Happy Bloggiversary, and Twisted Sister: Potpourri

As of today, I’ve been doing this blog for six years. I started doing it at the Mad Dog’s suggestion, and as a means of distracting myself from the horrors of my parents’ murders almost a year earlier. It became a habit — for years I would post on a daily basis. I’m less obsessive about it now, but I’m still glad it’s here, and I’m grateful to all of you who come by and check out what I have to say. I hope it continues to merit your attention.

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I took a break from grading this afternoon — I’ll get back to it tomorrow. In the meantime, I watched We Are Twisted Fucking Sister, a documentary of the band’s pre-fame years, from its birth in the early 70s to the release of Stay Hungry. I liked the band when they blew up, both for their sense of humor and their take-no-prisoners live aggression. Having watched the documentary, I think it should be required viewing for creative people.

The guys in Twisted are an amazing example of the intersection of effort and pure bloodymindedness. Their attempts to break out of their Long Island home turf were blunted repeatedly — a career-making gig was postponed by a medical problem and ignored when the makeup date rolled around. A German record deal collapsed when the label’s president collapsed on board a flight back to Germany. Their English label folded just as the band was set to break in Europe. All the while, they maintained a brutal schedule of gigs (more than 300 a year) in the New York area, where they ruled the clubs outside Manhattan and built a fanbase of Kill-for-Kali intensity. However, American labels didn’t want to know until a British A&R man decided to sign them to Atlantic, unaware that the label’s president had threatened to sack anyone else who even mentioned the band to him. In a way, it was like the Beatles’ Hamburg apprenticeship spread over a decade, and it turned the band into something absolutely ferocious.

But very few bands — very few artists of any sort, I think — would be willing to slam their heads against the wall of limited success that Twisted Sister eventually battered down. The band’s work ethic was absolutely terrifying, and the movie is a testimony to that. I’m fond of quoting a saying that Harlan Ellison says is a Spanish proverb: “Take what you want, and pay for it.” This documentary demonstrates what that can mean, and how hard one might have to work to make those payments. It’s cautionary — and inspirational. Check it out.

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I also have a personal reason for liking Twisted Sister, and Dee Snider in particular. In the years after I wrote Broken Glass Waltzes, I was searching for agents, and I thought it might be useful to collect some blurbs from recognizable names. Although Twisted had packed it in by then, I happened to see Dee’s next band, Widowmaker, at the Cincinnati club that provided the model for “Andrew’s” in BGW. I reviewed the show for the local alternapaper, and somehow ran across Dee’s e-mail address. I sent him a copy of my review, told him about my book, and asked him if he’d like to read it. I was thrilled (and quite startled) when he told me he’d be happy to give it a look, but it might take some time before he could get to it — he was trying to get his horror movie made, and he’d be busy. Still, this was the most interest anyone had shown in the book, so I sent it off and assumed he’d probably never have time to get around to it.

I heard back from him six months later, with a note saying he liked the book, and that it showed a real understanding of that level of the rock and roll lifestyle (though fortunately, not his, he added.) I clung to that encouragement for years — I think it was one of the reasons I was willing to keep shopping it around when life wasn’t getting in the way. So I’m grateful to Dee for taking time to support a guy he had never met. I try to keep that in mind.

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Speaking of writing, the Spawn placed one of her quirky horror stories in Mondoville’s literary mag, which came out yesterday. She’s as busy with finals as I am right now, but I hope this gives her some of the encouragement she needs as she begins to pursue her own writing career.

***

And to wrap this one up, here’s one from Dee and the boys in the pre-Stay Hungry era. It’s a teen anthem, of course, but it also embodies the determination that seems to have a been a theme of this post, and it both makes me smile and reminds me to keep pushing. Enjoy!

Thanks for six years of reading, and I hope to see you soon!

