Saturday, December 23, 2023

The Silver Key: 2023 in review

It’s the tail end of 2023. Another trip round the sun, another year of blogging on The Silver Key.

Many things of import happened this year.

I turned 50, and went places. To Las Vegas and Chicago for business conferences. Cross Plains TX for Robert E. Howard Days, and back to TX (Dripping Springs) for a fun company retreat. And to the Outer Banks, North Carolina, for a multi-family vacation and heavy metal party.

I delivered a keynote speech in May at a conference of 1500+ attendees to honor a former coworker and friend who passed away in 2022 at the age of 48 from breast cancer. By far my most meaningful accomplishment in 2023.

I spent a lot more time with my old man.

My wife and I found ourselves empty nesters. I have two daughters and my youngest went off to college in the fall. My eldest started her senior year in college, leaving us without children at home for the first time since… early 2002. It got oddly quiet all of the sudden, and we adjusted.

Life is changing. But I keep plugging away here on the blog.

I was making good headway until June, when my posting took a sharp downturn. This was due to my non-fiction heavy metal memoir taking sharp inroads into my free writing time. I went from 101 posts in 2022 to just 64 this year.

I hope to have the new book completed in 2024. I haven’t thought about publishing options as I’m focusing all my energy on making it the best book it can be. The first draft is 80-90% done and then comes revisions. But I’m liking how it’s shaping up.

Despite my posting falling off in the latter half of the year I passed 1,000,000 views since the blog’s inception. And wrote a few posts that resonated. So without further ado:

Most popular posts of 2023

1. 1979 Ken Kelly heroic fantasy calendar, month-by-month (231 views). We lost Kelly in 2022, and I covered his passing last year. But in June I gained a terrific Kelly keepsake, a mint condition 1979 calendar purchased at Robert E. Howard Days. It’s now hanging on my wall. The artwork is stunning.

2. The Big Excalibur Post (267 views). I think this was my best essay of 2023, written for the blog of DMR Books. I love Excalibur, I think it is the second or third best fantasy film of all time after The Lord of the Rings and/or CtB 1982. It’s gorgeous, but also literary--every allusion to the Matter of Britain is encompassed in John Boorman’s sprawling technicolor vision. No other film since has covered the Arthur myth with such savage, passionate beauty and intensity.

3. RIP David Drake (280 views). With every year comes the tolling of the bell for more sword-and-sorcery legends. Last year we lost Kelly, this year David Drake, best known for his Hammers Slammers series and military SF but also an S&S author of note. His “The Barrow Troll” made my top 25 favorite S&S short stories of all time.

4. My Howard Days 2023 Haul (287 views). People like book porn, and this post on my Howard Days haul was Triple-X. Something snapped inside of me at Cross Plains and I started buying up books with the abandon of a crack addict, taking home a massive glut that threatened to burst the bonds of my suitcase.

5. Sometime Lofty Towers, David C. Smith (293 views). An unexpectedly excellent sword-and-sorcery novel from Smith. Not that I don’t like his prior work (Oron, Red Sonja, etc.) but Smith delivered here his best work IMO, covering some thoughtful thematic ground in a fast-paced, bloody S&S novel.

6. Neither Beg Nor Yield and Other S&S Developments (306 views).  One of a handful of S&S kickstarters I backed this year. This gave me the chance to link to a two-part Keith Taylor interview I did for DMR Books (Taylor will appear in Neither Beg Nor Yield). I’m expecting this book soon and look forward to reading it.

7. Remembering The Cimmerian (316 views).  This now defunct print publication edited by Leo Grin was my introduction to Howard scholarship, and as a journal it has yet to be surpassed. I had an essay published in it and wrote for its website until it shuttered its doors in June 2010, an experience that deepened my understanding of all things Howard and heroic fantasy. I looked back on that here.

8. There and Back Again from Massachusetts to Cross Plains: A recap of 2023 Robert E. Howard Days (448 views). The full monty recap of my trip to Howard Days. Unforgettable, I can’t recommend this enough to any Howard heads. If you have yet to make the trip to the mecca put it on your bucket list. Somehow I found myself speaking on a pair of panels and working up the courage to recite a poem on Howards front porch, in between drinking Shiner Bock.

9. Are We in a New Sword-and-Sorcery Renaissance? Not yet. At least not commercially (795 views). I’ve enjoyed watching the recent resurgence in interest in sword-and-sorcery fiction (and like to think I played a small part in that, with Flame and Crimson). But I would not call what we’re seeing a third renaissance. There might not ever be one given publishing realities. The days of paperbacks on wire spinners in every drugstore are long gone, our attention fragmented, reading is in decline, and subgenres ever more narrowly and inwardly focused. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t building toward … something. Howard Andrew Jones’ Lord of a Shattered Land—a series of episodic stories that can be read singly but build toward a larger narrative arc—is a promising new title that takes the venerable subgenre in new directions while still very recognizably S&S.

10. Assessing the sword-and-sorcery glut (836 views). A polarizing post and these always attract the eyeballs. I piggybacked off an observation from Jason Ray Carney that we’ve gone from an S&S desert to a (relative) glut of new titles, making it hard to keep up as a reader. This topic sparked broad conversation in the S&S community. Some were critical (there can never be enough S&S! non-issue!), but unfortunately the underlying issue remains: Not enough readers to make this a sustainable genre for working authors. See no. 9. Of course given a choice I’d much rather have a glut than no new fiction, and this post was never meant to discourage new authors, just to point out that it was once possible to buy and read every new S&S release, and it’s now a lot more difficult.

My reading

This year I’ve read 44 books. I’m currently in a re-read of Bernard Cornwell’s highly recommended Warlord Trilogy, finishing up book two (Enemy of God). My favorite reads included The Silence of the Lambs, The Goshawk, The Art of Memoir, Night Shift, and Watership Down.

A personal note

My life is better than ever, a development tied to a commitment to my mental and physical health. I firmly believe that the more self-responsibility you accept, and the less time you spend doom scrolling on social media, the better your life will be. Take the time to discover your values. Make room for exercise. Eat less calories. Practice mindfulness. 

Yeah, I’m not a fan of generative AI as it is applied to art. I’m concerned with political divisions here in the U.S., foreign wars abroad, climate change, the mental health of our youth, etc. These are real problems, possibly existential. But to dwell too long on issues you cannot personally change is not a good use of your time. Start with you, then slowly work outwards. Read more. Write, or create in the way that suits you. Lift more weights. Listen to more heavy metal, and Rush. Rinse and repeat. My advice to you, free of charge.

