Friday, June 29, 2012

A review of Iron Maiden at the Comcast Center in Mansfield, MA

My apologies for the delay in posting a review of Iron Maiden at the Comcast Center in Mansfield, MA. The morning after the show, groggy from too little sleep and too much beer and loud music, I left for our annual vacation to our family's summer cottage in NH where internet access wavers between extremely spotty and utterly non-existent. By some miracle I have a decent connection so here goes...

It seems that more and more I appreciate the pre-game warmup to concerts as much as the event itself. That was the case with Maiden, as I attended the show with four other friends and Maiden fans. None of them knew each other (I was the common thread connecting them all) but we had a great time nonetheless. Four of us piled into my Chevy Cobalt and drove to Mansfield where we met the other dude (Falze), who had a 3 1/2 hour ride up from NY. The drive and meet-up proved to be an adventure, as after a longer than expected, traffic-snarled ride we found ourselves parked a mile away from Falze in Mansfield's enormous parking lot. And we had a large cooler packed to the gills with ice, beer, water, and half a cherry chocolate cake to carry. But, walking the heavy cooler in two at a time shifts, stopping to reorient ourselves with our cell phones over the din of blasting radios, we made it across the battle-torn, pot-smoke obscured, heavy metal parking lot to Falze.

June 26 also happened to be my birthday and as we stood on the Comcast Center asphalt I remarked that there was no other place I'd rather be for the first day of the 39th year of my life than at an Iron Maiden concert with a cold beer. I don't require much from life, you see, which is the secret to staying happy, incidentally. I had a blast bullshitting and chit-chatting with my friends, and accosting passers-by with concert T-shirts or tattoos that caught my eye. Falze packed us some subs from a place called DiBellas and man, they hit the spot. You were right Falze, they were worth it.

Inside the show I did something I hadn't done in probably 15 years--purchased an Iron Maiden concert t-shirt. It was my favorite Derek Riggs image, Eddie in cowboy hat at a card table from the Stranger in a Strange Land single. I used to buy a concert T at almost every show I attended "back in the day," but that was a different era when they cost $15-20 and I had ample opportunity to wear them. This shirt was--cough $40 cough--but arguably was worth it, as I will undoubtedly be wearing it to any and all future concerts, Iron Maiden or no.

Alice Cooper was the opening act and old Alice was very good. Even in his heyday he had a raspy, scary sounding voice and I detected no difference in his singing style. He played all the usual hits you'd expect ("School's Out," "I'm 18", "Hey Stupid," etc.). "Poison" made an appearance, a song that holds powerful nostalgia for me (Cooper's Trash tour back in 89 or so was the first concert I ever attended). Good stuff.

Maiden was great. Really my only complaint was that Bruce's mike was a bit low in the mix and the guitars too loud. But they played an exceptional setlist, blasting out of the gates with "Moonchild" and never letting up. Some highlights for me included "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son," "The Evil that Men Do," "Wasted Years,"  "Run to the Hills," "Fear of the Dark" and "Aces High." I was really pumped to hear "The Phantom of the Opera" which works exceptionally well in concert. The only headscratcher (and it was a complete puzzle why they played it) was "Afraid to Shoot Strangers," an obscure song off one of their lesser-regarded albums (Fear of the Dark). Dickinson dedicated the song to the late Charlton Heston. I scooted out and grabbed a beer during "Afraid," returning just as the band kicked it back into high gear with "The Trooper." During the beer break I attempted to get the Comcast Center employee to admit that $9.25 was very expensive for a single 16 oz. Coors Light. She smiled, and almost caved, but she had to toe the company line. She wished me happy birthday and my mouth sagged open in surprise as I asked her by what brand of evil sorcery she knew that fact--until my buddy Scott dope-slapped me.

"She's holding your driver's license, you dummy."

Hey, what can I say, I was riding a buzz.

So yeah, fun night, and if you can get out and catch a stop on the Maiden England tour I recommend it quite highly.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Metal Friday Special Edition: Maiden Countdown, "Killers"

Imagine it's 1981 and you're a member of Iron Maiden. Your lead singer, Paul Di'Anno, has just left/been kicked out of the band, and although you've got two well-received albums under your belt, your future is very much in question. In comes a shortish dude with a mullet, Bruce Dickinson, front man for Sampson, to audition for the vacancy.

