Monday, February 22, 2021

A Fitting, Final Honor for Charles Saunders, Author of Imaro

My latest post for DMR Books is up: A Fitting, Final Honor for Charles Saunders, Author of Imaro

Check it out for my thoughts on the late, great Saunders, who fled the circles of this world in May 2020, but left a warrior behind.

RIP Charles Saunders (July 1946-May 2020)

Friday, February 19, 2021

Up the Irons and eff the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

The Boys from Britain don't need no stinking HOF!

Iron Maiden has been nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

My reaction? Who gives a shit.

Evidently I’m supposed to be excited by this news… I find myself feeling rather apathetic, with a smattering of bemusement and a (slight) bit of anger.  I do recognize the considerable irony in stating “who gives a shit” and then spending my time writing a post about the news. Evidently I have some level of investment. But I’m writing this as much for as my own amusement as anything else.

A little history on my relationship with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In the past I have kept tabs on the list of inductees. I was happy to see the likes of Black Sabbath and KISS eventually get in, though both are kind of no-brainers. I didn’t get too wrapped up in either nomination, because I figured it was a done deal. And it was (an aside: it took KISS, eligible for induction since 1999, FIFTEEN YEARS to get in, which it finally did in 2014).

My typical level of detached minor interest ratcheted up in 2018 when stupidly, I got wrapped up in the fan vote for Judas Priest. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame includes a fan vote, with the top five acts in the popular vote earning what amounts to a single “vote.” These five bands then get that one vote added to the couple hundred votes cast by the real power-holders, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Committee, a shadowy cabal of unknowns who hold all the power of who gets in and who gets left “Out in the Cold” (pun intended).

As should be obvious by the formula, one fan vote stacked against a couple hundred “educated” votes by the “critics,” counts for next to nothing. I spent time--too much, as you can vote over and over again, though only once per day--voting on the HOF platform, only to see Priest—which did get in the top five in the fan vote—get croaked by the committee.

So, in 2018 Judas Priest—a band who revolutionized heavy metal by adding an iconic sound (the twin guitar attack) and establishing its iconic look (leather and studs), immortal songs like “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” and “Breaking the Law,” and a 50+ year legacy of influencing countless bands—lost to the likes of Nina Simone.

Since then Priest has failed to make it any further, to the Hall’s eternal shame.

That brings me to Iron Maiden, another personal favorite band of mine about whom I’ve made my love abundantly clear here on the blog.

Maiden has had a career that would turn 90% of the previously inducted acts’ faces green with envy. I don’t think people outside of heavy metal circles understand how massively popular and influential these guys are. They’ve been selling out sports arenas (pre-COVID of course) for 40 years. They’ve sold more than 100 million copies of their albums worldwide, all without any commercial airplay or support. At one point VH1 ranked them No. 24 in their “100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock.”

It’s utterly absurd to think that they need to add a Hall of Fame credential to justify whether or not they are great, or influential on the development of rock-and-roll. But frankly, it’s the “hard” part of “hard rock” that makes Maiden an unlikely candidate for Hall of Fame acceptance.

The fact is, the voting on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is calculatedly political, and archly snobbish, and therefore actively hostile to brash, loud, metal acts. Heavy metal can never get its just due in this stifling, narrow-minded environment. Even relatively safe, mainstream party rock acts like KISS only get a look when their case is so overwhelmingly obvious that to leave them out would compromise any shred of validity the enterprise still holds.

Bruce Dickinson has voiced his opinions very clearly on the Hall of Fame, calling the Hall "an utter and complete load of bollocks" that is "run by a bunch of sanctimonious bloody Americans who wouldn’t know rock ’n’ roll if it hit them in the face." Go Bruce.

So in the end, it does not matter whether Maiden gets in. Their career speaks for itself. When Maiden is finally retired and gone, the echoes of “Hallowed be thy Name” and “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” will ring through the ages, long after most of the acts in the Hall of Fame have been forgotten.

Unlike 2018 I will not waste a moment voting for Maiden. Not because I don’t love the band, but because the institution itself is corrupt. No Maiden, Priest, or Motorhead renders the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame utterly irrelevant.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Parasite, "Night Winds"


The first 1:02 of "Nightwinds," an obscure song by an obscure Swedish metal band named Parasite, encompasses everything I love about the heavy metal genre. Atmosphere. Grandeur. Power. Artistry.

Unfortunately the song is undone by its underwhelming chorus. Also, "breaking the nightwinds" sounds suspiciously like a nocturnal emission under the sheets. Oh well. But I also love the incredibly cheesy depths that metal occasionally descends into. It's all part of the charm.

Anyways, crank up this clip from Youtube, and listen to at least the first minute or so. You have to play metal loud or it doesn't work.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Some ramblings on old school tastes in music, reading

Now that's old school.
I was glancing at my bookshelves recently, as I’m wont to do when I’m in between books and scanning for the next title … or if it’s just Tuesday. And it struck me that my reading tastes are rooted firmly in the past.

My top shelf has got the collected works of Rudyard Kipling, Rafael Sabatini’s Scaramouche, and several books by E.R. Eddison and Poul Anderson. The next shelf down are the Lancer Conan Saga, Karl Edward’s Kane, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Not exactly George R.R. Martin, Patrick Rothfuss, or John Scalzi. Any of which I could be into, but am really not, even if some day I do plan to finish A Song of Ice and Fire, if Martin ever gets around to it.

