Friday, October 28, 2022

Iron Maiden: No compromises

Me and Scott... and 24 oz. Miller Lite

It strikes me that I haven’t reviewed nor mentioned the recent Iron Maiden show I attended last Friday at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ. I went with an old buddy of mine, Scott, a dude I brought to his first Maiden show back in 2008.

I first saw Maiden back in 1991 on the No Prayer for the Dying tour, so I was an old hand when I broke Scott’s Maiden cherry 14 years ago. It was great to see Maiden with him again. We may be getting older but we’re still rocking.

What can I properly say about Iron Maiden that hasn’t been already said? Very little. They’re probably the greatest heavy metal band of all time. They are to metal what the Beatles are to pop rock, or Johnny Cash is to country. Fucking legends, full stop.

But I have to say something. So here's a statement.

What makes Maiden special to me is that they don’t compromise. They have integrity. They do what they want, they don’t change with the times, or blow with the winds of fashion. If you don’t like it, tough shit.

Not everyone likes their current direction. Yes, they are writing long songs, and perhaps deserve some criticism for too much repetition.

But I’ve come to accept that it’s what they want to do. They’ve earned the right to do what they want, after 40 years of entertaining us. And frankly, I still like what they are putting out. Not unreservedly, but some of it.

Maiden opened up with three songs off their new album, Senjutsu. That’s probably the kiss of death for many bands. But not these dudes. The crowd was into it. And the third song, “Writing on the Wall,” was met with a roaring reception. “Writing on the Wall” was written pre-COVID-19, but it has an apocalyptic feel, apocalyptic lyrics, and the timing of its release makes it feel like a commentary on the state of the world circa March 2020. It still feels like we’re on the brink of disaster every day, between climate catastrophe, looming nuclear war with Russia, saber-rattling with China, and the general savage in-fighting between Republicans and Democrats, and everyone else on Twitter and Facebook. We’re living in a shit-show and this song captures the Four Horsemen quite well. I love it. Listen below.

I also liked that Maiden played “Sign of the Cross” and “The Clansman,” despite the fact that both of these songs are from the Blaze Bayley era, a time when Maiden was at its lowest ebb. It doesn’t matter; they’re great tunes, and are just awesome in concert. Kudos to Bruce for swallowing his pride and playing songs from an era where he voluntarily left the band. He knows they kick ass. 

Again, integrity.

My one criticism? No songs off Somewhere in Time or Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, the two albums where I believe the band hit its creative peak. But, I can’t complain too much. Maiden has begun advertising a 2023 “The Future Past Tour,” which if you see the imagery will feature a heavy dose of SiT. So, I’m OK with it. They still cranked out “Revelations,” “Fear of the Dark,” “Aces High,” “The Trooper,” “Flight of Icarus,” and of course “Hallowed be thy Name” and “Run to the Hills,” among other hits. A great mix of classics and new material. “Blood Brothers” has become a classic from the modern/post Bruce reunion era of Maiden, a pean to the spirit of the brotherhood of men, and of boys and their fathers. Bruce sounded great.

So, there’s Maiden. No compromise. Still kicking ass in 2022. I’m so glad they’re still around when they could be enjoying their retirement years on a beach in Maui. 


Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry

The shame he felt was so strong it stopped the words in his throat. Night after night, sitting in front of Wilbarger’s tent, he had struggled with thoughts so bitter that he had not even felt the Montana cold. All his life he had preached honesty to his men and had summarily discharged those who were not capable of it, though they had mostly only lied about duties neglected or orders sloppily executed. He himself was far worse, for he had been dishonest about his own son, who stood not ten feet away.

--Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove

Lonesome Dove will probably wind up as the best book I’ve read this year.

At 860 pages, it is a lot longer than I typically prefer in my fiction. It is also a western, which aren’t typically something I gravitate to.

It was a little hard to break into, a good 100-150 pages before I started to get involved in the story. But by the end I didn’t want it to be over, and plowed through the final 100 pages in a sitting.

