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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Hercule Poirot's Christmas, by Agatha Christie

Hercule Poirot's Christmas
by Agatha Christie
1939

"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.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Christmas is Murder, by C.S. Challinor

Christmas is Murder
By C.S. Challinor
2008

"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.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Underrated Rock Guitarists - Snakefinger

A rather obscure "rock" guitarist, Snakefinger, aka Philip Charles Lithman, was probably best known for his work with The Residents, who have provided the world with a seemingly inexhaustible fount of sonic weirdness for about four decades. He was so closely associated with the eyeball head guys until his untimely death in 1987 that the two entities almost seemed to blend together. While his Residential work, not surprisingly, was decidedly quirky, Snakefinger was arguably less offbeat than his pals and his 1984 live album was devoted solely to blues covers. For an introduction to his work, try the Residents albums on which he appeared or the quartet of solo albums he released on Ralph Records from 1979 to 1983.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Underrated Rock Guitarists - Bruce Anderson

One of the more obscure underrated rock guitarists, Anderson played with MX-80 Sound, once described as "either the most Heavy Metal Art Band or the most Arty Heavy Metal Band". Out of the Tunnel, their 1980 release on Ralph Records, is enough to justify Anderson's inclusion in the annals of the underrated.

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.

Scritchy, man.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

How to Deep Fry a Turkey

To deep fry a turkey.
Procure a turkey in the usual manner.
Such as casually approaching one on a street corner
Or in a senior citizen's home
While appearing to gaze at your wristwatch
And then pouncing on it
And stuffing it into a satchel
Or a carpetbag.
Or set a very large mousetrap
In an area frequented by turkeys.
For best results,
The turkey should be dead.
If the turkey is not dead,
Just be patient,
For pity's sake.
Turkeys are not immortal.
Or you can drop the hammer on that little devil,
In a literal or figurative sense.
It's really up to you.
Dynamite is not considered sporting
As a method for snuffing out
The life of a turkey.
And beating a turkey to death with a shoe
May be frowned upon
In some quarters.
But suffocating a turkey with a pillow
Is considered relatively humane.
It is no small feat to sneak up on a turkey.
And please reflect on the irony
Of smothering a turkey with a feather pillow.
Next, dress the turkey.
No one seems to be sure what this means.
But a nice pinafore is considered stylish
In the turkey community
Or a seersucker suit.
Whatever that is.
Never attempt to put a wig on a turkey.
It will only aggravate the turkey
And you won't feel very good about yourself.
Now place the turkey
Into some type of turkey deep frying device
And fry it
In the customary manner.
If the turkey is not quite dead
You'll know it.
For further instructions
See Appendix 2C,
How to Deep Fry a Turkey

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Children Of The Candy Corn

Old man Burke’s house was off the beaten path, but Jimmy always stopped by each Halloween for a tiny bag of candy corn. It was always tied so nice and neat, with a red ribbon.

This year Burke had replaced the standard kernels with tiny waxy figures. Their sugary bodies had white flesh, yellow clothing and ragged orange hair.

Jimmy eagerly untied the ribbon. The candies were so good. He couldn’t hear the agonized screams or the crunching of bones as he chewed, but Burke could. The old man smiled.

Count Dracula's Commencement Address to the Graduating Class of the Lord Charles D. Razar School for Hemophiliacs

The ageless Count cuts a dashing figure as he walks to the podium, elegant and refined - yes, almost regal. His dark, magnetic eyes scan the room. He clears his throat and speaks. His diction is precise and his thick accent, rather than detracting from his message, only serves to lend it an air of authority.

He speaks eloquently of opportunity and the future and of the patchwork of life that is even now unrolling in front of them like an expensive Persian rug, crisscrossed with an intricate latticework representing an infinite number of possibilities.

They hang on his every word, rapt. There is a minor commotion in front, but most of them are so caught up by his words that they do not notice.

One of the students has lost a small brooch - a family heirloom. She and another student are bent over looking for it. She straightens up - triumphantly clutching the brooch. As she does, she whacks her fellow seeker in the lip with her elbow.

A trickle of blood flows from the split lip. The Count is distracted by the commotion. He spots the blood and falters slightly. He catches himself and continues.

The young man presses the lip with a handkerchief, but of course it keeps bleeding. The handkerchief is soon stained a deep shade of red and the boy's chin is smeared with blood. He excuses himself and slips from the hall, but it is too late.

The Count has become increasingly befuddled and distracted. He stammers and stumbles over his words, mumbling and tugging at his shirt collar. As the boy stands up to leave, he completely loses his train of thought. He stares blankly into the hall, a vacant look on his face. His tongue whisks across his lips. A murmur passes through the audience.

The Count is visibly relieved when the boy leaves. The magic spell he has woven with his words has been shattered, but he manages to gather his thoughts with great difficulty and carries on, just as a thin rivulet of blood trickles from the nose of a girl in the second row.

That does it. The Count slams his palm on the podium, mumbles a halfhearted excuse and stalks offstage, mopping his brow with his sleeve. The crowd murmurs. It is over.

From the Zombie Owners Manual

Bringing a zombie into your home takes a lot of dedication and commitment. But the love you receive will be well worth your time and effort. A zombie may not be easy to love at first, but they are relatively easy to care for. With proper care, you can maintain the health and well-being of your zombie throughout its lifetime (figuratively speaking). Here are a few tips on caring for zombies.

Zombies are surprisingly playful and will love being bounced on your knee, tossed in the air, or playing peek-a-boo.

Never burn any part of a zombie in a wood stove or fireplace.

When first introduced into your home a zombie should be kept in a playpen or crib. Be sure to make your home zombie-proof. One devilish little zombie can make a whole lot of mischief.

Drill a hole in the base of a zombie's skull to release demons.

Only use distilled water to wash your zombie. Use a mild non-allergenic soap. Soaps with perfumes or oils may leave a film on the zombie. To dry your zombie use a soft clean towel. Do not use a hair dryer, as zombies can sometimes be skittish.

Everyone poops - even zombies. Keep their litter box clean and stock up on air freshener.

When bathing your zombie, never leave it unattended. If you leave the bathroom, wrap the zombie in a towel and take it along.

Flesh and intestines are the cornerstones of a healthy diet, but zombies sure do love their treats. Many zombies enjoy toenails, but they are hard to digest and should be given sparingly. Other treats your zombie might enjoy are upholstery, loganberries, drywall paste, cupcakes, mincemeat crepes, and hair.

Zombies sometimes swallow air while feeding, which may make them fussy. Be sure to burp your zombie regularly.

Monitor your zombie for freshness. If it smells "off" or "putrid" or "just plain godawful," remove it from the house.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Essential Sweet Jane I - V.U. & Lou Reed

You could argue that "Sweet Jane" is one of the greatest rock and roll songs of all time. I would. Never mind that Rolling Stone, in their infinite lack of wisdom, ranked it at 342 on their list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Which puts it one just behind such timeless efforts as Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky" and a few notches down from Queen's "We Will Rock You".

In any event, your humble author has travelled to the ends of the Earth (well, YouTube) to find some of the most noteworthy versions of the song written by Lou Reed and popularized by the Velvet Underground. This first installment presents versions by the Velvet Underground and selections from Lou Reed's 40-odd years as a solo artist. Installment two will be devoted to notable cover versions. Stay tuned.

It's all subjective, mind you. If you'd like to nominate a version of Sweet Jane to be added to the list, feel free to leave a comment.

(Dates listed are the dates of performances/recordings, not release dates. )

Lou Reed Lectures on Sweet Jane (2008)
You’d think that 40 years after the fact Lou Reed would had gotten tired of playing "Sweet Jane", something he must have done at least hundreds of times. But even later in life he still found the time to explain to Elvis Costello and the audience of Costello’s short-lived TV show, Spectacle: Elvis Costello with..., how the song was structured, while demonstrating his points on an acoustic guitar.




