Monday, January 1, 2525
Humor - Short prose humor, humorous verse and lists.
Music - Nonfiction writings about music.
Mystery Fiction - Nonfiction writings about mystery fiction.
Mystery Film & TV - Nonfiction writings about mystery movies and TV.
Shakespeare - Act by act reviews of a number of Shakespeare's plays.
SFF, Horror and Arthuriana - Nonfiction writings about sff, horror and Arthuriana.
Short Stories - Flash fiction and other stories.
Verse - Poesy, mostly in experimental forms like the cento.
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Songs From the Wood
Songs From the Wood, in particular, is an album that, for all the band members, was a reaffirmation of our Britishness. (Ian Anderson)
Praise be to the distant sister sun. (Ring Out, Solstice Bells)
Quick - name two popular hard rock bands that incorporated the flute as an integral part of their sound. If you're like me you probably got as far as Jethro Tull and gave up. Maybe I'm missing an obvious one.
Jethro Tull became something of a punchline for a while after the 1989 Grammys, when their Crest of a Knave album beat Metallica's ...And Justice for All in the Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance category. It was a ridiculous development that surprised the members of both bands and anyone else who had a notion of what heavy metal actually was. None of which should overshadow the achievements of a band that gave the world such rock milestones as Thick as a Brick, A Passion Play, and of course, Aqualung.
By 1989, I had already moved on and my Jethro Tull years were about a decade past. I remembered Songs From the Wood as being a pretty good album and one that I listened to quite often back when. But until recently I hadn't sat down and listened to it after a gap of nearly forty years. Like so many things that seemed nifty keen back when I figured it wouldn't hold up. So it came as something of a surprise as the album unspooled (on YouTube on a Kindle Fire - my well-worn vinyl copy parked on the shelf about three feet away) and I realized that it was much, much, much better than I had remembered it. So good that it might even merit a fourth "much". A Rolling Stone reviewer once remarked that this "may well have been the group's best record ever". I haven't heard all of the band's albums but I can't imagine one that might top this one.
Jethro Tull was no stranger to concept albums, having already turned out several by this time. Songs From the Wood wasn't quite a concept album, in the sense that it told one coherent story from start to finish. But the songs therein were all focused on a specific theme, which you could boil down to English country life, with the emphasis on folklore and mythology. It was the England of solstice celebrations, standing stones, May Day parades, wicker men, druids, fertility rites, and whatnot.
There's not really a dud in the bunch but side one (for those of us who grew up listening to those vinyl copies) is probably the better of the two, by a hair. Songs From the Wood kicks things off in fine fashion with a sometimes heavyish and other times folkish approach and topnotch harmonies. Jack-in-the-Green is mostly guitar and flute, with a slightly darker and more acoustic feel and is a keen little snippet of song, while Cup of Wonder hearkens back more closely to the title track. Hunting Girl is the odd song out here being a heavier tune about a wealthy woman who veers from a hunting party to consort with the hired help. Ring Out, Solstice Bells closes out side one with a very catchy paean to the solstice.
Side two kicks off with Velvet Green, which alternates between a lyrical and somewhat darker tone, with subject matter that hearkens back to Hunting Girl. Casual Jethro Tull fans are probably most likely to have heard The Whistler out of all the songs here. Of the few singles that were released from the album it’s the one that seems to have been the most successful. Up next is the longest and perhaps the heaviest song on the album - Pibroch (Cap In Hand). Pibroch being a type of traditional Scottish music and consequently Martin Barre's guitar is made to resemble bagpipes (well, sort of). The proceedings conclude with the quietest song of the bunch, with the aptly reflective title of Fire at Midnight.
It's tough to narrow it down to a few favorites but if I had to, I'd go with (a near photo-finish) Ring Out, Solstice Bells, very closely followed by Cup of Wonder.
Sunday, March 13, 2016
If you're not familiar with Black Gate and the words Adventures in Fantasy Literature work for you then you should certainly make your way to their site and check things out. Once upon a time Black Gate was a quarterly print publication but has now moved their operations online. They focus on all manner of fantasy and science fiction these days, with a smidgen of mystery and assorted other stuff thrown in for good effect. The site is updated frequently, thanks to the efforts of tireless publisher and editor, John O'Neill. It's good stuff and I'd be reading it even if I didn't write for them.
