Friday, December 23, 2005

Winter Wonderland and other deranged rantings

I don't hate Christmas.
Honest, I don't.
I hate the fact that Christmas is on December 25th. On that day Winter is only four days old. We've still got to somehow get through 87 and 1/4 days of Mucus Season. So please forgive me if that doesn't make me feel like singing.
And that doesn't mean I hate Christmas songs either. Some of them I love like "O Holy Night" and "Angels We Have Heard on High". As far all that Frosty Rudolph the Little Drummer Boy coming right down Santa Claus Lane stuff, I'm okay with that, but please don't play it before December 18th or after the 25th. A week of it is plenty.
There is another category of song you hear this time of year and not only are these not enjoyable, they are downright disturbing, the lunatic blitherings of poor souls who have gone Winter-mad. These people need help not for us to sing along with them. What about that couple who are planning to get married in a ceremony officiated by a minister made of snow? If that's not madness, I don't know what is. And how about that guy who keeps saying "Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow"? Obviously he has obviously given up the will to live and has resolved to freeze to death. And that lady whose favorite thing is snowflakes that stay on her nose and eyelashes. Yeah, me too. And you know what else is fun? Frostbite.
But the worst one of all, the one that drives me almost as insane as these people who think Winter is a wonderland instead of a hyperborean hell, is that madman shouting about how this is the "most wonderful time of the year."
No it isn't, fool, and please find yourself a good doctor. Baseball season is the most wonderful time of the year. Winter is the most wretched time of the year is what it is, but if we all huddle together and drink hot toddies we'll get through it. But please no singing. We need to conserve our strength.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Breathless, Part Deuce

One more song that takes my breath away every time I hear it. And not only am I going to try to convince you that it's a great song. I intend to prove that it is better than "Moby Dick" or "War and Peace" or any other classic novel you can name.
Here we go.
The song is called "Austin" and it's by this pearly-toothed gentleman here. His name is Blake Shelton:

I'm not going to link to any of the sites that'll show you the lyrics. You won't get the full impact of the song that way. Go download it. will give you a free 50 song 30 day trial. Download this song and "November Rain" and "Hang on, Sloopy" plus 47 more of your choosing and then quit. Or if you prefer doing things the old-fashioned way, go buy Mister Shelton's self-titled debut CD, which I guarantee is worth the price of purchase just for "Austin" alone, but you also get the greatest prison-break-assisted-by-dogs-in-heat country song ever -- "Ol' Red" -- to boot.

Okay, so now that you've done your homework, let's examine this song and see why I have to pull off the road if it comes on while I'm driving, and why it blows "Moby Dick" out of the water and makes "War and Peace" look like a minor border skirmish.
The girl leaves the guy, goes home to Austin to clear her mind. One year later, she calls him up, gets his answering machine which says that the car he had advertised has been sold, if it's Tuesday night he's out bowling, and if you're trying to sell something then get lost.
And "P.S. if this is Austin, I still love you."
She can't believe it, of course. That's a hell of a long time to carry a torch. Three days later she tries again, gets a similar message about his weekend plans and the exact same coda. This time she leaves her number -- that's it, just a number. He calls her back and now she does a dead-on, heartbreakingly romantic riff on his outgoing message, and then she tells him live and in person that she still loves him. They're reunited, and I'm on the side of the road, emotionally drained and digging around for a Kleenex or something to wipe my eyes with.
Love does last. Axl was right. But this is not the needy clingy dependence that so often passes for love in much popular music, and is perhaps best exemplified in the most overrated country song ever "He Stopped Loving Her Today." The guy in "Austin" is not sitting around, underlining "I love you"s in old letters and waiting to die. He's getting on with his life, fishing, bowling, playing ball, telling telemarketers to go to hell. But the love is always there.
A masterpiece, right? But still just a nice little 3 minute song. Surely it doesn't compare with Tolstoy or Melville, does it?
This is a quote that has stuck in my mind ever since I read it. The only thing I've forgotten about it is where I found it and who originally said it, but it speaks for itself as far as truthfulness:
"Every novelist is a failed short-story writer, and every short-story writer is a failed poet." Because one of the main missions of an artist is to get his point across as completely and as succinctly as possible, because as the Bard put it, "Brevity is the soul of wit." He could have shortened even more: "Brevity is the soul."
In other words "Austin" is what Tolstoy would have written if he could've.

Sunday, October 02, 2005


"Life isn’t measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away."

I've seen this quote atributed to everyone from Confucius to George Carlin, but I guess it doesn't matter who said it first; it only matters if it's true or not. And I believe it is.
Herewith, in no order other than the order they popped into my head, are some things that take my
breath away in the world of popular music. I'll get to art and literature and comic books later.

