Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Unlike that big puss, Xmastime, I can't recall ever being truly frightened by a movie or book as a kid (after a certain age, the horror genre became childish to me). Not that my brothers and I didn't try. Between Creatures Features on Ch. 5 and Chiller Theater on Ch. 11 ("Look! The hand has six fingers!") and movie matinees such as Tales from the Crypt, Theater of Blood, and Vault of Horror, we were well-versed in the genre. I also remember my brothers and I going to great lengths to stay up late for The Birds and Psycho whenever they aired on TV (we even taped newspaper over the bedroom window one time in order to block out the light so we could take an afternoon nap). Yes, they were entertaining, but never truly scary. Jaws scared the crap out of my youngest brother (he was only 9 or 10 at the time), but we all got a kick out of him fleeing the theater with his hands over his ears (the music was freaking him out!). I didn't see The Exorcist on its original release (I was too young), but when it was re-released a few years later, I did see it. That was probably the closest I've ever come to being truly scared at the movies (the spinning head and other acrobatics wasn't as frightening as the overall creepy mood and weird sound effects). Actually, now that I think about it, a documentary about abortion I saw in a college biology class was the most disturbing "movie" I've ever seen. I literally broke out in a sweat and almost puked during an actual procedure that was filmed and included in the documentary (and there wasn't even any blood involved!).

As for books, one of my most vivid memories from school as a child was my third grade teacher reading Edgar Allen Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart (would that even be possible today?). Of course, I immediately ordered a collection of Poe's stories from the Scholastic book club (probably the first book I ever read on my own). I don't think I was ever really scared by those stories though. The over-heated prose probably had something to do with that. Lots of people have told me that Stephen King's stuff is scary, but I felt like I was too old for that sort of thing when he was cranking out his best stuff. The only book that ever gave me the chills was Capote's In Cold Blood. That was some scary shit.

Henry Miller

One of the good bits from Tropic of Capricorn (I'll weigh in again on Henry Miller once I've finished):

If I'm against the condition of the world it is not because I am a moralist--it is because I want to laugh more. I don't say that God is one grand laugh: I say that you've got to laugh hard before you can get anywhere near God. My whole aim in life is to get near to God, that is, to get nearer to myself. That's why it doesn't matter to me what road I take. But music is very important. Music is a tonic for the pineal gland. Music isn't Bach or Beethoven; music is the can opener of the soul. It makes you terribly quiet inside, makes you aware that there's a roof to your being.

Monday, October 29, 2007

I watch so that you don't have to

I finished watching the first season of Mad Men on On Demand this weekend. As much as I continued to enjoy watching Christina Hendricks strut around the office in her tight, form-fitting dresses (check out Episode 10, fellas), the major revelations in the last couple episodes were ridiculous. Don Draper, the lunkhead lead, turned out to be an imposter posing as a guy he accidentally killed in Korea (how did I know it was Korea? It looked like they rented some of the tents from M*A*S*H. Also, to cover the fact that he wasn't 10 years younger looking in the corny combat scenes, they had the actor wear his helmet real low over his face!). If this plot device didn't seem too farfetched, they topped themselves in the final episode when the mousy secretary with aspirations, Peggy, had a baby out of the blue (literally, we're supposed to believe that she didn't even know she was pregnant!). As Xmastime would say, CAMON!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Hammer Beckons

