... it seems like a fair assessment overall, and there's lots of interesting detail.  One of the best books I've read in a long time, highly recommended.

Walking On: A Daughter's Journey With Legendary Sheriff Buford Pusser - Dwana Pusser with Ken Beck & Jim Clark (Pelican Publishing, 2009)
With The Twelfth of August unfortunately out of print, it was about time for another Buford Pusser book, and who better to tell the story than Pusser's own daughter?  Of course it's going to be heavily biased in Buford's favor, which is understandable, but Dwana actually does acknowledge some controversies, such as her father's possible involvement in assassinations of some of his enemies (who you really can't feel too sorry for since they definitely had it coming).  She reveals more illegal activities almost by accident, because she seems to think they're endearing (Buford's brutality to some prisoners, the irresponsible speeds he drove -- sometimes after drinking, cruel pranks played on friends that could have endangered their lives, etc.).  Despite these flaws, Buford still comes across as heroic for taking on the scumbags he shut down, and his acts of kindness are also documented.  Dwana talks about the filming of the movies (she likes Joe Don Baker and The Rock a lot, but Bo Svenson was pretty much of a dick) and her own trials and tribulations concerning the tragic deaths of her parents.   I'd still like to read a more intensive bio by a historian (this book is fairly light and more personal than historically detailed) but given the unfortunate lack of writing on this interesting figure, this book is a very welcome addition, and it's simply written but compulsively readable.  I'd love to see a sequel if she can dig up more stories.  Lots of well-chosen photos.

I Was A Murder Junkie: The Last Days of GG Allin - Evan Cohen (Recess Records, 1999)
Too-slim book chronicling the author's three weeks as a roadie for GG and his just-slightly-better-behaved bandmates.  The prose is sometimes a little clumsy, but that doesn't get in the way of compulsive readability of the human-equivalent-of-a-car-wreck that's depicted.  When not committing acts of violence on himself or the audience, GG is usually looking for drugs or trying to get women to pee on him.   Cohen makes it clear that just being around GG was enough to turn one into something of a degenerate, and it's also clear that, to a certain extent, society deserved him.  Not for the timid, but if you have an interest in GG, this is worth seeking out.  Don't pay the ridiculous prices some people online have been asking, though - it's only 116 large-print pages and a lot of that is taken up by pictures or blank space; it's essentially a glorified magazine article.  Comes with a CD that Cohen recorded on a microcassette recorder, mostly of GG interviews, but also with a couple of acoustic songs.


For copious, viscous amounts of profane sillyshit you can follow me on Twitter, and then I can increase my follower count and thus reach more people to whom I can promote this blog, and then when they come to the blog I can promote my Twitter account, thus again increasing the amount I can promote the blog, etc.,  eventually creating a vortex which will destroy the city of Des Moines.  And admit it, you fucking hate Des Moines! So smug and French-sounding with that two names and all, what's that about? They've got a comeuppance coming!  So, do it.

Or, if you don't like me, perhaps you'll like KickerOfElves, who's also on Twitter.  Or, follow us both - it's free, and I think we're both pretty good at it, if I do say so myself (and I have to, 'cuz nobody else is... ;P)


Memories of Pittsburgh

Plundering my archives because I want to post something but have nothing new to say. The travelogue below is from a trip I took in June 2008. Enjoy

On the Saturday night I arrived in Pittsburgh, I went to a Pirates-Blue Jays baseball game. Who should be the starting pitcher for Pittsburgh but Paul Maholm, once a star pitcher for MSU? I don't follow baseball at all (and only went to this game because it was there and the tickets were cheap), so although I knew Maholm was in the majors I had no idea where. The fact that he just happened to be pitching while I was in town completely blew my mind. It was one of those strings of coincidences that beggar my imagination: 

1. I happen to be going to Pittsburgh.
2. The Pirates happen to be playing a home game on the one truly open night of my trip.
3. The Pirates happen to suck ass and are playing the Blue Jays, another team that happens to suck said ass, thereby making the tickets easy and cheap to obtain ($26 for a comfy, literally-behind-homeplate seat).
4. The starting pitcher on this night happens to be a recent former player from my alma mater and current place of employment, not to mention a famous-enough player that I, not a baseball fan, know who he is.

