Camp on Wheels

I’ve mentioned in the past that I spend a lot of time listening to the Mondoville campus radio station. This means that I’ve heard the station’s limited selection of PSA’s way too often.

In particular, I hear a spot for Meals on Wheels a few times each day. It’s a terrific organization — one of those examples of volunteerism in action that I love to see — but I find this spot to be unintentionally amusing.

The commercial features 94-year-old spokesclient Lola Silvestri, a charming woman. However, the radio spots open at this point in her narration. And because of her pause for breath, I invariably start singing this song.

I may require an exorcist.

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Gig Non-Report, and a Bit of Potpourri

Getting a bit closer to the start of a new school year, but there are still things to do that are less than scholarly, so. . .

***

About that gig we were supposed to play last night? Well, last Monday night I got notified that the venue (Simpsonville’s Soundbox Tavern) had closed down. That’s a drag. Of course, it always is for the people who work at a place that’s gone out of business, and so I feel first for the bartenders, cooks, and other folks who worked there. But it’s also a bummer because it was a nice place to play, and venues that are open to original music are hard enough to find that when one goes away, it’s a big chunk out of the options for bands like ours and the others with whom we play. And if you like music that may be a little quirky, or just something other than a reflection of “I Heart Radio”, this reduces your chance of finding something different, or even your next favorite band.

In the poetry workshops of my M.A. years, James Baker Hall (my instructor and guru) would talk about getting published. He always pointed out that writers need to buy small press books or issues of the little magazines in which they want to appear — not in a quid pro quo or reading fees/scam sort of way, but because (particularly in a niche like poetry or — ahem — short fiction) it’s an act of self-preservation. If a magazine or journal prints the kind of stuff you like to read or write, you should want it to stick around for your pleasure. . .  and as a possible habitat for your own work. The concept holds for a wide variety of creative fields.

So adieu to the Soundbox — we enjoyed playing there, and you made good pizza.

***

In other Berries-related news, we have a show scheduled for two weeks from today, as part of the region’s festivities for the Great American Eclipse on 21 August. We’ll be playing at the New Brookland Tavern in Real City with friends from Turbo Gatto, Pig Head Dog, and the New York Disco Villains, and the show will be headlined by the punky soul or soul-infused punk of Debbie & the Skanks. So if you’re one of the million or so people expected in the Real City/Mondoville area that weekend, we’d love to see you!

***

Speaking of the eclipse, Mondoville College’s football stadium is actually a NASA-approved viewing location for our two-and-a-half minutes of totality. As it happens, Eclipse Day is also check-in day for our returning students, and classes begin the following day. Safe viewing glasses are being distributed to faculty, staff, and students, and honestly, you can’t swing a cat around here without smacking the safety goggles. (No cats were harmed in the composition of this post.) Still, I keep finding myself thinking about Triffids.

***

Mrs. M and the Spawn are making a Real City run today to take care of a bit of back-to-school shopping. I, meanwhile, am starting to assemble syllabi for my classes. One of the classes (the one on theodicy in literature) is a new one, and another (History of the English Language — HotEL for short) I haven’t taught in a number of years. Meanwhile, our admissions staff worked overtime, and we have 400+ incoming freshpeeps, which has led to larger sections of Froshcomp than we’ve had in quite some time. Should be an interesting term.

***

We had a Freshman Orientation session yesterday, and while I was having lunch with some colleagues, the subject of celebrities who write poetry came up. The obvious/famous ones came up first (Leonard Nimoy and Jimmy Stewart), but after a bit, we started imagining “Collections We’d Like to See.” Some of them were “The Collected Sonnets of Carl Weathers,” “Bonnie Bedelia’s Haiku,” and “An Epic by Meredith Baxter Birney.”

We’re an odd lot, sometimes.

***

And I’ll go ahead and close now with a bit of music. I’ve mentioned in the past that my fondness for garage rock and progressive rock includes a common DNA strand in the form of psychedelia. Still another genre of that ilk is a particular sort of hard rock known variously as stoner metal, desert rock, or doom metal. It’s pretty much Music to Watch the Walls Breathe By, and although I’ve never engaged in the sort of chemical augmentation associated with this stuff, I’ve always dug the music.

