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Go out with you? Why not... Do I like to dance? Of course! Take a walk along the beach tonight? I'd love to. But don't try to touch me. Don't try to touch me. Because that will never happen again. "Past, Present and Future"-The Shangri-Las

Friday, December 11, 2009

Ne'r-Do-Well Narratives

If there's one thing I've learned from being married to a scientist, it is that science can't be usefully engaged in any depth without specialized knowledge. In other words, laypeople can no more process scientific matters in depth than people who can't do their five-finger exercises can play the Brandenburg concertos. Which makes engaging the climate change issues a bit frustrating.

Out of fairness I want to engage the arguments that global warming isn't as big a problem as we've been lead to believe, but the few scientists in that corner are engaging complexities of data and interpretation that most folks, myself included, cannot follow. The rest of the denier pundits are laypeople like myself, so all they can do is craft narratives at me. Between data I can't interpret and Exxon-funded noise-machine narratives that I can interpret but can't take seriously, I'm left to fall back on faith that the majority of scientists know what they're talking about; a faith that listening to hours of scientists gossiping about their jive-turkey colleagues has shaken. Of course I could try to study the info in sufficient depth that I could overcome the knowledge gap. I could also learn to breakdance and make a baked Alaska, but don't count on it.

I figure warming or no, pumping out less pollution is probably a good thing. Some industry flacks say compliance with carbon regulation, etc. will be punishingly severe for our economy and way of life. They said the same stuff about emancipating the slaves and child labor laws. And they were right! Ending slavery and child labor clobbered our economy in the short run. Doesn't mean they weren't the right things to do.

* * *

One of my favorite aspects of Pride & Prejudice (which I finished recently) was the way Darcy changes his callow, classist ways, but does it mostly offstage. His changes are suggested bit by bit as he and Elizabeth bump into one another and she is constantly surprised by his improved behavior. Only near the end is the narrative arc of his changes explained, and it makes perfect sense as a believable process of self-improvement. I think this pleased me because it tracks with our observations of human change in real life. We see the evidence of change in unexpected fragmentary glimpses, and only later, if ever, do we get an account of the motivation and process behind the changes.

The most unsettling part of reading P&P was getting caught up in suspense over Lydia and Wickham's tawdry affair, only to remember that my frame of reference on such matters is rather different from Jane Austen's. In fact Lydia and Wickham's courtship and marriage wasn't all that different from mine with Laurie. To be fair we don't live under a dowry-based matrimonial system, from which (along with modern birth control) all the relevant liberalizations flow. I wonder which of our social structures will someday seem as bizarre and antiquated as dowries seem to us. I'd nominate employer-based health insurance for that honor.

* * *

Among movies we've seen lately: Marnie. I've seen it three times now. The first time I was a kid watching it with Mom. We both enjoyed it, but all the sexual stuff flew right over my head. I recently gave Laurie the capsule synopsis of it: Tippie Hedren is a safecracker with a crippling psychomelodramatic problem; Sean Connery hunts/heals her.

"Do they get it on?" asked Laurie.

"You know it," I said.

And so Marnie went to the top of our queue.

Two things about Marnie struck me this viewing:

1. Tippie Hedren is really, really good. She plays the type-A ice queen with submerged Freudian issues so well that she was indistinguishable from my last supervisor at my old office job.

2. Sean Connery's attempt at an American accent is such an utterly unique hybrid dialect that it resembles a new kind of speech. I love that. Bad accents that go beyond badness all the way to surprising newness are one of the best things actors can give us.

* * *

Another recently viewed flick: The Mothman Prophecies. I read a big chunk of the non-fiction(?) book this was based on. In it (IIRC) freelance journalist Jim Keel goes to a small West Virginia town where a diverse mix of insane phenomena (UFOs, monsters, Men In Black) are causing trouble. The MIBs, rather than being simply sinister, take comical cluelessness to the nth power; I remember being painfully embarrassed by their antics. I also remember being beguiled by Keel's blend of faux-hardnosedness and gap-jawed credulity. Since much of the narrative consisted of punishingly sidetracking anecdotes about how this UFO siting is similar to these other UFO sitings Keel has on file, that monster sighting is similar to these other reported monster sitings, etc., I eventually put the book down and didn't pick it up again. (If I've gotten any details wrong in this synopsis, that's entirely in keeping with the ambiguous nature of the book.)

The movie plays really fast and loose with the original narrative. The reporter becomes a top reporter for the Washington Post, gets a new name, a melodramatic dead-wife backstory, and an advisor on spooky psychic stuff. This advisor gets to be the self-appointed expert on Ultraterrestrials (as they are called in the book) so the reporter doesn't have to be a nut from the start. I would have preferred they stuck closer to the book: a nutty reporter who loves to trot out his knowledge of Fortean lore would be way more amusing than Richard Gere's glum character.

The supposedly hardnosed reporter is awfully quick to buy into far-fetched theories, though, which is hardly justified by the weirdness swirling around him. A real hardnosed reporter would try to Occam's Razor his way through such peculiar events.

The main MIB in the book, Indrid Cold, is mostly offstage but on the phone in this film, so all the wacky stuff about MIBs making public fools of themselves is snipped from the narrative. The film's awfully serious, in a furrowed-brow manner. The backstory with the dead wife comes to the fore as it appears she is, in some inexplicable fashion, hanging with Indrid Cold, unless Cold is playing some cruel Dopplerganger game. This subplot leads to some letting-go-of-the-past-and-the-dead stuff that I quite liked, but the films' top-heavy with dead-wife melodrama that the psychotronic source material didn't need.

Also the film goes for a David Lynchian weirdness, with David (Seven, Fight Club) Fincher visual stylings. The cinematography goes for sedate colors and fine-grained detailing, but then slips into highly formalized scene-to-scene and even shot-to-shot transitions. Disorienting camera angles and A Bout de Souffle editing create an uncanny mise-en-scene, but as the film progresses it piles on the cinematic funhouse gimmicks until it starts to feel like a demo reel of tricks, and each new trick seems like part of a predictably escalating succession. I haven't made a study of it, but it seems to me Lynch pulls off the uncanny with greater ease because he exercises a bit of restraint with the weird stuff. When he goes weird he doesn't simply use interchangeable tricks; the weirdness is more specific and deeply rooted in narrative than the tilt-a-whirl bamboozlement devices in Mothman.

A Season Three X-files episode titled "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" is clearly influenced by The Mothman book and is closer to what I would have wanted from an adaptation: uncanny, comical and open to a near-Marenbadian multiplicity of readings. It's more fun than the Mothman movie and will take less time, so give it a try.

(This subject of unofficial or accidental adaptations that surpass the official adaptations is one that preoccupies me: Pedro Almodovar's Bad Education is a better Lolita movie than either of the entertaining but insufficient Lolita films, Ang Lee's Hulk movie is a better Neon Genesis Evangelion adaptation than Hulk adaptation, etc.)

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Box. You Opened It, We Came.

Last night I had my first sip of wine in a while, and it got me rhapsodizing about the glory days... the BOXED WINE days.

In the late 90s I drank wine from The Box. Real wine was too 'spensive. I knew boxed wine was allegedly no good, and I didn't argue the point, but I figure that if it was good enough for me then it would be a shame to waste real wine on my cloddish palate. Later, of course, I learned that wasting real wine on my cloddish palate was the only way to refine my palate, but despite my college education I didn't quite grasp that I was capable of learning and growing. But that's another story.

When I shared an apartment with two other guys (and two of us weren't paying rent) it was boxed wine that smoothed over the many, many rough edges. Well, that and Neon Genesis Evangelion, which was specifically calibrated for tipsy twentysomething girlfriendless nerdboys.

I eased off the box once I moved across the street from V. Richards, which had a real wine selection, but the subject of The Box came up during a production of Angels in America II. I declared that if I ever became a DJ my stage name would be Chillable Red, in honor of a particularly Kool-Aidish variety (or is that varietal?) of boxed wine (as if there's any boxed wine that doesn't taste like sour Kool-Aid). Our Prior Walter admitted that in his college days his roommates and he would remove the sack (for those who haven't enjoyed The Box: inside The Box is a wine-filled plastic bag with a rubber nozzle) from the box, hang it on the wall somehow, and squirt cheap wine directly into their mouths as they passed it. That's the good life, for college boys.

I offered to bring a Box to the cast party. Everyone laffed except for Tom, who is from Sand Mountain.

I showed up to the party and Tom met me on the porch, eyes glowing with eagerness. "Where is THE BOX?" he asked. The Box was produced and we drained it to the lees, paying no attention to the many bottles of better wine that had been brought by our betters. The evening ended with Tom and myself trying to play jug music on the nozzle of an empty plastic bag. I think it was the last time I ever wallowed in boxed wine. A fitting blowout conclusion to The Boxed Wine Era.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Some things I'm thankful for:

We have made some fine friends during our time in Kannapolis.

We have a roomy yet cozy house with a loverly backyard. A fruitful garden, a thicket bursting with life, towering trees. Every back yard should be like this.

Our cat survived his near-death experience and seems more connected to us now.

Marat/Sade allowed me to do the kind of theatre I've always wanted to do, to meet dozens of wonderful folks, and to let all my craziness out. The toungue-clicking I developed for my character won't leave my mouth now.

My family reads my blog and yet hasn't disowned me.

I got a library card.

