A Farewell

I was disappointed to learn over the weekend that Timothy Gassen had died after a short illness. Mr. Gassen was an indefatigable voice in the garage rock underground, encouraging musicians around the world  to keep the musical spirit of 1966 alive. His book The Knights of Fuzz was an indispensable guide to the garage revival, and I was greatly honored that the Berries had an entry in the second edition.

Along with his own psych band, The Marshmallow Overcoat, Timothy was passionate about ice hockey — he was an expert on the old World Hockey Association, and did play-by-play for the U of Arizona’s hockey team — and filmmaking, having created (among other things), numerous videos for the bands he loved. I’ll share a few of them here, some of which I’ve shared before:

Goodbye, Mr. Gassen — thanks for the music, and for the encouragement. We’ll try to keep the fuzz going.

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Sunday Potpourri: Thanksgiving Weekend Edition

I’ve made it through a wave of Gradeapalooza this weekend, with a couple more to go in the next week-and-a-half. But at this moment, I’m in the trough between waves, so here we go…

***

Thanksgiving Day was quiet — perhaps quieter than I might have hoped. With the Spawn staying in Terpville with the Main Squeeze this weekend (we get her back at Christmas), Mrs. M, Ell Bee, and I opted to do the turkey consumption thing at a local buffet. I called that morning, and asked what their hours would be. “We start at 11, and we close at 3, or whenever we run out.”

So we decided to show up around 1, midway through the window. Not our best decision, as things were already pretty thoroughly cleared out. What was there wasn’t bad, but things weren’t conducive to gluttony. I guess that’s not a bad thing either, but I would have preferred it to be my decision. On the upside, we had no dishes to wash.  As there was no need for a food coma, I wound up grading papers into the evening.

Still, of course, we have our reasons to be thankful, and I am — for friends and loved ones, for the physical comfort of my life, for work that offers me satisfaction. And of course, I’m also thankful for you, the folks who check in to see what’s up in this particular round world’s imagined corner. I’m glad we’re all here.

***

On Friday, I headed down to Real City for a visit to my inexpensive Chinese restaurant of choice, followed by a haircut and a swing by the used media emporium. As a bonus, I was pleased to learn that my doctoral institution closed the football season with a smackdown of the would-be yuppies of Miami (Ohio) U. in what has become designated as the “Red Bird Rivalry.” I snagged a Nameless Detective novel that I haven’t read before, so I have that to look forward to when Gradeapalooza is done.

Another nice thing about my trips to Real City is that there’s a Kroger more or less along my route, which means that should the spirit move me (and it often does), I can grap a pint of one of my favorite ice creams, Graeter’s Mocha Chocolate Chip. Because I’m a sport and because it’s the holidays, I even picked up a pint of Black Raspberry Chip for Mrs. M. So OK… maybe there was some gluttony on my part this weekend.

By the way, although I spent the afternoon in one of Real City’s major shopping districts, traffic really wasn’t that bad, nor was the used media emporium overrun in an orgy of consumerism. I guess the crazy stuff happened earlier in the day.

Upon my return home, I relaxed a bit and watched my beloved Kentucky Wildcats vanquish the visiting hoopsters from the U of Alabama at Birmingham before I snarfed up the ice cream. So it was a good day, I think.

***

Yesterday was an important day for Kentucky sports fans (including those of us now outside the precincts of the Commonwealth), as it was the annual confrontation between the football Wildcats and their in-state archrivals from the University of Louisville. The game started at noon, but I had a 1 p.m. appointment to donate blood, so I put myself under a media blackout until I got home to my DVR. My reward was that I got to watch my beloved Wildcats treat the visitors like day six of leftovers — always a satisfying bit of entertainment.

In particular, the game continued a season-long display of the amazing talents of Lynn Bowden, a junior from  Youngstown, OH. He started the season as a wide receiver and kick returner, but a series of injuries forced the coaches to move him to quarterback. All he has done this season is lead the team in rushing, receiving (from earlier in the year), and return yardage, while leading the Cats to a winning record and bowl eligibility in a season many of us had written off after the starting quarterback was lost for the season. He won’t win the Heisman, of course, but he may be the single most electrifying player in college football this year. Yesterday was no exception: on a day in which UK threw exactly two passes, the Cats ran for 517 yards, with Bowden accounting for 284 of those — an SEC record for rushing by a quarterback. Oh, and by the way, they crushed Louisville, 45-13.

