Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.

He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.

Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Really, Dr. Challis Means "Stop It!" Happy Halloween, Folks...

This is probably what I sounded like with all the yucky snow coming down this past weekend. Despite the genius that is The Nightmare Before Christmas, snow at Halloween is just wrong...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Few Bad Horror Movies I Watch Faithfully Each Halloween

Alright, so you shouldn't expect me to watch Exorcist II: The Heretic, The Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf, Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby or Don't Go In the Woods on a regular basis. Nevermore, as Master Poe would quip regarding these horror stinkers.

Nonetheless, there are a handful of pretty bad horror films I just can't pass up once Halloween comes around. While you'll find me more in tune with genre classics from the 1930s through the eighties during the Halloween season, here's a few clunkers I love nonetheless, just because...

Villainized as the Halloween installment without Michael Myers, I say this is a good thing, even if Halloween III: Season of the Witch is pretty cruddy. At least Carpenter and Hill made the attempt to shake things up a bit and come up with something beyond the stalk 'n slash motif they helped originate. Better than Halloweens 4 through 6, sorry to say. Doesn't hurt Halloween III also has one of the best overall scores in the entire series, and don't try to act like you're too cool for the Silver Shamrock theme.

Despite an abysmal final half hour and a premise dug up from spinning records backwards, 1986's Trick Or Treat always gets a mandatory play because it's set up well, Marc Price nails the angry, ostracized metalhead ethos to a tee and minus all of the abuse he takes in the film, I related to his character, having been the outsider headbanger myself. Luckily, my experiences through high school fared better than his, and I didn't need the ghost of a dead rocker to win my way through. Stupid beyond words, there's still something about Trick Or Treat that sucks me in. Wish I had a Leslie like Eddie improbably lures, much less Gene Simmons as my local DJ, but I didn't do too shabby in my four years. I remember seeing it in the theater back in '86 and raving on it back then, yeesh. Guess it stuck with me. I did write a piece on Trick Or Treat for Metal Maniacs a few years back, so the film and I have a strange love affair. It's awful, but awfully good. The Fastway soundtrack to this film is always within my reach, too.

What's to be said about the Friday the 13th films that hasn't been said already? At least this one has the best effects, the hottest chicks, the most vivid sets (after the original film and Part VI, of course), the lamest dialogue and the slimmest attempt at a plot. It also has a future soap star (Peter Barton) and Corey Feldman kicking Jason's ass in a hilarious finale, but it was the highlight of my 1984, considering I got my entire underaged neighborhood posse into the film because they thought I was 17 instead of 14.

The saving grace of Sleepaway Camp 2: Unhappy Campers is the fact it's intended to be farce and it succeeds tremendously. Pamela Springsteen brought something to the Angela Baker role that almost nobody can outdo, not even Pamela herself in the atrocious Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (which was filmed immediately after 2 on the same campsite). While the original Sleepaway Camp is a diamond in the rough, largely for its gross-out shocker ending, its sequel is a pure roast of the genre. It's wrong on all accounts, including gratuitous kill scenes, gratuitous nudity and gratuitous everything. Pamela stuffing a slutty counselor into an abandoned and quite filthy outhouse is one of the most gonzo horror death sequences ever, but everything in Sleepaway Camp 2 is an intentionally nutty morality lesson and somehow you just laugh at Angela's motives as you do the surprisingly witty script. Brian Patrick Clarke as the beefcake do-gooder head counselor, T.C. gets all the best subtle cracks in the film, which helps (along with Springsteen) elevate this trashy bit of celluloid into something worthwhile. Also noteworthy for the riotous character names based off of eighties brat packers and the appearance of Renee Estevez, related to Emilio, of course. This could've been such a turd. As it was, I was immensely jealous of Terry Hobbs the first time I watched it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Photogenic Lions Puttin' On the Ritz at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, DC

A hearty thanks to the lions at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, DC for puttin' on the ritz, big cat style. Ditto to the tiger, panda, lemur, elephants and crocs. Quite the big shoooooo, even if the orangutans weren't out this time, swinging overhead the park on their O-Line...

Photos (c) Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

New Skinny Puppy Album FREE To The First Reader To Exchange Links

Want a copy of the new Skinny Puppy album Handover, slated to drop this coming Tuesday, October 25th? My buddies at SPV sent me a deuce and I'm happy to part with the extra copy to the first reader who drops me a line with the intent of exchanging site links.

How easy can I make it? Get movin' peeps...

Friday, October 21, 2011

From The Metal Minute 5/28/10: DVD Review: I Need That Record! The Death (Or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store

I've pinched this review I did at The Metal Minute (www.metalminute.com) because it's a topic I feel strongly about. While it seems by observation that those record stores which have survived the MP3 and iPod revolution continue to hang tough as speciality stores, I cannot reiterate enough how important they are to our culture. For the true music coinnosseur, digital downloads and streaming just don't cut it in the long run. If you've not yet seen this film, read on and get a copy. Support your local record store and if you're fortunate enough to have an independent FM station in your city like I do (WTMD 89.7) that isn't chained to mainstream format and plays a variety of stuff from punk to jazz to blues to alternative to alt country to classic soul and funk to electro and other underground genres, give that station your love.

I Need That Record! The Death (Or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store
2009 MVD Visual
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

In my interview with Frank Delgado of the Deftones last month, I put before him the topic of today's swift killing off of American record stores. I might've caught Delgado off-guard, who'd been professional and straightforward in his answer delivery, because I detected a nostalgic tone in his voice on this subject. Like most diehard music fans, he cited how much the record store served as his personal social hub. Delgado noted he didn't spend his growing up years in sports; they were nurtured in record stores. Delgado can probably take it harder than most people record stores are dying by the month since he uses turntables and sequencers as part of making his daily bread in the Deftones. Hard to imagine others being displaced by MP3 besides record store employees, but it's today's reality. Ironically, this interview with Frank Delgado was conducted on the day Peter Steele passed away, something I mulled over a few days after-the-fact.

While Delgado did make the defense for the current wave of online streaming and downloads as effective marketing tools, the underlying point was staked before he even yielded to modern times.

Whether you accept it or not, we're entrenched in digital warfare. Guerilla filmmaker (and obvious record store junkie) Brendan Toller turned his cameras loose in the underground to back up what Delgado and thousands of loyal record store patrons have lamented the past few years. This writer has likewise written a biased essay or two over the demise of traditional record stores and Toller's documentary I Need That Record! The Death (Or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store hits a mark most of us have been itching over as MP3 has turned the tide of music presentation and stupefied it into a faceless commodity.

Okay, granted, the obscene huckstery of corporate labels and Clear Channel have created a climate where something had to be done. Who the hell can stomach the same 20-30 songs on repeat every goddamn day until Uncle Payola decides when it's time to shift the playlist? Amazingly, a large percentage of the American sheep playing whiny waifs tweaked by voice scramblers on their FM dials lack the freewill to say no to it all. Forget satellite radio and the web, which is filtering hundreds of thousands of artists and artists-in-training for their edification. Music fans may embrace the immediacy offered by the internet, but the true music fans will tell you it's colder than a box of freezer pops compared to lollygagging blissfully in a record store and reveling in the joy of discovery outside of one's home.

Power to the people and all, yet the price paid for privateering albums over the internet is costing us our culture as music heads. Is it really communing if you're gunslinging anonymous insults in online chat rooms? At least hoity toity art farts behind cash registers have the balls to deride others face-to-face. Sure, such elitism has chased more than a handful of clientele into the protective blankets of Wal Mart and Target, who certainly offer value in price, if not a deep selection. Of course, it's much easier to pick up a can of coffee, a pack of diapers and the reissue of Exile On Main Street than it is to drive miles out of the way to pick it up in an indie shop, usually positioned close to if not within urban zones.

Still, if you give a damn about music at all, the independent music store (and sadly, even the mall chains which used to get fat on our coffers but have been whittled down to a meager handful of stores and forced to get real like anyone else) offers an intrinsic value, and we're not necessarily talking about music appreciation.

