Entry 0115: By Crom! Conan is Back!

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LP: Da Capo by Love

1966 Elektra Records, EKL-4005, Mono

Favorite Track: She Comes in Colors

 

I finally found a falling apart copy of the third Lancer publication of Conan. Right off the bat, I found the stories better paced with more quality writing than the second half of Conan of Cimmeria. The misogyny is a bit off the charts in the following three stories as three separate women are frightened by the mighty thews of Conan, but then succumb to his silent staring and fighting prowess. I even think one of the stories ends with the implication that Conan has sex with the lady right in front of the corpse of the demon lord that was trying to rape her. Yikes! Also, Robert E. Howard uses “hawk-faced”, “thews” and “gold” way, way too often. There was also a lot of male nudity in two of the tales. Perhaps, Howard was feeling a little too frisky when he wrote these.

“Hawks Over Shem” – 3 out of 5 broken skulls

Robert E. Howard & L. Sprague De Camp

 

This story followed the typical Conan story–a scheming general who befriends Conan to rebel against a mad king, another scheming general jockeying for power, and a weak woman character who irrationally falls in love with Conan–that it is almost amazing that it isn’t originally a Conan the Barbarian story. It’s original title was “Hawks Over Egypt” and it was set in 1021. De Camp, for some reason, decided to change it to a Conan story and switched some names and altered the story to fit in with Howard’s Hyborian age. That normally would make me almost dislike the story just on premise, but De Camp does a good job. As I said, it read like a common Conan tale.

Starting with this story, a motif has been developing surrounding Conan and his relation to the different cities and peoples he visits. Everyone, especially women, are wary by his barbarism. He is often compared to a wild beast. Everyone assumes he is ignorant of their customs although constantly he has spoken in different languages and accents, and is probably more worldly than most of the inhabitants of the Hyborian age. Yet, he is not the most cruel, tyrannical, or savage of humans. He is definitely not kind or polite. His hands are covered in blood. But society is the real ill. The “civilized world” is where slavery, sexual subjugation, terror, and exploitation exist. Conan cuts a swath through this reminding us humans that we will never be stronger than the earth that created us.

Despite De Camp’s good transition of converting this tale to Conan standards, there are few stand outs. One noticeable aspect of the story is that it takes places over several days. A lot of early Conan stories have taken place within a few hours or, at least, one day and night. This lends a little more realism that Conan can exist in a world where he doesn’t immediately solve every problem by slaying the villain right away or being saved by a deus ex machina. The supreme highlight of the tale is when Zeriti the witch returning to life. A nice little unexpected touch that added the right supernatural flare to the story. It was also hilarious (in a dark comedy way) to read the mad king who thinks he is god attempt to fly. Why are we humans so attracted to flight?

“Black Colossus” – 5 out of 5 broken skulls

Robert E. Howard

 

I feel like to Lin Carter and L. Sprague De Camp, this was an important Conan tale in helping them establish the chronological order of the tales. Here Amalric gives way will be a prophecy and we read the first of Conan’s true destiny of being a fearless war commander and possible king. And what a needed break from the thievery and sneaking around the king’s chambers! Here we have our first large-scale army fight described in bloody, bone-stricken detail. Sure, there is a bit of hyperbole in the wading through the blood sea soaked lands, but, Howard’s skill for fast-paced action sweeps you off of your feet until the end of the action and leaves you wanting more, even though you just read nine of the bloodiest pages ever.

A common theme in Conan stories is how long will it be before Conan himself actually shows up. “Black Colossus” starts with a soft opening, perfect for a movie. Shevatas, a thief of renown, manages to open up a temple that no other thief had been able to do. He even survives an attack by the slithering guardian of the treasure. But Shevatas needed more than dexterity to save him. Always, remember to improve your Will saves my friends. For the supernatural takes his life and Thugra Khotan awakes from his centuries of slumber. Fuck yeah.

Then we meet Yasmela, daughter of a king and princess to the throne, who is being haunted at night by a shade-form of Thugra Khotan, who is actively trying to prove that being asleep forever does not stop one from being super horny. Instead of asking Ishtar for help, she and her maid invoke upon Mitra, who tells them to give command of the army to the first man they meet. I wonder who that can be.

The giant battle scene is excellently handled with points of great suspense to add tension to the billowing sentences of life-wrecking destruction. We have one of Conan’s generals disobeying orders and paying with their lives; we have Thugra using supernatural magic to smite foes; even Conan has to admit defeat and death and charge recklessly into combat, which (like all great and non-realistic heroes do) turns the tide for the barbarian’s victory. Then there is a final chase to save Yasmela from a terribly necrophilia-influenced fate.

Highly recommended.

“Shadows in the Moonlight” – 4 out of 5 broken bones

Robert E. Howard

 

A very interesting thing happens in this story: Olivia, a princess albeit sold from her family and made slave to others, rises to become a pirate. Had this story been written by a feminist writer, I feel like this could have been one of the all time greats and could combat against Howard’s use of women as prizes for Conan’s bravery and slaying skills. Unfortunately, that was not to be, but Olivia’s arc has potential and she is given an equally heroic and Conan-like task of having to sneak into the enemy’s camp and rescue Conan! The ferocious fight with the man-ape reminded of a previous Conan story. Numerous illustrations of this battle adorn book covers (like the copy of Conan the Freebooter I own) and Weird Tales magazine, which has my favorite depiction by Hugh Doak Rankin. We also have some supernatural iron statues that come to life in the moonlight to slay a bunch of pirates.

But the standout is the tall talking parrot that gives a cosmic horror warning that Conan and Olivia ever understand completely. Olivia has a dream that hints at something beyond our comprehension of the universe, but much like H.P. Lovecraft, we the readers are left with just enough evidence to have our imaginations run rampant.

 

Entry 0114: The Inside of Him

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LP: Love by Love

1966 Elektra Records, Mono

Favorite Track: Little Red Book

 

Last night, a rare event happened. Not only did my friends and I win at Dead of Winter, a zombie apocalypse table top game that is beyond unforgiving, but all of us also passed our secret missions. A total victory with one more round to go although we probably would not have had enough food had it come down to that. What I love about these type of board games is the immersion. Had I taken notes, I could write a novella out of it. Instead, I will write a short piece about a truck driver. The poor truck driver. He lasted one turn.