Now I have a part time job. Better than nothing.

I'll be attending UPTA auditions in February.

I'm married to Laurie. Every day I'm learning more about how to love and be loved in return.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Repositioning Slaughter

A friend recently passed along this article about a forthcoming Nepalese festival involving mass animal sacrifice (every five years, for a goddess, etc.) My friend, who is vegetarian with vegan leanings, was of the opinion that this is an outrage. I see his point, and having recently nursed a sick kitty back to health, I'm more in touch than usual with the importance of life, including animal life, but...

I'm a meat-muncher, and a Unitarianish type who is leery of changing others' faith practices. If you're worshiping a Goddess of Power, doesn't it make sense to spill a lot of blood? And they eat the meat, so it's not going to waste...

I believe in the value of all life, but not in the sanctity of any life. Life is an accidental byproduct of impersonal cosmic forces (a splendid byproduct, but still...) and so the destruction of it isn't inherently wrong.

And yet. I'm generally against killing humans, I don't believe humans are meaningfully more important than other animals, I'm against cruelty and confinement, and animal sacrifice is as stoopid as any religious practice could be. I'm still trying to find a balance between the part of myself that is drawn to Vegan values and the part that intends to keep eating animal flesh. This festival is a troublesome issue for me precisely because I don't know quite where I stand or why I stand there.

Literalistic religion is one cause of this problem. A symbolic sacrifice can be just as powerful as actual animal slaughter; that's part of what makes The Crucifixion resonate so strongly with so many people. Animal rights activists in Nepal are trying to persuade folks to sacrifice plants instead, but plants don't make the noises and smells of animal sacrifice and so may be a less pleasing odor in The Divine's nostrils... but sometimes The Divine needs to tighten Her belt, just like the rest of us.

Another possible compromise... abortion sacrifices. They should have doctors at the festival, ready and willing to perform abortions for all pregnant comers. That's almost like a human sacrifice, right? Powerful juju. And they got overpopulation issues around that region, right? I think I've just solved this problem. Another controversy ended.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

So What's Up?

Marat/Sade ends this week; no more madness. No more letting my tics and twitches out. No more terrorizing the audience. No more dressing-room esprit de corps. Soon I'll have to find something else to do, like get a job. I'm working on it, like everybody else. I even got a typewriter so I can fill out applications without revealing my hillbilly scrawl.

Our cat is basically an indoor cat now, having twice returned from his outdoor jaunts with injuries, but we let him out last Saturday and he came running back, scared of something... and then was lethargic. Wouldn't eat or drink. Sat by his water bowl staring, not drinking. We took him to the vet, got him some anti-nausea drugs, and he's in good shape now. For a while I assumed that he'd been poisoned (we'd been warned that some country folks think nothing of poisoning cats) and I was close to exploding with rage, but Laurie pointed out that the cat came running back in a frenzy, as if he'd been shooed away from something, so possibly the only human involvement was beneficial rather than malicious. At first I wanted to assume a villain so there'd be someone to punish, but now I'd rather assume that there was no malice behind whatever threw him off balance. Of course it might be human negligence to blame; leaving rat poison or something out where other critters might get it.

So I've learned a bit about how much the cat means to me (I was pretty frantic for several days) and about how quickly my big dumb urges to wrath and revenge come bubbling up, non-violent milquetoaste that I am.

Speaking of which, I have started watching an old show called The Sopranos. It's pretty good and you should check it out. You heard it here first.

Also, I'm reading a book titled Pride and Prejudice. It to is worth a look. Keep reading my blog and I'll keep pointing out such overlooked gems for your consideration.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Mor for Ya'll

More music. My last batch for a while.

BTW Laurie and I are thinking about moving to Vancouver or someplace like that. Lots of biotech, lots of acting work, lots of health care.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Say "Cred!" and Pro-Fayne

Some songs I like.

Viva Vivian!

A new link: Vivian Maier. Her work achieves the pellucid clarity I want for my life and work.

Friday, October 30, 2009

No Comment. Okay, maybe a metacomment.

Our production of Marat/Sade got three exuberant reviews, one from the mainstream newspaper, one from the trying-not-to-be-mainstream newspaper, and one from the local-theatre-review-website-that-no-one-really-looks-at (although I thought the last one had an unusually insightful review, from a theatre professor as it happens).

Good stuff. Ticket sales are hoppin'. But the other day someone posted a negative comment about the show on the mainstream paper's website (I hasten to point out that I heard about this from another cast member, rather than from obsessively rereading the reviews). Once upon a time I would have been completely unable to restrain myself from retorting to the comment right there on the website. I take it as proof of personal growth that I am now able to deflect such inclinations into wry remarks on my blog, rather than tendentious direct takedowns. It would be best, of course, to instantly forget about such trivial things, but clearly I'm not there yet.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


When I started doing theatre I had a fantasy that it would allow me to participate in complex, multilayered and didactic artwork. I also had a fantasy that it would allow me to get all emotionally exhibitionistic, untrammeled and unashamed.

It turned out, though, that a certain amount of rigor was required. Not only learning lines and blocking, but comprehending and intelligently communicating the playwright and director's overlapping visions. So on some productions that allowed for a blending of my two theatrical fantasies (Angels in America, various Shakespearian items) I was so busy trying to jerry-rig together enough thesping craft for the job that I wasn't able to find ways of infusing the performance with both Brechtian sophistication and Artaudian shamanistic wallowing.

Until now. Marat/Sade, in which I play a mental patient, allows me to let my actual emotional state to shape my performance while giving energy to a complex exploration of revolutionary failures. Plus I get to scare people like I'm Leatherface. Utter self-indulgence yoked to a compellingly multilayered intellectual work.

Brian Eno has stated that he prefers making frames to making pictures, metaphorically speaking, and I find that my ensemble role allows me to be part of a frame. It's a bit like those faux-frame boundaries on old Mad magazine covers, though... the ones with odd little figures running around and pratfalling. Dozens of little bonus gags surrounding the main gag in the picture.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A few to lay on ya.

It's allergy time for me, and all my energy has been poured into this show. Inspired by Noah Berlatsky of Hooded Utilitarian's weekly playlist downloads, I've decided to share a playlist with my readers from time to time (in lieu of actually writing anything). If you can brave an irksome popup or two and a bit of download time, you get to share some ditties I luv.
Roughly a CD worth of tunes I dig. Enjoy!

Monday, October 12, 2009


Today someone googled across my blog while searching for cow-then-start-touching-me.

That is all.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Get Out. Go In.

EDIT, WEEKS LATER: I would like to point out that I have great respect/affection for the director, assistant director, and stage manager of the show discussed here, and my complaints in this post were made in context of a time, place and mindset that blah blah blah disclaimer disclaimer DISCLAIMER ETC.

Is there any value in making actors endure rude or abusive treatment in order to coax more genuine performances out of them? In my current production I play an inmate at an abusive mental hospital, and the various authorities in this production (director, assistant director, stage manager) have exercised a level of hostility that I have not previously experienced in the theatre. It's impossible to tell the extent to which they are being clinical or to which they are merely displacing frustrations onto us. For example, we weren't making our entrances and exits quickly enough, so the assistant director, in the midst of our rehearsal warmups, told us "I'm sick of you people. Get out." And we FLED out the exits. Ever since then we've made our entrances and exits with all the panicked speed our director wishes.

But the assistant director shouldn't be surprised if none of us comes to his birthday party.

It's evident that the hostility is being used to coax us to a deeper level of understanding, to guide us from our relatively pampered and cozy lives into the blinkered and paranoiac reality of the inmates. We sure as hell don't appreciate it, but I suppose we may as well make use of it.

In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (what, that again? Bear with me, it ties in) the cast suffered a pretty fierce level of discomfort, and director Tobe Hooper did play mind games with the actors to increase their mistrust and anxiety. He spread rumors that made the actors dislike one another. Not all of the blows and cuts on the film were faked... some were quite real. The meat that recurs throughout the film was real, and rotting in the Texas heat. It's a cruel way to work and I don't approve of it. And yet the results speak for themselves. The pain and terror is all there on the screen. Unlike most horror movies the film doesn't seem like pure artifice; it seems like a documentation of real terror. It has a shamanistic power that's like nothing else I've seen. We've endured little more than rudeness compared to that, but a little rudeness seems to go a long way towards making us fearful and resentful. I'm not sure what that reveals about us.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

And To Think I Hesitated; or, I Don't Post For Weeks And When I do It's About Hellraiser 2

I finally watched Hellbound: Hellraiser II. I've been a fan of the original flick for years, but I was afraid the sequel(s) would do what sequels do: dissipate the vitality of the original by overexplaining enigmas and normalizing the abnormalities that give the first film its edge. And I was right, kind of, but there are mitigating factors.

Hellraiser has a Strindbergian quality; it's very much a character-centered drama. The story could be retold as a realistic noir with only minor changes (which is not to say that the fantastical elements are gratuitous; only that they shape the symbol system of the film more than the plot itself). There are tantalizing enigmas that are allowed to remain unexplained, and I liked it that way. I didn't need to know who the Dick-Tracy-villain S&M Mobsters who function as the malevolent Deus Ex Machina of the film really were.