I Need That Record! The Death (Or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store examines the sociology of record store couture with some hard industry facts to back up its lamenting love letter vibe. Guided on the testimonials of such personalities as Ian MacKaye, Mike Watt, Thurston Moore, Lenny Kaye, Chris Frantz, Legs McNeil, Glenn Branca and Pat Carney of the suddenly-boomed The Black Keys, I Need That Record! The Death (Or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store isn't wholly an hour 17 of bellyaching how the underground has been screwed by the majors. And yet it has over the years, which is why Barnes and Noble became the elite place to buy music, albeit at a premium. Yes, I love Barnes and Noble and have done a considerable amount of music shopping there since their abundance of world music was one of the industry marks to beat. Still, lately I've seen Barnes and Noble's CD racks dwindle drastically as I've since filled in the gaps of my Bob Dylan collection from them, inarguable classics now reduced in price. Why is this?

According to I Need That Record! The Death (Or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store--and it's a valid point--the mass overpricing of records has forced cash-strapped America into finding alternate (and cheaper) means of excavating music. For some, it's a matter of traveling inconvenience, no different than hopping a couple of planes to England to procure some of Yorkshire's finest tea. If a CD costs as much as a quarter tank of gas and the factor of it being in the store is an unknown, then why bother? People would rather pay the shipping charges online for a $10.00-11.00 CD, which equates into the same money big labels hawk their merch for in big chains. Is it any wonder iTunes is running away with a cash cow herd, mooing mad money all the way into rebooted pastures? For all of these semantics, though, the same people at-large have no qualms paying $5.00-6.00 a pop in trendy bars, dropping a couple hundred when the night's drinking is done. Bars flourish in rough times. Record stores, not so much.

Let's face it; not everyone in the world likes to go into a store and be confronted by other people. Even I have moments where I just want to be left alone to take a stack of albums over to the headphones and sample them in private. Still, our society today has grown self-contained and paranoid and there's hardly room for the record store in their lives. Far easier for most to sit half naked in front of a computer and smoke or drink in peace without laws prohibiting them from doing it in the open air and surf for music. For them, preferable to dodging less-than-busy store employees who badger them every five minutes with queries ringing to the tune of "Can I Help You Find Something?" The interactive capacity necessary to communicate is just too much for the average person today. Add to that, a lack of time in everyone's schedules, and we're growing more robotic by the hour. It's why metalheads pass one another on the street yet refuse to stop and chat with one another. Elitism prevails, the clock forces us into working for the clampdown, yet social awkwardness in today's world is more to blame and you can lay that upon the fiber optic trails of the world wide web.

Of course, most people simply aren't going to be familiar with bands such as Pelican, Rum Diary, Minor Threat, Emperor or even long-passed artisans such as Nick Drake. The independent record store is a safe haven where people who know the language can convene and not feel less of an idiot savante because they prefer Black Flag to Rhianna. If the indie store doesn't have the latest Fu Manchu in stock, keep the faith; it's likely on back order. It won't be at Wal Mart, take that to the bank. Sure, you can save yourself the trouble and click it home from CD Universe, or, if you're not of the generation where lingering anticipation of new product was part the bond between musician and consumer, you simply drop anchor with Apple and download to your heart's content.

Where's the interpersonal aspect, though? Can binary code recommend you Bat For Lashes or Red Sparowes albums? Hardly not. Don't get me wrong; I shop online as much as I do in the real world because I'm just that damned obsessed about music and always on the hunt for a cheap deal. However, I Need That Record! The Death (Or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store hit me very hard even though I'm fully aware of the pandemic plaguing the American record store. I've seen some of my favorite hidey holes vanish firsthand, many of them recently. Even at Barnes and Noble I crossed paths with a gentleman complaining it was the only music store in the mall, wondering where he, like many who consider the physical act of leafing through albums therapeutic were going to go in a few years. Good question, sir.

I Need That Record! The Death (Or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store informs us over 3,000 record shops in the country have closed down. Alarming not so much to big chains who stand to reap ostracized customers into their limited emporiums. Brendan Toller hammers the point home in his documentary with his cameras blurring through frosty Wal Mart and Target stores. Rare is the smocked employee running the entertainment section register who knows about Thrice, Paris Combo or Rosetta, much less care. You can guarantee, however, the former occupiers of Trash American Style in Connecticut not only know these acts, they probably have direct access to all known bootlegs.

Or should we say, had.

It's sad when the footnote to a story is its beginning. I Need That Record! The Death (Or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store delivers a ten minute eulogy before the main title flashes up and while the conclusion does offer a glimmer of hope issued to the DIY-minded, you're already wishing High Fidelity had never been filmed. Or you wish it had been played on every channel in the Cableverse just to show the population at-large how important the indie music store is on a cultural level, much less the in-town money it generates.

Brendan Toller pounds this fact as his thesis and continuously puts record store owners and their patrons before his lens. The downtrodden facades are galore, the raised middle fingers aplenty. Stories of music shops being forced out of their spaces to make room for richer merchants who want to expand their spaces truly cut to the nerve. The punchline to this dreadful mistreatment follows with anecdotes of Big Dog business owners subsequently going out of business themselves. Whose interests were served when a gaping space in a strip mall glares like a cavity? Never mind a store like Trash American Style reliably occupied their space for a couple decades and with them, their customers. Perhaps its the bounced checks in harsh times which led to the decision of their eviction, yet the telltale conclusion to be made is economics rule, not art communities nor their benefactors. Sadder still when the former employees are booted to the streets to find work at Trader Joe's or in some cases, nowhere.

Toller treads close to Michael Moore territory with his flashpoint quasi-propaganda, political cartooning and payola vamping. However, Toller smartly threads a story and quickly hustles his indicators to why this crisis is happening. Damn Fraunhofer Gesellschaft to hell if you're a record purist. Yet Toller is savvy enough to flesh out all contributions to the accelerating death of music stores and he's even smarter to keep his film trimmed beneath an hour twenty so it never feels like melodrama. Quite the contrary; you're sucked into what Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth has to say and you find it romantic how Lenny Kaye first met Patti Smith and invited her to the record store he worked at and they danced after-hours in private before starting their band. You're especially glued to Minor Threat/Teen Idles/Fugazi legend Ian MacKaye, particularly how he has made Dischord Records the DIY model for all. His blueprint is so soup-to-nuts you have to scream why others don't use a similar business model.

Music stores are founded on the doctrine that music is life and it freaking hurts to see it devalued by a society which has become singles-oriented versus album puritanical. Okay, there's been too much crap shoved under their noses you can't blame people in general, yet the entire ethos of music production and distribution has turned sour like a jar of pickles left under the sun for too long.

Unfortuntately, people today forget the value of The Midnight Special and Old Grey Whistle Test in terms of fostering an awareness of music. Then again, why should they care when television is formatted to send its faces packing if they don't win the popular vote, their dreams squashed under artifice, judged and dismissed like cattle stock? American Idol is a sham because its only principle is to use a cheaper method of demographic hedging in order to sell records nobody will want in five years like N-Sync and TLC. Where's the chance, where's the development, where's the spontaneity? Gone, like 3,000-plus record stores.

As this film points out, it's the resurge of vinyl which will keep the remaining shops in business, but even wax platters are heavily marketed on the internet and scoffed by the general public as yard sale fodder. For the aspiring band, the key to survival is to take their vinyl on the road and put them up for sale at shows next to their concert shirts. It sure isn't going to come from their labels.

I'm not a bite-the-hand-that-feeds kind of guy since the music industry has been largely good to me. However, I must point out in conclusion that a good music store is like your bedroom amped by the power of infinitum. I sure as hell didn't like my folks crashing in on my room when I lived under their roof, even if I've always loved them with all my heart. Is it any wonder we're collectively taking offense at the calamity presented before us, one record store at a unit?

Time and tide wait for no one, particularly in the name of progress, but let's hope I Need That Record! The Death (Or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store becomes viewed as the fair warning in which it was created instead of an eventual time capsule. The extended interview segments on the bonus features are worth your money alone. The film itself is mandatory viewing.

And for the love of God (and music), support your local record store!!!

Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"Supporting Act" by Ray Van Horn, Jr.