I've been contributing to the site for a while and trying to post updates to this site whenever a new article comes out. Unfortunately, I've fallen behind and from now on have decided just to link to my search page over there. I'm in the midst of a Star Trek Movie Rewatch right now and as time permits have also been looking at the short fiction of Algernon Blackwood and SF anthologies of yesteryear - mostly from the Sixties and Seventies. And whatever other assorted and sundry topics might have captured my wandering attention. It's all right here, most recent stuff first.
Monday, January 18, 2016
When I bought my first Ramones album - Ramones Leave Home - way back in 1977 no one wanted to know about it, including the heavy metal kids I associated with. Never mind that it's arguably one of their heaviest albums. Didn't matter. It was a relatively small circle of Ramones fans back then - or so it seemed. But as time passed the world caught up and came to recognize their innate greatness. For the Ramones it was too little, too late, and of course all of the original members are gone now.
If one were to program a playlist of songs from this other Fab Four (Spin is said to have ranked them 2nd, after the Beatles, on a list of best bands) it would probably consist of many of the usual suspects. Let us review. There's Blitzkrieg Bop, Rockaway Beach, Sheena Is a Punk Rocker, I Wanna Be Sedated, Teenage Lobotomy, Rock 'n' Roll High School and Pet Semetary. These are among the band's best known songs. For good reason, for the most part, though I could do without the last one.
Of course, there are many more Ramones songs that are worth a listen. I've listed some below. Or you could just go with the first three albums, in their entirety. I'd add End of the Century to that list but that may be the minority opinion.
Beat on the Brat
Keep it simple, stupid. About as simple as it gets and yet strangely alluring.
I Don't Wanna Go Down to the Basement
Horror movies meet punk rock and not for the last time.
Leave Home (1977)
Glad to See You Go
The first Ramones song I ever heard. Love at first listen.
One of the heaviest efforts in the Ramones songbook.
Rocket to Russia (1977)
I Wanna Be Well
You could compile an album (or more) of Ramones songs about mental health. One of the best.
Many have tried (and failed) to capture something of majesty of this song, first recorded by The Trashmen, in 1963. The Ramones were one of the few to pull it off.
End of the Century (1980)
Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?
For their fifth studio album the group teamed up with the legendary and legendarily eccentric producer, Phil Spector. By all accounts it didn't go well. The reception to the album was mixed, but I mostly give it a thumbs up. The song that kicks it off is very Spectoresque and is about as catchy as they come. I rank in my top two of Ramones songs, along with Blitzkrieg Bop.
Because when you think of the Ramones the first thing that springs to mind is a ballad. A catchy one about the rigors of touring, from a foursome who knew that very well.
Pleasant Dreams (1981)
The KKK Took My Baby Away
Not much to recommend from this lackluster album but I'd rank this song in my top three.
Too Tough to Die (1984)
The excitement of confronting a new Ramones album had dwindled by the time of their eighth studio album. But it was a decent effort and featured this song, a silly take on thrashing hardcore punk.
Friday, January 1, 2016
by Algernon Blackwood
Of the many things Algernon Blackwood did in his lifetime the most notable is producing a substantial body of horror and weird fiction. He tends to be overshadowed by some other writers of yesteryear, but one of the best known of those writers, H.P. Lovecraft, offered high praise for his abilities:
Of the quality of Mr. Blackwood’s genius there can be no dispute; for no one has even approached the skill, seriousness, and minute fidelity with which he records the overtones of strangeness in ordinary things and experiences, or the preternatural insight with which he builds up detail by detail the complete sensations and perceptions leading from reality into supernormal life or vision. Without notable command of the poetic witchery of mere words, he is the one absolute and unquestioned master of weird atmosphere; and can evoke what amounts almost to a story from a simple fragment of humourless psychological description. Above all others he understands how fully some sensitive minds dwell forever on the borderland of dream, and how relatively slight is the distinction betwixt those images formed from actual objects and those excited by the play of the imagination.
The Empty House and Other Ghost Stories was the first of Blackwood’s many story collections. It first saw publication in 1906. The edition reviewed here was published in 1916.
Read more at Black Gate.
Saturday, December 26, 2015
It's straight from the stinking flames of hell!
Golly, I'm hot.
I'm planning on dying soon.
My shoe is full now.
Bother us not!
Look at the horsie!
I can't find Pasadena.
I asked you not to tell me that.
My claws are dry.
You're such a mushmouth.
Fifty nothings weigh something!
Hear my beautiful new voice?
Let me go, you monster.
We're making pants pie.
Monkeys just love sweets.
