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.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Is Social Networking a Benefit Or a Burden to Writers?

Rule number one as a serious author is to never bite the hand that feeds. That holds true for most things in life, of course, but it's an idiom writers are held in check with as a constant truism. Cross swords with an editor or agent who is willing to invest time in an author's career, the author will assuredly be gutted no matter how skilled he or she can parry. Tick off one's audience to the point of blatancy, then forget future royalties.

Like anything else, it's an honest checks and balances system which has its loops to master and potential pitfalls that can ruin a writer's career. It's not always fair but Kennedy warned us ages ago about the fallacy of fairness. In an equal world, fairness would be a standard to which everyone could prosper from, but we hardly live in an equal world.

The internet, for all of its wonders and hazards, tries to serve as an intermediary for fairness--so long as you can keep up the payments with your service provider. Through sheer anonymity behind a keyboard, everyone enjoys relative equality. It's when we choose to put our pictures into cyberspace and express ourselves when the web becomes personable instead of free floating machina. It also starts the competition game. Seeking one another out amidst the cold cybernetic tundra is, of course, commonly referred to as social networking. Even if our purpose is just to have a few online chums with whom to email and instant message about the daily grind of life, social networking is the new culture.

We'd much rather email and text one another these days instead of picking up the phone or, gee willikers, actually pick up pen and paper and snail mail letters to each other. It takes too much time, we have to spend money on stamps which are double the price they were before the internet went mainstream and the whole "green" movement guilt trips us all into conserving our paper-based resources before our world resembles a Once-ler-esque wasteland.

There is, of course, the convenience factor, though, which draws us to the internet, email and Blackberries. You can send a message quicker than it takes to dial a number and engage the other person you're attempting to reach and stay in good conscience you're no snob, you haven't withdrawn from society, you keep up with current trends. In the business world, email is the happy alternative to being forced to speaking with undesirable, headache-provoking parties through the phone receiver. Life moves faster and we fall to pieces faster accordingly, so it's not always in people's interest to jabber on the phone for long periods of time. Besides, there's 600 channels of mindless fodder with which to downtune from the demanding pace of life, right?

Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and the former online social ringleader, MySpace, brings us together from every nook and cranny of the world. In my day, we pen-palled one another all across the globe and it's hilarious now to think how it would take weeks for our letters and care packages to get to one another. Now you can reach your online buddy in Dubai with an email attachment of goodies within seconds, assuming he or she is awake in his or her respective time zone to receive it so rapidly. Semantics, of course, but this instant gratification mode comes part and parcel with where we're at in the digital realm. Faster than lightspeed, we can have it all and we can assimilate information and barely tangible electronic products in nanoseconds depending on our ISP's capacity and how much free RAM we leave in our hard drives. Like Kraftwerk would chirp, we are the robots...doo da doo doo...

Yes, I too work the internet social hubs because it's practically expected if you're to be considered a serious writer. Okay, granted, the web makes my writings more accessible to a widespread, diverse audience who might not have had the means or the physical delivery system to read my articles at Metal Maniacs or AMP, which appeared in many retailers, but not all of them, of course. I am probably more read at my blogsite The Metal Minute than either of those venues, though I received quite a bit of wonderful reader feedback through their editors and printed letters within those periodicals. Many of those readers then sought me out through MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn to hook up with me. Some actually personalized their add friend requests, most did not. It's cool. So long as you're not a pedophile, mass murderer, cyberscum or porn spy, chances are I might very well add you.

As a writer, you're just about compelled to add cyber friends, unless you carry prestige and a long sales record in which your very name draws people to you in legion. Those folks don't need to add friends. They can scrutinize far deeper and those they do choose to communicate with online through postings and tweets only egg everyone else to the point of jealousy. "Hey, I follow you too, Ms. I Sell Millions," becomes the transient emotion from most where wound comes not from face-to-face rejection, but the fact a successful writer won't or is merely shy of time to reciprocate online. The biggest offense in the digital world nowadays, is to not respond to emails, texts or instant messages. Your very cred depends upon it unless you're already bank.

Again, here is where we're at in the world. If you're an up-and-coming writer or mid-tier writer, you must social network. Period. There's no escaping it. There are so many journalists, authors, poets and scribes galore and if you want to stand out, you must dog the internet persistently. You must devote hours a day sending out tweets to your followers, scouting out others to follow who might be down with your own goals and in turn, follow you. It becomes an instant numbers game. If you don't have a minimum of three digits in your friends and followers count, you're not legit. Thousands, you have a shot at making it. Six figures, you're in gold territory.

The theory is, the more people you get behind you in the digital realm, the far more likely your sales count is going to rise. Not always a fail-safe attitude, though, since we are still in tough financial times and there is triple the product in every branch of media. Talent is one thing; consumer willingness to buy is the bigger mandate. Writers today are expected to be marketing geniuses and while I myself possess a Marketing degree, most writers do not. In fact, most wouldn't know an actual prospectus and marketing plan if one was handed to them. Writers are analytical, sure, but most are dreamers, creators, designers, keyholders to portals of imagination. Forcing them into marketing schisms (in my opinion, anyway) puts many on a collision course for failure.