Lengthy side note: I've experienced similar strings in the past, as follows:

1. March 1994: My wife and I go to the $3 movie on a Wednesday night in Pasadena, CA (Wednesday night was double-feature-for-only-$2 night. We saw Cool Runnings and Tombstone.)
2. The theater is a huge, old-timey theater with a balcony, where we choose to sit.
3. Being a Wednesday night, the theater is not even halfway full (empty seats everywhere), yet an older couple and their apparent grandson just happen to choose to sit directly in front of us.
4. The apparent grandson just so happens to be wearing a baseball cap, which he just so happens to be wearing backwards, which just so happens to be an MSU BULLDOGS CAP, staring us right in the face. What the fuck?

1. June 2004: I attend a professional conference in Salt Lake City.
2. Rather than go to the conference's lame opening-night reception, I wander the magic-underwear-strewn streets of downtown SLC looking for an eatery, of which there are many, and I find The Melting Pot, a wonderful wonderful wonderful fondue place.
3. The hostess tells me they're full and that I'll have to make a reservation and wait two hours for a table; however, I can opt to sit at the bar and order one of their appetizer/dessert selections instead of the traditional full-course shiz. "Oh yes," I tell her. "Oh. Yes."
4. I happen to randomly sit at the bar in a position where I have a perfect view of the restaurant's front door.
5. Not 20 minutes after sitting down, I see a family I know from Starkville who have absolutely no connection to the conference I'm attending. I go speak to them, and, after we hoist our jaws off the ground, I find out they're on a vacation and just happen to be passing through SLC. What the fuck?

1. June 2006: I'm about to leave for a vacation, so, after much deliberation, I responsibly decide to do all the yard work before I go.
2. The borders of our yard are woods, and they have a great deal of poison ivy. My yard work necessitates some interaction with this devil weed, to which I am wildly allergic.
3. During such an interaction, I just so happen to touch some poison ivy (unknowingly, unintentionally) with my right index finger.
4. Later, I just so happen to blankly wipe sweat off my right eyelid with the tainted right finger.
5. Two days later, while visiting my parents, my eye swells up. I know what it is, of course, but I want to see a doctor just to make sure I'm not going to go blind. My dad tries to make an appointment with his general practitioner, but he can't see me until after the time I need to depart for our next vacation spot.
6. I love my dad, but he readily takes no for an answer, and so rather than assert himself with this doctor's staff to get me (his only son!) in sooner, he just says "Well, that's all we can do."
7. Like my dad, I also too readily take no for an answer, but this time, I just so happen to push back. I grab the phone book and look for ophthalmologists. Huntsville is a large enough city that it has several ophthalmologists. I pick one, very literally randomly. They just so happen to be able to see me immediately.
8. This ophthalmologist just so happens to have several nurses/assistants. I get the one that calls my name (i.e., I didn't pick her).
9. I tend not be chatty, but for some reason, I just so happen to strike up a conversation with my nurse. She finds out I'm originally from Huntsville, and we ask each other questions about schools.
10. I just so happen to have gotten a nurse with whom I was friends in the third grade, some 28 years before. I remembered her and her name all these years because (a) she was blonde and cute and I probably had a crush on her back then, and (b) when I performed two Elvis songs with my pal Eugene at our elementary school's talent show, she stood up and screamed, hands-to-cheeks in that time-honored way that women (and probably Morrissey) responded to the young Elvis. (Eugene and I won first place.) That reaction, I can tell you, tends to leave an impression.

What. The. Fuck?

Anyway, after the game, I ate dinner at a restaurant attached to the baseball stadium, and a group of four steelworker-type guys came in: they all had plastic Pirates baseball helmets with the two-holster drinkholder on the top, and they all had two cans of Budweiser apiece in their respective holsters. I absolutely loved these guys. Meanwhile, the cover band in the bar next door played, among many other "gems," "Come on Eileen" by Dexy's Midnight Runners, "China Grove" by the Doobie Brothers, and "Roseanna" by Toto. Wow.

I spent Sunday walking around downtown Pittsburgh, and I came upon a street festival. It took up at least one full block and was bookended by two stages. As I walked past the first stage, I saw onstage a tall man wearing a sequined black evening gown, a crown, high heels, and copious makeup. He was lip-synching a disco song. Then I looked at the crowd, which was very large. Oh. “It's a gay-pride festival,” I thought. There were people of every age, color, size, and stereotypical manner of dress, most of whom were holding hands with someone of the same gender. A man wearing a smiling "Jesus Loves You" t-shirt handed me a sanctity-of-hetero-marriage tract stamped with the seal of "Jews for Jesus," a group I've always heard of but never actually encountered. The other stage contained some very – um – limber dancers doing a REALLY interpretive dance to Apocalyptica's four-cello rendition of the Metallica song "The Unforgiven." Wow.