Merry Christmas all, and thanks for reading.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Feeling like it's time to watch these again

Have you ever been called home by the clear ringing of silver trumpets?

I have. To this book. And to the movies.

But it's been a while.

Today was my last day in the office until I return on January 2, 2024. A blessed 11 days of downtime. I think it's time for a rewatch of one of my favorite films (yes, I consider this one film) of all time

Great, not unreservedly so, but great.

I saw these one by one as they premiered in theaters and still love them. And am pleased to own the extended versions on DVD. Were I to watch them all back-to-back-to-back (which I never have done), Google tells me it's 11 hours and 36 minutes. An investment. 

But it's time.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023


The second in a series about my personal values. Part 1 here.

The best definition of integrity is, doing the right thing even when no one is watching. A line often attributed to C.S. Lewis, though it seems that may be apocryphal. 

Integrity is standing for something good and right, and doing that thing even when it’s hard. The trait of trustworthiness. It comes from the soul of an ordered individual, and projects out into his or her actions.

Integrity does not mean you stand fixed and immovable in your beliefs forever. We should be learning over our lives. 

But on certain principles you don’t bend, even if it costs you physical or social capital. Possibly, everything.

The same holds true with integrity. You can’t let that go.

Integrity is related to truth though it is action oriented. We should do the right thing. Truth acknowledges that the right thing exists; integrity is how we operate with that first principle.

Acting with integrity doesn’t mean you must behave in private exactly as you do in public. No one walks around in their underwear in public when doing so in the privacy of your home is (fairly) acceptable. You can behave one way in private, and another way in public. 

But not on the things that matter.

Acting with integrity you don’t cheat others … even if you’re 100% certain you can get away with it. 

People who screw over others because they can get away with it destroy the fabric of a healthy society. Countries fail because enough people in them lack integrity. Leaders accept bribes and flaunt or bypass the rule of law with selfish, unilateral decisions. The individual at the street level sells rotten product or accepts money for a promised service he doesn’t deliver. 

Under these conditions life devolves into a squabble over who has more power (physical, or social). Debates are resolved not with reason but naked force. Might equals right. And the right thing becomes not only meaningless, but irrelevant. A nightmare, hell on earth. 

Integrity is anathema to hypocrites. Nothing is more craven than those who outwardly demand moral purity from others …  and then cheat on their spouses, accept bribes, lie to the board of directors, or exploit the weak to line their own pockets. Do these things, and you have no integrity. 

In healthy societies people who act without integrity are penalized with jail sentences and public shame. Recently the CEO of BP suffered this treatment, deservedly so. Because we have a choice to act with integrity.

Free will exists. And because that is the case we can choose to behave with integrity.*

Integrity is more important than politics. You cannot have an ordered political system without ethical people operating within it. I vote across both party lines for this reason, because I’m a believer in the person, not the affiliation. 

Integrity is more important than laws. The law cannot be everywhere, even in a surveillance state. Not to mention that the law must be applied fairly and enforced, which requires men and women of integrity. 

Imagine if everyone operated with integrity? What would that look like, at the micro and macro levels?

But we’re fallen creatures. Imperfect, and I don’t think we’re perfectible. 

We don’t always operate with integrity. We know what’s right, we know how we should act in accordance with integrity, but pressures make us waver. We succumb to weakness, and act outside the lines. 

That doesn’t mean we can’t forgive. 

FYI, I’ve failed. I’ve fallen on my face. I’ve done things that I’m embarrassed by.

But I pick myself up. And keep walking on the path of integrity.

It is encouraging to believe that the Holy Grail is within our grasp.

*Even very smart people who claim free will does not exist (i.e., Sam Harris, whose work I enjoy) almost always do not behave in accordance with this outwardly stated belief. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

RIP David Drake

David Drake has passed away.

I’m no Drake scholar and unqualified to evaluate his life and career or the majority of his creative output, including the popular Hammer’s Slammers. I’ll leave all that up to someone else.

That aside I greatly enjoyed his sword-and-sorcery work wherever I encountered it. I’ve praised his short story “The Barrow Troll” on several occasions and link to the article I wrote for Tales from the Magician’s Skull. You can find this story in literally a dozen or more collections at this point, and for a reason: It’s damned good, a wonderful little subversion of S&S and Drake’s take on the dragon sickness, a topic that also interested Tolkien and the unnamed author of Beowulf.

I’m also a fan of The Dragon Lord, which, now that I’m re-reading Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord Trilogy, did for King Arthur what Drake already did, two decades prior: Offer up a grim and gritty historical take on the myth.

In S&S circles his greatest legacy is probably his Vettius stories, published in various venues but collected in Vettius and His Friends. Swords Against Darkness I contains his excellent “Dragon’s Teeth” which I recommend as a good starting place/sampling of that character. DMR Books recently reprinted “Killer” (written in conjunction with Karl Edward Wagner) in Renegade Swords II, one of Vettius’ “friends” stories featuring the monster hunter Lycon. Also highly recommended; many have described it as “Predator” set in ancient Rome.

I recently picked up a copy of From the Heart of Darkness at Howard Days and will elevate that up the TBR. Drake wrote a lot of horror and this one looks like a great representative sample.

Drake was also recently interviewed in the Karl Edward Wagner documentary The Last Wolf. He knew Wagner as closely as few living people did.

I would put him up there with Wagner, Charles Saunders, Keith Taylor and maybe 1-2 others as the best new authors working in the 70s S&S revival.

RIP Mr. Drake. Thanks for the wonderful stories, and for your service and sacrifice to the country.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

One million views, and counting

I passed a quiet milestone a couple weeks ago, of which I was unaware until a recent look at Google analytics data confirmed it.

One million views. 

As of this moment in history the creaky old blog has 1,008,307 views, to be exact.

Not sure what that really means, other than its a big round number. Before you celebrate, this includes bot traffic, one-time visitors that find the blog via image search, etc. Junk traffic.

But also good traffic, returning visitors who have taken some value in what I have to say.

1,000,000 views isn't anything worth celebrating for a website that's going on 16 years. I've never made any attempts to optimize it, monetize, etc. I've gone long stretches without posting. 

But I guess if there is anything to celebrate it's the endurance of the thing.