1969: The Velvet Underground Live (1969)
The genesis of "Sweet Jane" is not completely clear but it began appearing in the Velvet Underground’s live shows as early as late 1969. Which is when the version immortalized on 1969: The Velvet Underground Live was recorded. Although the album itself didn’t see the light of day until a half decade later. It's a downright laconic version of the song that contains the infamous bridge that fell by the wayside in many later versions. Cowboy Junkies fans will find it all quite familiar.




The Velvet Underground - Loaded (1970)
Founding Velvet member John Cale had moved on by the time of Loaded, the group's fourth album, but three-fourths of the group were still on board, including Lou Reed, who proceeded to give the world a song called "Sweet Jane". The version contained here, the first to be loosed on the world at large, is considerably more lively than the hypnotic version from 1969: The Velvet Underground Live.




Lou Reed - Rock and Roll Animal (1973)
This version was recorded in late 1973 and released the following year on Rock and Roll Animal, the first of a pair of live albums that rolled out during Lou Reed's RCA years. The album opens with a heavy guitar duet by Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner, who work their way through a lengthy instrumental piece that gives way to a radically reconstructed version of "Sweet Jane".




Lou Reed - Live in Paris (1974)
A half a year later or so and "Sweet Jane" had undergone another transformation, though perhaps not as radical as some others. A few members of the Rock and Roll Animal band were on hand for this version but Hunter and Wagner had moved on. It's less heavy than Rock and Roll Animal and even waxes a bit funky at times, with emphasis on the organ in parts. Watch for the moves from the bleached-blonde Lou Reed, who looks like he's about to break into some James Brown at any moment.




Lou Reed - Live in New York (1977)
Probably my favorite of all the non-cover versions. It was recorded at New York's Bottom Line about a year before the version that's next on the list, the one that made onto an actual live bonafide album release. Heavy, heavy and heavy, but in a slightly different manner than Rock and Roll Animal, and there's even some judicious use of a saxophone.




Lou Reed - Live: Take No Prisoners (1978)
Lou Reed's double live album from his Arista years is something of a mixed bag. The band is great and so are the performances, mostly of classic Lou Reed songs and a few newer ones. The downside is his tendency to derail several of the songs with lengthy spoken asides that are somewhere between monologue and standup comedy. Which is the case with the version of "Sweet Jane" immortalized therein. If it weren't for those asides - which are quite witty, it should be said - it could have been one of the greatest versions of the song ever.




Lou Reed - Acoustic Version on Spanish TV (1998?)
"I do Lou Reed better than anyone" -Lou Reed


Sunday, September 13, 2015

King Arthur - 2004

King Arthur
Starring Clive Owen, Keira Knightley
2004

For epic portrayals of the Arthurian legend it's going to be pretty hard to outdo King Arthur, a 2004 movie that may have outdone what's arguably its most epic predecessor - John Boorman's monumental 1982 movie, Excalibur. For me King Arthur hasn't lost anything even though this was at least the fourth or fifth time I've seen it.

The notion of taking Arthur's story and turning it on its ear is hardly a new idea. One of my favorites is a series of about a half dozen or so books by Jack Whyte in which he strips out all of the magical and fantastic elements and leaves the reader with a perfectly serviceable version of the legend. Which is essentially what King Arthur attempts to do.

After a brief opening scene with a young Lancelot leaving home to fight for Rome, we jump forward about fifteen years. The Knights of the Round Table, those that are left, are all Sarmatian (from the region that's now Iran) warriors who are required to spend fifteen years in service to the Romans. If you do the math then you'll realize that it's time for them to fly the coop. But there's a twist, as a bishop Germanus explains to their commander - a Roman named Arthur.

As the Romans are pulling out of Britain, a great Saxon horde is massing to come down out of the north and lay the land to waste. The scenes of the Saxons on the move are pretty ominous stuff, with their war drums, thousands of marching feet (or so it would seem) and eerie chanting. Turns out there's a prominent Roman family living near Hadrian's wall that needs to be rescued. The weaselly bishop informs Arthur that his men cannot have their walking papers until they complete the mission. Though they carp and moan and know that it's nearly a suicide mission, they are a band of brothers, after all, and grudgingly agree to this one last foray. Any resemblance to The Dirty Dozen or The Wild Bunch may or may not have been intentional.

The knights arrive at the Roman outpost not long before the Saxons and make haste in evacuating it, including a number of people found in a grim dungeon of sorts, one of whom is a Woad named Guinevere. Woads in this movie are just another name for the real-world Picts, a painted warrior people who lived north of the wall and wasted no opportunity to harass their neighbors to the south.

As the Saxons move southward it becomes obvious to Arthur that he should put aside his feelings about the woads and accept their offer of an alliance. But not before the small band of knights must face off against a splinter force of Saxons on a frozen lake in a scene that might remind some viewers of the battle of Thermopylae. It's strictly over the top action movie stuff, this scene, but it does keep you clinging to the edge of your seat.

Against all odds, the crew makes it back from their mission almost intact and are given their walking papers after all. They start walking but when they see that their old leader Arthur is apparently going to try to take on the Saxons singlehandedly, they naturally have to rally round him one last time. And I'll say right here that battle scenes in this type of movie have a tendency to be rather dull, but this one was the rare exception. You can almost guess how it turns out but getting to that point's a lot more gripping that in most action flicks.

Given that it's essentially just an epic buddy movie, King Arthur relies pretty heavy on this small band of warriors. There are six of them, plus their leader and they are a fairly diverse group. I have to say I didn't care much for Clive Owen's Arthur, who's prone to speaking in great oratorical flourishes throughout and not much else. As for Lancelot, he just seems to be bewildered most of the time. Gawain and Galahad just don't seem to get all that much to do.

Which leaves it to the other three to carry most of the group scenes. There's Ray Winston as Bors, the hard-drinking, hard-loving family man who says exactly what's on his mind. There's Ray Stevenson as Dagonet, a fierce burly fighter who turns out to have something of a heart of gold and who saves the day in the frozen lake scene. And then there's Meds Mikkelsen as Tristan, the silent, mystical type with a trained raven and a decidedly offbeat way of looking at the world.

Also worthy of note, Keira Knightley as the kick-ass Woad warrior woman - though it's a bit of a stretch to imagine someone so slight whupping big beefy Saxons in hand to hand combat. There's little or no magic or supernatural stuff to speak of here, though Merlin, the Woad leader, is said to be a magician, of sorts. Also worthy of a considerable accolade is Stella Skarsgård as Cerdic, the muttering leader of the Saxons, who, though he's starting to get up there in years, doesn't take any mess from anyone.

Which is about all I've got to say for this one, except for an enthusiastic two thumbs up.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Dune & Dune Messiah & Children of Dune

Dune
By Frank Herbert
1965

Dune Messiah
By Frank Herbert
1969

Children of Dune
By Frank Herbert
1976

Given that I've read the original Dune books, the ones by Frank Herbert, a number of times and also given that the first book is nearly fifty years old, I thought I'd forego doing full reviews of each of the three books. I don't recall when I least read the series but I was interested to see how they'd stack up after all these years. Especially after reading six of the sequel/prequel books by Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson, books that I became decidedly less impressed with as I made my way through each volume.

I'm happy to report that Dune held up quite well after so many years. I found myself zipping right through it and while I remembered quite a lot of what was coming I was surprised at how much had slipped my mind. I won't go into much in the way of describing the book, as well-known as it is by now, but rather will join those who praise Herbert for creating such an intricate and detailed world with a rather gripping plot playing out against this background.

Then there's Dune Messiah. I didn't remember much about this one either and after reading it again, I'd say I'm not surprised. It's a short volume and the story does actually have a plot with things happening throughout. But in spite of that it feels that not much is really happening, aside from a bunch of the characters moping and a bunch of the others plotting and conspiring and that's about all she wrote. If you've never read these books before I'd almost say you could get away without reading this one. But in the interests of completeness you might as well go ahead.

