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.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Peace, Love and Soulllllllllllllllll Into the Afterlife...

Death is never a delicate subject and most of the time it hurts or at least stings a little. Empathy at least makes us feel pity for those we don't know because soon enough, it'll be us shedding the tears and wallowing in misery once we lose a loved one. Death is also a very commonplace topic since human beings exit this life in the same increments as new ones enter.

Suicide always leaves a foul taste in people's mouths. The concensus views suicide as cowardly and in many cases it's a tragic matter of one being's inability to cope with life, much less find a dignified day-to-day existence. In some cases, however, suicide is the means to an end for those who are suffering greatly on a physical level.

The latter is what we are asked to believe in light of Soul Train figurehead Don Cornelius' suicide, that the man had shown the signs of rapid health decline and dementia. I had two grandparents who were afflicted by dementia, so I get it to some degree. I don't condemn Don Cornelius, though his ex-wife and some other folks we'll likely never know about might condemn Don for his alleged abusive inclinations. I wasn't witness to it, so I cannot pass fair judgment.

What I can say is that I am sad Cornelius took a bad ride down an ugly track in his final days, a man who used to sign off every weekly episode of Soul Train with "Peace, love and soulllll..." So many of us who grew up watching Soul Train (whether we were black or white, Latino or Asian) took those words to heart. Birthed in the midst of social revolution, Soul Train was living gospel to a more United States of America. One nation under a groove, to quote the mighty Funkadelic. It was enough that a black-targeted dance show had made it to syndicated television. The fact it had made it was even more tremendous.

Sponsored heavily by Afro Sheen (a brand name that will forever echo in my ears though I've never sported an afro myself) for its decades-plus run, Soul Train was a visual bible for would-be dancers--both on the street and pro levels--as it was a showcase for the seventies and eighties soul and R&B greats. The Spinners, Prince, Barry White, Roberta Flack, The Four Tops, Cameo, Rick James, Parliament, Kool and the Gang, The Pointer Sisters, Herbie Hancock, The O-Jays, The Gap Band and The Ohio Players were some of the funk and soul giants I recall seeing on my television every Saturday without fail. My mom and my dad had many differences and many scrums over who ruled the television, but Soul Train was mandatory and my mother was resolute once it came on. Where my father went whenever it aired, I don't recall, but I would have my butt plugged on the carpet near the tube while my mom shook a tail feather or two in the living room. Those were happy times.

I was raised on Motown, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Fat Albert and Soul Train as a child and some people may find that statement a bit trite because of the lighter hue of my skin. No worries, I say, since my childhood was molded by my very-white mother who had made it her mission to provide an environment and a mode of thinking where I saw the actions of others, not the colors of their skins. Don Cornelius and Soul Train helped fortify that attitude, particularly when you saw whites grooving in harmony with blacks and all of them would throw down together in the show-ending line dance. Everyone looked like loose-limbed aliens showing us the key to a more rhythmic and enlightened way to live.

The Black Panthers had started with the right intentions as a community booster organization. Eldridge Cleaver infiltrated the Panthers and steered them down a path of equality through separatism which the movement has never recovered from in the eyes of the majority. Don Cornelius took up the same cause of equality, but he took a less-militant approach. People still love him and Soul Train, proving that peace, love and soul can touch more lives and break down more barriers than gun barrels and brass knuckles.

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