Blog Flume

I am a multimedia designer and aspiring writer from Central Illinois who dreams of bigger things. You are entering the hub of my online world. Welcome. Make yourself at home, read some stuff, click a few things, maybe check out my online portfolio. And of course, if you enjoy your stay, please subscribe.

*NOTE* This blog occasionally contains coarse language. Please use discretion when viewing.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Dirty Peanutz has an official home!

OK, folks--if you've enjoyed my plying my twisted humor on these classic Peanuts strips, go on over to check out my new Dirty Peanutz page on Blogger. I'll be posting a new Peanutz strip there every day! If you've been following along, you'll see familiar strips for a while (with a surprise bonus strip coming up soon) and then after those have all been posted I'm moving on to ALL NEW MATERIAL!

Subscribe now to make sure you get your daily fix of beloved children's characters engaged in the most tasteless endeavors you can imagine. I will no longer be posting these creations on this page; to see more you'll have to visit me at peanuttier.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I must be stopped... Or must I?

I whipped up a few more crazy Peanuts strips. Hope you like them. Click on a strip if anything in the right margin is obscuring it, and it will open in a new screen.

PEANUTZ 7








PEANUTZ 8








PEANUTZ 9









PEANUTZ 10


Crazy Peanuts strips

I recently discovered a great online archive of Peanuts comic strips. Now I'm a huge fan of Peanuts strips and have been all my life. However, while browsing the archive it struck me that sometimes it's funnier if you make up your own captions instead. So here are a few examples I came up with.

PEANUTZ 1

PEANUTZ 2

PEANUTZ 3

PEANUTZ 4

PEANUTZ 5

PEANUTZ 6

Hmmm... A new hobby in the works? It sure is fun! Stay tuned.



Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Never forget.

I was at home in Monmouth, Illinois, illegally downloading unfathomably low bit-rate music over a dial-up connection via Audiogalaxy, because Napster had recently been shut down. I was tying up our only phone line, and I didn't even have the TV on.

My wife was at work as a phlebotomist at a hospital in the next town, 20 miles away. Her whole lab department had been watching and listening to coverage of the aftermath of the first plane strike since it began. Once the second plane struck my wife started trying to call me. The phone was busy, of course, so she couldn't reach me. Bear in mind, cell phones were not as ubiquitous then as they are now. She and I didn't have our first mobile phones until at least the following year.

It had to have been around 8:15 a.m. CDT that my neighbor from across the street, Kelly, came knocking on the door. She said my wife had called her and asked her to come over to tell me to get off the phone line and call her immediately. Kelly asked if I was watching the TV and I said no. She briefly told me there had been a terrorist attack and two passenger planes had been purposefully crashed into the World Trade Center.

I had no idea what was about to transpire and that it would become one of those “I remember exactly where I was when that happened” moments.

I called my wife and she was very upset because her mother, at that time not yet retired from the USAF, was working on base in southern Illinois. Nobody knew what could be an upcoming potential target. I tried to reassure her that her mother was most likely very safe, that it looked like they were targeting civilians to make the greatest impact, and that her mother worked in a vault on base anyway.

After the phone call, I stayed off the line. I sat down and glued myself to CNN coverage of the goings-on. It wasn't but a few minutes before another hijacked plane struck the Pentagon. “Oh my God,” I thought, “How many are there??” and, “They are targeting military sites too.” And then I heard about the other hijacked plane, Flight 93, that passengers were able to get calls out from. All flights over the U.S. were soon grounded.

At around 9:00 am the South Tower of the World Trade Center fell, and the world and I watched in stunned, saddened silence. It was surreal, and it was the first time I ever recall being brought to tears by television news coverage. The impact of all those deaths we couldn't prevent was something that shook me to the core.

Not ten minutes later, the civilian heroes of flight 93 sacrificed their lives to prevent another tactical terrorist attack with their own plane. Rather than striking the White House or Pentagon, that plane was crashed in a field in rural Pennsylvania, killing everyone on board and no one not on board. Who knows how many lives were saved by the heroic actions of those passengers…

Some 20 minutes later the North Tower collapsed. The reality and gravity of the situation once again proved too much and I broke down in tears for the innocent lives lost. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

Before the collapse, I remember seeing live coverage of people leaping from the upper floors of the towers, opting for that death over the agony of burning alive. I remember the post-collapse images of ash, blood and soot-caked civilians and emergency personnel trying to do what they could to survive and help others survive. The airwaves were overrun with replays of the towers collapsing every time a new tape came in with a new angle. People scrambled for their lives like Tokyoites fleeing from a gargantuan, destructive fire-lizard as the clouds of ash and debris overtook them. I remember the helplessness and impotence the whole nation felt as we watched those events on live television. I remember newscasters losing it and getting emotional on the air. It was heart wrenching.

We watched as those building remains burned and smoldered all through the day and into the evening. We watched as bodies were pulled out from that rubble. Mostly bodies. Very few survivors. It was a day of sickening unity across the nation.

It was one true day of infamy and sorrow, the first one of its kind my generation had seen. This was our Pearl Harbor. This was our JFK assassination. This was our Jonestown. And we will never forget.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Movie review - Elysium

MILD SPOILER ALERT

Went to see the new science fiction action thriller Elysium this afternoon, and I really liked it, even more than Pacific Rim. Best sci-fi pic I've seen in a long time. Elysium was directed by Neill Blomkamp, who made a name for himself in the industry with his independent debut feature film, District 9, which was both a critical and box office success.

Elysium stars Matt Damon, whom I personally think is highly underrated as an actor. I've really enjoyed his performances lately in We Bought a Zoo, Beyond the Candelabra, and this picture. I think he brings an everyman quality to any role he plays. He makes it relatable no matter what the role. Well, maybe not so much Jason Bourne. That one's kind of a stretch to relate to.

His costar and foil in the film is Jodie Foster, whom I conversely consider to be extremely overrated as an actor. I just think she hit her high point way back in The Silence of the Lambs and has never regained that glory despite having a few hits since then. Though I did like her in Contact as well. I've never quite gotten why she gets such attention in Hollywood. I liked her as a child actor, but to me she's just kind of annoying nowadays in most films.

Part Mad Max, part Cyborg, part Holy Bible and part Johnny Mnemonic, Elysium takes place in the mid-22nd century. Earth has been raped and basically destroyed by the human race, so it has been left to the indigent "have-nots," while the richest and most powerful people in the world have pulled together the resources to construct for themselves an enormous, terraformed space station in orbit around the dying planet. This is Elysium.

Damon plays a factory worker named Max who has always dreamed of the day he is able to find a way to take himself and his childhood sweetheart and lifelong love to the beautiful manmade paradise of Elysium, where there is no crime, no poverty, no disease, and anyone who dies does so of old age alone.

Foster is ballsy Secretary of Defense Delacourt who takes no prisoners in stopping illegal immigration of unlicensed earth folks who constantly attempt to infiltrate Elysium security and stow away on the space station to make a better life for themselves.