Of late I haven't been posting nearly as much as I'd like. A long-form non-fiction work in progress has eaten up most of my creative free time. But I have no plans to shutter this bit of cyberspace down, either, unless Google unplugs blogger.

If you've enjoyed the blog over the years thanks for reading. 

Thursday, December 7, 2023

The hellscape of KISS avatars and AI art

KISS (holograms) love you!
KISS just wrapped up a 50-year career in typical KISS fashion.

Selling product.

Not content to leave the stage with a remaining shred of dignity intact, KISS left their fans with a message, and a sales pitch: “The new KISS era starts now!” And unveiled the next era of KISS.

Digitally created avatars.

The new beginning? Artificiality.

KISS presumably means to render themselves, and their income streams, immortal. “The band will never stop because the fans own the band,” explained frontman Paul Stanley.

Paying fans, with their money going to KISS in perpetuity. 

Fuck I hate the world right now.


Artificial entertainment is not unique to KISS. We’re being increasingly inundated with images spun out of DALL-E, text spit from ChatGPT. Fake videos with AI trained voiceovers are making it increasing harder to tell what is real.

Now we’ve got AI KISS. Holograms, programmed to move based on training data, not spontaneity.

A nightmare.

I ask, with earnestness: What is the point?

Before the advent of AI, had you asked me why I liked KISS I would probably have answered “the music."

But now I realize, it was also the band members.

People made the music. Putting aside debate about their actual talent, Gene, Paul, Peter, and Ace blended their unique backgrounds and experiences to write songs. They had several false starts and tentative steps toward their final brand image. It was a messy path of false starts, playing shows in high school gyms in front of a dozen disinterested fans, before they finally hit it big.

The end product was, almost miraculously, pretty awesome, at least from an entertainment perspective. 

Paul Stanley is a human being possessed of loves and interests, passions, faults, foibles, and flaws. As were the other members of KISS. Together they wrote great songs and terrible songs. Classic albums and awful clunkers. They did some amazing tours, limped through others, and put out some really shitty merchandise.

I love it all.

I love it because KISS is unique, and every member that served in the band, unique (especially Vinnie Vincent). It’s what makes them entertaining. This humanness is an incalculable part of what makes KISS endearing to its fans. 

KISS is easy to pick on, and mock. “They were already artificial!” OK, fair enough. But they were and are real people who against long odds, built a career most would envy.

The next era is a mockery, and its only just begun.

Will AI generated Paul Stanley paint pictures, bang groupies, have children, fight with digital Ace Frehley on Eddie Trunk? Will the band members write ChatGPT generated memoirs about their “tours”? Inspire new AI artists?

Are we supposed to go to concerts and cheer on holograms?

There is no point to AI generated art. It is soulless in every sense of the term. Because there is no soul behind it, not even a ghost in the machine. Just scraped and aggregated data, vectored and served up.

One small bit of good news is that it appears AI generated art is not copyrightable. And it doesn’t deserve to be, because there is nothing worth preserving in it. It is the pinnacle of corporate, Silicon Valley soul-lessness, a golem of circuitry built from the flesh and blood output of real artists.

If we had any sense as a species, AI would be put to use solving actual big problems like climate change and nuclear fusion. Detecting cancers unseen to the naked eye. Or automating soulless, mind-crushing tasks.

To be fair AI is being used in some of these applications. I hope these succeed. But most of the product development is being applied in the creative industries, and white collar businesses. 

Why? As with any open question about business, the answer is the same here as with any other: follow the money.

Companies are now rapidly training niche AIs and then selling them as subscription products. Businesses are already outsourcing human labor to machines, reducing overhead expense and increasing their profitability to shareholders.

This is commerce, not art.

Worse, kids are using it to write papers, teachers to grade these fake papers, “creators” to fuel their content pipeline. What are we learning? What is more impressive, a guitar virtuoso who has spent 25 years mastering his craft, a generational talent like Frank Frazetta painting with fire, or some kid putting prompts into DALL-E?

People are the losers in the AI race. As are dignity, hard work, effort, and talent.

So is the future. We’re sacrificing that, too. And we’re making a mockery of the past.

A massive part of the appeal of Conan and Solomon Kane and Kull is its creator, Robert E. Howard. Howard was rooted in Cross Plains, possessed of a voracious reading habit, writing talent, and an imagination as big as Texas. He was complex, contradictory, full of great passions, “giant melancholies and gigantic mirths.” All of it formed the wellspring of his art.

AI has none of this. There is no background to excavate, no influences to explore, no literary legacy to debate, no arguments over places in the pantheon. 

AGIs have no history. They never worked on oil fields, felt the sting of lost loves, experienced the alienation of an artistic soul in a town whose residents despised its craft.

AI generated writing is the death knell of literary criticism. How can one say anything about the output of a program, scraping and training itself on massive data sets of already existing content? A hellish, endless loop of sophisticated repetition and large-scale copying, including everything Robert E. Howard ever wrote?

To recap: AI generated art, including images and text, but also AI avatars, AI music, all of it, is void of meaning. It is shallow, empty, and purposeless.


I will not be part of creating it, or consuming it. 

Neither should you.

Monday, October 9, 2023

October reading update

I set an annual reading goal of 52 books. Which I rarely meet, but it gives me a north star to steer toward. To have any shot of reaching that goal I need to have a book going at all times. 

Sometimes I get stuck in ruts, selecting books based on what I think I should read, rather than what grips me and keeps the pages turning. Earlier this year I found myself burned out on sword-and-sorcery fiction. Not that what I was reading was bad, it was just too much of the same, and I found myself reading it out of some sort of obligation. I was slogging along, and my reading pace was slowing down.

So in June I decided to change things up. I put down the S&S (with one exception; see below) and dove headlong into stuff I really wanted to read. Here’s what I’ve read since June:

1. On the Road, Jack Kerouac 
2. The Eyes of the Dragon, Stephen King
3. The Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris
4. Gov’t Cheese, Steven Pressfield
5. Watership Down, Richard Adams
6. Fargo Rock City, Chuck Klosterman
7. Adventures of a Metalhead Librarian, Anna-Marie O’Brien
8. Heavy Duty: Days and Nights In Judas Priest, KK Downing
9. Night Shift, Stephen King 
10. Face the Music: A Life Exposed, Paul Stanley 
11. Lord of a Shattered Land, Howard Andrew Jones
12. Nothin’ But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the 80s Hard Rock Explosion, Tom Beaujour and Richard Bienstock
13. For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
14. I Am Ozzy, Ozzy Osbourne 
15. Red Dragon, Thomas Harris

Right now I’m working on two books, Max Brooks’ World War Z, and Ethan Gilsdorf’s Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks, making good progress on both. That will put me at 35 books YTD.