This one took a long time for me to read, and taking a week-long business trip followed by a bout of COVID didn’t help my pace. I have now officially fallen off my goal of 52 books this year (one book/week). But, it was worth the investment. Again, I’m no western aficionado, but personally I liked Lonesome Dove better than Cormac McCarthy’s acclaimed Blood Meridian. 

It’s hard to say exactly what spoke to me, but probably mostly the characterization. Woodrow Call and Augustus McCrae are pretty damned real, despite being from an age and place (1870s Texas) that seems very dim and remote. These dudes are Texas Rangers but also quasi outlaws, violent, and no one you want to cross. When Call’s rage is summoned, watch out. Each have killed dozens of men, stomped and kicked the teeth out of many more. But they’re not cardboard cowboy cutouts. They and the rest of McCarthy’s characters are very real, believable, human.

Lonesome Dove is obviously not fantasy/sword-and-sorcery but it puts you in another place and time, another world, the old west in the waning days of the rapidly closing frontier. We meet some really, really bad actors (Blue Duck, a frightening, murderous, outlaw Indian with no sense of morality, no mercy). We experience what an epic cattle drive from Texas to Montana might have been like—life on the open plains exposed to every manner of weather, a lack of water, occasional run-ins with Indians, cattle thieves, and outlaws, getting thrown from a horse or gored by a bull and having no access to medical facilities. The violence is rare but shocking and faithfully depicted. All of this material takes you out of 21st century living and into a past that is both fascinating, and one I’m glad I was not born into. Robert E. Howard may have longed for such a past, but not me. Though I would love to see the pristine landscapes of untouched Montana.

One of the book’s major themes is duty vs. social obligations and family. Gus’ priority is on people, and relationships. He wants to get married, he never stops talking, he enjoys life’s pleasures. Though Call criticizes him for not carrying his weight when it comes to chores, everyone (including Call) loves him. This is how he has organized and prioritized his life. It mostly works out—but some of the women in the story (who are all wonderfully drawn by McMurtry) see through his act. You can’t just be a romantic player; you’ve got to commit.

In contrast Call’s highest priority is to duty, Getting Things Done. Living by a code. You promise to do something, you do it. This makes him admirable, a born leader, but like Gus he’s also flawed. I found myself identifying with Call, more than I suspected. I’m nothing at all like him—dude is an old school Texas Ranger you don’t want to cross, self-sufficient alpha to the core. But, he cannot form personal connections; he can’t show love to his son, form meaningful relationships with women, or even admit the boy Newt is his own blood. Toward the end of the novel in a shocking scene he gets his shit called out, and has no rejoinder. In a flash he wonders if he’s been living his life wrong, all along. The gulfs between men and women are wide. Most everyone in this book is quite lonely, even in the company of others.

I’m not this emotionally stunted. But, I’m introverted, I don’t form true, deep friendships/relationships easily or lightly, and this has occasionally bitten me in the ass. I found myself understanding Call on a deep level, because I have some of him in me.

The book is also about virtue, what makes men virtuous and what makes them fall short. The handsome cowboy Jake Spoon—dreamy brown eyes, natural charisma, always gets the girl—is not an irredeemable bastard, but he’s not a man worthy of our respect, because he doesn’t value helping other people, nor duty or obligation, but ultimately his top priority is his own self-interest. Gambling. Drinking. Woman chasing. He’s also a relative coward. This all comes back to bite him, hard. 

We need something to follow, some North star, that’s not just us. You better find it, or life will lead you to bad places.

Lonesome Dove does not romanticize the old west. It’s funny in places, touching, even uplifting, but also grim. Death comes easy, and unfairly, to several characters. Despite its hardness, it’s hard to leave behind. You want to keep inhabiting this world.

But now it’s time to say goodbye to the novel. Perhaps I’ll watch the television miniseries.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

The Day of Might!