I do take comfort in the fact that I’m not alone. An adherent of Anglo-Saxon literature and Icelandic Saga, J.R.R. Tolkien was of the mind that anything after the Canterbury Tales was (mostly) not worth his time. I’m glad I’m not that extreme, or else I never would have discovered The Lord of the Rings or “Beyond the Black River.” But, in another sense I’m quite like Tolkien, my eyes cast ever backwards at the literature of a lost age. We’ll never have another golden age of sword-and-sorcery, when drugstores carried Conan the Buccaneer on their wire spinners and Thundarr the Barbarian thundered through living rooms on Saturday mornings. But that doesn’t mean I’ve moved on from those glory days. Today my drugstore is Abe Books and Ebay, where I hunt down old copies of Pursuit on Ganymede and Raven 5: A Time of Dying. And I know there are many others like me, based on what I’ve seen in the Facebook groups I belong to.

My tastes in reading are analogous to my tastes in music, which is likewise the music of my youth. My favorite bands are Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, KISS, Rush, and AC/DC. Some of these guys are still writing new material—some of it damned good—but mostly they are associated with their heyday in the 70s and 80s. If you’re a fan, you’re ancient history, pal.

I would not say I’m a hopeless case, irrevocably trapped in the past. I can and do enjoy some new stuff. Battle Beast, a young Finnish metal band for example, caught my attention, and now have muscled their way into my playlist alongside the likes of Blind Guardian and Pantera. I like Joe Abercrombie, including the likes of The Heroes (2011). At this very moment I’m reading and enjoying Brian Keene’s The Lost Level (2015), which just came out in the last decade.

But on some level even these “new” finds are anachronistic, often deliberately so, which continues to prove my point that I like old shit. For example, The Lost Level is a clear homage to the likes of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Pellucidar series. Battle Beast is an unabashed throwback to the 80s. It should come as no surprise that the band draws inspiration for its sound and lyrics from that era. Even in the new stuff I consume, I’m drawn inevitably to older forms of expression.

I do wonder: Do we develop our tastes during a formative time in our lives and become part of us forever? Does some biochemical process shape our malleable brains between the ages of 8-18, and permanently alter our mental wiring? Musician and musicologist Nolan Gasser offers some answers along those lines, arguing that the music you listened to as a youth placed you within a culture that formed part of your identity:

“I actually use the term ‘intraculture’ to describe cultures that take place within a culture,” he explains, likening them to subgenres of music. “A lot of it has to do with where you grew up and what kind of musical influences are in the air, but we participate in so many subcultures of affinity, just based on what we like. Intracultures provide us with access to music just because you’re a part of a group, and that group means something to you.”

“Music becomes that stake in the ground — ‘this is who I am,’” says Gasser. “But at the same time, the music people listened to at an early age becomes their native home comfort music. When they grow up, that music will be part of who they are, tied in with memories and growing up. All of these powers are why music is so important to us.”

There is no doubt that heavy metal had its own culture and ethos, one that I participated in, and on some level still do. I may be indistinguishable from your average everyday middle-aged middle class dude, but I have a metal spirit in me, an anti-authoritarian streak and a pride in having tastes that are harsher than the mainstream, even anathema in some quarters. I’m sure that’s part of the reason why I maintain such an enduring loyalty for these bands.

Interesting is my lack of nostalgia in other areas—I enjoy the latest psychology and self-help books, for example. I delight in the latest and greatest beer from new breweries (Heady Topper is way better than Pabst Blue Ribbon). I’ve come to enjoy podcasts as a new medium for consuming information and entertainment, even though I still prefer the printed page over e-books.

It’s really only certain forms of art, in particular music and fantasy literature, where my preferences clearly lie with works pre-1990.

Another possible explanation: Were the authors and musicians of my youth simply better at their craft? Were these subgenres—heavy metal and sword-and-sorcery—more widely practiced because they were more lucrative, or more creatively vital, and hence attracted more and greater talent, producing better art than we see today? Perhaps. Some authors can and did make a living writing for Weird Tales back in the day, and of course many metal acts made a fortune in the 80s. Artists don’t enjoy the same market realities today. The bar to writing and publishing stories and music is easier than ever, but I don’t believe it’s as easy to make a living at either these days.

Who knows. Be it a matter of identity and cultural imprinting, or idiosyncratic tastes, it’s hard to say why I enjoy the old shit. All I know that is that heavy metal and Tolkien and sword-and-sorcery were my obsessions then, remain so today, and likely always will be.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Sword-and-Planet Love-Letter: Gardner Fox’s Warrior of Llarn

Warrior on a blue zebra with horns! In space...

New post up at the blog of Goodman Games, publisher of Tales from the Magician's Skull: Sword-and-Planet Love-Letter: Gardner Fox’s Warrior of Llarn.

I enjoyed this immensely and without reservation, too much for my own good. So much fun, and the pacing is basically a dead sprint. If you're bored reading Warrior of Llarn there's minimal to no hope for you. Definitely worth seeking out and reading. If you're a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars series it will feel intensely... familiar. It's basically an homage to A Princess of Mars. But still great. Thief of Llarn doesn't rise to the same heights, but it's still good.