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, February 27, 2012

Oh, So You're a WRITER...

No doubt Shakespeare had those moments where his voice seemed like the only one in the world he could hear. The Elizabethan age in which Shakespeare penned some of mankind's greatest literature no doubt had its share of disinterested folk who quite possibly viewed him as a loafabout, a daydreamer, a man of isolated talent that was only shared in theatrical productions of his works. More than likely, William Shakespeare was viewed by the feudal working class as an unproductive escapist.

Time and tide has proven Shakespeare immortal, but you can imagine a commoner's conversation with the man ringing with frustration. "Oh, so this bloke's a writer, eh?" he quite likely heard ring out in a courtyard or what constituted as a pub in his time. Assuredly such a retort carried a hint of blase pacification, implying in a subtle manner he was a wanderlust dropout. There might even be the implication he was a sissy, given the trade of the opposite conversant. Knights, swordsmen, archers, acrobats and those who were capable of wowing crowds with feats of strength were more valued at-large than writers. It must be an absolute, because it's the same of future ages. Of course, Shakespeare had his share of supporters, an artisan community with which to commune and compete with and a noble upper class which commissioned his plays for both private and public consumption. In the end, a writer of any era must have the appreciative audience along with the naysayers. 'Tis the yin and the yan which seasons the craft.

In the 2000s, it's not much different. We celebrate actors, athletes, CEOs and modern day aristocrats as the upper crust elite worthy of the beacon light cast upon their every move. Last night's Oscars is proof positive, but forget televising a book awards program. After all, writing is hardly a glamorous profession; it's an introverted form of artistic expression instead of extroverted and the latter will always summon the camera's lens. In the same breath, only a handful of superstar writers in this technologically-blossomed age are placed upon a pedestal, while hundreds of thousands of reader-hungry scribes scratch and claw for attention. Writers today would settle for just a tenth of Stephen King's readership, or Patricia Cornwell's, J.K. Rowling's or John Grisham's. Given the fierce competition nowadays, that's doing rather well for yourself. There are few--if any--restaraunts or bars where writers can wait upon potential agents and clientele who will allow them the opportunity to shove a manuscript into their mits, not like the classic case of L.A. and Hollywood starlets who fortuitously served coffee and pie to the right studio exec. Pitching your writing to a literary agent today is as difficult as a major league hurler tossing a no-hitter.

The thing with modern literature is the fact our world has tripled in population since Ray Bradbury wrote his dystopic masterwork of the early fifties, Fahrenheit 451. Quadrupled since Robert Graves' I, Claudius was published in 1934 and Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure in the late 1800s. It's not so hard to fathom those gifted authors struggling at first to refine their craft, much less hunt down an interested party to back their visions in print. Even Woody Guthie and Pete Seeger had moments where nobody cared what they had to say as often as they were celebrated voices of their time. Of course, they lived in an age of communist condemnation, and their association with that party both won and lost them favor, even amongst the literati of their time.

In today's world, we live in a quick-consuming social stratum. This is a 24-7 world acclimated to instant gratification. With that comes increased want and desire, which means brevity sells. We want results yesterday. We want our sports teams to always win, or they're automatic losers. If we're forced to wait more than three minutes for food to arrive, we complain and/or walk out of the establishment and spread the anti-gospel of bad service.

Likewise, we're more interested in one to two paragraphs in a film or music review. Skip the pomp and circumstance, can the excessive detailing and superlative spinning. We want fast caption headlines to pique our interest, but tell us the story with compelling photography and a yeoman narration so we can move on to the next thing in our hurried-up lives. Nowadays, we're paring down and purging hard copy books, albums and videos, placing our faith inside of massive gig hard drives to store oodles of media. Handheld tablets are quickly becoming the new norm of reading consumption. Bradbury might say he told us so. This is good for an internet-based league of authors who don't necessarily have to wait inside a slush pile on a hopeful literary agent's desk, but inhernently, it's a dumbing down of the publication process. Of course, there are so many talented writers out there who could use a lending hand which tech provides. It's a brave new world, but its soldiers have become so fortified it's hard to pinpoint who will rise to future glory once the commercial giants have had their day and fade into a next-world simulacrum of perpetual lexicon. In other words, the challenges presented against writers today are twofold due to the complexities of our current social order, but it can be conquered with discipline, fearlessness and the gift of time with which to operate.

Tell me, though, fellow scribblers, doesn't it feel like pacification if someone asks what you do for a living and you tell them you're a writer? It puts a fair amount of people off as if saying you're a lawyer, which we most certainly have enough of in this world. They too are the recipients of butt-end jokes behind their backs, and sometimes, that's what being a writer constitutes, having the fortitude to know your chosen life's path isn't for everybody, but it sure is crowded in fellowship nowadays. Like the law profession, excelling at writing takes many years of dedication. Some have the fast track to success (most notably celebrities) while most authors give up the chase in futility.

If you really want this, if you truly consider yourself an author, a journalist, a poet or a screenplay smithy, then accept the fact you are scrutinized by society even more than you are by your peers, editors and of course, your audience. Shakespeare wrote volumes of reverential drama and his society was far less advanced than ours. I'm rather certain they were far less accepting of his chosen profession, as well. It takes sheer guts to do this job. Oh, so you're a writer... Well, damn skippy you are.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Excalibur: A Daring Gem Of Its Time

In the modern era of filmmaking, only The Lord of the Rings trilogy as a "sword and sorcery" epic has been able to compete (and grossly outclass, we can say) with the lush opulence and the gory chaos that clangs and swoons through 1981's Excalibur. Ridley Scott's 1999 masterpiece Gladiator (the film that launched the wildfire career of Russell Crowe) swings worthy of this cleaved-up genre of storytelling, but then, Gladiator is set in the Roman empire and sorcery plays very little in its sinewy ode to vengeance.

In the midst of its beknighted majesty, an onslaught of armor-plated, blood-soaked films trailed after Excalibur: the 1982 Conan the Barbarian and its silly, guilty pleasure sequel, Conan the Destroyer, Red Sonja, Beastmaster, Fire and Ice, Deathstalker, Krull, Clash of the Titans, The Barbarians, Kull the Conqueror, Sword of the Valiant, Dragonslayer, Merlin, A Knight's Tale and so forth. Most of these films border from mediocre to dreadful. Monty Python and the Holy Grail, however, is a riotous devil with its own legend and tireless, "Nee!" shrieking fan base.

Kenneth Branagh turned Shakespeare's Henry V into a masterwork in its own right, while Mel Gibson (love him or hate him) did marvelous work with Hamlet, not to mention his immortal Celtic epic, Braveheart. Tip of the hat to Liam Neeson's Rob Roy, while we're in a highland frame of mind. Then Laurence Fishburne achieved the impossible with a modern hike of Othello. Today, the the CGI-aided 300 and Troy have become the closest rivals to Excalibur, while the Spartacus cable series is besting that film's then-groundbreaking sex and splatter. As for the 2010 Conan the Barbarian reboot, not a bad job, honestly, though I'm still well on the fence about the pointless Clash of the Titans remake. I'll take Harryhausen's claymation Kracken over a computerized beastie-blob any day.

Excalibur is more in tune with folklore and the purported history of English liege, King Arthur. Based upon Sir Thomas Mallory's over-imaginative writings, Le Morte d'Arthur, Excalibur is to be considered high fantasy (an associated tag of this particular genus of film and fiction), especially if you're to accept a mythical sword bequeathed from a shimmering aquatic angel. Much less the fact the sword stays locked inside a boulder, laying in wait of the one true king to retrieve it and thence rule the land. In this case, it happens to be a teenaged squire who accidentally yanks it out and turns the tide of history.

Nevertheless, this outrageous premise is built upon an even more outrageous premise in which our noble future sovereign was born out rape aided and abetted by sorcerous transfiguation. Never mind Arthur himself will be deceived by his own "sister" (really, a half-sister if you put it all together) into conceiving an archangel daddy slayer, Mordred.

Okay, so we've established Excalibur as a giddy romp of nonsense, yet there's something about John Boorman's vision that beholds grandeur and spectacle you cannot veer from. Instead of turning Camelot into a big sing-a-long (as Monty Python and the Holy Grail would roast of Richard Burton's orchestral realm, 'tis a silly place), Boorman consults both the woe and the valor of the Dark Ages. Excalibur is a wondrous world bred of greed, dishonor and complete fatism. Its principals are both beautiful and ugly and in the end, only God and nature prevail, despite a mortal king's best efforts. In peace, Arthur shines. In war, he glowers. His kingdom reflects both cases. In telling the tale, Boorman's locations are inspirational, the action is savage and no film since has sang the song of steel with such graceful clings, clunks and silver-kissed wails like Excalibur does.

I remember the first time I saw Excalibur on VHS in the mid-eighties. For us teen boys, Excalibur had a reputation. We'd banded together in our neighborhood and marveled at Arnold Schwarzenegger carving half up the cast and pumping his seed into a small handful of women throughout the first Conan film. Excalibur, we were told, matched Conan's overflowing buckets of blood and sex scenes.

Well, yes and no. Conan the Barbarian was gratuitous in both measures, taking cue from Robert E. Howard's (and all of his succeeding scribes) pulp novels. That film was supposed to be full of the crimson, the fantastical and hetero-aggressive sexuality. It's nearly a shocking thing Conan actually feels for Valeria in the first film, that he actually has a romance instead of a fleeting night in the hay like he does with almost half of the women he comes into contact with through the novels. His mourning of Valeria is a wow moment of the Hyborean universe.

