Friday, May 26, 2023

A week of endings

Libby with her coach, Todd Ruland.

This is a week of endings.

My daughter Libby ran her last race yesterday. She finished her high school track career at the Div. 5 state championship at Norwell High, placing 19th in the 2-mile.

It was her best time of the year by seven seconds. But she had to grind to get it.

You won’t see her name in the box score—top eight place at the state and get points—but I’ll take a top 20 finish. Because I know how far she has come to make it to the finish line.

When Libby was younger she was not in terrific athletic shape. She hated running, even though she loved soccer. She’d be the first to admit that. But during the COVID lockdowns something clicked. She was bored and started running on our treadmill in the basement. And transformed herself, and decided to go out for the cross country team.

Wild. This stuff happens with kids sometimes. You can’t predict it.

She became a three-sport captain and earned nine varsity letters, and a Cape Ann League all-star.

She did it with an amazing group of teammates, but she also did it by finding strength within.

Track and in particular long-distance running is a lonely sport.

In softball you cross home plate and your teammates are there to embrace you. Likewise in football when you get the touchdown, others are blocking for you. In track, you’re running alone.

Yesterday only a few of her teammates qualified for the states and there was no one waiting at the end of her last finish line. Except her dad, and her coach. She cried, I hugged her and told her damned proud I was of her.

I know great things will await Libby, because she has a terrific will, an incredible work ethic, and is kind and cares about people. I’ll take those over raw ability any day.

This was a week of endings.

Soon there will be a week of beginnings. She goes off to college in the fall. My wife and I will be empty-nesters, and life will change.

But first there is the high school prom tonight, and senior celebrations. I hope she enjoys every minute of the fun, because she earned it.

Happy graduation kid. Here’s to endings and beginnings.

You Must Change Your Life

Do yourself a favor and listen to this episode of Weird Studies with hosts Phil Ford and J.F. Martel.

I don’t know what it was about precisely, except that it instilled a feeling in me that magic and the weird, and awe, might still exist in the world. If we are patient and quiet and persist long enough.

The episode is ostensibly about a deep reading of poem I had never heard of before, “Archaic Torso of Apollo” by Rainer Maria Rilke. But you don’t have to have read it: They do it for you on the episode, and then talk about it. 

The poem is both a convincing case that inanimate art has a spirit of its own, and call to the heroic in all of us, concluding with the line, “For Here There is No Place That Does Not See You: You Must Change Your Life.” A command from a stone from antiquity, the muscled torso of Apollo, that arouse you from your torpor. Very sword-and-sorcery you might say. 

There are digressions on barbarism and He-Man and Skeletor, and references to RUSH and D&D. In and amongst philosophy and whether it is possible to derive an ought from an is. 

It touched many chords in me. 

The hosts are well-spoken and erudite but also fun and spontaneous. Just an amazing listen, even if I didn’t grasp everything they said after once through it.

Friday, May 19, 2023

If Heaven is Hell, Tokyo Blade

I was too young to appreciate the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (aka., NWOBHM, love that fucking acronym) back when it washed up on American shores, circa 1975-83 or thereabouts. 

The good part about this unfortunate time mismatch is that now I can explore its various bands. Though most have long since disbanded or faded into obscurity, they are new to me, and therefore as fresh and vital as they may have been whilst playing some dingy U.K. pub circa 1978. And yes I just said "whilst." I'm putting on my English cloak for this one.

The best band to come out of the NWOBHM movement, Iron Maiden, has passed into Godhood, but most of its acts sank into obscurity. This Metal Friday features a good one from one of the semi-lost, Tokyo Blade. Obscure but apparently they had a long career, go figure.

I won't claim "If Heaven is Hell" (1983) is the best song ever, but it's pretty darned good, possessed of that rough, unpolished, energetic, guitar-forward sound that I love from this era and region of the world. The U.K. birthed heavy metal from the foundries of Birmingham and they still do it the best, IMO.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Glen Lord Symposium panel video up on YouTube

As noted in my recent writeup of 2023 Robert E. Howard Days, I was asked to present a paper at the Glen Lord Symposium. This is an academic panel and regular part of the event programming led by Jason Ray Carney, editor of Whetstone and a senior lecturer at Christoper Newport University.

The panel is now available on YouTube. You can view it here

The title of my paper is “Far Countries of the Mind: The Frontier Fantasy of Robert E. Howard." I had fun writing it and reading it aloud, if a little intimidating. 

Love Jason's comment that I deserve an honorary PhD in sword-and-sorcery :). I'll take it.


Saturday, May 13, 2023

Edge of Thorns, Savatage

Metal Friday is a day late this week but I'm just getting back from a business trip to Chicago that has me all sorts of out of sorts. 12 straight days of work that is now over.

Admittedly I am not the biggest Savatage fan but "Edge of Thorns" checks every damned box I love about heavy metal. Great vocals. Tough, poetic lyrics. An incredibly powerful build up to a breakdown at 2:55, followed by an absolutely divine guitar solo by the late Criss Oliva.

Odd video, but hey, early 90s and all that.

Balanced your dreams upon the edge of thorns
But I don't think about you anymore

"All truth is relative" is not true

“All truth is relative.”

This comment was posted on a message board I frequent, in a conversation in which I was a part, and the person who wrote it apparently expected it to go unchallenged—as if lobbing a hand grenade into a room might go unchallenged. 

