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, November 28, 2011

Do Wop She-Bop...

The Flamingos, photo courtesy of Singers.com

I'm starting to cruise through the first four chapters of my new project. Currently I'm dialing up my entire stash of fifties' music for the most recent chapter I've been writing. I find I am still in love with The Flamingos' "I Only Have Eyes For You" as I ever was in my younger years when my stepfather used to play us all of his old 45s nearly each Friday night as I was growing up. Before girls entered my life, I used to find "Eyes" as wondrously ethereal as Santo and Johnny's "Sleepwalk." As I grew up, I wish I'd lost my virginity to this tune instead of Billy Idol's "Cradle of Love." Yeah, I said it. Heck, I'm positive a large percentage of 1959 and 1960 born babies were conceived with The Flamingos crooning overhead, do wop she-bop...

The Flamingos' dreamy hike of Dick Powell's original is to me, the sexiest song ever recorded. It made the cut on the American Graffiti soundtrack, as well as my own imaginary soundtrack I conceived and burned while writing "Saved by Zero." As it turned out, I selected Maxwell to hypothetically swoon atop a critical scene of that novel since it had more crediblity for the scene's context, but the romantic sap in me really wanted "Eyes" in there. Keeping it honest versus keeping it real, you know...

Friday, November 18, 2011

3o Films I Tend To Watch While Writing On a Major Project: Numbers 21 - 30

21. Unforgiven

Many consider Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch the art house western flick. True enough, but Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven is the genre's greatest work of art. Atypical of most of Clint's prototype shoot 'em up cowpoke parties (aside from High Plains Drifter and Pale Rider), Unforgiven takes a humanistic approach of not only Eastwood's grizzled William Munny, but also the entire cast, who elevate the film to a nearly-unprecedented sense of far-flung empathy. By the time Eastwood reacts brutally to Gene Hackman's barbaric mistreatment of Morgan Freeman, his snapcase sadism is believable and wholly startling. Far deeper by proxy in comparison to the gunsmoked revenge sagas of Hang 'em High and Fistful of Dollars.

22. River's Edge

You know you're in for Hell when the opening frame greets viewers with a full frontal nude female corpse. River's Edge is partially about an act of cruel insanity in which an oafish outcast murders his improbable hottie girlfriend. It's more about the swarm of his low rent peers (including Crispin Glover in his finest hour) and how they react to his overt and sick braggadocio of the killing. With Keanu Reeves, Ione Skye and Dennis Hopper, River's Edge could've been subtitled "The Real Suburbia." A bitchin' soundtrack laced with heaps of Slayer makes River's Edge even more of a daunting venture.

23. Woodstock

I wasn't there at the original '69 Woodstock, but I feel a strange sense of connection to the festival. My mom would have me less than a year later, but she'd often told me she'd planned to car pool up to Woodstock but relented at the last minute to spare my grandmother needless worry. The music, the spirit and the urgency are all felt along with the hopeless ply for a utopia that was slightly shattered by the lack of proper sanitation, rainy weather and occasional rowdiness. Still, three days of music featuring The Who, Santana, Joan Baez, Mountain, Ten Years After, Ritchie Havens, Crosby Stills and Nash, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and a ton of other crucial rockers and folkies of the sixties? Man, it had to have been something. I always look forward to the scene in this documentary of the nuns who made it to Woodstock, one of them flashing up the peace symbol at the camera. It reveals the comradely nature of all walks of life as it does one generation's strive for change in the midst of social upheaval. Woodstock the movie captures all ends of the festival, in front of the stage, behind it and of course, all over it. If ever a case for widescreen was to be made for home video, Woodstock is it, with its frequent three-panel barrage. Still a spectacle in these jaded times.

24. The Other

Here's a film my mother gave me one Christmas with the message, "You need this film for your writing." And how. You've seen the story of combative twins many times over, but The Other (not to be confused with Nicole Kidman's creepy ghost tale The Others) is the be all end all. Well-written, sharply directed and even though you suspect what this movie's about, it still delivers a fair shock at the end.