Excalibur treats sex in both a discomfiting and compelling fashion. Arthur and Morgana in the first case, Guenevere and Launcelot in the other. One side is deceptive rape (the aforementioned Arthur-Morgana tryst, plus that of King Uther Pendragon and Igrayne, the wife of his nemesis, the Duke of Cornwall), while the other is sensuous and ultimately devastating. All of Excalibur's sex lore is proposed prophecy, all leading to tragic events, even if Arthur's blood father, Uther, might be heralded with just the smallest shade of pride for siring a legend. Pride, of course, becomes Uther's undoing and for that matter, his son's.

As teenage boys, it's the sex we were all after once Excalibur landed into one of our VCRs. We were happy campers in that department, but we were likewise transfixed by the swinging cutlery, Orff's sweeping gusts of "Carmina Burana" and we were mesmerized by the gusty Medieval world John Boorman presented before us. It was one of the highest forms of visual art a young male could appreciate, even if the basest parts of our DNA fueled our approval. We never once thought it was dumb The Lady of the Lake stuck her hand out of the water to retrieve or hand over the mystical sword of Excalibur.

I've said it a thousand times that I'm privileged to have grown up in the eighties. I'm not saying every film we had was a gem. We offer Krull as a caveat to all future generations. As spectacular as Excalibur is, there was Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments before it. Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz before them. Even Star Wars preceded Excalibur, but in the latter's case, we related to it more because it represented a fictional part of mankind's history. It still felt like we belonged to that world in some transient fashion. Of course, we had no idea Patrick Stewart and Liam Neeson would go on from this film to become pop culture icons, but it's fun to watch and reflect now.

At the moment, there's a remake of Excalibur helmed by Bryan Singer sitting on the shelves of Warner Brothers. No offense to Singer, but I can't fathom a replication of Boorman's eye for detail, for battle-hungry wonderment, for his constructive lust for glory. Then there the urgent quest for God's salvation that's deeply affecting from Paul Geoffrey's ceaseless trials to Arthur's dispatching by his own son. Once Sir Perceval hurls Excalibur back into the sea and the angels sail away with Arthur's remains on the floating pyre, it's a perfect, if melancholic finale to a grueling ode. At the end, Excalibur offers the very real precept that the cosmos is bigger than us.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Welcome to the Dream, a Documentary by Rat Skates

When I produced my debut issue of Retaliate digital magazine, I'd sat down with former Overkill drummer Rat Skates, one of my thrash metal heroes I've since become friends with. Rat has recently issued two critically-acclaimed documentaries related to his time spent in the music industry, Get Thrashed and Born in the Basement. Born in the Basement especially delves deep into the foundations of Overkill and how effective the DIY ethos was for Rat and the original lineup of the band. Watch it and learn, folks. This is a blueprint to marching your way up through the underground.

Rat is currently filming a new documentary about the music industry and since we've interviewed together, I've become involved in this project, plus a separate venture Rat and I will be undertaking in the immediate future.

Welcome to the Dream: The Rude Awakening of Stardom is an investigative analysis of truths and realities behind making it in the music industry, as conveyed by Rat's guests, which include members of Lynard Skynard, Twisted Sister, Megadeth, Anvil, Living Colour and former Dream Theater/current Avenged Sevenfold drummer, Mike Portnoy.

While a large portion of Rat's film has been completed, the bottom line to this independent enterprise is, of course, needing a new bottom line to finish the project. Rat's objective to Welcome to the Dream is to serve as a wake-up call and a warning to up-and-coming musicians and artists that the industry should be approached with certain caveats. Nobody who's ever come into music without the proper knowledge has ever not been taken for a ride.

Even with all the Behind the Music specials and deep probing backstage in other documentaries for new artists to consult, the youth of today starting a band still comes in blind. The music industry is seductive, everybody wants to become the next overnight sensation. The internet may serve as a key inside that has previously never been there, however, the unspoken rules are still there and still...well, unspoken. Until now.

Please have a look at my interview with Rat Skates to get deeper into his mindframe behind Welcome to the Dream and then visit his site with a mere click below. If you want to get involved or you know of a financier who would like to help back this project, please contact myself here or through Rat's site. Your support is genuinely appreciated...

Welcome to the Dream website

Saturday, February 18, 2012

DePalma's Carrie Outdated? As If.

I suppose it's relative to every generation. The new devours the old if they have the stones and the means to do so. It's the natural order of things within a predatorial habitat, whether you're referring to the Monolithic period, the Dark Ages, The American Civil War, Prohibition or the new Renaissance of tech which has now fossilized much of life as we've known it since Ronald Reagan took office.

The brash declaration of youth's arrival in society is countered by a stubborn wherewithal of their elders to compromise to the new order which subliminally changes every seven or eight years. The term for senior folks who resist change is being "stuck in one's ways." Some older generations are savvy and courageous enough to adapt to altering climates and mores because time waits for no man, so it's said. Still, I find often there's bravado up-and-coming generations possess which reeks of arrogance and disrespect, even when there's a rooted respect prompting their actions in the first place.

In this case, I'm referring to Stephen King's Carrie, moreover, Brian DePalma's revered film adaptation from 1976.

I recently read about the intent for another bloody hike down Carlin Street in the fictitious town of Chamberlain, Maine. A new version of Carrie for a new generation that has already ripped off its ancestors of every single horror standard that existed in a time that was not theirs. At the core of their heralding, you have to smile and give thanks the youngsters appreciate what we had, but it's been a bitter pill to swallow watching Generation Tech reboot, revamp and regurgitate with nearly no conscience to what they're doing. They were babies (if even on the planet at all) when Jason Voorhees, Leatherface, Freddy Kruger and Michael Myers pillaged and dismembered countless teen victims from our era. Ditto for a time when Smurfs, G.I. Joe and Transformers ruled the toy stores and VHF television.

Now, I'm not so much of a dandy prick to wholly dismiss Generation Tech's attempt at recreating our favorite terror zones for their own. I mean, Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolf Man have been reincarnated every decade and will likely continue after all of us have joined Mother Earth. I will give props to the recent remakes of Dawn of the Dead and I Spit On Your Grave for having the fortitude to make their own nerve-chewing renditions of legendary splatter lore. Moreover, there was that respect I mentioned.

Though we're still awaiting details of the new Carrie venture, I'm already dubious just by statements I've read indicating the new filmmakers feel King's debut novel should be revisited for the third time (not including the embarassing "sequel" Carrie 2: The Rage) because they feel it needs an update. The word "outdated" (uttered from other parties) has been cast against Brian DePalma's visionary masterwork and I find that absurd and more than a little bit crass.

Yeah, Steven R. Monroe and Lisa Hansen indicated their reason for taking on one of the most nefarious flicks ever shot, I Spit On Your Grave, was it needed updating. One of its promoters said the same exact thing to me directly before sending me a promo copy for review. Well, really, Meir Zarchi had already set an uncouth bar with his original geek film from '78 and he not only blessed the remake but oversaw it. Props to Zarchi (if you feel like giving them) for letting some new blood recharge an already sadistic premise highlighted by even nastier business--in particular Sarah Butler's brutal revenge tactics. In a way, Butler outdid Camille Keaton to the point we will soon begin remembering Butler ahead of her predecessor, despite all the physical grief and exploitation Keaton endured the first time around.

Will the same be said of Carrie? How in God's name can anyone outclass Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie? They tried it in a made-for-television jaunt with Angela Bettis and Patricia Clarkson and it hardly measured. We're not even going acknowledge Carrie 2: The Rage again after this sentence. Spacek and Laurie were both nominated for Academys following their gruelling onscreen duel. Sissy Spacek testifies what outlandish lengths she went to undercut another female lead in the auditioning process and win her prized role as Carrie White. Amongst these, dressing in shabby rags and nailing her lines to the cross, pun intended. Spacek is sympathetic and better, she's flat-out beautiful in a flaxen country girl demeanor. The dynamics she fused into Carrie White's skittishness, inhibitions and growing wonderment at her telekinetic powers is exhilirating to watch.

Nobody and I mean nobody will ever outdo Spacek in the shower sequence. Spacek has already established Carrie's nervous lack of self-esteem in the opening scene at the volleyball court. As PJ Soles and Nancy Allen spurn and curse Carrie White for losing the game on their side, we're already on Carrie's. It's almost a stunner we find Spacek showering in full frontal to a height of strange eroticism. This is a young flower with the oppportunity to blossom, save for the fact she's hated in school and her zealot mother abuses the tar out of her. It's heart-breaking when Spacek injects deplorable fright into Carrie's face when she gets her first period and has no idea what such a thing is thanks to her bible-whumping mama. Even worse when Carrie's classmates can't see the shock and dismay before them and they pelt the aggrieved lass with tampons and maxis. If you're not rooting for Carrie White at this point, you will be once she inadvertently bursts a bulb in the girl's locker room from her terrors, as you will once she lashes out at the school principal for his lack of attentiveness to her name. As you will once she derails a snotty young boy who taunts her with "Creepy Carrie! Creepy Carrie!" from his bike. All using this strange new gift that has started to rise inside her with budding hormones and the arrival of her first menstrual cycle.

I just can't imagine anyone of this day with the same measure of commitment and the rare gift of both fracture and assurance which Sissy Spacek threw into her role. By the time she finally stands up to her domineering mother, you're clenching a fist in her favor and you're praying that Tommy Ross has genuinely noble intentions about taking her to the prom. You already know other parties are at play in skunking Carrie's big night out, but with that knowledge, you want the poor girl to have at least one dignified moment first.