The sequel, of course, explains who they were, but it doesn't seem like a response to Hellraiser. It seems like like an Adults-Only sequel to Labyrinth or The Neverending Story, in which the heroine goes into a hallucinatory fantasy world on a Quest, where she meets weird creatures, etc. It resonates more with my memories of Eighties kid fantasy flicks than with my interest in Original Hellraiser.

So how is it as an Adult Neverending Story? Not bad, although it's a disservice to the movie to watch it sober. It goes for the overwrought goth lushness of a Ken Russell or Dario Argento film, and occasionally hits the right strident note. The special effects are the kind of Eighties FX trash that I love so, so much more now that I've sat through half a lifetime of CGI. Having a Monsterous Doctor for a villain is fine, but having him say things like "I recommend amputation" as he attacks people is pretty Marvel Comics.

* * *

For the majority of my readers who don't give a rip about Hellraiser: I recently won an award for my performance in last year's production of Turn of the Screw. The award is from a local theatrical alliance that throws a big cargo-cultish awards show, complete with paparazzi-free red carpet. We got to perform a scene from the show for the award ceremony, and I hammed it up shamelessly, which probably netted me more attention (for good or ill) than the award itself.

I just had an audition for a Shakespeare touring company. The director told me (bluntly but kindly) that the company mostly casts young actors, and that the schoolchildren respond strongly to young actors, as opposed to folks who seem more like teachers, generation-wise. But she liked my work, so hope springs. It just doesn't spring unrealistically high.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Needs to Happen

Due to the overwhelming response to my post about Dungeons and Dragons movies, I'm doing another one. The next two Dungeons and Dragons movies will both deal with The Planes.

Dungeons and Dragons (at least back in my day) had a gonzo OCD cosmology full of Planes of Existence. Some were devoted to different elements (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) and others to various Afterlives. I tried to find the original complicated charts online, but came up empty, which amazes me. No one wants to scan the old D&D charts of the Inner and Outer Planes? What's wrong with nerds these days?

Anyway, suffice it to say that The Planes represent all the different worlds, zones, dimensions etc. that exist in E. Gary Gygax's philosophy, and from time to time various folks who wanted to sell more D&D product tried to crank out expansions on this idea.

There should be two counterbalancing films about this. Just to keep me happy.

The first should be loosely adapted from The Manual of the Planes by Jeff Grubb, who for a time was the hardest working man in Dungeons and Dragons. I remember the book being an imaginative, or at least imagination-firing, book that told you what it might be like to visit, say, a place where everything is made of water, or where Chaotic-Neutral people go when they die (The morality and afterlife thing is highly structured in Dungeons and Dragons). The film should be written and directed by the people responsible for this,


this right here

and of course this

ad. It should be produced by the employee of Birmingham Alabama's long-lost comic/game shop Lion and Unicorn who tried to sell a copy of the by-then out of print Manual of the Planes for $100. Anyone named Manuel Planes should be hired to work on this film. The movie should consist of a guided tour of each plane, undertaken by two cute teens in 80's garb with a sunglassed nonthreatening version of Ric Okasek for a guide. Pleasant synth-pop throughout, as in the ads. Really, just give me 90 minutes of Eighties-style Bubble Yum ads and I'll be happy. Normally I scorn folks who rhapsodize about favorite commercials, but I was young and vulnerable when I saw these, and I honestly love this post-You Might Think stuff. (BTW I now understand, as I didn't in the 80's, exactly why my Mom found this video so disturbing. Unstoppable stalkers are exciting to little boys but not to their Moms.)

The other film should be adapted from the groovy old D&D themed computer game Planescape:Torment, a glum and complicated adventure in which an amnesiac hero awakens in a run-down fantasy city, assembles a ragtag band, explores strange places... all the usual fantasy computer game stuff, really, but there's lots of bull-session philosophy, exotic atmosphere, and ... well, that was enough for me. Maybe if I played more of these games I wouldn't have found this one so immersive, but now I want to reexperience it without actually playing it, which means someone has to make the movie version. Make it long and dense. Make it pretty, in a smoky, spikey way. For crying out loud make it immersive. Strike a balance between talky stuff in superficially creepy yet oddly cozy settings, and fantastical action set pieces. Script should be improvised on set by M. John Harrison, under duress if need be. Directed by Jason Keener.

Somewhere between these films there needs to be a short-lived cable TV series based on D&D lamebrainstorm Spelljammer , a D&D variant that focused on magical boats flying from planet to planet. The pilot episode should be directed by whoever made this. After a promising first episode it should start to stink pretty bad. Cast a few hot guys and gals in it so Fanfic Nation will get all excited about it and get enough petition signatures to keep it on the air for an even worse second season.

It's ideas like this that have driven my blog hits into the single digits.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Life and like that

Gabrielle Bell has a blog and I've added it to my links.

I'm trying to learn Marat/Sade in suffecient depth to keep the director from holding me up for ridicule. I'm trying to relearn and improve a scene from last year's production of Turn of the Screw since I'm being forced to perform it for a local theatre awards show. And I'm trying to learn sides for two original plays for which a local theatre is holding auditions. And I'm trying to learn two different new monologues for various other auditions. And I'm polishing an older monologue. So I'm not posting here much. One hopes I'll get back into maintaining this record of my life soon. My life itself will have to ease back a bit first.

Friday, September 11, 2009

In The Realm

As you probably know, there's a Dungeons and Dragons movie. And it's a stinker. My D&D-playing friends and I had a good time heckling it, but that's about all it's good for. How then should a proper D&D movie be made?

I shall tell you, for the answer lies within me.

Firstly, when I think back on the old Dungeons and Dragon books I used to pour over, I can't help thinking about the shops and streets and overpasses of Chattanooga, Tn. and the hiking trails of Signal Mountain. That's where I lived and engaged D&D. So to capture the sensation of Dungeons and Dragons as I experienced it, my D&D film would be shot Alphaville-style in Chattanooga.

Alphaville was a science-fiction movie by arthouse legend Jean-Luc Godard. He shot it in 60s Paris, and made no effort to disguise the fact, even though the story took place on exotic alien planets. The conceit of the film is that no elaborate sci-fi set or camera trick could possibly create a setting more alien and peculiar than a hotel lobby or office building, so why not film in a hotel lobby or office building and pass it off as an alien planet? I propose taking the same approach to Chattanooga, which is more fantastic than any Frazetta painting if approached with photographic imagination.

The film's narrative should be loosely adapted from the B series of Dungeons and Dragon modules. The central characters should be the main characters from the old D&D Saturday Morning cartoon. They should be played by game-shop nerds with no particular acting ability or resemblance to the cartoon characters. The script should be written by a few Infocom game designers and should focus more on the red herrings, dead ends and pointless whimsies that characterize old D&D modules than on any sense of narrative momentum. The monsters should be designed by Erol Otus and realized with stop-motion animation overseen by Rick Trembles. It should be directed by a drunken Tobe Hooper, whose blend of weird dry humor, grotesquerie, uneven craft and occasional shamanism make him the ideal stand-in for the game's traditional Dungeon Master. Closing credits music by Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe.

Obviously this movie will make cash by the tankerful, so the sequel should be an absurdly faithful adaptation of Ravenloft. The main vampire should be played by the Chattanooga community theatre hambone who played every role with the same exaggeratedly effeminate elocutionary style regardless of the part. Castle Ravenloft should be portrayed by Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church, one of the key locations in my life for good and ill. The film should be scripted and directed by Raul Ruiz. The protagonists should be the characters from Snarfquest. Production design by Larry "Snarfquest" Elmore and Damien Hirst. Music by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Closing credit song by The Egyptian Lover.

The Losers' Lounge

We've been in B'ham, fixing up Laurie's house there. We attended a Monday night open-mike standup comedy session at an establishment which I shall refer to as The Losers' Lounge. We arrived late, and as we approached the patio we heard a snippet of a monologue in progress. A guy in his late twenties or so was explaining the following facts:

1. He was recently divorced.

2. He was having a hard time adjusting.

3. And the recurring punchline, he was spending a lot of time in a Lonely Person Activity.

4. He was hurt by the lack of Big Laffs Item 3 received from the mostly young, mostly unhappy-looking audience.

5. He was friends with the other comics, all of whom were sitting at a table up front. He would banter with them whenever he got too flustered.

That was it. No twists, no insights, no unexpected juxtapositions of two distinct frames of reference, just a repetition of those five points, over and over again. At the time I wondered if the whipped puppy attitude he was giving off was the cause or the effect of the divorce. It later occurred to me that he might have been trying to coax a punishing response from the audience. Perhaps he was trying to have his ambiguous feelings of inadequacy replaced with unambiguous, explicit awareness of inadequacy; always a minor relief for the emotionally seasick, and easier to achieve than a bolstered sense of self-worth. Sadly for him, this Southern audience was too well behaved for open heckling.

His protests at our lack of laughter grew terser as he continued; they started out like "C'mon, people, this is comedy! You're supposed to laugh!" and devolved to "Terrible!" Whether "Terrible!" was addressed to the audience, himself, or God On High, I dunno.

A somewhat milder form of masochism shaped the other performances. Primal Whimper Therapy was still in evidence, but it was from younger guys who were mystified by their inability to get with a woman in the first place, rather than reeling from a divorce, so their pain was that of heartache rather than heartbreak. They also had a somewhat better grasp on the whole "Make 'Em Laugh" thing. Still, it felt more like being collared by a succession of mournful, lonely drunks than like being entertained.