You can see a couple clear interests emerging here.

One is horror. It’s October and I’ve got the Halloween itch. Stephen King and Thomas Harris at their best are tough to beat for delivering chills. I burned through Night Shift in a couple days, as well as Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs. Harris at his best might be a better writer than King, though the latter has the superior imagination (Harris also only seems able to write about serial killers. Except for Black Sunday, which I mean to pick up one day).

I’m also engaged in writing a heavy metal memoir and so have been mainlining memoir and history of that genre. Gov’t Cheese is (non metal) memoir and Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks is also a memoir of sorts, a story of a dude coming to grips with his gaming past and the broader need for escapism. These books have not only gotten me in the mood to write but also provided a template for how I might tackle my own book.

Ozzy was an absolute lunatic in the 70s and 80s but you probably already knew that.

For Whom the Bell Tolls was a palate cleanser after a steady diet of 80s debauchery, but proved to be a terrific book.  

A couple of these are re-reads. I read Red Dragon a long time ago, long enough so that much of it feels new to me again. Though I remembered all the broad strokes and how the killer is ultimately caught. Which doesn’t matter—you read a book like this for the journey, not the destination. Harris does a masterful job sketching Dolarhyde’s entire backstory in a gripping 22 page sequence.

I recommend everything from the list above.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Still learning from my Dad

Me and the old man! At The Barking Dog, Amesbury MA.
I’m 50 years old and still learning.

Still learning from my Dad.

Dad is 79 and dealing with a host of chronic conditions—name it, he’s probably got it. His mobility is greatly diminished. He needs a cane, sometimes his walker. Most of his friends are gone, so he gets lonely. He has a grumpy, nippy “lovebird” as a companion.

I help him out. I pay his bills, help him with medical appointments, because he doesn’t text or email. Run a vacuum around his condo.

Last night we had a wonderful little impromptu dinner out.

Here’s the sad admission: It took some effort on my behalf.

I had planned to swing by Dad’s condo, check in on him, and pick up his mail. But he mentioned he wasn’t in the mood to cook and was planning to go out to dinner, alone.

I hesitated. I kind of just wanted to go back home. I am trying to eat better—do I really want restaurant food on a Tuesday? All the excuses.

After a few seconds of indecision I mentioned I was free, and that I’d go with him.

To say it was worth it is an understatement.

Dad misses his deceased friends, especially Willie, who he worked with, side-by-side, for the better part of 40 years. I knew the story of Willie’s retirement but asked Dad to retell it anyways. Willie said he’d leave a bottle of Jameson on his desk on his last day. My dad knew the day was coming, but Willie surprised him, sneaking out one day after lunch. But not before leaving the bottle and a few shot glasses.

My dad and five other guys spent the afternoon toasting to Willie while his boss looked the other way.

I also learned something new: Dad was invited to two weddings of much younger guys he worked with, but never hung out with.

Who does this happen to? My dad.

He always was charming, and he still has that social fastball. My Dad engaged the bartender far better than I could have yesterday, or any other day. I just needed to get him away from the TV. 

He had a great time. In turn, he got me out of my ennui.

I feel helpless sometimes when I’m around him, watching his slow decline. Yesterday he helped me as much as I helped him.

When I’m feeling isolated at work, bleeding into my personal life, it’s always the same cause: A lack of engagement.

I know need to spend my time not stewing on my own inadequacies, but helping out others.

Some career/life advice:

👉 Connect with people. Face to face if you can. If you’re an introvert, push through the resistance.
👉 Don’t assume; you’ll get burned through lack of communication
👉 Be clear about what you want. Listen in return.
👉 Be kind.

Thanks to Dad I am reminded of what I need to do. It doesn’t come naturally, but I’ll keep working at it.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Ace Frehley, Nashua Center for the Arts (Aug. 2023)--a review

We had good seats... up close and personal with Ace Frehley.
Wildly unexpected: Ace Frehley played a cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Emerald” at the Nashua Center for the Arts last night. But I’ve come to expect the unexpected out of Ace.

The former KISS lead guitarist has always been a loose cannon. That’s what led to his departure from the band; Ace quit in 1982 but his time was coming to an end regardless. He loved booze and drugs too much, lacked discipline and seriousness, and was unreliable. Which of course put him at direct odds with the businessmen and defenders of the KISS brand, Paul and Gene.

Ace went on to have a moderately successful solo career with Frehley’s Comet, famously reunited with the band for a reunion tour in 1996, and left again in another huff in 2002. In his wild biography No Regrets Ace sends most of his ire in the direction of the controlling, sex-addicted Gene Simmons; today he is openly quarreling with Paul Stanley, who himself stooped to Ace’s level by denigrating Ace’s playing and professionalism (despite the fact that Paul is openly using vocal tracks to cover up his shot voice).

It's rather pathetic, watching the infighting of 70-year-old men who hit the equivalent of the lottery in the 70s but can’t seem to get beyond their own egos and let the past remain there.

But to be honest, it’s also fucking fun, in a watching a train wreck from afar, guiltily, kind of way.

When you’re a deep fan of KISS--the kind who goes beyond the music and explores their crazy history, the rise and fall and glorious return, the nonsense of albums like Unmasked and The Elder and weird transient members like Vinnie Vincent, and all the merchandise spinoffs and now public beefs and shit-stirring—it’s like participating in a reality TV show spanning 50 years, with dozens of spinoffs and subplots. It’s endless and endlessly fascinating.

There aren’t really a lot of good guys.

KISS (the current incarnation) does not precisely even play concerts anymore, but put on a highly choreographed performance; everything is calculated and planned. Zero spontaneity. Yeah, Gene/Paul/Tommy/Eric put on a much bigger, brighter, and more colorful show than Ace, and KISS sounds much better, but it’s plastic. For almost 20 years now, perhaps since the “farewell” tour of 2001, it’s been essentially the same thing; the last unique show I remember KISS putting on was Psycho Circus and its ill-conceived 3D effects. 