When our hero is accidentally exposed to a massive dose of radiation in a manufacturing plant accident, he has no choice but to return to his former lucrative life of crime to pull one more, practically suicidal job to earn the money to pay for his ticket to Elysium. This is how he ends up crossing paths with dirty double government agents of Elysium, and his own plans of salvation entangle with Delacourt's deceitful political power play.

Action-packed and exciting, with Max an overtly Christlike figure by the end, I found the movie to be very enjoyable. I like seeing new interpretations of a bleak earth future. It was well crafted and well written, though there were a couple of issues I had that prevent me from calling it flawless. 

The biggest potential distraction from full enjoyment was Jodie Foster's horrendously inconsistent accent. I think it was meant to be French...ish? But it was just hit-and-miss. At times it would wax and wane crazily like the ocean tides of Bespin (if it had any liquid oceans), even during the same scene. Foster's never been known for her versatility with accents, but this was worse than Mike Myers' faux Scotsman, even pre-Shrek. Not that his Shrek characterization was particularly impressive...

All in all, a nicely done film. It's not often that a sci-fi flick comes along that I can enjoy with my wife. I think the last one we both liked and saw in the theater together was The Matrix. The first one. And that was some time ago.

Well done, Neill Blomkamp. I fell asleep during District 9, but this I liked. Hmm. Perhaps I should give District 9 another shot. I'll check Netflix this weekend. Maybe I didn't give it a fair shake. It's pretty difficult to find any negative feedback on that movie, so there must be something to it. Stay tuned on that front...

Friday, July 26, 2013

Pacific Rim not perfect by any means, still worth my nine bucks

I finally went to see Pacific Rim last night, clinging desperately to the stellar filmmaking reputation of Guillermo del Toro and the positive reviews I've seen. Obviously that means I've either avoided or ignored the negative reviews up to this point. My friend and former coworker posted his review (which contains mild spoilers) and I avoided it until after having seen the film myself because he prefaced it with the mention of spoilers.

I think I'll follow the same format here as he did in his review.
Again, be aware:  >>>>>> SPOILERZ AHED <<<<<<<


What I liked:
Not being a huge fan of the whole Godzilla-style monster invasion flick, I didn't come into this movie with an extensive viewing background in the genre and a bunch of preconceived notions about how the ultimate giant-monsters-versus-giant-robots story should go. I'm still not what you'd call a fan--it didn't convert me--but it was reminiscent of some of the anime I used to watch back in high school, and that felt good and nostalgic in a way.

The action can't be faulted, except maybe to say that some of the action-packed close-ups of kaiju (that's the monsters in the movie) and jaegers (what the "robots," or more accurately "mechs" [they're not automatons; they're controlled by pilots inside them] are called in the movie) are just a little too frenetic at times to really pick out exactly what's happening. But if you want to see massive destruction, monsters getting pummeled, and cities being leveled, you'll see it here.

I love the idea of alien monsters emerging from an unexplained and sudden physical and dimensional rift that has opened in the ocean floor. Too often, our would-be alien conquerors announce their visit ahead of time by traveling in huge, easily detectable spaceships. We never look down. Nice twist.

I liked that it's a PG-13 I am comfortable taking my 11-year-old to. IMDB's parents guide doesn't do the film justice. It always sounds so much worse when you read it out of context. It mentioned an f-bomb, but I certainly didn't hear it and neither did my companion. Nearly all of the violence in the picture is kaiju/jaeger centered. It's all CG. In those shots you don't even get much of the "Run for your life from Gojira!" panic in the streets as people are crushed under the foot of a marauding monster.

There's a bit of blood now and then when the pilots get tossed around inside the jaegers during combat, and we do see one man get picked up by a kaiju and basically swallowed. And there was a fistfight between two headstrong jaeger pilots where there's a little blood. But for the most part, even the more "gory" violence is really a computer-generated mech ripping a huge, computer-generated hole through a computer-generated monster to a spray of computer-generated fluorescent blue blood analogue. Not the kind of violence I'm worried about my kid seeing. And there's no sex-related material other than an herbalist trying to sell someone something for "male potency." IMDB says he makes a gesture. I imagined him using his forearm to simulate a strong, erect penis. Nope. He simply closes his hands into two fists to demonstrate virility.

What I didn't like:
Some things just didn't make sense to me. Did I interpret the timeline wrong, or did the first kaiju invasion take place in 2013, seven years before the events of the film, which is set in 2020? If that's the case, then how come the little Japanese girl rescued by the jaeger pilot--who appears all of six years old--is obviously in her mid-to-late 20s when the bulk of the story takes place? How does a child age at least 15 years in a span of seven? ...Or did I miss something?

Many--no, make that all--of the characters were straight out of central casting. Some of the smaller roles were blatantly stereotypical, and maybe even racially insensitive. The aforementioned Japanese girl--who as a small child, sounded like she was straight out of one of those anime videos I mentioned before, making those tiny, weird moans and gasps that nobody in real life ever makes as she picked her way through the carnage of a devastated city to face her rescuer--grew up to be not only way too old for her age, but also horribly stereotypical: demure, heavily affected with her fake Japanese accent even though she'd spent the last seven-to-twenty years being raised by a British man, and secretly a ninja.

I kept expecting a close-up of that Russian dude saying to a kaiju in his best fake Dolph Lundgren-Russian accent, "I vill break you." I don't remember their names. They possibly weren't even mentioned. I shall call them Boris and Natasha because that's how stereotypical they were in appearance. Also, all the other nationalities dressed alike but like no other subset of people. It was just weird and made the future look like, "Yes, we all came together as a united world to stop the menace of the kaiju, but there's no way we'll dress like one another or begin to assimilate into one world culture." I half-expected the Chinese to all look like rice farmers in their stereotypical cartoon Chinaman crash-cymbal hats.

I'm going to do my best Seth Myers now: My, how our technology has advanced in a mere seven years. My companion pointed out that necessity is, after all, the mother of invention. But really, Pacific Rim? Really? 50-story, airtight, fully-articulated robots that are controlled via a Vulcan mind-meld of two pilots with the robot's command matrix? Really? We have 3-D holographic computer interfaces all over this world? Not that unbelievable, I guess, but at the same time we have a timer measuring how long since the monsters appeared, and it's a humongous FLIP-NUMBER-CLOCK? Really?? And can some one explain to me how the old, series three or whatever jaegers are ANALOG in nature versus the DIGITAL ones that were knocked out by the EM pulse kaiju? "Analog?" REALLY?

One more big question: If the rift needs to detect kaiju matter in order to open to a traveler, how did the jaeger escape pods make it back through to our world?

And there's one last minor thing that bothered me. Apparently the jaeger design teams took at least one cue from Inspector Gadget. It seems like in order to deploy any special feature on the mech (elbow rocket, plasma cannon, sword), a pilot has to announce it aloud first. The only thing it was missing was the preliminary "Go-go, Gadget," as in "Go-go, Gadget Umbrella!"