There was one young woman in the audience, all alone; a cute girl with arty garb. She smiled glowingly all through the show, and it occurred to me that I had seen her at open-mike comedy acts years before. I felt for her, or for the her I imagined her to be. Having done some tepid open-mike, I'd been approached by somber-faced women who told me "You were really funny." Meaning, "I am really lonely." I thought of them when I saw this woman. Whenever one of the performers bemoaned his inability to find a woman, I imagined her thinking "I'm right here; look at me." But that was my inference; who knows why she was really there. Maybe she thought they were funny.

The host of the show angrily shouted down a young chattering ectomorph in the audience ("Am I interrupting anything?" that kind of bit) but went way overboard; it was obvious the host wanted to do the old devastate-the-heckler routine, but lacking an actual heckler he had to settle for a nonthreatening chatterbox. The Host was mean, not witty, not funny. The young ectomorph, who looked like a sheepish bespectacled bird, sat there and looked blank during the tirade. He was with a group of college kid types, with one older heavyset woman at the head of the group. The host evidently knew her, as he flirtatiously chided her for bringing the ectomorph. The woman had that flash-of-panic-beneath-the-cool-facade look so familiar to anyone who's ever been a twentysomething. Rather than defend Mr. Ectomorph she said "I know, I know" and tried to look archly disaffected. She grabbed her purse and FLED as soon as the focus was off her again. I later overheard the ectomorph speak witheringly of her; he expected more gumption from a Queen Bee than that.

The final comic was a cute little stoner whose dipsy-doodle style charmed Laurie and myself regardless of his (mildly amusing) gags. As Woody Allen observed, personality is more important than material for a standup comic.

If you're in B'ham and this kind of sideshow sounds more to your tastes than it is to mine, here's a hint: the establishment's name is actually a reference to An Animal Sound.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Cozily Suffocating Confines of the Nerd-Ass Comfort Zone

The Idea Of Order At Key West by Wallace Stevens has been on my mind lately. It may be the best examination of the relationship between art and life that I've ever seen.

The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there,
As the night descended, tilting in the air
Mastered the night and portioned out the sea,
Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles,
Arranging, deepening, enchanting night.

Art, like the lights, works in the context of of the world in which we live.

Anyway, I followed a link to this blog, which I'd never seen before and which is too self-aggrandizingly nerdy even for me. It retorts to some critiques of Tarantino's hermetically sealed films in part by comparing Tarantino's work to Midsummer Night's Dream, which, the blogger argues, catered to theatre nerds by being about theatre in the same way that Tarantino caters to film nerds by making movies that are only about film.

But while Midsummer has a theatre plot thread, it nests theatre within a broader social context, and then nests that social context within the greater context of The Fairy Realm, which I read as the natural world viewed through an anthropomorphic lens.

Midsummer's rude mechanicals are there for the theatre nerds, no doubt, but the play isn't an act of total nerd indulgence. Shakespeare isn't putting foil on the windows, metaphorically speaking. His is an outward bound, omnivorous and expansive intellect, so when he includes some fun for the theatre nerds it isn't an exercise in keeping nerds inside a narrow nerd-ass comfort zone.

In closing, a quote from Eric Rohmer, translated by Carol Volk, from the introductory interview in The Taste For Beauty, a collection of Rohmer's essays (Rohmer is one of my favorite filmmakers, and an expert at navigating between reality and the artifice of film):

"...cinema has more to fear from its own cliches than from those of the other arts. Right now, I despise, I hate, cinephile madness, cinephile culture. In 'Le Celluloid et le marbre" I said that it was very good to be a pure cinephile, to have no culture, to be cultivated only by the cinema. Unfortunately, it has happened: there are now people whose culture is limited to the world of film, who think only through film, and when they make films, their films contain beings who only exist through film, whether the reminiscence of old films or the people in the profession...film is the art that can feed on itself the least. It is certainly less dangerous for the other arts."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cheaper Than Dirt

A sad moment today: our cat caught and killed a little creature. Not sure what it was since the cat hid in the shadows to enjoy his kill, but a bunny sat just outside the shadows and watched with nervous stance and wide eyes. Perhaps our cat was killing the bunny's child. It's all in the game, but I felt awful for the bunny.
* * *

I had a disagreement with a stranger the other day about the taking of cheap shots (we were discussing Ted Kennedy's passing and he brought up Mary Jo Kopeckne's death in a way that I thought was below the belt). I'm formulating some provisional rules for cheap shots:

1. If you make cheap shots, you must be sporting about getting as good as you give. Take it if you dish it.

2. Own your cheap shots. Stand behind them. No Al Jolson routines about how your cheap shot wasn't a cheap shot. No confabulating your rudeness and indecency away. Be proudly, flamboyantly horrible, or don't be horrible at all.

3. And it wouldn't have occurred to me to point this out before yesterday's discussion, but don't bling your Jesus Decoder Ring and think that gives you such a wealth of moral credibility that accusations of cheap-shottery against your person are absurd. Here in the Southeast everyone gets a fistful of Jesus Decoder Rings complements of the house; they're not hard won.

All that said, there was a deeply awful cheap shot in the original version of this post; all that business with the bunny and the cat was a setup for a swat at a vivisection extremist I've hated on in these virtual pages before, and after some remorseful rethinking I snipped it. Not sure if that's a violation of my stated rules or not.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Honorable Employment

I used to do a lot of temporary work, back when there were "jobs." You kids don't know nothing 'bout that. Anyway, the most memorable of my post-college temp jobs was in a small company out of town, down the road an hour or so. It must have been to the East, because the sun was in my eyes the whole way.

The building was like a small hanger or converted garage. Most of the workers assembled in small open work stations and did... I don't remember what they did. On the other side were bins full of circular rivets, like ring tosses for folks with absurdly muscular wrists.

My job was to throw the rivets on the floor.

If the rivets sounded a solid bell-like tone against the concrete floor, they were put in the "keep" bin. If they clunked or shattered, into the "trash" bin with them.

This was a terrific job for me because it required such minimal attention, allowing me to plot my (awful) screenplay or to daydream about Ranma 1/2, an obsession at the time because it reminded me of my recently departed college life.

Enriching the experience was the fact that each of the employees had their own radios. No headphones or anything: everybody played their radios out loud, all the time. Each radio was about five feet apart. The acoustics of the place meant each radio was fully audible from where I was standing. Each radio was tuned to a different station. No one seemed to think this was purgatorial.

One of the employees was a cute young woman. Next to her stood a "simple" young man who constantly flirted with her. Flirting, for him, took the form of saying "Don't cry, baby, it'll be all right" in a self-satisfied sarcastic way every time she said anything at all, which was fairly regularly.

There was also a very pregnant skinny lady who smoked all day long.

This job ended abruptly when I smashed my car into the back of a truck on my way to work (did I mention sun in my eyes?) It wasn't on purpose, honest.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Marriage and Motorcars

Laurie and I are getting married tomorrow. Concord courthouse sometime after 2PM.

* * *

In cruddier news, over the weekend I bumped into a concrete embankment when I (slowly) went round a blind single-lane onramp curve, only to find that traffic had abruptly STOPPED and I had a choice between bumping the wall or bumping another car. I made the obvious choice, and the damage was pretty minimal considering. I did have to get it fixed, though.

We've often said that one advantage of living in Kannapolis is that everyone, including mechanics, assumes you're wise in the ways of cars, so they don't try to cheat you. The drawback is that they'll ask you detailed questions about your car's specifications, and if you don't know offhand how big your rims are or how many cylinders the engine's got, they look at you like you just asked who Obama is. Auto lore is as fundamental as readin' and writin' around here.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sniff Sniff.

I'm reading "An Actor's Business" by Andrew Reilly, an informative book about making a living as an actor. It's full of useful-seeming info (I say seeming because I haven't put it to the test yet) but I was taken aback by one passage in which, while explaining the nuts and bolts of the film business, the author goes on a tangent about how foreign films sukk. To whit:

"Some foreign filmmakers... seem to be enamoured with myriad camera angles that communicate no new information and symbols that do not advance a story but but turn the story into a crossword puzzle."

And there's more along those lines. Perhaps in the next edition Mr. Reilly will take the time to explain how modern art is flimflam and rap isn't really music.

I wonder which filmmaker, exactly, he's talking about. Peter Greenaway, perhaps. And here's Mr. Greenaway's retort (Taken from "Peter Greenaway: Interviews" edited by Vernon Gras and Marguerite Gras):

"...Cinema basically is illustration of the 19th century novel, ways and means of examining the world very much in the way that perhaps Dickens organized his narrative scheme. And you know, American cinema is a bit like telling children stories, to placate them-make sure the moral code is all right, and now we'll tuck you up in bed..."

Obviously I'm all in favor of telling children stories, and I'm sure Greenaway is too, but his point is well taken... Film tends to be organized around 19th century fictive modes, but it can be organized around 20th-century fictive modes, or any century's poetic or painterly aesthetics as well. Hollywood hasn't trained us for that, but that's no reason for a reverse-elitism against films that are about images, ideas or formal play rather than conventional narrative. Or as Robert Altman put it, Hollywood wants shoes and he makes gloves.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Quick Update

We finally got our marriage license and are debating the level of spontaneity/sense of occasion the wedding should include. It's looking like I'm going to wake up on my wedding day without knowing for sure that it's my wedding day.