 

Ralph pulled his coat closed around the cold, exposed parts of his throat and chest. The sun deceptively lured him outside to sit in his lawn chair. Last week proved winter to be a feral beast. He was glad to see some of the mounds of dirty ice melting. Already a few of the survivors were gathering buckets and discussing ways to sanitize the water. Food was running low and the librarian had left to find more. Ralph sighed. He should be contributing more, but, already people were blowing off his suggestions and whispering that he was dead weight. Yet, Ralph was the only one who voted to keep old Mr. and Mrs. Henderson in the camp, even after their buboes broke. This is insane, Ralph thought, what is happening to people? And to think, before the zombies, I thought society was breaking down…

The low moan instantly sent shivers down Ralph’s body. He knew they were outside the colony, but he checked every direction for movement. He sniffed the air. There was another sound: a low thrumming vibration. Ralph looked around trying to locate its source. He couldn’t find it, at first, but he also noticed that no one else seemed to be hearing it. I’ve lost my mind finally, he thought, like everyone else. How could they leave the Hendersons out in the cold with no food, medicine, fuck, not even a blanket…The sound continued louder. Ralph looked up, his jaw aching from cleansing teeth. He could still hear the moans, which were as normal as the wind.

Above him was a helicopter. It had passed over him and was heading west toward the police station. When it was about twenty-five feet from the colony, tiny square-shaped objects began to fall. Supplies! Ralph was on his feet and rushing toward the barricades. My chance to prove myself to everyone! To prove that I am not insane. He was halfway over the barricade before he thought, wait, to leave the colony would be insane. He slowly lowered himself down, eyeing the medicine bottles and food packets laying in the melting snowbanks. They were so close, but close was dangerous. He could let in the flesh rippers. But none were in sight. Maybe he could grab one or two and prove to the others what he saw and then they could create a team of people, some of them armed, to retrieve the rest.

Yes, Ralph, time to be a hero.

He was back over the wall. His feet made the softest crunch in a patch of snow. I almost feel like  a kid again, sneaking through the kitchen after midnight in search of cookies. Ralph giggled, but then hushed himself. Don’t be a fool now. He took a cautious few steps. He heard a moan but it was far off. Maybe the librarian was coming back and the zombies were tracking her. Should I help her? No! I must get these supplies. After two or three more steps, Ralph took off in a run. He was crazy to move slow. One minute outside the colony was almost equal to death. And now, he had already wasted forty-five seconds.

He had one bottle of some type of blue pills in his hands when they came. He wasn’t sure how he didn’t hear them or see them. Was he that tied up in thinking about the survivors reactions to his heroic deeds? Had his fantasies of praise, cheers, even a few kisses, left him addled and stupidly standing with his hands in the proverbial cookie jar? Ralph didn’t get to find out. Three of the flesh rippers were on him before he could scream. Half-rotten fingers punctured holes in his throat so that sound escaped as blood bubbles hiccupping. Another jab him in the kidneys. As he fell to his knees, something harsh and strong attacked the back of his skull. Nothing broke, but he was sure he lost a layer of flesh. Before he could die though, he had to smell the inside of him.

Entry 0113: Call of Cthulhu summary

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7-inch: English Civil War by the Clash

1979 CBS Records, CBS 7082

Favorite Track: Pressure Drop

 

You may remember my last blog post was a little background story about Wendell Christmas. Wendell was a handyman from Buffalo, NY, had a fondness for taxidermy, was dealing with the death of his mother, and was going hunting in Vermont. I had high hopes for Wendell. I was really expecting him to start creating alien taxidermy to sell to weirdos in New York City or Arkham. However, the stars were not aligned last night and poor Wendell as well as the rest of the investigating crew met their demise.

Here’s how it happened:

In one way or another, all seven of us knew Bryant (? I’m forgetting the exact name) who was a reporter gone missing in the Strafton Mountain region nearby the small town of Jenner. Almost immediately, we got the sense that the locals did not enjoy us asking too many questions. Yes, there were fires up there occasionally. Most likely, Harney was just sacrificing goats again. The reporter was last seen at the feed store, but who really cares. With mounting curiosity, we visited his house and found an odd clue. At night, we decided to visit Harney with one of our characters dressed in a diving suit and pretending to be a pest control agent. This is where the alcohol must have started kicking in. Unfortunately for us, this is exactly when some tall centipede creatures with glistening wings came to his farm. Our shotgun fired valiantly and dangerously in its face, but the creature still managed to wound our investigator. A drunk Harney shotgunned another sitting in the getaway car. Wendell, having been left behind, stole into the farmhouse, found a letter, then spent the night crazily dashing through the woods back to our inn.

That was the end of our first session. Last night, we gathered together as it just started to rain outside. We knew we were toward the end and were excited to solve the mystery. Our wounded tried to fast talk the doctor, but with no success. Right there, we should have paid heed to the lack of quality dice rolling. A few others went back to Brattleboro and bought weapons and a lot of dynamite. Wendell asked around the other farms but found out no other information. Some others in the day time went back to visit Harney and pull a gun on him, forcing a confession. He was working for the bugs, trying to get them home although we did not really believe that. The group decided to split up: one party would join Harney for the ritual with his buggy friends; the others would build a blind and stop any danger the others might get into.

And that’s where it all went wrong. Those who joined Harney immediately fell intoxicated with the chanting of strange, nearly unutterable words. A portal was growing and the world was turning icy cold. Wendell and two others pulled out their shotguns. Wendell muttered he would be the one to do the worst: shot the lady with all the hidden dynamite and blow up everyone down there. Wendell did not want to do it, already it weighed heavy on his mind. But he knew he was witnessing something not Christian, hell not even human, and this would be the safest way. We had failed to conceal dynamite around the stone circle earlier.

But this is where my stat sheet ruined the game. Wendell was slow with a 9 Dexterity.