He launches into a Maiden hallmark, "Killers." The rest is history, as was Di'Anno.

I hope to post a review of tomorrow's show at some point this week. Until then, Up the Irons!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Year’s Best Fantasy Stories 11, a review

From 1975 to 1988 Daw books published The Year’s Best Fantasy Stories, an anthology edited initially by Lin Carter and later by Arthur W. Saha. I own only Vol. 11 but after reading it I’m now inclined to seek out more in the series.

Vol. 11 was published in 1985 and by then Carter’s reign as editor had given way to Saha. Saha has a rather interesting and wide-ranging background; according to Wikipedia he served in the Merchant Marine during WWII, is credited with the patent for fire-resistant paint used on early space satellites, hung around Beat poets, was a member of Mensa, and in 1967 was credited with coining the term “Trekkie”. Matching his experiences and personality Saha here put together an eclectic combo of stories that mostly works.

My primary complaint with Vol. 11 is again one of unfulfilled expectations. When you’ve got a cover like that pictured at right I was expecting more of a swords and sorcery bent. There are certainly a few S&S stories inside, but Vol. 11 is equal parts horror and magical realism, with a dash of romance and humor. Yet you’ve got a cover featuring a jacked, axe-wielding dude on the back of a giant snake, about to battle a giant owl-riding knight in plate armor, all taking place beneath the gaze of a half-naked lass lashed to a pole (for the record, there is no story featuring dueling snakes and owls, unfortunately—though there is a fair maiden lashed to a pole). So … yeah. Don’t judge a book by its cover and all that.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Metal Friday Special Edition: Maiden Countdown, "The Clairvoyant"

Continuing my countdown to the Maiden England tour (holy shit--it's only four days away), today I pause to recognize and celebrate the greatness that is "The Clairvoyant," again off Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.

Here's a great live version from the Seventh Tour of a Seventh Tour, circa 1988 or 89, I imagine.

Whenever I hear Steve Harris' bassline something akin to an electric shock courses through my body, then my heart starts to race when Dave Murray plays that familiar riff. That's how much I freaking love this song. It exalts the spirit.

Four days away. I can "Feel the sweat break on my brow" in anticipation.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Q&A With Tolkien and the Great War Author John Garth on Michael Martinez’ Middle-earth website

As a subscriber to the Mythsoc listserv I was very grateful to find a link from Michael Martinez—proprietor of the fine website—to a recent interview conducted with J.R.R. Tolkien scholar John Garth, author of Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003). It’s a fascinating read and worth checking out; you can find it here.

Some reviewers have dubbed Tolkien and the Great War the best book on Tolkien that has yet been written. I wouldn’t go that far (for the record that book is Tom Shippey’s The Road to Middle-earth) but it is arguably the best book on Tolkien in the last decade. While Humphrey Carpenter’s biography is still the seminal work on the life and times of Tolkien, it brushes only lightly over his military service. Tolkien’s experiences with the Lancaster Fusiliers are stamped all over The Lord of the Rings, as Garth ably demonstrates in Tolkien and the Great War, and so any complete understanding of the influences of Tolkien’s works must account for his World War I experiences.

To read the rest of this post, visit The Black Gate website.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Metal Friday Special Edition: Maiden Countdown. "The Evil That Men Do"

Wow, it's hard to believe that it's only 11 days until Iron Maiden plays the Comcast Center in Mansfield, MA. Look for a heavy rotation of my favorite Maiden songs in the coming days as I gear up for my favorite band of all time.

Since this tour is an homage to Maiden England and reportedly features the same stage set and props from the Seventh Son tour, I'll start with one of my favorites from that album, "The Evil that Men Do."