"Supporting Act"
2011 Ray Van Horn, Jr.

during sound check
a cluster of fast lane drunks are whoo-hoooing
over and over and over
along with the Stones careening out of the club’s loudspeakers
four decades later, the devil still gets his due
the drunks are in on the guest list
they’re college roommates and frat brothers
of the local openers calling themselves Hippie Hijackers
they catcall their virgin buddies onstage
who are drenched in sweat
and not yet having played a note that counts tonight
Powerman 5000 is the headlining band
and aren’t on the premises
why should they be?
Hippie Hijackers is the first of a four-band set

the steel partition holds up underagers
with black “X’s” smeared in marker upon their right hands
docile little anarchists who preach straight edge to each other
yet eye the bubbling hops with silent aspiration
they got in line at the door right after school
and you can see the grease of McDonald’s still glazed upon their fingertips
they have their coveted spots right at the front
and will soon lose them when they have to pee
and the club fills up with bigger, stronger crowd surfers
who will use their heads to vault onstage
and dump them into the mosh pits, gobbled like no-no sacrifices

but that’s too far in the future
and Hippie Hijackers may have less than fifty people in the place
including their friends,
still whoo-hoooing the longer the Stones drag it out
and the bar staff
and the bouncers
and the merch handlers for the upper tier bands
all looking elsewhere
fiddling with their iPhone 4s
and circumventing the curvy female bartender
who smiles to each passerby and floater
indicating she’s easy
but only long enough to draw a tip on the bar

the Stones abruptly fall silent
and Hippie Hijackers show they’re green
by the sudden fear in their pupils
it’s 7:55 pm and they were due to play at 8:00
a token round of applause splits the still
sounding more like echoed hiccups
the lead singer has enough presence of mind
to straddle the mike stand
and twirl his forefinger in the air,
the call-to-arms for his band
in olden days, that was the punk and thrash sign
to whip up a slam dance

goes the drumsticks
the band stumbles off the four count
but gets it together
after the lead singer dips his mike over the stage
like a robot’s phallus
and waggles his tongue like the hairball horndogs
weekly ripping Sunset Strip with a baker’s dozen “My Michelle’s”

the drummer has his tongue out too
erect from the corner of his mouth,
his knees pumping flawlessly
he is the picture of mondo-serious 4/4 stamp-a-bamp
the guitarist stares up into the lights
transfixed, as if a revelation hovers there
he refuses to engage the quasi crowd
even with the fratboys hollering his name
the hairy bassist has heard the word “passenger” too many times
he sidles up to the singer and hollers out the lyrics
in some other language
very likely Chewbacca with a bass would present the same image
the vocalist tries to shirk the four-stringed ape off his leather jacket,
handed down from his older brother, now a corporate accountant
he has the face and he’s destined for the cover of AP
he sees no one, save a blurry image of the bartender he wants to fuck later

the straight edgers bob their nubile heads
and throw their X’s up to the din
this isn’t a hardcore band, but they like ‘em anyway
they’re the only ones

Photo (c) 2010-11 Ray Van Horn, Jr. (no disrespect intended to the featured band here, who will remain anonymous at this time and are actually quite good, but someone needed to be a patsy, sorry fellas)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Does Black Flag's "TV Party" Have Even More Relevance In Today's Society?

This is one song that slays me every single time I put on Black Flag's Damaged album and honestly, it takes a lot of discipline not to finger my way straight to the cut since the entire album is boss.

What a freakin' riot, though. Black Flag's commentary on apathy was inspired by Jello Biafra and the Dead Kennedys' similar panache for squashing all over a detached, unconcerned society--and you're talking about the eighties, man. As a Gen X'er, I can vouch we had more to do than today's generation, however that comes with a caveat. We didn't have as many tech-oriented gizmos to vedge out with, and we were encouraged to get outside and play football, jog, skateboard, BMX bike, fish, ski and throw rocks at abandoned buildings--the last activity being non-sanctioned events, of course. We did, however, have Atari and Colecovision, so we were often indoors, sad to say.

We were a bunch of t.v. junkies, even when there was nothing in our reach beyond VHF and UHF, the latter being a crapshoot of non-network independent stations which were subject to snowy screens and shaky resolution. Cable television was a gift (and a curse) when it arrived, even more so when VHS arrived, since laser discs and Beta ended up being the primitive test dummies for home video.

Once we had television that looked good on an everyday basis, it was a matter of hooking up with friends whose families had cable t.v. or VCR's and sure enough, it did become a t.v. party in many instances. I had a buddy whose family was the first to own a VCR in the neighborhood and that's where we congregated. We gathered en masse and kicked his family out of the living room so we could watch MTV or videos of horror flicks like Friday the 13th, Halloween II, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Microwave Massacre, Pieces and other things we knew the parents hated. Somehow they were cool about us 14 and 15 year old mad dogs watching them, though I doubt they took kindly to us passing around their gin like the sloppy, amateur would-be drunks we were.

Somehow, though, there was a balance to it all. We'd be outside playing Redline for hours, no matter how older we got as teenagers, and there was always the strategy (speaking from a male perspective) of encouraging girls into the woods on a seemingly innocuous hike just to try our luck, if you get me. Of course you do.

Okay, so I'm kind of straying from the intent of Black Flag's "TV Party," since the inherent message is a swat at rednecks, stoners, punk dregs and metal burnouts (yes, you beautiful people were included) sneaking beers and having "nothing better to do" than to turn into shitfaced vidiots. Take away their tube, and what is there to talk about? Hang out in any modern office setting and the adults are no better. What else do they talk about in a non-business capacity but what they watched on the glow box the night before? As Henry Rollins and the gang jibed, it's a big, scary world out there, so why pay attention--particularly when it's more fun to talk about who got kicked off the latest phony baloney "reality" show or who's slipping the "Bachelorette" some tube in the jacuzzi this week. Screw the war, screw the economy, screw the cure for cancer. Nihilism rules. Somehow, you get the impression the Jersey Shore "cast" (a contradiction of terms) might the logical 2.0 t.v. partiers.

Today's generation has finer television, finer definition, finer video playback equipment, finer audio, finer video games, finer everything than we did as teenagers. Hell, they can "watch" a comic book onscreen instead of actually holding one and turning the pages! Jesus wept. My generation can still attest to black and white t.v. Today's kids watch movies around their damned cell phones or on their computer monitors. Their parents (mostly my generation) are suddenly finding themselves bounced away from their mounted flat panels so their young 'uns can gnaw on pizza and pinch beers in grander style than we did. Hell, the sofas they get to flop on are better than we had!

When I see far less little kids actually playing outside than my generation did at their tender ages, I know technology has played a sort of enforcer role in keeping kids off the streets. The teenagers still get out, because nobody that age can stomach being holed inside with their parents all the time. I see them in the malls, at the movies, congregating in giant packs at convenience stores and gas stations, of all places. Then again, my generation was fond of doing laps in car parades around the perimeter of the local shopping center all night until the fuzz broke us up. Friday nights were made for catching the latest horror or comedy flick at the same strip center, waiting for the inevitable farmer fight after the show, then everyone circling around in their vehicles. Then we retreated home to Friday Night Videos on NBC. Some of us brought contraband beers and our riff raff friends until our parents reamed us out for making too much noise. Usually that was when the t.v. went off and we slipped on DRI's Dealing With It, going nuts in the house and trying to pluck our parents' nerves as DRI themselves did while recording "Mad Man," complete with the angry thumping on the door, captured for aural posterity.

Ahh, the good old days. It all comes down, as Black Flag alludes, to being young, being dumb, being unimaginative, because the tube is a reliable distraction to figuring out what your life's plan is going to be. Screw college degrees, there's time for that once they force you to declare in your freshman year. Junior and senior year in high school is all about being knuckleheads and hell, there's nothing better to do anyway, so pop a top and chug down to some tube.

I tell my kid frequently he's lucky he didn't live in our age because we only got to see The Wizard of Oz once a damn year and Scooby Doo once a day, plus we were at the mercy of the program directors which episodes got played and when. Nowadays you get to control your t.v. habits at your leisure and to whatever frequency you desire with home video, DVR and On Demand. A season of television was actually 23-26 episodes, which were interrupted by holiday programming and then repeated during the summers when folks actually went outside to have a life. Today's idea of a "season" on t.v.? 13 measley episodes. It's all about Hollywood patting itself on the back in an artificial numbers game.