25. Rebel Without a Cause

"What are you rebelling against?" "Whattya got?" James Dean issues a halcyon slamdunk to rival them all. If ever a film "got it" about explosive teenage angst (outside of The Wild One, Blackboard Jungle, Boyz in the Hood and American History X), Rebel Without a Cause is the ultimate snipe at conventionalism and domineering authority figures. James Dean and Natalie Wood could've been an unwitting Bonnie and Clyde in the making. Instead, they come off as young romantic fools eager to show themselves to the world as much as they simply want to be left the hell alone. Powerful prose in film form.

26. Memoirs of a Geisha

Ziyi Zhang (normally a butt-kicking movie martial artist) is a knockout in this more restrained role as a timid girl, Sayuri (fka Chiyo), sold into slavery by her family and thus learning the geisha trade under adverse conditions. Sayuri's trials and rise to prominence as an in-demand geisha sets her up for a near-fall from grace. Her love for Ken Watanabe's character "The Chairman" creates further tension to the story and it's positively beautiful to finally see their union. The cinemaphotography is as lush and vivid as Zhang herself, while Michelle Yeoh, Ken Watanabe and Gong Li are stellar. Visually stunning and rather provocative in theme, Memoirs of a Geisha is a harsh and moving story.

27. Nosferatu

In my opinion, this is the greatest vampire film of them all. Max Schreck's silent jewel Nosferatu is the reason for the season when you're talking about vampire lore. Dank, murky and chilly even with no sound, Schreck's scowling features and creeped-out stalking are dervied from Bram Stoker's original Dracula novel, yet there's a fearsome overload to the vehicle. He comes off as the real deal, which invites a look at the fictitious story-behind-the-story Shadow of the Vampire, starring Willem Dafoe. That now-classic indie horror flick purports Schreck was a genuine vampire on the set of Nosferatu. Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee deserve all of their long-established accolades, but Max Schreck could send the combined Twilight and True Blood casts into obscurity as sheer posers.

28. Let Me In

While we're on the topic of vampires, Let Me In gets the distinction as one of the best horror remakes of all-time. Based on the 2008 Swedish film Let the Right One In, this unnerving yarn about a persecuted tween befriending a female vampire preserved within his age bracket is so well done you can't take your eyes away from it. It's enough the film (gloriously executed by the rebounding Hammer Studios) captures its eighties-based setting with respectable accuracy, but the unholy union between boy and girlish vampire is played both innocuously and with terse squeamishness. Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Grace Moretz exhibit impressive chemistry for their ages. A newer selection for my mandatory movies while writing a project, Let Me In is a tender and visceral horror film well-deserving of any honors it receives.

29. 2001: A Space Odyssey

Filled with celestial eye candy and stunning sets, 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the most engaging spectacles in film, much as it is a searing social commentary. The moral of machines taking over our lives was issued long before this current Renaissance of technology. Doubtful anyone's learned their lesson since Stanley Kubrick taunted audiences with his evil spaceship computer Hal, but never let it be said the warnings weren't there.

30. Black Swan

Another one of my more recent additions, Black Swan, along with Let Me In, might be two of the most important transitional films for dark American cinema. Even without the shades of horror in Black Swan, the film is grandiose. Natalie Portman gives the performance of her career and while some reports indicate this is her swan song, let's hope she returns at a later date. Never has a film about ballet focused so deeply upon the obsession of the craft, to the point Portman's "Swan Queen" is suffering delusional maneuevers even as she herself is succumbing to the pressure to deliver nothing short of the perfect performance. If you know the entire saga of Swan Lake, you know what "perfection" constitutes. Graceful and horrific, Black Swan is an instant modern masterpiece.

30 Films I Tend To Watch While Writing On a Major Project: Numbers 11 - 20

11. Amadeus

Wish I hadn't been such a smartass 14-year-old punk when Amadeus came out in '84. I was too metal to care, later coming to the stark realization Mozart was actually the headbanger of his day. It was then when I sought this bio film out and I was blown away by its majesty and I became a serious Mozart fan. No wonder it won Best Picture and seven other Academys...