I realized this day has come and largely gone, and I've yet to acknowledge it. I'm rectifying that now before the Skull reduces me to ash.

Read sword-and-sorcery, mortal dogs!

I didn't spend the day reading sword-and-sorcery but did watch Evil Dead II, which features the Necronomicon as well as a protagonist who morphs into an S&S hero about 2/3 of the way into the film (the incomparable Bruce Campbell). Close enough.

Happy Day of Might, sword-brothers.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

A very metal week: Judas Priest/Queensryche/Iron Maiden

Not Rob Halford sickness, nor a personal bout with COVID, could stop me from seeing the Metal Gods. I finally caught up with Judas Priest this past Sunday at the MGM Music Hall at Fenway (Boston). Opening act, Queensryche (or what passes for Queensryche these days, sans Geoff Tate, Chris DeGarmo, and Scott Rockenfield).

It was an excellent show. Both bands were in good form, and played great sets. Queensryche opened up and played almost entirely classics from The Warning/self titled EP/Operation Mindcrime/Empire, save for a couple of new songs. Todd La Torre even dared "Take Hold of the Flame" and pulled it off credibly. He's not Geoff Tate in his prime, but no one is/was, certainly not Tate himself these days.

Judas Priest played some great material, including the likes of "Steeler," "Beyond the Realms of Death," "Hell Bent for Leather" and "Between the Hammer and the Anvil," though for me the highlight might have been "Halls of Valhalla," a classic off of 2014's Redeemer of Souls. I love this song, and the background imagery was suitably viking. Halford can still crush the scream in this one.

The MGM Music Hall is a brand-new venue, a small three tiered arena (seating capacity about 5,000) and was a lovely place to take in a show. Clean, comfortable, many bars serving overpriced beer.

In addition to enjoying the show we took my friend's 13-year-old son for what was his first-ever concert. Kid loves metal and is a pretty solid guitar player. I'm told you can't wipe the grin off his face, and he's already learned the licks to "Living After Midnight."

Tomorrow night I head down to New Jersey to visit an old friend and take in Iron Maiden. That's how you cap a metal week, man. Arguably the two greatest metal acts in history, same week. None of us are getting any younger but we can still rock hard.

My upload of "Beyond the Realms of Death."

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Why bother blogging? And other personal updates


Why do I continue to keep this blog?

I’ve been doing this a long time, since Sept. 2007, save for a long break circa 2013-2019 to write Flame and Crimson and tend to other matters in my life.

What is its purpose? What is my purpose, continuing to post after all these years?

Occasionally I ask myself, why bother? But such feelings always pass, and I continue my scribblings into the electronic ether. 

I don’t know why I’ve continued. But let’s see what I can come up with.

I love old authors and old bits of popular culture that are slipping away, and I want to preserve them. Jack Vance, Poul Anderson, Fritz Leiber, etc. are grandmasters of fantasy and SF, towering talents better than most authors you will read yesterday, today, or tomorrow, but I’d be surprised if their combined annual sales are 1% of Brandon Sanderson. And then you’ve got dudes like Karl Edward Wagner, Charles Saunders, Gardner Fox, C.L. Moore and others who, outside of some diehard horror and S&S circles, are rapidly fading into yesteryear. I like talking about their stuff and keeping it alive, because it’s damned good, and they need champions.

I am pushing back against Twitter and the dying of the light of (semi) intelligent conversation. Not fighting Twitter in a literal sense (I have no more or less disdain for that platform than any other), but the notion that our thoughts can be compressed into 280 characters, and that history is meaningless. I’m not exactly a purveyor of profundity here, but I try to write the stuff I like to read, that has some amount of context and substance. You can see every post I ever wrote here on this site if you choose to do so, no account necessary. Does anyone read old social media posts? They are vaporware, spoon fed by algorithms over which you have no control. I don’t think they can even be searched in any meaningful way. I like that this page is static AF, boring even. Just read it and leave. But here it remains.