I'm in a production of Marat/Sade that promises to pull no punches. Glad to be doing something that blends Gothic excess, agitprop and all-around artiness.

I'm also pecking away at a juvenile novel, trying to write the kind of thing I liked to read. If nothing else it keeps me off the streets.

Recently rewatched Gothic by Ken Russell (inspired to do so after mentioning that Ken Russell should direct the film of Lucius Shepard's uneven but patchily rewarding erotic-political-thriller-in-vampire-drag novel The Golden) and now suspect that Russell is an under appreciated filmmaker. Tacky, tasteless and overwrought, but I think most films should be. Eric Rohmer can handle the tasteful stuff, and I'll watch that with pleasure too, but if you can't capture life with such cinematic delicacy then for heaven's sake go for broke; brilliant tackiness with dimestore psychology and theatrical lighting all over the screen. My kinda flick.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Go Fish

We took a return trip to Birmingham last weekend, and I ate at The Fish Market for the first time. I lived in The 'Ham how long, and never ate at The Fish Market? We got there pretty late, and the Friday night crowd was pleasing: mellow and integrated. I liked the food (been a long time since I've had scallops) and disliked the music (Kenny G whuuuuut). But the decor was what resonated. The open spaciousness and the lighting reminded me of the cafes that were fixtures in the corny computer adventure games I used to favor. I regard it as a sign of maturation that I now hang out in atmospheric venues instead of hanging out in virtual atmospheric venues.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Every Room Has A Flaw

I'll be an inmate in Cast Theatre's forthcoming production of Marat/Sade. I'm relieved I won't have to hold down a major singing part again, somewhat bummed that accepting this community theatre role means turning down some paying (but less interesting) opportunities.

In more long-term news, Laurie and I are getting closer to marriage; we haven't set a date yet, but we do have a deadline, sort of... we want to be married by the holidays of this year.

And I'm actually making some headway on a novel! Yeah, me and a billion other people. Mine's a juvenile fantasy, because that's all I read growing up, and they say you should write what you know. All I know is anthropomorphic critters and adolescent parapsychologists.


Speaking of which, I never got into The Hardy Boys. I tried a few times, since every other boy in school read them, but I couldn't relate to the Boys; they were too Jack Armstrong, All-American for me to grok. Heaven forbid my young self read a novel if my young self couldn't relate to the protagonist. The Three Investigators were my guys; nerds one and all, highly skilled in some areas and worthless in all other areas. That I could grok, by cracky. And after they cracked the case they'd go have lunch with their buddy Alfred Hitchcock and tell him all about it, and say "But there's one detail that still puzzles me; how did the Gypsy snort the cobras out his nose?" and Hitchcock would figure it out.

This post's title is IIRC an actual line from one of those books. I found it an intriguing notion back when most of my reading material was certain to involve someone getting locked in a room at some point.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

La La La

I'm currently up for a singing role in a local show. It's non-paying but locally prestigious, artistically ambitious community theatre.

I'm in the perplexing position of being half-good at something. I can sing... kinda. In my audition I sang the obscure Cole Porter song "They Couldn't Compare To You" which is a hilarious crowd pleaser, and one of maybe a half-dozen songs I feel comfortable singing anytime, anywhere. The director obviously enjoyed it, so tonight I'm called back for a big singing part in a show that isn't exactly a musical, but has some key songs.

The problem is that learning new music, learning it precisely, and actually, y'know, singing it is difficult for me; nonetheless my last paying gig and perhaps my next non-paying gig involve singing. I can sing just well enough to be an impressive audition if it's a cappella (for me matching an accompanist with whom I haven't rehearsed is like guessing an unseen person's weight) but carrying a full singing performance isn't really in my comfort zone.

It's an interesting demonstration of the truism that a good date isn't always a good mate, and vice versa.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Graves and The Golden

Passed a favorite graveyard today (it has family crypts like mini-temples amidst the headstones; very horror movie-riffic) and like most graveyards in town it's actually a churchyard. Anyway, someone had knocked over and broken some of the headstones. In a city I would just write such events off as inevitable urban vandalism, but in a small country town I grasp for specific socio-economic explanations of such activity, just as I assume aggressive driving in a small town is connected to economic frustration, but in the city it's just inevitable that dense populations mean more jerks. Only today does it occur to me that I'm applying different expectations to different environments. It's irksome that some stupid person besmirched some grave markers, but it's fun to imagine the aggrieved dead rising to haunt our anonymous defiler.

* * *

Reading The Golden by Lucius Shepard; it's a political thriller set in a Gormenghastly vampire palace. The vampire stuff is used as metaphor and MSG. Shepard's short stories are more subtle, but he lets the Gothiness of it all justify some extravagant excess; then he finds the nuanced shadings within the excess. Ken Russell should make the movie.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Freaky Actors

I just saw a documentary about Tod Browning, the director of such films as Dracula and Freaks. He worked with Lon Chaney a bunch, and wanted to do Dracula with him; no doubt Chaney would have created one of his famous makeup schemes as part of the character. He died too soon, though, and Bela Lugosi got the job. Lugosi refused to wear makeup and relied on his distinctive personality to create the character.

I found this more inspiring than I can probably convey. Two beloved performers who handled similar creative tasks in ways that suited their individual styles and talents. It gives me hope as an actor; I tend to fall into the trap of thinking there's some answers-in-the-back-of-the-teacher's-edition correct way to do things, and that I don't measure up, but in creative work there's many, many routes to success. Now to persuade North Carolina's casting directors.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Kannapolis to Austin

Laurie and I went traveling last week. Here's a few highlights:

Visiting two delightful Austin swimmin' holes, Deep Eddy and Barton Springs. It turns out that what I didn't like about swimming was clorine.

Spending time with Laurie's sister, a hilarious nurse who filled us in on the funny and dark sides of her profession. A sample: nurses call motorcycles "Donorcycles." Also, she wants her funeral music to include "Ghostbusters". That just gets funnier the more I think of it.

My return to Birmingham, Alabama, where I reconnected with some old friends, finally ate some V. Richards bread (A staple of my B'ham days which I've been pining for ever since leaving) and discovered a groovy bar, the Red Lion Lounge, a year too late to hang there regularly. Red Lion is a good quiet bar for sitting outside with a cluster of chums, or going inside to watch a fourtysomething guy in a suit chat up a goth Gen X'er ("See, I'm the last of a dying breed...")

(sidenote: there was an apartment complex near my old digs which was full of Latin American folks. Every weekend you could walk by and hear guys speaking spanish and playing Reggaetone as they worked on their custom-painted trucks. Then, one weekend, they were GONE. All of them. The building became an exhibit on the theme of broken windows and enigmatic grafitti; I was tempted to explore it but was afraid of antsy squatters. Now the building is also GONE, replaced by a tan grassy hillside.)

Driving through small towns in Texas. My notions about modern Texas have been shaped by the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies, Joe Bob Briggs, and the novel Stinger by B'ham native Robert McCammon, in which aliens invade a dying Texas town. I'm happy to report that Texas lived up to my pulpy hopes... rusty trailers, shirtless country folk with sun-browned muscles, odd jury-rigged diners...

Seeing Professor Cox again. He's about to spend a year in China on a Fulbright grant, which is more that I can say, so it was our last chance to catch him.

Another interesting and mysterious sighting: a dilapidated, closed rest stop in Louisiana. I believe it's one I stopped at back in the Nineties: it stank from the moment we got out of the car, and was full of bums demanding money. The march of the moaning bums was reminiscent of a George Romero movie. Now Louisiana's rest stop is clean and bum-free. Except when I show up.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


I'm reading old spooky stories from The Horror Hall of Fame, Edited by Robert Silverberg and Martin H. Greenberg.

Green Tea by Sheridan Le Fanu is as refreshing as its titular beverage because it forces this MTV Generation reader to downshift his kinetic forward-thrusting narrative expectations. The basic plot could be squeezed into a story half its length with room left over for The Cask of Amontillado, but Le Fanu wants to ground his story in the real world or something, so we get, for example, a step-by-step account of how a servant looked in on his master every hour on the hour. Some narrative compression could have whittled such sequences down, but that ain't Le Fanu's way. Check out Kevin Huizenga's witty but faithful comic book retelling in his collection Curses.

The Damned Thing by Ambrose Bierce is the evident inspiration for H. P. Lovecraft's semi-famous story The Dunwich Horror. Both involve huge invisible monsters; Bierce never reveals what it is, where it came from, or what ultimately comes of it, while Lovecraft gives us an origin story, a monster-slaying, all that. I am fond of Dunwich, but I have to give The Damned Thing the edge. For one thing Bierce is a better writer. Plus, the ultimate message of Damned Thing as I read it is "There is something that's going to kill you, and you can't see it coming." That's true, so that's scary. While Lovecraft tells us "There's something that's going to kill you, and it is the spawn of occult miscegenation." Are you scared of occult race-mixing? Cuz I'm not.

The Yellow Sign by Robert W. Chambers was an influence on Lovecraft (The book-within-a-book The King in Yellow is a precursor of The Necronomicon, as well as the videotape in The Ring) but I find Chambers more fun to read. He's actually interested in people, and he understood one thing better than silly old Poe: a creepy story doesn't have to be creepy every step of the way. A story with charming, witty and likable characters can be all the creepier since the reader is more likely to take a rooting interest in their not getting overtaken by horrid occult forces.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Revising some previous.

