Wednesday, February 23, 2011

6th February, 2011 - The Day the Music Died

I know – most of us think of this label, ‘The Day the Music Died’ as February 3rd , 1959, the date of the airplane crash that took the lives of Rock & Roll legends Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. (the Big Bopper) Richardson, and on a sentimental level I agree, even though I was a mere six years, one month and 3 days old at the time.  I was greatly influenced in my youth by that music.
I’ve given you the long tale of my personal musical pedigree on this platform, so I won’t bore you to tears with it again.  If you’re genuinely interested, you can search the BLOG, or contact me.  I’m happy to rehearse it with you.
I make this point only because musicians and poets who were also able to perform their craft with some modicum of dignity, originality and professionalism didn’t just transport off planet to the Jefferson Starship to be swept away at warp speed to the Beta Quadrant, the Romulan Neutral Zone, or even to some place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
Those days, and days since gave life to entertainers like (and it truly pains me to admit this one) the over rated, underwhelmingly talented Elvis Presley.  These were the days of Little Richard, Chuck Berry, the Platters, and yes, Pat Boone and Rick Nelson.
They followed along trails paved by Satchmo, Glenn Miller, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sinatra, Bennett, Davis, Jr., and Deano.  Musicians like Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Al Hirt, Dave Brubeck, Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich.
Poets like Johnny Mercer, Hank Williams, and Sammy Cahn, Hoagy Carmichael, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin and Cole Porter, were followed in turn by the likes of Paul Simon, Jim Morrison, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Willy Nelson, Billy Joel, Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson and Neil Sedaka.
The list that precedes this one is decades, if not centuries old, and even if I don’t care for Van Halen, I am honor bound to acknowledge that the sheer artistry of his rifs in Beat It are as masterful and eloquent an accomplishment of virtuoso guitar as anything Andres Segovia ever recorded.  Similar accolades can be said for the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana and Brian Setzer.
Virtuoso performance of the vocal variety followed the loss of those three fifties era rockers with singers like Jim Morrison, John Lennon (minus Yoko Oh NO!), Barbara Streisand, Sheena Easton, Shirley Bassey, Tina Turner, Linda Ronstedt, Whitney Houston, Aretha, and Sandy Patti, David Phelps, Whitley Phipps, and others too numerous to mention.
On 3rd February, 1959, the music hit a bump in the road, but on Sunday, 6th February, 2011, beginning with the travesty of Christina Aguillera’s decimation of the National Anthem, and ending with the Blackeyed Peas/Fergie/Slash monstrosity of a halftime show, music, true, memorable music bit the dust for good.
Musicality in every possible nuance – melody, harmony, rhythm, lyrics, arranging, actually performing – they were all shot brutally in the back, replacing music with a lot of meaningless noise and motion.
Gone are the days when a musician took the stage, took microphone in hand and sang or played and sang.  Gone is the poetry of the lyricist.  Gone are true musicians.  The invasion of the music snatchers left in their place overly choreographed, scantily clad lip syncers more concerned with their dance moves, navel piercings and wardrobe malfunctions.  Poetry set to music has been replaced by witless repetition set to static-laden redundancy with words banned in most civil society.
And they call these pretenders ‘superstars.’
My guess is that other than a brief footnote in a music history class textbook, Justin Bierber, Lady GaGa, and Snoop Dog and their so-called art will be unknown in fifty years, unlike the timeless classics and musicians from fifty years ago.
February 6, 2011,  and perhaps the Grammy’s of the same year – together they signal the death of music, and the sad day the music really did die.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Frankenstein: Lost Souls - Book Review

“The October wind came down from the stars.  With the hiss of an artist’s airbrush, it seemed to blow the pale moonlight like a mist of paint across the slate roofs of the church and abbey, across the higher windows, and down the limestone walls.  Where patches of lawn were bleached by recent cold, the dead grass resembled ice in the lunar chill.”
Or if you prefer,
“The October wind came down from the stars.
With the hiss of an artist’s airbrush,
it seemed to blow the pale moonlight
like a mist of paint
across the slate roofs of the church and abbey,
across the higher windows,
and down the limestone walls.
Where patches of lawn were bleached by recent cold,
the dead grass resembled ice in the lunar chill.”