Ace has slouched along with his own solo career since the mid-80s. He’s never had a good voice, never taken care of himself physically (though he says he’s been sober since 2006), BUT he does his brand of loose, boozy rock well, and has surrounded himself with a talented band including three dudes who can all sing, and share the vocal duties and take the load off what is clearly at this stage a very frail Frehley.

So KISS isn't great these days, and neither is Ace. But I still love them both.

Concerts have always for me been about good times with friends, and unique experiences, first, and the music, while important, is second. Last night was a fun experience, and the music was OK too. It checked the boxes for a good time. And it was.

Ace busted out a lot of old KISS tunes including “Parasite,” “Detroit Rock City,” “Cold Gin,” “Shock Me,” “Deuce” and “Love Gun.” He played many solo hits, including (of course) “New York Groove,” but also “Rip It Out,” “Rock Soldiers,” “Snowblind,” “Speedin’ Back to My Baby” and “Hard Times.”

I think I got them all, but I wasn’t taking notes, either.

Oh yeah, and “Emerald,” which was a pleasant surprise

Wayne and I. 
The usual weird Ace-ness accompanied all of this. Ace slagged Paul once; Ace admitted he can’t sing Love Gun, “but neither can Paul” before turning over the vocals to his drummer. He told a weirdly placed story about falling down his stairs in his own home in a sort of half apology for not being as spry on stage (he never has been). An odd fedora wearing promoter who resembled a faux pro wrestling manager lurked along the side of the stage taking pictures, and at the end of the show held open a bathrobe for Ace to step into. 

Ace shared interesting short anecdotes about old KISS songs (conceiving the riff for Cold Gin on the subway, Gene admitting not knowing what lyrics of Deuce meant, etc.). And of course he played a smoke show solo.

Nashua is a little rough around the edges but the main drag was loaded with breweries, restaurants, and pubs. We watched one overserved dude make an ass of himself before moving on.

Fun stuff, quirky, unique. Another one for the record books. 

My friend Wayne and I both remarked that this may be the last time Ace comes this way, based on his condition, but one never knows. He is after all, a wild card, and may yet have an Ace in his deck. OK, that's enough card metaphors for one day.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Watership Down and the importance of stories

We tell stories to give life meaning. Stories show us how to behave, and teach us what matters, through the power of narrative.

Stories convey Truth. Lacking a shared set of stories we can believe in, life is cacophonous noise.

Some stories are hard to hear, or don’t end well. But the same can be said for some aspects of life. I am drawn time and again to stories of heroism, of hard struggle in dark places against long odds. 

I think these are the best stories, and the ones that matter most.

This is one reason why I keep coming back to Watership Down. I recently completed either a third or fourth re-reading of this 1972 classic by Richard Adams. As with all the great books I’ve read, I learned something new, again, in its familiar pages.

Great books meet you where you are in life. This time Watership Down met me in a new place, at age 50, with my children now full grown and headed off to college in the fall, leaving my wife and I empty-nesters for the first time. My girls are on their way to building lives, and their story has a lot to unfold. My life is still building, but I’ve shifted, subtly, from chasing a career and building a family, to passing on the wisdom I’ve accumulated. To telling them about my story, in the hopes I can convey a little wisdom and improve their chances of making better choices and building better lives. 

So yes, this re-reading of Watership Down taught me about the power of stories.

The Rabbits tell each other stories of El-ahrairah, a great hero out of legend. He is the ideal, but because he is a rabbit, not a man, he is the ultimate rabbit ideal. A master thief, because rabbits steal from gardens. A prey item for a thousand hunters, because rabbits are relatively weak. But these deficiencies are offset with his great gifts of cunning, and great speed, driven by the power of his back legs.

El-ahrariah is a hero. Not without flaw; he sometimes makes poor choices, and suffers the consequences. He often falls victim to his own pride, and overconfidence. But he never gives up, and against every fiber of his being confronts the Black Rabbit of Inle’, and offers up his own life to secure the safety of his people. It’s a lesson in sacrifice for the next generation, which in the end is what being a good parent is all about. 

The Rabbits tell the stories of El-ahrairah again and again, because they give their brief and often terrifying lives meaning. And something to hope for. His stories inspire Hazel, the hero of Watership Down (one among many), to lead his warren on a long journey through many dangers to safety, beyond the reach of the careless destroyer man.

Eventually El-ahrairah passes on, just as Hazel and Bigwig pass away. But their stories remain, and inspire, if we continue to pass them on. 

Even if El-ahrairah is just a myth, his is a story worth believing in.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Lord of a Shattered Land: A review

Hanuvar has lost it all—his land, his people, and his family—following a disastrous military defeat. Narrowly escaping his own death and presumed dead by his enemies, the exiled former General vows to find the scattered remnants of his surviving people and set them free. 

And kick some ass along the way.

This is the premise of Howard Andrew Jones’ new sword-and-sorcery novel Lord of a Shattered Land (2023, Baen Books). A novel which is almost a short story collection. In it we follow Hanuvar on a sprawling series of episodic adventures that can be read and enjoyed as standalone tales (several were published as short stories appearing in Tales from the Magician’s Skull and elsewhere), or as a cohesive novel, the disparate adventures following sequentially in service of an overarching plot.

As with any collection I enjoyed some entries better than others. There are 3-4 terrific “stories” in here that easily stand among the best of the recent explosion of S&S fiction. My favorites included “The Warrior’s Way,” “The Second Death of Hanuvar,” “The Crypt of Stars,” and “An Accident of Blood.” 

Lord of a Shattered Land serves as a promising template for how sword-and-sorcery can work in a longer form. Although its sweet spot is the short story and novella, S&S can and has proven adaptable to longer treatments—see the likes of Fritz Leiber’s The Swords of Lankhmar, or Karl Edward Wagner’s Bloodstone. Can it be done in a form familiar to fans of epic fantasy—3 or 5 thick volumes? We’ll see. But Lord of a Shattered Land is a promising start.

Jones wears some obvious influences on his sleeve. The setting is sword and sandal, as Hanuvar was inspired by the historical general Hannibal and the cultural and technological milieu shares many similarities with ancient Rome. The style evokes Harold Lamb: Briskly paced storytelling, and emphasis on plot over character. The final chapter is an interesting/ambitious look into Hanuvar’s mind, as told through a fever-dream sequence.