At least today's kids have 700 more channels than we did. Now that's incredible, and if you didn't get that reference in the song, don't expect it to surface on DVD, Blu Ray or whatever format becomes the new rage to host your own t.v. party. Pabst is hot again with the underage crowd, but challenge them to find out what Hill Street Blues is, and I guarantee you the Jackass nation will assume it came from MTV--and not the one we grew up with. You can keep your smart phones and teen pregnancy shows, young bucks. A t.v. party used to be stupid fun highlighted by Flamingo Road, Dallas, Falcon Crest and late night reruns of Baretta and The Rockford Files. That's all we needed. Well, those and Headbangers' Ball, but they've even crapped that up nowadays as well....

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Best Assignment Ever: Ray Reports On the Original Camp Crystal Lake, June, 2006

In 2006 I had the honor of interviewing Betsy Palmer. Metal Maniacs magazine had welcomed my initiative to expand their coverage into the horror genre, since both heavy metal and horror films make natural bedpartners. I can tell you with all sincerity that Betsy is pure class. Our half hour phone chat went magnificently. The focus of the interview was, of course, to hone in on her memories of breathing life into the role of the nefarious Pamela Voorhees from the original Friday the 13th. Yet we got to talking at great lengths about Betsy's life and professional work centering around her time on various television shows from the fifties and sixties such as I've Got a Secret, Password, Studio One, Toast of the Town and Philco Television Playhouse, not to mention her shotgun riding with Alan Funt on Candid Camera. Betsy opened up to me at great lengths leading to her opinions of the then-proposed Friday the 13th remake, which had sparked my editor's interest in doing the piece altogether.

After the interview published, I mailed a copy out to Betsy and came home one day to find her voice message on my recorder thanking me as the only writer to that point for accurately quoting her and recounting the facts. Betsy invited me to get together for lunch or dinner sometime whenever I could get up to Manhattan where she lives. I'm still looking for the time to book that date.

The response to that interview was a success and with the Friday remake going green, Metal Maniacs were again responsive to my pitch about taking a visit to the original campsite where Betsy, Kevin Bacon and company had worked. Betsy had done the film because she'd needed the money for a car (down to the last dollar, it would come to pass), yet I could picture every spot she described to me and I could feel the nip in the air which Betsy conveyed in her reflections of filming at Camp No-Be-Bos-Co near Blairstown, New Jersey.

Thus I was given my own green light to pursue this article. To my delight, the owners and rangers operating Camp No-Be-Bos-Co in Hardwick Township--which still operates as a full-fledged Boy Scout camp--returned my call and gave me permission to come up and photograph the camp. Ranger Tom (as I remember his name being) was full of information about the camp and the surrounding territories in Warren County. Most amusing were his fair warnings to my readers that anyone sneaking on to the campgrounds without expressed consent were subject to immediate arrest. The local sheriff, whom I pictured to be less hokey though no less strict than the one in Friday the 13th, was in tight with the camp. Ranger Tom kicked out a number of camp trespassing arrest stories for my edification. Undoubtedly, the sheriff of Hardwick Township doesn't stand for any weirdness.

Better yet, Ranger Tom told me a hilarious story about a limousine that had driven up to the camp and gotten stuck on a muddy portion of the drive into Camp No-Be-Bos-Co, which is even longer than the film indicates. The person getting out, Tom told me and my wife with a chuckle, was cursing up a storm as the limo couldn't get out. Said party hadn't gained prior permission to come to the camp, yet Tom informed me the rider happened to be none other than Kane Hodder, then visiting the camp to get into the character he would define in the late eighties, Jason Voorhees.

What struck me most about the camp is how little of it has changed. Ranger Tom told me a couple bunkhouses were in such disrepair they were removed, yet once you make your way to the lake's inlet, a decided creepiness hits you. You are there, Camp Crystal Lake, 1980.

The main bunkhouse where Adrienne King and her counselor friends play strip poker is prominent. To say it's rustic is an understatement and it has a strange "W" planted to the front door. Still, there's an aura by standing in its presence, much as there is when you pivot 180 degrees and catch a view of the lake captured by Sean S. Cunningham and Steve Miner's crew--in particular the grainy driveway where Crazy Ralph pedals on his bicycle after delivering his prophecy of doom.

Once I found the bunkhouse where Kevin Bacon and Jeannine Taylor are belly slapping before Bacon takes the notorious spear through his throat (a pivotal gore effect done by the maul maestro himself, Tom Savini), I laughed and waved my wife over. I've dragged the poor girl to the Monroeville Mall near Pittsburgh, site of the original Dawn of the Dead. I've dragged her to Burkittsville, Maryland to scope out early-on locations in The Blair Witch Project. I've dragged her to Georgetown, Washington, DC to the cryptic Exorcist steps swooping down onto M Street. She's been a sport and a champ in accompanying me on these geek-out trips. At least this one I was getting paid for, yet I received a humoring smirk once I pointed out how tiny Bacon and Taylor's bunkhouse really was. Magical extension and broadening of scope from Miner's film crew.

That girl, I tell you. She was impressed only that I'd been able to get us onto the premises, albeit she did inquire to me where the bathrooms featured in the film were. You know, the spot where Jeannine Taylor takes an axe to the face. Turns out those bathrooms in the films had burned down a few years before my visit. We found the new bathrooms where the old ones stood. Too modern for my tastes, but hey, who's going to complain when you have the entire camp to yourself? The only area we were forbidden to go to at Camp No-Be-Bos-Co was the archery range, reportedly the same as it was back in the day, now used in the off-season as a target range by local law enforcement. As I said, they don't stand for any weirdness up there.

It was an unbelievable experience visiting the real-life Camp Crystal Lake. I was trying to pinpoint with my zoom lens where I figured young Jason sprang out the water and dragged Adrienne King to her fake-out watery grave. That's how serious I was taking this assignment. As you can see, I grabbed quite a load of camp shots, but I never did come to terms inside my head as to what the definitive "Jason jump" mark was.

Driving off to Blairstown to further investigate the Friday the 13th film locations, I have to admit I really started getting giddy once I saw other spots that are used as establishing scenes in the first 20 minutes of the film. You can tell by the "No Trespassing" signs where they are and I confirmed all of them upon my next viewing of the original movie.

Blairstown itself is an interesting, though very conservative little township. They're obviously used to Friday nerds crawling around town and I'm sure they considered me no better, even if I was on official business. Still, a few locals nodded at me on the streets since I was respectful in my shadowing the spots on Main Street you see in the film--albeit things are decidedly different in color if not scheme.

For the article, I tried to engage a few folks to see what they would talk about specific to Friday the 13th. As luck would have it, not many knew about the film. That, or they were just keeping mum in the hopes I would leave them be. Ironically, I found a woman who owns a small jewelry shop with the last name of Voorhees. It's a common name in those parts, I later learned, thus Cunningham deserves his research props. This Voorhees lady was short, long-haired and peppered with incense. She knew of the film but gently laughed when I told her she carried the name of two fictitious horror icons: Pamela and Jason Voorhees. Had I not confessed to this Ms. Voorhees I was on assignment, I'm sure she would've politely asked me to leave. I suspect there's a cover-up of some sort.

For dinner, we decided to take in our meal at The Blairstown Diner on State Route 94 that was used in the film. Of course we would. How could I not, in good conscience? By this photo, I'm sure you would assume there's very little familiarility to the diner Peter Brouwer stops at in Friday the 13th before heading back to his counselors and ultimately his death.

You'd assume correct, since The Blairstown Diner has more or less the foundation of what was there in the film, but it's been been given a galvanized interior and exterior upgrade to reflect many of the retro, silver sleek Double T diners you see everywhere now. As most diner food sucks, we kept things simple to a couple of hamburgers, fries and sundaes. You can never go wrong with that combo at a diner, forget the veal parm and the roast turkey.