Children of Dune was just as hazy in my mind as the foregoing, but I was surprised to find that it's my favorite of the three. In my hazy memories I seem to recall that God Emperor of Dune was my favorite of all of the Frank Herbert Dune books so it remains to be seen if that's really the case. Children of Dune, as the name suggests, deals primarily with the preborn children of the emperor Paul Atreides and their preborn aunt Alia, who seems to have come off the rails a bit. As things proceed Leto, one of the twins, begins to make a major transformation that's dealt with more extensively in the fourth book.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

A Few Surefire Kickstarter Campaigns

Abscess: The Musical
Dan Rather action figures
Remake Lawrence of Arabia with less "desert stuff"
Research study on the word millinery
Slip-proof banana peel
Horse feather beds

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Accident Prone Hamlet

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
[steps in a paint bucket]
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
[tries to shake the paint bucket loose]
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
[still trying to shake the paint bucket loose - stumbles - catches himself - bangs his elbow on a chair]
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
[gives his foot a hard shake - the paint bucket flies high in the air - comes down and hits him in the forehead]
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
[disoriented - eyes slightly glazed over]
No more; and, by a sleep to say we end
[walks into the wall]
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
[very disoriented]
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
[slips on a banana peel - long pause while he gets up and composes himself]
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
[throws his arms wide for emphasis - knocks a vase off the table and smashes it]
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
[picks up the shards of the vase - sticks his finger into a mousetrap]
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
[tries to shake the mousetrap loose and whacks himself in the face]
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
[decides to take a breather - sits on a bear trap that his servant forgot to put away]
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
[leaps to his feet - runs around the room]
That makes calamity of so long life;
[still trying to extricate himself from the bear trap]
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
[finally gets the bear trap loose - steps on a rake - clocks himself in the face]
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
[extremely disoriented now - falls down the stairs]
[decides to call it a day - lies down with a cool rag on his face]

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Curmudgeon

He is accustomed to retrieving the newspaper at precisely six thirty.

It isn't there.

He fumes. He rants incoherently and jerks and twitches. After about a minute he begins to froth at the mouth.

One minute after that he starts to bark and growl and gnaw at his arm. At three minutes he dumps a pot of hot coffee on his head. At four minutes he yells so loudly that his teeth fly out and stick in the wall and his wig pops off and lands on the cat.

At five minutes he bangs his head repeatedly on the door and stomps on the floor. At six minutes he slaps himself in the face and wrenches his arm so hard that he dislocates his shoulder. At seven minutes he attempts to swallow a boot.

At eight minutes he cuts his nose off. At nine minutes he drives a sharpened number two pencil into each ear. At ten minutes he gouges out his eyes with a spoon.

At eleven minutes he takes a steak knife and begins to peel his skin off.

At six forty-two his brother-in-law walks from the bathroom with the newspaper tucked under his arm.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Slightly Dubious Ice Cream Flavors

Baby Liver and Horse Sweat Swirl
Kerosene Delite
Banana Toenail Chip
Moist Old Man
Chocolate Cholera Crunch

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Little Known Proverbs

Absence makes the chickens grow fonder of putting their eggs all in one basket.
Necessity is the mother of Ronald.
The squeaky wheel gets a gift horse with two heads and a stretch waistband.
Better late than dead.
Good things come to those who are extremely lucky.
Keep your friends close and do as the birds of a feather do to the Romans.
Hiding is the greater part of valor.
If you can't beat 'em, pay someone to beat 'em.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Inspirational Quotes That Might Need a Little Work

You were not born a winner, and you were not born a loser. You were born a moron.
Believe you can and you're just postponing the inevitable disappointment.
Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in giving up every time we fail.
When you come to the end of your rope, your neck is about to break.
Instead of giving myself reasons why I can't, I just say the hell with it.
We must become the asshole we want to see.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Up and Coming Amish Rappers

Ghostface Miller
Digable Planters
House of Grain
Hex Clan
De La Soil
DWA (Diggers With Attitude)
Old Dirty Pastor

Saturday, June 27, 2015

If the Pope Was More Like Moe Howard

The Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church is carrying a long plank balanced on his shoulder.
The Cardinal Secretary of State calls him.
He turns abruptly.
Whacks the pontiff in the face with the plank.
The Pope closes in on the Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church.
Goes for an eye poke.
The Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church neatly blocks it.
With an outstretched hand laid alongside his nose.
The Pope counters with the two-handed eye poke.
A brilliant maneuver.
Takes three steps backward.
Steps in the Cardinal Secretary of State's paint bucket.
Tries to shake it loose.
It's stuck.
Shoves his mitre (cool Pope hat) down over the Cardinal Secretary of State's eyes.
Gives his ears a good twist.
Tweaks his beak.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Time the Whore of Babylon Dropped the Kids Off At Soccer Practice

There were a few things she could have done differently.
Like not turning up at the soccer field on a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, and having seven heads and ten horns.
But the Lexus was in the shop for a brake job.
And her outfit - purple and scarlet and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls.
Not everyone can pull that off.
As several of the moms were quick to point out.
And the belly shirt.
Now that was harlotry.
And the golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication and being drunken with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.
Sure, they all liked a Margarita or a wine cooler or two.
But that was really a bit much.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Sunset Years of the Star of That Really Popular Cat Video

Miss Tibbles.
An entire wing of the mansion was given over to her some years ago.
Gone to ruin now, drafty and smelling faintly of stale catnip.
Miss Tibbles.
Perches in the dank great room in her tattered red velvet kitty bed.
The grand piano in the corner, mostly unused.
Though just last week she roused herself and ran through a few pieces by Rachmaninoff.
The magic wasn’t there anymore.
Her attendant – Burt – observed.
Though he wouldn’t have dared to say so.
Miss Tibbles.
Yawns, stretches and eyes the silent telephone.
It won’t be much longer.
She’s ready for her close-up.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Movie - Young Sherlock Holmes

Young Sherlock Holmes
Directed by Barry Levinson
1985

So just how did Sherlock Holmes and John Watson get together? I'm no authority on the canon of Holmes but the way Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote it differs a good bit from how the makers of Young Sherlock Holmes handled it - something they take pains to note at the end of the film.

But what's a little dramatic license among friends? As the filmmakers would have us believe, young Watson meets young Holmes upon arriving at a new boarding school, where his future pal proceeds to do one of those fancy Sherlock Holmes things and tells him all about himself, based on a few subtle clues.

Which is all well and good and to be expected and if things had proceeded in this fashion I might have stayed on board. But as things moved along the movie began to take on a tone that would have been more suitable to Young Indiana Jones (which came along in the form of a TV series less than a decade later) than Young Sherlock Holmes. There's something of a mystery at the heart of all this, with blow darts that cause people to hallucinate wildly and ultimately end up dead, and an Egyptian cult, but it's more about fast-paced, big-budget action and spectacle than deduction.

Which is fine if you like that sort of thing. I didn't mind and it's certainly a well-made film, though the relentless pace became wearying at times. Much of this can probably be explained by considering some of the principals. They include Steven Spielberg, the executive producer, who had just done his Indiana Jones thing a few years earlier and who was producing another YA adventure flick, The Goonies, in the same year.

Writer Chris Columbus would go on to do Home Alone before too long and later took a crack at some Harry Potter movies. Which not so far removed from what he did here, when you think about it but without all that magic stuff. At first I thought Barry Levinson seemed like an odd choice to direct but the more I thought about it the more it made sense. After all, his big score up to this point had been with Diner, a coming of age tale. Which is not unlike what's done here, although with a lot more action.

To summarize, if you're looking for a good Sherlock Holmes movie you should probably keep looking. If you're looking for a good young-adult adventure movie this should do the trick.