As a man, I can definitively say that we do have an evil streak (typically surfacing during heavy drinking) and it almost always comes back to bite us in the ass, hence it does live on and on. Bruce, you were right.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Optimistic literature vs. GrimDark

Presented without comment:

He bent down, scratched the black dirt into his fingers. He was beginning to warm to it; the words were beginning to flow. No one in front of him was moving. He said, "This is free ground. All the way from here to the Pacific Ocean. No man has to bow. No man born to royalty. Here we judge you by what you do, not by what your father was. Here you can be something. Here's a place to build a home. It isn't the land--there's always more land. It's the idea that we all have value, you and me, we're worth something more than the dirt. I never saw dirt I'd die for, but I'm not asking you to come join us and fight for dirt. What we're all fighting for, in the end, is each other."

—Michael Shaara, The Killer Angels 

 “Who cares who’s buried where?” muttered Craw, thinking about all the men he’d seen buried. “Once a man’s in the ground he’s just mud. Mud and stories. And the stories and the men don’t often have much in common.”

 —Joe Abercrombie, The Heroes

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Audio zombies: A review of We’re Alive: A Story of Survival, season one

As a lover of all things zombie I leapt at the chance to review the first season of We're Alive: A Story of Survival, the first season for Following is the text of that review.


Uneven and slightly amateurish, but also fun, mildly addictive and highly listenable, We’re Alive: A Story of Survival, the first season (Modern Myth Productions, LLC) should appeal to fans of the zombie/post-apocalyptic/survivalist genres.

Unlike most audio books, which typically feature a single narrator reading text in unadorned style, We’re Alive is an audio drama. It employs a large cast, incorporates a wide range of sound effects, and is scripted in a way that caters to the ear, emphasizing dialogue and interpersonal relationships over lengthy descriptive narrative. Our minds are left to fill in the gory details, and it works. It’s simultaneously fresh and retro, reminding me of what the old radio shows of yesteryear must have been like. We’re Alive was launched and remains an ongoing podcast (check it out here: but you can obtain the entire first two seasons from Blackstone Audio, Inc.

The storyline is about what you’d expect: A zombie apocalypse strikes without warning, quickly overwhelming most of the population. Three young Army reservists (Michael, Angel, and Saul) commandeer a humvee and seek out survivors in downtown Los Angeles. After rescuing a couple civilians they find an apartment building, clear it of zombies, and begin to fortify it, rigging it up with a generator and stocking up on food, water, and ammunition. More survivors eventually trickle in and/or are rescued by the group, including Burt, an aging Vietnam veteran who acts and sounds a lot like Clint Eastwood. Soon there’s a small but thriving community holed up in the apartment building.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

What I've read this year

Here's the list of books I've read to date in 2012. Note that a couple are audiobooks, so I use the term "read" loosely here. Links provided to any titles for which I've written a review.

  1. Unfinished Tales, JRR Tolkien
  2. The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss
  3. The Cold Commands, Richard Morgan
  4. Tolkien on Film: Essays on Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, Janet Brennan Croft ed.
  5. Seven Princes, John Fultz
  6. Tolkien: A Cultural Phenomenon, Brian Rosebury
  7. The Heroes, Joe Abercrombie
  8. Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers, L. Sprague de Camp
  9. Styrbiorn the Strong, E.R. Eddison
  10. The Well of the Unicorn, Fletcher Pratt
  11. The Modern Scholar: Faith and Reason: The Philosophy of Religion, Peter Kreeft
  12. Strange Wine, Harlan Ellison
  13. Grendel, John Gardner
  14. The Hook, Donald Westlake
  15. Carnage and Culture, Victor Hanson
  16. Conan: Red Nails, Robert E. Howard, Karl Edward Wagner ed.
  17. The Dark Barbarian, Don Herron ed.
  18. Conan, The People of the Black Circle, Robert E. Howard, Karl Edward Wagner ed.
  19. The Singularity is Near, Ray Kurzweil
  20. The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard
  21. The Children of Odin, Padraic Colum
  22. Red Moon and Black Mountain, Joy Chant
  23. No Regrets, Ace Frehley
  24. Brak vs. the Sorceress, John Jakes
  25. The Dragon Lord, David Drake
  26. We’re Alive: A Story of Survival, season one

I'm on pace for 56 titles this year, a few more than I read in 2011. Right now I'm about 2/3 of the way through Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead, sequel to Ender's Game.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Metal Friday: "Left Hand Black" by Danzig

Yeah, the safe choice here would have been "Mother."