The crazy part about our visit to the Friday the 13th diner happened to be when our waitress disappeared after I'd asked her how many Friday fans tramped into the place. I was hell-bent to retrieve some local color for my article and again I was denied. The young waitress with thin black hair ducked my query, gave me a nervous grin and then we never saw her again. Someone else brought our food and then our bill after one check-up. It was bizarre, to say the least.

Not as bizarre as the hostess of the bed and breakfast we'd stayed at. A completely sweet and hospitable woman, the owner of the bed and breakfast ran her own farm and horse stable, but on top of it, she had a goat which had free reign of her house. Luckily, our room was in a separate building opposite the main house. Save for a mom and her punky daughter, we were left to ourselves on a rather rainy evening. That felt appropriate for a piece on the original Friday the 13th film locations. I tried not to laugh too hard when we heard goat noises from across the way. Our hostess really was such a kind soul and the place was immaculate, so you had to imagine what she went through on a personal level to keep her own place clean with a goat running free inside her house.

My wife and I made coffee that night, flopped on the bed which had to have been four feet high or so and watched a documentary on rollercoasters. Later, I went to the oak desk in the living room of our quarters and handwrote the article I later submitted to Metal Maniacs. Word processors may be a gift from the writing gods, but nothing feels like genuine work accomplished than scrawling by hand.

The following day I drove us up to Brooklyn and Coney Island as part of the deal I made with my wife to join me on this Friday the 13th excursion. You see, she'd only pretended to like the film while we were dating. No doubt she must've felt like she'd gotten more than she'd bargained for with me, but as I said to her after leaving the bed and breakfast for New York the next morning, she couldn't deny I do things with a certain flair...

Photos (c) 2006-11 Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Friday, October 14, 2011

How Far Can a Novel's Sex Scene Go and Stay In Good Taste?

Sex sells, but there's a fine line sex treads between literature, pornography and even mainstream pop fiction. I think perhaps one of the very rare examples of sexually aggressive novels that retains any crediblity as pure literature (outside of Lolita or The French Lieutenant's Woman, of course) is Norman Mailer's Genius and Lust.

The authors of those works never had the contemporary subgenre term "erotica" to answer to or withdraw from, but let's face the facts; sex scenes in fiction writing are a fine art unto themselves. They can be used to convey passion and exhiliration on one end of the spectrum, fear, tension and even degredation on the other end. Sex in a story can be fulfilling or it can create dread, depending on the situation and the psyches of the characters involved in the coupling acts.

I find it's well-recommended to exhibit some brevity and sensuality if you want readers to care about two people connecting intimately within your story. Better to flirt, tease and pay out with less full-on (or full-frontal, if you will) description of the act of sex than to raunch it up, Penthouse Forum-style. On the other hand, explicit sexual scenes can be written in the context of a terror zone or to serve in the interest of pricking the reader's nerve endings to generate sympathy for, say, a lead character being raped or sexually humiliated.

Repulsive as the latter situation is, sometimes writers can go into that gray area territory of inappropriate and unstimulating roughhouse sex or casual, meaningless doinking filled with not-so-much provocative colloquialisms as locker room blatancy.

I bring up this topic as I'm re-examining a few sexual-related scenes in my current project. A couple scenes are admittedly steamy, while one in particular is in reflection of a slip-up from my lead character's past. The latter is rather graphic, though I've toned it down through various edits. A couple of other sex scenes in the story are designed to convey the emotional struggle and the sudden awkwardness of a married couple who've been married for 12 years and are falling apart. Of those two sex scenes, both are done for comedic effect, though one scene is full of angst and hotheaded tension, while the second one is more referential with an intentionally humourous punchline. In that second scene, my purpose is to show a rare moment of reconciliation between the couple before their lives plunge straight into Hell.

Still, I question myself every single time when writing a sex scene in one of my stories. If I'm adrenalized and feeling that "rush" from reading back a sex scene I've written, I tend to think I've done my job, game on. Yet at the same time, there has to be a check thrown into it. How explicit is it? Is it R rated worthy or NC-17? What is the reasoning for either case, I ask myself, and is that something I can live with before shipping it off for other eyes to read? Are my readers going to think I'm a pervert or are they going to be sucked into the carnal vortex and feel for the people involved in the act? The best sex we're subjected to as a voyeuristic society and reading public is based upon two strong people we've been baited by and cannot wait to see them entwined together. Spock's logic prevails once the clothes come off, assuming you've created the necessary glue readers empathize with.

I've no interest in writing pornography, even though some of my short stories I still need to clean up are without a doubt, graphic. I do treat those works like I would a movie looking to get into theaters and avoid the direct-to-video brand of "Unrated."

Thus I've more or less used Stephen King as my gauge on how to write tasteful sex scenes. Granted, this is a man who wrote an entire novel about a woman being left handcuffed, naked, to her bed after her husband kicks off in the middle of their bizarre sex ritual. I'm of course referring to Gerald's Game.

Yet, I still think the most perfect sex scene King has written in his entire career has to be when Jack and Wendy make love within the first couple chapters of The Shining. We've already established Jack's confrontation with alcoholism and we know Wendy is giving him a second chance, so much she's willing to barricade herself in a snowy Colorado hotel so Jack can write his novel in seclusion. King writes a very tender disrobing and fondling scene between Jack and Wendy that leads to sex and then he cuts away and lets them do the horizontal in private. That makes all of the horrors that occur to them in The Shining more impactful.

I read The Shining when I was 14 and knew right then and there I wanted to be a writer. That sex scene with Jack and Wendy has always policed my own work when my aroused subconscience starts getting a little too wild and reckless. I never censor myself while writing a sex scene. It's afterwards when I might feel a little dirty, a little guilty, more than a little risque, when the delete button gets exercised. Of course, in my current novel, I have to be rather vile in describing the frightening oral gratification my lead receives from a groupie. He feels tormented years later that he'd cheated on his then-girlfriend, later his wife, and that incident plays a hand in the mistrust and frequent hopelessness in their shaky married lives. Luckily, I pared that debauched scene down from three paragraphs to one and I couldn't wait to get to the scene where my lead and his wife finally have nurturing, love-based sex. I cheered for them at that point, especially since I knew the dark paths both leads are taking from that point on.

Sometimes you have to go to the edge without blowing your wad, if you take my meaning...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ray's "Duh" Moment Featuring Grace Jones

I've always had tremendous respect for Grace Jones from an aesthetic standpoint to her ambitious music which ranges from club to rock to electro to reggae to R&B. Save for my initial trepidation the first time I saw her whip ass in Conan the Destroyer, I quickly recognized Grace Jones as an artist who used her talents, body and soul, to crash through the margins. She was no doubt a gimme for Andy Warhol to immortalize. Once I heard and saw Lady Gaga, I automatically thought she was an amalgam of Madonna and Grace Jones.

Of course, Gaga lacks Grace Jones' trademark flat top, but getting to the point, I've always loved Jones' Warm Leatherette album. I've listened to it many times in my life and quite a few times this week alone. From the bopping title cut to the hilarious, upstart jive of "Bullshit," this album is Jones at her finest. "Private Life" is a club dub masterwork all artists should study, regardless of their professional genre.

Even Grace's shuffling cover of Tom Petty's "Breakdown" is quite slick, but imagine how stupid I felt after all these years to come to the "duh" realization that her seven minute marathon of panting groove "Love is the Drug" is another cover tune. Specifically, a reworked version of none other than Roxy Music's most famous song (also my favorite of theirs). Grace's "Love is the Drug" has more sexuality and a far different timing rhythm that makes you forget all about Roxy's better-known, Clash-oriented ska-punk-jazz original.

I'd say both versions of "Love is the Drug" are largely on an even par, but there's something about Grace Jones' hip-shaking hipster drive giving her version a smidgeon of an edge. Brian Ferry can sing like his life depends on it, but without a doubt, Grace Jones sells that imbibed passion addiction Ferry fetters inside the numbers of his song. No wonder I never made the connection, dumb as it may sound.