My Kindle eBooks

#Pantene

Casually walking around with a bag of hair.
My hair smells so good.
I love my hair.
Damn my hair smells to good right now.
My hair smells so beautiful n feels like feathers.
I love my hair.
At Walmart today, a lady told me I should be in a Pantene commercial.

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The Murders in the Rue Morgue - 1975

The Murders in the Rue Morgue
CBS Radio Mystery Theater
1975

I've got to confess that The Murders in the Rue Morgue is one of the Poe stories I've never actually gotten around to reading. So when I listened to this adaptation made for the CBS Radio Mystery Theater I didn't really have a frame of reference for what I was hearing. Given that, I had to take said adaption on its own merits, rather than comparing it to the original.

Supposedly one of the first detective stories, it's also a locked room mystery, a subgenre of a subgenre of mystery fiction that never ceases to amaze, amuse and irritate those of us who go for that sort of thing. The killings that take place inside this locked room are fairly gruesome, even by today's more relaxed standards, and one can't help imagining Poe writing splatter films if he'd lived a century and a half later.

Of course, one C. Auguste Dupin steps in to take over the investigation and proceeds to put together a few clues and sort everything out. If you're wondering where Sherlock Holmes got some of his mannerisms and personality traits it wouldn't be unreasonable to start your search here. Not a bad tale, all in all, at least based on what i heard in this adaptation, though I'm still up in the air about whether Poe's choice of killers was brilliant or just plain goofy.

But it's another worthwhile episode from the vast archive of CBS Radio Mystery Theater productions. Hard to believe that they turned out one of these every weekday for about ten years but they did.

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Friday, June 19, 2015

My Last Few Fortune Cookie Messages

Your honored mother has the countenance of an ape.
A prosthetic elbow may be waiting around the next corner.
May your pockets always be filled with sufficient carrion.
Beware of anthropomorphic horses who sing too loudly.
Live this day as though it will be your last. It will.

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Dances With Certified Public Accountants

He is naked except for a loincloth. He has fasted for two days, seated on a rock at the edge of the prairie, when a group of conventioning certified public accountants is inexplicably catapulted one hundred thirty years into the past, along with a disc jockey and an open bar.

The accountants dance all night. They do not get out much. He proves to be quite adept at the hokey-pokey. Marv gets drunk and tries to kiss a coyote.

When the sun rises they are gone. He is seated on the rock again.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

When Homonyms Kill

They slip into the cemetery in the still hour before dawn. They work silently, unsealing the tomb in no time. They take deep breaths, make the sign of the cross and enter.

The air is close and fetid. Two of them slide the heavy lid from the crypt. The other two take their positions. One of them pulls a mallet from his coat. He speaks over his shoulder to the other one.

"The stake."

They look on – aghast - at the choice cut of meat slapped into his palm. There is a stirring in the crypt.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Hippy TV - Mannix

Featuring another appearance by the real-life band, The Peppermint Trolley Company

Friday, June 12, 2015

Best Day Ever for Sisyphus

Half an eternity has passed.
Another half to go.
The old buzzard’s been rolling that boulder up the hill.
Only to watch it roll back down again.
Every frigging time.
Yeah, him.
His bursitis is flaring up.
He’s about had it.
When his friend Bob drops by.
As he’s nearing the top of the hill yet again.
Bob disappears into the woods.
Comes back with a small log.
Shoves it under the boulder.
They both step back and contemplate it.
“That oughta hold it,” Bob says.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Together Again

“Oh, Herm.” Emily fell into his arms. He hugged her hard enough to crush several ribs. It sounded like a bag of chips stuffed under a mattress.

“My darling. I’ve missed you so.” Herm beamed as she stomped on his bare foot, driving her stiletto heel all the way to the floor.

“Not as much as I’ve missed you.” Emily nuzzled his shoulder. He stroked her hair and dug his thumb into her left eye socket, twisting and gouging until he’d worked the bloody orb loose. He ground it under his heel.

Herm led her to the kitchen. “I’ve been saving this for your return. I never imagined it would be so soon.”

He poured two glasses of champagne and proceeded to bash her with the bottle until her face was a mass of bloody pulp.

“I couldn’t stand to be without you another minute.” She rammed a butcher knife into his lower abdomen, jerked upward and stepped aside as his intestines fell out, slopping on the floor.

“What about your job?” Herm asked, driving a ten-inch long spike into her head.

“I told them I’d quit if I had to, but I had to come home and see you.”

She smiled, kissing him gently and tearing large chunks of flesh from his face and upper body with her teeth.

“I’m glad you did.” He tore her arm off and bludgeoned her with it. “Its so good to have you back.”

He ripped out her still beating heart and flung it on the ground. The dog carried it into a corner and gnawed it. He drew her close. She emptied a can of turpentine over his head and lit it. They melted into each other’s arms. Her gaze locked with his.

“I’m so glad we’re together again.”

Hippy TV - The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Every Mother's Son, who scored with the hit "Come on Down to My Boat," play in the midst of a knockdown, drag out brawl.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Hippy TV - The Flying Nun

Another real-life band, who got their start in the Sixties. The Sundowners in an appearance on The Flying Nun.

Hippy TV - My Mother the Car

Featuring The Spats, a real-life band who hailed from Southern California.

Hardboiled

Nick Radicks double-parked his battered Buick Regal. He lit a cigarette and walked into the coffee shop, ignoring the No Smoking sign. Benny the Rat slithered into the booth across from him, glancing around nervously.

“Whaddya got?” Nick was cool as an icebox. He blew three perfectly formed smoke rings at the ceiling.

“Whaddya got for me?”

“A size eleven boot. I’ll put it up your ass.”

“Okay, okay.” Benny leaned forward. “Your stiff was connected. Word is he made some people mad, so they set him up for a big fall.”

“So he’s connected. Why didn’t his guys fix it?”

“Dunno. He hooked up with a guy named King. Heavy hitter, but unfortunately for the stiff it came down from on high. When it started to go down, King and his guys couldn’t do anything to put it back together.”

Nick dropped his cigarette in his coffee. He pulled out his wallet and peeled off two twenties.

“Got a name?”

Benny snatched the bills.

“Dumpty. Didn’t get the first name.”

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Tastes Like Chicken

Things have been tense since he accidentally killed and roasted her brother Will, serving him at a backyard barbecue. He reminds her that Will had grown a layer of feathers and developed the habit of clucking. She thinks he should have noticed that something was amiss when he began to pluck Will. He has nothing to say to that.

Hippy TV - Star Trek

"He's not Herbert! We reach!"

Monday, May 25, 2015

Hippy TV - Get Smart (Larry Storch)

Thrill thrill thrill! Kill kill kill! Featuring the Sacred Cows and Larry Storch, of F Troop, as The Groovy Guru.

If the Amish Developed More TV Shows

Raking Bad
So You Think You Can Plow
The Growmore Girls
Pimp My Buggy
Friday Night Lanterns
The Hex-Files

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Hippy TV - The Beverly Hillbillies

Featuring The Peppermint Trolley Company, a real-life band responsible for performing an early version of the theme song for The Brady Bunch.


The Penguin Pool Murder - 1932

The Penguin Pool Murder
Based on characters created by Stuart Palmer
1932

Funny how simple the answers are when you know them.
(Hildegarde Withers)

Movies starring Stuart Palmer's amateur detective Hildegarde Withers were all the rage during the Thirties and this is the one that kicked things off. Edna May Oliver stars here and in the next two episodes and Helen Broderick and Zasu Pitts took over the role for the last three movies of the series. Though she is a schoolteacher and a civilian, Withers works in tandem with the gruff inspector Oscar Piper to solve crimes and trade mildly disparaging wisecracks. Gleason starred as Piper in all six of the Withers movies.