One character got to fire first and they decided to target the dynamite lady even though that was suppose to be Wendell’s job. He fired and blasted the poor head off of the lady. Sadly, he was not lucky enough to hit any of the dynamite. One investigator dead. This senseless killing awoke one member from their trance, but the other kept on repeating gross syllables. The other investigator in the blind ran away screaming in terror. Wendell went homicidal.

Now, I could have shot the corpse of the lady anyways and maybe we would have won. But that didn’t seem inline with what just happened to my character. I was told that I now hated the human race. So, naturally, why would I not shoot the person who shot my target? I missed, but one of the creatures snapped his neck very soon after. Two investigators dead.

Wendell walked forward as the portal grew larger than even the tallest of the creatures. Clearly, they were not going home. Wendell aimed his shotgun again at the nearest target. She was still chanting when the spread tore through her neck and chest. Three investigators dead. Another bug creature got the guy who awoke from his trance. Four investigators dead. The screaming guy regained his sanity and came back to see if anyone was still alive. Wendell was moving along the circle getting ready to shoot the next person, Harney.

But the portal was open and out came a long, long arm. It thumped the ground and all of us flew into the air. Screaming guy only went 20 feet into the air, but feel and was severely injured. Wendell went up 70. He thought of his mother. He thought maybe I can get off one more shot. Harney should die after all. Then he landed on his neck and was dead. The screaming guy died as he froze to death. All seven investigators dead.

I laughed. The dynamite plan would have worked if it ignited. Or if I or someone else had killed Harney, the chanting would have stopped although the creatures may have still party wiped us. Alas, no alien taxidermy this time.

But, I am already at working creating Wendell Christmas’s brother, Hank.

Entry 0112: A Little Background on my New Call of Cthulhu Character

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LP: Dead Can Dance by Dead Can Dance

2016 4AD Records, CAD 3622, reissue

Favorite Track: A Passage in Time

 

Wendell Christmas sat on the stalled train, watching the cardinals flash red past his finger-spotted window. Just once he would like to fly…feathery wings growing from the curve of his back, flapping powerfully so as to sweep away all the dust at his feet as they slowly left the earth…just once he would like to fly back home to Buffalo. Instead the train lurched forward and the cardinals became faded brown dots in violet dusk.

He knew he should get some rest. Tomorrow he would start his week tracking turkeys, possums, and foxes. A customer of his had wanted him to bag and stuff a stag, but Wendell laughed and said he did not have the materials necessary. However, something bothered him about shooting a noble deer. As a child, he would explore the woods of his pappy’s farm and the deer would always find him by the lake, approached tentatively, but always approached and stood by him, sometimes drinking out of his cupped hands, all the time breathing heavily while their big black orbs tried to convey some natural message. Wendell used to believe it was his mother possessing the Cervidae, attempting to communicate supernaturally with her son. Wendell fumed over what he would say to her incorporeal spirit. Five years was not enough, yet, in an impassive way, he wouldn’t know what more he could say to her.

It was dark when the train pulled into the station. An active owl hooted like a watchman over the cold tracks and fallen pine needles. Wendell slung his heavy bag over one shoulder and made his way to the hotel. He would camp tomorrow, but now was too dark for him to find a safe spot by the river. Plus, a gloomy disposition had settled over him like a fog rolling off the water and into bay. A question nagged him: was his interest in taxidermy merely a coping mechanism for the death of his mother? He tried to tell himself many things: electrical and mechanic repair were hobbies that paid bills and tabs; there is a calming effect scooping out the entrails of a fresh kill; the complimentary thanks of a satisfied customer made his soul glide above snow-peaked mountains; the danger of the hunt and the silence of ambush; his mother had left the earth and it didn’t matter anymore and all Wendell had to worry about was feeding himself and satisfying his customers and be wary not to fall in love. The owl hooted again and then surprised Wendell by flying out with far-reaching wings. Its eyes were the color  of squash and its flight took him right over Wendell’s tall frame. As it went past, he could have sworn a sweet, raspy voice squawked, “Sunrise…”

At the hotel, Wendell climbed into bed after washing his hands with the soap he brought with him The mattress was hard, but Wendell expected worse. After a few moments of adjusting and relaxing, he reached for the Weird Tales magazine he brought with him. It was the black-bordered October 1923 issue. The frightening image of a snowbound ship and, presumably, the captain forced to walk the plank caught his eye at the newsstand. What strange and horrible stories this Edwin Baird published. Wendell felt a little rebellious collecting these pulps. His father would flay his skin with a poker if he knew.

Tonight, by candlelight, Wendell read a short story by a newcomer: H.P. Lovecraft. The tale was titled Dagon. When he was done, he took the candle to a window and stared out into the darkness, hoping to see the river in the distance. Nothing but tall trees with extended limbs greeted his vision. A slight breeze made every branch sway like a mummy’s outstretched arms. Wendell shook his head, but couldn’t laugh. An owl swooped by, catching a fat mouse that gave little squeal. He was sure it was the same owl and he knew for certain that he would see this same owl every night this week.

Who hunts the hunters? was his last thought before a queer sleep overtook him.

Entry 0111: Black Coffee, Part One

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LP: Queens of Noise by the Runaways

1977 Mercury Records SRM 1-1126

Favorite Track: Queens of Noise

 

The laser snake surged with potential energy, its purple scales pulsing with biofed power. It was coiled around a memory tree on the lowest branch where the data was richer. Cy and I had our converter packs with us, but weren’t interesting in computer history right now; we were smuggling. Black coffee was a crime. The president general had demanded a sweet world, a media wash on all things bitter. Every morning was video loops of cats stretching and children writing new patents. Outside my house, eight dead bodies laid in the gutter. Coffee addiction was the only thing keeping me alert and alive. Same with Cy. So we pooled our limited sources together and decided to wake up the world.