12. Sunset Boulevard

William Holden and Gloria Swanson give performances for the ages in an early-on study of Hollywood's meat-grinding cruelty, much less the fallacy of fading starlet Norma Desmond. As brilliant a script as they come, the strange tryst between Holden and Swanson is bizarre and compelling, as is the film's commentary about misguided conceit leading to unhinged insanity. Makes you rethink any ambitions of becoming an actor.

13. Eyes Wide Shut

I remember taking my wife to see Eyes Wide Shut in 1999, which sold out in its first weekend then tanked at the box office thereafter. It was the first and only time where the entire audience got out of their seats at the film's closure and left the theater in total silence--including us. I recall my wife and I feeling absolutely filthy having gone to see Stanley Kubrick's over-the-top farewell, much less Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman's sex lives splayed out for our edification. I admit, I cannot veer away from Kidman every time I watch it, since I've studied this film deeper in many private viewings. The erotic elements push the envelope as a very hard R, but Kubrick's final work ends up a benchmark of avant guarde cinema. His explicit examination of a fractured marriage sends Tom Cruise to the brink of near calamity after networking himself into a dangerous orgy cult. Unnerving, raw, titillating and almost tragic, Eyes Wide Shut has become more than a guilty pleasure for me.

14. The Shining

Stephen King rejected Stanley Kubrick's take on his revered novel (my personal favorite book of all-time) and there were critics and horror trades of the early eighties who all slagged The Shining as a dragfest. King and esteemed Master of Horror Mick Garris redeemed King's original vision in the multi-part telefilm redux, but let's face the facts: Kubrick may have rushed Jack Torrance's degeneration, but his flair for aesthetics, jagged fear tactics and a brilliant supporting cast makes the 1980 version of The Shining an inarguable masterpiece. Time has been kind to Kubrick's film as it now constantly appears on Best Of lists faithfully each year.

15. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

I was there in 1977 as a kid to witness the greatest spectacle I've ever laid my eyes upon. I still feel that way about the original Star Wars. Though The Empire Strikes Back is superior and easily the best film of the entire Star Wars saga, there's nothing out there (save for Empire and Return of the Jedi) to match the sense of wonderment I felt as a child in '77. I always study this film from every angle and I've seen it no less than 50 times. It still holds the same allure for me as it did then and the snappy dialogue between Han, Luke and Princess Leia remains some of the greatest one-liners in film history.

16. Fast Times at Ridgemont High

I was only 12 when Fast Times originally came out, but I certainly related to it on nearly every single level. Funny, considering I was an east coaster in awe of these sunbaked Cali teens who appeared to live in a swinging, breathless and exciting end of American suburbia far unlike where I lived. I did, however, have a mall simliar to theirs in which I spent countless hours, money and efforts trying to scope babes. When my mall was demolished, I figured Cameron Crowe might've felt a similar sense of loss when the Fast Times mall was razed. To me, this is the greatest, most honest comedy of them all and I'm proud it came straight out of Generation X. I love the soundtrack as well, even though you have to wonder why The Cars' "Moving In Stereo" (forever immortalized by Judge Reinhold and Phoebe Cates) didn't get on there, licensing issues be damned.

17. Citizen Kane

I asked for Citizen Kane on VHS many years ago based on the film's reputation and because I was trying to legitimize my home movie collection with more reknowned classics instead of senseless bloodbath flicks and sex comedies. A time and place for each I say, but Citizen Kane blew me to smithereens for its powerful storytelling and Orson Welles' magnetic portrayal of film history's most recognized iconoclast. Finally, I got all of the Redbud jokes I'd heard from the adults of my time, sheesh...

18. Stand By Me

Based on Stephen King's short story "The Body," I have to say Stand By Me might be in the top five adaptations of his works. I may not have lived the fifties and sixties, but everything my parents testified to appears in Stand By Me and the script is beyond superb, as is the fifties-based music selection. Four kids slip away from home for a looksee at a dead teenaged corpse and immediately come-of-age along the train tracks of the Maine countryside. Considering I walked the train tracks on a religious basis in my teens, I applauded Rob Reiner for Stand By Me. Luckily, I didn't have a Chopper out there waiting to sic my balls...