Of course she does, and both Sissy Spacek and William Katt deliver a believable connection to what appears suspicious and awkward at face value. Amy Irving's Sue Snell goes to such implausible lengths as to deliver her boyfriend as Carrie's shining knight, yet this gesture is purported to be guilt over Carrie's wicked chastisement in the girl's shower. In the real world, you might have to question if anyone holds the capacity for such honor, but DePalma and Irving made it work. Sue Snell skipping out on her own senior prom to make amends for a girl she never has dialogue with was something that needed skill to sell, from DePalma to the actresses.

Spacek exhibits Carrie's glow she's kept hidden from her peers as she and Tommy Ross are voted prom king and queen. Again, Spacek reveals both the shattered id inside of Carrie White and the exuberant superego which has so desperately needed nurturing through the entire film. She's been too busy getting walloped upside the head with the bible from her mother and accused of harlotry when "the curse of blood" strikes her as it would any teen girl. At least Spacek and Katt sell their newfound bond, so much you don't even balk at Tommy Ross for succumbing to the moment and kissing Carrie. DePalma's brilliant usage of the rotating camera angles ignites the sudden connection between Carrie and Tommy and it's inherently more erotic than the shower sequence. Somehow you don't feel Tommy and Carrie are going to become a long-term couple (sex is most definitely out), but their right-there moment of teen zen and silly puppy love is gleeful and endearing. I defy anyone in a future version to outmaneuver Katt and Spacek.

Spacek trooped through the entire pig's blood scene at the prom and even did three takes of the dousing. Knowing it was coming, Spacek still conveys a gut-tearing facade of shock, degredation and ultimate fury as she turns on the entire school and raises Hell, literally. To this day, I've never seen a more pissed-off teenager onscreen or off than Sissy Spacek's Carrie.

Likewise, I've never seen such tumultuous, destructive anger suddenly turn into a waif-like implore for coddling. All throughout DePalma's Carrie, Spacek and Laurie go at each others' throats to such extremes not even the balls-out horror underground of today dare tread. Of course, we'll see how daring the new proposed Carrie will tread, but it certainly won't have Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie masterfully engineering a horrific peek inside a suburban hellhole dicatated by a craven Jesus freak.

What bothers me about any renunciation of DePalma's Carrie using the "outdated" lingo is the fact those who utter it aren't looking past William Katt's Frampton-like goldilocks, they aren't looking past the girls' Fawcett-esque waves and they're put off by some of the occasional jokey synth music that is straight out of the pre-disco seventies. When they arrive, they goof all over the tension-breaking scenes of jocularity and are still a gut-buster today--for the right reasons. Listen to the rest of the movie score by Pino Donaggio. I've already discussed the harrowing music of this film in a prior post, but nothing that's been attempted around the dark noir of Carrie White following DePalma's classic remotely taps into the raw skeins Donaggio does. His music is filled with childish xylophones symbolizing innocence held and innocence about to slip away. The Psycho-esque violin shrieks keeps the film on a teeter and the plight-filled piano ostinato escorting Carrie White down those steps of doom in her house can hardly be replicated. Donaggio's tributizing score is rhapsodic, alarming and tragic, worthy of anything Bernard Herrmann composed for Alfred Hitchcock.

The music at the prom is indeed reflective of its time, sure, but is that an excuse to dismiss it? Nobody with a soul bombs Gone With the Wind or The Wizard of Oz for their gusty scores ringing triumphantly of a decades-old Hollywood that's been lost forever. I still think Katie Irving (the sister of Amy) singing over "I Never Dreamed Someone Like You Could Love Someone Like Me" puts the viewer into a full presence of where Carrie White is at that moment in the prom and how much awful shit she's had to endure to get there.

We can't believe what's happening before our eyes, but we're soaking it up before Nancy Allen pulls that godforsaken cord to the bucket of blood and licks her lips lasciviously, knowing she's humiliated her once-defenseless nemesis one final time. You halfway cry for Carrie, but you're already digging into your palms, suspecting she's not going to stand for it this time. The split-screen sequences DePalma utiilzes escalate the danse macabre that is Carrie White's revenge. When the stage ignites into flames, we know it's real. This is 1976 and there's no CGI to cheat through it. Sissy Spacek didn't settle for a stunt double. Within ten feet of her back, that conflagration turns Spacek into a phoenix and Carrie White into one of the most fearsome characters in horror history. Spacek is submerged into her craft and Carrie's vengeance is more eerie than spectacular. If that's outdated, then, well, Jesus wept.

It's DePalma's cast (which also includes the gritty Betty Buckley and a still-green John Travolta) which is hard to recast, as are the primary sets. Carrietta White and her demented mother live in a setting nearly as cryptic as an abandoned monestary. That awful statuette of Saint Sebastian in Carrie's praying nook is just as scary as anything else in this film. Frightening that the throwback White home stands amidst the modern (for 1976, anyway) suburbs like a spook house. Its governness, we learn, is capable of insidious heresy and abject lunacy. The carrot chopping scene is disarming, the outrageous amount of candles lighting up the house when Carrie returns from the prom is funny, but not in a ha-ha way. It's messed up. Worse, Margaret's catatonic state behind the bathroom door is one of the most shivery images the genre's ever cued up. Once that house comes crashing down in the bloody finale, only then do you breathe a sign of momentary relief.

The imposing prescence of Margaret White on one of her public crusades is nowhere near as devastating as the Margaret White bapping her daughter in the face with The Book of Wisdom, demanding in an evil gravel voice that Carrie recite Eve was weak, Eve was weak... It's a lasting impression that haunts after every viewing, as much as Carrie's telekinetic crucifixion of her mother in self-defense. Then there's the notorious final jolt in Sue Snell's dream sequence. Amy Irving looks both virginal and carnal in that scene before DePalma capitalizes on her devastated guilt to drop the hammer upon his audience one last time. Admit it, you flew off the couch and knocked something over the first time you saw that ending. It wasn't how Stephen King wrote it, but it was off-the-cusp genius.

I get why other producers and directors want to try their luck with Carrie. King's story at its basic level appeals to the mistreated outcast teen of any generation, moreover his or her thirst for revenge when acceptance isn't possible. That's an ethos that will ring loud and clear until this planet dies out. Carrie White without her otherworldly powers represents the downtrodden, the scared and the hopeless. With those powers, she's hell in high heels. It's a flashpoint resonance that prompts us to root for Carrie White, at least until her blind rage spells mass murder.

For all this, Brian DePalma's stellar interpretation of Carrie is now considered outdated? Yeah, sure. I give the youth of today more credit than that, but if they do subscribe to this mandated tripe, then I'll just stay stuck in my ways, thanks.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Random Shuffle Shelf Reviews: Carrie Soundtrack, Wavering Radiant and Bloodflowers

Pino Donaggio - Carrie soundtrack

Following an online group chat about the succession of film adaptations and sequels surrounding Stephen King's knockout debut, Carrie, I pulled Pino Donaggio's stunning score off the shelf. As integral to the film as anything John Williams, Hans Zimmer or Bernard Herrmann have accompanied to celluloid, Donaggio's forlorn and tragic soundtrack all but upstages director Brian DePalma's stellar, nerve-wracking maneuvers through 1976's Carrie. Donaggio is as crucial to the storytelling as King's empathetic words and DePalma's astute commandeering.

Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie are the onscreen highlights, pit in an awkward power struggle between mother and daughter. You know the story: Carrie White is the school loser who has no prayer (pun intended), not under the roof of a bible-thumping fundamentalist straight out of a Bosch painting. Mama White suppresses her wallflower country bumpkin, shielding Carrie from her natural womanly growth. Everything is evil and blasphemous, according to Piper Laurie in one of the most harrowing portayals of twisted puritanism in movie history. When Carrie discovers she has the power of telekinesis, Mrs. White goes out of her mind with paranoia, believing Satan has set within her daughter. Indeed, Carrie White conjures Hell itself once submitted to a brutal dousing of pig blood in her single shining moment at the school prom. Her inevitable showdown with Mama is perhaps the most compelling, explosive case of love and hate (and fear, of course) between parent and child you'll ever witness.

Pino Dinaggio's score ought to ring familiar to any horror afficianado, in particular the somber, aloof piano lines set against the gregarious flute accenting the main theme. The flute serves as Carrie's innocence, but its forthright presence in the theme represents Carrie's desperation to belong, to be more outgoing, to get out from the under the oppressive shadow of Jesus. Dinaggio's tormented strings and orchestral sweeps on "And God Made Eve," "Bucket of Blood," "Mother at the Top of the Stairs" and "Collapse of Carrie's Home" resonate as snippets of horror history. The fugue grinding through "For the Last Time We'll Pray" will automatically sweep you right to Piper Laurie's fanatatical sign of the cross with her butcher knife, a hand-in-hand terror zone that's just as discomfiting without the horrifying visual.

With Katie Irving breathing life into Carrie White's country-esque prom ode, "I Never Dreamed Someone Like You Could Love Someone Like Me," the tragedy of Stephen King's uncompromising tale is made even more bittersweet. The usage of it by DePalma is understated as we're more focused on Carrie's awkwardness with her hunky date (by '76 standards, considering William Katt's Frampton-eseque whitey-fro) Tommy Ross. Isolated from the film, however, "I Never Dreamed" tears at the soul, just with the knowledge of what those truly evil teen bitches have in store for poor 'ol Carrie. No laughing matter, when all is said and done...