As usual, the conference-kickoff picnic was a bust. It was on the convention-center rooftop overlooking one (or more) of the 3 rivers that converge in Pittsburgh, so that was neat, and they were serving allegedly real Pittsburgh food: pierogies, brats, locally brewed beers, Klondike bars (which aren't actually made in Pittsburgh, so what the fuck?). But the "entertainment" was a band of middle-aged men wearing matching American-flag shirts, playing horrendous covers, and engaging in the cheesiest between-song banter in the history of human hearing. (I take this sort of thing personally.) I had just finished texting a buddy about this goofy scene when a storm blew up and knocked their banner over on top of them in mid-song, thus ending the picnic. No one was hurt or even too scared. It was perfect.

Another, shorter side note: I recently got Stephen Colbert's book I Am America (And So Can You), and I read most of it on this trip. It's so unbelievably, relentlessly funny that I had to stop reading it on the plane because I was cackling nonstop while the rest of the plane was trying to sleep. (I'm not exaggerating; people were turning around to look at me, annoyed.) Whoever you are, please, please, please get this book and read it. You will cry tears of joy.

Many folks at these presentation-laden events still don't present very well. Two years prior in Chicago, I suffered through a "distinguished" lecture by famous author Henry Petroski, eventually leaving after nodding off a few times. The one I went to this year was even worse. It was on a super-cool aerospace topic that was ruined by the speaker's curmudgeon-ness, his complete lack of enunciatory ability, his obliviousness to the microphone (and the need for it), and his refusal to make an incredibly complex topic palatable for a mixed audience. It should go without saying that I left this one early too. The major exception was a communication instructor from Penn State who talked about an engineering-specific speech class and actually brought one of her students to give a six-minute talk on the physio-chemi-mechanical properties of spider webs as an example of how well engineering students can present – a brilliant idea.

One of my all-time faves, Peter Murphy, just happened to be playing a concert in Pittsburgh while I was there. It was at a roughly 200-seat theater a few blocks from my hotel and the convention center. He opened with the Bauhaus song "Burning from the Inside." He played "Marlene Dietrich's Favourite Poem," and I cried helplessly. He played "Crystal Wrists," and I swear that might have been the best live performance of a song I've ever heard, flawless and chill-bump-inducing. For his first (of three) encores, he played some of Bauhaus’s super-spooky "The Three Shadows Part 1" on acoustic guitar as a segue into "A Strange Kind of Love." Then he played another Bauhaus song, "She's in Parties," at the end of which he sang "We're jamming" a few times (including "We're jamming / In the name of the lord," which made me laugh out loud), and then he sang "Riders on the storm" a few times, as a kind of outro. He did not do "Cuts You Up," "Bela Lugosi's Dead," or "Ziggy Stardust." He also didn't do "The Light Pours Out of Me" or "All Night Long," and I REALLY would like to have heard those. He was way charming and talked to the crowd a lot. The theater was about the size of a small playhouse. I had a great seat, but no seat was bad. He was VERY dramatic when he was singing, almost expressionistic, which is exactly what I imagined. I bought a badass shirt with the Deep album cover on the front and the "This is no terror ground" passage from "Strange Kind of Love" on the back. Besides some really good new songs I don't know, the other songs I can recall are “The Line Between the Devil's Teeth” & “Deep Ocean, Vast Sea” (Deep); “Huuvola” & “Gliding Like a Whale” (Cascade); “The Sweetest Drop” & maybe one more from Holy Smoke; some song from Dust I can't recall; & a song or two from Bauhaus's latest album, Go Away White. It was fucking great.

The New York Yankees were in town for a series with the Pirates. I tried to get a ticket, but they were sold out, and I later found out that they were not only sold out because hordes of Yankee fans travel everywhere with the team but also because this was the first time the Yankees had played in Pittsburgh in over 50 years (being from different leagues within MLB, they had only recently resumed playing one another with the dawn of inter-league play several years ago). But lo and behold, the Yankees stayed in my hotel. Having grown up in the South, far away from most forms of “celebrity,” I am easily starstruck, so even though I don't follow baseball it was mighty neat to see Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui, and – yes – Alex Rodriguez walking through the lobby a few feet away from me. I also rode in the elevator with a Yankee, and though I didn't recognize him or know his name, he was too tall, well-dressed, good-smelling, and blinged-out not to be a pro athlete of some type. I tried to get an autograph for my son while I was there, to no avail.