Well, I was listening to a stream of this kind of thing today when I ran across a track with a decidedly late-60s/early-70s vibe that really caught my attention. It turned out that it’s a group called Fuzz, which includes noted garage revivalist Ty Segall on drums, rather than on his usual guitar, and that they still seem to be something of a going concern. So here’s “Let Them Live”; I hope you like it.

See you soon!

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The King of Liver-Flavored Toothpaste, and other Potpourri

Sorry I’ve been absent for a week, but I had a story to finish, students to advise, and well —

Anyway, some potpourri?

***

The ladies of Clan Mondo spent the weekend in Lost-in-the-Woods County visiting family, which left me doing the bachelor thing for the last couple of days, keeping company with the Hound of the Basketballs at the Mid-Century Mondohaus. However, I took a trip of my own yesterday, heading to Real City for a day with author and MWA prez Jeffery Deaver and a few dozen of our closer friends. The affair was sponsored by the Southeast chapter of MWA, with participation from the Palmetto chapter of Sisters in Crime as well. The setting was St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church downtown, one of several churches along that particular street. However, when I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed a car with a decorative license plate that read, “Mystery Writer,” and cleverly deduced that I was in the right place. Thank goodness for graduate school.

Having arrived a little early, I had a glass of orange juice and staked out a spot toward the front of the room. I bumped into a couple of folks I remembered from my recent talk in Greenville, and introduced myself to SEMWA prez Maggie Toussaint. Krispy Kreme doughnuts were available as well, but I abstained, lest I grab all the boxes and flee to my car.

A bit later, another attendee asked me if I knew Mr. Deaver. I said, “No, but we’ve been in a book together, and there’ll be another in a few months.” There was also the general chat about where folks had come from in order to attend the day’s events. SEMWA takes in a lot of territory, and writers had come from as far away as Nashville in order to make it to Real City.

After getting established at my seat, I looked in the goodie bag I had been given, and saw, along with a copy of Deaver’s The Skin Collector (a recent installment of the Lincoln Rhyme series), an outline (with space for notes) on the seminar he’d be conducting. The class was on writing commercial fiction, and of course, Mr. Deaver knows that of which he speaks.

I don’t want to give away the store, but the class had information that I think would be useful to writers at every level of expertise and professionalism. And on that last bit…

Mr. Deaver described three main categories of writers. Category I would be what I think of as full-time commercial pros like Mr. Deaver, Lawrence Block, and Michael Connelly. Category III would be amateurs (using the word here in its root sense of someone acting from love rather than as a synonym for tyro) — folks who may passionately write family history stories, fan fiction, and such, frequently self-publishing. (Of course, sometimes folks in Category III catch lightning in a bottle — ask E.L. James.) I’m somewhere in Category II. I write and get paid for it, although not on a level that would allow me to walk away from my day job. Which is fine — I love (most of) my day job as well. But I wouldn’t object to getting better at the things I do, nor to earning more money for those things.

There’s an old saw among musicians that in the phrase “music business,” the second word is at least as important as the first. Similarly, in the term “commercial fiction,” that first word is a doozy. Deaver is very much aware that he is in the business of manufacturing well crafted entertainment products for a large audience. He does this with what Flaubert described as “clean hands and composure,” and he does it very well. But this seminar wasn’t the sort of place for folks who want to ponder the ineffable whiteness of the whale. He is a pro, speaking to pros (or those who to a greater or lesser extent would be pros). This wasn’t an “Ars gratia artis” MFA gig (for which thank God.)

Deaver

Class is in session — I’m the guy in red on the margin.

Deaver spoke of the work as an attempt to follow the “mint-flavored toothpaste” model. If you work for Procter and Gamble’s toothpaste division, you’re going to work on making mint-flavored toothpaste, not because you feel a particular allegiance to mint, but because that’s what people want to buy. If you want to make liver-flavored toothpaste, you may be able to do that very well, but not many people are going to care for it, and you probably won’t be keeping the gig at P&G. People like and buy mint-flavored toothpaste; people like and buy Mr. Deaver’s novels.

He then went on to discuss the basic ingredients of his particular work (commercial thrillers), and I realized that I am basically the king of liver-flavored toothpaste. From the fact that most of my work has been short-form to the fact that little of what I write has an upbeat ending (although I often find it funny), it’s liver, liver, liver. Good thing I have that day job, huh?