Bowden is from a dangerous neighborhood in Youngstown, and football has allowed him the opportunity to get an education (with a solid GPA last semester) and likely provide for himself and his two-year-old son, Lynn III.

bowden and son

I hope he makes good decisions and has a productive career. I don’t want yesterday’s win to be his only happy ending.

***

In fictioneering news, Amazon says that Tuesday is publication day for From Sea to Stormy Sea, and I want to remind you that it makes a wonderful gift for fans of great art and/or great fiction — and if you fit that description, you’d probably like it as well. Meanwhile, early 2020 will see the release of The Darkling Halls of Ivy, Ell Bee’s anthology of stories with an academic theme, including “Alt-Ac,” my story set at the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo. Once they read it, I may never be allowed back.

And if you like to plan ahead, I’ll be doing another Noir at the Bar with Mr. Block and some players to be named later on Thursday, 12 March, at Newberry’s Bar Figaro. The last one was great fun, and we’d love to see you there.

Speaking of Mr. Block… well, I’ll let him tell you:

[…M]y students are happy. In fact a couple of them got Humanities Department approval and classroom space for a once-a-week workshop this coming spring. No leader—since I won’t be here, they’ll stage it themselves.

In other words, who needs Professor Block?

Exactly. Which may make it awkward when I come back next fall.

You’re coming back?

Like a coal to Newcastle. Like a bad penny to Capistrano. Lynne and I surprised ourselves by falling in love with the college and the town, so much so that we’ve leased an apartment on Main Street just blocks from the Newberry Opera House. We’ll show up in mid-February to furnish it and get an early start on spring, and I’ll be able to use it as a one-man writer’s colony if I ever feel like writing something.

Which, knowing you, seems likely.

It does, doesn’t it? And come fall I’ll offer the fiction workshop again, along with an experiment, a writing course for non-writers. Self-Realization Through Writing is what I’m calling it, and like the fiction workshop, it’s one where what the students get out of it is in direct proportion to what they put into it.

How cool is that? (Answer: Exceedingly.)

***

I do have a few things to take care of before tomorrow’s wrap-up classes — finals begin on Thursday — so I’d better close this, and as is my custom, I’ll do it with some music. Jay Telfer was a musician from Toronto in the late 60s, and he put this out on the Sir John A. (presumably for this guy) label in 1968. It’s a little cheesy, a little satirical, and it didn’t change the musical landscape, but I like it, not least because I’ve felt like the vocalist on occasion. So here’s Mr. Telfer, with “Life, Love, and the Pursuit of Happiness (A Hippy Philosophy)”:

And it just occurred to me that he should have done a duet with William Penn of the William Penn Fyve, because then they would have been Penn and Telfer. I’ll show myself out.

See you soon!

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Kissing Hands and Shaking Babies…

… or maybe it’s the other way around. In any case, that’s going to be the Mad Dog‘s agenda in the coming months, as he has decided to run for county commissioner in his suburban Knoxville district.

I suspect it may be an uphill struggle — Todd is a spot of blue in a deep red state, and even worse, perhaps, a Kentucky Wildcats fan in the home of the Tennessee Vols. On the other hand, on the practical level, party labels shouldn’t mean that much in local politics. My dad was mayor of Union, KY for twenty years, running as a non-partisan each time. He figured that Democrats and Republicans both wanted the trash picked up and the streets plowed, and that the fight to keep the city from being absorbed by sprawl wasn’t red or blue either. What mattered, he said, was meeting his neighbors and being willing to listen. And that served him well for two decades, until he got tired of the job (despite the glorious $50/month pay) and decided it was time for someone else to do it.

While my disgust for politics in general is no secret, I think that the local level on which Todd is running still offers some value, and I actually agree that the people of his district deserve a choice, in an area in which candidates often run unopposed. (Indeed, I tend to think that our current elective duopoly offers insufficient choice, but in this case, it’s a start.) I think if he’s elected, he’ll do a conscientious job to the best of his ability.