I was a bit off the mark in my post about Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising series yesterday. What's really driving those books seems to be an interest in structures of mythic meaning interweaving with modern life, and while the forms of adventure narrative are there, the stories come across more like rhapsodically descriptive poetry than like storytelling.

For example (spoiler warning) IIRC in The Dark is Rising Will receives an antlered carnival mask for a Christmas gift. It comes from a brother who's stationed overseas, and the mask has a backstory about how it was a gift from a mysterious guy with mysterious knowledge about Will. Later in the story there's a flood as the evil forces of The Dark mount their final attack; Will spots the mask being carried downstream in the floodwater. Soon he travels to a park where Herne the Hunter lives; Will hopes to rouse Herne, who has the power to drive the Dark away. A human figure lurks nearby... the mask sweeps by on the current, the figure grabs and dons the mask... behold! The figure with the mask is Herne the Hunter, and he saves the day. A carnival mask and an English legend are broguht together, with a little help from family ties, Christmas traditions and the Thames flooding.

Note that Will didn't have to do anything to bring about the sequence of events. He receives the mask, and he observes the later events, but he's rarely an Active Protagonist. Cooper doesn't really construct narratives around heroic deeds or cunning problem solving; she constructs them around the interplay of modern life and the web of mythology and imagination that gives resonance to life, at least for Cooper. It's kind of like a Pirates of the Caribbean style ride, where threats loom but the point isn't the challenge of surviving the threats; there is no real challenge. The point is to enjoy the spectacle of the imaginative construction someone has prepared for you.

This drives some people nuts, and in interviews the screenwriter of the Dark is Rising film huffed and puffed about the importance of rejiggering the story to make Will an Active Protagonist. Ah, me.

* * *

Just to be fair to my new town:

someone thinks it's on the right track.

Monday, June 08, 2009

An Act of Will

I'm reading The Grey King by Susan Cooper. It's the fourth in The Dark Is Rising series. What I find continually fascinating about these books is that Will, the young protagonist, never has to solve any problems. He's an Old One, one of several folks who just happen to have awesome mystical power and significance, and while he has plenty of problems he never really has to figure out a solution. Either his fellow Old Ones show up and fix things or he manages to reach down deep into his Old-Oneness and intuitively whip out an unstoppable solution to whatever's confronting him.

In most hands this would make for a ludicrous Mary Sue story, but for Susan Cooper it's thematically justified. Will is simply of a better spiritual class, and you know how Brits are with class consciousness. It would be rude of the universe to do more than tease an Old One. Will's apparent problems are simply a kind of roughhousing on existence's part; perhaps goodnatured, perhaps resentful, but always destined to back off upon a gentle well-bred rebuke (in the form of an ancient incantation, the kind Will can pull out of his pocket at will, so to speak).

Friday, June 05, 2009

The Shadow Over Kannapolis

Some of my readers may wonder what the real spirit of my new town is like. It's like this.

Sadly freelance wife-rapist is the only employment available right now in this town (Oh boy, am I gonna get a lot of unwanted search engine hits over that). Per a TV report, the alleged rapist is black; the husband who hired the rapist is white. Think about that. Exactly what narrative was the husband trying to stage manage?

It's been said that fetishes are often the eroticization of the worst thing you can image happening to you. For some guys that could mean having one's wife raped. For some it could mean having one's wife raped by a black man. Racists are often equally repelled and fascinated by miscegenation (check out H. P. Lovecraft's story The Shadow over Innsmouth for an interesting horror-story example of this); could the recent election of a mixed-race President have indirectly inspired this crime? Is it the acting out of a Birth of a Nation notion about white men losing their position to black men? I've posted before about local honkeys getting upset about how a black man got a prominent job that has traditionally gone to white men. Some fume; others fetishize.

BTW according to some reports the police aren't sure the alleged rapist knew this was an actual rape: his ad suggested he was looking for a consensual fantasy role-play... "All limits will be respected." Some folks (Not me, ugh) get into acting out such extreme things, but here's a tip for aspiring pretend-rapists: make sure you've thoroughly talked it over with the pretend-victim beforehand, not just with her greasy hillbilly hub who keeps calling you "boy".

Speaking of stage-managing horrid fantasies, the husband was unknowingly staging one of my deep-seated (though non-erotic) fantasies: "the Horrible Hillbilly." Look, I rode the school bus with some country boys who innocently breached my comfort zone, and while I understand the problem was my youthful comfort zone rather than anything to do with them, I still have a lingering fixation on creepy white trash. I know what to do about it: watch Texas Chainsaw again. Not treat anyone badly, and not hurt anyone. Keep the fantasy on the level of fantasy. Trying to play out fantasies in a literalized and hurtful way reveals a depressing poverty of imagination.

Obviously there's a lot to be said about what this case suggests about gender relations and such, but I don't feel up to it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Link by Link

Please note the new links: Free Music Archive (Free legal music downloads; I like Double Helix) and And Now The Screaming Starts (Horror thinkpieces, and some amusing videos).


California just turned into Utah.

And Dick "there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction" Cheney seems to be enjoying a resurgence.

It's interesting, though, that these two areas in which Cons are finding traction are both related to fear and/or loathing.

Lefty that I am, I think an intellectually and morally vibrant Conservatism is important to our country, so I'm not rooting for Conservatism to go down this fear and loathing road. I sure hope they've got some more positive stuff on the shelf! Let's check in at The American Spectator, a Conservative periodical.

A fellow named Robert Stacy McCain writes:

"Any time a liberal starts jumping up and down and yelling about a "scandal" affecting a conservative, remember this reply: 'Mary Jo Kopechne could not be reached for comment.'"

Chappaquiddick jokes. In 2009. That's the way forward, folks.

(Admittedly I'm going for a straw man instead of, say, closely reading rebuildtheparty.com. I wish Cons well, but by "well" I mean that they become positive players in the future, not power players for negativity and fear.)

* * *

Speaking of Cheney, I saw a horror movie the other night called Wendigo. It's the kind of thing I wish Tobe Hooper was doing; a blend of artfulness and grittiness. It's not flawless; there's a bit in which a wise Indian gives the child protagonist some Ancient Indian Wisdom, which is okay except Only The Boy Can See The Indian. That's a bit of unnecessary musty tweeness. And the film relies a bit too much on our being scared of hunters because they're hunters, and hunters are assumed to be inherently scary. I'm not a hunter myself, but I've known many, many hunters, and they're not scary per se. Maybe Director Fessenden finds them disturbing, but he doesn't sell me on his story's hunters being all that sinister at the outset. Compare to Texas Chainsaw, which DOES sell me on hillbillies being scary, despite my hillbilly-rich background. I know hillbillies are only scary on a case-by-case basis, but these movie hillbillies are specifically scary.

Other than these quibbles, the movie's dope. Lovely camerawork, and the married couple at the center of the film seem really authentic and closely observed. The expressionistic and blatantly artificial spook-show ending put some critics (like Ebert) off, but I like expressionistic, low-fi, stagecrafty artifice in fantasy films.

Anyhow, one thing I've been interested in lately is the way good horror movies, even supernatural ones, often bring the horror back to humanity. In Wendigo the Wendigo isn't the Big Bad: it's the Spirit World's Sword of Justice, coming to get the Big Bad, who's just a mean hick. In Zombie movies, like Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, the Zombies are the initial problem, but the deeper problems are caused by humans disagreeing and squabbling for survival in the face of the zombie problem. In Hellraiser the supernatural monsters are only a deadly Deus Ex Machina, and the transformed human Frank is the main villain. In Alien, The Company, which puts profit ahead of human life, is a more contemptible villain than the deadly alien itself. Even in my beloved Texas Chainsaw Massacre there's a variation on this theme, as Sally flees from the crazed hillbilly killer to the comforting arms of the nice man at the barbeque place... only to find that he's part of the same Sawney Beane-style clan.

I'm pretty bad at plot analysis, but after a while even I get it: there's no problem so terrible that one's fellow human beings can't make it worse. In counterpoint, each of these films includes fellow humans who provide aid and comfort to the good guys/gals, so these aren't nihilistic misanthropic stories. I don't have any finer-grained insights, but the insights horror films offer into problems like Iraq and Afghanistan continue to intrigue me.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Theory into practice

Ten minutes after publishing my last post (and believe me, the posted version is a model of restraint compared to the earlier drafts) I stepped outside to find my cat toying with a crippled bird. No points for guessing who crippled the bird. I grabbed a shovel and reluctantly but definitively killed the fluttering creature. The cat yowled at me, either because he mistook my violence for cruelty or because he was miffed about my spoiling his fun.

Ghoulish Gerlach

Edit: In the wake of the latest case of an abortion doctor being killed by a derange-o whose actions may have been fueled by overwrought self-righteous rhetoric, I would like to point out that any apparent wishing of violence upon specific individuals in any of my blogposts is simply an exercise in expressing negative feelings through fantasy, not a sincere wish for violence. Don't hurt people. Thank you.