These movies were not meant to be taken too seriously and The Penguin Pool Murder is no exception. Miss Withers just happens to be visiting the aquarium with her students when a gentleman of the lifeless persuasion is found in the penguin pool. We viewers have already seen some of the background leading up to this murder, but there are various twists and turns that keep things hopping until the no-nonsense schoolmarm finally figures it all out. Piper, as usual, is a few steps behind, but give him an a for effort anyway.

These are not movies that I really watch for the plotting and this one, which gets off to quite a slow start, was more of the same. When Withers and Piper get into crime-solving mode and start pecking at each other things perk up considerably. Recommended, as are the other three in the series that I've seen thus far, as long as you're not someone who takes your mystery movies too seriously.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Hippy TV - Bewitched

Samantha sings. From the Hippie Hippie Hooray episode.

Minutes of the Monthly Meeting of the Exalted Priests of Yssrygyth

O noble ones,
Who exist to serve our dark and mighty lord Yssrygyth,
Master of all that is seen and unseen.
Arbiter of life and death.
Hearken unto my words.
We gather among the sacred stones under the waning moon on the forty-first day
In the seventeenth year of the reign of our mighty king, Syanshek.

O noble ones,
Ye shall be responsible for keeping thine own abode clean
For it has been brought to our attention that some work areas
Have become the abode of all manner of unclean spirits.

O noble ones,
Foul and unclean spirits will clean up after themselves, particularly in the break rooms.
Ye shall be responsible for the transgressions
Of any foul and unclean spirits you have invoked.

O noble ones,
Obsidian knives are currently on backorder.
Our supplier estimates that they will arrive on the fifty-eighth day
In the seventeenth year of the reign of our mighty king, Syanshek.
We are casting about for a new supplier.
In the meantime, do not place any new orders.

O noble ones,
As noted in a memo, circulated on the three hundredth day
In the sixteenth year of the reign of our mighty king, Syanshek.
Torture chambers must be reserved at least nine days in advance.
There shall be no exceptions.

O noble ones,
When tearing the hearts from live victims
You must follow the procedures outlined on tablet fourteen
Of standard rites and sacrificial procedures, basic - intermediate.
Claims for repetitive stress injuries have risen sixty four percent since last year.

O noble ones,
We are organizing a potluck dinner for our next gathering.
We need someone to supply the following items,
Roasted heart of shammun cat, gryyth crystalworm casserole, potato salad.
If you can help out see Mordhi in accounting.

By William I. Lengeman III © 2015

Hippy TV - Petticoat Junction (Dennis Hopper)

Dennis Hopper as a beatnik, not a hippy, but it's close enough. Just five years before Easy Rider.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Hippy TV - Dragnet

Hippy TV - F Troop (Lowell George)

The Bedbugs perform for F Troop. Featuring The Factory, which included Lowell George, who later came to fame in Little Feat.

Other Dimensions, edited by Robert Silverberg

Other Dimensions
Edited by Robert Silverberg
1974

There's nothing fancy or cryptic about the title of this anthology. The stories, as the title suggests, are concerned with the theme of other dimensions. For my money, some of them worked and some did not. Rather than offer my comments on all ten stories I'll focus on the ones I liked.

And He Built a Crooked House, by Robert A. Heinlein
What happens if you build a house in more than the accepted number of dimensions? Heinlein offers up a rather whimsical account of how it might go. I probably won’t be spoiling it to say this much – not well.

Narrow Valley, by R.A. Lafferty
A quarter of a century after Heinlein’s story appeared, Lafferty took a similar look at the problems of extra dimensions. He too takes a lighthearted approach. His yarn is about a plot of land rather than a house that exists in more dimensions besides the ones we all know and love so much.

Stanley Toothbrush, Terry Carr
I wasn’t aware that the well-known anthologist Terry Carr was also a writer but here he contributes what I thought was the best story of the bunch. In which the protagonist finds that by using the powers of his mind he can cause things to appear or disappear. It’s not an exact science, mind you. This, and the fact that Carr also tends toward the whimsical, makes for a very entertaining story.

Disappearing Act, by Alfred Bester
The military is trying to determine why shell-shocked patients in a secret ward are disappearing. The answer is a fairly simple one having to do with other dimensions. But it's made more interesting by the General in charge, who's rather over the top and constantly demanding another expert to sort out anything he needs to know. Comparisons to a certain Kubrick movie wouldn't be too far off the mark.

Also features stories by Arthur C. Clarke, Alexei Panshin, Carol Carr, John Breuer, Robert Silverberg and Stanley G. Weinbaum.

Hippy TV - Gomer Pyle (Rob Reiner)

Hippy Rob Reiner and his pals sing Blowing in the Wind with Gomer Pyle.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Man Bites God

He is undergoing a series of tribulations that would have made Job cringe.
He raises his eyes to the heavens and curses God. He is surprised and a bit miffed when God curses back.
He flings a pen cap at God. God causes frogs to rain upon him.
He pulls God's hair. God causes his house to be filled with the blood of swine.
He pokes God in the eye. God causes the sky to rain fire and brimstone, totally trashing his lawn.
He hauls off at God and misses. God takes a mighty swing and does the same. Soon they are embroiled in a particularly nasty slap fight in which no real damage is inflicted.
He stomps on God's foot. God casts a pox upon his kith and kin.
He bites God right on the ear.
Well, that does it.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Tangerine Dream Track by Track 3C – Zeit

Tangerine Dream Track by Track is a song-by-song, chronological look at Tangerine Dream’s “official” releases.

Zeit (1972)
Origin of Supernatural Probabilities
19:34

I mentioned in my last entry that "Nebulous Dawn," the second track on Zeit, was a “monumental” work of space music. I stand by that. The next track, "Origin of Supernatural Probabilities," is also a monumental work of space music, but in a decidedly different way. "Nebulous Dawn" could be described as a free floating assemblage of spacey sounds, with not very much of a rhythmic pulse to it. "Origin of Supernatural Probabilities," on the other hand, has a strong rhythm. It’s one that may or may not actually be made with a sequencer but which strongly resembles the sequencer-heavy works of Tangerine Dream’s so-called Virgin years, which at this time were still a few years in their future.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Early Vampire Fiction – The Vampyre, by John Polidori

Vampires in fiction, film, TV and whatnot don't do much for me. But I thought it might be interesting to look at one of the pioneering works of vampire fiction – some say it may be the first. John William Polidori’s claim to fame, such as it was, derives from the fact that he penned this work – "The Vampyre" – and from the fact that he served as personal physician to the poet, Lord Byron, for several years.

Polidori’s work has been overshadowed by another work that had its genesis at about the same time, a book by Mary Shelley known to most of us simply as Frankenstein. The genesis for both works dates from a cold, rainy summer when Shelley, Byron, Polidori, Shelley’s husband Percy and her half-sister gathered in a Swiss villa, whiling away their time with fantastical stories and challenging each other to write one of their own.

Only Frankenstein and "The Vampyre" made an impact. The latter was supposedly based on a fragment penned by Byron but not much was taken from that original snippet. It first saw publication a few years later, in 1819, when it appeared under Byron’s name, a mistake that was later corrected. Not that it would matter much to Polidori. Like all of the men at the 1816 gathering of literary luminaries, he died young. Byron lived the longest of the three, dying at 36, while Mary Shelley and Claire Claremont both lived to a ripe old age.

"The Vampyre" concerns the exploits of one Lord Ruthven, a cold and aloof sort of fellow. Imagine that. Who happens to cross paths with the young and naïve Aubrey. He, along with his sister, was made quite wealthy by the death of their parents. This mismatched pair take off on the grand tour of Europe that was so common in this day among the “better” classes.

Ruthven is not a very forthcoming sort and so Aubrey takes it upon himself to try to figure him out. Before long a letter arrives from his guardians at home, laying out some of the faults of his newfound companion, who is apparently something of a rake, and urging him to sever ties with Ruthven. Aubrey proceeds to do so, but not before foiling Ruthven's plans to sully the virtue of an innocent young lady.