Other influences may be less apparent. Hanuvar’s wistful remembrances of Volanus and its fallen cities of white towers reminded me of Tolkien and the lost cities of the First Age of Middle-Earth.

Hanuvar is a truly heroic hero, and in this sense strays outside some of the stricter sword and sorcery definitions. He's a patriot, quite willing to sacrifice his own life to rescue the lives of his people. Jones has billed Hanuvar as some combination of Captain America and James Bond. I find him much more Bond; extremely competent but quite ruthless, a thinking man's fighter, aging but still deadly in hand-to-hand combat and very willing to take lives. Not a “hero” in the mold of an unhinged Mad Max, but very much in control, not after bloodthirsty vengeance but liberation. Not fueled by wine, women, and coin, but the hope he may one day find his daughter alive.

Does this somehow exclude Lord of a Shattered Land from the ranks of sword-and-sorcery? Of course not, unless you’re a pedant. Merely because many historical S&S protagonists were mercenary or self-serving does not mean all were, or that current authors should feel obligated to cleave to someone else’s definition of S&S. Embrace your influences and work unburdened by the past, as Jones does here.

Back to the review.

Some will find Lord of a Shattered Land not to their tastes, depending on the flavor of S&S they enjoy reading. For example, it lacks the primal barbaric spirit of Conan, or the otherworldly weirdness of CAS’ slice of S&S. Hanuvar is very much a civilized man and the world of Lord of a Shattered Land feels civilized, albeit with weird incursions and some cool monsters. But always the baseline is familiar, inspired as it is by history. So if you’re after the red-handed barbarism of Conan or Kull, or the weirdness of "The Isle of the Torturers" or the dreamlike underworld of C.L. Moore’s "Black God’s Kiss," you won’t get these here, precisely.

And in that regard Lord of a Shattered Land did not check all my S&S boxes. Some of the stories don’t match the heightened urgency of others, leading to some unevenness, as you’d expect in any collection. 

But I nevertheless greatly enjoyed it, overall. And what you do get is a well-realized, quasi historical world that feels real, and lived in. Lord of a Shattered Land is very well written, moving in places, even elevated. I have not read widely of HAJ, though I have read some, including The Desert of Souls, and in this volume it feels like he’s come into his own as a writer. I was impressed by Jones’ authorial range. One chapter is outright humor, brushing up to slapstick (“The Autumn Horse”), while others are dark and violent. Still others are contemplative, and sad. 

This is a journey we’re on, after all, and the figure we’re following has seen a lot, and lost much. But remains unbroken.

Minor spoiler: Lord of a Shattered Land offers no resolution; Jones has already announced the series will to run to (five!) books, so we can’t and shouldn’t expect Hanuvar to find his people and set them free in his volume. At the end the land is still very much shattered, and the people of Volanus still scattered. It will be interesting to see if Jones can pull off something this ambitious. But he’s well on his way with his most ambitious and successful work to date.

If you’re a fan of sword-and-sorcery, pick this up. For the sake of supporting the subgenre, but also for supporting tales well-told.

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Assessing the sword-and-sorcery "glut"

Jason Ray Carney recently weighed in on an issue that’s been on my mind, too: The glut of new sword-and-sorcery fiction. Asks Jason:

Because of the glut of new sword and sorcery, I find myself buying new books with a wistful sense of "One day I'll find time to read this." Am I alone?

No, you’re not alone Jason.

I’m feeling a little bloated myself. 

I’ve recently read A Book of Blades, New Edge #0, Worlds Beyond Worlds, a handful of issues of Tales from the Magician’s Skull, and Sometime Lofty Towers. Not all brand new, but new enough.

But I haven’t made a dent, and the titles just keep coming. 

Sitting unread in my office are:

Die by the Sword

Multiple additional copies of Tales from the Magician’s Skull

Lord of a Shattered Land

War on Rome

More are on the way. I participated in the recent kickstarter for Swords from the Shadows, so I expect that anthology in the mail soon. I also backed New Edge and issue no. 1 is well under way. I know I’ll be backing Neither Beg Nor Yield next. Baen is ramping up its act, as is Titan.

I feel guilty that I haven’t bought A Book of Blades vol. 2 (yet). I’d like to get more volumes of Swords and Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy, as I greatly enjoyed vol. 1, but I have to pump the brakes somehow. I’ve got two daughters in college.

And on top of everything else I’m way behind on Whetstone. 

It does feel rather like a glut.

Is this a bad thing? Again I agree with Jason; while “glut” is not a particularly positive descriptor, it does also mean we have a plethora of choices. 

Just a few short years ago it was hard to find any new sword-and-sorcery, save for the likes of online stories from Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Swords and Sorcery magazine, and the occasional title from DMR Books. It was a dark time, with glints of light in the stygian gloom. Parched S&S fans were starved for a cool drink.

But now the drink feels if not like a firehose, then a 40 oz. big gulp. It seems like new kickstarters are popping up every fortnight, announcing new anthologies and projects.

In comparison with trad fantasy, or YA, the number of new titles we’re seeing in S&S would probably not qualify as a blip. But those markets are not S&S. They’re far, far larger, and can bear the output. When you’re playing in a small pool this flood of titles is a lot.

Again, I stress that this is so far from a crisis that it’s ridiculous to even think that way. It might not even be a problem. If you have plenty of 1) expendable cash and 2) time, and love to read, it’s great. If you lack either cash, or sufficient time, less so.

If you’re a publisher trying to make a living the glut is a problem, unless the market keeps expanding. Because right now we’re short on readers. And that is the real issue.

Unless you grow the pool of readers by 20x (or preferably, 200x) no writer or publisher is going to be able to make enough to sustain a full-time living writing S&S. Here is an interesting article from 2016 on self-publishing and the kinds of numbers you need to make a middle-class income. I doubt any new anthology is moving these kinds of numbers. 

The issue is definitely not the passionate community of creators, including writers but also artists and editors. Everyone who wants to write or create, should. But they also should know they are publishing in a very small community.

Perhaps I’m using the wrong barometer for health, and that readership and revenue aren’t the real indicators, but quantity and quality of output, and passion of the community. But again quantity is a problem: when there are this many new titles in such a small community some will go unread. Assessing quality is also difficult: Conversations will be shorter, and shallower, as we quickly switch focus to the next new title. And I’m not sure that’s great for discussion and thoughtful reviews. There isn’t much talk over what makes for good writing in this space.