And so you see Twitter filled with billions of abbreviated marketing messages from writers touting their wares. The key, above all in the social networking stratum, is to get other users to re-tweet your self-penned advertisement, so you are likely to see the same messages come flying again from supportive writers. It becomes information overload, to the point your own tweet-pitch becomes just one ionized blurb amidst billions served on a daily basis. McDonald's might soon be balking at that claim, and I'm not going to be a hypocrite and denounce this practice. I've done it plenty and will be tweeting and Facebooking a message about this very post just to bring awareness to my friends and followers with the hopes of luring them all here to read. That's how it works now. We can only dream to serve billions of readers on a daily basis, but it's the driving motivation behind social networking--at least from a writer's perspective.

Also, what this online mania leads to is enterprising writers with certain levels of status or business ingenuity to prey on desperate, hungry writers by charging them a dime or two to sell themselves on their high traffic websites, or in some cases, charging them for a review of their book. I won't name names, but it resembles the practices of a well-known media journal, and this pay-to-play ethic basically robs the integrity of what is considered an "indie" scene. A true indie scene passes the materials around, shares its thoughts amongst one another for free and uses word-of-mouth to spread the media like wildfire--or to go viral, as is the lingo today. It's one thing if you're an assignment writer for a paying magazine, but directly charging an artist seeking your valued opinion? It's more than a gray area. The punk, thrash metal and alternative scenes of the eighties were proof positive that scenes are built and nurtured from within and profiteering off of one another was restricted to buying each other's works and t-shirts and then telling newcomers all about them.

But, like Depeche Mode sang in "Everything Counts," it's a competitive world and even more so with the internet inviting each and every participant with a direct connect into this formerly fabricated marketplace. Web shopping is real now, books are sent and consumed electronically in large (if not larger) amounts than hard copy to your local Barnes and Noble. Of course, I posit that nothing the interent offers compares to the intoxicating aroma of parchment and java at Barnes and Noble, where I feel as much at home as inside a record shop. Of course, you won't be engaged by strangers there as readily as you are on the web. Remember, it's easier to connect with others from the security of our computer-based hidey holes than in the real world.

The biggest thing to social networking for writers is how much do we need to do it and still remain productive in the actual craft of writing? Must we be chained to the Twitter page at the cost of actual writing time? The logical tactic is to minimize Twitter and plow through our paragraphs, bringing the Twitter page back up every so often on breaks to check others' tweets and to throw out more of our own. It's why certain authors who are making a name for themselves online always seem to be on Twitter and their tweets rumble through within minutes of their last ones. It's effective, but it is destined to become pandemic.

Not everyone enjoys the luxury of writing from morning to dinner time. Work, family, obligations, they're all a part of life and definitely a part of mine. Writing time is my most cherished personal commodity. When I must carve out portions of my free time to catch up with my Facebook friends, toss out tweets, thank my followers and answer my emails, often this comes at the sacrifice of valuable writing time. Sadly, I'm soon falling asleep at my computer once I have a manuscript up after all that since I've already had a long day at work, my family is noisy enough to whittle me down and then getting caught up with my digital microcosm becomes encompassing all on its own. I do my blog posts in the morning and it's always a race against my son who normally hears when I'm up and he's chasing my shadow. As you can see by the length of this post, I rose from bed earlier than usual so I could do it in peace, and it has become a part of my everyday habit as a writer. I hate to say it, there was less stringency before the internet, even if I do indeed thank the internet for the blossomed audience I enjoy. As I mentioned earlier, it's unwise to bite the hand that feeds.

Still, I do have to say this in summation: if I don't keep up with my social networking, I notice my followers drop off a few points or stagnate until I resume posting. Even at this site, the hit count reflects its activity, even if The Metal Minute continues to draw hundreds of readers each day, even when I don't post. Facebook, if I'm not reading through and commenting or "liking" my fellow Face-friends' thoughts, I can expect dead air to my own posts. There's the fairness factor I alluded to previously. It is easy, however, to misconstrue not giving a generous block of time in devotion to others in this digital metropolis as snubbing. If you want to succeed as a writer in this computer world, you must find the line between pushing your relevancy out there and hedging the all-important quietude in which to create.

Used to be a writer need simply find the quietude.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Ray's 125 Song Party Playlist

Inadvertently stemmed from a fun Facebook exchange I had with a friend from high school, I got to thinking what it might sound like if I was called upon to create a party playlist. Some of this list contains well-known hits, and some, well...not so much. The genres are bountiful and intentionally broad in scope, but all of these tunes have energy, verve and vibe. In my humble opinion, this list could well carry a party deep into the night. You be the judge.