Grade: A+
Choice Cuts: "Theme From 'Carrie,'" "And God Made Eve," "Contest Winners," "Mother at the Top of the Stairs," "For the Last Time We'll Pray," "Collapse of Carrie's Home" and "I Never Dreamed Someone Like You Could Love Someone Like Me"

Isis - Wavering Radiant

Here is a band I truly miss, but I do respect the reason Isis called it a day not long after releasing their 2009 magnum opus, Wavering Radiance. Oceanic has long beem heralded as this art-drone champion's masterwork and In the Abscence of Truth its finest encapsulation of slow-sculpting, ultimately rugged theatricality. Yet Wavering Radiance is a befitting deneumont to a brilliant career for which we should offer Isis praise and thanks. From Celestial to In the Absence of Truth, Wavering Radiant is the sparkling encapsulation of Isis' entire body of work, realized to the richest textures of aggression and grandeur they had to give. Wavering Radiant, thus, is mission accomplished.

The thing with Isis' escapist brand of expressive metal was it hailed a conjecture of beauty and voluptuousness and yet on the turn of a dime they could drop the floor and plunge you into a tar pit of sonic din. There really is no experience like Isis, even as Pelican, Rosetta and Mouth of the Architect are now their inheritors and Neurosis their be-all foundation.

The biggest acceleration to Wavering Radiant is its profound cleanness. Isis reduces the feedback miasma pounding their creative flow, yet Wavering Radiant is the recipient of twittering guitars from Aaron Turner, Michael Gallagher and Clifford Meyer which captures a refreshed cadence atop their traditionally fuzz-laced rhythms. Grounded with the always-methodic bass of Jeff Caxide, Isis is perhaps the most psychedelic they've ever been on this album, using the hypnotic, serpentine note lines slithering through "Hand of the Host" as an example.

As with In the Absence of Truth, Wavering Radiant is one of the most investigative efforts Isis completed in their lengthy careers. As Aaron Turner has stated numerous times, Isis tried hard not to replicate themselves from album-to-album, and the biggest evidence of that on Wavering Radiant comes in various measures such as the Kyoto guitar whispers leading the first number of bars on "Ghost Key" and the tear-inducing, gorgeous high-note swoons on "20 Minutes/40 Years." Turner reportedly got the ass of fielding questions in search of the meaning of Isis' music, partially prompting their break-up. Isis' leftover legacy thus becomes yours to explore and decode as you will without the band's direct provocation, no doubt as Turner intended it. In fact, it's almost pointless to select individual songs when the entire recording presents a full-on journey not to be disseminated or short-cut through.

Grade: A
Choice Cuts: "Hall of the Dead," "Ghost Key," "Hand of the Host," "20 Minutes/40 Years"

The Cure - Bloodflowers

I admit, when I first grabbed Bloodflowers, I was slightly put off. For the traditional Cure fan, Bloodflowers was the mope-a-dope, shoegazing distant cousin to Disintegration and the bitter pill pal of Pornography. The latter album gets my vote as the most depressing slab ever recorded, though by all means, one of the fiercest, most engaging albums in The Cure's catalog. I think Bloodflowers resonated only with hardcore fans and critics who scratched their heads at the sprawled interchange of Wild Mood Swings. Everyone else who'd jumped on board with The Cure for Disintegration and Wish had jumped someone else's train after Bloodflowers, as Robert Smith might say.

Smith also says Bloodflowers is the completed trilogy (along with Disintegration and Pornography) as the true representation of what The Cure is intended to be. Never mind the sexy electro slides and jazzy springs of Japanese Whispers. Never mind the bollocksy post-punk of Boys Don't Cry. Never mind the brilliant antipop of Head On the Door. Bloodflowers is dark yes, and we're asked to accept this plodding dirge as encompassment of how its leader desires to be perceived. Personally, I would like to hope The Cure's most recent offering 4:13 Dream is what they're about, considering it plays to both the brooding interests of Smith and the rock-mindedness of the fans.

As I said, I was initially jittery about Bloodflowers, which is strange, considering The Cure is one of my all-time favorite groups and I'd been more than well-versed in their dynamic changes of tempo, style and of course, mood. The fact Bloodflowers stays on a single, roaming tangent, what this keyed slowness provides The Cure is the opportunity to dash and color in nearly the same wondrous (if tenebrous) textures as Disintegration. By all means, "Out of this World," "Where the Birds Always Sing," "The Loudest Sound," "The Last Day of Summer" and the 11-minute, tone-crushing drove of "Watching Me Fall" are all elaborate, decorative and strangely soothing.

This is an album that requires a lot of work on behalf of the listener, make no mistake. Bloodflowers is not an instant grab and it's hardly a Friday love affair. Its strict mid-tempo pacing isn't easy to digest. However, it is easy to get lost in the trailing guitar gusts through "Out of this World" and "The Loudest Sound." The latter track actually carries an upbeat fragrance with its electronic pulse tapping beneath the layered guitars and Robert Smith's nearly-idealistic vocals. Repressive he might be most of the time when he sings, there's a methodology to Bloodflowers which sees Smith and the group wallow, grouse and implore before they rise up and dissolve the acid off of their crimson tongues. There's life after death splayed out through these nine songs and thus, Bloodflowers becomes more of an accomplishment than outsiders give it credit for.

Rating: B+

Choice Cuts: "Out of This World," "Watching Me Fall," "Where the Birds Always Sing," "The Loudest Sound"

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

"Underneath a Billboard," a Poem by Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Underneath a Billboard
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

one sweaty zydeco summer you liked me
you liked me because I liked Elvis Costello
but you wouldn’t show me how much
until I guessed your favorite song
it took me a week
but one night I pointed at the car radio
it was playing “Watching the Detectives”
you clapped and you giggled
“that one gets me hot,” you said
then you ordered me to pull over
that got me hot

I remember what the billboard on 206
showed those many years ago
a platform poster of a palooka Democrat
who got smeared that election year
Mallory Jones, sacrificial lamb upon the steel gates of the Old Guard

the August night was hazy, baseball weather
the misty billboard drew bugs from three counties
they dined on our bare skin
the gulley was dark and uncut
nobody saw us but the insects
a cricket landed in your hair and you laughed
you were indeed hot

cars flash-whispered overtop our heads
the locusts applauded us, it was a banner year for them
it was the best night of my single life
even with the beer bottles and french fry canisters
mocking poor Mal’s defeat
and glorifying our raunchy spontaneity
honey, we got our kicks on 206, didn’t we?

I drive by that friendless billboard every day
rust claws high upon its waning iron post like a cancer
I swear it’s lilted a few degrees since we knew it
the face, a serrated mosaic of a hundred voided ads
times are tough and nobody’s pitching
it rings Springsteen-esque instead of Costellian
we’d had our glory day
in our weedy room with no number

I really wish you’d moved away
but I see you and that guy plus two more
all of you carrying years beyond yourselves
last I saw you, I saw purple peeking below your shades
you don’t hear me
but I whistle a familiar song from the Spike album
that was my favorite Costello tune, babe
I see you, me and that billboard and what might’ve been
do you suppose, Veronica,
the hands are on your eyes and you’ve gone to hide?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Demon Days in Manhattan

I'm not about to spend a lick of time kvetching about the Grammys. Instead, I'll offer my congrats to Adele. It was in the bag and I pray nothing Winehousian happens to her now that the pop oratorium has snagged her out of the alt realm she previously governed. Just get off the gal about her weight, you yellow hacks. As for the sad death of Whitney Houston, I'm still gathering my thoughts and will offer them here later this week. I wasn't a fan per se, but talent is talent and her voice rings through the ears of my generation, thus a heavy sigh and a prayer for next-life peace is in order. I'll be playing this fantastic Gotye album all week, I'm sure, so my mind will stay preoccupied as ever in multiple directions.

Instead, I want to push this question at you, my loyal readers: Do you ever pick up an album in your collection and remember exactly how and where you procured it? I have an uncanny ability to tell you where 95% (a conservative estimate, at best) of my collection comes from. Some have cute stories, some have none, but I can tell you what store they were purchased at. Many were gifts, a lot were promotional material I enjoyed enough to hold onto.

Then there are some albums where you're whisked to the time and place you made a tangible connection with it.

There's never a time when I slide the Gorillaz's Demon Days off the shelf that I'm not transported straight to the Big Apple before I even slide the CD into a player. I don't even need to hear "Last Living Souls" and "Kids With Guns" to be transported to Times Square and the former Virgin Megastore whence I purchased Demon Days. At this point, I consider the album a time capsule. Not for the material, which is still very relevant seven years following its release. "Feel Good, Inc." is to me, the greatest rap-rock hybrid this side of Public-Anthrax and Run-DMC.

Damon Albarn is such a wackadoodle you can't not pay attention to whatever he slaps his name to. If you're to poll me which side of the long-ago Blur-Oasis war I would've aligned myself with, for sure it's Blur, no offense to the Gallaghers. Oasis is a terrific band and I have most of their catalog, but there's a defined entrenchment Oasis adhered to, while Albarn and Blur were far more exploratory (and frequently nutty) in nature. From 1993's Modern Life is Rubbish to Albarn's virtual virtuosity in the Gorillaz, Damon has been fearless in elevating dweeb chic to its own cadence. Revenge of the Nerds 2.0. Geeky to the extreme, Albarn is savvy enough to know that Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead samples are cryptic yet hilarious intros to Lord knows what's trolling through his scattershod though ingenious mind. On Plastic Beach, the guy makes the most exclamatory use out of an eighties cereal ad you just have to bless him in the name of K-Tel, Colecovision and Smurfberry Crunch.