The words, filled with beautiful, almost ethereal, poetic imagery, are the first paragraph of Frankenstein: Lost Souls, the fourth book in novelist Dean Koontz’s reboot, if you’ll pardon the use of the vernacular, of the Mary Shelley classic, Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus.  I have to confess my addiction to the series from the very beginning, Frankenstein: Prodigal Son, and through each of the successive entries into Koontz’s unique, clever retelling of Shelley’s story.  Koontz breathes new life into a great tale already well told, and makes it even better.
This one, however, grabbed my attention as no other in the series, leading me to believe Koontz is just hitting his stride with the story.
Lest you be confused, the second setting of the paragraph – the poem like one, is of my own creation and structure, and not that of Mr. Koontz.  But it was the sheer poetic beauty of Mr. Koontz’s prose that drew me into the story.
All the usual suspects are back.  Carson and Michael, now retired from NOPD, married, living in California as private eyes, and proud parents of Scout, their precocious (gifted, if you ask Michael) seven month daughter, Erika 5, Jocko, and Deucalion.  Gone are the replicants shut down with the death of Victor (Frankenstein) Helion in Frankenstein: Dead and Alive.
Erika 5 now lives in Montana with Jocko.  She is returning from a trip into town when she sees something that simply isn’t possible.  Victor is alive!
This is a new Victor, with a new agenda and new kinds of replicants.  Only the evil of his former self remains, and even that has changed and become more diabolical.
Yes, I know – cliché.  But that’s me, not the author.  At least I didn’t say he brought with him a new brand of unspeakable horror.
Lost Souls, which, by the way, is not the last of the series – Mr. Koontz promises at least one more sequel coming to a bookstore near you later this spring, 2011, is certainly the best so far.  As I said.  This reads like the work of a writer who has found his niche and perfected his craft.
Frankenstein: Lost Souls, by Dean Koontz, © 2010 is available in the greater Tampa-St. Pete area at Barnes and Noble, Borders, and Books-A-Million, online at the author’s website,, and, and in all the major e-pub editions.  I read mine on my Sony PS-300.
I give Frankenstein: Lost Souls the rare 5 out of 5 stars.  If you liked the first three, you’re gonna love this one.

My Brief Career as a Thespian

I’ve taken center stage as leading man (a euphemism to feed my ego) twice in my life.  They were memorable in different ways and for different reasons.  And then there is that part about the eight year gap between appearances.  I didn’t exactly retire, but let’s not go there, shall we?
My first appearance as a Thespian (not to be confused with another very similar sounding but altogether different word) was in fourth grade at Stillman Elementary School, literally across the street from the red castle providing our shelter at the corner of 4th Street and 3rd Avenue, in Plainfield, New Jersey.
The show which only survived a singular performance was Tom Sawyer, and I held the lead.  I won the part, I’m told, because I showed up at auditions with the entire script – all the parts – memorized, which is rather comical given that my memory is that I adlibbed my way through much of the play, and especially the famous fence whitewashing scene.  Personally I suspect it was because my father provided the sheetrock/drywall used in the construction of the aforementioned fence.
The production may have been a one night stand, but my legendary performance grew in shape and stature, to the point where even a year later, in another school, on the other side of town, I would still be recognized by calls of “You there – Tom!  Tom Sawyer!” instead of my given name.
It was eight years before I took center stage as the male lead in another off Broadway production.  Performed for the senior class of 1971 at Miami Carol City Senior High School, this wasn’t even a one night stand.  It was performed one time in my high school’s lecture auditorium during school hours.
My high school drama department did a ‘real’ production every year.  Rebel without a Cause was memorable, as was Arsenic and Old Lace, the latter being cast entirely of school faculty. Sadly, I can’t say the same for my show, No, No, A Million Times, No!, a musical melodrama produced, directed, choreographed, and accompanied on Piano, by Mrs. Madelyn Feickert, the director of our choral mixed vocal ensemble Madrigal group, the Tempos.  I played the part of Nobel Pureheart.  It was the usual fare – get the bad guy, rescue the girl, save the world, all while singing and dancing.  If we weren’t onstage, we were all production crew.
What I remember most is the ending, a fairly lengthy number during which I had to sing the title song while holding the heroine Polly Sweetbuns or something like that.  I remember the name of the student who scored the part, but feel somehow that it might be best to keep that under wrap for reasons which should become self evident.  I’ll say only every time I see a certain brand of professional kitchen equipment, I think of her.
I was 5’81/2”, 135 pounds, and while I could bench 10 reps of 350 on the school’s universal weight machine located adjacent to the gymnasium on its east side, I was nor prepared to hold ‘Polly’ for the entire length of the closing number.  My arms were turning to spaghetti, and I could feel my knees turning to rubber.  I’m reasonably certain I was 5’8” at the end of the three encore show.  The director, in a momentary show of mercy allowed me to set Polly back on her feet for the third and final encore.   At least I didn’t finish out the school year to a running chorus of “Hey!  Noble!  Noble Pureheart!”
Other than a monologue called The Innkeeper’s Remorse, and the lead in a comical religious adaptation of A Christmas Carol, that pretty sums up my thespian career.
At least I’m not typecast forever as a pre-adolescent Mark Twain character.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Feral Felines & Felonious Firearms (with Alliterative Amusements)