Lower your gate if you please.
The rock is getting softer.
You just made your paw boiling mad.
Every village has its simpleton.
Not the antelopes!
You've surrounded yourself with a bunch of weirdos!
You gotta promise me you're not gonna kill anyone.
Go away! Go away! Bother us not!
Sometimes you have such a keen and elliptical mind.
Thursday, December 24, 2015
by Agatha Christie
"Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?"
Is there a reason why Agatha Christie is said to be the best-selling author of all time? I'd be willing to bet that there are a few. But more than anything I guess it has a lot to do with the fact that she was really good at what she did and she did it a lot, turning out about eighty works of detective fiction in her lifetime. I'm no expert on Christie and I'd wager that there must be some duds in the bunch, but I have yet to run across them.
Hercule Poirot's Christmas, which was also published under various other titles (Murder for Christmas, A Holiday for Murder), is, for my money, a great example of Christie's mastery. The premise is a fairly standard one for the genre. A wealthy old man who's not particularly likable gathers his dysfunctional family members around him, along with a few others. Not long after he berates them for their perceived failings and threatens to re-write his will, he is found locked in his room with his throat cut.
I'm also no expert on locked room mysteries though I've vowed to read more of them. What I would say about the ones I've read is the word "farfetched" often seems to apply. There's the tiniest bit of that quality to this one but overall I think Christie handles this aspect of the book quite nicely.
Along with everything else, for that matter. By this time in her career, Christie had already turned out about two dozen books and it shows in the relaxed and concise manner in which she introduces the various characters, sets the stage for what's to come, sprinkles clues and red herrings all about and turns Poirot loose to pull everything together. About the only minor quibble I had with the book (a very mild spoiler cometh) is that the identity of the killer seemed to come from out of left field. Aside from that I'd give this one a very enthusiastic recommendation.
Sunday, December 20, 2015
As the seventies wound down my interest in Star Trek waned and I wasn’t really cognizant of what came along later — four more TV series and a heap of movies. I sought to rectify this in the early years of the new century, watching as many TV episodes as possible and some of the movies, but my intake of the latter was sporadic.
Read more at Black Gate.
Saturday, December 19, 2015
Edited by T. E. Dikty
Crest Books (176 pages, $0.35, December 1957)
Cover by Richard Powers
T.E. Dikty edited a bunch of SF anthologies, mostly throughout the Fifties and many in collaboration with Everett F. Bleiler. Aside from Clifford Simak and perhaps one-hit wonder Tom Godwin, the names in this volume are not quite the SF A-list, but the results are mostly not bad.
Read more at Black Gate.
By C.S. Challinor
"Do you think Henry might have choked on his dentures? He said they were always coming loose."
I read and reviewed one of Challinor's Rex Graves mysteries a while back. I hadn't planned on reading another one so soon but the premise of Christmas is Murder reached out and grabbed me. I have to admit to a special fondness for those mysteries in which the author strands his/her characters in some remote location and turns a murderer loose in their midst.
Challinor does this to great effect in what is actually the first mystery to star barrister Rex Graves. A motley crew is stranded by a blizzard at a remote Scottish hotel and one of the unfortunate characters goes down for the final count before graves even arrives. He won't be the last, unfortunately. There's a fairly sizable body count before it's all over.
The author really lays it on thick all the way throughout with clues and red herrings. Perhaps I'm not so good at sorting these things out because I had to admit that even as the end was nigh I wasn't quite sure what was up. My only minor quibble with the whole affair is that the motivations of the killer seemed a bit shaky. Aside from this point, I give this book high marks.
Sunday, December 13, 2015
Get me a proctologist right away!!
I'm so crazy I don't know this isn't possible.
The earth hath bubbles, as water has.
Here, have a swig o' swampwater!
I drink to the general joy o' the whole table.
You have insulted me! We meet on the field of onion!
When the battle's lost and won.
Fair is foul, and foul is fair.
I wish that burrito was stuck on your big dumb nose!
Hover through the fog and filthy air.
Thanks for the sour persimmons, cousin.
By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.
A Methersthmidt. A whole meth of Methersthmidts.
False face must hide what the false heart doth know.
He's colder than a foundered flounder!
Cute like a stomach pump!
Why the copious flow of lacrimal fluid, my querulous canine?
Let not light see my black and deep desires.
What, you egg!
I must become a borrower of the night.
They pluck out mine eyes.
Oh, you can't bounce a meatball.