Posted in Broken Glass Waltzes, Culture, Family, Music, Pixel-stained Wretchery, Why I Do What I Do | 4 Comments

In Which the Prof Has an Ancestor in the News

I’ve mentioned before that although I moved to Mondoville in 2003, my family has deep roots in this part of the country, and even this part of the state. My dad was born in Greenwood, SC, about 35 miles from here, and his mother’s maiden name was Marietta Calhoun. Yep, those Calhouns — the evil genius of American politics was something like my seven-greats uncle. It didn’t do Dad (or me) much good either way — the last of whatever family fortune there was got squandered before Dad spent his teen years in the East Nashville projects, and before I was a toddler in an apartment over a drugstore, getting splinters in my feet from the floorboards. All the same, after Granny had moved back to Greenwood and my family would go down to visit, a maiden great-great-aunt was fond of emphasizing that “the boy [that would have been me] has Calhoun blood in his veins.” (At least once, Dad cheerfully added, “Yep, and Cherokee too!” Nearly gave the poor old woman apoplexy.) I grew up with a framed photo of a nuclear sub named for him; it decorated my bedroom wall.

But getting back to my however-many-greats uncle, the latest brouhaha at Yale has revolved around the fact that one of the University’s residential colleges is named for the late Veep. This has caused considerable upset to some students, who feel that this is a celebration of the institution of slavery that Calhoun defended. However, the university has decided to keep the name (reportedly under pressure from some old grads, who look back on their years in Calhoun Hall with fondness.) The current students are upset, and given their history of handling emotional setbacks with stoic aplomb, some sort of fireworks may ensue.

All this reminds me of a chapter from my own educational history. I did two years of college at Transylvania University (Slogan: “We had the name first, Stoker!”), which I attended on a full academic ride as part of the school’s efforts to raise its academic profile. When I was there, the scholarship was named for Thomas Jefferson — the 25 of us who received the scholarship in each class were colloquially known as the TJs. (That’s right, folks — once there was a college the size of Mondoville that brought in 25 new kids on full academic rides every year. More than 10% of the student body were there on full academic scholarships!)

Alas, I lost mine in my second year when my GPA fell below a 3.5, and I had to pursue my education elsewhere. About a year or so later, I heard from a former classmate that the scholarship had been renamed to honor its principal benefactor. (Admittedly, these days the original name would be a problem for some people as well, but hey — go please the world.) I was informed that the kids who had entered as TJs were miffed, and insisted on using the old handle. I was back in Northern Kentucky, attending the local directional school and working in customer service at Sears. My reply to my friend was simple: “Are they still taking the money?”

Likewise, I have some advice for the kids at Yale. If you’re at Yale, we might reasonably expect you to be admissible at quite a number of other educational institutions. Perhaps you might find one of them more suitable. But if you believe that Yale is a place from which you receive sufficient benefit, maybe you could deign to overlook the fact that we no longer agree with some of the university’s better-known alumni. You know — it’s called tolerance.

Posted in Culture, Education, Family | Leave a comment

Well, I Wasn’t Expecting That…

At the year-end faculty meeting this afternoon, it was announced that I have been selected to receive this year’s W.C. “Billy” Carter Professorship, one of two one-year endowed professorships awarded each year at Newberry College. It’s an honor I hadn’t anticipated, and in conjunction with previous awards from the student government and the administration, it completes the trifecta of faculty honors here at Newberry. I’m deeply grateful, and I’m especially delighted by this particular benefactor. When I told my parents back in 2003 that I had taken a position in Newberry, my mother said, “Oh! That’s where Carter and Holmes Orchids are!” I’d like to think that wherever she is, she’s tickled about this honor. I certainly am.

When I set out on my move back into academia almost twenty years ago, I knew that I wanted to spend my career at a small, teaching-focused college. While I’m passionate about writing and literature, and wanted to share those passions, I also wanted to be Mr. Chips — a campus character, the guy that old grads will talk about after I’m gone. I seem to have taken significant steps in that direction, and I deeply appreciate the students, faculty, and administration for giving me the space and support to flourish in that manner. Inshallah, I hope to have many years in which to continue.

Thanks, everyone.

 

Posted in Education, Why I Do What I Do | 4 Comments

QotD: Mondo’s Law Redux Edition

Over the years, I’ve tried to suggest that we place too much emphasis on the political agon as a portion of our identities. I believe that the slogan “The personal is political” drives out the chance for things to be truly personal and outside the public sphere. I take real pleasure in my liberal friends as well as my conservative and libertarian ones — and as an academic in the humanities, that’s probably a good thing, because it could get pretty lonely otherwise.

