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 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...


  1. I can't say I remember most of where I got my CD's in my collection, but there are certainly a few with stories. Like Dream Theatre's "Falling Into Infinity" when I went to buy it the day of release, the store clerk dropped my debut card on the magnetic strip and rendered it useless, forcing me to go to my bank and get a new one. I still think I should have got a discount or something.

    Big stores have their place. Mine is the Big HMV I frequent. I spent my an hour browsing and finding all kinds of gems. Not somuch anymore as their distribution is becoming more mainstream and less obscure items are coming through, but we had some good years.

  2. I was really a lover of Tower Records back in the late eighties and early nineties, but there was never one all that close. A buddy used to drive us over to one all the time and we'd be in there for hours. They had a separate ROOM just for classical and it wasn't a paltry space, either. I gained more knowledge of classical in there than in Music Appreciation 101. Brutal story about your debit card, though, ouch!