Aubrey finds himself in Athens next, where he becomes an enamored of a certain young lady, Ianthe. Who, coincidentally enough, regales him with tales of vampires and whose family are horrified to find that he’s setting out on an excursion to a certain dicey locale. He ignores their concerns and goes anyway, only to find himself (planning is not one of his skills) overtaken by the dark of night and a fierce storm.

Before long he finds himself outside a hovel and hears screams coming from somewhere thereabouts. Only to be assaulted by someone with “superhuman” strength. He’s saved by the requisite mob with torches (which probably wasn’t a cliché yet) but the screaming woman is not so lucky. Apparently she’s been attacked and killed by a…you know. Here's one from the annals of sheer coincidence, it’s his beloved Ianthe.

Aubrey lapses into a raging delirium and soon Ruthven, of all people, turns up to serve as his attendant. He seems a changed man, at first, and apologizes for any previous misdeeds, but it doesn’t last. But the now rather melancholy Aubrey has been changed by his ordeal and before long he and Ruthven are back on the road again, exploring various corners of Greece. At one point they are set up on bandits and Ruthven is shot in the shoulder. Surprisingly, Ruthven doesn’t do so well and before long he is dead. The fact that his corpse disappears thereafter probably shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Nor should it be surprising that he turns up again, at a coming out party for Aubrey’s sister. Which pretty much sends Aubrey off the deep end.

I’ll leave it at that. If you’d like to know the rest try it out at Project Gutenberg. It's not very long - about 8,000 words - though the author's habit of using interminable sentences and paragraphs sometimes makes it seem that way. And, not to spoil it, but if you're looking for a happy ending you're going to come away disappointed.

Old Guy Blathers About Record Stores

It started with Give Us A Wink, by Sweet, probably in 1976 or 1977, in the record department at Korvettes. For those too lazy to Wikipedia I’ll elaborate on Sweet and Korvettes. Sweet (formerly The Sweet) was a British band who started out doing catchy bubble gum hits. They morphed into glam rockers with garishly shiny clothes, platform shoes and awful haircuts somewhere between shag and mullet. This is how it was done in the early Seventies.

By the time of Give Us A Wink, Sweet were probably a (blow-dried) hair past their peak. That came an album earlier with Desolation Boulevard, featuring the megahit, "Fox on the Run." Perhaps you know them from "The Ballroom Blitz," which came earlier. Perhaps you don’t give a rat turd. No matter, since they flamed out in fairly typical rock star fashion a few years after Give Us A Wink. Two versions of the group are apparently touring to this day, each fronted by one of the two surviving members of the original group. Sad. But I digress.

Korvettes was also about to flame out at the time. Korvettes, saith Wikipedia, was “an American chain of discount department stores, founded in 1948 in New York City.” They were well-known for their record departments. I thought maybe it was just me who thought so, but this segment of their business was significant enough by 1964 to merit a profile in a Billboard special issue on record retailing. According to Billboard’s numbers from that issue, record stores were already dwindling, from 12,500 in 1957 to 7,500 in 1963. Which might have raised more alarms if the volume of sales hadn’t tripled during the same period.

As for the nebulous connection between Sweet’s Give Us A Winkand Korvettes, there’s not one, unless you’re me. It was the first album I bought and that’s where I bought it. Korvettes had a deep inventory (at least as I recall it, 117 years later), the prices weren’t bad, and their doorbuster specials were even cheaper. Best of all, for us under-sixteens, you could roam the bins while Mom was off stocking up on doilies, toilet brushes and whatnot.

I bought as many records at Korvettes as my limited budget would allow. A few stand out. Rush’s first live album – All the World’s a Stage – a double album I bought for the criminally low price of $4.38. With the platform shoes, serious bell bottoms, silk shirts and hair that beat Sweet by a long shot, it was a fashion manual for the wasted youth of my era. It included a song called "By-Tor and the Snow Dog." You'll never be that cool, Kanye West.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Tangerine Dream Track by Track 3B – Zeit

Tangerine Dream Track by Track is a song-by-song, chronological look at Tangerine Dream’s “official” releases.

Zeit (1972)
Nebulous Dawn
17:56

This is space music. Space music of monumental proportions. Though it should be noted that there’s not much here that sounds like music in the traditional sense that most of us know. Better to think of it as well conceived assemblage of assorted and sundry ambient shards of sound that starts slow, builds to a peak, and then wanes again. I’ve seen this album referred to as one of the pioneering works of dark ambient – whatever that is. I suppose that’s a fair enough description of what’s going on here, if you like labeling things.


Care and Feeding of Your Evil Overlord

Congratulations on purchasing an evil overlord from Unbridled Malevolence, LLC. You now own an evil overlord from the leading brand in sinister oppression. Our commitment to quality and innovation ensures that each evil overlord we produce offers unrivaled vileness. Here are pointers to help you keep your evil overlord in good working order for the lifetime of the product.

Evil overlords are like kittens or skid steer loaders. They require periodic inspections and proper maintenance to continue working properly. An evil overlord should have a regular inspection to prevent problems and keep the owner from suffering consequences such as repair bills or total world domination. Your evil overlord should be inspected once a year by a qualified professional.

Evil overlords are native to parts of Cincinnati and the mountain ranges surrounding Mordor. There are two species of evil overlord, C. badicussmellicus and C. blackheartaie. At birth they range in size from two to five ounces (and are really quite cute). Baby evil overlords are born with demon eyes and will typically shed their fur within the first few weeks of life. Evil overlord pelts were once highly prized and so they were hunted almost to extinction. However, they have now been bred in captivity for nearly half a century.

Although small in size, baby evil overlords are very active. Their cages must have sufficient space to allow movement. They are mostly lovable and cuddly but can tear your throat out in a fraction of a second.

A baby evil overlord's toys should be kept in an orderly way on a shelf or in a closet.

Evil overlords' teeth grow continuously. Incisors may grow up to ten inches annually. This can actually make it difficult for them to rend flesh effectively. Your evil overlord should have their teeth trimmed several times a year.

Evil overlords are nocturnal. They are not social animals and prefer not to be in groups. Most groups would prefer not to have them so it's just as well.

Evil overlords should not be picked up by the ears.

Male evil overlords are prone to urinary tract blockages. They are also prone to attempting to destroy the universe.

An evil overlord's natural diet consists of shrubs, flesh of humans they have ground under their boot heels, lemon vanilla cupcakes and sludge.

Evil overlords may engage in dirt-eating. More rarely they will hoot or slap their knees. They cannot vomit.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Tangerine Dream Track by Track 3A - Zeit

Tangerine Dream Track by Track is a song-by-song, chronological look at Tangerine Dream’s “official” releases.

Zeit (1972)
Birth of Liquid Plejades
19:54

Prior to starting this project I hadn’t ever heard Tangerine Dream’s first album, Electronic Meditations. It did not impress and I doubt that I’ll listen to it again. Revisiting their second album, Alpha Centauri, after a long time, I thought it showed some promise but didn’t quite come together.

Their third album, Zeit, is another matter entirely and showed that they were finally starting to hit their stride. You could argue the point, I suppose, but this is the first time where Tangerine Dream actually begins to sound like Tangerine Dream.

To kick things off, there’s "Birth of Liquid Plejades." Which is a pretty keen title, if you don’t take the time to analyze it much. As far as the track itself goes, it doesn’t work for me as well as the other three on the album, but it has its moments. The group employed some “real” musicians for this one, namely a quartet of cellists. Who dominate the first half of the proceedings with long droning tones that come and go, weaving in and out of the piece, before finally giving way to the organ that dominates so much of early Tangerine Dream.


Neurosurgeon's Correspondence Course

He follows the diagram, carefully cutting in the correct places. He removes the brain and places it in a tupperware container filled with formaldehyde. His roommate slumps forward in the chair.