I am fighting the trend of “hot takes.” By which I mean, unqualified gushing praise, or unwarranted criticism, of new and hot properties, for clicks, followers, and ad revenue. My takes are about as hot as reruns of the Golden Girls. I’m OK with not having 500,000 followers as a result.

I’m stubborn. I am aware that blogs are so like, 2008 man. This platform has been supplanted not by Facebook, but by MySpace … and then Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok. It’s a dinosaur way to do “this thing,” whatever that may be. I sometimes wonder if Google will just up and delete the Blogger platform. But I despise the need to obsessively create accounts on the latest and greatest platform, again and again. Why? Where does it end? Maintaining 26 social media accounts, and pouring your entire existence into a digital vortex of bullshit? I think most people would be best served picking one or two platforms and settling in. But I’m aware that patience and attention span are in short supply.

So in summary, I’m an old fart who likes old things, including evidently a fondness for outdated blogging platforms. I guess that means I’m here to stay, at least until Google says otherwise.


A few other matters less contemplative.

I am reading Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. I’m not much of a western reader, at all. Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, a Zane Gray novel or two. Some Breckenridge Elkins… that’s about it. But this one had caught my eye (reviews exclaiming, “if you only ever read one western, make it this one,” Pulitzer Prize winner, etc.) and I needed a sword-and-sorcery break, so I pulled this one off the shelf. It was a slow slog at first, 200 pages of OK slow build, but I’m really enjoying it at the moment. Incredible character studies, outstanding portrayal of frontier life in the waning days of the frontier, some shocking violence. McMurtry skillfully puts you into what a long distance cattle drive in the 1870s/1880s must have been like. Some absolutely beautiful passages. I’m glad I’ve made the effort as the damned book is a monster (858 pages).

Simultaneous with this western foray I’m also in full-blown Halloween mode. I wrote a piece on Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows” for Tales from the Magician’s Skull. Last night I re-watched The Lair of the White Worm (1988). Campy as hell, fun. Recommended. Prior to that watched “The Vampire Lovers” (1970, Hammer). Also campy and fun, and recommended. Both films star absolutely gorgeous female leads, too.

If you sign up for the mailing list (free) for New Edge Sword and Sorcery magazine you will be entered for a drawing to win a free hard copy of Flame and Crimson. I will mail the book myself, how about that? And make my mark on it, should you want that.

I am committed to going to Howard Days next year. You read it here. More to come on that later. 

I’m on Day 4 of COVID and feeling much better this AM. In another day or two at most I should be back to regular form. Note to self: Get the booster. Dealing with this is a pain in the ass. I’ve had worse cases of the flu, but COVID places your life on hold as you isolate. Not cool to miss your daughter’s senior day cross country meet.

Friday, October 14, 2022


I've got it, it sucks, that is all.

2 1/2 years of avoiding the 'vid and finally it got me on a business trip. Plane rides and a big conference, coupled with a few nights out at restaurants/bars, so probably no surprise. The opportunities for exposure numbered in the thousands.

I'm feeling tired, achy, spiked a small fever which seems to have broken. Otherwise OK, but posting here has suffered and likely will continue to suffer in the next few days. We'll see.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Blood Red Skies, Judas Priest

Can it really be I haven't put JP in the Metal Friday rotation since December of last year? Fixing that, stat.

Priest is on my mind a bit more these days because I'll be seeing the Metal Gods in just over a week's time. On Sunday Oct. 16 I'm heading into Boston with a friend of mine to see them at the MGM Music Hall at Fenway Park.

And get this, his 13-year-old son is coming too.

The kid LOVES Judas Priest, and was inspired to pick up a flying V guitar in large part due to their music. He's a damned good player.

This is his first ever concert. He just found out. How's that for a birthday present?

Today I'm going with Blood Red Skies. I can't believe I haven't featured this song yet.