I'm starting to talk myself out of having liked this movie as much as I previously thought. Better stop now, because I think I'll have to take my son this weekend to a matinee. I want to enjoy the second screening too, and not be constantly reminded of that nitpicky review I read that purported to be positive but ended up kinda panning the whole affair. Wait, I wrote that review, didn't I? Crap. 

A sequel? I'd be interested in seeing that. I'd rather see At the Mountains of Madness, but if GDT can really nail it with The Strain and Hellboy 3, and if Richard Stanley can truly deliver on his proposed adaptation of The Colour Out of Space, I can settle for Pacific Rim 2. At least, for now...

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Macklemore destroys our differences and brings world peace

Buried amid an unexpectedly fantastic and inspirational pop/rap song about tolerance and acceptance is this even more unexpectedly wise phrase that, when extracted from the whole of the text, really stands alone in its universal importance:
  
"Whatever god you believe in, we come from the same one. Strip away the fear, [and] underneath it's all the same love."



I don't know if rapper Macklemore realizes just how very deep this sentiment is. It's the first song lyric to ever jump out of a pop song, slap me in the face, and command me to spend time truly pondering it in a deeply personal manner. I wish that everyone in the world, believers and nonbelievers alike, could sit alone in a room and quietly ruminate over this lyric excerpt for a good 30 minutes. Maybe even up to an hour. It could be an attitude- and life-changing experience for many. It could be the first step down the road of understanding and enlightenment for all. That's how heavily this lyric impacted me. It's like a light went on where there was before only darkness.

Before you ask--no, I'm still an atheist.

"No matter what god you believe in... We come from the same one." >> We can't all be right. My god and your god might go by different names and have different methods of handing down their edicts or suggestions for a holy life, but must not their titles be but differing ways to refer to the same being? For as the bard suggested, "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet," would it not? No matter who you believe your god is... if there is a creator, I think we can all agree that--much like the Highlander--there can be only one.

"Strip away the fear, underneath it's all the same love." >> In the end, if you distill each of our faiths down to their respective cores, aren't they all about loving your god, your fellow man and yourself? Let's put aside the differences and concentrate on the similarities. Let's do things that please our god and make this life on earth more bearable and pleasant for us. For despite who you think your god is, we are ALL his children, even those of us who believe he is someone else entirely or that he doesn't even exist. Why can't we just leave the judgment to him and just concentrate on helping our fellow man have a rich and rewarding experience here on this earth, where we have unquestioning control of our lives and our impact on the lives of others?

Heavy philosophical words bringing a very deep line of thought for a pop song ostensibly about the support of gay marriage--a topic not to be taken lightly, for sure. If you think about it, though, were we to simply worry about taking care of ourselves and loving others, all people would be equally included. No preferences based on race, sex, gender identity, age, color, religion (or lack thereof), class...

Respecting each man, woman and child as a beloved creation of the god of your choosing, (for I don't know about your god, but the one I grew up on loves ALL of his creations, even animals with no souls) erases our imaginary dividing lines. It brings us together like nothing else can, save the elimination of religion entirely from the face of the earth.

Hey, someone has to play the logician's advocate here. One aforementioned scenario is unfortunately no more likely than the other. The people of this world will never see eye to eye. There's a third possibility that has the potential to bring an unprecedented unity to the people of earth, and that is the discovery of intelligent alien life. Like a legitimate first contact situation. It could cause mass chaos, but my hope is that it will force people to at least think, "Wow. This universe just got smaller. Maybe I was wrong about EVERYTHING. Let's start over."

But knowing the people of this planet, it would be more like, "Hey, there is a whole universe of people-ish creatures we can turn our xenophobic disdain upon. There's no more reason to fight amongst ourselves. We're all humans here. The real threat is OUT THERE."

It's not perfect, and it could potentially destroy our entire planet, but at least, for that short period of time, we'd all be together focusing on our newly found solidarity. Sorry, Macklemore. I know you tried.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

"The Mound" turned out to not be fashioned of dirt, if you know what I mean

I was excited at the prospect of reading this story after having read another of Lovecraft's collaborations with Zealia Bishop, "The Curse of Yig," back near the beginning of my literary odyssey. Alas, while "The Mound" began with a lot of promise, in the end it completely failed to deliver the thrills as "Yig" did. A very disappointing climax indeed, especially given the really incredible bump-and-set that kicks off the first half of the story.

"The Mound" is ostensibly about an ethnologist who studies American Indian tribes--surely the same character who seeks out the story in "The Curse of Yig." So anyway, he comes to an Oklahoma town called Binger in order to research supernatural stories about a large mound or small hill a few miles outside town. Apparently, it's haunted--or possibly patrolled--by two ghosts.

In the daylight hours, an Indian man paces atop the mound, only to vanish if approached. In the night, the patrol is taken over by a headless Indian squaw. And so it has gone for the past century or so. Many of the daring explorers brave enough to investigate have either disappeared NEVER TO BE SEEN AGAIN or have returned after a brief period of absence to find themselves apparently mad and babbling typical Lovecraftian cosmic nonsense.

Pretty cool setup. I'll give them that.

So our hero goes up alone (he could find nobody in town stupid enough to join him) to dig and find out what's up. That's where he finds, after a decent afternoon of digging, a strange metallic tube containing ancient documents. As dark approaches, he decides to hoof it back to town and give the mysterious documents a thorough once-over.

The pages are the notes of famed 16th-Century explorer Francisco de Coronado...'s hired man, Panfilo de Zamacona. *sigh*

The bulk of the story is the ethnologist's reading of Zamacona's journal about his extended visit to an underworld inhabited by strange men with strange powers. I really don't want to get into the details, but it takes up a good 5 of the 7 chapters. Suffice it to say he found a primeval, subterranean society of telepathic, teleporting man-things and came to be more or less accepted by them, trading their knowledge, living quarters, food and all for his knowledge of the outside world.

This land, called K'n-yan by the natives, turns out to not be the only inner-earth world thriving with its own form of life. For beyond the shimmering blue iridescent light of K'n-yan, one can find sub-subterranean passages to a red-lit world even deeper in the planet. The natives of the blue world, of course, do not get along with those of the red, and nor do the red folk get along with the viscous black blob-like shapeshifters that can be found in the coal-dark sub-sub-subterranean world to be found even deeper beyond their own. *yawn* OK, I'm sufficiently bored.

Back to the blue world beneath the green (that's ours). The interesting bits are that they are a Cthuluhu- and Yig-worshipping, technologically advanced super-society that now has a genetically engineered slave class to do all the heavy lifting so they can just concentrate on educational, philosophical, artistic and sexual gratification. Also used as slaves are the people who would not conform--criminals, rogues, etc. First they are thrown in a gladiatorial coliseum and maimed in whatever horrible ways imaginable, to the delight of the crowds. This maiming includes but is not limited to: cutting, scraping, bruising, dismemberment, disemboweling, and death. This underground "civilization" also has the power to reanimate the dead, giving them a sole purpose--to please the living.