So good luck, Mad Dog, and a word of advice. As you make the rounds of neighborhood carnivals, church festivals, and the like, choose your winners carefully.

Posted in Culture, Family, Politics | 1 Comment

Sunday Potpourri: Last Train to Gradeapalooza Edition

The avalanche begins tomorrow, as I receive research papers from my two sections of FroshComp and my HotEL kids. On Tuesday, I’ll receive a bonus buffeting from my Seven Deadlies class. And there are still a couple of minor papers and finals to go. This was not my original plan, but my adventures in illness blew up my schedule for the term. Still, that’s tomorrow, so meanwhile…

***

Friday afternoon was quite fun,  as I sat down with LB and my colleague David Rachels for a conversation among crime writers at Newberry College, for future “airing” in various forms — online and in the pages of Dimensions, the College’s alumni magazine. I’ll let you know if and as it becomes available.

Because El Bee and I got there first, we took the chairs on the flanks of the stage, leaving David the seat in the middle. We didn’t know this, but our choices also left David to act as interlocutor for the session, although that may have been connected to the fact that he wore a tie. The three of us talked about the ups and downs of fictioneering, teaching, and the intersections of those with one another and with life. I learned things when I could keep my mouth shut, and I think we all had a good time, even if David’s Fitbit accused him of taking a nap.

***

In the meantime, my advance copy of From Sea to Stormy Sea arrived a few days ago, and so I officially got to see what I’ve come to consider a collaboration with my dad.

FS2SS

Yes, Dad did the painting. Yes, He was WSM Jr. I’m WM3. Technically, I suppose I should simply be WM now, but the post-nominal numeration is on my birth certificate, so there you go.

At least one early review (from Thomas Pluck, a fine writer in his own right) was very kind to my story, and the general sense seems to be that the whole book is terrific. I’m inclined to agree. Of course, you can find out for yourself, and it would also make a fine gift for your friends who like fiction, art, or combinations of the two.

***

I’ve worked in a lot of sport watching this weekend, catching two victories for Mondoville’s men’s basketball squad and switching to the television as my beloved Kentucky Wildcats football squad became bowl-eligible. Admittedly, the football win yesterday was over a tomato can, but I’ve still had a great deal of fun watching the team hang in there after a series of injuries forced the coaches to go to an all-running, all the time offense. There’s something pleasing about watching opposing defenses know what’s coming, and still fail to stop it. It takes the assertion of will that is at the heart of many sports to a very pure form.

(Incidentally, this is one of the things that I find interesting about boxing and other combat sports, although I have no desire to participate in those. Football and basketball use moving the ball (down the field, through the basket) as a substitute for naked aggression. Combat sports, however, take it to a primal level: “I am going to attempt to inflict pain on you. You will stop it, or you won’t.” There’s something compelling about the honesty of that, and about the physical courage of the participants.)

As it happens, the Mondoville men’s hoopsters are working under a new coach. You may recall that I was on the committee that hired him, and I’ve taught or am teaching several players, so I may have an even greater emotional stake in the team’s success than previously. It’s a long season, of course, with ups and downs, but it’s a great deal of fun seeing them out there competing. And another cool point about life in a small college town — at any given ball game, there’s a chance you may run into the mayor, there to cheer the college on. He was there yesterday afternoon, and it was good to chat with him as we walked to our cars after the game. I taught his son as well, a few semesters back — small town life.

***

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m pleased to report that this Spring, I’ll be teaching an upper-level course focusing on the work of Harlan Ellison. I’m excited about it, but a little nervous as well — I’ve taught short units on Harlan’s work before, but nothing at this level of depth. Wish me luck.

***

I’d best wrap things up at this point, but there’s always time for a bit of music. Seattle’s  Green Pajamas are a band who have shown up here on several occasions, but I keep finding new work of theirs (not surprising, as the group has recorded more than 30 albums over the last 34 years) that I want to share. Here’s some of it.

See you soon!