The Human Y0-Yo is back. When the threat of physical violence is imminent from her alcoholic cohort, the Human Yo-Yo calls me, the Fucking Fool. I got the call last week, too, but by the end of the week (a week that was supposed to result in a job or rehab) the desire to continue the descent into insanity was too strong, so the Human Yo-Yo bailed. After a weekend of round-the-clock drinking interspersed with a daylong hangover, she realized that she was right back where she started from (actually, the inevitable threat of eviction seems to be bringing things to some sort of head down at the drunken abode). After her most recent departure, I vowed that I would never pick up my ringing phone again (I don't have one of those call-screener things). I still don't know why I picked it up. Maybe it's because I'm the Fucking Fool. Anyway, I get the same old song and dance with the same result: the Human Yo-Yo is back. But this time I got the added bonus of her fellow alcoholic calling after he stumbled home from the bar (I had enough sense not to pick up that call), followed, shortly after, by a drunken appearance in the lobby of my building ringing my bell. By this time I was in such a rage that I seriously thought that I could bring things to a hasty conclusion. The hammer that had sat on the top of my refrigerator since this asshole's last visit beckoned. I saw it all in my mind's eye: a quick dash toward the lobby with the hammer raised, the drunk fumbling in the narrow vestibule in his attempt to escape, the falling hammer, the falling drunk. Nothing could be simpler. I probably didn't even need the hammer. A simple shove down the steep stairs outside my building would work just as well (drunks take falls all the time, why not give him a hand?). Fortunately, I came to my senses and left it at, "If he's not gone in five minutes, I'm calling the police." And, fortunately, I didn't have to do that. He slumped back to the drunken abode only to reemerge the next day with a series of drunken messages alerting me to the fact that he was "angry" (I assume that's what he said, his speech was rather slurry). So not only am I now harboring someone who needs to be in rehab, but I've got her drunken, woman-beating cohort along for the ride, threatening that should he ever meet me that he "will be violent" with me. Welcome to the world of the Fucking Fool.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Tree of Smoke

While I was reading Denis Johnson's flawed Vietnam epic, Tree of Smoke, I was telling people it was like Apocalypse Now in book form. Now that I've finished, I stand by that description. Like Apocalypse Now, the journey is great, but the ending goes a little off the rails (it even includes an embarrassing scene that may have been lifted directly from the movie). The first half of Tree of Smoke is fantastic. It includes one of the most amazing combat scenes I've ever read (the description of the Tet offensive is right up there with The Red Badge of Courage and the best scenes in The Killer Angels). But as things begin to unravel in the war, so do things in the book. Lesser characters come to the forefront for no apparent reason and main characters disappear abruptly. Not all of the characters make it out alive, but those that do are irrevocably damaged by their experiences.

Overall, a must read for fans of Johnson. If you've never read Johnson before, try Angels (a sort of sequel to Tree of Smoke now since one of the characters carries over in Angels) and Jesus' Son (one of my all-time favorite books) first.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Power of Classic Rock, Part 2

I went to see Bruce Springsteen at the Byrne Arena last night (I later learned it's recently been renamed the "Izod Center"; I guess every generation is going to get to call this building a different name). It was a good show and I enjoyed it. Maybe if I loved the new album, Magic, I would have liked it even more (the new songs are pleasant enough, but nothing knocks me out). I also think I may be approaching Springsteen burnout. I've probably seen Bruce Springsteen more than any other artist. It's almost become a sort of ritual for me whenever he tours with the E Street Band (I laid off seeing his Human Touch/Lucky Town band or any of his solo tours). So, when he does his classics (The Promised Land, Badlands, Born to Run), all still favorites of mine, I get a feeling of deja vu more than genuine excitement. Sure, there are probably fans who would go home disappointed if they didn't hear Born to Run, but at this late date, I doubt the numbers would be significant. Do I sound like a jaded wet blanket? Maybe. Or maybe the power of classic rock just waxes and wanes.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Power of Classic Rock