"November Rain" from Guns N' Roses. Even if the Gunners had never done this song, they would still be one of my favorite rock bands of the last 15 or so years -- (not that there's been much competition, the infusion of rap having pretty much ruined rock and roll. But I digress.) -- for songs like "Sweet Child O' Mine" "Patience" "Don't Cry" and some other great stuff they did before Axl took up permanent residence on the nutjob side of that fine line that separates genius and insanity But this song never fails to blow me away every time I hear it for two reasons. And before I tell you those two reasons I need to tell you two things about me.

1.) I am a romantic.
2.) I hate Winter.

The second one is self-explanatory. Don't all right-thinking people loathe that long, dark season of death and glaciation and no baseball? But I might need to clarify that first point. The zeitgeist of our modern era is cynicism, so if you tell people you're romantic they think you live in some fairy-tale world that you discovered when you buried your head in the sand. That is why as much as I love stuff like the new movie "Just Like Heaven" starring the magnificent Reese Witherspoon where love conquers all, I have a more profound appreciation for works of art that acknowldge the the harsh realities of life without giving them more power than they deserve.

That is why I love "November Rain" so much. At first only the music contains any hint of hopefulness, the lyrics are about how nothing good lasts forever and hearts can change so (it is implied) you might as well give up on the hippie nonsense of
Max Ehrrman's "Desiderata" and its tenet of "With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world" and put whatever faith you have left into nihilism and the "no warmth -- no cheerfulness -- no healthful ease" of Thomas Hood's "November" But then Axl and Slash and the guys dig a little deeper and discover that the truth is it's the bad things like Winter that do not last, but the real things like love do.

Man, I get goosebumps just thinking about it.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

'Graphs from Beyond the Grave

I hope this doesn't sound too morbid, but every time I hear about a celebrity dying -- and I usually hear about it right away thanks to the nice people at this fine website -- one of the first thoughts that run through my mind is "Do I already have his or her autograph?" The world of classic TV lost a couple of icons recently and I was sorry to see them go, but glad that I had already written to them, thanked them for the enjoyment their work has brought me and obtained their signatures.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Words of Wisdom from the Comic Books

"Why are people who hear voices always told to do bad things? Why don't the voices ever say "Do charity work! Give to the poor! Hug a widow!" "
Katchoo from Strangers in Paradise #72

Saturday, September 03, 2005

We all do what we can

Like you, my heart has been broken by the recent events in the Gulf States. The devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the deaths it caused, as well as the deaths caused by the bungled federal response to this catastrophe is just overwhelming. I want to help, but I feel like the little bit of money I can send won't do much -- even though I know that every little bit helps and if we all do a little than a hell of a lot can get done. I just thought of a way I can do a little more. I mentioned that I'm an autograph collector and I have a pretty nice collection. I just put a signed and numberd Michael Kaluta art book up for auction on eBay, and I hope to put more items there with all the profit going to the American Red Cross. Please consider bidding on this book, selling some of your things on eBay and donating the profits to Flood Relief efforts or just sending money to the Red Cross.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Today's Mail

The mailbox was pretty full today, although much of it was junk from Best Buy, Jiffy Lube, Sofa Express and Capital One (who just refuse to believe that I don't want another credit card). I also got some address labels from Jerry Lewis and the Muscular Dystrophy Association, an invitation to the Virgina Wine and Garlic Festival in October, the new issue of The Week magazine, a new issue of "Busted" which is the newsletter of the excellent censorship-fighting Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a couple of payments for my recent eBay auctions, a gas bill that I am working up the nerve to open, and one autograph.
In case you don't recognize the gent to my right, that's Franklin Cover and he played Tom Willis on the TV show "The Jeffersons" (you know, where "The fish don't fry in the kitchen, and the beans don't burn on the grill!" which doesn't make any sense when you think about it; I mean fish do fry in the kitchen, I've seen it done myself on many occasions -- and what kind of fool would try to cook beans on a grill? That's just a good way to get pintos in your charcoal.)
This autograph presents me with a dilemma I have not had to face before. I don't know if it's technically an autograph or not. I mean he wrote "To Robert Loy" and "Take Care" but he didn't actually sign it.
Hmmm. . .
Oh well, it's going in my autograph collection. I don't have time to worry about it. I've got some beans on the grill.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Thoughts while riding in an elevator

I work in a three story building, that's it, just three stories. On the first floor there's an UP only call button, on the third floor there's a DOWN only call button, and on the second there are both. Makes sense, right? What doesn't make sense is why after I get on the elevator on the second floor I have to push a button to get to the floor I want. I mean if I pushed the DOWN button I must want to get to the first floor, there is no basement. If I pushed UP I must want to go to the third flooor. Why with all of our appliances getting smarter and smarter all the time, why are elevators still so stupid?
I also gotta wonder how come there's elevator music playing everywhere in this building _except_ in the elevator.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Number One Shirt