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Just Being Neighborly…

Gray Collegiate Academy is a public charter high school in Lexington County, about 45 minutes from Mondoville. According to WACH-TV in Real City, since 2015, the school’s football team has played at the home field of Benedict College in Real City. In return, the high school paid Benedict $2500 per game, along with all proceeds from the gate, parking, and concessions.

Per the report, this past spring, Gray attempted to regularize this state of affairs with a contract. Four days before the team’s first home game, Benedict offered a contract — at ten grand per game. I don’t know if the new fee would have replaced the parking, concessions, etc., but in any case, it was more than Gray could afford, so the War Eagles have played this season at a local sports complex.

However, the team has apparently had a pretty good season, and has made the third round of the state playoffs. Per state rules, in order to host the game, Gray needs a facility that can seat at least 3200 people. Their recent home doesn’t qualify.

That’s where Mondoville comes in. Newberry College has agreed to serve as Gray’s “home away from home” when they host 4-time defending state champs Abbeville tomorrow night. The cost to Gray? $850.

Setzler

Setzler Field, home of the Wolves… and War Eagles?

Honestly, I’m not sure that’s enough to pay for turning on the lights tomorrow night, and the college isn’t exactly rolling in dough. But I’m glad we’re doing it — we pride ourselves on hospitality, and it’s a neighborly thing to do. Besides, we’re traditionally the home of the Scarlet… and Gray.

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Bookish Stuff on a Friday Afternoon

A couple of pieces of book info, one including my work, and another that doesn’t, but is well worth your time.

FSTSS

From Sea to Stormy Sea is due out in the next few weeks. Amazon lists 3 Dec as the pub date, but I’ve also heard this coming Tuesday (19 Nov) mentioned. In any case, early reviews appear to be quite positive, and since I got hold of an e-copy this week, I understand why. My friend Thomas Pluck had some nice things to say about my contribution to the book, a short story I connected to a painting by my father, but really, there’s plenty of terrific stuff in this anthology. Once again, LB assembled a terrific bunch of contributors, this time including folks like Sara Paretsky, Scott Frank, Brendan DuBois, and, um… Lawrence Block. The stories were inspired by a range of American artists, and as has been the case in the previous art-thologies, the plates of works by Thomas Hart Benton, Raphael Soyer, Rockwell Kent, and others (yes, including Dad) will be gorgeous as well. So if you haven’t bought your own copy yet, you probably should do yourself a favor and order. One way or another, you’ll get it soon.

Meanwhile, today’s surfing led me to the land of Serendip. Nearly two decades back, my dad handed me a copy of an urban fantasy that mixed the usual assortment of elves and such into a world reminiscent of 30s gangster movies. The book was The Last Hot Time, and it was written by John M. Ford, known as “Mike” to his friends. By this time, I was much less into SF and fantasy than I once had been, but I recognized good work when I found it, and enjoyed Ford’s book greatly, as my father had. We knew Ford had written other books, but the piles of books are always rising, and by the time Ford died in 2006 (and my father died in 2009), Last Hot Time was a book I recalled fondly, but I never got round to finding his other works.

Last Hot Time

Apparently that was a mistake on my part, but fortunately, it’s a mistake I may be able to remedy over the next few years. For the entire story, check out Isaac Butler’s article at Slate today:

The more I looked into Ford’s career, the more frustrating and mystifying his posthumous invisibility came to seem. Ford had won the Philip K. Dick Award and multiple World Fantasy Awards. He was a beloved and influential peer to writers including Neil Gaiman, Jo Walton, Ellen Kushner, James Rigney (better known as Robert Jordan), Jack Womack, and Daniel Abraham. So why had so few people heard of him? Why wasn’t anyone publishing his books?

It would take me 18 months to answer my questions. My quest would bring me to the vast treasure trove of Ford’s uncollected and unpublished writing. It would introduce me to friends and relatives of Ford who hadn’t spoken to each other since his death in 2006. And, in an improbable ending worthy of a John M. Ford novel, my quest would in fact set in motion the long-delayed republication of his work, starting in the fall of 2020. How did this happen? More importantly, why was he forgotten in the first place? More importantly than that: How did he write those amazing books?

As I said, read Butler’s piece — your own TBR (To Be Read) pile may grow a bit as well.

See you soon!