19. Shakespeare in Love

One of my life's missions is to read the entire works of Shakespeare, which I do have, all unabridged. This fictitious account of Master William's romancing of an actress forced to disguise herself as a male in sexist times is bawdy, yet it's entirely precious. Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow are pure electricity together and I never fail to cheer them once they consummate their love. Cheers as well to Dame Judi Dench for her rowdy depiction of the elder Queen Elizabeth. Of course, as a writer, I empathize with the film's strenuous depiction of Shakespeare's frustrations as a playwright. Fortunately, I don't have to work with a quill, ink jar and parchment, but finding an interested benefactor for my writing wares is the same eternal struggle reaching back to Shakespeare's time. If the real Shakespeare had a muse as divine, shapely and talented as Paltrow, no wonder he was so prolific.

20. Sleepers

As a Baltimore writer, I'm in awe of Barry Levinson. I could easily place Avalon and Diner in this list amongst films to study while working on a project for their attentive pictorials of pockets inside old-time Baltimore. Sleepers is Levinson's touch and go film version of the novel by Lorenzo Carcaterra. Four young boys are sentenced to a boys' reformatory after nearly killing a hot dog vendor in a terrible prank gone wrong. Their friendships are altered forever in the midst of sadistic sodomite guards--including Kevin Bacon--and Sleepers thus becomes an alarming profile study of those kids turned adults who'd suffered under such horrific conditions. Boasting a tremendous A-list cast with Bacon along with Brad Pitt, Dustin Hoffman, Robert DeNiro, Jason Patric, Minnie Driver and Billy Cruddup, this film energizes and terrorizes.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

30 Films I Tend To Watch While Writing On a Major Project: Numbers 1 - 10

Films are a major part of my life. I've spent a fair chunk of my journalism years reviewing movies and interviewing actors and directors. There was a time in my younger life when I barricaded myself in the house during summer vacation absorbing films until one of my friends came for me. Usually I'd park him or her in the living room with me in front of a film, I was that absorbed. Later in my teens, I was outside more than in, but I always stayed up late watching movies, studying them, refining the craft of storytelling in my mind.

Nowadays I'm writing and attending to my personal obligations far more than I'm watching the tube. For a long while, I was on the road and out at clubs covering shows more than I was reviewing films. Still, I've never lost my passion for movies and having had a taste of working on independent film sites, I'm more stoked about the art of the celluloid than ever. There are so many movies that have imprinted themselves on my thought process and my writing style and I revisit them frequently while working on a story. Some movies are just so powerful in their narratives I draw strength and inspiration. Some are just popcorn thrill rides that still teach the art of brevity in their storytelling you have to admire their will to serve as quasi-literature as well as blockbluster entertainment.

Over the next three posts, I'd like to share 30 films which I will likely hang out with as I begin my next big project and certainly all of those beyond. There's no rank or reasoning to these selections. They just are and I love them for feeding my need to create...

1. American Beauty

Geoffrey Eugenides penned an incredible first-person narration of a sexually-frustrated middle ager who struggles to find his self-worth. A sudden burst of juvenile erraticism sends his wife into bed with another man, his daughter into the arms of the school weirdo and nearly his manhood between the legs of a popular, snotty teenager. I don't condone hunting San Quentin quail whatsoever, but the characterization of American Beauty is magnificent and spot-on from all perspectives. The punchline of the film is a whopper. This film had a tremendous impact on how I approached the first person recount in my novel, "Saved by Zero." Every time I watch American Beauty, I look like I have the "art pose" in a gallery, thumb and forefinger pinching my chin, eyes squinting attentively, soaking it all up in its glory.

2. The Virgin Suicides

Once again I draw upon Geoffrey Eugenides and his debut story, The Virgin Suicides. Sofia Coppola was the logical choice to direct this intense tale about a fivesome of blossoming young ladies trapped under the confines of their authoritative zealot parents. Moreover, it's told from the perspective of a neighborhood boy who held a crush on the teen girls. The dual interchange of vantages between the boys and the girls held under close watch would be confusing under less-skilled hands, but this very dark lore about suburban hell just compels me. The score by Air is otherworldly and the seventies' pop rock selections are so well-timed they breathe life into a story obsessed with death. The scene where the boys and girls play records over the phone to each other in order to communicate is heart-wrenching stuff. The more the Lisbon girls are suppressed from growing as the flowers they are, the quicker they wilt. Save for the immortal kiss in Spiderman, Kirsten Dunst has never exhibited such devastating fragility as a would-be badass than she does in this film. The Virgin Suicides socks me in the gut every single time.