But we could only do that if we could get past this laser snake. We were not prepared for it. Laser snakes spawn where government secrets get filled with radiation six-packs. Nearly silent, able to read barcodes and ID chokers, laser snakes are typically used to guard something valuable, but, frequently, one or two will go rogue and eat for sport. They were most deadly around water, which, thankfully, wasn’t within a hundred miles of us. Well, thankfully because we were near a laser snake, but that lack of water was actually one of our biggest headaches in the black coffee world. We hated to serve our patrons powder.

Cy turned to me. “I forgot my sodium bicarbonate balloon at the guild.”

I saw a flicker of tension drain his face of its usually calmed countenance. I didn’t have much in my bag either, but I had a jacket because I get cold easily. It was my father’s–the only thing I had of that legendary figure. His wanted poster was still at the post office although that place was abandoned seventy years ago. Briefly, I thought of all the unread love letters and post cards. There was a story there I would have to write later.

“Cy, be prepared to run.” I tried to sound confident but the laser snake hissed, a zillion ones and zeros booming like thunder.

“Now!”

I threw the jacket on top of the snake. It was on fire before it even left my hands and I felt my fingertips blister. But the snake thrashed wildly, incinerating its way through the cloth, but Cy and I were long gone, 18 bags of coffee grounds awaiting their water source.

We just didn’t know at the time that we were under the eye of the president general.

Entry 0110: Tarot Mirror

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LP: Mirror Man by Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band

1973 Buddah Records BDS 5077

Favorite Track: Tarotplane

 

Just bear this in mind:

Sun siftin’ thru kandy korn little girl with the long black wavy mane. Mirror frog yellow and orange and faces ‘n’ phases–just what you’ve been told. Oh, listen to me baby: stay stay warm dawnin’ on me. Going through the cottage cottage, you are going to need some bodies on your eyes that flutter like uh wide open shutter. Automatic Sam told Mirror Germ “Don’t give us no pay. Blue cheese faces mirror man, mirror me.” “Well they taste so good, gonna take you for a ride,” said Elixir Sue, “in my reborn tarotplane.” Mirror dawn, I want to eat’em. She uh pickin’ poppies, I get to need’em. 25th century candy corn. Mirror day bringing them into her hue. Drum razors in the clay mice heaters. “Be reformed,” Baby person told Mirror Bird, “laces goin’ flyin’ in my tarotplane, tarot mirror, man me, Elixir corn, flutterin’ ants crack and dawn with me, Mayflower can-can-can.” Automatic Sam told Mirror Man, “Don’t you understand? Just bear this in mind: Sun just mirror way and true friends are hard to find and they taste so good I want to eat ’em.”

Entry 0109: Why Never to Ask Me What I Had for Lunch

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LP: Hard Attack by MX-80 Sound

1977 Island Records ILPS 9520

Favorite Track: Civilized / Demeyes

 

Friends today learned the hard way not to ask me what I had for lunch. Food was still digesting in my belly so my brain was on fire with quick, silly responses. Here is the transcript (I am the Librarian Demon):

Pippi Gothstockings: how was everyones lunch?
Hero Scientist: I had taco truck pork burrito with spicy salsa
Librarian Demon: let me describe mine: I stood waiting by the counter, counting my chin hairs.
Pippi Gothstockins: where is there a taco truck
how many were there
this is important
Librarian Demon: the food seemed to be taking its time as if the chef had to grow it, water it, sing it Brahms, then slaughter it herself
Hero Scientist: it is the best taco truck
in the BP parking lot in pleasant ridge
Librarian Demon: a man approached me with a plastic bag. “oh my food” i said
mostly to myself as the man returned to the screaming kitchen
Pippi Gothstockings: oh youre at other a—s
i forgot about that
we’ve talked about that taco truck
Librarian Demon: i walked back to the library briskly, remembering that I had to pay a prank on C——
at my desk, I unveiled my succulent prize: sytrofoam
the fork was handy save for my fingers which i dropped a few times
after securing my fingers, i decided to press my nose into the styrofoam, inhaling the robust odor of mango, until the foam was pierced and a semi-burning liquid filled my nostril
to eat, I use my teeth but I have learned of stranger ways
the colorful array of snap peas, zucchini, ginger, pineapple, and mango on top of the saucy red (jack the ripper) tofu was ruined by the pale brown rice. why did I get brown rice???
only after overcoming all my fears that my poisoners had finally found after i escaped Buffalo, i place foods in the many places of my mouth
to save for later
my stomach farted happily as the stir-fry tore holes through my lungs with a rush of nicotine tar
now I peek at my desk, smiling fondly at the tragedy of my lunch hour: sixty minutes of my life to take sixty bites and sixty bites for my marriage to fall apart, leaving me alone with my tofu gun
*noticeable silence from the other two*

Entry 0108: Patti Smith plays Horses in Cleveland

LP: Horses by Patti Smith

1975 Arista AL 4066

Favorite Track: Land

LP: Horses by Patti Smith

1977? Arista AL 4066, reissue

Favorite Track: Land

The chill of the icy morning air woke me up a minute before my alarm went off. Daylight saving time had robbed me a precious hour of unconsciousness. I still hadn’t packed. My mouth felt fuzzy, but tolerable. I hoped my body odor was the same. I was bound to Cleveland to see Patti Smith play her seminal album Horses in its entirety. Horses is everything to me. This album changed my life more than probably any other album besides Smash by the Offspring, which was the album that made me fall in love music. But Patti Smith saved my taste in music.

When I first decided to collect records, I thought I was going to amass a small sample of jazz albums. I had an idea about having music to listen to while cooking plus realized that I could name five or six jazz musicians but have never heard any of their music (or at least not consciously). So I set off to the record store and bought a few jazz albums and then I happened to find London Calling by the Clash (one of my all-time favorites) and Horses by Patti Smith. Back at home, I listened to the jazz and enjoyed it. But it was when I put on Horses and Gloria started up with its sneering provocation of “Jesus died for somebody sins but not mine” that I knew what I had to do: I had to collect punk albums. Sorry jazz. You are wonderful and needed, but punk is my soul.