Anyway, Zamacona spends decades with them before he realizes he's run out of things to say and is pretty sure he's bound for the coliseum, so he tries to escape with the help of his lady-thing friend. He is able to get his missive to the surface, but that's all we know other than they got caught in their escape attempt. She faces a stiff punishment, but he is given another chance.

I am really cutting a ton of shit out of this shit-filled story; you have no idea. You're welcome.

So our hero decides he's gonna rediscover this society that Zamacona wrote about, and he sets off in the morning to continue digging.

SPOILERS BELOW! SPOILERS BELOW! Of course if you haven't already read it, you probably shouldn't. Maybe just finish this review and call it quits for this story.

When he gets to the top of the mound, his shovel and pickaxe are missing. He figures it's a prank by some wise-ass villager watching through binoculars, so he just mans up and digs with his bowie knife instead, eventually being swallowed up by a sinkhole or something and ending up in a subterranean cave described by Zamacona.

He follows the passage, finding along the way his shovel and pickaxe, and an undead, highly maimed sentry. Oh shit. It's Zamacona.

The end.

Seriously. Yep. It ends that poorly. Very disappointing. I think HPL must have just been sick of writing it even though it was only a two-month project. In any event, it was considered a collaboration and wasn't printed until after his death anyway. At least he never had to see it published.

As I said, it started out so cool and promising. That's what made the ending even worse. This had the potential to be a sci-fi masterpiece. Too bad nobody has picked that idea up and written more tales in this setting. I'm sure the blue inner-world folk have many interesting and thrilling stories to offer the green earth, but this wasn't one of them.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Movie review: The Conjuring

Vera Farmiga looks for spirits in New Line's The Conjuring
The Conjuring is the new horror film from director James Wan, who previously brought us the original Saw as well as Insidious--and who most recently finished work on Insidious: Chapter 2, due later this year. It stars Ron Livingston (yes, of Office Space fame), Vera Farmiga (elder sister of American Horror Story's Taissa Farmiga), Patrick Wilson (if you saw him you'd recognize him from Watchmen, Insidious, and many smaller supporting roles), and Lili Taylor (from High Fidelity, The Haunting, Netflix's original series Hemlock Grove, and scores of other supporting roles on TV and film).

The Conjuring is based on the allegedly true story of a 1971 haunting that occurred in the Rhode Island home of the Perron family. This haunting and demonic possession was investigated by demonologists/paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (famous for later investigating the Lutz home portrayed in The Amityville Horror), and Lorraine was consulted during the film's pre-production. Ed Warren passed away in 2006.

This movie was quite enjoyable; and by that I mean it was more than a bit uncomfortable and unnerving at times, and effectively creepy and suspenseful throughout. Though somewhat formulaic and predictable due to the genre, as it borrows scares freely from every haunted house tale you've ever seen, and liberally from The Exorcist, the film hit all the right notes at all the right times.

The period dress and atmosphere were effective in transporting me back to the 1970s, and I even noticed some dated camera techniques we haven't seen much of since the filmmaking of the early '80s, such as the long, slow zoom. It all comes together quite nicely with very few digital effects to create a paranormal thriller that I could almost believe came out of that era. One thing's for sure--if The Conjuring had been released in 1980, it would have scared the living shit out of a lot more people than it will today.

I'm not into giving movie spoilers, so fret not and feel safe to read on.

Moving on to the more lackluster elements of the movie, I will first mention that I'm typically a tough scare at the cinema. I thoroughly enjoy a good horror flick, but I am of the opinion that the truly great ones have all been shot already. Despite the effects-laden shockfests that Hollywood has the ability to churn out one after another, how can anything compete with the classics of horror that created those elements we've come to accept as tropes of the genre?

With such creepy masterpieces as the original The Haunting, The Exorcist, The Omen, The Shining, and even more recent honorable mentions like The Ring and Paranormal Activity, it's getting hard to come up with new things to scare us. We recycle the same tried-and-true elements of horror over and over again. The fake-out, the face in the mirror, the creepy child, mysterious whispering... the list goes on. That's why it pisses me off when there's a great new type of scare and they blow their load early by showing it in the trailer to the people who haven't even seen the movie.

In this case it's the hand clap thing. If you've seen the trailer you know what I'm talking about. It's one of the most original scares of the film, but anyone who is in the theater knows it's coming up because they've obviously seen promotion for the movie. That removes the fear that we should be feeling in that pivotal scene because we're all going, "Oh, that pair-of-hands-clapping-in-the-dark thing is coming up here!"

One other thing fails to impress the fear that it felt like the film was trying to exert, and that's the whole God vs. Satan thing. Really? Are we still at that point in our intellectual development and spiritual enlightenment in this country that this lame crap can still scare us? Especially the typical horror movie crowd? I don't believe that.

In the movie, the Warrens speak to one another about how God brought them together to help people; God gave Lorraine the gift of second sight or whatever; demons have the ability and desire to possess people or objects--real demons from biblical hell...
Before the credits roll at the end of the movie, a quote from Ed Warren is displayed on screen. To paraphrase it said, "The fairy tale is true. The devil is real. God is real. The battle for this world and your soul goes on always, and you must make a conscious choice  which of them you will give your power to."

Blah blah. Yawn. It felt weird in that it was heavy handed, but that heavy hand had no effective weapon in it--it was just an empty, yet somehow heavy, hand. Maybe it's my unbelief standing in the way, but when they mention Satan in the movie and what witches and devil worshippers do or whatever, I wasn't the least bit creeped out. It felt like another one of those time warp moments. I remember being a little kid and feeling like stuff like that was unknown, forbidden and super-scary. As an adult, though, seeing that in a movie made me feel like I was either watching a melodramatic Kirk Cameron production or like they were trying to scare an eight-year-old child (who has no business attending an R-rated film) rather than the target demographic.

So overall, I thought The Conjuring was an effective horror movie, though somewhat rote in using accepted horror conventions that were created by far superior films. It felt dated but like if it had been released 30-40 years ago it would have been extremely successful. The makeup effects were excellent, by the way. Very scary. A 1980 theater showing this film would have had quite a seat-cleaning bill after the first screening. Some scares, however, play off of religious themes, demonic possession, and the biblical battle of good and evil, meaning to some folks they are completely empty threats, even when presented while the audience is open and volunteering its suspension of disbelief.

I would recommend this movie to horror fans. It's not incredibly gory, but it does have pretty frightening and intense scenes involving the dark, death, ghosts, evil entities, etc.. The foul language is mostly PG-rated, with some blasphemous utterances. Heck, the redband trailers before the movie had far more graphic and objectionable language than the feature. There are hints of sexual behavior but no nudity or sexual conduct takes place on-screen.