1. The Clash – “Magnificent Seven”
2. Madness – “The Prince”
3. James Brown – “Doing it to Death”
4. Fatboy Slim – “The Rockefeller Skank”
5. Ani DiFranco – “Knuckle Down”
6. Adele – “Rumor Has It”
7. The Dining Rooms – “Pure & Easy”
8. PJ Harvey – “Down By the Water”
9. Roxy Music – “Love is the Drug”
10. Herbie Hancock – “Rockit”
11. Vampire Weekend – “Holiday”
12. Wilco – “I Might”
13. Buzzcocks – “Ever Fallen in Love”
14. Stereo MC’s – “Deep Down & Dirty”
15. Gorillaz – “Feelgood, Inc.”
16. Jurassic 5 – “World of Entertainment (Woe Is Me)”
17. Blondie – “Rapture”
18. U2 – “Two Hearts Beat As One”
19. The Fixx – “Saved By Zero”
20. Depeche Mode – “Strangelove”
21. The Cure – “Let’s Go to Bed”
22. Judas Priest – “Hot Rockin’”
23. Van Halen – “Hear About it Later”
24. Marilyn Manson – “The Beautiful People”
25. Deftones – “Digital Bath”
26. Smithereens – “Blood and Roses”
27. Paul Westerberg – “Dice Behind Your Shades”
28. Peter Murphy – “The Scarlet Thing In You”
29. Iggy and the Stooges – “Shake Appeal”
30. Redd Kross – “Peach Kelli Pop”
31. Black Flag – “T.V. Party”
32. Radiohead – “There There”
33. Amy Winehouse – “Tears Dry On Their Own”
34. Madonna – “Frozen”
35. Res – “Golden Boys”
36. Prince – “Irresistible Bitch”
37. Gary Wright – “Love Is Alive”
38. Electric Light Orchestra – “Strange Magic”
39. Led Zeppelin – “Going to California”
40. Orlando Cachaito Lopez – “Mis Dos Pequenas”
41. Classics IV – “Spooky”
42. Atlanta Rhythm Section – “So Into You”
43. The Pogues – “Bottle of Smoke”
44. Flogging Molly – “Drunken Lullabies”
45. The Psychedelic Furs – “Love My Way”
46. Devo – “Freedom of Choice”
47. Duran Duran – “A View to a Kill”
48. The Hives – “Hate to Say I Told You So”
49. Traffic – “John Barleycorn”
50. The Doors – “People Are Strange”
51. The Turtles – “You Showed Me”
52. The Grateful Dead – “St. Stephen”
53. Faster Pussycat – “Bathroom Wall”
54. Bang Tango – “Breaking Up a Heart of Stone”
55. Motorhead – “We Are the Road Crew”
56. The Cars – “Touch and Go”
57. The Ravyyns – “Raised On the Radio”
58. Elvis Costello – “Radio Radio”
59. The Cramps – “Goo Goo Muck”
60. Reverend Horton Heat – “Big Red Rocket of Love”
61. Emmylou Harris – “Wrecking Ball”
62. Thievery Corporation – “Guide For I and I”
63. Nine Inch Nails – “The Hand That Feeds”
64. Kurtis Blow – “The Breaks”
65. Public Enemy – “Welcome to the Terrordome”
66. Beastie Boys – “So Watch’a Want?”
67. TheHeavy – “How You Like Me Now?”
68. Otis Redding – “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)”
69. Joss Stone – “Jet Lag”
70. Santo and Johnny – “Sleepwalk”
71. The Ventures – “Walk Don’t Run”
72. The Specials – “Do the Dog”
73. Grace Jones – “Bullshit”
74. US3 – “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)”
75. The Beatles – “Paperback Writer”
76. Beach Boys – “God Only Knows”
77. Santana – “Soul Sacrifice”
78. Canned Heat – “Going Up the Country”
79. Neil Young – “Harvest Moon”
80. Robert Palmer – “Doctor Doctor”
81. Seals and Crofts – “Summer Breeze”
82. Joe Walsh – “Life’s Been Good”
83. Rolling Stones – “Midnight Rambler”
84. Stereolab – “Cybele’s Reverie”
85. Kraftwerk – “Trans-Europe Express”
86. Peter Gabriel – “I Don’t Remember”
87. Paul Simon – The Rhythm of the Saints”
88. Phil Collins – “In the Air Tonight”
89. The Romantics – “Talking in Your Sleep”
90. Jackson Browne – “Somebody’s Baby”
91. Talk Talk – “It’s My Life”
92. Berlin – “Sex (I’m a…)”
93. Simply Red – “Holding Back the Years”
94. Sade – “Love Is Stronger Than Pride”
95. Fugazi – “Sieve-Fisted Find”
96. The Damned – “New Rose”
97. The Jam – “A Town Called Malice”
98. Frank Black – “Los Angeles”
99. Blue Oyster Cult – “Burnin’ For You”
100. Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Me and My Friends”
101. Bob Marley – “Waiting in Vain”
102. SSQ – “Tonight (We’ll Make Love Until We Die)”
103. Tori Amos – “Spark”
104. The Dresden Dolls – “Girl Anachronism”
105. The Civil Wars – “Barton Hollow”
106. Fistful of Mercy – “Father’s Son”
107. Cake – “Comfort Eagle”
108. David Bowie - "The Jean Genie"
109. Blur – “Girls and Boys”
110. The Church – “Reptile”
111. Lush – “For Love”
112. Dramarama – “Work For Food”
113. Beck – “Devil’s Haircut”
114. International Noise Conspiracy – “The Reproduction of Death”
115. Pink Floyd – “One of These Days”
116. Rush – “Subdivisions”
117. Jimi Hendrix – “Spanish Castle Magic”
118. Dead Milkmen – “Punk Rock Girl”
119. Ramones – “She’s the One”
120. The Chantays – “Pipeline”
121. The Moonlighters – “I Only Have Eyes For You”
122. The Temptations – “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”
123. The Main Ingredient – “What You See Is What You Get”
124. Funkadelic – “(Not Just) Knee Deep”
125. Maxine Nightingale – “Right Back Where We Started From”

