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.