Still, all of that ends up being secondary with Demon Days, at least for me on an intrinsic level. I love the first Gorillaz album and think much of it has a Manhattan shake on top of its Manchester quake but I do recall approaching Demon Days with a bit of caution when I saw it plugged to its own listening station at the Virgin Megastore. You know what they say about the sophomore jinx.

I was up in New York that weekend to cover a show at the Nokia Theater and it was one of the rare trips my wife had accompanied me. We were about an hour away from meeting up with one of my publicist friends for dinner and drinks and had hit some of our usual haunts and attractions in Midtown. For me, a trip to the Virgin Megastore was always obligatory. I know, as much as I gripe and groan about coprorate hijacking, I was flat-out addicted to the Virgin. There'd been other trips where I'd gallavanted until 1:00 a.m. in just their electronica and jazz sections and a time where I'd engaged in convo with someone about whether the copy of Fritz the Cat in my hand was art or pothead sleaze. I took the stance for each. At one time, there was a subterannean movie theater beneath the Virgin Megastore. On another trip I brought my wife up to New York, we'd crashed in there and watched Darkness Falls since Broadway had gone on strike and my tickets for Rent I'd given her for her birthday were null and void that weekend. Thank God for Virgin, since my wife had been inconsolable her birthday gift had been inadvertently squandered.

I always came out of Virgin with a jazz album, usually one of Art Blakey's. Sometimes it would be Thievery Corporation or my filling in the gaps of my Clash and PJ Harvey sections. The bottom line was it as much about the triple-tiered ambience of the place that lured me without fail every time I found myself in Manhattan. My last memory of the place was watching Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on a jumbo tron behind the registers the week of its release on DVD. I remember my wife plunking down our copy and saying "Hope there's no glitches on it," since it'd be a hell of a long trip to exchange it. Later, we'd spent many hours in an Irish bar tossing shots and pints back with two of my dearest friends in the music business. An Irish soccer team had sauntered up to our table and asked to share our fire wings. I was happy enough to oblige. 5:00 a.m. we'd shook hands, took pictures with each other and acted like the besotted goofs we were in the streets. Just another corner of Manhattan, I'm sure. Three hours later, I was up again, knowing I had an early-on musician interview to conduct.

With Demon Days, I'd sidled up next to a hip-looking guy at the Virgin. He had thick glasses and dreads he was still growing and twisting that barely tickled his earlobes. He was plugged into rap. I don't recall which artist, but it had my neighbor bobbing his dreadlocks and sliding his hips just enough to occupy the scant space between us. I ended up fumbling with the controls on my station but couldn't get it to play, for Christ's sake. I really wanted to hear Demon Days before making the decision on whether or not to buy it. My new five minute buddy politely excused himself and his fingers flew all over my console. Then I had music. "Had trouble with it myself," he told me. "But it's a killer album. Get it." All the while, he never removed his own headphones and he maintained his groove. I shot him up a thumbs-up and thanked him before immediately sinking into the music. As with the self-titled Gorillaz, Demon Days felt like it added to the Midtown pulse I was already keyed into just by being there. Later, Demon Days came with me to the register.

Some of my underground purist friends won't agree with me, but I really miss the Virgin Megastore. You can open up some comic books of the day and you can see in the background of many films circa the late nineties through 2009 and see it in the backdrop. The neon piping of Virgin outside was so loud it beckoned itself in a district reknowned for man-made electric grandeur. To stand out in Times Square, you have to bring it, just like you have to on a person-to-person level. That store brought it, yessir. Some of the prices were exorbitant, but not all of them. Diligence found you countless bargains in that store and I got Demon Days for $12.99, which for a Big Business retailer, is pretty snazzy.

Of course, record stores as a collective are dwindling in numbers to the point the average music consumer in search of physical product has been relegated to a fringe subculture. The web is destroying music as we once knew it and we'll be forced into playing by the new digital rules if we're not already. I mean, goddamn, it's only been seven years since that trip and Demon Days was issued in what was considered a relatively healthy music market, but one subject to inevitable reinvention.

Yeah, I miss that store, because I spent a considerable amount of time in it and I met a few people I can still see in my mind, cool bucks and does I wish I'd gotten to know better. New Yorkers carry the stigma of being narcisstic snobs, but my advice is you must carry yourself like you belong there, even if you're just a visitor or a part-timer coming in on business. People move at such a fever in Manhattan you're not likely to be noticed unless you wear your green at a loud tint and you're cheap with your tips to the bellhops, cabbies and wait staff. Make a budget just for tips if you're visiting New York. You won't believe how valued you'll be when you take care of the folks dishing the amenities.

Getting back to the point, though, Demon Days is an album I appreciate for its rad content as much as I love it for taking me right back to that listening station in Midtown. I hear the echoing din of the people all around me. I can hear the clash of urban hip hop pounding from the main level and the distant throb of techno one level up. All before Demon Days starting chuffing through the headphones after a really nice dude kicked it up for me. I was already on a high before plunging down the Barbarella-esque tubed escalator into the Nokia Theater for my assignment.

And that, folks, is but one story of many I can toss out behind a single album off of my shelves...

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Goodreads, Indeed

One thing I've sworn to myself this year was to grow more interactive with my fellow scribes. The thing with authors' groups that puts most people off (including myself, having witnessed it firsthand too many times) is the inherent politics which can undermine the core principle of a writer's association: to promote, aid, rally and critique mutual authors in the spirit of fellowship.

To live under the paranoia that writers' groups can either be pandering or combustive is detrimental to the growth of an artist, regardless of experience and level of achievement. At the core, it is a passion of the word that first lured all of us to books and henceforth a yearning to take up the cause. Sadly, this is not a world where words and merit alone automatically equate into success, thus we need one another. Writers achieve in tandem, despite the strange paraodox of self-isolation required of the creative process.

Via Twitter, I was invited to drop by Goodreads, the James Mason Community Book Club. With more than 5,600 members and growing, this is an online group of readers, writers and film fans who congregate to discuss literature and entertainment arts in remembrance of the late character actor, James Mason, who appeared in such notable films as North By Northwest, Lolita, 'Salem's Lot, The Verdict and the 1954 version of A Star is Born, plus television roles in Dr. Kildare, Playhouse 90 and many other series from the fifties and early sixtes. Moderated by Rick F. (as he signs online), this is a diverse collective of authors inclusive of established leaguers and up-and-comers.

If you're looking to toss your name out there to a rock solid digital community of writers, I recommend visiting www.goodreads.com. Membership is free and you can have a blast posting and rating your virtual library under your profile. I have 130 books or so up already, which is just skimming the surface. Rick F., who has more than 4,200 books in his online stash, is supportive of the site's authors and he'll warmly invite you to tout your wares, loud and proud. Now that's my kind of writers' group; a support system without the undisclosed drama.

Friday, February 10, 2012

New Flash, Van Halen 2012 WORKS!!!

We all had our doubts. We'd witnessed the turmoil, the feuds, the backstabbing, the one-upsmanship and sadly, the sorry decline of rock immortals whose brief statuses as separated titans later crashed before our eyes. The flexive, bad boy struts of "Panama" were reduced to bubbly bounceabouts thinking they carried the best of both worlds on their Cali-kissed carny ride. As if. There were no more mean streets which Van Halen trod upon once David Lee Roth hit his crackling diamond bricks and Sammy Hagar swept the band into a pop-esque cantina of laidback rock 'n roll your teachers enjoyed as much as you, yelling "Cabo Wabo!" all the way as a purported savior. Van Halen used to be hot for teacher and that was a riot but it was also filthy, it was rebellious, it was dangerous. I can think of a few teachers and professors I wanted to bang over the years, maybe hang out for coffee and chat about anything but classes. I would never want to rub elbows with them at a Van Halen show. Nuh uh. That would've been too weird.

I don't want to slag Sammy Hagar. His solo work has been reliably entertaining and though most people aren't aware of it, he was fandango when he fronted hard rock pioneers, Montrose. Like David Lee Roth, Hagar was the body electric for that group and for a brief time, Montrose could rival Van Halen. Yeah, I said it. For a brief time. Dig up that self-titled Montrose debut if you're a doubter. Still, when Hagar took center mike at the helm of one of the fiercest rock bands of all-time, it was culture shock.

Hagar is by far a better singer than Roth. There's no debate. Hagar has range, flair and finesse. He can sling guitar, he's professional, he knows how to rev up his audience and keep it clamped in his paw. Still, 5150, OU812 and For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge remain Van Halen's hunky dory triumvirate of bubblegum metal. Minus "Poundcake" and the whumping "Get Up," Van Hagar (as we Gen X'ers came to universally refer to the band at this stage in their careers) had settled for the oxy wash that removed the blisters, the acne scars and the devil's trade that represented their butt ugly--but oh, so exuberant--sound with David Lee Roth in the fold. Roth is all sizzle, not Hagar, which is why true Van Halen fans have always balked at everything recorded since 1984, one of rock 'n roll's hallmark recordings--along with the 1978 self-titled debut.