3. Almost Famous

Aside from "Ray Ray," my wife's nickname for me is "Almost Famous." I've interviewed more than 300 musicians, directors, actors, artists and authors and my ascension to the upper tier of guests has shown my wife a ceaseless obsession to make it to the top. Like Geoffrey Eugendies, Cameron Crowe is one of my personal writing idols and I related to a good bit of Almost Famous, even if Crowe delved deeper into the abyss of rock 'n roll purgatory than I. Today's artists hardly flaunt their excesses as they did in Crowe's time and especially the eighties. My unyielding barrage of interviews in the interest of gaining Rolling Stone, Spin and Village Voice's attention has always made my wife smile. "Ray, you're so Almost Famous," she's said often, and it's this story which allowed me to go for the gusto with my novel, "Saved by Zero." Thanks heaps, Cameron. I owe you.

4. A Clockwork Orange

One of the most revered stories about a nihilistic subculture that ever was. To read Anthony Burgess' novel is hardly the same experience as Stanley Kubrick's masterful ode to teen degeneracy in the midst of a near-apocalyptic England. I don't need to rehash what the novel or this film is about since everyone knows. What I draw from the story and Kubrick's incredible visualization is something people hardly discuss. Alex (the illustrious Malcolm McDowell, one of my favorite actors of all-time) must atone for his sins in what becomes a gruelling spin through the karma wheel. All of Alex's sins revisit him after his "rehabilitation" and you suddenly feel remorse for the little bastard. I refer to this intangible malady of life as the "Clockwork Orange syndrome" and you'd better believe it affected me greatly in "Saved by Zero," once my lead character must pay the check, as you will, for his own self-serving choices.

5. Lust, Caution

A prime example of erotica as engaging art and espionage. Ang Lee's daring sex scenes in this film are explicit and they command a central focus of this Chinese film about a young collegiate woman seducing a high ranking mock government official in the midst of Japanese occupation in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Her task is intended to lead "Mr. Yee" into a comfort zone where he will be assassinated. The catch is she becomes more than attached to him. I don't want to spoil the ending if you haven't seen this film, but Lust, Caution is a must-see for its provacative nature and its intelligent story that you actually believe is possible.

6. Raiders of the Lost Ark

In the league of Captains Courageous and Errol Flynn's The Adventures of Robin Hood, Raiders of the Lost Ark is the perfect action movie. Breathless, relentless pacing, over-the-edge stunts, lush locales, random humor, a hero with both a nerd and stud persona, a triumphant score by John Williams and just enough good vs. evil dogma to keep its intent legit. They really don't make action flicks like this anymore.

7. Dawn of the Dead

Zombie mania is running wild these days and AMC's The Walking Dead series is the best of the best right now. Still, the mark to beat in zombie lore will always be George Romero's vintage Dawn of the Dead. Never has Hell on Earth been so savage and so natural. This is a cast you care about as they hole themselves up in a mall while the world gnaws itself to death. There's always been an appeal to having an entire mall to yourself with everything available for free. That is, until a biker gang invades your self-created nirvana and zombies tear everyone to pieces. That's the core of the original Dawn, but it's much more than that. As society crumbles beneath the gut-tearing whims of the undead, it's Romero's shrewd eye for human nature which resonates the most in his film. The remake was gallant and a rare diamond in the rough, yet, Romero's will never be topped.

8. Crash

I'm not sure there's a film I admire more for its outstanding characterization and intertwined sub-stories than Crash. Can you honestly pick a movie that evolves from one central action and shows all the different people affected by one singular event and ultimately spins full-circle by film's end? If you want to be a writer, watch this at least ten times.