Well, Metal Friday ain't about safe choices, mother f-er (so says the guy who self-edits swears from his blog).

Anyways, I loved this one back in the day, still do. Turn it up, tear off your shirt and pretend you're Glenn Danzig, and enjoy your weekend.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A brief tribute to the stories of Ray Bradbury

I came to Ray Bradbury at what is likely a later age than most. I never had to read Fahrenheit 451 in school; if I read one of his short stories as a student I have no recollection. Several years ago, in a desire to start filling in some gaps I had in classic genre fiction, I gave Fahrenheit 451 a try. It was a powerful read and made a profound impact on me. It prompted me to seek out more Bradbury—and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Since then I’ve marveled in the wonders of Dandelion Wine, The Golden Apples of the Sun, The October Country, The Halloween Tree, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and The Martian Chronicles. If somehow you haven’t read any Bradbury yet my advice is to pick any of the above titles and dive in. I’d recommend one over the others, but there’s no need: They’re all pretty much brilliant. You won’t be disappointed.

I’ve always been a little leery of science fiction and have read far more deeply of fantasy. Rightly or wrongly, my perception is that SF worships at the altar of technology, and is fixated upon cold, clinical subject matter for which I have little interest. But if the genre contained more books like The Martian Chronicles, I might view it a lot differently (a parenthetical aside: Though it may be the subject of a catchy song, to call Bradbury “the greatest sci-fi writer in history” isn’t accurate. Dark fantasy, horror, soft sci-fi, traditional literary fiction—Bradbury has written in them all, and sometimes all at once. He is in many ways genre-defying). Bradbury’s stories are in tune with our humanity and his fiction is life affirming. They remind us that We’re human, and we’re alive, damn it. Bradbury often said that he loved life and was driven to write not only by his love of libraries and of reading, but of the very act of living itself. And that’s potent fuel for a lifetime of stories.

To read the rest of this post, visit The Black Gate website.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Godspeed, Ray Bradbury

I'll follow up with another post later this week, but in case you haven't heard the news already: Ray Bradbury died at age 91.

Bradbury was probably my favorite living author and an amazing talent. He'll be missed.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Dragon Lord by David Drake, a review

Some twenty years before TheWarlord Chronicles, a grim and gritty take on the Arthurian mythos by historical fiction author Bernard Cornwell, David Drake’s The Dragon Lord (1978) covered the same war-torn ground, employing a similar historical Dark Ages realism in the telling. Imagine Arthur as a power-hungry, petulant warlord with a clubbed foot; Launcelot as a hulking Roman Gaul, arrogant and bullying; and Merlin a half-crazed sorcerer barely in control of his own overestimated powers of magic, and you have the basic flavor of Drake’s debut novel.

Cornwell’s trilogy is a good deal superior to Drake’s effort, as the latter is marred by flaws perhaps forgivable of a first time novelist, including a choppy, uneven narrative and an abrupt, rather unsatisfying ending. But The Dragon Lord has a curious power of its own, perhaps because it manages to successfully straddle both the historical fiction and fantasy genres; it feels something like the Northern-inspired novels of Poul Anderson. If you like that stuff, you’ll probably like The Dragon Lord.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Metal Friday: "Raining Blood" by Slayer

I have a threshold when it comes to heavy metal. At some indefinable point of heaviness I personally find that the music loses its artistry and appeal. "Cookie Monster" lyrics and a cacophonous wall of thudding, high speed drums and screeching guitars turn me off, thus I personally have no use for bands like Cannibal Corpse and their ilk.

Slayer is about as far on the "heaviness" scale as I like to go, but I do like them a lot. "Raining Blood" is a classic featuring one of the all-time great metal riffs. The sound of rain and those drums kicking in still gives me a chill, decades after I first heard it. In my opinion this is heavy metal at its most brutal and primitive (played live the bit from 2:10 to 2:38 results in an instant mosh pit; I've seen these guys in concert and the reaction is pavlovian). Yes, there are "heavier" bands, but Slayer still remains recognizable as music--a savage and scary brand of music, but one performed by talented musicians. Your mileage may vary, of course.

Turn it up, but not too loud, lest you frighten your household.