He is starving. He makes a blt and a can of soup before continuing. He eats quickly. When he finishes, he picks up the brain and pats it dry. He is about to place it back in the cavity when the cat jumps up on the table, spilling his glass of grape juice all over the manual.

It does not go well after that.

Tangerine Dream Track by Track 2C – Alpha Centauri

Tangerine Dream Track by Track is a song-by-song, chronological look at Tangerine Dream’s “official” releases.

Alpha Centauri (1971)
Alpha Centauri
22:04

I haven’t listened to Alpha Centauri for quite a long time but I had vaguely fond memories of it. Which were pretty much dashed when I listened to it again. The first two of the three tracks weren’t exactly bad but they weren’t anything to write home about.

Then there’s the 22-minute title track. The first time I revisited it for this project I had to grit my teeth and bear down just to get through it. The second time I revisited it – just one day later – I found it quite intriguing. Until about the half way mark, that is, and then it started to wear.

On a third listen I was again entranced by the opening, with tones that are so static that they seem like vast sheets of sound. But before long the trippy flute kicks in and kind of spoils things, before fading out and giving way to slightly more melodious droning tones interspersed with freaky sounds of indeterminate origin. Unfortunately, it’s not long before the flute reappears and noodles and doodles along with various other instruments and makes kind of a mess of things. It could have been a contender, as the saying goes, but it never quite coheres.


Sunday, April 5, 2015

Tangerine Dream Track by Track 2B – Fly and Collision of Comas Sola

Tangerine Dream Track by Track is a song-by-song, chronological look at Tangerine Dream’s “official” releases.

Alpha Centauri (1971)
Fly and Collision of Comas Sola
13:23

A couple minutes of eerie echoing tones in the upper register to start and then, like the first song on the album, the kinda churchy sounding organ takes over. To be joined here and there by some trippy sounding flute interludes and then a bit of fairly frenetic percussion that closes things out. Not so bad, as this sort of thing goes, but I wouldn’t rank it too high on my list of favorite Tangerine Dream tracks.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Tangerine Dream Track by Track 2A – Sunrise in the Third System

Tangerine Dream Track by Track is a song-by-song, chronological look at Tangerine Dream’s “official” releases.

Alpha Centauri (1971)
Sunrise in the Third System
4:21

Electronic Meditations, Tangerine Dream’s first album, is one I never listened to before starting this project. Chances are I’ll never listen to it again. Alpha Centauri, their second effort, found them moving in the direction of what they would become. But they weren't quite there yet. "Sunrise in the Third System" has a title that seems intriguing enough if you don’t think about it too hard. But the piece itself doesn’t quite click. It starts with a mix of eerie sounds that eventually blends with a churchy sounding organ and proceeds on like this until just past the four-minute mark.

Tangerine Dream Track by Track 1E – Resurrection

Tangerine Dream Track by Track is a song-by-song, chronological look at Tangerine Dream’s “official” releases.

Electronic Meditations (1970)
Resurrection
3:27

Electronic Meditations is not the Tangerine Dream most of us know. It would take a few more albums before they evolved into that group. But throughout their first album there are a few frustratingly brief hints of what's to come, mixed in amongst so-so instrumentals that are pretty well suited to the waning days of the psychedelic age.

"Resurrection" kicks off like nothing special with a churchy sounding organ and a recitation of some sort, presumably in German. Just as I was about to dismiss it it gave way to a short snippet that offers yet another hint of what's to come. Perhaps the best bit on the album, even though it only lasts for about two minutes.


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Tangerine Dream Track by Track 1D – Ashes to Ashes

Tangerine Dream Track by Track is a song-by-song, chronological look at Tangerine Dream’s “official” releases.

Electronic Meditations (1970)
Ashes to Ashes
4:06

Yes, Virginia, those are drums on that Tangerine Dream song. It’s a pretty straightforward rocking piece, this one, albeit a little bit trippy, and there’s some organ in the background. But mostly its Edgar Froese on guitar who steals the spotlight here. Not hard to listen to but also not particularly memorable.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Tangerine Dream Track by Track 1C – Cold Smoke

Tangerine Dream Track by Track is a song-by-song, chronological look at Tangerine Dream’s “official” releases.

Electronic Meditations (1970)
Cold Smoke
10:38

"Cold Smoke" starts out somewhat like "Genesis," the song that opens Electronic Meditations, with a moody soundscape. Like "Genesis" it also gives way to something else entirely. It's not quite a frenetic as the previous song, with primal drums and organ carrying the day at first and then a heavy guitar lead taking over. But it also is not a track I'll be in a hurry to listen to again.


Tangerine Dream Track by Track 1B - Journey Through a Burning Brain

Tangerine Dream Track by Track is a song-by-song, chronological look at Tangerine Dream’s “official” releases.

Electronic Meditations (1970)
Journey Through a Burning Brain
12:26

This one sounds a lot like aimless noodling and doodling to me. It’s mostly of the guitar-based variety, with a bit of organ thrown in for good measure.

Not that this sort of thing can’t be done well. If you doubt it try "Amboss," a song I only recently ran across. It’s from Ash Ra Tempel’s first album, which came out a year after this one. It’s considerably longer – at about 18 minutes – and yet there’s rarely a dull moment.

Interestingly, these two albums shared a player in common. Klaus Schulze, who played on the first Tangerine Dream album and then did an album with Ash Ra Tempel before moving onto a solo career making music not all that unlike that of his old comrades in Tangerine Dream.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Tangerine Dream Track by Track 1A – Genesis

Tangerine Dream Track by Track is a song-by-song, chronological look at Tangerine Dream’s “official” releases.

Electronic Meditations (1970)
Genesis
5:56

Everything has a beginning (with the possible exception of eternity or a circle). When it comes to Tangerine Dream’s recorded output it starts here, for the most part. With the appropriately titled "Genesis," the first song from their first album, Electronic Meditations.

Which starts out in an interesting enough fashion, as a kind of noisy soundscape using instruments of seemingly indeterminate origin. Things evolve quickly over the course of six minutes, adding more conventional instruments and building to a frenetic improvisatory workout that's akin to free jazz with a dash of psychedelia thrown in for good measure.

I’d never heard it before, so it’s an interesting curiosity. But I'm in no great hurry to listen to it again.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

About Shakespeare Newbie & Rankings

After realizing that I'd never read any Shakespeare I decided to embark upon the Shakespeare Newbie project, a reading of all the plays from A-Z. I've read 11 so far. Here are my rankings.

1. Tempest
2. Hamlet
3. Antony and Cleopatra
4. Titus Andronicus
5. Cymbeline
6. Coriolanus
7. Henry IV, Part I
8. Henry IV, Part II
9. As You Like It
10. All's Well That Ends Well
11. The Comedy of Errors

Saturday, February 7, 2015

King Lear - Act I

King Lear
Act I

Know that we have divided
In three our kingdom; and ’tis our fast intent
To shake all cares and business from our age,
Conferring them on younger strengths, while we
Unburden’d crawl toward death.

The old king is looking to divide up his kingdom. To this end his daughters engage in a brown-nosing contest to try to determine who loves him best. Cordelia puts her foot in her mouth clear up to her knee and thus is left out in the cold.

The Earl of Kent doth protest too much about this turn of events. He almost ends up impaled on the king’s sword but cooler heads prevail. He is sent packing, with orders not to return under pain of….you know what. Cordelia’s stock has now plummeted but the king of France decides to have her as his wife even so.

In other developments, there's some sort of duplicitous machination type stuff involving Edmund and Edgar, the sons of the Earl of Gloucester. I haven't quite sorted this out yet but perhaps it will become clear as things unfold.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Shakespeare Uncovered - King Lear

Shakespeare Uncovered
King Lear
2015

As a Shakespeare Newbie my plan is to read through the plays in alphabetical order. Which I've done for the most part, with a few detours. Most recently, I jumped ahead to King Lear, in preparation for watching the Shakespeare Uncovered episode on the play. I've been trying to go into each play cold, without doing any research ahead of time. But even though I'm only part of the way through the first act I decided to watch the show anyway.