3.5 of 5 stars from me. Good, solid genre film. Not one of the greats, but a decent tribute to them.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

New Queensrÿche album is more of the same

I am an oldschool Queensrÿche fan; i.e., I adore their 1990 & earlier stuff. I truly believe Operation: Mindcrime is one of the best hard rock albums ever recorded. Alas, like King Diamond's sequel to the legendary Abigail, Mindcrime II fell flat in comparison to the original. Why did Operation: Mindcrime II stink so bad? Because, like King Diamond, they waited too long to do it. You have to strike while the iron is hot. In addition, however, unlike King Diamond, Queensrÿche has been losing its edge since the unexpected mainstream breakout success of 1990's Empire.

The raw sound that Queensrÿche crafted on their 1983 debut EP, honed the following year on The Warning and perfected in 1986 on Rage for Order is the style the band was built on. When Mindcrime released in 1988, I was blown away by not only the more polished sound, but also the mysterious, intriguing storyline and the incredible accompanying music videos.  "I Don't Believe in Love" (the band's first Grammy-nominated song) became a staple on MTV's "Headbanger's Ball."The band had the amazing opportunity the following year to support that album performing as the opening act for Metallica on the ...And Justice for All tour. Queensrÿche was suddenly a household name where metalheads were concerned.

Then came Empire. MTV rotated the hell out of the tracks "Empire," "Jet City Woman," and the dreadful "Silent Lucidity," the worst thing to ever happen to the Queensrÿche sound, and possibly to progressive hard rock itself. In pandering to the Top 40 and Hot 100 crowd, the album achieved triple-platinum status and "Silent Lucidity" received two Grammy nominations. The video was nominated in five categories at the MTV VMAs, winning only one--Viewer's Choice--further cementing my opinion that the album critically sucked but seemed to please the MTV masses.

The followup album, Promised Land, though released four years after Empire's explosive success and not changing the formula much from that which brought them commercial success (aside from being a touch more gut-centered rock-oriented), became their best charting album to date. However, at this point the band had strayed so far from that original, influential sound and attitude on the first two full-length releases that I decided I'd had enough. That's when I gave up on Queensrÿche.

They seemed to stagnate and stay out of the limelight throughout the mid-to-late '90s and the first decade of the 21st Century. I checked back in with them now and then to see if there had been any change in direction but of course was not surprised to find that the edge had gone permanently missing. One exception I'm just now discovering is the album of cover tunes they released in 2007. Don't get me wrong--the raw power I speak of is definitely gone, but Take Cover seems like an album I could actually listen to now and then because Queensrÿche had nothing to do with the writing of the pieces presented. All we have is Geoff and company giving their take on a full gamut of songs from a more varied supply of sources than any other cover album I've ever heard, except maybe for Richard Cheese's stuff. (On a side note, I wish more heavy metal bands did cover albums, particularly MANOWAR. I'd love to hear that.)

So we're finally up to the album in question, 2013's Queensrÿche. The new self-titled album is sadly but expectedly no different from the lackluster norm, except to say that it's probably worse. One might think, with last year's departure of founding guitarist Chris DeGarmo and this year's firing of vocalist Geoff Tate, perhaps the band might find a new direction or try a return to its roots. No such luck.

Following in the steps of many outfits before them, the band recruited a "safe" replacement singer, Todd La Torre, who does a really decent imitation of the band's original vocalist--and, as it happens, at the time of his recruitment, shared my opinion that the best Queensrÿche has to offer comes from the time period between the untitled debut EP and Empire. La Torre, originally a drummer by trade, was fresh off a three-year stint as frontman for obscure-but-tenacious prog-metal band Crimson Glory.

At this point, though, half of the band that spent the last 30 years together as a cohesive unit is missing. Surprisingly, the lyrics seem to jibe with the band's prior catalog, and the music is fairly consistent as well. If anything, perhaps it's a bit more watered down that in the past--more progressive than metal. It's possible that the band's last couple of releases have been inching toward this fate; I wouldn't know, not having really even listened to them in the last decade except for a regrettable, outright blind purchase of Mindcrime II simply based on what it was (yeah, they suckered me) and a single listen of 2009's American Soldier, which failed to impress as usual.

The newest album is not without its high points, though. Four tracks of the 11 got my attention. First there's the intro, which is a sort of ambient, electronic, futuristic, industrial, minute-long affair. Along the same lines, there's the very creepy, dark-ambient, horror sounding "Midnight Lullaby." But these don't really count, right? I mean, they're not proper songs. I might be tempted to put them on my Arkham Horror playlist, but they're nothing to jam to in the car with my windows down and my system up.

The band pre-released a single, "Redemption," but I don't find it the heaviest or the most accessible tune on the album. It's ...o..kay... as are most of the songs presented here, but I think the real high point is the balls-out rocker, "Don't Look Back." Great hook, solid riffs, nice pace and rhythm, good lyrics--this one's tough to beat. The other song that caught my attention is "In This Light," which hearkens back to the original Mindcrime days, carrying with it a style highly reminiscent of  "I Don't Believe in Love" or "The Mission."

So, in a nutshell, if you like what Queensrÿche has been doing for the last 20 years, I think you'll dig this record even sans DeGarmo and Tate. There's not much in the way of growing pains to bridge the gap to this incarnation of the band. I suspect you'll find the transition quite easy. Have fun with your substandard bastardization of a once-glorious heavy metal trailblazer.

If you're like me, though, and prefer the heavier, early stuff, then there's not much on this album to appeal to you. Perhaps hit up your iTunes or Amazon store to grab a preview and maybe download a couple of tracks ala carte. The Queensrÿche you love is dead. This release carries residual echoes from beyond its grave, but they are mere shadows of what was once great. The past cannot be reclaimed. Now go put The Warning on your turntable, drop the needle and reminisce.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

I found a treasure from the past

In cleaning out some closets last weekend, I unearthed some old sketchbooks I'd forgotten about. Exploring the drawings inside, I was taken on a trip back to the early 1990s. I immediately began snapping photos for my Instagram page, thinking there would have to be at least a handful of folks out there who would dig them. Here's a peek. As you can see, I was a Ren & Stimpy superfan. LOL. For larger images, please click the link above.



While you're there, why not join? Or, if you're a member already, follow me. I really like the Instagram community. No flame wars. No arguments. Just a community of folks who share images and videos of things they appreciate. Check it out.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Old writings I stumbled upon today

Here are some 100-word fictions stories I wrote for a contest in 1999. I didn't win anything, but it was still a fun exercise. 100 words is a tough limit for an entire story.

DEATHBRINGER

Thunderous gunfire heralded his arrival into town. He took no prisoners and gave no quarter. The sleepy little village of Dustry didn't stand a chance. A black angel of death atop his steed, he plowed through the streets like a homicidal whirlwind.

He dispatched the citizenry with blinding quickness and a deafening roar. When the smoke finally cleared on that dead little town, only one person was left breathing. But if the dead could talk, they would tell you that what rode out of town that day was not a person at all, but a demon straight from hell.