I Lost It Over This...

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What's New

As an update on my end, friends, yours truly has been going through some new life changes which is slowing blog production, but I'll be revving back up in due time.

A couple weeks ago, I was downsized from my day job in a foreclosure law firm. While the housing market slowly rises back up, that firm has skidded to a halt on their end. Fortunately, I was able to find a new job within a week's time in a well-established title company and I've been rather busy learning their system and growing acclimated to their thread of the industry.

In the meantime, I've been working on my current novel, "Watching Me Fall," since February, though I had a layoff of sorts from that while I sorted out my employment situation. Starting to get back into the groove and I'm about halfway through the first draft of this project.

Of course, I have my short story "John's Dead," available at Smashwords for your pleasure. I want to thank Dan Lorenzo of Hades and Non Fiction in advance for his generous invitation to promote this story at the Jersey-based magazine he sells advertisting for, Steppin' Out. This should be running sometime soon, but for now, please have a go at Smashwords via the link below and as always, thanks for your support.

Click here for a digital copy of "John's Dead": John's Dead, by Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ray's Blurb About The Autobiography of Malcolm X at Goodreads

Autobiography of Malcolm XAutobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the things I've always felt my high school education cheated me out of was an accurate conveyance of the civil rights movement. Our teacher insisted Malcolm X was a hate monger and as a 99% white school body, we should refute his ways. BS, I say. Malcolm X was a figure of change, evolving from criminal to fundamentalist pawn to a man of enlightenment. Unfortunately, he'd made too many enemies in the Hoover administration and the NOI for his enlightenment to be considered in his favor. I refute my high school teacher's so-called "lesson" and invite those who seek the truth about a historically misrepresented figure of civil rights to step up to this book. Enlightenment will then be yours.

View all my reviews

Monday, March 12, 2012

Friday, March 9, 2012

Why The Lorax 2012 REALLY Reeks of Capitalism

Chances are, if you've seen the new theatrical adaptation of Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, you probably went home in a mood as fuzzy as Truffula tree. The kiddos are unified in arms in support of this flick. Of course they are. It comes from the producers of Despicable Me, which happens to have a sequel due for release in 2013. Naturally, the opportunity to pimp Despicable Me 2 isn't wasted in conjunction with The Lorax. You'll be treated to a silly skit teaser of those wobbly minions attempting some nasally acapella with party horn action, all in anticipation of the next film. As if this shrewd (and yes, despicable) ploy isn't enough, you can expect another one of those minions to return seconds later in a cutesy run-in with one of the bears from The Lorax before the latter even starts.

It's pretty insulting, if you ask me, but the marketing power inflicted like a one-two punch is undeniable. Already I'm dreading my son badgering the snot out of me to get him to Despicable Me 2, which he thinks is coming out tomorrow, not a year from now. Those exploitative bastards. This flagrant disrespect for consumers (i.e. parents) already sets a tone that something wicked this way comes by the time The Lorax gets rolling. Albeit, the kids think this abrupt genre collision is way cool. Of course they do. It was way cool in my day whenever Iron Man showed up in a Spiderman comic. Sadly, beneath the chic is just another damn marketing trick.

The common complaint amongst right wingers or at the very least, pro capitalists, is how baldfaced The Lorax is with its guilt-tripping agenda. Well, the original source material was never so much a jab against Big Business as it was a public service announcement about utilizing our global resources with a conscience. Moreover, Seuss warned against corruption and greed as part of a sound business prospectus. Greed is inherent to politics, marketing, sports, literature, journalism, knowledge and religion. Unfortunately for this do-up of The Lorax, greed by its constructors well overshadows any goodhearted intentions to smite greed.