The episode is hosted by Christopher Plummer, who is among the ranks of the many name actors who have played the nutty old king. As a Shakespeare Newbie, I've been mostly reading through the plays, as opposed to listening to them, attending a play or watching filmed adaptations. So one of the first things I noticed was that Shakespeare comes across a lot better when actors are speaking and acting the lines than it does on the page.

Other than that, there's not much to say. Except that if you're looking for a good overview of King Lear, including excerpts of various performances over the last century or so, talking head bits with various King Lear players, and plenty of analysis this would be a good place to start.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Tempest - Summary

The Tempest
Summary

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made:
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell: ding-dong.
Hark! now I hear them,—ding-dong, bell.

Hamlet or The Tempest. The Tempest or Hamlet. That's a tough one. I'll go with The Tempest - by a nose.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Tempest - Act V

The Tempest
Act V

Now my charms are all o’erthrown,
And what strength I have ’s mine own;

Everyone gathers round as things start to wind down, kind of like the windup to an Agatha Christie novel, with Prospero serving as Poirot and letting everyone in on the mystery. Rather than exacting some kind of terrible revenge on them Prospero takes the high road and gets all benevolent and forgiving. He even makes good on his promise to free Ariel. All live happily ever after.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Tempest - Act IV

The Tempest
Act IV

These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:

Monster, I do smell all horse-piss; at which my nose is in great indignation.

Prospero apparently approves of the union of Miranda and Ferdinand and before you know if a bunch of gods and nymphs (spirits, actually) turn up to celebrate. This is going along quite nicely until Prospero remembers that Caliban and some of the others are conspiring against him. They seek out Prospero so they can do their dirty deeds, unaware that he is watching them. His response is to set the dogs on them (spirit dogs, actually).

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Tempest - Act III

The Tempest
Act III

Trinculo, if you trouble him any more in his tale, by this hand, I will supplant some of your teeth.

Enter Ferdinand, bearing a log.

Seems that Miranda and the log-bearing Ferdinand, who’s been pressed into something like slavery by Prospero, have become an item. She goes so far as to offer to take over his log-stacking duties (Log Lady?) but the gallant Ferdinand won't hear of it. They get all googly-eyed over each other for a while and then decide that they oughta to get hitched.

Caliban and Stephano conspire to rebel against Prospero. Caliban offers a few specifics on how best fold, spindle or mutilate the old bird, but cautions that he should get his hands on Prospero’s books first, as they are the source of his power.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Tempest - Act II

The Tempest
Act II

This is a strange repose, to be asleep
With eyes wide open; standing, speaking, moving,
And yet so fast asleep

Swam ashore, man, like a duck: I can swim like a duck, I’ll be sworn.

The shipwreck survivors stand around blabbing about not much in particular, except to note that their clothing seems rather pristine for having gone through a shipwreck. Just as I was about to snooze off Ariel comes by playing “solemn” music and most of the party falls asleep. None of them can see her so those who are still awake find this rather unusual.

There seems to be some disagreement about whether Ferdinand is still alive. While the others snooze Antonio and Sebastian mull it over and are about to come to blows when Ariel happens by and wakes everyone up. Which serves to defuse the situation and off they go to see if they can locate Ferdinand.

Elswhere on the island Stephano and Trinculo, two members of the courtly entourage who survived the shipwreck, come upon Caliban and aren’t sure what to make of him. Stephano gets the idea of turning a nice profit by taking him back to civilization as a sort of curiosity. Caliban’s thought is that he’ll be their servant so that he can be free of his hated master Prospero.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Tempest - Act I

The Tempest
Act I

If thou more murmur’st, I will rend an oak
And peg thee in his knotty entrails till
Thou hast howl’d away twelve winters.

So there’s a shipwreck. Then the scene shifts to Prospero’s island, which he occupies with the young Miranda, his daughter. Also on site are Ariel, who appears to be some kind of a shapeshifter, and Caliban, the mutant son of the wicked witch Sycorax. And, of course there's Gilligan and the Skipper too.

Turns out – as least as he tells it – that Prospero and Miranda ended up there after some political intrigue found them put to sea on a decidedly not seaworthy vessel, which wrecked on the island. Turnabout being fair play, it seems some of those who schemed against him also found themselves at sea and that the shipwreck that opens the play was conjured up by Prospero and Ariel, who have wizardy Harry Potter type powers.

All of which is quite fine stuff, actually, especially after the relative tedium of the Henry IV plays.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Henry IV, Part II - Summary

Henry IV, Part II
Summary

If you liked Henry IV, Part I, then you'll probably like this one, which was more of the same. Me, not so much. The mix of weighty matters of great import with the antics of Falstaff and the others still didn't do it for me. As for Falstaff himself, I gather that there are those who think he's one of Shakespeare's great characters. I put myself in the other camp, those who feel, as Samuel Johnson put it, "the fat knight has never uttered one sentiment of generosity, and for all his power of exciting mirth, has nothing in him that can be esteemed."

Friday, January 9, 2015

Henry IV, Part II - Act V

Henry IV, Part II
Act V

Sir John, thy tender lambkin now is king;
Harry the Fifth’s the man. I speak the truth:

The king is dead. Long live the king. But not before a little more blather from Falstaff and a few of his pals. I still fail to see the point. Falstaff and the boys are engaged in yet more revelry (imagine it) when word comes that the king has died. He wastes no time in heading off to court. He arrives shortly after the coronation and is told by the king himself, in no uncertain terms, that he is persona non grata. Putting away childish things and whatnot, I suppose. Falstaff’s pals are hauled off to the big house but if I read it right Falstaff himself remains free.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Henry IV, Part II - Act IV

Henry IV, Part II
Act IV

If I had a thousand sons, the first human principle I would teach them should be, to forswear thin potations and to addict themselves to sack.

Westmoreland meets with the Archbishop, Lord Hastings and some of the others to try to sort out the mess and perhaps head off the upcoming battle. They’re not wild about the idea but give him a list of grievances to pass on to Prince John. Who appears soon after to meet with them in person. They seem to have come to an agreement but after the rebels send away their troops the prince pulls a fast one and arrests them for the crime of high treason. Falstaff turns up, a day late and a dollar short, and proceeds to give a longish speech on the merits of boozing.

The good news is carried to the king, but he’s under the weather and it doesn’t do much for him. While he’s in a deep sleep, coma or whatever Prince Harry comes along and gives a little speech and takes the king’s crown, assuming he has already died. Which doesn’t go over so well with the not yet dead king. But he gets over it and proceeds to give Harry some (almost) deathbed advice.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Henry IV, Part II - Act III

Henry IV, Part II
Act III

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

The king is having a bout of insomnia, which leads him to muse about…insomnia and a few other things, including the generally sad state of affairs in his kingdom. Then it’s back to Falstaff yet again, in a somewhat tedious scene that finds him picking and choosing among potential mercenaries.

Are we there yet?

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Henry IV, Part II - Act II

Henry IV, Part II
Act II

Ah, you sweet little rogue, you! Alas, poor ape, how thou sweatest!

Falstaff is about to be arrested, at the urging of Mistress Quickly, the tavern keeper, but he manages to weasel his way out of it. Then there’s some more hemming and hawing by various members of the rebel faction, which does not so much to advance the plot or entertain.

Then we’re back to Mistress Quickly and Falstaff who are back at the tavern, along with Doll Tearsheet. Who gets my vote for having the best Bond character name ever, centuries before there ever was a James Bond. Unfortunately this scene, like so many of Falstaff’s, seems interminable and completely pointless.