ONE STEP

One step. That's all it takes. Just one step, and all the pain stops. Just a single step into oblivion, into peace.

How could so much go wrong at once? What did I do to deserve such a fucked up life? Where did I go astray? And just when exactly was it that God himself deserted me? All those times I thought, "It can't get any worse," and it did. I tried and tried but never came out ahead. All that time--wasted.

So here I stand, high above the world.

Just one step ends it all.

Just one...

THE DEAD

I don't know how it began, but the dead have risen and they're angry. It's been a week since they were first sighted, clawing their way to the surface to wreak havoc among the living. Needless to say, it was quite a surprise. Turns out, they're all bloodthirsty, vicious killers. So in order to survive, that's what we have to be. Killers. Zombie hunters. Wild, huh?

Never thought I'd be hunting zombies for a living, but there's more of 'em every day, and we're not getting any younger ourselves.

'Course, no one really knows how to stop it...

YOGROT

Under the hill lived the nastiest glumwump, Yogrot, and ugly creature who hated everything. All day long, day after day, he complained to the empty air about how much he hated the world.

One not-so-fine morning, this nastiest of glumwumps got out of his lumpy bed and went into his horribly tiny kitchen to make some awful tea.

He grumbled to himself as his accursed water boiled, then poured himself a cup of misery. As he swallowed the foul concoction, Yogrot was thankful that he had found his first thing to complain about this dreadful morning.

AFTERMATH

The mighty warrior stood proudly on a jutting peak, face into the wind, head held high. It had been a glorious day on the battlefield. Many enemies had been slain, and he knew that the old ones would tell of this victory for generations to come.

Sweat and blood glistened on his brow as he surveyed the carnage below. Scanning the remains, his gaze fell on his mangled brother. With an aching heart and tears of rage, he raised his voice to the gods in a mournful wail. As the sun set, the valley filled with his sorrowful goodbye.

FLIRTING

There was a glimmer in her eyes that he couldn't resist. He noticed her "checking him out" about ten minutes ago. As he sat on the bench in the bus station, he discreetly stole a glance in her direction, and she was still smiling at him.

To test the waters, he flashed her his warmest grin. Seeing this, her grin widened as she stifled a giggle. He screwed up his courage to approach, when he noticed her gaze drifting in a beckoning fashion. He followed her eyes to a point adjacent him on the bench.

A sign: "WET PAINT."

-----------------------------------------------------------

And then there was the poem I wrote and emailed to my buddy in Afghanistan that same year. We emailed back and forth quite a bit back then while I was at work and his workday was done for the night. One day I emailed him and got no immediate response, so I wrote this poem on the fly and sent it to him.

Sleep on, my fairy princess
Float on tiny clouds
Dream of kings and princes
And make your tiny sounds

Waken from your slumber
A new day dawning bright
Still a fairy princess
And such a lovely sight

Pretty little ribbons
In your flowing hair
Pajamas made of satin
Cling to your derriere

A necklace made of diamond
A bracelet made of pearls
I'm sure you are the envy
Of all the little girls

But where's the golden castle?
Where's the handsome prince?
Now that your head is clearing
All you see are tents

The jewelry is real enough
As are the pretty clothes
But the princes all surround you
And want to break your nose

Good night, my fairy princess
Sleep on 'til evening comes
Beaten to unconsciousness
By your Air Force chums

His response: "I wasn't sleeping. Nice poem, asshole. Fairy princess my ass. And I could kick the shit out of most of the guys here."

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Let's talk about this new coaster

 
Last weekend we had our third visit of the season to Six Flags St. Louis, and after a long wait I finally got to ride Boomerang, which opened earlier this month to no small amount of hype and fanfare. But was it worthy of all the attention?

This abbreviated coaster with its twisted green and orange track sits arrogantly where the beloved Water Street Cab Company bumper cars attraction had been for so many years. I have waited in line every time I have wanted to ride those bumper cars. They were a piece of Americana that should have been renovated, in my opinion. The attraction was too darkly lit. New visitors to the park could have--and probably regularly did--overlooked it on the way up that hill to the Screaming Eagle. If Six Flags had been smart, they would have used their budget to completely overhaul the bumper cars rather than purchase a nearly 25-year-old coaster from another park.
 
Yeah, that's right. Boomerang was known as Flashback in its former life at Six Flags Over Texas. It was originally built in 1989, and no amount of flashy paint job can hide that fact when you ride it.
 
Boomerang is a short, jerky, un-smooth ride that, though mildly entertaining, I will probably not ride again. It's just not that fun. It's a cross between the Ninja, Vertical Velocity and Mr. Freeze, but nowhere near as good as any of them. And that's coming from a guy who thinks it's time to retire the Ninja.
 
Boomerang consists of a backwards chain lift, then a release to a cobra roll and vertical loop at 47 MPH. At this point the train goes up to another chain lift and is subsequently released to go through the course in reverse. Big whoop.
 
The biggest problem is that second chain lift. There's a huge gap between where your momentum runs out going up that hill and where the chain grabs you. Result: a painful head slam against the back of the seat as you are jerked by the chain. Ouch. The rest of the track is not as jerky as the Ninja, but not as smooth as any coaster built in the last five to ten years.
 
When folks see a new coaster going up they expect it to be new, not a quarter-century old. Disassembling it, changing the color from pink and aqua to orange and green, then reassembling it elsewhere shouldn't fool anybody. I know it's a common practice in the industry, but I question why the St. Louis park would do it in this case. It's a subpar coaster. They should have held out for an opportunity for an impressive new coaster, like SFGA's X-Flight--which I was also a bit underwhelmed by, but at least it's innovative and truly new.
 
All in all, Boomerang served its purpose as my 66th coaster, but I repeat that I will not likely be excited to ride it on future visits. It really puts the "Boo" in "Boomerang."

The real news of our visit? The park finally reopened Tidal Wave, the large boat, single-splash ride. I can't tell you how long it's been since that ride has been open. We've not ridden it in at least five years. My daughter had never ridden anything like it unless the Log Flume counts. She rode Tidal Wave four times this visit and was literally soaked from head to toe by the second round. What a blast that was. Thank you, Six Flags, for resurrecting that ride! Nothing cools you off better on a hot summer day.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

"The Last Test" proves worthy of its name

SPOILERS!!! SPOILERS!!! SPOILERS!!! (Not that there's much to spoil in this story)

Written in 1928, "The Last Test" is a revision by HPL of a story originally written by Adolphe de Castro, and it is a slog. I really had a hell of a time getting through this story. It brought my literary quest to a screeching halt for several weeks. Eventually I had to resort to using the audio Cliffs Notes of the Lovecraft library as my friends at the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast came to my rescue. Chad and Chris got me through by summarizing the section I was stuck on (in the usual entertaining fashion), and then I was able to pick up from that point and continue reading through to the end.