Obviously I'm dealing with inferior mentalities.
How goes the world, sir, now?
It will have blood; they say, blood will have blood.
I'll muzzle that inebriated canary!
Is this a dagger which I see before me.
The moon is down; I have not heard the clock.
Oh brother, I'm a buzzboy!
You need a house to go with this door-knob!!
Saturday, December 12, 2015
-by William Shakespeare
Shall I compare Donald Trump to a summer’s day?
Donald Trump is more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is Donald Trump's gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But Donald Trump's eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair Donald Trump ow’st,
Nor shall death brag Donald Trump wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time Donald Trump grow’st;
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to Donald Trump.
I had to bring the goat; he's not well.
How dost thou feel thyself now?
I cannot tell: the world is grown so bad.
I've been wrestling with Plato.
And you're badly in need of an expensive course of psychiatric treatment.
I am determined to prove a villain.
The first man ever to eat an entire Anglican Cathedral.
You try that around here, young man, and we'll slit your face.
They smile at me who shortly shall be dead.
Off with his head!
Three cans of beans for me.
O bitter consequence.
You have wonderful thighs.
Is the chair empty? is the sword unsway'd?
How do you know so much about swallows?
Is the king dead? the empire unpossess'd?
Does anyone in our party speak Swahili, sir?
The king's name is a tower of strength.
You can't expect to wield supreme power just 'cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!
Go and boil your bottoms, sons of a silly person!
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
What about the watermelon then?
All scatter'd in the bottom of the sea.
Give me another horse! — bind up my wounds!
Ask nobody the room somebody leave shall I.
True hope is swift, and flies with swallows' wings.
I'd care to purchase a chicken, please.
If we took the bones out, it wouldn't be crunchy,
A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!
But she's got a wart.
Despair and die!
The day is ours, the bloody dog is dead.
They stamp them when they're small.
A five ounce bird could not carry a one pound coconut.
A thing devised by the enemy.
I want to come in and steal a few things, madam.
Am retired vindow cleaner and pacifist, who's not doing war crimes.
O horrible, O horrible, most horrible!
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
We should call this place Wackyville.
A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king
And eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.
Excellent well; you're a fishmonger.
We're just here to catch fish and stink.
O! my offence is rank, it smells to heaven.
I hate those fancy lads!
My soul is full of discord and dismay.
I'm always flattered when a psychotic becomes smitten with me.
I must be cruel, only to be kind.
Like a snake sheds its fur.
I will speak daggers to her, but use none.
I cut off their heads with a nail clipper.
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief.
Wanna buy a monkey?
My words fly up, my thoughts remain below.
Do you see yonder cloud that's almost in shape of a camel?
What could be stranger than a big fatass floatin' cupcake?
Don't let 'em give you any of that flank steak bullshit.
Good-night, ladies; good-night, sweet ladies; good-night, good-night.
Where be your gibes now? your gambols? your songs?
Your fish stick kitties!
Good-night, sweet prince;
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
You'll have my glass eye foggin' over.
You've been like the drunken, abusive grandfather I never had.
Wednesday, December 9, 2015
It's awful dead.
My eyes were popping out of my head.
It is molecules and acids.
My main purpose is not to receive messages.
So let me up out of this.
I get my kicks above the waistline,
White refrigerators gleaming with Ripolin
What properly riled them up was a bite from a sheep.
I have no special regard for Satan
Waiting for the snake to grow wings.
My chart shines high where the blue milk's upset.
I fear those big words
Son, you forgot to give me back my keys.
You will not regret it, if you live.
The country needs skilled trade rats.
We'll talk about your moles later.
Somebody accidentally nudges their poodle.
Behold the pre-prophetic symbols of the planes of never.
Fleas love dogs, you know.
Gentlemen, remember your etiquette.
Cheese, toung, peanutbutter, spaghetti, pumpernickle on the bottom.
Breast of flamingo.
I'll make a note of it!
You need an usher?
Nearly everybody gets twitterpated in the springtime.
What's the latest on the psychological front?
Horse trough, row boat! In a hotel?
She hasn't lost weight, but can she climb a tree.
I'll start handing out baseballs.
You owe me a Cadillac.
Saturday, December 5, 2015
Oh my poor mother.
That boy's as sharp as a bowling ball.
Living over a cat food factory has its advantages.
But he'll never make it to the grotto.
I'm sorry you're stupid.
I don't know what it is with those sideburns.
Do you have any idea what I'm talking about?