Sitting in the car in the back seat, my feet kept tapping awkward rhythms to the alternative playlist coming from the speakers. I was with two wonderful co-workers on the road trip of our lifetimes or, at least, it felt that heavy at the time. The father-daughter duo bantered in the front and I laughed along with them, but my mind kept spacing out during the long stretches of Ohio farmland. I couldn’t wait to eat. A beer would be the best. Actually, just get me out of this car already! I’ve pulled some super long car trips in my childhood, but I’m secretly starting to get real antsy in them. Getting old means feeling like you are going strange–maybe not crazy in its full sense of mental illness, but that feeling you cannot tolerate certain annoyances as easily any more.

We arrive on good time and with plenty to kill. Being a cold Sunday, we have few places to go within the Playhouse Square area. After a cozy and necessary Irish meal and beer (I had a black and tan for the first time in probably 7 years), we took an Uber to A Separate Reality record store where all three of us scored some dream records. My haul were nice original copies of Tim Buckley’s self-titled and Lorca album, the Bush Tetras’ Ritual EP, and the Live at CBGB’s compilation with Mink Deville’s Let Me Dream if I Want to (a song I love so much from that No Thanks punk rock CD box set). On the way back to the hotel, I imagined my next day off: a bottle of wine and all these new records.

The State Theater is beautiful. A Discordian miracle happen: I had bought my tickets separately than the Rileys. I only vaguely remembered where they sat. I picked a random seat. We were seated by the polite staff only for us to discover that I picked the seat directly behind theirs. Hail Eris! Then the lights dimmed and applause thundered from the 1,000+ audience members. Patti Smith strolled on stage dressed in her black vest and pants, a slight hop in her step as if she got some really good news right before entering stage left. Lenny looked the same as on the back of the album except for the obligatory white hair of venerable age. Then the piano chords rang out and Patti sings “Jesus died for somebody’s sins…” The place is already going nuts.

“Gloria” was a wonderful opener just like on the album. At first, I think they had Lenny Kaye’s guitar too low, but as the night went on, the more impressed I became with him. It’s so easy to get distracted by Patti’s frantic lyrics coming-at-you with beautiful imagery and brain-exploding meanings that the power of the music is present but not demanding of your ear. But if you listen to the individual instruments: damn, this is a tight band. Which they displayed with a relaxed version of “Redondo Beach”, which made me think of Pina Coladas. Then came the first vocal challenge of the night: “Birdland”. How was she going to do this? She did it with power in her voice. Anyone who believes that you should only see a band during their prime time or that no band is worth seeing 30 years later is a shit head. Patti Smith was as powerful now as she was then. Maybe, possibility, she could be better. When she hit the chorus for “Birdland” even the most prolific Patti Smith hated would have melted and been moved by her performance. “Free Money” rocked on and the band seemed to only get more energetic as the night wore on. As soon as that song ended, Patti quipped, “That was the end of Side A.This is where you physically flip the record to side B.” Us vinyl nuts found that funny, at least.

“Kimberly” is one of my secret favorite songs off that album. Patti told the audience about “Break it Up” which she wrote with Tom Verlaine of Television and how it is about Jim Morrison and his lack of grave at the time in France. “Land” well, do I even need to say how powerful, floor thumping, and volcanic explosion of catharsis and improv that had everyone on their feet dancing awkwardly in the confined seating areas of the State Theatre. For “Elegie” she sang the names of the musically dead while allowing people to add their own names. At that point, I think most people thought the concert was over. But they were not done. We were treated to “Dancing Barefoot” (my favorite non-Horses Patti Smith song), “Ghost Dance”, “Citizen Ship” and “Pissing in the River” from Radio Ethiopia!!! The hall reverberated with the magic of the band’s talent. Someone threw a Jerry Garcia shirt on stage and Patti launched into a rant against Jerry Seinfeld only to realize she misread the shirt. She also told us what she bought at the store: turmeric drink and a pear is all I remember.

And then the encore happened. After making us wait and clap and whistle and shout (like a professional) Patti came out and they tore into a ten-minuted rendition of “My Generation”–their famous cover that destroy’s the Who’s version in classic pass-the-torch-and-burn-the-past fashion. Patti even shredded on a guitar, wailing mad feedback like a proto-Kim Gordon and ending the cacophony by ripping all six strings off.

I had to immediately have food and a bourbon after that. For two hours, I was in heaven.

Entry 0107: The Collector of Records

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7-inch: If I Should Fall From Grace With God by the Pogues

1988 Pogue Mahone Records FG-1, Red

Favorite Track: If I Should Fall From Grace With God

 

When he finished hanging the nine records in a grid pattern opposite his dining room table, he sighed, placed his hands over his eyes, and groaned loudly. He uncorked the bottle of Malbec and poured a deep drink, knowing this was a full bottle night. Unconsciously, he had ordered the nine albums from the start of the relationship right to the break up. The very freakin’ album that was playing when Sandra stormed out the door. He had made a tapestry of his misery.

When she finished hanging the nine records in a grid pattern opposite her bed, she sobbed once, fought back the anger, and curled up inside her favorite blanket. With deft precise, she sliced off the label of a Tempranillo and poured a heavy glass, understanding this most likely was going to end up as a full bottle night. Unconsciously, she had ordered the nine break-up albums in order from first relationship (Tommy: high school: ended via text) to her last (Grant: the last five years: February 12 in Grant’s old apartment). She had made a snapshot of her sorrow.

Grant took the first album down and put it on his player. Rubber Soul by the Beatles. How funny one night at trivia, an offhand comment about the different tracks on the UK and US versions of Rubber Soul could actually start a full-blown relationship? At the moment, a sickly sensation surging up from his stomach and making his skin feel cold, he dreamed of keeping his mouth shut. Denying the five years a chance before they were born. What would have his life been like?

She placed the first album on the platter and hit the on button. Then back to the wine for another glass. She settled down with her blanket on her bed as the needle scratched through some dust and began the opening track of Blondie’s Parallel Lines. He had kind eyes, a warm touch, and always had the other boys laughing at the lunch table. His kiss was lackluster and most of the time he hardly paid attention to her words, then later when Gina McDavid, the new girl, came along, her affections. At the best the relationship felt like a roller coaster, but at worst it was a roller-skating party, full of spills, falls, and running into old people. Where was he at this moment and was he the exact same as he had been?