Very, very bold claim coming--the studio version of Blood Red Skies MIGHT be Rob Halford's best vocal performance. Unfounded? Well, listen first, then decide. 1:15 on... yikes. 6:28--he surely shattered glass in the studio.

I don't think anyone else on the planet could sing this, like this. Halford's vocals are ethereal, transcendent, otherworldly on this one, which features lyrics straight out of the Terminator. 


Thursday, October 6, 2022

Secret Fire

What is the “fire” borne by characters and otherwise present in the works of Cormac McCarthy and J.R.R. Tolkien?

“I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the Flame of Anor.” – Gandalf, Fellowship of the Ring

"Therefore Ilúvatar gave to their vision Being, and set it amid the Void, and the Secret Fire was sent to burn at the heart of the World; and it was called Eä." ― The Silmarillion

I want to be with you.  
You cant.
You cant. You have to carry the fire.
I dont know how to. Yes you do.
Is it real? The fire?
Yes it is. 
Where is it? I dont know where it is.
Yes you do. It’s inside you. It was always there.
I can see it.

--Father and boy, The Road

He just rode on past and he had this blanket wrapped around him and he had his head down and when he rode past I seen he was carryin fire in a horn the way people used to do and I could see the horn from the light inside of it.

--Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, No Country for Old Men

There’s been a fair bit written about the meaning of carrying the fire in McCarthy's The Road, and the origin of Gandalf's "secret fire," but comparably less on what the fire actually is. As I see it:

The creative impulse; the drive to make, rather than destroy. 

The life force. Life comes from somewhere, not from nothing.

That which we must pass on, to the next generation, lest we slip back into darkness. Kindness, opposing selfishness.

Hope, in dark places.

That which makes us good.

The divine spark, if you believe in that.

That it can be “carried” without outward sign tells us it is metaphorical (in Tolkien, it is sometimes more, but Gandalf still describes it as “secret,” rarely unveiled). It is something out of myth, not meant in a literal sense, but conveying a larger Truth.

Carrying means that it requires some effort to sustain. It also seems to signify it can be passed on, to another willing recipient.

I try to do good things with my life. I have been better at this at various times, worse at others. I try to teach my daughters, at least by example. Here is how you behave, watch me. I am trying to give back to others, more than I have as a younger man.

The fire flickers, I lose sight of it. I breathe into the embers, keep it kindled.

What fire sustains you?


I make no claim that the fire described by Tolkien and McCarthy share a similar source—though both are Catholic—only that there are similarities of expression and interpretation.

A couple good interpretations here: 

The Art of Manliness: “Carry the Fire” 

Sunday, October 2, 2022

New Edge #0 is out

If you're looking for some new sword-and-sorcery fiction and non-fiction in a compelling package, New Edge #0 is now out. The editor of this new magazine is Oliver Brackenbury, who also hosts the podcast "So I'm Writing a Novel." I've got an essay in it, "The Outsider in Sword-and-Sorcery."

I have not read or perused the issue yet and don't know what to expect. I see the likes of Dariel Quiogue and David C. Smith have fiction in it. There are articles by Howard Andrew Jones, Cora Buhlert, Nicole Emmelhainz, and others, authors with whom I have some level of familiarity. Looking forward to checking it out! Cover art is by Gilead Artist, who was kind enough to send me a sketch inspired by his reading of Flame and Crimson.

Brackenbury is offering epub/PDF versions for free, and selling print copies at cost, and if interest is high enough plans to publish subsequent issues.