The waterfall was pretty weak.
Now I gotta go find a trombone.
Some of my best ancestors are Chinese.
Oh, you are just the cutest thing.
A salmon egg flew out of your mouth.
Maybe she can bend down again and pick up your tongue.
Nice girl but about as sharp as a sack of wet mice.
I see you ridin' a big red horse.
And I think that's ghoulish.
I'm afraid of electricity.
It knocked you off your horse.
It’s time to move on to other lands.
Blessed are the cheesemakers.
Look at my knees! Look at my knees!
What does a guy have to do to get some mutton around here?
We've just begun to learn about the water and its secrets.
We'll give you a room up in the hotel in the sky.
Dirty bubble, say your prayers!
Oh, you are sick!
It was like the humming of a bee.
I wander around like King Farouk.
He has a horrible predilection for vacuums.
People think pipes grow in their homes!
Excuse me! I can't reach my silverware!
Why is your suitcase full of rocks?
How hard could it be to kill this thing?
What I wouldn't give to be spat at in the face.
I don’t think there’s a weak link in the chain.
It should be based on who's hungriest.
From where I'm standing, you're an ape.
Sunday, November 29, 2015
And yelling out the window is bad manners.
I've seen fire bend around corners.
I can smell the fire.
But this fresh air is getting into my lungs.
He's what we designate as the crummy moronic type.
How do you mortals get from day to day?
Stop staring at me before I take your eyes out.
If I die I'm never talking to you again!
Jeez, he was just here a minute ago.
Rugged, manly men in the full bloom of their manhood.
Fawns gamboled there amidst happy laughing spirits.
My teddy bear is a wonderful, giving, and very loving man.
I thought we needed dress shields.
I would rather be living in Philadelphia.
I don't regret anything, thanks.
I'm not your personal ballet.
I am a ridiculous person.
You want to know the way?
Never fool with a fuzz ball.
How can a blind man be a lookout?
A cage went in search of a bird.
Where are we, man?
Just get out of my sun.
You raving Oriental idiot.
Are you bigger than the bad man?
Don't break my jaw.
It is my guess that you will find it is English wax.
You take cereal, you take the milk, you pour it into the bowl.
I don't eat you anymore.
Disintegration is quite painless, I assure you.
I suppose you have some explanation for this boat being in your living room.
You do not own a cat.
Nothing must disturb my undiluted Englishry.
All I do is think and blink.
I'm multiplying, see? I'm multiplying.
Poor little nimrod.
Oh, George, you didn't jump into the river.
Keep an eye skinned.
Tattered gods slouching in their rags across the waste.
Rosy cheeks, no warts.
Being in love with a safe, they haven't got a name for that one.
Are we still the good guys?
We're still the good guys.
Why don't you shoot yourself an elephant?
So long, Sammy! See you in Miami!
Studying the funeral practices of French circus clowns.
That's a surprisingly low figure to a lot of people.
When you and your family enjoy decay.
You'll still get fewer calories than you thought.
He was great at so many things.
Sixteen hours of hilarity and screaming.
Had the advantage of free vertical movement.
Maybe you should, Don.
Deep distrust of those who didn't make it.
He was right, of course.
Don't know if you qualify.
This is it.
Call now to find out more.
I'll explain everything.
Then we will sing all the cowboy songs.
Settle down sir, the doctor says.
You're just going to have to be a little patient.
He don't make monkeys, he just train 'em.
Yet you still keep to this obstinate silence
Will you send a dinghy, please?
You're barking up the wrong fish.
He has the ability to nullify all radar beams.
Generated by a giant flying saucer.
He cut your head off and put it in his TV set
Because he wanted to change into a dope.
It is something or is he an imbecile.
What do you tell a man with two black eyes?
Nothing, he's already been told twice.
In waking life you have never even been to Kentucky.
So go feed those hogs before they worry themselves into anemia.
And I'll bet my badge that we haven't seen the last of those weirdies.
Saturday, November 28, 2015
Friday, November 27, 2015
The group's second full length album, it delights throughout with Anderson wielding a guitar that sounds like a fistful of barbed wire being raked over the strings. Highlights include the bouncy, loopy Gary and Priscilla, which is catchy and annoying at the same time and which finds Anderson almost at his finest. He peaks on Someday You'll Be King, a mix of avant-weird-power-punk-bubble-gum-whatever, complete with an honest to goodness hook and angular punkish guitar freakouts that still stick in my head decades later.