With Sammy Hagar, Van Halen lounged back in a safe house of fratboy pop rock, swooning over summer nights, waiting for love to walk in instead of seizing it by the moment. Why can't this be love, they quipped like lovesick puppy dogs without a clue. A far cry away from the upstart bravado of "So This Is Love?" "Beautiful Girls" and "Everybody Wants Some!" Van Halen, like Metallica, had turned into music for jocks instead of for dirtbags. I should know; I was there to witness the changeover in 1988. Van Hagar put on a stellar performance headlining the Monsters of Rock festival, but the Scorpions were their superiors and Metallica was also on the bill--the latter would play one of their last full-on thrash sets before taking cue from Van Hagar on which demographic to ply to. We headbangers were outnumbered by the jocks, the preps and party animals at that outdoor festival. During Metallica's set, we got into minor scrums with the straights when we tried to mosh, but cooler heads prevailed by the time the Scorps and Van Hagar played. Still, there was a lurking ambivalence between both sects and I'll never forget saying, "That was a great show, but I wish I'd seen them with Roth. At least I would've felt like I belonged here."

But enough of that. It's 2012 and we now have before us Van Halen once again fronted by Diamond Dave and for more than a year, we've all been salivating at the prospect of a brand new Roth-sung album. Even though Michael Anthony defected after a second fallout with Sammy Hagar, Van Halen is more than refurbished with Wolfgang Van Halen walloping on the four string in Anthony's place. Yes, we were skeptical; sure, Wolfie's the progeny of rock genius, but replacing Anthony (a low-end master of minimalism) is as distasteful to longtime Van Halen fans as Hagar replacing Roth. We won't go there with poor Gary Cherone.

It appears the youngest Van Halen prefers to be called "Wolf," so let's give the boy his due, because he, like David Lee Roth, have restored honor to this troupe. Keeping it in the family ended up being a diligent move with three-fourths of the band carrying its namesake. Despite the egotism that splintered the original foundation and sent Roth to his own table to eat it and smile, the welcoming back of the rock ruffian is, well, music to our ears on Van Halen's newest conjuring, A Different Kind of Truth.

Image courtesy of www.rollingstone.com

I'm not going to lie. Like many fans out there, I was sitting well on the fence when Van Halen released their current single "Tattoo." It carries too much of the Van Hagar era's safeness and it's a near-desperate marketing ploy to pander to today's generation of tatted-up sycophants. Coming from a much younger band, you can understand it. From old men, it's damned near perverted. Roth sounds decent on the verses but well-shaky on his high end yelps and quasi-altos. It's all inherently sleazy and strutty, which is Van Halen to the core, but ehhhhhh...

The beauteous thing about A Different Kind of Truth is that "Tattoo" becomes a veritable throwaway track once the Fair Warning-eseque "She's the Woman" comes crashing in. There's those mean streets that lay parallel to the gucci 5150 Avenue. Screw the coy and shy tiptoe through the tulips; Van Halen tugs on their zippers and go tits-out (take note of the bulbous side-profile of the New York Central locomotive on the rear cover art) with "She's the Woman." Listen to Wolf recreate Michael Anthony's burping basses here, but wow, there's even more groove to it. Eddie and Alex are invigorated as much by Wolf's confident note rambles as they are by Roth, who gets it into gear and almost never loses stride the remainder of the album. The mojo is back, baby.

Michael, we miss you and your Jack Daniels bass, but we'll happily welcome Wolf to the big dance since he's automatically proven himself on this album. The young buck is a freaking monster in tandem with his daddy on "Chinatown," "The Trouble With Never," "As Is" and "Bullethead." Dare I say, Wolf does a fair homage to Roth's one-time solo band cohort, Billy Sheehan in a few spots. Sheehan is liege, of course, but Wolf is showing us his scorching chops in a hurry, as if A Different Kind of Truth is his one shot to make the world hear him. Hopefully it isn't. Criminey, doesn't Wolf resemble his sire on the enigmatic cover of Van Halen?

"You and Your Blues" carries a hint of 5150 Van Halen, but it's the good part of that regime. It gets married to Van Halen II and boy, what savvy maneuvering, catering to both Roth's and Hagar's fan bases. Strangely enough, Eddie and Alex compensate the loss of Michael Anthony's back-end vocal fills you don't notice the difference much. Even the intro and ahhhhs caressing the sure 'n steady "Blood and Fire" carries a nod to Van Halen II and portions of Diver Down. Best of all, it feels so danged good. This is what we want in a summer rock song, assuredly written with said intent.

Everyone who ever sat on their bedroom floors mimicking Roth on the blues shuck of "Ice Cream Man" are going to be scampering for an empty spot of the rug (where their kids haven't spotted them up with Kool Aid) and recreate old memories with "Stay Frosty." You know Van Halen whirled this retrospective ditty on purpose and it's one of the rare times such a strategy works. Same acoustic-blues stylizing before the sonic eruption, same huckleberry-esque vocal digging by Roth. You will be singing along as you will be snarling "B-b-b-b-bullethead!" along with Roth on the cagey rockout session of "Bullethead." Damn near every bit of Van Halen's first six albums get touched on with that song.

A Different Kind of Truth really is what it says it is. Gelled in part from old demos prior to the release of Van Halen (I'm blessed to have a copy of said demo tapes courtesy of a longtime buddy), this album is, suffice it to say, the band's most imperative work since 1984. Van Halen treated A Different Kind of Truth as an opportunity not a cash-in. We were all suspecting the latter and have been rewarded with the former. You can hear Van Halen purging the bitterness that once divided them from Roth, and it's hurled with a vengeance. "As Is" might be one of the hardest songs you'll hear this entire year, ditto for "Honeybabysweetiedoll" and "Chinatown." It's not all about triplicate beat patterns, insane shredding and titanic girth, all of which Van Halen improbably possesses on A Different Kind of Truth. This album at times can give even Cannibal Corpse a hard run to the finish line in the brutality department. Yeah, again I said it.

What's so wonderful about A Different Kind of Truth is how much it whisked me to my teenage bedroom. I can still see my old Van Halen mirror another buddy won at a carnival game in '84 and traded to me. I can still the smoking baby-angel on my wall next to the mirror. I'm spinning Van Halen, Van Halen II and Women and Children First on vinyl, Fair Warning on cassette. I pick up the stylus and hit my favorite cuts only on Diver Down and then I play it again all the way through, both sides, trying not to get pissed by all those cover tunes. I'm daydreaming about female classmates in high school I don't have the guts to ask out and I'm laughing to myself about the beer I snitched behind my grandfather's back. Creepy that my mom wants to listen to 1984 with me, but we get our chores done faster with it on and besides, she lets me play it on their boss Pioneer in the living room. She likes "Jump," while "House of Pain" is my favorite cut. I feel awkward when "Hot For Teacher" plays with Mom in my vicinity, because I know she knows I'm fiddling with myself to those smoking babes in the "Teacher" video and I just want to throw up. Ahh, the teen years. I miss 'em for the most part.

Funny when an album in the now delivers an instant bond, isn't it?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ray's Remedy For Gnawing Through Writer Rejection

"Dear Prospective Author, we have had the opportunity to review your manuscript, yadda yadda yadda..."

If you're in the writing game, it's 99% probable the words following this canned lead sentence to editorial correspondence is going to be followed by unpleasant news. Your story, pitch or proposal has been turned down. You didn't make the grade. Not good enough. Not marketable. Too risque. You should go back to the writers' workshops and submit your darlings through critique groups before you even consider querying editors or literary agents again.

Rejection sucks. That's the bottom line. It hurts. Bad enough if you're a lonelyhearts in search of the elusive yan to your yin. The game of love is brutal. The game of writing is far nastier but the stakes of achievement, readership and personal gratification are what keep serious scribes pushing at their craft. The pursuit of love is no different than the pursuit of literary greatness. Both require supreme dedication, both require concentrated desire and both will tear your soul to ribbons until the day is won and both the id and the ego have been nurtured.

Throwing your words out to the masses is a fearsome prospect. There are countless books on the craft I could cite, such as Ralph Keyes' The Courage to Write, Sophie Burnham's For Writers Only, James N. Frey's How to Write a Damn Good Novel, Joan Lowery Nixon's The Making of a Writer and of course, Stephen King's treasure trove tutorial, On Writing. Read these if you're getting started and read them twice if you're a pro. These authors and others all around the world will tell you that beating the ugly monster of trepidation chewing on a writer's membrane is the first and most critical element to becoming a valid writer.

In my opinion, the second most critical element is learning how to fend off the monster's doubly ugly cousins, the ones targeting a writer's inherent paranoia and triggering instantaneous chemical imbalances. These are the ones that send writers into despair at the sight of a rejection letter and into green-eyed jealousy towards those who've made it in the literary field.

Face the facts; you're going to be rejected sometime in your writing career. More than likely, you'll gather hundreds of rejections in your career. That doesn't mean you stink, okay? Get that into your uber-obsessed mind and make it an automatic mantra: "I don't stink. I don't stink. I DON'T STINK!"

As much as I've grown to detest the word "subjective" having seen it enough times to open a store next to the Lolly family's adverb emporium, it is the kindest (if coldest) way the industry has to let would-be authors down. Only 1% of submissions to literary agents even get considered, much less invited to pitch. The global population is triple, the internet has opened the gates to new voices which couldn't get in previously and quality control is lax on the web but twice as stringent in real-time. You're going to get rejected, so buck up and think about the next agent or editor you plan to query while you wait. Better yet, get cracking on the next project so you can divert yourself and avoid the yeoman's mistake of pestering editors for a status to your submission.