As with the live action film adaptation of The Cat in the Hat, The Lorax 2012 serves up a wonder world that captivates and it salutes the trippy sherbet-colored alterverse Dr. Seuss created. That being said, both films plunder those fascainting scapes bred from a playful imagination and then seizes their own liberties to bloat their works into full-fledged ventures. Both films subsequently veer far from Seuss' concepts and visions, so much they're evident thievery, fail-safe constructs of their own design. They rake in the dough based on a brand name instead of remaining true.

With The Lorax 2012, we get an entire new set of circumstances we're forced to pay attention to instead of focusing on the very compelling, simplistic tale of a young boy coaxing the story of environmental violation from a regretful anti-villain. Seuss never once showed us what the Once-Ler looks like beyond his green-sleeved arm. That's part of the allure to the original story, knowing this ravenous merchant of ridiculous wool "Thneeds" has paid a long-standing penalty for his selfish pillaging. It seemed like a fitting punishment we accepted at face value. His potential ugliness was concealed, as it should've been. There's a darkness to Seuss' Lorax, one who speaks for the trees and whose memory is marked by a stone pedestal with the epochal decree "UNLESS" chiseled around the circumference. This Lorax is a pint-sized soothsayer with as much weight in his mustache as the rest of his furry exterior. He may have annoyed the Once-Ler in his warnings and pleas, but his heart-wrenching exodus from the original story leaves its indelible imprint upon the reader, no matter the age beholding it.

Unfortunately, this newest incarnation cannot opt for that alone. In order to sell tickets as a 3-D bonanza, an entire Thneed-Ville microcosm was ordered up in order to throw blatant, zippy images out to the audience. As if the Truffula valley wasn't enough to enthrall. Well, that's just fine and dandy for its own accord in a different enterprise, but it feels like intrusion in this scrambled tripe. As does the barrage of pop culture references (i.e. disco songs, the Mission Impossible theme and The Dukes of Hazzard, amongst others) which strangely work in the Shrek series but almost nowhere else without coming off as airheaded and obvious. All of the unnecessary slapstick and physical humor which Dr. Seuss never would've approved had he been alive feels like intrusion. It's a miracle this Lorax film avoided the obligatory fart humor that litters almost every other "kid-oriented" movie of this generation. Too bad the same wasn't said of The Cat in the Hat and The Grinch.

After awhile, whatever noble thoughts were conveyed in The Lorax are brushed away with a positively annoying shrimpy little bad guy, O'Hare. O'Hare strangleholds Thneed-Ville (it appears an irksome, dwarf-sized stereotype has bred throughout the CGI universe) by selling air to his citizens due to the pollution hovering outside the city walls. The thought of real trees inside Thneed-Ville would wreck his own capital gains, which prompts a new external conflict that bombards the original one to pieces. It's also a hopeless cliche and it only gets in the way as we're supposed to root on Ted, the main kid of the story whose prime directive for investigating the loss of trees is merely to impress a girl. Later, Ted feels an appropriate responsiblity to do what's right as O'Hare chases after him, but it all just feels like a prolonged provocation. Even the Once-Ler forcing Ted to keep coming back day after day for continued segments of his admission is gross negligence, an obvious padding of the running time.

By the time the core elements of the original story are touched upon, we have a lot more to go with Ted, his main girl Audrey and his spry grandma outwitting O'Hare so they can plant the effective Truffula seed to undo the mess originally propogated by the Once-Ler. Finally, the Once-Ler emerges from his dilapidated compound, redeemed, but before that, we've had to watch his younger self go through a literal song and dance (he even slings guitar at will, Jesus wept) as he first befriends then betrays the Lorax and the very-limited species animal kingdom once frolicking in the Truffulas. It's a weary prospect and Danny DeVito has been praised for his work in this film, but I personally wanted a bit more sage and sullenness in his delivery, not the ambivalence and near-doofiness the script calls from him. "You done good," The Lorax says to the Once-Ler in a return-to-Earth scene that Dr. Seuss never wrote. He sounds more like his fabled Louie DePalma from Taxi than a wise defender of the planet.

To its defense, The Lorax 2012 is a gorgeous film to behold. The CGI serves this film with such texture those Truffulas look like cotton candy and they darn well ought to be preserved. Even Thneed-Ville is filled with an eye-catching blend of brights and darks, creating a smart contrast of utopia and dystopia within one self-contained environment. The desolate wasteland left by the Once-Ler's land rape is appropriately chilly.