I know what you’re thinking – this is just another episode of Tom & Jerry, or perhaps Sylvester and Tweety Bird, or maybe even Thundercats, but not so.  The story I am about to reveal is mostly true, or at least partially based on something that may have happened once when someone I might possibly have known was pretty well tripped out while transiting that mystical river lined with tangerine trees beneath marmalade skies, and flowers that grow so incredibly high.
But I promise you, left hand on my keyboard and right hand covering my heart every word is true, at least in some context anyway.  We will ignore for the moment, at least, that the left hand is barely functional and some otherwise inconsequential functions of the keyboard are inoperative thereby probably rendering the aforementioned swearing in to be invalid.  But those are other tales for other days.
When I was in hospital recovering from my second stroke, my wife parked our car and while passing the door-less garage assigned to our apartment, she noticed an unfamiliar movement and took time to further investigate the mysteriously shadowy motion.  She was rewarded for her endeavor by the appearance of a small calico kitten whom she, she being my wife, not the small calico kitten, proceeded to name Callie, for what should most surely be obvious reasons.  Callie was followed in short notice by what we assume to be her all white sibling, whom she, my wife, not Callie, named Buster.
While Buster peered around the corner of a dilapidated mattress, Callie boldly marched forward and announced to my wife that she, Callie, not my wife, was pleased to make her, that is, my wife’s, acquaintance, and that she, Callie, not my wife, lived there, and that oh by the way, while the living spaces were certainly interesting enough as a kitten playground, the catering service left something to be desired.  The mostly one sided conversation between my wife and the wee beastie continued until a larger, but morbidly malnourished calico appeared, uttered a few words of motherly feline scolding, and sent the children to their room, most likely without supper.  My wife named the mother Twiggy because she, the cat, not my wife, made the once famous British model look absolutely obese by comparison.
Naturally, being the kind hearted woman she is, my wife, not the skinny cat, she, my wife, took pity on the poor homeless waifs and began to add food and water for them to our shopping list.  While never quite becoming fully domesticated, this small village of garage squatters did come to recognize the sounds of my wife’s step, voice and even our car, made the connection that she was the source of the fresh food and water, and while not ever getting close enough to touch, would remain in her line of site when she brought them food and water and spoke tenderly to them.
After a while Twiggy disappeared.  As did Callie, although she remained a rafter rat in the garage for some time, and eventually, even the pure white, golden eyed Buster, who could be found most evenings sitting in the garage entrance way where once a door had hung, waiting for the daily meals on wheels delivery, eventually disappeared.
Only to reappear along with the news that he was in fact not Buster, but Boadicea, Warrior Queen of the Britons, and she now had five little ones of her own for which to provide.  Naturally, my adoring wife bestowed provisions for their care and nurturing until such a time as we journeyed south, not to Cornwell, as might be imagined from this tale, but rather to Florida, which is almost the same thing, in a strange and convoluted sort of way.
Here in Florida, we have two felines.  One, a mature fully domesticated long haired Lady of the grandest sort, and the other a two year old reptilian length short hair who is undoubtedly a direct descendant of Macavity, the Mystery Cat and Mister Mistoffelees, with perhaps a drop or two of Cheshire and Houdini.
Now that that’s all cleared up and out of the way, I can proceed on to the true tale.  Back in the frozen northlands of the rolling hills of Southwestern Pennsylvania, there lives a legend of a firearm toting, red-eyed, possibly demon possessed sharp-shooting feral feline who, according to the legend, dwells beneath porches with his/her (that part has never been determined) pistol, eye patch, wooden leg, and sawed off shotgun, which it, for lack of better understanding, uses to terrorize the local fully socialized polite society of content canine carnivores, who, by curious coincidence, have capitulated their capacity to constitute a counter insurgency against the legendary felonious feline, thereby engaging the armed resistance of a fully armed, and one presumes legged as well,  camouflaged human mercenary to render assistance to the terrified masses of sniveling Peeks, Poodles, and Poms.
The great white hunter, a veritable Rambo garbed in mountain white camo, equipped with holstered Uzi, laser-scoped sniper rifle, and Russian modified AK-47 with built in grenade launcher, took position after careful infrared and motion detection recon and waited in anxious anticipation of the outcome of this modern day reenactment of the Gunfight at the OK Corral.
Mere moments after the bell on the nearby town square clock tower struck high noon, the standoff began.
At first there were attempts on the part of the mercenary to negotiate with the feral feline, even to the point of promising amnesty, Friskies, and a warm, if securely padded and locked cell.  The wily feline would be neither bought off, flattered, nor bored into submission, and eventually the highly anticipated gunfight ensued.  Hours they battled – heavily armed, nearly ninja like invisible camouflaged man against cagey beast.  Brawn versus cunning.  Tit for tat, shell for shell, the battle raged. Until the mighty hunter paused to reload, and was at once thunderstruck by the cacophonous roar of silence emanating from the evil tormentor’s hideout beneath the stairs.
When the smoke cleared, there was no trace of the diseased demon cat from Cleveland.
The mercenary, in his stunning white and gray fully accessorized camo and snow survival gear escaped the shoot-out unscathed, but it is not known whether the pistol packing pussy was pulverized by the preponderance of precision preternatural marksmanship, slipped silently away in the smoke, snow and confusion, or simply slipped through a quantum tear in the space-time continuum to another multiverse.
Only time will tell.  But for now, the Mighty Myth of the Machine gun Managing, Mouse Munching Mountain Menace of Mellow Manor remains meticulously monitored in the mystical mansions of Mac Murray, P.A., where legends grow tall, and things go bump in the night.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