A convention known as Anthrocon (http://www.anthrocon.org/) started in my hotel the day I was leaving. This meant that, the day before I left, the hotel began to be overrun by what are really and truly known as "Furries": people wearing furry tails, furry heads, and, in some cases, furry bodysuits. I heard one of them – I believe he himself was wearing a 3-foot marmoset tail – explain the convention to a clearly disgusted inquisitor as "a convention for people who enjoy anthropomorphic creatures. You know the old Disney animated movie Robin Hood, where all the characters are animals that talk like people? Yeah, that's basically it." Oh, and did I mention the NEW YORK YANKEES were staying in this hotel also, along with a bazillion of their fans, so that there was this weird mix of hardcore video-game-sci-fi-look-I'm-a-firefox-computer-science-major people and much-more-mainstream, pinstripe-wearing, I-want-A-rod's-autograph baseball people rubbing elbows with each other. "Surreal" doesn't begin to describe it, especially seeing the Yankee drivers and other assorted posse – most of whom truly looked like extras from The Sopranos – stand around in their pinky rings while hordes of 5-foot ocelots mainlined Mountain Dew and chased each other across the lobby and up the escalators. I very much fancy myself a live-and-let-live kind of person, but these sweaty, overeager, befurred folks got on every nerve I have. Yeesh.

The hotel cafe served many good dishes, none better than "steel-cut oatmeal with bananas crème brûlée and a caramelized topping." I don't know what "steel-cut oatmeal" is, but it tastes very, very good. (I had it twice.) Also, via the cafe's main server, an exhaustingly friendly and potentially gay man named Randy, I found out that "conversation is the glue of friendship." (sniff)

With apologies to Mastercard and Billy Crudup......Getting lost while walking around downtown Pittsburgh: 1.75 hours of nonstop walking. Dinner for 9 at The Metling Pot: $500. Eating with your boss, who ensures that your office picks up the entire tab: Priceless.


Start the New Year with some Horror and Horror-ish Reading

Happy 2012, everybody!  Enjoy it while you can, 'cuz the Mayan curse is comin' for our asses.  Booga booga!  Prepare to be annihilated as soon as it's convenient!

Here are some reviews of horror books (and one non-horror book from a writer who's usually associated with horror so I snuck 'im in) I read recently.


The Search For Joseph Tully - William H. Hallahan  (Avon, 1974)
Strange, obscure horror novel whose reputation has been growing in recent years.  A guy named Richardson is living in an apartment building that's slated for demolition.   Only he and three or four other neighbors haven't moved out yet, and they're all rather eccentric (an artist, an excommunicated monk who believes in occult mumbo-jumbo, etc.)   Richardson, however, worries that he may be losing his mind, because he hears a whooshing noise like someone swinging a golf club in his apartment, has crazy dreams, and is overwhelmed by a feeling that someone is coming to kill him.  His neighbors eventually come to the same conclusion, with sometimes tragic results.  Meanwhile, in a parallel story, a man named Willow is tirelessly researching the genealogy of the Tully family, who were once wine merchants centuries before.  What the two stories have to do with each other is kept a secret until the last few pages, which is only part of the way this strange novel keeps you bewildered and on edge.  The setting is creepy -- a desolate, incredibly cold winter amongst an urban wrecking site -- and the research into the family line is intriguing, and the whole thing has an Argento-movie-esque feel to it.  The prose itself, though, is somehow off-putting, a bit too dry and lacking in detail, with characters who are such personality-less cold fish that it’s difficult to get too wrapped up in them.  So, it would be a better book if it were stronger in the telling, but there’s enough in what’s there to make it more than worthwhile, with a sense of menace and dread that keeps building throughout.

Another (and much better, I think - Will is a lot less sloppy and more thorough than I am) review of The Search For Joseph Tully can be found at the great Too Much Horror Fiction blog, if you'd like more info.