All of this is effective but trivial when you realize once again you've been duped into bringing your kids to an overblown kettle whistler filled with pop culture tidbits you're going to recognize but not necessarily your children. It's by design, it's out of place, it's all irrelevant to the spirit of conservation which Dr. Seuss' The Lorax brings to the table. We didn't need to see the Once-Ler's face, much less have a long-drawn origin story. Worse, Seuss' tongue-twisting pentameter is lost in translation. The rhymes (just like the other recent Seuss adaptations) is sparing, just enough to remind you where it once belonged, but the replacement dialogue is self-serving and very un-Seuss-like. Dr. Seuss made his point rather fast in The Lorax and though that point was cryptic, at least it was poignant. This is just an excuse to fill up Universal Studio's tills.

By the way, did you know Despicable Me 2 is coming?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"John's Dead," an Ebook by Ray Van Horn, Jr. Now at Smashwords

Now at Smashwords, a young boy's coming-of-age moment in light of the John Lennon assassination: "John's Dead," by Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Do you remember where you were the morning of December 9, 1980 when news of the cold-blooded murder of John Lennon brought Beatles fans all over the world to their knees with grief? Ten-year-old Darrin McKenzie wakes up to find his mother sobbing at the kitchen table and the school faculty mourning the death of Lennon. Darrin's young life will take an unexpected turn on this day as another tragedy hits closer to home.

Click here for a digital copy of "John's Dead": John's Dead, by Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Get On Your Bad Motorscooter, Ronnie, and Ride...

Photo by Jim Summaria, courtesy of Wikipedia

With another heavy sigh to be cast amongst us survivors, another music legend leaves this plane for the great rock hall perpetua. Ronnie Montrose, a grossly-underrated axe slinger responsible for some of rock music's most gargantuan riffs and slides, has succumbed to his five year battle against prostate cancer.

I suppose my generation and those within us must be feeling shades of our mortality right about now. First Davy Jones, the daydream believin' frontman of The Monkees passed away last week at age 66. Over the weekend, Ronnie Montrose, 64, follows Jones through the final earthbound turnstile, hopefully to take his place next to an always-warm amp where he can plug in and wail away to his soul's content. Though there's virtually nothing in common between Jones and Montrose, that's two heavy blows my generation has to sustain in terms of our identity and to however extent you read it, components of our popular culture. Before Jones and Montrose, we recently lost Whitney Houston and Don Cornelius. For crying out loud, this sucks.

I'm personally not over the loss of Ronnie James Dio. The memory of my interview with Dio still ranks high amongst my professional accomplishments, but more so, my ear canals feel just a shade hollow without Dio's imprint upon them. Fortunately, he left behind a heck of a recorded catalog, as did Ronnie Montrose.

Problem is, Montrose never really achieved the level of recognition he should have. It's almost to the point of crusade where writers and deep rock aficianados have had to take it upon themselves to educate others about Ronnie Montrose's contributions. If we're lucky, folks know Montrose's self-titled band as the launching pad for Sammy Hagar. The Van Halen sect are the ones most in the know about this tidbit and depending on what era of Van Halen they grew up with, the anecdote of Sammy Hagar residing in Montrose is met warmly or with revulsion.

Seriously, though? Hagar and Ronnie Montrose were a lethal combination, especially on the 1973 debut Montrose album, one any rock fan worth his salt ought to own. That's not bravado speaking, it's gospel. "Bad Motor Scoooter," "Rock the Nations," "Space Station #5" and "Rock Candy" are all foundation blocks of hard rock and heavy metal, birthed from a love of Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, but going one step further. If there's any real connection between Montrose and Van Halen, it's not quite the Hagar bonding agent between them. Montrose was fundamental to the outrageous heaviness of Van Halen in their early years, long before Hagar ever stepped into the latter's realm. Eddie Van Halen owes as much to Ronnie Montrose as he does to Paganini, Bach, Jimmy Page, Link Wray, Ritchie Blackmore and John Lee Hooker. Just as Mick Mars of Motley Crue owes Montrose more than due royalties for liberally borrowing Montrose's grinding outro to "Bad Motor Scootor" as the intro to Motley's "Kickstart My Heart." Tribute may have been Mars' intent, but "Kickstart" became such a massive hit there's an understated angst to be cast against casual rock fans attributing that well-known riff to the wrong originator.

Montrose may not have enjoyed the overt success between his namesake band and nine solo albums, but he was all over the place in the music scene, backing up or laying down contributions to Van Morrison, Edgar Winters, Boz Scaggs, Gary Wright, Kathi McDonald, Kevin Crider, even Herbie Hancock. Let's not overlook his work in the obscure Gamma nor his production achievements with fun in the sun hard rockers Y&T and more extreme metallers Heathen and Wrath. A prime example of Montrose's dexterity, Montrose also produced Mitchell Froom and Jerry Jennings.