The moral of this story, class, is...if you're going to do a cover, make it your own--so much even the so-called journalists get fooled.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Because It's Doro

Ray With Doro Pesch, October, 2006

As I've decided to indefinitely lay down The Metal Minute, today I'm posting my last review over there until its ultimate fate is decided at a later point in time. With deliberation, I waited until this moment to select Doro Pesch's 25 Years in Rock DVD/CD package for review. It was one hell of a concert worthy of the metal queen herself and I invite you to bop on over to www.metalminute.com and read all about it.

As Doro remains my most-interviewed guest at four times, I felt she deserved closing honors, if you will. One of my most favorite people in the music industry, Doro Pesch's regaled stature as the queen of heavy metal comes honestly.

It's not just because Doro was one of the first female heavy metal vocalists. You had The Runaways, Betsy Bitch and Girlschool before Doro fronted Warlock and made genre history. Sure, Doro's combined beauty and svelte stage presence has always made her a divine visual spectacle and she remains thus today. She has the chops and her voice has seldom waned. To keep her singing pipes as galvanized as they are 25 years into her career, Doro Pesch isn't so much a machine as she is a perfected fireball. High altos to lower octave rasping, Doro hits it all and she can rally you as much as seduce you.

What has always struck me about Doro, however, is how gentle and sweet she is when you talk to her. It's no secret Doro Pesch puts her fans ahead of herself and she is perhaps the most personable celebrity in heavy metal. The first time I had Doro on my phone, I literally melted. I confessed like a nerd that I'd harbored a crush on her in 1988 after my then-girlfriend dumped me on her way to college. Doro helped me get through that teenaged trial--along with the Ramones.

Kind soul that Doro is, she laughed and thanked me but there was a genuine, flattered cadence to her delivery that resounded with me. This is a woman who's no doubt been told by hundreds of thousands of men how attractive she is and still there's a profound humility to Doro Pesch that endears you further to her. Luckily, I hadn't chased her off with that reckless admission. I mean, who does that in a professional interview?

In fact, Doro granted me three more interviews including a face-to-face on a memorable weekend that found me in Manhattan the night before covering Skinny Puppy then Doro with Chris Caffery of Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Savatage the following night in Virginia. I'd had three hours' sleep and it was adrenaline keeping me going--at least until I'd fallen asleep in the middle of a back road at 2:00 a.m. Luckily I wasn't pulverized on the road, but that night hanging with Doro and Chris and Doro's drummer Johnny Dee is one of my happiest moments as a rock journalist. Johnny, doubling as Doro's tour manager, was beyond gracious. The guy took care of me and made sure I passed through the venue security without confrontation. Suffice it to say, security for Doro Pesch is pretty damned strong, for obvious reasons. Not everyone can tell Doro they've had a crush on her and get away with it.

I was even offered chats with Doro a few more times beyond those I'd fielded and while my motto has been "I always have time for Doro," that's been hard for me to abide by in the past couple years, given the life changes I've been through. Perhaps the next step in my writing evolution will put me in front of her again with my camera and voice recorder. We'll see. I can tell you listening to all of those tapes I have of Doro she is simply precious. Somewhere inside that strong, forceful woman is a frail little girl and she's not afraid to show it, even if her alluring, breathy speaking voice is also to protect her vocal investments.

One of the interviews I did with Doro was even more of an honor, considering it was an assignment for Metal Maniacs magazine bestowed upon me by the editor, one of Doro's personal friends and she normally takes Doro herself. Thank you for that, Liz. I understood what an immense gesture it was to grant me the Doro interview. That was number four and I was as proud of that one as I was the first one for my column in AMP, much less that awesome night in Springfield, Virginia.

And so I dim the lights tomorrow at The Metal Minute until life either eases up and I have time again or my career takes off in the other direction as I anticipate it will. Either way, I've had fun with it and it's my pleasure to have spotlighted Doro's latest release as my informal farewell. Who better, right?

Photos (c) 2006-2011 Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

On Coming to Terms With the Dead

You know, there was a time in my life where I just didn't appreciate the Grateful Dead. I know there's a lot of folks who still don't and never will, forget the sales pitch. Like Guinness, like lime-flavored tortilla chips, like poetry, not for everyone.

These days, the Dead goes down with me as easy as a Vanilla Coke. Sometimes I guzzle everything Garcia, Weir and company pour into my ears with sheer gluttony. Other times their music is like a sharp Irish whiskey; I take it all in with discipline instead of tossing it down in a rush since you can get right toasted if you're too greedy with it. A good hint is to mix up another band or two in-between Grateful Dead listening sessions so as not to suffer a hangover from sensory overload. The Dead really are much to absorb.

When "Touch of Grey" from In the Dark came out in 1987, I was a rigid metal snob and scoffed at those laidback hairballs rattling noncommittally about just getting by. I'd been raised with pragmatic values where I didn't relate to merely getting by in life. I was taught to work, to bust ass and to make connections. Of course, the more I got to know my mother, a closet hippie, I realized there was a layer beneath the practicality, one that jived with what the Dead were saying in that pokey 'n poppy pillow nuzzler.

At age 41 and with quite a bit more life mileage upon me, I more than relate to "Touch of Grey" now. It's not just the fact my follicles are starting to dash beneath the black. I've seen enough chaos and disorder on a personal level where I'm nearly numb to all the harshness that comes in front of me on a routine basis. A soldier, a cop, a drug dealer or a mortician has a bigger claim to witnessing nastier business, but the older I get, the wearier and more intolerant I get of the daily grind. It's pretty damned depressing and every day presents the opportunity to get down or to rise up. The Dead's In the Dark album is hardly one of their finest achievements, but it has its moments and "Touch of Grey" has now become more to me than just that silly but cool video where the Grateful Dead turn into skeletal marionettes onstage and continue the tune, just getting by, just surviving. I get it now. Really, the older you get, the better you relate, particularly to something far separate from your own generation.

As a teenager and college student, I used to mock younger Deadheads as I did the farmer kids who loved Rush, Led Zeppelin and Lynard Skynard. All were bands I refused to listen to out of a dumb prejudice against sects of kids who I knew hated me because I was a metal grit. For awhile, I felt the same about U2, Bruce Springsteen, Tears for Fears and Genesis, all favorites of the popular, beautiful Gen X children. All of those artists fill my shelves now. Kids are so stupid sometimes--at the very least, their primary guilt is their lack of empathy for one another.

I later turned to Rush, Zeppelin, Skynard, Bad Company and the Allmans, bands I'd scoffed for lame reasons. All amazing bands worthy of their stature and I'm glad I came around. Perhaps the Grateful Dead remained the final threshold where my immature reasoning process separated me from unbelievable music. The Dead were a notorious pot band. Their followers were resolute, proud pot smokers. At the time, I was a straight edge metalhead. Dope fiends tripping to the Dead and my scant few minutes sampling the band automatically pushed me into a bad judgment call. Thankfully, I later came to see the light.

American Beauty, The Grateful Dead, Workingman's Dead, Wake of the Flood, Anthem for the Sun, Aoxamoxoa, From the Mars Hotel, Blues for Allah, Live Dead, Skull and Roses (offically Grateful Dead), all important rock albums I now stake my rep as a rock journalist on. Even my wife finds irony in that statement for all the times I dismissed the Dead when we were dating. I'm sure she was grateful (pun intended) for the break away from the Dead since she'd had many past Deadhead boyfriends. By the time those albums started filtering into my collection, I'm sure she must've thought I'd gone mental as much as she probably groaned to herself. Sport that she is, she recently put Workingman's Dead on in the car for me during a gruelling traffic jam just to keep me from corking off with our kid in the backseat.

What I've come to really admire about the Grateful Dead is what a terrific live act they are. Once you hear the studio tracks and then the extended, improvised live jams, it's a complete revelation. You understand why Deadheads trailed after them from venue to venue. Part of the experience was a collective nirvana passed between band and audience. Pot and acid were certainly a part of the trip, but considering the Grateful Dead's music is founded more in blues, rock, jazz and country instead of pure psychedelics, it really, really is more about the music.