I used to deny it. I used to call myself a connoisseur, but the truth is I am a collector. I collect comic books (more than 3000 of them in 3 different rooms in my house) autographs (almost 1000) magazines, books, (and autographed books, magazines and comics) postcards, bookmarks and literary references to the song "Macarthur Park."
I even collect T-shirts. But they're a bit of a problem to categorize. My credo has always been that the difference between a collection and a conglomeration of junk is organization. And all of my other collections are neatly categorized and cross-referenced, alphabetized and numericized.
But my T-shirt collection is just there in my closet and my dresser. Oh, there's an aborted Excel file in my laptop called "shirts" but breaking them down by color and size (all XL) and theme just seemed too silly even for me. Probably because the only one way to categorize garments is by the story they tell. And I can't figure out how to get Excel to do that.
This is the oldest shirt in my collection.
I got it on June 4th, 1989 at a record store in Knoxville Tennessee, so it's 16 years old and is retired; I no longer wear it although I still love it. I couldn't tell you exactly what day I bought any other shirt I own. The only reason I know this one is because after I got back from purchasing the shirt, I learned that the Chinese Government had decided to massacre the pro-democracy student demonstrators that had been amassing in Tiananmen Square for several weeks. Something like that kinda sticks in a memory even as shoddy as mine.
I've had other Grateful Dead shirts and they've all gotten old and raggy and thrown out, but the reason this one is still occupying a place of honor in my closet is because of the tenacious way this cheap concert shirt held to life even though I wore it frequently and treated it rough. It didn't get holes or rips in it, but it kept fading and fading until you could literally see right through it. My family would tease me when I wore it and tell me to go put on a shirt because the thing was translucent -- and very soft, I've never worn anything softer -- while still maintaining its structural integrity. If you look closely at this picture of my son Dylan wearing the shirt you can see where it became transparent.
Just when I thought it was some kind of magic shirt and I would be able to wear it until it completely disappeared, it started to break down, got some holes in it, and I decided that rather than wear this old warrior to death, I would retire it with honor. Which is what I've done.
This is still my favorite shirt and not just because it's the oldest. I said earlier that shirts should be organized by the story they tell. This shirt tells me a story about how one should grow old. That is why as I age I intend not to break down bit by bit but to slowly become gossamer.


Sunday, August 14, 2005

Doric or ionic?

For the past 10 years I have written a column for the magazine Country Standard Time. It doesn't pay much but I also do reviews and features so I get free CDs and videos and press kits, and the deadlines do keep me writing, since God knows I'm not very self-disciplined. (And I may be getting a raise, since one of the CDs I had to review this month was the soundtrack to the Dukes of Hazzard TV show and I told my editor if he expected me to listen to crap like that he was going to have to pay me more.)
Anyway I finshed my column today and I thought I'd give you loyal readers of this blog a chance to check it out before it gets published.
Be careful now, I can see you're on the edge of your seat:


One of the good things about country radio stations playing more of the classics or legends or “moldy oldies,” whatever you want to call them, is that sometimes you’ll hear a song that you haven’t heard in a long, long time. The experience can be very enlightening, sort of like running into an old schoolmate and seeing how much each of you has changed.
I ran into two such old friends this week, with mixed results.
One of them was Earl Thomas Conley’s “Holding Her and Loving You” which in 1983 I thought was an insightful look at a complex love-triangle with no clear-cut good or bad guys or easy solution. I welcomed it with a hearty turn of the volume knob.
Unfortunately, this old friend now seems to be obsessed with arranging the hard things he has had to do in life in order of difficulty. He wants me to feel sorry for him even though it turns out the hardest thing this skunk has ever had to do is cheat on his wife who, in his own words “ain't done one thing wrong” and who was “good to (him) when things were going rough.” It was great to hear E.T.’s beautiful baritone again, but this is not a friend I want to spend any time with in the future.
Consequently, I was more than a little wary when I ran into another alumni of the class of ’83. The Nitty-Gritty Dirt Band’s “Dance, Little Jean” was my favorite song for a long time. It never failed to put a lump in my throat every time I heard it. I broke up with the girl I was dating around that time solely because she did not like this song.
What a relief to discover that this companion of my youth has aged so well. It was actually in better shape than I remembered, judging from the size of the new lump in my throat. I can honestly say I have read 400-page novels with less character development and emotional resonance, and that for three or four minutes I felt like a young man again.
Now you can’t ask for much more than that from an old friend.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

How do you do?

My favorite picture of me is a B&W shot of me as a kid staring up in wide-eyed wonder at a Christmas tree. But this is my favorite picture of me as an adult.
Believe it or not, I had forgotten that this is a black and white Christmas-tree motif-y picture too, which is kinda odd cuz I'm not crazy about Christmas. I am, however, crazy about the woman in the picture with me, my beautiful bride Kimberly.
My favorite picture of me as an adolescent is in color and there are no Christmas trees in sight. I am in my grandmother's front yard wearing the denim jacket I thought was so cool, and I am making a threatening gesture at my brother John, who was trying to stick his face into my picture -- a bad habit of his, he used to do it to strangers at Disneyworld too.
(And yes, I do have a tendency to put things in the order of how much I like them, kinda like that guy in Nick Hornby's brilliant "High Fidelity")