First Signing

Ever since my first stroke on 20th July, 2004, just shy of three months prior to my marriage to Linda, and in fact, the occasion of her 47th birthday – I try to do something different for her birthday – I’ve always had this sort of idea that if I can get through the 20th of the month, I’m set for the remaining eight, ten or eleven days depending on the month.  This was of course validified on 20th April, 2008 when I had my second stroke, on 20th July 2009 (Linda’s 52nd birthday) when I had my gall bladder removed, and on 20th January, 2011 when my left arm went suddenly numb and I spent two days and a night in hospital with a stuffed nose (my nose, not the hospital’s), tons of tests, and no answers.  Today is Sunday, 20th February, 2011.  It’s 14:30.  So far, so good.
Sermon at church this morning was a little off the wall.  Our pastor, who is a really great guy, was off on a tangent about how healing and personal material blessing are missing in our lives because we don’t have enough faith for them.  And while there are a few instances where ‘your faith has made thee whole’ is recorded in Scripture, there are also those where the faith of the healed one is not an issue.  Lazarus, for example was dead.  Hard to work up faith when you’re dead.  Even those around him had no faith.  Jesus simply spoke the word and Lazarus got up.  No faith involved.  Simply Holy God performing a miracle.  There’s no other way to explain it.
But, I ramble.
Friday night, 18th February, 2011 at 18:30 at the Progress Energy Art Gallery in New Port Richey, Florida, I was invited to do my first ever book reading and signing.  I made the appetizers (I don’t know how to spell hors d’ouvres) and provided the beverages, and read to an attentive, if intimate crowd, who responded with an enthusiastic time of Q&A, and I even sold five books.  It’s not much, but it’s a start.  I was also able to announce the upcoming Kindle version being published by Edin Road Press, and make a few contacts for future speaking engagements – and this is the really cool part – at schools!  Talking to kids about writing!  Now as much as I want to sell books, getting kids geeked about reading and writing is the best.  That kind of opportunity simply rocks.

Now I need go get off my butt and finish the rough edit of Legends of Greenbrook Park, and start working on answering the first question I was asked Friday night:  Will there be more adventures for the Magnificent Seven.
Yup.  I have two ideas in mind already, but one thing at a time.  I’ll let you know, ok?
Happy Trails.