Even so, I found this story quite boring and generally stupid. Even Lovecraft himself called it "the story that ruined my winter," and a "beastly mess." It revolves around mostly three people--our hero, James Dalton, his spurned love interest, Georgina Clarendon, and her brother, Dr. Alfred Clarendon. It takes place over a span of many years, first setting up that the characters knew one another in New York when they were all young, then picking up much later when they have all moved and made lives for themselves in San Francisco.

Dalton and Georgina, whom he happens to still harbor a love for long after her now-deceased father disapproved of him as her suitor back in New York, run into one another in Frisco quite by accident. By this time, her brother Alfred is the staff doctor at San Quentin Penitentiary and a respected expert regarding a fatal black fever that has taken hold of the region. Similarly successful in his own field, Dalton is governor of California. Georgina helps her brother with his research.

Old feelings spring up between the old lovers, and when Dalton asks Alfred (whom he secretly refers to belittlingly as "Little Alf") for his blessing to marry Georgina, he's once again cockblocked, this time by the latest Clarendon patriarch.

Meanwhile, the fever plague has taken hold of San Quentin and the public fears it will jump the walls and spread among the populace. And here's where I'm going to skip a bunch of shit that doesn't matter...

Eventually it becomes clear that Clarendon has been actually infecting people with this fever plague in order to try to find a cure. In the end, he injects himself as a "last test," but he ends up dying too. And the two lovers marry and live happily ever after.

If you're thinking of reading this horrible story, think again. It's the literary equivalent of music torture at Guantanamo Bay. It's achingly dull, predictable, corny and emotionless. Thank goodness I can finally check it off my list. Whew. Maybe I can renew my pursuit of the goal before me now that I've faced what felt like the LAST TEST to my resolve. "Haa! I kill me!"

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

New header image is up

Hey, gang! I updated that header this morning by incorporating the souvenir log flume photo from this last Six Flags trip. As I mentioned the other day, it's the first souvenir photo from Six Flags that I've actually ever purchased. Now, instead of me and some stranger's kid, it's me along with the wife and two young'uns. Thing is, the laptop is missing from the shot now. That was my favorite part of the previous graphic. Perhaps I'll photoshop one in later. It would make more sense, I think.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

2013 Six Flags visit #2

The hand stamper guy was being a bit judgmental Saturday.
We just got back home tonight around dinner time after spending two days in Eureka, Missouri visiting with family and having a blast at our favorite place on earth, Six Flags St. Louis. My wife's sister-in-law gave birth to her second daughter just four weeks ago and we had yet to meet her, so we went to see the new niece and get in some baby time. Since they live only ten minutes from Six Flags, we deemed it a waste to travel all that way and not take the opportunity to use our season passes. As such, we made sure to use them both Saturday and Sunday.

We had a handful of milestones on this Six Flags visit:
  1. My daughter, Calliope (age 8), rode her fourth wooden coaster ever, and the first ever at that particular park--American Thunder (formerly Evel Knievel)... TWICE. She's starting to come around. My goal is to get her on Screaming Eagle before the season comes to an end. She's chickened out on the platform twice now. It's hard to get her on the old Philly Toboggan coasters. She's not a fan of vintage rides.
  2. The whole family rode something together, which we haven't done in probably five years. We rode the log flume twice in a row on Saturday afternoon. I miss riding stuff with my wife. She usually holds all our shit while two or three of us do the riding. Oh, and that brings up the next milestone:
  3. We purchased our first Six Flags souvenir photo ever--just for you readers! We posed on the log flume drop specifically with the purpose of upgrading the graphic in my blog banner. Look for that to happen very soon.
  4. Ash and I rode the Boss in the front seat for the first time ever. I have ridden this coaster at least a dozen times since its construction, but never in the first seat. Man, that's the way to ride it, let me tell you.
  5. Ash and I also rode Mr. Freeze Reverse Blast in the front- er, back... Crap, it's confusing with a backward-facing coaster. We were the last to leave the tunnel (facing backward) and the first ones back in (facing forward), for the first time. That was pretty cool.
  6. We've been to this park so many times that now we have to make our own entertainment while we're there to mix things up a bit. We began telling employees on Saturday to "Have a Six Farts day!" to see how many "You too"s we could get in response. That was puerile but fun. Sunday we changed it up to "Have a Six Frogs day!" It's a bit less off-color but still quite successfully chuckle-inducing.
  7. We also began nosing people (mostly Six Flags employees) like Joe on the TruTV hidden-camera program Impractical Jokers. Ash is quite good at it, as it turns out.
 
Thanks for reading! Keep an eye out for my updated header graphic soon.




Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day at Kickapoo Creek Winery

For Mother's Day I took the family to fancy brunch at the local winery. Just wanted to share this because it's another example of photo manipulation to create memories that didn't really happen. Rather than hand my phone to a stranger and trust him to take a decent photo, Heather and I traded off and here's the result of the merge:




This was a bit of a tough one, because merging the layers caused quite a bad fisheye distortion that I had to go back and correct. Now that I take another look, it sure did make me seem taller than I actually am... Nevertheless, I think we ended up with a fine fabricated memory to look back on with joy. Don't we all look nice? :)

Happy Mother's Day.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Laundry list classics

My Grammar Geeks group on LinkedIn has lately been busy contributing to a discussion called "Laundry list classics." The idea is to imagine what the first draft of a famous story might have been like were it penned on the back of a laundry or shopping list, cocktail napkin or something equally mundane. Some folks have posted alternate versions of famous first lines from classic novels, while others have composed sonnets or limericks. No matter the format, one could easily imagine the work scrawled haphazardly across a dry cleaning receipt or junk mail envelope.

I know that National Poetry Month is over, but I couldn't resist once this discussion started picking up steam. I've submitted three of my own limericks so far, and here they are:

I travelled one day on a whim
To shadowy Innsmouth so grim.
The fish-frogs came out
And chased me about--
I think I'll go back for a swim.


A young Kansan named Dorothy Gale
To Oz in a cyclone did sail.
On the road, she eased down
To old Emerald Town
And melted a witch with a pail.


On a night when I mourned my Lenore
With a sorrow like never before,
In swooped a black bird
That spoke only one word;
My wits shall return nevermore.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Time to learn some new words

If reading Lovecraft isn't enough of a vocabulary builder-upper for you, check this thing out! The title alone is enough to make you feel like an elite member of the bohemian intelligentsia. Here's how I found it:

I'm currently reading through the story "The Last Test," and--as is bound to happen now and then during a Lovecraft reading session--I came upon a word I did not recognize. My Nook informed me that there was no definition for this particular word, so I went online and tried again: "Testudinous..." Google thought I'd made a typo and suggested instead "testudineous," which means "tortoise-like" or "resembling a tortoise shell."

I reversed Google's unwanted correction and searched again. Very few hits. Hm. I moved on to the trusty ol' Ngram viewer (oh how I love that thing!) and searched for it there. Got a few hits, so on a whim I pulled open one of the earliest mentions. It was a reference book entry:

TESTUDINOUS, adj. [L. testudineus, from testudo, a tortoise.]
Resembling the shell of a tortoise.