I went to a music festival this past weekend. Ordinarily, I wouldn't have gone out of my way to see any of the bands on the bill (even though I liked some of the music they made in the past). The headliners included Foghat, The Marshall Tucker Band (a band I was seeing, strangely enough, almost exactly 30 years after the last time I saw them when they opened for the Grateful Dead at Englishtown Raceway, the first concert I ever went to), Little Feat, and Paul Rodgers (of Free/Bad Company fame). But because it was at a minor league baseball field near my parents' house (I was down for the weekend) and it was a beautiful day and my friend's wife had gotten the tickets for free(!), it was hard to pass up. It was a good time. My other friend's cousin was there with a retinue of old hippies and they were serving up a feast in the parking lot. In fact, we were enjoying ourselves so much in the parking lot, we didn't even bother going in to see Foghat and The Marshall Tucker Band (since the bands were actually playing outside the stadium, we could hear them pretty good from our tailgating spot). When I went in for Little Feat's set, I bought a $7 beer and began moving toward the center of the field before I was intercepted by an out-of-control drunken hippie chick letting her freak flag fly via a series of uncoordinated body spasms with absolutely no concern for anyone in her vicinity. My beer became a victim of her negligence (I also received a substantial dousing for her efforts). I immediately thanked her for her lapse of judgment and moved on, but I was still steaming. Occasionally, I would look back in anger and mouth a couple obvious obscenities (I kept it simple considering her drunken state). After a while, I decided I'd try again to buy a beer. As I was making my way past the offending party, a male cohort decided to intervene. "My friend says you keep looking back at her, you're creeping her out." "Tell your friend," I said, "she owes me a motherfucking beer!" (or something to that effect; that was just my lead-in, there was a fair amount of embellishment after that). While I was having this exchange, I noticed my friend's head hovering over the guy's shoulder. He thought I knew the guy, but when he picked up on the nature of the conversation, he gave me a nod as if to say, "Well done, my man." Actually, afterwards, he admitted that he had never seen that side of me. I think he was a bit startled. When the guy said he was going to "call someone," I told him that was a good idea and moved on to the beer truck. The rest of Little Feat's set was without incident (unless you count the 30 minute version of "Dixie Chicken"). Paul Rodgers was next and as he kicked off "Can't Get Enough" the entire audience was transported to Classic Rock Heaven. Seriously, the guy still sounds great and, for a guy his age, he held his own strutting around in his leather trousers (actually, he may be the only guy I've ever seen in leather pants who didn't come off as a complete idiot). As his set progressed, I became a little obsessed with a family standing in front of me. The parents were probably a little older than I am and they had three daughters ranging in age from, I'd say, 15-20. You would think the kids might be a little bored by the old fogey rock, but that wasn't the case at all. The kids were bouncing around in Classic Rock Heaven just like the rest of us! Who knew the power of classic rock was so strong?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Most Astonishing Thing

What you'll never understand about death until it happens to someone you love is how astonishing it is. By astonishing, I don't mean that is amazing or awe-inspiring (although, in some respects, it is certainly that). No, by astonishing I mean that you can't believe it's happening even as it's happening. Your mind seems to naturally recoil from the idea of death to the point that you have to constantly remind yourself that this horrible thing that just happened to you is true ("He's dead" or "She's dead" becomes a constant refrain in your thoughts). And there's nothing you have experienced before that will prepare you for it. And there's nothing anyone can say that will soothe the pain. It's truly one of those things in life that you have to come to terms with on your own. And some people never do. It's that astonishing.

Monday, October 01, 2007

By request

Mr. 1 On the Town made a personal request for me to weigh in on the new HBO series, Tell Me You Love Me. I can't say a whole lot because I haven't been able to stomach more than ten minutes at a time without flipping away in disgust. From what I've seen, it appears the creators mistakenly decided that what most television audiences crave are shows about miserable people in bad relationships. And to spice things up just a little, they also decided to throw in some "cutting edge" sex scenes (I have yet to see any of these scenes; every time I flip it on all I get are the miserable characters yapping away and being miserable). I'm beginning to think The Sopranos may have set a bad precedent for television show creators. In a race to be "edgy" now, we've been getting lots of shows with very unlikeable characters (Mad Men may have had the creepiest cast of characters I've ever seen in a television show; I even creeped myself out when I realized the only reason I continued to watch was for the long, tight skirts from the 60s that are amply on display).

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