Troll through Twitter this very second and you will see an outpouring from seventies and eighties-based rock and metal musicians who are all paying tribute to Montrose and commenting on their time spent around the guy. Cavalier would be the word I'd use to sum up the unified emotions in remembrance by Montrose's past associates. For me, it's just been damned maddening listening to people rave all over Mick Mars for "Kickstart My Heart" ever since the Crue's Dr. Feelgood came out in 1989. Being a rock journalist, you come across like an elitist nobody wants to hear when you set the record straight that orgasmic riff was engineered by Ronnie Montrose first, but it's a statistic worth fighting for, in my opinion. Okay, a number of blues guitarists had a hand in evolving that wailing titania, but Montrose intuitively played it like a growling engine, much like Link Wray figured out that a hard, vibrating twang was the appropriate sound to a street fight in "Rumble."

Even sadder, though, will be the collective question mark dotting people's heads when they see the headline over the web about Ronnie Montrose's passing. That's criminal, but it's also a case of poor marketing and being out of one's place and time. Van Halen made the most of their explosive capabilities and brash stage theatrics and were rewarded for it. Motley were rewarded for the same, plus they gain from the mysticism of how they still manage to walk the earth given the debauchery they've set precedence for. Ronnie Montrose, a mean mutha wielding a savvy collection of distorted cacophony he stitched together to create rock 'n roll heaven. If justice hasn't been served in this world for Ronnie, may the Lord welcome him home with proper fanfare. God is a bigger headbanger than Satan, I guarantee you that.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Where "Julia" Calls Me...

Sefton Park, Liverpool, England, reported meeting spot of Julia Stanley and Alfred Lennon - photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Half of what I say here might sound meaningless, to coin John Lennon's exquisite acoustic ballad, "Julia." Yet as I anticipate the eventual release of a short story I wrote related to the assassination of Lennon via Smashwords, I have to acknowledge the quixotic essence of "Julia" and where it calls me.

"Julia," of course, was written and performed (principally by Lennon) on The Beatles' White Album. Though the songwriting credits are split between Lennon and Paul McCartney (as are most of The Beatles' catalog), "Julia" is a solo shot from John to his mother, Julia Stanley. Perhaps there's some dubbed assist vocals by Paul on "Julia," but really, this is a wounded love letter sent from son to mother. Still, Lennon weaves "Julia" with enough loom to leave open-ended interpretation for his audience. If you don't know the intended muse behind this song, it could just as easily be thought of as a romantic swoon for two lovers or simply a gentle reflection upon a woman who transcends time.

Like Elvis Costello's equally gorgeous tribute to his ailing grandmother, "Veronica," (ironically co-written with Paul McCartney) "Julia" is a song about blood and soul, a coping mechanism meant to assuage the pain of familial loss. Hard not to slip into a trance with Lennon's near-ostinato on "Julia," but its simplistic-yet-grandiose innocence is what resonates most. I most adore the reverse-lullaby effect Lennon created on this song, soothing and stroking the essence of his mother as she no doubt coddled him as an infant.

In writing my story "John's Dead," I suppose "Julia" might've been ringing in my subconscience as the story concentrates more on December 9, 1980 when a ten-year-old boy wakes to the news of Lennon's killing. What the boy sees all around him and how he experiences a coming-of-age moment in the midst of this tragedy is the theme to my story. The hypothetical soundtrack would be relegated more to Lennon's seventies-based body of work, but it's the love-hate interaction between my protagonist Derrin and a young girl harboring a mad crush on him which becomes the "Julia" moment of the story for me.

This girl, Jackie, torments Darrin as much as she loves him, which is the best a little girl her age can do to express herself with building hormones she's unaware of, nowhere near sexual but certainly carrying their own flashpoint tension. Fifth grade is a somewhat gentle age, a breathing period between the explosive I'm-too-big-for-this confusion between ages eight and nine and the tumultuous insanity which comes along between twelve and thirteen. Age ten is but one stepping stone towards maturity and as mature a song as "Julia" is, I have to think there's as much a self-acknowledgement of Lennon's foibles and his angst in growing up as there is a sweltering ache for his lost mother.

At the base of true love is bewilderment, terror and rage. Parental love is ingrained and subsequently reinforced through courage, interaction and nurturing. Jackie's lashing out against Darrin, however, is a teeter-totter expression of what constitutes the belief of true love at a delicate age most people will forget about in adulthood.

"Julia" is waif-like as much as it is heartaching and sentimental. Lennon wrote it for his mother. As my short story is based on very-real events, "Julia" is a soft caress that pats me on the shoulders and offers me a chance to laugh at the very-real Jackie (albeit she appeared in my young life in a different grade) and how she must've felt in her befuddled junior mind. More than likely, this Jackie wouldn't even remember me now, but there exists a brief time and place in our lives where we connected. It's not something to dwell on for too long since those are a silly set of emotions and events that are hardly relative to adult life. Still, don't we all at times crave the inherent fostering Lennon's love-lullaby offers?