9. High Fidelity

Those who know me know I champion the indie record store. There is no greater safe haven for me on a personal level than a music shop. Sometimes I venture in willing to talk to the employees and maybe another shopper or two. Often I just want to be left in silence because scouring for music is a deeply personal thing. On the other hand, I really savor tripping across people who know music intimately and those who would die for music. That's what you have in High Fidelity. I have two friends whose personalities plus mine mike up the core trio in this film. Personality-wise, I'm Cusack, while my two buddies exhibit Jack Black's opinionated voraciousness and Todd Louiso's encyclopedic elitism to a tee. I adore this film's openness, dead-on capturability and especially's Cusasck's hilarious recount of his bizarre relationships. I wanted to open my own record store once and yup, I've had my share of strange women too...

10. The Breakfast Club

Admittedly I was too cool, too metal in 1985 to give The Breakfast Club any time of day. Even when it landed on VHS and I had a number of schoolmates offering to let me watch it, I refused. Eventually I did in the company of a former girlfriend and she took it as a personal triumph I was so won over by the film. Truly, this film and Fast Times at Ridgemont High are the quintessential time capsules of my generation. I became jealous of Shermer High's atmospheric library. The point is, I finally gave Molly Ringwald a chance (though I secretly thought she ruled in Sixeen Candles) and there came a time after the break-up with said girlfriend where I wanted to woo Ringwald's proverbial character, Claire Standish like Judd Nelson did. His fractured rebel persona was ripe for the picking by the right girl--as was mine. Yeah, there's a lot of blubbering in The Breakfast Club, but John Hughes struck gold by putting diverse personalities into a forced alliance via detention and the end results are more on the money than you might expect.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Indigenous - "Voodoo Chile" Cover 9/29/99

I almost never geek out over covers, but this stepped-up cover of Jimi's immortal "Voodoo Chile" by native rockers Indigenous is faboo. Nailed with authority, for your edification...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I'll Take "When Def Leppard Was Boss" For $300.00, Alex...

Consider this a short little tune-up for my next full-length project as I await the fate of "Saved by Zero" and put my other novel to the side for just a spell. It was suggested to me by an industry friend that I might want to compile some of my journalistic experiences. While I initially felt trepidation by this proposal since there's a hundred other music scribes out there with their own stories, I feel like it's a cool opportunity to explore.

I've already outlined this project and handwrote almost 20 pages of the project on lunch breaks. So as I get my life tidied up and the final crumbs swept off of "Saved by Zero," I'm mulling over many side topics for this other endeavor. I have a working title, but I'll share that once this manuscript starts shaping up. This is a good one.

I remember when I came to Def Leppard's Pyromania at age 13. It was 1983, the year of its release, and I was starting to come out of a personal tween funk at a middle school I had to fight in nearly every day. Once moving to a new county and new school system, all of that chippy brawling started to ease itself and I inadvertently became leader of our neighborhood posse of kids. Pyromania had such a pop metal swagger to it there was no denying it gave me some strut at a critical turning point in my life.

I'm going to save the details of my life from ages 12 to 13 for this manuscript, since there's a lot to discuss and there was a ton of music of the day that affected me. Yet once I had a hold of Pyromania and eventually Def Leppard's banging sophomore album High 'n Dry, you can imagine the desolate shock I felt when 1987 came. Def Leppard was finally releasing their long-overdue follow-up to Pyromania, the profiteering juggernaut, Hysteria.

I was working in a grocery store at the time and we had a short-lived record shop in the same strip center. I remember talking with the main cashier (wish I could remember her name, the sweetie) since me and my longtime comrade, Metal Mark, used to dump all of our disposable income there. She'd heard Hysteria already and was giving me a thumbs-up, boasting I was going to be blown away. To me, as long as it had a sliver of "Stagefright" or "Switch 625," I'd be happy. Granted, Headbangers' Ball was already playing the piss out of the "Women" video from Hysteria before the album dropped. Awesome clip and we were forgiving of the slower tempo because of Rick Allen's arm amputation. At least for me, I cut the Leps a break in the beginning.