The moral of this story, of course, is to give every bit of music out there a chance. I condemn today's pop music, but I dig Pink, Lady Gaga and that new John Mayer tune is truly outta sight. I'm still more an underground and fringe kind of listener, but I know great music when I hear it. Once you have the Grateful Dead catalog spread before you, it will be more than just a summertime fling. Soon you'll start scoping out Deadheads to talk a little truckin' music with them. It's more intense than Bob Marley aficianados, since more of Marley's fans toke and joke to his music along with the Steve Miller Band. Even today, Miller's greatest hits comp and Marley's Legend are mandatory college party music. Yes, I own both and play them religiously. Great music is great music. Still, you will almost never find the Dead's Terrapin Station at a prototype collegiate shindig.

It was said to me by a friend that Deadheads often stop each other on the street and ask for live bootleg recommendations since there are thousands of them in circulation. The Dead and their followers are truly a tribal society and it's not just because Mickey Hart is submerged in world music projects and Bob Weir has his own communal band and fans surrounding Ratdog. There is vitality, variation and a footloose submission to the vibe with the Grateful Dead's music where "Viola Lee Blues" and "Black Peter" won't clock in at the same time whenever they're played.

And I still think it's a kick that Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, are obvious Deadheads. Only Deadheads could pliably pull off naming a bumbling chowderbrain vigilante Casey Jones. In Eastman and Laird's world, Casey Jones probably has done his share of flying high on cocaine in private, but you gotta love that hockey face's heart...

Friday, October 7, 2011

Tattooed Sneetchville

This one's probably not going to be popular with everyone, but hear me out a minute or two if you will...

To me, Dr. Seuss' The Sneetches is the greatest story ever written. Even though I enjoy the snark out reading The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham to my son at bedtime, The Sneetches is a masterpiece for all ages and I adore it. It serves as a warning to mankind, not only against racism and intolerance, but also greed, pride and vanity.

In the modern age, however, The Sneetches takes on a newer meaning. We've become a society of tattooed sycophants. There was a time when 1 out of 10 people had tattoos. Now that statistic has bisected to an estimated 1 out of 5. Tattoos were originally found on pirates, perverts, prisoners, rock stars, outcasts, the military and thugs. In certain sectors of the world, however, tattooing is a rite of passage and a part of tribal acceptance. In many of these cultures, the tattoo is the mark of a warrior like the native and African tribal paint used for hunting and battle.

Nowadays, tattoos are found on all of the aforementioned groups, plus athletes, actors, pop stars, Catholic school girls, teachers, porn stars, cashiers, hairdressers, wait staff, receptionists, day care providers, bankers, lawyers...hell, even the court transcribers are tatted-up like the criminals marched in before them.

It's gotten to the point of insanity where older folks (largely women) in their fifties and sixties are inking their wrinkled, blubbery limbs. Honestly, what statement do you make if you're a roly poly conservative gal with a square cut bush shrub on your head, horn rimmed glasses, swishy polyester grandma shorts and a permanent anklet of swirls and constellations on your chubby ankle?

Think I'm over-exaggerating? Think again. Next time you're waiting for your order at a Chinese take-out, watch the parade of people coming in. They come tatted in all ages, ranging from fake bronzed, twenty-something, UFC-addicted pimp rollers to swollen and ashy-skinned old farts who obviously went over the deep end in an elder life crisis.

Tattoos, folks, are freaking mainstream.

I'm sorry, but it's true. If you're an NFL player today and you're not inked up, there's likely a team fine for it. The more you can show off from your biceps to your forearms not only gives you cred in the NFL, it calls the camera over to you quicker--assuming you don't have an ass clown good play dance in your repertoire. If you're a hot rising star in the music scene, you'd better have sleeve tats raining down both arms or just quit.

Tattoos are as dangerous and rebellious today as Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train," the latter of which was recently featured in a car commercial with a family of suburban geeks and the youngsters' friends enacting the song in a sickeningly sunny, happy-go-lucky fashion. "Crazy Train," mainstream. Tattoos, ditto.

Here is where The Sneetches come into play. For the hipster fashionista element behind tattooing, those without tattoos in today's society are considered safe. Safe, as in starchy, docile and boring. People who tat up believe they're on the cutting edge, but really, the only edge coming into play is the end of that needle pulling on their skin. Problem is, everyone's doing it and it's all delusional, like those star-bellied snobby Sneetches who get taught proper once the Fix-It-Up Chappie rapes them and the non-star bellies for all of their money. There is no individuality to tattooing today, particularly when you can walk into a tattoo parlor and pick out your design like a t-shirt iron-on. Prefabricated, and unless you conceive your own idea, more than likely there's a hundred other people wearing the same body art as you.

Maybe the norm of belonging now is to tattoo yourself. Maybe tattooing is the new conformity. Perhaps we're supposed to file and rank ourselves into the shopping centers where a lot of tattoo artists can now be found in-between coffeehouses and mattress discounters. Tattoo parlors were once considered part of the seedy underground you only heard about when someone contracted a disease from unsanitary needles. Nowadays, there's a guarantee you have 3-5 tattoo emporiums competing for your business like McDonald's, Wendy's and KFC. In other words, people, tattooing is goddamn corporate.

Who better a symbol of corporate than the Fix-It-Up Chappie, who will sell you a star on or a star off, so long as you've let the panic button in your head drive you to "stand out" from the pack. You're being huckstered, gang. Like smoking, people have been given the warnings of future consequences to tattooing and still they ignore them. It's true; old people's tattoos sag and stretch and it's truly pathetic to witness. That will be you in your senior years, everyone. Take it as gospel.

I hate to rag on the tattoo industry since most of those operating the needles can be considered actual artists. Skin art does have a certain allure when the concept is unique and the hand that delivered it stays true. I feel safe is stating 98% of the musicians I sat in front of with my tape recorder in interviews were tattooed. It's part and parcel of the rock industry. Yet there's nothing special to tattooing anymore and it's a stinking fashion parade now. People admire one another's body ink and piercings minutes before introducing themselves to each another and if that's the new way of social bonding outside of the digital pseudo-world, then it is what it is, as the dreadful colloquialism goes. It fits this tattoed population.

Unfortunately, Sneetchville is infested with wannabes who look utterly ridiculous and they dumb down our society in worse ways than reality t.v. does. For the true rebels, tattooing is obligatory, but there's no James Dean principles to uphold when your aging aunt has flowers, butterflies and dragons swooping out from her crinkly, soggy, sunburnt breasts for the rest of us to see--whether we want to or not.

One day, the entreprenurial Fix-It-Up Chappies of the world will rule yet again with their star-off machines, depending on whether or not society goes back to its former denunciation of tattooing. Hopefully by then we'll all forget about belly stars and whether they had one, or not, upon thars...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

No Tea Like It...

Today's morning writing session brought forth by the inexplicably wonderful PG Tips. As I described it to a new friend, this is the Wall Street crack cocaine of teas...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What I Learned New About My Kid Through Godzilla

I've been quietly waiting for my son to reach the age where it's okay to show him some classic monster romps. After all, it's no secret I'm a horror hound and I'm eager to push my kid in the same direction if he's willing to go there. So far my plan has played out perfectly.

My son has seen more Scooby Doo than I ever did as a child and all it took me a year ago was to tell him that all the ghosts, goblins, ghoulies and bad guys are not real, that Scooby and his friends prove they're phonies in every episode. The kid took my word as bond and after a brief bit of shakiness in his first month at age three, he quickly shooed his willies away and now he's already been a longtime Scooby junkie.

He's also seen enough variances of Batman that I'll allow him, which includes the pretty nasty rogue's gallery ol' pointy ears dukes it out with. Ditto for Superfriends and all the strange monsters, aliens, dragons, zombies, space pirates, oversized bugs, vampires and so on that terrorize Mother Earth until Superman, Wonder Woman and company slug them into oblivion. They look dreadfully lame when you're an adult, but little kids eat that crap up like squeezy yogurt.

All going according to my devious plan...

I'm itching to show my kid The Wizard of Oz since he's seen many of the Star Wars films already. As scary as the Wicked Witch of the West is, if my kid can confront Vader, Boba Fett, Jabba the Hutt and the Sarlacc, we're just about ready for a jaunt down the yellow brick road. I will, however, be interested to see if those damn flying monkeys make him crap his jammies or not.