Again, hm. The Latin spelling is a homophone for the suggested spelling Google gave me. Looks like we have two legitimate alternate spellings of a word, neither of which anyone uses anymore. I Ngram'ed them against one another and found that the -eous spelling was slightly more frequently used in print than Lovecraft's version, reaching an undisputed peak of usage in the early 1890s.

 

So, satisfied with the definition and its bearing on the story (the ascetic doctor's unique and quirky assistant, Surama, "indulged in many a deep, testudinous chuckle," or deep, slow-paced and deliberate chuckles), I turned back to this reference book I found through the Ngram viewer. Wow. What a title! Here's the title page, direct from the scan of the original 1832 printing:

 
 
The best news is that you can read the whole thing through Google Books by following this link. I guarantee you'll find some intriguing words in this book. It's easy to get hooked once you start digging. I swear to you, Lovecraft must have had access to a copy of this book because just about every page yields something I know I've read in his many stories.
 
I'm happy I found this valuable compendium of lexicographical knowledge. Have a look yourself. Expanding your vocabulary is a great way to learn more about the world around you and about yourself. It also allows you to more accurately express yourself. If that's not enough of a bonus, building your vocabulary can only have positive effects on your professional life. Ever heard of anyone getting canned because they have stellar communication skills?
 
If you think this book is surely antiquated and no longer relevant since it was published in the 19th Century, then I have news for you. It's been reprinted several times over the last 180 years. The 2010 paperback version, at 238 pages, is currently available on Amazon for the low, low price of $19.99! What are you waiting for? Grab some new words today!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

National Poetry Month comes to an end

I hope you've enjoyed reading some of my favorite poems this month. Hopefully I've exposed you to some new writers during this process. I know I discovered a couple poets this month that I was previously unaware of.

How does one end National Poetry Month with a grand finale, considering all the written beauty we've absorbed this month? How can I top that? Well, I wondered the same thing myself. Here's what I came up with:

What's more beautiful and moving than the words of a poem washing over a page and filling your mind with emotion? When those flowing, emotional words are set to music the emotion can sometimes swell to flood stage. With that in mind I present to you, in no particular order, three of what I consider the most poetic songs ever written.

Chris Rea's "The Road to Hell"
 
 
Nick Cave's "Where the Wild Roses Grow"
 
 
 ...and (best for last)... 
Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah"
 
 
 

Monday, April 29, 2013

National Poetry Month #29

First, on an unrelated note, happy birthday to my loving wife, Heather. She is a super mother and wife who sacrifices daily for her family. I just want to let everyone know how much I appreciate what she does for this family. She's very sweet, and she would never approve of the poems I'm going to feature today.

This morning I was introduced, through my Grammar Geeks group on LinkedIn, to the wickedly funny poetry of a British man named Harry Graham. I've never heard of this guy before today, but I love his mischievous sense of humor. It reminds me of Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies. Proceed with caution in reading the following short poems by Harry Graham.

UNCLEJOE
An angel bore dear Uncle Joe
To rest beyond the stars.
I miss him, oh! I miss him so,--
He had such good cigars.

AUNT ELIZA
In the drinking-well
(Which the plumber built her)
Aunt Eliza fell, --
We must buy a filter.

TRAGEDY
That morning, when my wife eloped
With James, our chauffer, how I moped!
What tragedies in life there are!
I'm dashed if I can start the car.

ACCIDENT
"There's been an accident!" they said,
"Your servant's cut in half; he's dead."
"Indeed!" said Mr. Jones , "and please
Give me the half that's got my keys."

COMPENSATION
Weep not for little Leonie,
 Abducted by a French Marquis!
Though loss of honour was a wrench,
Just think how it's improved her French.

TENDER HEARTEDNESS
Billy, in one of his nice new sashes,
Fell in the fire and was burnt to ashes;
Now, although the room grows chilly,
I haven't the heart to poke poor Billy.

THE STERN PARENT
Father heard his children scream,
So he threw them in the stream,
Saying, as he drowned the third,
"Children should be seen, not heard!"

CALCULATING CLARA
O'er the rugged mountain's brow
Clara threw the twins she nursed,
And remarked, "I wonder now
Which will reach the bottom first?"



 
 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Delta Machine hits a raw nerve

I've been listening to Depeche Mode's newest album this evening. I was curious what kind of feedback this thing is getting because it's a distinctly new sort of sound for the trio, so I dug in to some online reviews. Man, the critics can be so harsh sometimes. It seems from my reading that most reviewers are panning this disc pretty well across the board. A few good reviews are to be found, but for the most part they're writing that Delta Machine is the band's worst album in their 33-year, 13-album career.

Without even having heard every one of the band's albums, I'd have to disagree.

Let me preface this, in the interest of full disclosure, by stating up front that Violator is one of my all-time favorite albums, and it's the one that I hold all newer ('90s and later) Depeche Mode albums up against for scrutiny. I haven't liked a whole lot of their offerings since then. The immediate followup, Songs of Faith and Devotion was pretty solid, but they kind of lost me with Ultra. In my opinion, the opening track, "Barrel of a Gun," was hard to beat on that record. After that, I just kinda lost interest, preferring the back catalog to any new offerings. Between the compilation Catching Up..., Some Great Reward, Violator and Songs of Faith..., I was pretty happy with my collection and had no need to update it.

When I heard about this newest effort, I had to check it out. The iTunes previews interested me, so I went ahead and sprung for the two-disc special edition. I am not disappointed... for the most part. It doesn't have the overall danceability of Violator, but it somehow feels musically more relevant to today than I thought it would. It's raw, unfiltered and subtly visceral, with an electronic and synth edge I was not expecting.

I've read reviews that say this album has no ties to DM's back catalog, but I disagree. I'm not that familiar with their very early stuff, but I can clearly hear echoes of that early comp Catching Up with Depeche Mode in this album--not in every track, mind you, and not even as the sole influence on the tracks which do exhibit that sound. But it's there nonetheless; you'll really hear it in "Broken" and "Soft Touch/Raw Nerve."

The thing that immediately appealed to me about this record is that it has an overall simplicity to it that is purely electronic and grungy. Like a wine with notes of oak or cherry, I am getting a taste of Trent Reznor's most recent efforts, an aroma of Daft Punk's Tron: Legacy soundtrack, and a hint of the sonic soundscapes of Atticus Ross. Many of the tracks early in the record have a very minimalist electronic approach that really appeals to me--a stark contrast to what we've heard from the band up to now. This is especially apparent in the two opening tracks, "Welcome to My World" and "Angel."

Standouts are the danceable "Soothe My Soul" and the introspective "Slow," which reminds me of Violator's "Clean."

Overall, I think Delta Machine is a solid album from a band that is back on the cutting edge where they should be. Sure, there are a few duds on the disc, and the whole album is admittedly not for everyone, but it worked for me.