Unfortunately, Hysteria put me into a case of hysterics as it did for many of the hardcore Def Lep fans who'd still take the ambivalent debut On Through the Night over this album. Mutt Lange, the Midas of Power Pop, had assembled High 'n Dry and Pyromania into hard-driving engines of catchy Brit metal that to me, rank amongst the decade's best rock and metal albums. Obviously Mutt knew damn well what he was doing with Hysteria, since it remains Def Leppard's highest grossing album and their best remembered.

My generation and the fringe of the next one grew up on "Pour Some Sugar On Me," "Armageddon It," "Love Bites," "Women," "Animal" and "Rocket," an unprecedented six major hits from the same album. By contrast, "Photograph" and "Rock of Ages" from Pyromania put Def Leppard on the map and are really the only two songs you get on AOR FM stations, albeit some go a little deeper into "Rock Rock (Till You Drop)" and "Foolin'" which are staples to any fan banging some head in '83. If your station really is worth a salt, you'll get "Bringin' On the Heartbreak," which was treated as a closet classic even in the mid-eighties, though the rest of High 'n Dry torches that cut.

I actually smashed the cassette case of Hysteria after I'd literally dashed home in the dark on the train tracks back to my development. I called another buddy and told him I had it since we'd spent many nights putzing through ages 13 and 14 with Pyromania and later Motley Crue's Shout at the Devil. He asked me to call back after I finished listening with a report. Only the seventh track, "Gods of War" stoked me enough. When I called my friend back, I said "I feel fucking betrayed. Billy's got a gun and I want it so I can blast this bubblegum shit to hell."

I recently had a friendly skirmish with a co-worker who looked at me like I was the antichrist for commenting "Man, I hate that album," when she was jamming to "Pour Some Sugar On Me." "That ain't Def Leppard," I sneered, like rock critics often can and do. "Lady Strange," "Let it Go," "Too Late For Love, "High 'n Dry (Saturday Night)," now that's Def Leppard, and I won't ever get 'em back, like I won't have Bon Scott AC/DC back nor Master of Puppets Metallica.

I'd tweaked my co-worker so much she'd taken the liberty of polling everyone she knew as to whether or not Hysteria was a badass album. I'd really thrown her over the edge by calling it a "chick rock album," which any male of my age who'd been there with Pyromania and High 'n Dry would agree. We weren't trying to be sexist pigs; we just knew what resonated with girls of our day, and Death's Scream Bloody Gore and Slayer's Reign in Blood weren't it. According to my co-worker, they all thought I was an idiot. No worries, it was the same goddamn fight I had back in 1987. Nothing changes.

Yeah, I said it. Hysteria still pisses me off. Hey, Billy, load the chambers...

Friday, November 11, 2011

Still Writing By Freehand...At Least Part of the Time

"Drawing Hands," MC Escher, 1948

There once was a triusm that went along the lines of "The pen is mightier than the sword." Of course, that colloquialism is hundreds of years old, back when a quill and a bottle of ink were part and parcel of the writer's trade.

In modern times, however, digital media and word processing has all but replaced the actual pen. Used to be you needed a pen or pencil at the very least for live signatures or to signify review checks and notations. Nowadays, you can scan in your signature for future drops inside a digital document and it's expected to be your legal sign-off. Kinda scary, if you ask me, since that leaves people well open to cyber scum.

As a writer living in a tech-oriented society, I'm not going to pooh-pooh all over my word processor or even my blogging templates, since they serve a purpose in getting my thoughts, ideas, opinions and fiction out there quicker than it would for me to hand write the same, run off a thousand copies and either mail them out or self-street team my own work.

At the same time, there is something therapeutic in the old school manner of taking pen to looseleaf and having a go with everything coming out of my mind. Sure, doing the same by typing into a Word document is far more productive and it keeps up with my ever-shifting thought process to the point I can simply delete and start over or just get it all out there and then tweak until I'm content.

You can't necessarily do that writing by hand. In fact, I'm sure most of you writers can open up old files of long-ago (or even recent) handwritten stories, poems and articles and marvel at all the scratch marks and sloppy, slanted lettering which you and only you can possibly decipher.

That being said, I still relish the opportunity to spread open some actual paper and roll out the words. I know, I'm not doing my bit to go green, but I do recycle religiously and keep eco friendly when I'm out and about. Yeah, iPads are as portable as spiral notebooks and nowadays you look primitive if you're using the latter to write with, but you know what? Send it back to the primitive, eh? The tightening up of wrists and pen calluses are badges of honor if you prefer to jot pages of prose before you set it to type.