In the here and now, though, you have to face the hapless fact the short story you've toiled weeks over quite possibly isn't going to see print or even digital typeface. If anyone understands, it's your ol' pal, Ray. I too am faced with debt I need to get erased. I too stay up late and get up early trying to hedge my words into something sellable. I've had tremendous success as a music journalist, but I don't live in Manhattan where I would love to be, so I have to wave my hands harder than the average bear. Many don't see me. There are tons of writers nipping at one another's ankles in New York, Nashville and Los Angeles hoping to be picked by Rolling Stone to let them pitch a piece. I know all too well the eagerness that broils inside a writer's heart. Who's the connection? Who can help me win audience with those editors? What solid do I need to do for someone so they can hit me back with a return solid? The same ethos goes for getting your novel sold, much less your band's demo into a record exec's mit.

Sound familiar? It should if you care about what you do. Because you care is why it stings to smithereens when nobody wants to read or hear you. The rejection letter is such a godforsaken evil beast and it has destroyed the psyches of many authors to the point of their inevitable surrender. But you cannot--I repeat, cannot--let it. You're a winner, so think like one. It's quantum physics. If you think you're worthless, so will the literary field. You won't even register a blip on the radar. Think high and shine like a beacon.

Of course, you're going to have to remain broad-shouldered and resolute to your mission once the rejections do come or the editors ignore your correspondence. The majority of writer emails and hand-crafted letters end up in slush piles, spam folders or in auto-delete. Editors and agents are smothered by pleas from you and me to give us all our shot. We crave it, we need it, our lives are defined by our words. Much of the time, however, this doesn't matter. The rejection comes despite our best efforts, our sparkling cred and our fierce editing.

So how do you beat the curse once it's afflicted you?

I can tell you from experience the resume doesn't always guarantee you an entry slot, at least from those that pay. If you feel satisfaction in writing for free, go for it. Let the intrinsic value aid your muse and together, consummate through your word processor. I too have had proposals batted away, short stories turned down, queries dismissed. I have a rock solid background in this industry but yes, I get rejected at times like anyone else. My last name isn't Grisham or King, so I too must fight my guts out like you all.

The thing is, the fight thrills me to pieces. If I'm not writing, I feel empty and void, like something in my life has gone disastrously wrong. Here is the layer of my writer's spirit which needs stroking, coddling and encouragement. Often I receive praise from other writers, editors, bands and industry connections. It makes me feel wonderful and it keeps me plugging. However, writers are nefariously independent and thus I must provide myself with the necessary coddling if I am to keep to my course. A rejection thus becomes more like a spanking and here is where we must all discipline ourselves as writers to treat that undesirable notice as motivation instead of degredation.

Easier said than done, I know. The last rejection I received actually devastated me. I was inconsolable upon receiving a turndown for a short story I'd written. My credentials didn't matter; the rejection came anyway. How could such a thing happen with my background and pages full of publication credits? Was I foolish for sending the story out? Did it need even more editing than I gave it? Did I research the periodical thoroughly enough? Did I stink? Why bother with this crap anymore? I still have to work a full-time job despite my success, and my life-long belief of writing full-time has been just a dumb, decades-long pipe dream. There are too many other writers out there and it doesn't matter anyway, since Kardashians and Tebows get to butt in line at a publisher's queue. It's unfair, but life isn't supposed to be fair, as it's been said from the brainy to the brainless.

You know what I did the following weekend to purge myself of the emotional, subliminally arrogant ruts I faced from this rejection? I walked away from my work. Yep, I'm not kidding. I did it. It wasn't a vacation, just a step away from my computer. Aside from checking email, posting Facebook updates and Tweeting, I stayed away. I didn't try to network with anybody, I didn't let the Tweet board drop past my eyes to admire all the other authors who were promoting their stuff. I didn't let the publisher Tweets antagonize me with their brag lists. That's motivational antimatter, it's poison. Usually I sit in silence and applaud the success of my comrades in lexicon. I will take about 10 minutes maximum each day on Twitter to scout fellow writers to follow and to find inspiration in their success. Not this time, and there was no spite to my actions. I simply shut myself down from writing.

Instead, I watched a handful of movies as time permitted me with my youngster around. I took him out on the track for a two-mile walk, and that helped relieve some tension. The movies I selected in private time were intentionally designed thus: two mindless action films to relax the gray matter then an immediate cerebral-stimultating film to kickstart me once again. Call it a writer's reboot if you like. These included The Road Warrior, the 2009 Star Trek redux and Sunset Boulevard. Can I tell you how invigorated I was after all that? I did the same with music: a danceathon featuring Madonna, some head-bobbing garage rock grooviness courtesy of Fu Manchu, circumvented with the perplex math metal of Martyr and the electro-earthbound grandiosity of Future Sound of London.

I was refreshed and recharged. I got things done around the house. My son and I had quality time together. I read instead of wrote. It was a cleansing operation that pushed the sour emotions of being rejected away, yet that wasn't enough.

Here is a bold maneuver I recommend to all of you, though the prospect may seem implausible. It works, though, believe me. Right as I was ready to sit down and write again, I told myself no, I wouldn't. I treated myself like I was a spoiled brat and denied myself the privilege of writing for another two days. It was profound how this strategm ignited me. I was Jonesing, as it were.

By the time I let myself out of the penalty box, I came to my words with a delightful sense of aggression but moreso, appreciation. They poured out of me, they caressed me, they kept coming at me. Time was my only enemy in that session. I felt restored as I did heartbroken having to stop writing and leave for my job. That restorative juice to negate the naysaying and the rejection is such a valuable thing to possess when you're a writer. It was so healing to me I came to a phone meeting with a collaborative partner last night and we were rather productive in our attack plan. Rejection? Feh. I'll see you again, but I'll see more of Success in the meantime.

As you might infer, this was a recent event I had to slug through and I'm glad it happened, because it's a reminder that no matter your elevation or your stature in the literary trade, there's always a big rejection stamp lurking over your head and your work. You can't let it shatter you when it plunges down. For years I'd managed to shrug rejections off and stick to my tasks. I was proud of myself for handling rejection with grace, because I don't stink and neither do you.

Sometimes we're going to be reminded this is a subjective world we write in. When that happens and it hurts too damned much, take a Mad Max break and deny the muse until you're once again worthy of her. The monsters will have no place to hide any longer.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Random Shuffle Shelf Reviews: Confessions On a Dance Floor, All For You & Peter Gabriel (Security)

Greetings, readers! I'd like to introduce what should equate into a regular feature here at The Crash Pad: Random Shuffle Shelf Reviews.

While inherently this is a self-serving exercise, the intent is to have a bit of fun and if it works, maybe that sentiment will be shared by you all. The premise is simple. In-between other topics here on the site, I will corral a small handful of albums from my shelves and throw out a mini review just for kicks. The genres will be intentionally mixed to accommodate the diversity of my readership and to reflect the spectrum comprising my broad music tastes.

I've written more than a thousand audio, video and book reviews on a professional level, but this format is intentionally loose, first person and spoken from a full-on intrinsic standpoint. I will be issuing overall grades for the albums themselves and then to serve you singles-only iPod junkies, I'll flag highlight cuts from each album. Hopefully I can turn you on to some vibes you may or may not have been hipped to and likewise, I invite your comments and open discussion.

With that, let's ride...

Madonna - Confessions On a Dance Floor

Madonna's 2005 electronica-kissed love letter to long-ago Studio 54 and danceaholic Manhattan, Confessions On a Dance Floor, has been praised by the rave underground and pop fashionistas but well ignored by the mainstream. One thing that's endeared me to Madonna all the way from the beginning of her career is to try and predict what she's going to pull out of her trick bag next. She is the U2 and David Bowie of her vogue trade, fearless and always in search of reinvention. We've always seen the potential for a disco album from Madonna, but not one with such polish instead of the suggestive cheese whiz that could've sunk this venture ankle-deep. You can ring a bell for the seventies if you want to, but Confessions On a Dance Floor is one of the smartest, freshest dance pop albums laid down in this era--and the original, for that matter. We might not've hated disco as a collective as much if Madonna had been around.

Even though the Abba sample flirting behind her otherwise banging single "Hung Up" is a disruptive connector segment, said tune throbs on its own pulse and the rest of this album becomes one exploratory vehicle after another through bobbing dance flushes and intelligent sculpture modes. For awhile, Confessions On a Dance Floor is a rump-shaking sexpot affair that steers away from its brash moxy in favor of tempered grooves and deeper layering. Madonna's fangy "I Love New York" is a head-bobbing jammer, though you know London and Paris likely take exception to this one. Thumb-biting fun, but quickly outclassed after Madonna breathes sweet nothings into "Forbidden Love" and then throws some heel-sliding veneer into her boogie shoes.

Confessions then becomes Madonna's disco overhaul of Ray of Light where she beckons Shanti and sets her vocals free, trusting in the cosmic properties that made the latter album such a masterpiece. While I would recommend the early-on thumping ditties for partyheads, it's the shucking strut of "Like It Or Not," the Prince-like street hustle of "Push," the astral jive fanning the flames of Madonna's self-broiling on "How High" and the textured and driving "Isaac" that gives Confessions On a Dance Floor its staying power. Like Maxine Nightingale, Madonna brought us right back where we started from and this time, it's a worthwhile stay. Pump it up.