And that brings us to our QotD, from Peter Wehner in the NYTWehner is speaking of the political rise of Donald Trump, and the fact that the intra-GOP tensions over this have been damaging even long-time friendships. Wehner observes:

When political differences shatter friendships, when we attribute disagreements to deep character flaws, it usually means politics has become too central to our lives.

Or to restate it in the terms of Mondo’s Law: If your life isn’t bigger than your politics, you’re doing one of them wrong.

This one is dedicated to the Mad Dog — I disagree with most of your positions, but I’m glad you’re there.

A tip of the Mondo Mortarboard to Lawrence Block, who has his own blog, by the way.

Posted in Culture, Politics, Why I Do What I Do | Leave a comment

Sunday Morning Potpourri

I have about a dozen papers to grade before Phase 1 of Gradeapalooza concludes, but I figured I’d procrastinate a bit check in here before diving into the day’s work.

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Saw the new version of The Jungle Book with the Spawn earlier in the week. It was a good time, with nice work from the kid actor, and lush scenery and CGI effects. There were a few nods to the classic animated version (although I missed the Scouse vultures), and even a couple to the books, which made me want to reread.them. The Spawn had a great time, and as usual, we enjoyed the popcorn.

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The Spawn and I will be making another run to Real City later this week, paying a call at Flagship in honor of yesterday’s quatercentenary of Shakespeare’s death. You see, the library at Flagship is hosting a copy of the First Folio, which the good folks at the Folger Shakespeare Library have sent on tour.

In some respects, making a trip to see a very old copy of a book may be sentimentalism, or even fetishism of a sort — it’s Shakespeare’s words and his stories that matter, after all. All the same, one of the thrills of my first trip through grad school was getting to hold a page of a Gutenberg Bible, the connection to history and my culture. In a way, I feel a bit like Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark as he addresses Jones: “Indiana, we are simply passing through history. This, this is history.”

I trust I’ll get a better conclusion than Belloq, however.

***

And now, a pause for some self-promotion. Lawrence Block reports at his place that In Sunlight or in Shadow (the anthology based on paintings by Edward Hopper, and including my story “Office at Night”) is gonna be nifty indeed:

Just scheduled—a deluxe limited edition of In Sunlight or in Shadow: 17 stories inspired byIn Sunlight or in Shadow_CVR-01 paintings of Edward Hopper. As you’ll recall, late this year Pegasus Books will publish this anthology, with an all-star lineup of authors [Well, “all-star” except for me… I’m more of a dwarf planet — Prof. M] and each painting reproduced in color; how Pegasus can do it at this price is beyond me.

And now Pegasus has arranged for those excellent small-press publishers, Cemetery Dance, to bring out a deluxe limited edition of the anthology. If you’re familiar with the publisher, you know what fine work they do. They’re not taking pre-orders yet—we just made the deal this week—but you might want to bookmark the page and check in from time to time. (Note that copies won’t be signed by all the contributors, just by Your Humble Anthologist.)

So there’s that. LB also has other cool news, including a new Keller novella, so go read his post as well.

***

While I wasn’t really a fan of the recently departed musician Prince (No fault of his — I just wasn’t into dance music when he was huge), I’ve got a lot of respect for his talent and technical skill on a variety of instruments. Mrs. M saw him play a few years ago, and reports that he was an amazing showman, a statement echoed by pretty much everyone who ever saw him play. As it happens, I’m reading Barry Miles’s biography of Frank Zappa, and it occurs to me that FZ and Prince shared some points in common (besides annoying the PMRC). Both men worked obsessively, recording enough material for several careers. Both men had difficult relationships with the companies that controlled much of the music industry during their lives. And both artists attracted interest that exceeds normal fandom and approaches the sort of devotion one expects of academics and Thuggee cultists.

While the last time I was shattered by a musician’s death was when John Lennon was murdered, I understand the disconcerting feeling in many of my demographic as key pop cultural figures disappear into the past. Goodbye, Mr. Nelson, and thanks for the music.