The morning was filled with a discussion of the elements of commercial thrillers and how the professional puts them together, which Mr. Deaver delivers with engaging gusto. After a nice catered lunch (I went for the eggplant parm), he spent an hour or so talking about the business end of the commercial fiction game, from the necessity of agents to the advisability of staying with the same publisher when possible. He also discussed promotional activity and other steps toward the care and feeding of a writer’s career.

Finally, there was a one-hour roundtable with Deaver and some of the SEMWA board members, where they talked about the things he said and how they could relate his points to their (and our) work.  Deaver signed books for folks (including my copy of In Sunlight or In Shadow), and the day wrapped with a nice reception. Alas, at that point I had to get back home to tend to the Hound, but even without canapes or fruit kebabs, it was a day well spent, and it left me thinking that it doesn’t have to be liver. As Deaver noted, some folks buy Tom’s of Maine toothpaste, which isn’t artificially minty, after all.

***

Did a little walking this week, putting in a few untimed, unmeasured miles at the local indoor track. I had some foot pain toward the end of the week’s walk, but it was better than the pounding I usually do on the treadmill. And I can hear the music better.

***

The Berries had a week off because of family travels for some of our members, but we’ll be getting ready this week for a full evening’s work with our friends at the Soundbox Tavern on Friday night. We hope to see you there!

***

And speaking of music, here’s a pretty nifty song from the spud boys of Akron. This was on their most commercial album, Freedom of Choice, but it got virtually no radio play, which is a shame, because I like the odd mix of simplicity and yes, yearning. Hope you like it, and I’ll see you soon.

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Gig Report: Happy Birthday, Art Bar

The Berries got back into the rock and roll business last night, playing the opening set at the anniversary celebration for our Real City home at ArtBar. As the opener, we arrived at 7 p.m. for set-up with the venue’s sterling sound guy, Alan. I like Alan for a lot of reasons, and one of them is that he’s patient with the fact that I have a larger kit than a lot of people use these days, at least in the kind of music ArtBar tends to host. My set is a 7-piece, with 5 toms, which means we typically run out of mikes before we run out of drums. Add to that the fact that I have a vocal mike and monitor, and that I have to be able to play (and sing) in the middle of this forest of gear, and that we have to be able to set up and tear down quickly on a four-band bill, and you can see why a patient sound guy is a blessing. And he was, which meant we started on time.

At 8:15. This was unusually early for an ArtBar show, although I think they’re trying to move start times up in general. But while we had mentioned this in our social media announcements, not everyone got the message — flyers for the show, for example, listed a 9:00 start time, and I’ve played shows there in the past that started at 9:30. The way all this played out was that we did our 45-minute set for a small but enthusiastic group of friends and family, wrapping up just in time for a number of people to ask us later, “When do you go on?” We played well, though, demonstrating that the Berries will work just as hard for a crowd of seven as we will for a crowd of, well… eight or nine. (A personal high point, however, was when a member of another group came in and I heard him say, “God damn, that’s a gorgeous drum set!” Once again, I bask in having gear that’s better than I am.)

Next up was a band I had heard a lot about in recent weeks, Les Merry Chevaliers. Their brand of “Punque Roc” is augmented by a pre-Revolutionary aesthetic, powdered wigs, knee breeches, and all:

Chevaliers 1Chevaliers 2

With songs like “Faster than the Speed of Sexy”, “Hot Moms”, and the closer “I Ruined Coitus for You”, LMC had the crowd thoroughly stoked. Despite the fact that they were breaking in new drummer “Louis LXIX”, they were tight, highly energetic, and a hell of a lot of fun. Also of note was the fact that they had a cameraman wielding an Arriflex rig to document the occasion. Our bass player (and Mondoville communications instructor) Justin told me, “That’s about a $40K camera there.” It’s good to have fans.

Next up were hometown rockabilly faves the Capital City Playboys, and they once again demonstrated why they’ve earned a reputation as one of the area’s best live acts. The trio mixed classic covers of Carl Perkins and Link Wray tunes with original numbers like “Hog Wild.” I’ve been going to or playing at club shows since for decades, and over that time, I’ve come to believe that rockabilly may be one of the best kinds of music to hear live. Even if it isn’t great, you’ll have a good time. Fortunately, the Playboys needn’t worry — they’re veteran players, and their set was ferocious, even overcoming the collapse of a bass drum spur in the opening number, which made the kit list like the Titanic for half the song. By the end of their set, the crowd was rocking and even the walls were sweating.