I spent my lunch break today happily in creation mode for the next book project after "Saved by Zero" is officially in the can, and while I slurped on Asian noodles, I let the pen run wild on a small stack of printer paper, filling them up on both sides. I surrendered to the beseeching flow from my quick-scribbling hand and Lord, did it feel good. On my break, I'd written nine pages by hand and though nobody else in my office can relate to how edifying that feels, I quietly fist-pumped to myself. After all, a good writer can be comfortable with both a pen and a keyboard.

A good writer can let it loose on a park bench, under a tree, or at an empty conference room desk with pen and paper before transcribing it all onto the computer. It's always good to get those initial feelings out however they may be captured, but it's even better when you've worked just a hair extra to hammer out the words that will later be refined into something magical. Sweat, neck crinks and wrist ticks remind you you're alive.

Even better to be a live writer.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Compelled to Write Even When You're Sick

Image from public domain, but of course, courtesy of the immortal Charles Schultz

If you're a serious writer, nothing will yield you from the craft, be it a respiratory infection, stomach virus or God forbid, something more debilitating. The need to create, write and edit provokes powerful endorphins which plug you into your work and keeps you on task, though sensibility (and a nagging spouse) says get into bed and heal thyself.

Even while dripping sweat and bundling up at my desk while slogging through this respiratory infection I'm trying to shake off, I've laboriously kept to task with continued edits of "Saved by Zero." Only last night did I get a full night's rest when the others were filled with coughing spells keeping me up most of the time. It didn't help I'd had car issues last night which put me out in the cold again, good times. Thankfully, I have an understanding wife who had a damned hearty chicken soup and ginger ale for me at the ready. Only a truly bad day can siphon my desire to write, thus I fell asleep minutes after dinner, even though I woke up at 5:30 a.m. and immediately ran to my manuscript, as if I'd neglected it for months instead of only nine hours.

When I wasn't tossing and turning or grumbling about football scores, the coughing forced me out of bed and back at my desk. I'm used to strange hours in the company of a Word document, but even I have needed to get some stinking sleep at this point. One of my lead characters in this novel actually suffers from acute coughing spells, so she and I have been kindred spirits for more than a week. Donna, as your creator I've made your life hell, but I love ya, honey...

The Z-pack isn't much help, but I forget all about the heavy chest and random phlegm wads coming up once I have a hot cup of PG Tips and the manuscript up before my eyes. Editing is more strenuous than actual writing, particularly when you're trying to impress an interested party, so there's more dedication required when you're sick and trying to stay focused. Writers know how to soldier on when the muse is nurturing and the stakes are high.

You have to suffer the curse of the obsessed if you want to write, and while the underlying theme of "Saved by Zero" is uber-obsession leading to disastrous events, I'm pretty damned obsessed with my writing, guilty as charged.

It's enough when you have a day job to slug through when you're brain dead and leaving things behind including your door badge, much less half your lunch and the headlights on in your car. The dead battery only unraveled further problems, F-you very much. Maybe Donna's exacted her revenge upon me from the other side of the word processor. I was more alert on the manuscript that morning before work than upon the common elements of my day. Now that's obsession.

Cough, cough, hack, hack, let there be prose...

Friday, November 4, 2011

In Editing Mode to the Tune of the '82 Conan the Barbarian Score...

Basil Poledouris crafted one of the most exquisite film scores of all-time with his triumphant soundtrack for 1982's Conan the Barbarian. Currently blaring and thumping at my back as I cleave needless words and paragraphs from this manuscript without mercy. I am on the seventh (and hopefully final) draft of my novel "Saved by Zero" and I'm proud to say I've trimmed more than 70 pages this round as I near the finish line. Stephen King uses the phrase "kill your darlings" in order to streamline your novel to its best potential. Poledouris' gallant, violent and sometimes beautiful score is the perfect rhythm for such a gory task.

Be back with more stuff at The Crash Pad once I wrap on these edits...