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Goodbye as well to Lonnie Mack, the legendary blues-rocker who passed away the day before Prince’s demise. A significant portion of his early career happened in Cincinnati, and Mack was responsible for the biggest hit on Cincinnati’s Fraternity Records, with his instrumental version of “Memphis.” Rock guitarists everywhere owe him a debt — even if they don’t know it.

There’s also a bit of a tie to crime fiction here — Fire Lake, one of Jonathan Valin’s Harry Stoner novels, features the Cincinnati-based detective’s search for a missing guitarist… named Lonnie Jack. It’s a good book.

Godspeed, Mr. Mack, and thank you as well.

***

Meanwhile, I’m on a musical quest of my own these days. No — the Berries are fine, with gigs coming up on Mother’s Day and 4 June. It’s just that there’s a song that has crept back into my mind after percolating for years. It’s one of the songs I heard late at night on Cincinnati radio, somewhere in the early-to-mid 1980s. It was something of a hard-rock/AOR track, with a tempo and groove rather like the hook in Blue Oyster Cult’s “Burnin’ for You”, and a similar sort of smooth production. But all I can remember is what I think is a snatch of the chorus (Backing vocals rendered in parentheses):

It’s all right (It’s all right it’s all right)

It’s OK (It’s OK, it’s OK)

[Something something] from the end of the night to the end of the day.

It is not a Kinks tune, nor is it Fine Young Cannibals or Jim Capaldi. At least two people with whom I grew up in Cincinnati claim to recognize the fragment, but they’re as stumped as I am. Maybe the song only exists in the collective unconscious, in which case I should try to write it; I seem to like it.

***

And since I’ve talked a lot of music in this potpourri, I’ll leave you with a bit. This was the subject of one of my previous mining expeditions, but a former colleague of mine was able to identify it, and now I listen to it fairly often. From Guadalcanal Diary, here’s “Vista.”

OK, back to grading, and see you soon!

Posted in Culture, Education, Family, Literature, Music, Pixel-stained Wretchery | Leave a comment

QotD: Choking on Smug Edition

Today at lunch, I was chatting with a colleague of mine who is rather to the left. Unsurprisingly, we disagree about quite a few things, but we continue to engage intellectually, because we like each other and we make each other laugh. We were discussing the coming changes in US currency design, and we agreed that there’s a fair amount of silliness involved in the whole business, and that the cosmetic changes of paper money are at best cosmetic changes in the situation of presumably marginalized groups. Harriet Tubman’s unquestionable courage is a given, and it’s nice that she’s being recognized, but my colleague and I were both pretty sure that putting her on the $20 bill isn’t going to usher in the Millennium. The US Mint ain’t the Freedom Riders.

I said, “Even if I weren’t a libertoid, I couldn’t be a prog/liberal, because I think all the virtue signaling is repellent.” What I didn’t go on to say is that a side that is wrapped up in signalling its own virtue requires a suitable number of the designated vicious to stigmatize. Orthodoxy is defined in part by the heresy it rejects. Self-congratulation requires scorn for the outsider as well.

This is part of what the Spawn recognized a while back when she was appalled by a prog political video that indulged in a bit of hickbashing. It’s also what Emmett Rensin of Vox(!) observes in a longish essay today. Rensin and I doubtless differ about a lot of political points — that’s fine, and I would expect no less. But to his credit, he’s willing to acknowledge a significant vice — smugness — on his side of the aisle, and that brings us to our QotD:

If the smug style can be reduced to a single sentence, it’s, Why are they voting against their own self-interest? But no party these past decades has effectively represented the interests of these dispossessed. Only one has made a point of openly disdaining them too.

Abandoned and without any party willing to champion their interests, people cling to candidates who, at the very least, are willing to represent their moral convictions. The smug style resents them for it, and they resent the smug in turn.

There are numerous points in the essay I think are wrongheaded. However, I strongly recommend you read the entire piece. There’s some interesting stuff there.

A tip of the Mondo Mortarboard to Ace.

Posted in Culture, Politics | Leave a comment

In Which the Prof Is Glad He Teaches English

I admit that I’m a terrible person, but when I saw this headline, there’s a part of me that said, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t…”

On the other hand, Gradeapalooza no longer seems so bad.

Seriously, I wish Professor Wagner a full and speedy recovery.

Posted in Education | 6 Comments