In a bonus for the crowd, which had bulked up quite a bit, the guitarist for the Playboys was joined on stage by some of the members of headliners Hot Lava Monster for a couple of Zeppelin numbers and a nice cover of the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues.” Then it was time for the Hot Lava Monster guys to close out the night.

The band is basically a power trio plus vocalist, which worked well for such purveyors of heaviosity as Zep and the Sabs, and they gave the audience the pummeling it sought. The band’s focal points are vocalist Patrick Baxley (who has a “classic rock” voice reminiscent of the late Chris Cornell) and guitar beast “Hot Lava” Mike. The guitar sound is thicker and more muscular than Zep’s, and the groove is sprightlier than Sabbath, despite riffage that worked in logarithmic time signatures like 13/8 and 21/8. After their set, I told Mike that you don’t hear a lot of 21/8 in the clubs, and he acknowledged that (like most odd-time experimentalists I know) he tends to think in terms of phrases, rather than counting through the passages. Full credit goes to the rhythm section as well, which knew how to rip through the complex passages without stepping on either Baxley or Mike’s work.

They made it through their set of originals and earned an encore from the crowd, so they came back with a song I really hadn’t expected. They covered one of the great “love to hate” songs of the last few decades, “What’s Up” by 4 Non Blondes. Ordinarily the song is cheesier than a Chicago-style pizza, but the crowd went nuts and the HLM guys grounded the number in the same power and joy of hard rock that had marked the rest of the set. That transmutation was the capper of the evening.

As the rest of the Berries had responsibilities today, I was the last man standing to collect our pay packet, so I got back to Mondoville about 3 this morning. I had hoped to grab a very late dinner at the local 24-hour Sonic, but when I got there, I discovered that one of their systems or another was down for maintenance until 4:15, so I headed home, had some microwavable sausage biscuits, and went to bed about 3:30, waking up a couple of minutes before noon. The glamorous rock and roll life.

But I’m glad I have it.

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Quote of the Early Morning

A few minutes ago, I ran across a New Criterion review of the new OUP edition of the diaries and journals of Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J. I’ve mentioned Hopkins before — how when I first encountered his work (during my teens), I had no idea of how to parse the work, and no understanding of why he was such a big deal. Eventually, I grew up enough to get it (I think), and I find he gains wisdom and beauty every time I read or teach his work. As my hero Northrop Frye once said “Read Blake or go to Hell” (which he meant very nearly literally), I find myself wanting to say “Read Hopkins, for the love of God.”

The quote I want to share, however, is not from Hopkins, but from Paul Dean, the writer of the review. He discusses the profound psychological and spiritual agonies that Hopkins endured for much of his life, and ends the article by noting:

“[A]ll vocations, whether literary or religious, come at a price.”

I’ll try to put a potpourri together when I get up again, some hours from now.

Posted in Culture, Education, Faith, Literature, Why I Do What I Do | 2 Comments

A Nice Touch

For years, my favorite movie was the original Dawn of the Dead, written and directed by the recently departed George Romero*. The bulk of the movie takes place at an abandoned shopping mall, leading to the three-word synopsis: “Consumers get consumed.” In keeping with Romero’s low-budget ethos, he used a real mall for numerous scenes — specifically, the Monroeville Mall, east of Romero’s Pittsburgh home base. For those of us of a certain age and filmic disposition, the Monroeville Mall became a sort of archetype, and during my first tour of duty at Sears (Store #1730, Florence, KY), I’d always get a little creeped out if I had to close and walk out of the largely darkened Florence Mall.

But as I noted above, Mr. Romero died a few days ago. Lots of folks have written tributes to the man and his work, but I was particularly pleased to see this one a few minutes ago.

Monroeville Mall

Thanks, indeed.

*= In recent years, I’ve grown to love Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past to the point where it is now at the top of my personal hit parade. Still, Romero’s work will be a feature any time I teach the horror film.

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Goin’ to the Chapel… Hill, That Is.