Posted in Literature, Why I Do What I Do | 1 Comment

Saturday Potpourri: Trudging Uphill Edition

Having been instructed by the doctor to take yesterday off, I find myself in the midst of a three-day weekend that I wasn’t seeking, but I guess I need. There’s just been so much to do, doggone it. Fortunately, Mrs. M has added some truly lovely yellow wallpaper to the den, and… what was I saying?

***

As I mentioned last time, I’ve been hit by a succession of ailments over the last three weeks, but finally reached the point midweek that I knew I had to get something better than the over-the-counter stopgaps on which I’ve relied. Alas, there seems to be an abundance of creeping crud in the Mondoville environs, and my doctor wasn’t able to work me in until Thursday after class. So when I got there, I got an official imprimatur for what I pretty much suspected — that I had two different infections, each singly bothersome, but leaving me pretty debilitated in combination. I do feel as though I’ve made some progress over the last day or two, and I’ve got until Monday morning to keep getting better, so there we are.

At the same time, I find myself filled with anxiety about the classes I’ve missed over the past weeks. The odd thing is that because of my schedule, pretty much all the classes I’ve missed have been MWF, so my TTh class is perking along just fine, thanks. Still, I feel guilty about missing work. Remember, I’m the guy who had this lady for a mom:

In October of 1990, she was in the hospital for what proved to be a pulmonary embolism. At some point during her stay, the doctors asked her about the heart attack that her tests indicated she had suffered at one point. She didn’t know what they were talking about — she hadn’t had a heart attack. Then, as they checked old records, they narrowed it down to a specific range of dates, and she said, “Oh! That‘s what that was. Well, hell, if I had known it was a heart attack, I wouldn’t have gone back to work the next day.”

I suppose I should be grateful to work somewhere that allows me the time to recover, and I am, but I still inherited enough of the ethos from my parents and grandparents (like my maternal grandfather, who described mandatory retirement after 38 years in the fire department (and who had worked from the age of nine until he turned 70) as “being fired.”) that I feel guilty for needing to use it. And knowing that no one is served if I push myself to breaking doesn’t seem to ease the feeling that I’m slacking and cheating my kids out of attention, even though, like everyone at the college, I’m dancing as fast as I can. But I’m recovering, and that’s good.

***

Although I had already been to see the doctor on Thursday, I did have one more thing to do that evening before I could sleep in on Friday. Fortunately, it was less of a chore than a pleasure, as I served as interlocutor for the evening with Lawrence Block at the Newberry Opera House. About 180 people showed up for the hour-long event, and I think everyone had a good time. I talked to El Bee about his development as a writer, the satisfactions of his work, and life in the college racket, among other topics. There was even time to field some questions from the audience, and a line of people afterwards to get autographs, photos, and the like.

It has been quite a few years since my journalism days, but I was pleased to see that I can do a pleasant interview. In these situations, I see my role as being like that of the offensive lineman I once was — to give the “skill player” (in this case, the interview’s subject) the opportunity and the space to be the star. Or perhaps a better analogy would come from my years playing in various bands. I’m in the rhythm  section, on the back line, and my job is to work for the benefit of the song. Of course, when you’re backing a great performer — and LB has done this enough times to know his style — the job is pretty easy.

My academic career has had numerous personal highlights along the way, and while the topper will always be having the Spawn read Philip Larkin’s “This Be the Verse” aloud in my Brit Survey class, this was a wonderful experience. Thanks to Mr. Block for being such a terrific interview, and to my colleagues in Mondoville’s English program for letting me take the gig.

***

I think I’ll wrap it up at this point, but why not throw in a bit of music? From Santa Barbara, CA, the Dovers cut four singles between the fall of 1965 and the spring of 1966. All of them disappeared more or less without a ripple, but later collectors unearthed them and shared them with the Pebbles and Nuggets fans of the world. While their “What Am I Going to Do” appeared on the Nuggets box set, I actually like this one better. The A-side to their final single, this is “She’s Not Just Anybody,” and it’s all sorts of cool yearning in under one-minute-fifty (despite the listed time on the label).

See you soon!

Posted in Education, Family, Literature, Music, Why I Do What I Do | Leave a comment