In a recent (Thursday, May 21, 2009) letter to The Wall Street Journal (to which Laurie subscribes) there are several letters about an article on animal rights activists... not the car burning kind, the sober kind. A math professor at Ohio State University with the regrettable name of Ulrich Gerlach writes in to say:

"Your report makes repeated reference to "animal rights"... The supposition that animals (i.e. nonhumans) have "rights" is a contradiction in terms. A "right" is a moral principle that sanctions one's freedom of action in a social context. The concept of a "right" presupposes the existence of reason and volition, and the capacity to govern one's actions by means of moral principles. These capacities are absent in animals. Any attempt to evade this fact by talking about "animal rights" is to engage in the same fallacy as to talk about fictions such as unicorns or goblins."


1. Why didn't Michael Vick's defence team call Professor Gerlach as an expert witness?

2. Did Ulrich Gerlach craft a definition of "rights" (his quotes, not mine) that leaves the door open for for human infant vivisection because he is

a. A sloppy thinker when it comes to real-world issues, as opposed to abstract mathematics?

b. A callow nihilist in spite of his self-assertion as definer of valid moral positions?

c. A vivisection fetishist?

d. All of the above?

Bonus question: Would any of these make him unique among WSJ subscribers?

3. When Professor Urlich writes "talking about 'animal rights' is to engage in the same fallacy as to talk about fictions such as unicorns or goblins" is he

a. Expressing a literal-minded mathematician's disdain for any discussion of fantasy and legend? Does he believe it is inherently fallacious to talk about unicorns or goblins?

b. Attempting to compare abstract conceptual values to fictional creatures? Is his phrasing comical in its grammatical wobbliness?

4. Should people who frame arguments about animal rights without mentioning such subjects as pain, cruelty, distress or anthrocentricism be gang-raped by grizzly bears until there is nothing left of them but a stain? If not, why not? Defend your position.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Once you've posted cute cat pictures on your blog, you can never go back. A boundary has been crossed. So where to go from here?

Weeell.. I recently saw the movie Immortal, directed by respected European comics artist Enki Bilal. It's adapted from his Nikopol Trilogy comics (out of print, and a used copy costs more than a new Chrysler, BTW). The comic is sci-fi nonsense poetry, a sequence of tableaus on the subject of urban decay and disaffected Euro-glam. I hoped the movie would also be a sequence of tableaus, like Peter Greenaway remaking Blade Runner, but for the movie Bilal seems to have plugged into more conventional Tinseltown action vocabulary. The blend of live actors and low-grade CGI has a clumsy Song of the South vibe... the whole thing seems like an exercise in trying to pacify an oddball aesthetic for Hollywood sensibilities, and failing to please fans of either approach.

* * *

One nice thing about Kannapolis: the farmers' Market is packed with organic free-range grass-fed meat. Laurie and I have heard too many horror stories about factory farms and their Cheneyesque approach to animals; we don't object to slaughtering animals for food, but we think the critters should be have good lives right up to the final hour. Best sausage we've ever had.

Friday, May 15, 2009


Offended by Nostalgia

In the Summer of 1991 I was seventeen years old, and I knew that there was no more vibrant and essential musical collective than YES!

Boy howdy I loved me some Yes. A potted history of the band: they started when the Beatles were ending, and played "Progressive/Prog Rock" (imagine a stew of Abbey Road, Hendrix, and grab-bag Psychedelia) throughout the Seventies. They had a lot of membership turnover, but had a rep for exciting concerts and long compositions... they broke up in the early Eighties, reformed a couple years later as a pop act with the hit song "Owner of a Lonely Heart," then broke up again. In the early Nineties (by which time I was a crazed fan of the no-longer-extant band) there were two bands consisting of former Yes members trying to put albums together. Their record company decided to rush out a Yes album with tunes by both acts on it, and send them on tour as an eight-person band (it had always been five at a time before).

And there I was at the concert in Atlanta. Trembling with excitement. I listened to Yes every day. I was in the fan club. I owned expensive coffee table books by the artists who did their album covers. I went out of my way to buy solo albums by the band members (generally not worth the effort, drummer Bill Bruford serving as a noteworthy exception). I believed Yes INVENTED music. And I was about to be only a few hundred feet away as they played live. I even had a date! For the first time! Maybe love would blossom (no)!

People were still finding their seats before the show, when out of the audience appeared a cheerful middle aged woman wearing a vintage t-shirt, faded and yellowed (the shirt, not the woman), obviously dug up for the concert (again, the shirt, not the woman). It read:


And I was irked.

I didn't mind her having the shirt. She had probably worn it to a Yes concert in the late seventies, when it would have been timely. I was a high schooler, so Sharks Vs. Jets stuff made sense to me, and I could well imagine Prog Vs. Disco strife...in the late Seventies. But her wearing the shirt in 1991 declared "This concert is a nostalgia act, prog is as dated as disco, and my presence here has more to do with memories of 1977 than with 1991." And my Yes-fixated brain, steeped in boiling pubertal hormones, wanted to shriek.

Of course I said and did nothing to her, but I haven't forgotten her and her shirt. And now I realize she was right and I was wrong.

The last time Yes made an album I really, really cared about was in 1975 when I was a toddler. Granted, a piece of music is only as old as the first time you hear it, so as far as I was concerned Yes's entire oeuvre was about four years old, which made it daisy-fresh, right? I had imagined the tour was motivated by the purest of artistic considerations, plus the love and brotherhood of the musicians, right?


Subsequent interviews showed that the musicians hated the stage-managed-by-the-record-label vibe of the reunion, wished their solo ventures were sufficiently viable to keep the bills paid, largely disliked each other, and resented having to work as Yes to sell their music... Yes WAS a nostalgia act, reunited for the most cynical reasons. Their best days as a unit were long behind them, and while some individual members were still doing interesting stuff, they were doing it outside of Yes.

Happily I enjoyed the concert anyway, and then shipped off to college, where my musical parameters expanded exponentially. I now agree with that T-Shirt woman, wherever she is, that it's fine to luxuriate in nostalgia, as long as you acknowledge it for what it is.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Cel Phone and the Self

Once upon a time Andy Warhol did a series of polaroid photos and exhibited them with ZERO SHAME for the low-end nature of his selected medium. Perhaps if he were with us today he'd do a series of phone-camera shots. Take these snapshots of my cel-phone-enhanced life for what they are.

Accidental self-portrait; or, how I appear to the 25-year-old white boys who serve as North Carolina's casting directors... a nondescript blur.

Forest Park



The Backyard

One of the most awesome things in walking distance of my home although another thing that leaps to mind is the shop Southern Charm (not pictured). If I had the spending money I'd buy every Christmas Cottage in the joint, then experience a massive dose of buyer's remorse.


The Ghost of Trane

Forest Park...

...and Kannapolis

Parents' home
Artificial London
DC Metro

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Thomas Kinkaide and Kenny G are White Noise Too

In case you're sitting around agonizing about whether you should watch the movie White Noise 2, here's my advice:

After reading this blogpost about the way they monkey with color in the Hollywood filmlab nowadays I've been more conscious of color correction (although it's impossible to watch, say, The Matrix or Fight Club without noticing it) and White Noise 2 represents a nadir of the practice. Everything is trying to look like Seven, except when it's trying to look like Thomas Kinkaide. At one point someone hands the hero a manila envelope full of important documents, and the envelope is a glowing Banana Laffy Taffy yellow, at which point Laurie and I burst out laffing ourselves. (Laurie can't explain how this flick got into her Netflix queue... probably something to do with all the Sci-Fi TV show stars in it.) It was a typical treat-the-audience-like-hicks supernatural thriller, probably worth a watch if you're nostalgic for the most embarrassing X-Files episodes or if you want to gawk at lurid colors.

* * *

On a seperate note, I've been having trouble getting cast lately. No doubt I need to raise my game, but I can't help wondering if the problem is that I'm doing John Coltrane acting, and they want Kenny G acting.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Right around

Having tweaked the author of Hollywood Animation Archive blog in my last post, I now praise him for posting this.

What a wonderful approach to capturing the all-at-once nature of social events! Gasoline Alley did this kind of thing, probably before this artist, but if I were a 'toonist I'd consider using this approach rather often. Neither prose, nor theatre, nor film can get this simultaneous yet leisurely effect. And while these toons have some social attitudes that are past their shelf life, there's a warmth to the characters, without ridding them of their rough edges.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Cigs, PCP, Sci-Fi

They're closing down the Philip Morris plant around here (story here). Management cites a decline in smoking as the reason. This is perfect mixed-feelings fodder. Sure, I'd love for the cig industry to close up entirely, but the fiance of a friend works there, operating a cig-rolling machine. What's he gonna do now? And what are about a thousand other folks gonna do now? And by the by, when the economic downturn started to have an effect on working peoples employment, I noticed a substantial uptick in reckless, pushy, aggressive driving around here. I fear there's gonna be another uptick...

* * *

I feel a bit guilty for being so callow about drug addiction a couple posts ago... it was a vivisectionist I had issues with, and I shouldn't have taken it out on the people he's trying to help. Still, taking Angel Dust in this day and age... that's pretty boneheaded, and I know from boneheaded. So help PCP addicts, but not with extreme measures. And tormenting monkeys is pretty extreme.

* * *
Science Fiction: Ruined by Whippersnappers.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Cute Kitty, Fluffy Bunny, Buzzing Flies

Ever since we moved here our cat, D2 a.k.a. Mr. Two, has been stalking backyard critters.

(A note on D2's name... this is what happens when you let research technicians name cats. He was part of a breeding experiment, his brother was D1, he's D2. At least he's not named after R2-D2. We also call him Mr. Two, Two, Toober, etc. etc.)