The second album was Grant’s favorite, but he hated to admit to himself that it was all about the sex. One Track Mind (by Egyptian Lover) indeed. They couldn’t wait to touch each other, launching out of their stiff dreams into a passionate embrace that spilled them over the sides as their nakedness warmed with the rising sun and each other’s immediate contact. Afternoons on days off were the best: wrapped around each other on the couch reading or chatting about future plans, only for his intrepid cock to rise to the occasion again and off they were moaning filthy pleasure and forgetting the clock. Already halfway through the first bottle, Grant held back the tears. Looking down, he saw that he was erect.

Sandra’s second boyfriend was short lived. The only good thing Brad did was introduce her to punk rock. Group Sex by the Circle Jerks was as short, violent, and scathing as their three week hell. Tommy had been in puppy dog love with Gina for three weeks now, never missing an opportunity to kiss her in front of Sandra. He never winked at her and almost always seemed embarrassed, yet she was sure it was done on purpose. Brad was just a dark leather jacket nearest her the time it got to her. She grabbed Brad, forcing her mouth to open his, slithering her tongue in like a dart. She tasted beer even though Brad was only fifteen. Her virginity would be lost by midnight.

Two songs into the third album, he wasn’t sure if the self-titled Undertones album was the right choice. He knew that “I Know a Girl”‘s breezy, simplistic guitar work captured his own rather narrow but happy enthusiasm about Sandra, but was everything really peachy keen during that first year? Their friends said they were the “perfect couple”, yet none of them seemed to pick up either Sandra’s or his fears. After all, didn’t he at one time believe she cheated on him with Russell, the stranger they met at the art museum who claimed to be her long lost first kiss? Grant never voiced the doubt. He just trembled every night for two sleepless weeks. Surely, Sandra had her own doubts. When she surprised him at the office and Katie was there, he saw dangerous eye contact. Grant turned the record off before the A-side was down.

Tago Mago by Can. A double album for a duplicitous relationship. At first, she was carried away by the complex rhythms of Ivan’s wandering lifestyle. He pulled her through worlds she had never witnessed before: movie sets, garrulous agents, flashing photographers, stunning magazine models, Italian sports cars, rabid fans, and, even, the brutal dance performance of the matador. Before Ivan, she had never left her state, and now she had not only traveled to two dozen countries with him, but she caught the bug herself and replaced comics with travel guides. It was, on self-reflection, easy to become one his accessories, which she in her gullibility  became. His confidence was never tested, his will to continue doing what he did unfazed by any of her questions. Everyone always asked her how she did not know that he slept with his secretary, the models (male and female), the director’s assistant, the Macy’s girl, a few from various pubs around London, and even his sister’s best friend, Matilda. Sandra could only point to the A-bomb explosion of “Mushroom”. She didn’t know. Or she didn’t care to know.

Grant filled up his glass, took his socks off and then put them back on when he realized how cold the floor was. The fourth LP wasn’t a mystery as to why it described the most difficult part of their relationship: the death of Sandra’s father. The album brooded in its own sadness, wallowing like a drowning horse in a murky, dank swamp. Each track secretly whispered: suicide, suicide, suicide. Grant wished he was listening to Suicide instead, or, hell, even Tim Buckley’s Starsailor. The album wasn’t even his; it was Sandra’s. She must have left it behind because she knew he would do this: catalog their life together in music and this album was the only way to describe 2016. Which was like her. She could always see through his fake indifferent face and tell when he was hiding something. Then, with a simple gesture or sentence or look, she could extract the confession with ease. However, during 2016, when he needed to get inside her head, he found all his attempts useless. She remained impassive, a stricken bundle of dirty clothes and ruined make-up. He shuddered when he flipped the record over to Side-B. The latter half of the year was even worse. Grant just wished he could forget it.

22. The Rolling Stones concert. Sandra had met Adam a few days before at a trivia night competition. He was brought in because of his extensive knowledge of literature, which netted them five points for Tom Wolfe being dressed in all-white for a magazine cover and the final bonus question, which he singularly answered the locations for five novels. He smiled too much and seemed too eager, but he had an extra ticket and seemed a little wounded. Sandra didn’t realize how wounded she was from Ivan. The Stones were better than she gave credit for, but it also may have been Adam’s primo weed. He put his hand around her waist during “Brown Sugar” and she let him feel a little ass. He tried to kiss her before getting in the car, but she put a finger to his lips, gave a coy smile, and made him drive her all the way home before she blew him to his immediate satisfaction. Maybe it was a control thing, she thought later when Adam tried to bring up the subject of sex–she certainly dangled it in front of him, but often never let him have it. Her dreams were filled with Ivan’s rough hands and she was certain that Adam would never understand. A year into the relationship, he surprised her with a gift, his first as they often talked about how nerve-wracking buying gifts in relationships were: Aftermath by the Rolling Stones. Sandra flipped it over to side B, a little too nervous to hear “I am Waiting”–a song Adam played relentlessly the second and briefest year of their relationship. Words choked her throat as part of her past she blocked out returned to her. She had always suspected him of listening to “I am Waiting” because he was cheating on her. He wasn’t, but she was cheated on him.