Grade: A-
Choice Cuts: "Hung Up," "Sorry," "Push," "How High," "Isaac" and "Like It Or Not"

Annihilator - All For You

If there's one metal album I'd stake my rep on knowing it's historically been dealt a unanimous raspberry, it's Annihilator's All For You. If you follow the genre, you know the legend of Jeff Waters, namely the fact this cat is one of the most talented guitarists of his ilk. You also know in the past Waters has had many associates flock under the Annihilator banner. It got to the point Waters ended up recording his music single-handedly and keeping it all attributed to Annihilator. His former reputation as a maverick cost Waters considerably, at least until he reassembled a full body after releasing the well-received Metal album from 2007. My past interviews with Waters revealed a much-grounded guy who knew he had a chance to dominate the industry and he regrets certain decisions that thwarted his genesis.

Never Neverland may be Annihilator's undisputed masterwork while Alice In Hell remains their bonding agent to the genre. All For You is a very distant cousin to Alice and I mean loose, since there's only a few songs that can be connected to the original album. Most who've come to All For You have ripped on its strange dynamics and random silliness. Personally, I love All For You for those reasons and for Waters' insane shredding and titanic riffs. Some of his heaviest and most intricate work can be found here and on the subsequent Annihilator release, Schizo Deluxe. It also introduces Dave Padden, one of metal's unsung heroes and second best Annihilator vocalist behind Coburn Pharr. Speaking of dynamic, Padden can damn near do it all and he makes this album as entertaining as Waters' riff rampages (no pun intended) and shred-o-matics--not to dismiss Mike Mangini's flailing blast beat theatrics.

Often faster and harder-smashing than a Gronkowski touchdown play, All For You implausibly throws in two quirky ballads amidst the mayhem, "The One" and "Holding On." Herein lies another complaint from much of the metal press, and yeah, they're off-setting in comparison to the deafening tonal crunches of Padden's manic ralphing and Waters' six string lava. Nonetheless, they still settle in once you acclimate yourself and as long as you hold to the belief Jeff Waters is going to torch the rest of this album. Essentially a single pilot at the helm of blazing turbines with two talented tailgunners at his back, Jeff Waters succeeded on All For You far more than he's been given credit for. His ballsy maneuver of tossing a slow, trippy breakdown in the midst of the epic metal thrashing madness of "Both of Me" has been criminally discounted. No more, I say. Hail, Canada and hail Annihilator...

Grade: B+
Choice Cuts:
"Demon Dance," "Bled," "The Nightmare Factory," "Rage Absolute" and "Both of Me"

Peter Gabriel - Peter Gabriel (Security)

One of the most gifted songwriters and performers of our time, Peter Gabriel's recorded body is both exhilirating and sometimes tough to digest. Such as it goes when you possess such multifaceted musicality and songwriting theory. Of Gabriel's four self-titled albums, it's this one which receives the most attention as it yields his best-known crossover song, "Shock the Monkey." While Melt is the best of the quartet and Car his most radical, Security is another prime example of Gabriel's propensity to both devastate and gravitate. It also has the tendency to meditate within itself, which becomes a chore at times and thus prevents the album from making a bombastic statement as promised in the beginning with the orgasmic "The Rhythm of the Heat."

That heart-pumping tribal outtro to "The Rhythm of the Heat" is one of the most exquisite and inspiring vibes I've ever heard in music and while "San Jacinto" (a gorgeous, slinking composition on its own) seeps out of such percussive grandeur, it's somewhat of a disappointment. This is only because "The Rhyhtm of the Heat's" cinematic momentum is skidded so abruptly it almost hurts--at least until "San Jacinto" reaches its climaxing choruses, holding the line, as it were.

Something of a befuddlement, Security later opts for restraint after "Shock the Monkey" shakes and escalates the album with its power pop shimmy. If nothing else, Peter Gabriel is a shrewd buck on his vehicles, leaving at least one radio-friendly piece amongst his canvasses and palettes, the latter strictly for his perusal. "Lay Your Hands On Me" benefits from a soul-reaching chorus, yet "Wallflower" reflects its namesake and proves anticlimactic before Gabriel swerves the venture to a hipster's hike of Afrobeat with "Kiss of Life." Prior to it all, "The Flower and the Fishing Net" is seven minutes of near foot-shooting avant guardism and "I Have the Touch" is Phil Collins-esque with its synth grooves, electro sways and pounding drum patterns. At least "I Have the Touch" works and prompts the hand-shaking it summons out of its audience. Still, nothing on this album matches the soaring explosiveness of "The Rhythm of the Heat" and if that's pointless needling against a best-selling album, then so be it. I still yank this off the shelf a handful of times each year regardless, because it is a fascinating release. Mad respect to Peter Gabriel, but Security had so much more to give. At least Gabriel soon scored Gen X gold with So.

Grade: B-
Choice Cuts:
"The Rhythm of the Heat," "I Have the Touch" and "Shock the Monkey"

Monday, February 6, 2012

Madonna Had Something to Prove at the Super Bowl

Photo credit: Christopher Polk, Getty Images

Did you get the feeling Madonna's sparkling performance at the Super Bowl last night was more than just a Midwest girl making good on a decades-long dream, as the pop maven described (paraphrasing is mine) her experience on the world's biggest music platform? Of course, M.I.A.'s trashy and uncalled-for flipoff on national t.v. nearly undermined the entire operation. As if Madonna needed her or those doofy dweebs from L.M.F.A.O. with the exception of using them as pawns to endear her to a younger demographic.

After a steady diet of superlative Super Bowl halftime shows, last year's queefed with the Black Eyed Peas (a group I respected through Elephunk but have since become one of my fiercest target accusees of corporate whoring), Madonna brought the house down long before the G-Men punched the New England Patriots' goodbye ticket for a second time in the big dance.

Now I'm not going to say Madonna's halftime show was 100% M-sizzle since this was the first time people could actually see a bit of the waif-like unsurety and nervousness we saw when Madonna crashed the gates at MTV back in the early eighties. No longer the Boy Toy she was back then, the elder Madonna still looked damned fine and still knows how to throw a production. A few of her steps onstage were just above passable but you had to be watching her legs amidst all the world-class dancers, marching bands, the Cirque du Soleil and Cee Lo Green swarming about her to catch anything. All designed to divert attention from Madonna's slower footing as much as they are designed to entertain and create spectacle. The intangible, however, is to understand Madonna's qualms about heights. She sucked it up and stood tall.

Madonna's in her fifties and wouldn't we all want to be in her platinum shoes with the opportunity to make a statement that glory fades only if you let it? The choreography around Madonna was spectacular. Her entrance with a squadron of ripped gladiators pulling her in was spectacular. The whole "Vogue" segment of her performance was balls-out, but without the dangling balls or their femme equivalent. We all sat on the edge, just knowing Madonna was going to pull something risque, but she made good on her promise of no wardrobe malfunctions. Her cartwheel aerials were really the closest thing we got to titillation and honestly, that's all we needed, particularly with millions of children staying awake to watch the game and also those staying up for Madonna's show. She's as popular now as she ever was, though her upcoming tour is reported to be a costly ticket. She'll sell them, though, especially after last night. Her new album will debut at number one by default. Madonna is forevermore a marketing genius.

She previewed her new cut "Give Me All Your Luvin'" (not to be cross-pollinated with ZZ Top's immortal stamp-a-bamper) and for sure Madonna's tapped into a vibe that's hot for this generation. I still don't know how I feel about it on a personal level, but I'm going to meditate over it while spinning Confessions On a Dance Floor, Ray of Light and her self-titled intro release from '83 later in the day.

The medley of "Open Your Heart," and "Express Yourself" made me a little dizzy as they followed the all-out blitz of rappers and electro diva backups who assisted on "Give Me All Your Luvin.'" Still, the marching band re-arrangement was bold and exciting. Usually it comes off cheesy and pandering. Not so this time. Cee-Lo-Green showing up to duet on her epochal "Like a Prayer" created a solid, appropriate finale--even though it was all inherently a marketing ploy to pimp Green's The Voice, which followed the game. When you understand marketing, all the fun goes away, but for pop music, that was bombastic.

Beneath all the extravagance, however, you have to think Madonna was throwing down (professionally-speaking) at the usurper of her golden spotlight, Lady Ga Ga. There's no doubt in my mind Madonna silently thought, Take that, Ga Ga baby once she disappeared down the chute at the end of "Like a Prayer." The press has all been saying since Ga Ga stole the crown of the pop genre that she's Madonna 2.0. I've always counted Ga Ga to be an amalgam of Madonna, Grace Jones and Paul Oakenfold plus the old cabaret performers of yesteryear. Madonna's shtick has always been about cabaret and though her Super Bowl show was well conservative in comparison to her bawdy past (notice that she shied away from her biggest hit, "Like a Virgin"), there was something Liz Taylor-esque about it all. It wasn't just the vivacious Cleopatra entrance; this was Madonna reaffirming herself as a media mogul and a queen of her realm.

All this being said, pop music today holds little interest for me. Lady Ga Ga is the only one who matters of this generation (the jury is still in on the suddenly-escalated Adele, assuming she can get past infecting her sultry sass with dragging doldrums) in my not-so-humble opinion, which is why I paid close attention to Madonna last night. A response was needed by Madonna if she is to continue selling records and concert tickets. Her very relevance was at stake in the Super Bowl and she came out of Lucas Oil Stadium with more buzz than Eli Manning. Dare we say, she completed the Hail Mary that Tom Brady twice could not in the game.

You've come a long way, Ciccone... M.I.A., you have miles to go.