11/22/63 - Stephen King (Scribner, 2011)
One of King’s best books of the 21st century is a tale of time travel, true love, and the price of both.  A high school teacher is informed by his terminal-cancer-ridden fry-cook buddy that there’s a “rabbit hole” to the past (September 9, 1958, to be precise) and he wants him to use it to go back and finish a mission his cancer stopped him from completing -- preventing the Kennedy assassination and, subsequently, all the bad things he believes were caused by it.  Our hero takes on the task because he thinks it can fix some other little problems along the way (such as a student’s family tragedy), and while having to live in the past awaiting the Kennedy assassination attempt (he wants to be certain Oswald did it and acted alone) he falls in love with a school librarian and that becomes as important as the mission, if not more so.  King does an amazing job of capturing the late 50’s and early 60’s (I wasn’t there, but it sure feels legit and it’s detail-rich), and the stalking of Lee Harvey Oswald is compelling and well-researched.  As usual, King’s sentimental folksiness does get the better of him at points; the whole school-play stuff works out too perfectly magical and makes me feel pretty sure that King knows what number The Hallmark Channel is on his cable system.  His characters are lovable goofs who never miss a chance to say something corny or sentimental, and it does overload on schmaltz... but it’s top quality schmaltz and King’s so good at it you stay a sucker for it even if you have to roll your eyes now and then.  There are some gritty parts, too (our hero falling into the hands of some serious-business-meaning thugs is intense), and even though it’s a really long book (though not overlong, like Under The Dome was, for instance) it stays compelling and fast-moving, and while the romance bit is overdone it ends up being touching despite it all.  Not a horror novel by any means, but one of King’s best later-day works.

Southern Gods - John Hornor Jacobs (Nightshade Books, 2011)
When horror author Brian Keene had a semi-heart attack reading this book, and then kept raving about it on Twitter while he was in the emergency room, I knew I had to check it out.  Do recommendations come any higher than when they’re delivered as a possible last act on Earth?    And the book proves worthy, since it’s the best horror novel I’ve read in a while.  A big mob-enforcer type named Bull Ingram is sent to track down the whereabouts of a missing record distributor, as well as a mysterious bluesman named Ramblin’ John Hastur, whose music is played on a pirate radio station that you can only find by luck (and maybe bad luck at that).   After hearing a bit of one of Hastur’s dark songs -- which cause listeners to go insane or even come back from the dead - Ingram isn’t certain he wants to find this excessively-creepy musician... but then he gets mixed up with a young mother whose connection to Hastur has put her family in supernatural peril and he doesn’t have much other choice.  It’s a very creepy setup (borrowing a little from Robert W. Chambers’ King In Yellow mythos, but there aren’t any scarier sources than that) and even if the apocalyptic-supernatural-battle climax is getting a wee bit familiar in horror novels, it maintains energy and stays compulsively readable throughout.  I had a few story ideas of my own in mind that were similar to things Jacob wrote in this book, so at first I was a little ticked off that he’d beaten me to them, but I don’t think I could have written mine as well as he did it, so I’m sure it’s for the best.  This book is a must for horror readers, DO NOT MISS IT.

Sometimes when you're a hoarder, you end up with the paperback and the hardback of a book.  And what has two thumbs (and a five or six more in boxes somewhere) and definite hoarding tendencies?  This guy!  So, here ya go...

Letters from the Dead - Campbell Black  (Villard Books, 1985)
A couple of single moms vacation with their kids at an old beach house, intending to write a photo book on the beach.  The kids, a boy and a girl, both thirteen, are moody and board and not sure if they like each other.  Amidst some games in the closet they find an ouija board and use it to talk to a malevolent entity named Roscoe.  Yes, Roscoe!  Frightened, they avoid the board, but the moms start playing with it and also find Roscoe.  It soon becomes clear that Roscoe has plans for the two kids and everybody better get the hell out of that house, but that doesn’t prove so easy.  This is an okay horror novel, but just okay; Campbell gives it a good try and he’s not a bad writer but the prose (for a reason I can’t put my finger on, since it’s always competently done) never really draws you in.  There are some good ideas in the mix, but it adds up to something a little too mundane and not the Stephen-King-ish fear fest you can tell that Black was trying for.  But, like I said, even though it’s not really successful, it’s not a bad try, so it’s worth a read.


Now, one of your Gnu Rear's whatchacall Restitutions should be to follow me on Twitter, where I will tell you funny stuff to help you pee in your pants (and if you don't want peed-in pants, you're no son o' mine!), and I'll also tell you some other good people on Twitter to follow.  Basically, I'll just run your whole dadgum life if ya let me.  I have good taste and the people I follow are freakin' great.  One of 'em is our own KickerOfElves, so that's proof enough that I know of which I speak.  It's worth getting yourself a Twitter account just to do that-there-thing!  Go forth!