Sandra snapped up in alert one morning and squeezed against him. It was a warmer sense of bodily contact since the death of her father. She didn’t need a hug, or silence, or someone to listen, or encouragement. She needed him. It was brief, but it lifted a heavy stone from his chest and, well, his testicles. Each morning, she returned to him: clouds lifting away from her green eyes like a leaving fog; the corners of her mouth turning up; a trip to the museum which lead to the symphony which lead to a three-day vacation in the woods; the strange obsession with the Cramps. So album five naturally had to be Songs the Lord Taught Us. There was a spontaneous burst of sexual activity, even more than when they first met. Each track reminded him of a specific time: “TV Set” doggy-style on the couch to a midnight creature feature; “”Rock on the Moon” her on top with her billowing red hair framed by the eclipsing moon; “Garbageman” interrupted by a knock on the door; “I Was a Teenage Werewolf” again outside in the Jewish cemetery down the road (which he still felt a little guilty about but they were pressed up against a tree, not a grave); “Sunglasses After Dark” a threesome with a drunk blonde from the bar that taught him a thing about his prostate gland and ice cubes; “The Mad Daddy” when a morning bout ended up with her sobbing–the death of her father returning to mind; “Mystery Plane” when they couldn’t get away with joining the Mile High Club on a flight to Chicago, but play-acted it in the Hotel room’s shabby bathroom; “Zombie Dance” where both of them went through the motion after a bottle of wine; “What’s Behind the Mask” the most epic Halloween night of his life; “Strychnine” more a fingering and heavy petting during an acid trip; “I’m Cramped” a failed attempt which left him washing the bedsheets at three in the morning; and “Tear it Up” when they both lost buttons to their favorite clothes. When Songs the Lord Taught Us finished, Grant opened up another bottle of wine.

Seeing the Stones in concert and had brought Sandra to a ’60’s music phase. At times, she suspected she was chasing her indifferent father through each album, catching coattails of his personality, his tastes, and, perhaps, his penchant for psychedelic drugs and free love. Sandra herself considered free love. Why entomb yourself with a person whose love for you will only die or become hatred? She saw what happened to her parents and she remembered being five years old and aware she was uncomfortable and sad, but couldn’t further explain away the despondent feelings. But Adam wanted nothing to do with free love; he had eyes only for her he said over and over. When Carl came along to the bar one night and he began expounding on the influence of American jazz on the French and the Argentinian cultures, all while wearing that flippant smile, a Moody Blues T-Shirt, and that wet, shiny, carefree ponytail of his, Sandra found herself holding his callused hand (because of course he played guitar) underneath the table. Adam was in a sour mood that day–his work had become increasing erratic with the promotion of a co-worker–and he decided to dip out after one drink. Carl, Sandra, and Lily stayed until closing. Lily left with a pool hustler with a gold tooth and the swagger of a man about to get laid. Carl kissed her the minute Lily turned her back. Sandra hadn’t feel this much love in years. It was almost like falling in love for the first time all over again: that precious delicate moment when your childhood erases itself with the thudding of your heart and a lascivious flash through the mind and body. But afterwards, wrapped in Carl’s arms in his gross bachelor pad, Sandra could only think about Adam. The reasons she was with him came back hard and fast. But she found she couldn’t resist the temptation of Carl. A line from Blood on the Tracks–her fifth choice–came to her mind almost thirty seconds before it came out of the speakers: “And when finally the bottom fell out / I became withdrawn / The only thing I knew how to do / Was to keep on keeping on like a bird that flew / Tangled up in blue.” Carl was more like a color, an abstraction, a maze to get lost in and to mess up. Once again, she considered she was just chasing her father, but did she even know if he really cheated on her mother? Then Adam found out. There is no album for that. Tonight, Sandra sang to herself her favorite track of the album, crying when she mouthed: “If she’s passin’ back this way, I’m not that hard to find / Tell her she can look me up if she’s got the time.”

The vacation. Grant was pretty sure he did something here, well actually he did something in Paris that was the beginning of the end. C’est Chic: French Girl Singers of the 1960’s was a breezy romp through the catchy pop tunes of the revolutionary times. Sandra was a fan of those bizarre directors who seemed more interested in cutting-up film to make political statements (Godard) or using pulpy crime noir as a means to espouse cafe philosophy (Truffaut, Melville, Malle). She bought this record as a surprise gift to him, explaining he didn’t seem interested in the trip, or in anything, until he understood its music. Sandra went on to say she just found it sexy. Grant remembered them pouring over maps, leafing through museum websites, Google searching landmarks and bookstores, and eating plenty of pastries and drinking more than enough overpriced red blends. For all the bohemian nature of Sandra, Grant never understood why she did not just want to fly over there and explore, discover whatever they happen to stumble upon. But she was insisted that they plan everything, as if in the very process of planning they could visit half the tourist spots and then be able to skip past them when on actual French soil. Grant had to admit, about a week before the trip, he wanted to cancel. A band previously broken up for almost twenty years was reunited. The only chance he had to see them (they were volatile enough to maybe not even make the 12-city tour in its entirety) was smack dab in the middle of the trip. He knew it was a mistake when he brought it up. That night he stayed up until three in the morning while she snored on the couch, looking up the perfect apartment to rent in the Latin Quarter. This surprise had seemed to do wonders. And then they arrived at De Gaulle airport and quickly things began to unravel. They had trouble buying a phone and then the instructions were only in French. They took the wrong train and spend two and a half hours trying to find their way back to the other side of the Seine. Their first night’s dinner was spectacular and has they pressed their longing lips together in the shade of the tree in the Jardin, Grant forgot the troubles of the day for one lingering moment. The next morning, Sandra seemed distant. She kept returning to the Mona Lisa, staring at it from all different angles, pushing people out of the crowd with her elbows, fuming, then setting off for the Egyptian Wing only to turn around and come back. Finally, as they were leaving, he asked her. Her reply: “It seems too small.”