Back to optimism and possibility: One way I can see this evolving is editors raising the bar for the stories they’ll accept, and getting more specific about what types of stories they want, thematically or stylistically. New Edge is doing this with its lean into diversity and inclusiveness; Neither Beg Nor Yield with a never surrender attitude.

Maybe one day we’ll see a “Year’s Best” anthology that we can hand to a new reader and say, “start here.”

All this is coming at a time where I’m feeling a bit burned out on sword-and-sorcery, and reading horror and memoir at the moment. Make no mistake, I’m a lifelong reader and nothing will extinguish that flame. I’ll be back. But I need a pause to get caught up.

Long story short, I’ll eventually get to Lord of a Shattered Land. Soon, I promise.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Remembering Manilla Road's Mark Shelton, heavy metal bard of sword-and-sorcery

Ben Davidson of Conan the Barbarian fame? Nope, Mark Shelton.
Yesterday marked the 5 year anniversary of the death of Mark Shelton, founder and lead vocalist/guitarist for Manilla Road. The most sword-and-sorcery musician the world has known. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Part II of S&S interview video up on YouTube

Part II of a video interview I did with Jan, The Brilliance of S&S, is now up on YouTube. Check it out here.

Part I is available here

I enjoyed chatting with Jan and love what he did with the interview and accompanying visuals. Good stuff.

Saturday, July 8, 2023

1979 Ken Kelly heroic fantasy calendar, month-by-month

Let's look inside, shall we? And return to an age undreamed of ....1979.
Among my prized finds at 2023 Howard Days was this bad boy. A 1979 Ken Kelly Robert E. Howard Heroic Fantasy Calendar. 

Although it came sealed I’ve been dying to open it. But only very lightly sealed, as I recently discovered, and definitely a reseal job. Which made opening it easy. I used a fine knife and cracked through some weak adhesive, leaving the envelope undamaged.

And the glory was revealed. Check out the pics below.

I’m not a collector. I like owning cool shit to display and read, and put my hands on. Life is about enjoying things. We can’t take it with us. The work of the late Kelly (1946-2022) was not meant to be kept under wraps and passed along from investor to investor.

This calendar is in fantastic shape, unmarked and unused and crisp. I’ll keep it that way and handle with the utmost care, but have no desire to keep it hermetically sealed and resell at profit. It’s now going to be displayed on my wall, as it should be.

And its practical applications are not over. In addition to full-color images of Howardian heroes of heroic proportions and the glorious contrasts of light and dark that highlight the best of Kelly’s work, the website tells me that this calendar will be accurate again in 2029, so there’s that, too. I’ll plan to leave it up for at least the next six years until I can use it to plan my summer vacations.

And of course, a centerfold. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Talking sword-and-sorcery on YouTube and my current reading

Prior to my vacation to the Outer Banks I was invited to speak with Jan, a cool dude from the UK with a YouTube channel that covers pulp fiction and other related topics. We had a lengthy recorded session about sword-and-sorcery (of course!) on which he did a lot of cool post-editing, including adding tons of interesting visuals and cool transitions. It makes for nice viewing rather than staring at my unattractive face.

We cover what sword-and-sorcery is, its defining characteristics, the Lovecraft-Howard exchange of letters in A Means to Freedom, and the need for re-enchantment. Stuff you probably already know about if you’re a fan of S&S or have read Flame and Crimson, but otherwise might find interesting.

The final video is here. Enjoy!


Despite the above video I’m on an S&S break at the moment. I enjoy reading outside of the subgenre and needed a palate cleanser, so recently read The Silence of the Lambs (Thomas Harris, love the film but had never read the novel until now), Gov’t Cheese (non-fiction/memoir by Steven Pressfield, author of Gates of Fire and The War of Art) and am midway through a re-read of Watership Down. The first two were wonderful reads, and as for the third I’m reminded why it’s an acknowledged classic. It probably would fall in my top 10 books of all-time, should such a list exist.

Sunday, July 2, 2023

A very metal 50th birthday


I celebrated a milestone birthday this past week at the Outer Banks, Corolla NC. This was not conceived as a "Murph's 50th"; we and three other families had been planning a summer trip as a “farewell to all that” sendoff for four daughters headed off to college in the fall. Four families about to become empty-nesters, and we wanted to give us and the kids something to remember. After many planning meetings and hard scheduling sessions we finally landed on the week of June 24, which happens to coincide with the day I turned 50 (b. June 26, 1973).

Which worked out beautifully. Geddy Lee fruitlessly prayed for time to stand still, recognizing that children inevitably grow up, and old friends have a tendency to grow older. Still, there was no better way to celebrate getting old than together.

16 people. One enormous (10K square feet, 3 floors, 8 bedrooms) rented house just a short walk to the beach. Imagine a seven-day party among great friends with whom you’ve watched your children grow. Folks with whom I’ve spent many memorable weekends, but never something like this. 

We saw wild horses, ascended a lighthouse, jet skied, played mini-golf with buckets of beer, went bar-hopping to the Sunset Grill in Duck, and beyond. Walked the beach, saw sunrises and sunsets. 

And I was treated to a surprise birthday party for the ages.

On Monday us six dudes (Steve, Rob, Brian, buddies all about my age, plus two sons) hit a local taproom, a pay by the ounce joint (amazing concept BTW). Which was awesome in its own right, but proved to be a ruse to get me out of the house. While we were out, the 10 gals back home went to town decorating and getting dressed up for a metal party.

As we pulled into the driveway I noticed odd decor on the front door. Skulls, devil horns, you know the rest. My metal senses were tingling. The door opened and I could hear KISS’ “Rock and Roll All Nite” blasting on the third floor. 

And walked up to this.

It was bedlam. Metal karaoke. We sang Whitesnake, Judas Priest, KISS, Poison, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Twisted Sister, you name it, we queued it up. I was treated to a 10-minute pre-recorded video with wonderful tributes from friends, my wife, and, apropos to the occasion, KISS guitarist Tommy Thayer. Since my daughter uploaded it to YouTube I’m including it here; feel free to watch even though its personal (mother, brother, sister, wife, daughters, others, referencing stuff from my childhood and you will miss many of the references). I may or may not have dabbed a tear. Must have been the hairspray.

My wife Susanne, master planner and organizer, knocked this out of the park.  