So Mr. Two likes to skulk around the backyard, menacing birds, bunnies and squirrels. But he never seems to catch any, and we liked to refer to his hunts as photo safaris.

Well he sure showed us.

The other day I was in the backyard reading when I heard a piercing squeal. I looked up to see a striped kitty galloping top speed to the open back door with a writhing bunny in his jaws.

Head twist, cracking sound, limp bunny.

Running fat bald guy, trying to shut the door in time. Failure to achieve stated goal.

Cat dragging bunny corpse all over the house.

Finally Two dropped the bunny and patted it quizzically. Get up and play! It's not naptime till I say it's naptime!

I put on some rubber gloves (I'm fastidious about some things, like raw death) and tossed it out by the thicket. The next day I went out to bury it... flies were already hunkered down on its pelt.

Since then the cat has been energized and emboldened, chasing down prey with fresh expectation.

I choose to see it as a good omen for my upcoming auditions. After multiple rejections, maybe I'll catch a bunny.

And then it'll die and be buried. Stupid omen!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Shakespeare at Structure

My latest variation on the actor's nightmare took place in a parking garage. I believe my subconscious was spoofing Shakespeare at Sloss... Sloss Furnace has more charm, but similar, maybe even inferior, acoustics to a parking structure, so I can see my subconscious' point.

Anyway this was the most stress-free actor's nightmare ever, because I just played a spear-carrier, and all I had to do was follow certain actors on and off stage.

Speaking of industrial spaces, JG Ballard, whose work often centered around concrete and steel, just died. RIP Ballard.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Somewhere there is a crime happening.

I've met two guys who answered to the name Robocop. One was the brother of a friend, and his nickname seemed to be the result of aggressive nerdiness on my friend's part and unRobocop-like passivity on Robocop's part. The other guy...

When I was in college I auditioned for the UAB (University that Ate Birmingham)'s Summer Childrens' Theatre along with some of my fellow BSC (Boys Scorching Churches) Theatre students. Carolyn, Steven and I all auditioned, along with some UAB students... and this other guy.

He was short, wiry, with a wicked gleaming eyeball and a wicked, leering eyeball. He had barroom bad boy attitude to burn. He was a swaggering sneer. He was kind of homely, but he didn't let that stop him.

He threw himself into the audition with gusto, but he unnerved me and he couldn't act, so I hoped I'd never see him again. After the audition we chatted with him and a buddy he'd had tag along.

Carolyn (to digress a moment) was fixated on Shakespeare's characters in large part because they were so intelligent, yet so subject to overruling passions, just like her. When she met a guy who excited her, all her good sense stepped aside. And so it was this time, as she nervously flirted with... well, I didn't catch his name, but he told us he was a professional killer.

For The Law, mind. When a criminal was too out of control, they would arrange for him to kill the guy. In fact, just that very day he was supposed to be in another city, killing a guy, but he decided to blow it off and audition for childrens' theatre instead. What a wild, devil-may-care existence the USA's authorized assassins must lead!

"You'll totally get cast," Carolyn told him. Perhaps the distinction between Good Acting and Intriguing Storytelling was getting blurry for her.

He mentioned his license to kill. "Hang on, I'll show it to you!"

Dig in wallet...

"I can't believe it, I left it at home. But I do have one!"

"It's true, he does," said his eagerly grinning buddy.

"But here's a card the guys gave to me," The Killer said.

A card with a picture of Robocop, from the movie, on it.

"They call me Robocop because I've had so many parts replaced. So much has gotten blown off. I've been shot and caught in so many explosions... There's a plate in my mouth. Touch it."

To Carolyn, he said this.

"Go on, I won't bite you. Just touch it."

Trembling (with fear? Eros?) Carolyn stuck a finger in this guy's open mouth and confirmed that he had a plate in there.

The guys drove off, and Carolyn spent the rest of the day in a giggle-coma with Stephen, her gay friend, whose job it was to calm her down after excessive hot-guy exposure.

Robocop didn't get cast, but Carolyn, Steven and I did. I wonder how many women in how many bars have stuck their fingers into that open mouth.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Slink through the Links

Please note that I have fiddled with my links, splitting the list into two: one for comics, one (much shorter) for everything else.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Stop Snatching

I hope to have a few photos of our Washington D. C. trip up soon, but I'm feeling a bit of an inferiority complex over Kannapolis/Charlotte's lack of a Metro system or excellent, or merely good, or even tolerable, restaurants. So, here's one area where Washington falls a bit flat: purse snatchers.

When my family and I visited in the Eighties, a guy waltzed up to my Mom, wearing IIRC a sharp suit and sunglasses. He said something to the effect of "Ma'am, may I ask you a question," bumped into Mom, said something like "I'm sorry," and waltzed away. Mom later explained that the guy made a grab for her purse, but Mom held on and foiled him.

And this trip, someone seems to have hacked at Laurie's purse strap in an effort to snag it, but didn't cut all the way through.

What up, D. C. purse snatchers? Twenty years later and you guys still suck.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Mea Culpa

I haven't posted recently because so much of what I'm interested in talking about is something I can't discuss: the politics around my fiance's job.

Edit: that is to say, my social activity lately is mostly with my fiance and our cat, and since the ongoing soap opera of academic activity as related by Laurie is fascinating (to me) it's much of what's on my mind. But I'm sworn to secrecy. At least blog secrecy. So unless you want cat anecdotes or various iterations of "there aren't enough auditions around here to keep me working" then I got nothing.

Friday, March 27, 2009


Our back yard is bound by a chain link fence, and behind the back fence is a thicket of brush and trees. It's close to our garden, and sometimes when I'm out weeding I'll hear a tumbling ruckus in the thicket. I'll look deep into the branches, and see that one little bird hopping about is setting off a chain reaction of noisy friction and vibration. One little bird. As I type this I'm gazing out the kitchen window at a chubby bunny on the visible side of the thicket. The bunnies were thin last year; they disappeared for the winter, and are back, plump and plush.

One can see chimneys peeking over the treetops, and it was fun to imagine they were the tops of ruins buried in a forest... I was reading the fantasy novel Mythago Wood around the time I moved in, and its story of a mysterious forest probably shaped my way of looking at the thicket. Recently our cat escaped from the back yard and I went stomping around, trying to find him. I'd avoided the thicket, largely because I didn't want to see the other side and have my Mythago Wood daydreams scuttled, but now I waded in. Of course the other side of the thicket was almost a mirror image of our side, and the chimney-topped houses on the other side don't look much different from ours.

As it happens, all the chimneys in this town are non-functional relics of a time when they were important parts of the residents' heating system. They're all plugged up now. Every house has a fireplace that has been stuffed closed.

Anyway, the cat is home safe, and the springtime greenery of the thicket seems as lovely and haunting as ever, despite my glimpse of the other side.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Intelligences Flat, Crude and Unsympathetic

The Mars Institute, a non-governmental organization, wants to drive a Humvee around on Mars. I suppose the thinking is that if there really is any kind of life on Mars, it's vitally important that Humanity render it extinct with pollution, habitat destruction, and tread marks. In order to assist in this process I suggest we send everyone with a Hummer to Mars.

Textile Ghosts

Little balls and streams of fluff keep appearing in our yard. For a while I've assumed that someone burst a pillow or something and the stuff has been drifting to us

This town is an old mill town where the mill closed. A while back a Kannapolis old-timer told us about how our house was built on land where the mill dumped textile byproducts. No wonder the soil's so rich and dark. But we decided to get the soil tested; who knows what chemicals may have been in those byproducts?. Still waiting on the results. Another old-timer tells us that it'll probably be a while...

The other day I chatted with a local preacher who bemoaned the stuck-in-the-past "lintheads" who yearned for the demolished mill to be rebuilt and reopened. Lintheads, huh?

Later I took a walk around town, and noticed those bits of fluff in the yards of houses far from ours.

Fluff... lint... textiles... suddenly it all made somber sense. Little tactile ghosts, byproducts of a lost mill, tumbling on the wind or oozing up from below to remind us, again and again, that this town was built on textiles.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Believing Monsters

So, I got that Man After Man book I mentioned here. It chilled me as a kid. Nowadays it looks like Deviantart's tribute to Where The Wild Things Are. After decades of comics, anime, fantasy art bad and good, I can't imagine getting freaked by monster illustrations. OTOH I loved stuff like Where the Wild Things Are when I was a kid, so I think these monster pictures freaked me not because I was vulnerable to monster pictures, but because I mistook the book's veneer of scientificness for scientific certainty. When I knew monsters were imaginary I didn't take them too seriously, or rather I didn't take them seriously in the wrong way. But when I thought they were, or might be, verified truth I let those monsters terrify me the way monsters are meant too. It's a bit like religion... stories that seem like obvious fantasy to an unreceptive perspective become deeply powerful truths from a receptive perspective.

I guess horror fiction in general works that way. H. P. Lovecraft and Blair Witch Project are more familiar cases of stuff that's either deeply frightening or Flight-of-the-Valkyries-played-by-a-kazoo-orchestra goofy, depending on whether one is receptive or not.

Oh, there's one other thing... the images I remembered from the book are nowhere to be found in the book. My visual literacy was rather poor as a child, so my recollections of the book's images wound up being a tribute to the imaginative rather than reconstructive nature of memory.