The seventh relationship was foggy but the album was not. Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks always rang as clear as a church bell on a cloudless summer Sunday. Van Morrison’s vocal delivery sent pulses and waves cresting along her ear canals, brain lobes, and spine. From the opening track–a hypnotic drugged feeling–to the sweet release of the closer, Sandra danced in dirty white socks and her pants halfway undone. Because she could not really remember Nicholas–a beanstalk with curly red hair or was he the broad-shouldered beast with the shiny blond hair?–she found herself just enjoying the music with no associations, even starting to formulate ideas that Astral Weeks was created specifically for her by a secret lover, or, now wine drunk, by a young (and more handsome according to her standards) Van Morrison himself. It even dawned on her how much she was tainted her own taste in music by hanging albums up defined by relationships–by boys! What good was that? How would she truly see herself if she limited her perspective through the filters of the men that barely understood her, hurt her, or ignored her? She–like all the other women out there–needed their own song, their own individual power. She held hers now. No wait, she dropped the wine glass, but she would not fall to her knees and sob into the stained carpet even though she wanted to not because she had ruined the beige apartment carpet that felt like small rocks under her bare feet, but because she had wasted a copious amount of good wine, and was she so sure it was her idea to cry over spilled alcohol or did she fear her friends would rib and tease her relentlessly for wasting a good portion of Syrah, but at age twenty-seven, wasn’t this the only time where it was appropriate to cry over lost alcohol? Did Nicholas ever cry? She was nodding her head at herself in the mirror. Her cheeks were rosy she noticed. Yes, Nicholas cried and the sight of his tears had made Sandra feel embarrassed more than anything. She was Nicholas’s first girlfriend and she had to push aside the ugly thought that it was pity more than love that brought them together. Nicholas and his tears and his musical taste in acoustic rocker chicks, ambient snoozedom, and Van Morrison. God, so much Van Morrison. Was this is album or did she buy it after she broke up with him? Why would she do that? But what girl hasn’t done something stupid because of a man? Why did some of them wedge into the very core of your being like a metal splinter and why are some of them so on the peripheral that they may have well been spectacular comets or barren moons? She retreated from the mirror and looked down at the purple bruise on her floor. She almost missed Nicholas now for he didn’t even feel like a ghost–the way thoughts of Brad still made her flinch. Nicholas was free, carried away by invisible winds, roaming in search of love or perhaps settled down and anchored in warmth and companionship. She was too, she realized, yet she still felt a prisoner. Just like wine in a bottle, waiting to be poured forth.

 

*I’m on a crazy writing schedule this week, trying to do 500 words every day. I will return to this story. Check back soon!

 

Entry 0106: More Conan reviews

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LP: We are the Lazer Viking by An Albatross

2003 Ace Fu Records ace 023

Favorite Track: The Vitally Important Pelvic Thrust

 

Before I return to the bloodshed of Conan, I want to say Happy New Year and let it be as good as 2016 as far as record collecting goes. Last year, I found some of the rarest records I had been searching for, leaving me speechless yet again at the mass of goodies I have hoarded in my one bedroom apartment. One day, I will take a vacation and just list to all the records I own. I may have to take two vacations. Finding the Little Johnny Jewel Ork Records 7-inch made it feel possible that I could acquire all the crazy records I’m searching for. What would I do if I found an original the Return of the Durutti Column in all its sandpapery goodness? What if next time I walk in, I see an original New Rose single? Oh, the tasty possibilities.

Okay, jazz music is driving me nuts. I wanted to write but this is distracting. Don’t get me wrong: I like jazz music. But right now, it is not helping. I actually wrote “tastiness possibilities” and only just caught the error. I blame the keyboardist.

So, by Crom, let’s get to the violence!

“The Vale of Lost Women” – 1 out of 5 broken skulls

Robert E. Howard

 

Oh brother. Where to start with this tale? I enjoyed that it was told from Livia’s point of view instead of Conan’s, but, well, Livia is very proud of a whiteness while being captive of the Bakalah tribe. Then she offers Conan her body as a prize for rescuing her. Yikes! Instead she flees Conan and finds the vale of lost women, which has some lesbian suggestions, but they try to sacrifice her to a moth-god, which was by the far the best part. Conan saves her and tells he wouldn’t have slept with her because that would have been rape. Who knew Conan was a class act? Is he? His sexual policy seems to alter between stories (see the Frost Giant’s Daughter) so I am not sure what to make of this ending. Either way, this story was never published during Howard’s life time and perhaps it would have been best left that way. For you future Conan-reading people, feel free to skip this one. You are only missing out on racism.

 

“The Castle of Terror” – 3 out of 5 broken skulls

L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter

 

I’ve noticed that I prefer the weird tales of Conan. Something about combining the bloodthirsty action with the supernatural and the cosmic mindbending that reels me in like a fish swallowing the fly. This tale is more atmospheric than plot. In fact, the plot is a little thin. Conan is once again being chased by nature. This time a couple of lions. This already feels a tad unrealistic; I get Conan is the hero and faster than most humans…but lions?!? Just when he is about to turn and fight, he notices the lions have stopped chasing him. He has wandered too close to a dilapidated castle, a haunted castle. Conan enters and, despite seeing eerie spirits, decides to sleep. Well, I love Scooby Doo so I bought it. Then Conan realizes the serpent-people of long ago are ghosts trying to eat him! Nightmare fuel! He wakes only to find a shadowy demonic shape. But then, the cheesy deus ex machina happens: some soldiers also decide to enter the castle and quickly are devoured by the massive ghost-creature. Conan flees. Again, weak plot, but totally enjoyable with good images.

 

“The Snout in the Dark” – 2 out of 5 broken skulls

Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter

 

This second collection of Conan short stories has been great, but it ends on a mediocre note. This was an ambitious story with a lot to chew on. I suspect Howard realized it would have been a better novel and that is why he scrapped it. We have too much world building to do in this tale to make it work: there is a caste/class social system; there is a web of betrayals against the Queen; there is the strange wizard character who needed more background; there is the Snout in the Dark; there is a captive prisoner (with more damn white emphasis); and there is Conan playing a sort of Yojimbo kind of role. I really liked the first part of the story. The head of the Queen’s guard is imprisoned and thinks he will only be locked up but then comes the Snout! Unfortunately, the Snout is a limited scary creature. In fact, after this initial scare, the Snout seems like a poor choice to mount a rebellion against the Queen. It seems like in order for it to be effective, you would have to have your victim captured and tied up, which seems to defeat the point. That aside, the end of the story offers an interesting look at anarchy as the town destroys itself.

Two books in and I am really glad I am reading Conan the Barbarian. Sure the stories are a little bit the same (and then last few had some elements of racism and sexism), but they remind me of my favorite elements of fantasy books and video games: each story introduces a new city, custom, villain, dastardly deed, and Conan heroics. I cannot wait to discover his other adventures and I wonder if he will ever meet his end? Unfortunately, I do not own the third book yet (it is a bit rare) so I don’t know when I will return to Hyperborea, but until then, slay all the monsters!