The party continued on the outside decks. At this point our neighbors couldn’t help but take notice and they crowded their decks to watch the nonsense. A couple party goers jumped up on a picnic table and we had everyone singing “Rock You Like a Hurricane” and “Cum on Feel the Noize.”

As dark descended we walked to the beach rolling the karaoke speaker with us, blasting “Turbo Lover” and illuminating the boardwalk with strobe lights. Sang Whitesnake and Bon Jovi with the waves crashing behind us. Then came back home. 

Later that night I started a conga line that ended up in the swimming pool. One of the ladies forgot her phone in her back pocket. We stuffed a hot tub and kept the tunes and booze flowing. It ended with the cops coming out (noise complaint, justified) that finally ended things just short of midnight. Probably for the best since the celebrations started at 9 a.m.

We might be getting older but we still rock.

I’m officially an old fart, but also officially the luckiest man on the planet.

The wife and I... married 26 years, still metal.

Friday, June 16, 2023

Neither Beg Nor Yield, and other S&S developments

Keith Taylor was one of the most talented authors to come out of the “second wave” of sword-and-sorcery in the mid-late 70s. Upon a re-read of his wonderful novel Bard I was inspired to get a hold of Keith for a two-part Q&A for DMR Books.

You can read part one here and part two here, which cover his literary inspirations, early writing career and breaking into Fantastic Stories, then Swords Against Darkness, and eventually landing a book deal at Ace. And much more. 

Keith is not only still writing, but is due to appear in a new anthology I’m excited about—Rogue Blade Entertainment’s Neither Beg Nor Yield.

The past couple months have seen the announcement and/or publication of several new S&S anthologies. I recently purchased DMR Books’ Die by the Sword, which is getting some good press and has made it to the top of my TBR. The dudes over at Rogues in the House published a Book of Blades which I bought and enjoyed, and are planning a Book of Blades vol. 2. And I recently backed Swords in the Shadows, which leans hard into S&S’s horror roots. This last one should be shipping soon.

I’m awash in contemporary S&S but there’s always room for more.

Neither Beg Nor Yield is going all-in on attitude. With Judas Priest’s Hard as Iron on the landing page and the explicit inspiration for the anthology’s title you kind of know what you’re in for. 

Can we pause for a minute and remind ourselves that Conan kicks ass, and that’s why we love him? That he never begs nor asks for quarter, and doesn’t stop until he claims the crown? There is a spirit to (some/most) S&S that speaks to the unconquerable spirit in us.

Editor Jason Waltz is seeking to capture that attitude with his latest and evidently last anthology, his publishing swan song. He previously published the anthologies Return of the Sword (2008), an important early title in the S&S revival, Rage of the Behemoth (2019), and others. Waltz later under the non-profit imprint Rogue Blades Foundation published the likes of REH Changed My Life and most recently Hither Came Conan (in which I have an essay).

That’s a solid 15 year run but it ends with Neither Beg Nor Yield.

Jason tells me that he drew inspiration for the title while writing the foreword to Lyn Perry's recent Swords & Heroes, in which he cuts through all of the various bandying definitions of S&S (including my own) and boils it down to the powerful heroic spirit, the “indomitable will to survive.”


There will be a total of 17 stories in the collection, and possibly an 18th if a stretch goal is reached. We know at least one is from Keith Taylor, we’ll see who else lands a credit.

Sign up here to be notified when the kickstarter launches.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Cormac McCarthy, 1933-2023

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.

--Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Blog slowdown/cryptic book announcement/life news

It’s happening again. I’m afraid the blog is going to slow down quite a bit in the coming months. But for good reason.

I’ve not only started but am now confident enough to announce that a new book will be forthcoming. When, I don’t know, but it’s fully outlined and I’m perhaps 25-30% of the way through the first draft.

I hate to disappoint my tens of regular readers, but it has nothing to do with sword-and-sorcery, or literature/literary analysis of any sort. It’s a biographical project, capturing a few formative decades of my life and a piece of popular culture that was and remains very important to me. 

That’s about all I want to say right now.

If I go long stretches without posting you’ll know why. I fully expect this second book to go much quicker than Flame and Crimson, although it has presented a very different set of obstacles, including a test of my memory and my ability to tell a compelling narrative. I hope I am able to write the book that I would want to read. I’m giving it my best. But after some tenuous beginnings it’s beginning to catch fire.

All that said I will continue to post here from time to time as the spirit dictates.


In other news my daughter Libby graduated from high school yesterday. That now puts Sue and I in the category of very proud but financially strapped parents thanks to two daughters attending college in the fall. But we got some great news when Libby was awarded the district’s top scholarship. It was announced at the graduation ceremony and was an utter surprise, to quote Tolkien a “sudden joyous turn” that will greatly help us with her tuition and reduce the amount of debt she’ll ultimately graduate with.


I also want to talk a bit about my seemingly newfound role as a public speaker. I definitely did not see this coming.

This past week I was asked by Libby’s friend and Pentucket class president to give a speech at the senior banquet, an end of year celebration for graduating seniors and their parents. I was allotted just five minutes (what can be said in five minutes?) and my request was for something meaningful and funny. Somehow I managed to deliver that with a speech about friendships, and how they must be cultivated and tended like a garden, lest they wither. It went more like 6-7 minutes and was very well received.

This followed hard on the heels of a 30-minute keynote session I gave in front of a crowd of some 1300-1500 people at a conference in the second week of May. This one I also had no choice but to accept; it was for former longtime colleague who died from breast cancer at age 48. The association (one I used to run) started a new award in her honor, and I worked with her longer and closer than anyone else. It fell to me as my task to sum up her life and impact, and expound upon broader lessons on living life with authenticity. Something Melissa did every day that I knew her.

I have to say I don’t much enjoy public speaking and find it very nerve-wracking and fear-inducing. But I also discovered that I seem to have developed (through many exposures and practice) some faculty for it. After each of these recent speeches I was inundated with dozens of complements, including people who seem to have taken inspiration from my words. Quite shocking for a confirmed introvert who has suffered with social anxiety.

I guess I would say, I’m pleased in each instance to have spoken. And I’ve come to realize there is a rare power in the spoken word that writing (my preferred method of communication) can’t quite replicate. If you get the chance, seize it. You can be good if you’re willing to put in the preparation. 

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 a 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 the call to the heroic is in all of us. The poem concludes 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 arouses you from your torpor and elicits action. 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.