I disagree with this statement and here explain why in detail, which I could not do there.

Truth is relative in many circumstances. Two longtime spouses quarreling over who should clean the garage is a hard situation to untangle, and the truthful answer to the question: Who should clean it? very relative. Perhaps the man agreed at one point to handle all outdoor work, the wife indoor, and the garage is some liminal space that could be either. Perhaps the wife is (understandably) angry with the man because she has done all the cleaning and he has not held up his end of the social contract.

The world is full of countless, similar examples where both sides seem right, or at least share a version of the truth that point to a conclusion that all truth is relative. These range from small and domestic to the largest scale, i.e., wars between great powers.

However, there comes a point where truth is no longer relative. And when disagreement on what is true is dangerous, even hideous, and cannot go unchallenged. Particularly when applied to morality, which I believe at certain levels passes into an objective truth. At least, objective enough that we must all embrace it.

For example, take the following statement: Dashing an infant’s head against a wall is bad.

Is this only relatively true, based on the circumstances? Is bashing an infant to death permissible, even good, in some circumstances?

Or, It’s acceptable not to rescue a someone drowning in a pool. Is it OK to watch someone drown if the suit you're wearing is of sufficient high quality? When you’re perfectly capable, because you don’t want to get your nice clothes wet?

Of course, we can get absurd here on some theoretical, abstract plane that will never occur in real life (“what if you knew the baby would grow up to be Hitler?”) (“what if you thought your suit would weigh you down and you might drown?”) etc.? You might as well just say, “well I think we’re all living in a simulation and so nothing is real, and nothing matters!”

The fact is, we cannot know these things, and everyone with a healthy mind should recoil from these assertions. And that truth is truth.

On a philosophical/logical level, the statement “all truth is relative” is untenable, because it would mean truth can never be known—which is a statement of absolute truth. It's not a coherent statement, but a self-contradiction.

If you argue that "all truth is relative" because truth can only be understood through the subjective lens of an individual, that has a kernel of truth... but if everyone else sees the facts differently you are very likely, objectively wrong, and have misapprehended the truth. Which exists independent of you.

But the more important Truth of the matter is, having a coherent and broad set of rules about ethics and social mores that values human life is entirely necessary for a functioning culture. For example, if we can’t say, “hard work and discipline is a virtue,” but equally value sloth, then things will fall apart, very quickly. And life will become a hellscape. And I think even the postmodernists would agree that an ordered life is better than anarchy and apocalyptic disintegration.

“Truth is relative” allows you to absolve yourself of adult responsibilities. It might make you popular at parties of high culture. But it doesn’t do well when it meets reality. 

We need responsible people to avoid the descent into barbarism. Which, despite my love of sword-and-sorcery, is not an outcome I find acceptable.

Objective mortality exists, regardless of culture or upbringing, faith, creed, or race. 

If you lack the capacity to understand this, a few things are at play that are worth looking into. 

  • You may be mentally deficient, in which case you are worthy of sympathy and social support.
  • You are weary of life and in a bad place, as I have been at points in my life. You have my sympathy; keep fighting and one day you will emerge from this malaise.
  • You might be a postmodernist thinker, and simply enjoy arguing in the abstract. In which case, I will simply disagree and take my ball somewhere else.

However, if you refuse to recognize and differentiate good behavior from bad, and actively seek to tear down the social fabrics that allow us to enjoy some measure of order and security, I’m quite comfortable calling you a psychopath. If you desire to burn down the courts and our system of law and order, please read Grendel and start over at Go. Do not collect $200. You have embraced the Dragon, have arrived at the point where naked Power is the only arbiter of truth, hoarded gold the only value, and revealed yourself as the monster. 

The good news is, there is always a path back to the truth for those willing to seek it. This too, is true.

Friday, May 5, 2023

RIP to Canada's finest singer-songwriter, Gordon Lightfoot

Gordon Lightfoot is probably—nay, definitely—not metal. Not even metal-adjacent. 

Yet he is the subject of this Metal Friday. For obvious reasons.

I mourn the passing of this great man. He had a hell of a career and a hell of a life. 84 years is a pretty good run. 

But it was still tough news to hear that he passed on Monday.

I listen to Gordon Lightfoot on vinyl every summer up our family’s lakehouse. His music takes me straight to our pontoon boat, circling the lake in the early evening with a cocktail. Not quite so hazardous as Lake Superior when the gales of November come early.

Lately I had found myself listening to Gordon more often. Perhaps because I’m getting a little more mellow as I age. Metal is still my go-to but his stuff is timeless, beautiful.

Last year I got to see Gordon with my old man and brother and am so glad I did. Tomorrow isn't guaranteed.

I’m not going to waste any words explaining why Gordon Lightfoot is great, and worth listening to. He’s been extolled by Bob Dylan, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, Billy Joel, countless other iconic musicians. He's probably the greatest Canadian musician ever, this coming from a raging RUSH fan. Hell, if Geddy Lee says it, good enough for me.

If you want more of that here’s a tribute from one of my favorite YouTubers, Rick Beato, who gives him a proper sendoff.

I’ll just say: He’s way better than you think. Every song on Gord’s Gold is gold. He has more good songs on one album side than most artists will record in a lifetime.

Instead I’ll just offer a song.

I was thinking of going with “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” or “If You Could Read My Mind” or “Sundown” as evidence (all awesome, and deservedly remembered) but here’s “Early Morning Rain.”