Just got back to Mondoville with Mrs. M and the Spawn an hour or two ago, after a trip north to visit the U of North Carolina’s flagship campus at Chapel Hill. The Spawn’s academic interests have led her to the idea of postgrad work in library science — in particular, in archival work or special collections. While she doesn’t graduate until 2019, we thought it might be good to look at some programs, and UNC’s programs are highly rated.

We made the trip up on Thursday afternoon — or at least that was the plan. We left Mondoville around 1:15 for what Mapquest told us was a 4-hour trip. And then we hit the traffic jam in Charlotte and the enormous stretch of road destruction construction on I-85, northeast of Charlotte. So we stopped for dinner and got on the road again in time to catch weather delays and further road congestion. All told, with one thing and another, our 4-hour drive took about 7 hours.

Fortunately, the hotel was worth the trip. We use an online travel service to book our trips, and while we were booking this one, Mrs. M saw a “mystery promotion”, offering us a room at an unidentified 3.5-star hotel for what we usually pay when we stay someplace of Ramada quality or less. Figuring “what the heck”, we took a shot, and found we were booked at the Carolina Inn, a hotel that is actually on the UNC campus. It’s seriously posh — our room normally books for about four times what we paid. The Spawn was swivel-necked, looking at the elegant surroundings — she’s been in nice places before (our hotel in Philly last year, for instance), but this was better than Clan Mondo is used to. Things like turn-down service and mints on the pillow were bits of elegance none of us are used to… but we could learn.

The hotel (as one might expect) emphasizes its connection to the University. The hallways are decorated with portraits of famous UNC alumni in a variety of fields — one lounge area was decorated with assorted actors with UNC connections. Mrs. M was particularly fond of a drawing of John Forsythe, the star of a prime-time soap from our youth, while I got a kick out of a portrait of Andy Griffith (Class of 1949). Our room also had plaques honoring alumni in the fields of medicine and public health.

We set up our base camp, and then headed out into the gloaming to walk around a small part of the campus. We took about half an hour, admiring buildings and wandering into one of the library buildings. By then, the heat and humidity, combined with the hours in the car, had us wilting. So we headed back to the room and called it a night.

The next morning, after breakfast in the hotel restaurant (I highly recommend the buffet — the scrambled eggs are amazing), we parted ways. The Spawn went on a guided tour of the campus, and Mrs. M and I took a look at the University’s graduate apartments. Compared to the cinder-block palaces where we lived in my grad school days at Kentucky and Ball State, the accommodations in Chapel Hill are sybaritic. Air conditioning? A dishwasher? Washer and dryer hookups? Elevators? Covered parking? Where are the roaches? Where is the nubby, mud-colored carpeting? Where is the sagging convertible sofa? Get off my lawn!

After that, we elderly types did a bit of shopping, or at least Mrs. M did while I loitered at a bookstore. While we were doing that, the Spawn fell in love:

UNC rare books

This is the Rare Book room at one of the University’s libraries.

Eventually, we met up again at the hotel, and then it was time for the Spawn to have a get acquainted meeting with one of the Library Science department’s professors. She said the meeting was friendly and informative, and it only furthered her interest in the program. When the meeting was done, the Spawn texted us and we came to pick her up and get dinner.

Dinner was at the Spawn’s favorite chain restaurant, and we enjoyed dinner in the company of a high school friend of mine, along with her husband and son, all of whom live nearby in Raleigh. The conversation was lively, but again, it had been a long day, so Clan Mondo retreated to the Carolina Inn. I was out cold by about ten.

We woke up this morning (da DAH da DAH dum) and got breakfast at a Bob Evans while Mrs. M scoped out a nearby thrift store. We then set out for home, and after a couple of minor traffic delays and a side trip to claim the Hound of the Basketballs from her lodgings, we made it home about five this evening.

The Spawn’s take? “The campus is beautiful, and I like the vibe.” She’s definitely interested, although she thought it was funny that tour guides and the like kept referring to Chapel Hill as a “small town” — it has six times the population of Mondoville. More accurately, it feels very much like what I think a college/university town should be. And of course, there’s a part of me that gets a little envious of settings like that one. But there’s also something to be said for getting back to one’s own home and hearth.

See you soon!

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