Stories include:

The Curse of the Horsetail Banner by Dariel R.A. Quiogue

The Ember Inside by Remco van Straten & Angeline B. Adams

Old Moon Over Irukad by David C. Smith

The Beast of the Shadow Gum Trees by T,K. Rex

Vapors of Zinai by J.M. Clarke

The Grief-Note of Vultures by Bryn Hammond

Articles include:

The Origin of the New Edge by Howard Andrew Jones

C.L. Moore and Jirel of Joiry: The First Lady of Sword & Sorcery by Cora Buhlert

Sword & Soul - An Interview with Milton Davis

The Outsider in Sword & Sorcery by Brian Murphy

Gender Performativity in Howard's "Sword Woman" by Nicole Emmelhainz

The Obanaax and Other Tales of Heroes and Horrors, a review by Robin Marx

What is New Edge Sword & Sorcery? by Oliver Brackenbury

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Of Jack London, Earle Labor, and William Dean Howells

I was listening to a recent Art of Manliness podcast in which host Brett McKay replayed “Jack London’s Literary Code,” an episode originally broadcast in January 2020. His guest, Dr. Earle Labor, died on Sept. 15 at the age of 94, leading to the rebroadcast. Labor was one of the world’s foremost London scholars, which makes him a man worthy of respect.

What caught my ear was a comment early in the program about why it took so long for London to be recognized as a major American author worthy of study. Labor cast the blame on William Dean Howells, a shady character I first heard about from Deuce Richardson over at DMR books, years ago. See a more recent piece, "The Dead Hand of William Dean Howells."

From the interview (about the 8 minute mark of the podcast):

Brett McKay: For your PhD you did the first major study on Jack London as a true literary artist, and you were really breaking new ground because for a long time the literary establishment didn’t take London’s work seriously, and very few scholars had studied his craftsmanship. Why was that and what is the status of London today in literature, particularly in terms of scholarship?

Earle Labor: It’s on the rise for sure, and has been for the past generation or so… but for a long time he was dismissed as little more than a hack writer for adventure stories and what have you. Fortunately there have been a number of breakthroughs just in the last two or three decades… I have a lecture I give sometimes on the politics of literary reputation, and I explain to my students, look, the books you read, the ones you read in high school and many that you read in college, were not handed to Moses on that tablet, they were selected by a certain group, and those are the so-called elite. They decided what you were going to read. They decide for example that you are going to read Shakespeare and maybe Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, which is fine, but they should be also assigned Jack London’s The Sea Wolf or something in addition to Call of the Wild. 

London was not part of the group that makes those decisions. For one thing London was a western writer. They were not part of the eastern establishment that pretty well dictated the literary selections at the time in the 19th/even 20th century. Eric Miles Williamson uses the term the “Ivy Mafia”… that may not be quite fair but I think it’s kind of fun. Anyhow, the ideas that it’s those easterners, back in the 19th century, even the early 20th century centered around Boston/New York. William Dean Howells was the leader of that group for a generation. Interesting that he encouraged writers like Hamlin Garland, Stephen Crane, even Emily Dickinson, and here’s London at the time, the most popular of all of them, and virtually ignored by William Dean Howells. Now that’s got to have been deliberate I think. All of that ties in to what I call the politics of literary reputation, which has impeded the reputation of Jack for a number of years, but finally we’re getting that recognition. 

Howells dismissal of London strikes me as the same attitude met by Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft in their writing days, and in the decades after their death: “Pulp hacks” ignored, or certainly not worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Hemingway or Fitzgerald, or more recently the likes of Updike or Irving. Such elitist attitudes persisted well into the late 20th century, and possibly still do in some circles.

I think (or I’d like to think) that the portrayal of fantasy/speculative fiction as something categorically lesser than realistic novels is now a thing of the past. I’ll admit I don’t keep up with academia or current literary theory. But it does seem like fantasy has moved from its former place in mom’s basement to the adult’s table.

Or, it might be that there is no more literary establishment/intelligentsia, what with the reshuffling of the western canon and the death of Harold Bloom and others of his ilk.

Regardless, adieu Dr. Labor, and thanks for your lifelong work illuminating the contributions of London, a forefather of sword-and-sorcery and one of the great authors of our time.

Apropos, a link to an old piece I wrote for The Cimmerian on Jack London's The Call of the Wild.