Nonetheless, "Julia" might've taken John Lennon straight to the bosom of his mother or at least the ripples of Sefton Lake, but for me, it's the penultimate peck on the cheek from a little girl who used to chase me around and slug me as often as she passed me goofy, child-penned love notes. Jackie's breath is perpetually cinnamon and toothpaste to me though the shadow of her memory serves best where it originated from 1977 to 1978. Obviously, "Julia" has far deeper implications in the spirit Lennon wrote it. In my microcosm, this is dedicated to a sparing few minutes of yeoman, untested love as sweet and as brief as a Push-Up pop. It's a pretty song meant for pretty girls regardless of age, and thus I will never think of anyone but young Jackie whenever this nostalgic song hits me with its windy smiles and shimmering, glimmering ruddiness.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Cool New Metal Releases For March

Earth - Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 2
Southern Lord Records
Release Date: Out Now

The Deacon of Drone, Dylan Carlson, returns with the sleepwalking finale to his Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light couplet. This remarkably spooky and soothing installment is abetted by a screeching, wallowy cello courtesy of Lori Goldston. Peaceful in the opening number, "Sigil of Brass," expect Carlson, along with Goldston, Karl Blau and the mistress of skin shambling, Adrienne Davies to take you on another creep-along through a dark and dusty desert trail where even Duane Eddy might fear to tread. When it comes comes to this vibrating, somnambulist vibe, nobody can touch Dylan Carlson and Earth.

King Giant - Dismal Hollow
Path Less Traveled
Release Date: Out Now

Just when you think the entire sludge-doom sect has said all it has to say, up steps King Giant with a demonstrative command of the style, sounding like complete masters within only two albums. Myths and passed-about terror tales within the Appalachian Mountains are the reported inspiration behind Dismal Hollow. While the songs never get beyond mid-tempo, there is still a throbbing punch and a headbanging kick that transcends the implied glut and gloom King Giant overpowers their own amps with. Heavy, heavy, heavy stuff.

Cannibal Corpse - Torture
Metal Blade Records
Release Date: March 13th

As we are in the midst of a subcultural renaissance of zombie worship, it's no surprise Cannibal Corpse are thriving. Moreover, they're growing, at least in their song structure, if not their sicko splattercore lyrics. As indicated on their previous few albums, The Wretched Spawn, Kill and Evisceration Plague, there are only so many grinding triplicate speed zones they can extol in succession without stirring the sinewy stewpot at least a few times. Produced by Hate Eternal's Eric Rutan, Torture is one of Cannibal Corpse's most precise slabs of controlled mayhem in their considerable catalog. Don't let the sophomoric titles "Intestinal Crank," "Followed Home Then Killed" and "Torn Through" deceive you. Cannibal Corpse throws heaps of rock grooves into their blistering thrash on this one, freshening up as much as they slice 'em up. It shouldn't be any surprise Cannibal Corpse sounds so perfectly calibrated, but this band has truly refined their songwriting, even though they were bloody likely watching a marathon of Don't Let Him In, Cyrus: Mind of a Serial Killer and Chromeskull: Laid to Rest 2 while penning Torture.

Exciter - Death Machine
Massacre Records
Release Date: Out Now

Also quite likely watching an equally set of gory films as Cannibal Corpse while working on their 2010 album, Death Machine, are legendary Canadian speed mongers, Exciter. Death Machine, being re-released for a second trip through Masscare Records, will still likely be doomed as far as mass market distribution due to this nervy, disgusto album cover that never would've flown back when they started in the eighties. The good news for their fans, however, is that Exciter is now probably the fastest they've ever been. Death Machine is ruthless, chunky and massive, even though it is all tone-drenched to the point of primitiveness. That seems to be Exciter's objective, though. The songs are beyond immature, the title-repeating choruses are laughable and at times monotonous, but Death Machine is still a riotous, dirty throwback to thrash's (and Exciter's) infancy years when Heavy Metal Maniac ruled the underground. For better or worse, this is how it all sounded when there was such a thing as Cryptic Slaughter, Dream Death, Carnivore and Cyclone alongside Exciter, Exodus and Overkill.

Sigh - In Somniphobia
Candlelight Records
Release Date: March 20th

Japanese black-death-proggers Sigh continue to astonish on their ninth soon-to-be masterpiece, In Somniphobia. While we wait to find out if Gonin-ish has anything left to offer the metal world following their spectacular Naishikyo-Sekai from 2005, Sigh (along with the mighty Boris) prove once again to be the elite metal lords of Japan. If you thought Sigh's genre-splicing Imaginary Soundscape was mind-melding, prepare yourselves. In Somniphobia summons the synthesizers and glam theatrics spread throughout Imaginary Soundscape's skull-crushing speed, but the velocity and the out-there possibilities are uncapped twofold this time around. You will find yourself dizzy from Sigh's courageous genre clashing of everything from fusion jazz to Gregorian chant to (say what?) dreamy waltzes and tangos. All part of the plan as Sigh whirls their listeners through a hellish audile examination of dementia and terrifying dreamscapes. As I've said in the past, Japan (and all of Asia, for that matter) represents the final frontier of metal excavation.