And so we get into the real nitty gritty. You see, I was raised on the very things I've mentioned here in succession (along with the Planet of the Apes films), and my next childhood stop was the Universal monster films and the '50's B flicks that ran on our Saturday night Ghost Host. I was eight then, my kid is nearly four. Thus it was a risk to throw on Karloff's Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein. It is October, you know; I celebrate Halloween all month long with horror films, and I'm sorry, but my son's completely worn out my appreciation of Scooby Doo and the Witch's Ghost, not to mention every single episode of What's New, Scooby Doo? Time to man up, kid, because Daddy's gonna scream if we don't move onto something new.

I'm pleased to report that the boy was engrossed by the Frankenstein films, until he, like any child his age, grew weary of sitting in place for too long and began making us create a Lego society while the movies ran. All pleasant and a nice test run for the real brutal stuff I'm withholding until he's of proper age.

Then I get the query out of nowhere: "Daddy, can we watch Godzilla?"

Now, I have a wicked cool Godzilla shirt and I have a shortie Godzilla figure that's traveled with me to every desk job I've had save for my current one. As a kid, I had the ultimate ginormous rolling Godzilla made a part of the Shogun Warriors toy line that rocked our worlds in the late seventies. This Godzilla had a lever you pushed down to propel a plastic tongue of fire and his freaking claw shot off! The carnage was twofold in the hands of us youngsters. It wasn't enough for us to let our mondo Godzillas stomp and roll over everything we owned; we could shoot that awesome claw at things like target practice. The other toys in my collection no doubt felt and looked like Toho Studios as I massacred them all with my bitchin' giant Godzilla.

I thought of these things as I pondered whether or not Godzilla is too strong for a near-four year old. Most people look at Godzilla as silly, stupid slapstick. Yeah, well, so what? At least the original Gojira is a work of art for its time, considering it was filmed as a protest piece against nuclear armament.

Of course, the Raymond Burr classic (reinvented and marketed in the U.S. as Godzilla, King of the Monsters) moves too slow for most young children, who wonder why it takes so long for the serpent on nuke steroids to show up and wreck havoc. No different than my son, who kept asking somewhat patiently where Godzilla was. And the kid wants to see the 2003 Hulk movie...as if. No parent alive can stomach the near hour's wait for Hulk to show up in that ass dragger.

By the time Godzilla appears for real after all the teasers and suspense that makes the original film such a classic, my kid, who has seen Fantasia from start-to-finish no less than 20 times and obsesses over the dinosaur segments, suddenly darted beneath my blanket and said he was scared.

Finally, a breaking point with this child. I'm actually quite impressed how brave my son is with creature features, but it appeared Godzilla was too much for him until I threatened to turn it off and save him some nightmares. What I learned next is that some children are so advanced in their intelligence they can blow you out of your armchair.

In answer to my statement, "Godzilla is pretend, just like the Scooby Doo monsters," my son stated the following: "I know, Dad. That little Japan(ese) girl is scared, but I'm not. Did Godzilla make that big storm in Japan?"

He was, of course, referring to the real-life tsunami that devastated Japan. Now, I know this is a mixed message my son gave me, which indicates he knows Godzilla is make believe, but in the back of his mind, I find it outstanding he's attempting to rationalize nature's wrath by pinpointing a fictional beast. It also shows he does listen to me when I accuse him otherwise, considering I'd told him lots of people in Japan weren't as lucky as he was to have food, blankets and toys whenever he was taking any of those things for granted.

Naturally, the boy asked for more Godzilla, but I think we're going to let him get used to the Wicked Witch and those damn flying monkeys first. He'll no doubt be ready for Rodan after that.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What's New...

If you've migrated your way to this page from one of my links and/or shameless plugs, I thank ya.

The point of this blog is in answer to a self-evaluation of where I'm at in my life and my ambitions. As I write this, I've made the decision to pare down something that has intrinscially fulfilled my life for almost a decade, i.e. music and film journalism. After building up my rep in the entertainment field on a slew of freebie articles and reviews, I happily hit a point where I could depend upon freelancing pay as a second income.

Times have changed, of course, due to the internet and the floundering American economy. With the folding of many print periodicals I used to write for, my supplementary money vanished with them. While I still manage to scrape the random local magazine and newspaper freelance assignment now and then, I accept the fact that I have little time time to dedicate myself to avenues which cannot help sustain myself as both an artist and a family man.

I do have a full-time job in an industry I've been affiliated with the better part of 18 years now and the cyclical ups and downs has seen me downsized too many times to build a proper career in this field. Even this year I was laid off and forced to retreat to a previous employer at a far lower salary than in my first tenure with them. Add the expense of an hour's one-way commute and increased family health insurance premiums to a critical decision to sell my house in the midst of a personal crisis.

Thus the time has come to take inventory of my writing pursuits. Namely, what is going to give me the long-term payout or at least a potential earnings growth. I say this from a spiritual standpoint as well as a financial prognosis.

Frankly, I'm insulted by the state of music journalism today, no offense to my many colleagues whom I've written side-by-side with, nor even those who keep the torch alive for the music they love by blogging fiercely about it. That's what I was doing at The Metal Minute, pouring my soul into reviews about heavy metal music and horror films, not to mention interviews and other shenanigans. I received not a dime for my tireless efforts, but I did build a very sizeable audience with that site, which won Metal Hammer magazine's Best Personal Blog of 2009. All rewarding, all fun, but ultimately, too encompassing for the responsibilities I have to my family, not to mention the sudden burst of creativity in various projects I've been working on.

First and foremost is my novel, "Saved by Zero." It's been a two-and-a-half year labor of love that's now going through a seventh draft. I do this rewrite with every ounce of passion as the first draft because I found a professional who took enough interest to sit with me and suggest how to fine tune the sucker for publication. It's game on and like my lead character, Randy "Old School" Schofield, I'm gonna win.

I've begun a subsequent novel, tenatively titled "Reunion." Last summer I shot a bunch of locations in three counties to give this project birth. I've also started a zombie film script in the interest of working with some filmmaking friends who had me play a dead walker in their indie horror flick, Bane. I grab the occasional local interest article in my area and I bang out a poem every couple weeks or so in anticipation of doing a second chapbook. My first chapbook, "Goodbye, Excellent," is due to be released this year by Boulder Street Press.

Where to fit music journalism when it's no longer paying? I never began my foray into the entertainment realm with the purpose of scoring big. Those big dog trades who still pay their journalists decent money seldom reply to queries. We all know as scene writers and tastemakers that the web is strangling the prints into asphyxiated obscurity and those who are "in" are holding their masthead spots like gang turf.

Last year, I'd embarked upon my own digital rock, punk and metal magazine venture, Retaliate. I was the creator, editor, writer and live photographer and I will always savor the guest list I was able to procure for my inaugural edition: Marky Ramone, Jacoby Shaddix of Papa Roach, Richard Patrick of Filter, Stevie Benton of Drowning Pool, Dave Lombardo of Slayer, Chris Adler of Lamb of God, Rat Skates, Black Label Society, Neurosis, Iwrestledabearonce, Accept, Poobah and horror directors Mick Garris and Adam Green. I was in the photo pit to grab live shots for many of those pieces and goddamn did I feel alive assembling that sucker together. Unfortunately, I had two different distribution partnerships dick me over at zero hour and the Retaliate project I envisioned went up on The Metal Minute as a thank you to my readers.

When people ask when the second issue of Retaliate is coming, I have to just smile stupidly. I have a family including a young boy whom I adopted and he's more than enough responsibility when you're a working man and a frequently wired artist who stays up late and gets up early to get writing done. Unfortunately, the music part of my life will have to be put away for the moment with the exception of any proffered assignments.

Thus you witness the creation of this blog. I can't say what tone The Crash Pad of Ray Van Horn, Jr. will assume, but it be far less rigid than my other blog. Sure, I'll still yak about music, movies and books, but I expect to talk more about the writing life and what it means to achieve my ultimate dream. Mostly, I expect this site to serve as a continuous blast of my doings to keep my readers informed of what's new on my horizons. I guarantee you there's lots.

I had a habit at The Metal Minute of thanking my readers for their continued support. I will do so likewise here and invite you to bookmark me and come back again.