Sunday Potpourri: Merry Spawnmas Edition

It’s the Spawn’s birthday — she turns 22 today, and we’ve done the cake and presents thing. But there’s a little time for potpourri, don’t you think?

***

I made a trip to Real City yesterday, lunching at my preferred inexpensive Chinese restaurant before hitting a comics emporium nearby. At the comic store, I looked for the graphic novel version of Eight Million Ways to Die, but there wasn’t one in stock. However, there was a copy of Astro City: Private Lives, another volume in Kurt Busiek’s brilliant series about superheroes and the people whose lives intersect with them. As I’ve noted in the past, one of the great things about AC is that many of the stories focus not on the folks in capes, but on the ordinary people who live their lives in a world where superhero stuff just happens. For example, the lead story focuses not on high-level magic user the Silver Adept, but on her personal assistant, who sets up (and postpones) appointments, keeps track of assorted items of Great Power, and occasionally has to placate Things from Beyond while the boss has other business. Other stories deal with a sweet little old lady who happens to run a sort of rescue shelter for the giant robots supervillains have used in their schemes, and a touching story about high school kids that has more than a little to tell us about where villains come from, and what a hero might really be.

I’ve said before that I think Astro City may be the best written superhero comic on the scene these days, with Eisner-quality stories. This volume has done nothing to change my mind. Call it thirteen bucks well spent.

***

Other reading I did this week includes installments Two and Three of Andrew Cartmel’s Vinyl Detective series. Number three has been sitting on my desk since before the New Year, because I had read the first in the series, and had the third in trade format, but had to wait for the mass market edition of the second one. (Everybody straight? Then let’s continue.)

The novels feature the escapades of our otherwise nameless first-person narrator, whose fascination with obscure records leads him into adventures when he is hired to find them. Typically, the records are the MacGuffins that lead our hero into webs of conspiracy and secrets some folks prefer kept.  He works along with his girlfriend, a best friend/fellow music geek, and a female taxi driver known as Clean Head for her shaved dome, all of whom are good for more than a few laughs. The Vinyl Detective’s stories tread an interesting line between cozies, comic mysteries, and something darker. The fourth one in the series comes out in May, and I’m looking forward to it.

***

As I mentioned above, today is the Spawn’s birthday. Twenty-two years ago today, I met her and held her as my beloved Kentucky Wildcats lost an overtime game with Arizona for the national championship. This afternoon, I got a hug, and my ‘Cats fell in overtime against a hot Auburn squad that claimed a Final Four spot with the win. Clearly we should try to avoid games on my daughter’s birthday. But it wasn’t a bad season, and the ball will go up again this fall.

***

On the writing front, in a bit less than two weeks I’ll be appearing in Hillsborough, NC for another installment of Noir at the Bar.

N@tB 11 Apr Poster

I think I’ll be reading “Rough Mix,” the short story that appears in At Home in the Dark, Lawrence Block’s new anthology. If you order a copy, I’ll be happy to sign it for you, so if you can swing by, please do!

***

Meanwhile, my colleague Marilyn Dallman Seymour has announced her retirement at the term’s end. An Americanist, Dr. Seymour has been one of the Spawn’s favorite profs in her time at Mondoville, and she’ll be missed.

However, it’s an ill wind indeed that blows no one good, and Marilyn’s departure means that we’re hiring a tenure-track replacement. So if you know an American lit specialist (or if you happen to be one), give us a holler, huh?

***

Well, supper time is drawing near, so I’ll wrap this up with some music. The Downliners Sect were part of the mid-60s British R&B scene, along with groups like the Pretty Things, Animals, and Yardbirds, to say nothing of the Stones. But unlike the contemporaries I’ve mentioned, the Sect didn’t really make it out of the second division, and consequently are not especially known in the States beyond a certain circle of geeks (Hi there!). However, they continue to soldier on, and more power to them.

Among other things, they were notable for the fact that band member Don Craine typically wore a deerstalker cap, and that both Steve Marriott and Rod Stewart unsuccessfully auditioned for the group over the years. This particular number dates from 1966, and has the distinction of being co-written by Lou Reed and John Cale before anyone had heard of the Velvet Underground. In fact, I’ll double it up and give you the original (as by the “All Night Workers”):

followed by the Sect’s revved-up take:

And with that, I’ll see you soon!

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Sunday Potpourri: Mr. Blue Sky Edition

After a seemingly interminable series of gray/rainy weekends, things have been gorgeous in Mondoville this weekend, so naturally, I’m in my office gearing up for the coming week. But there’s time for a bit of potpourri along the way, I think.

***

Because it was so nice yesterday, and because two of my students are on the team, I caught a women’s lacrosse match yesterday at the stadium. (Side note: Mondoville’s colors are scarlet and gray, and our ladies were wearing the latter color yesterday. This led to cheers of “Go, Gray!” I couldn’t help feeling ahead of the game, because I had gone gray years earlier.) The game’s result wasn’t great for us, but it was a lovely afternoon, and I struck up a conversation with the father of one of our players. As it turns out, they happen to be from Maryland (a hotbed for the sport), and  we talked a bit about the Spawn’s impending relocation, neighborhoods and towns near campus, and that sort of thing. He also filled me in on some aspects of the game I didn’t understand — the sport is still relatively new down here, and isn’t a part of the local culture in the way that football and baseball are. He said they’d be coming back down in April for their daughter’s Senior Day; maybe I’ll see them again then.

***

There was a men’s game coming up afterward, but I had other plans, as my beloved Kentucky Wildcats had a second-round game in the NCAA basketball tournament against a school about an hour up the road from Mondoville, the Wofford Terriers. So I planned to hunker down in the den to see if once again, my alma mater’s Evil Empire could send another darling/Cinderella story home, as we’ve done on a number of occasions during my years as a fan.

However, there was a problem. We had scheduled an upgrade to our satellite service, and the technician was supposed to come out and switch boxes — right about game time. So I had to change venues. I remembered a TV in the hallway outside the studio where I make music, so I went over, switched it on, and…

… couldn’t change the channel. There was no remote, and I couldn’t find buttons on the set itself. So I went to plan C, and wound up arriving at the campus snack bar about six minutes into the first half. I bought a snack and a drink and got settled in.  A few students trickled through, but I pretty much had the place to myself.

And in fact, a few minutes before 5, the snack bar folks started locking the place up for the evening. There was about a minute-forty left in the game, so I asked if I could stick through the conclusion. No problem, and I was able to watch my Cats play spoiler once again. Fortunately, our next game is on Friday, so I should be back in the den for that one.

***

And in case yesterday wasn’t good enough, yesterday evening I saw that Lawrence Block had excerpted a bit of my story “Rough Mix”, from the forthcoming At Home in The Dark antho, at his blog. As he has done with the other authors, he offered his readers an introduction to me and to my work. He was very kind, talking about my educational work and my music, but then he said, “Warren’s here because he’s first and foremost a writer.”

Yeah, you can go ahead and put that on my headstone — although I hope not to need it anytime soon.

In the intro to the 1975 edition of his early collection Gentleman Junkie, Harlan Ellison (PBUH) talks about having had those stories kindly reviewed by Dorothy Parker. He describes it thus:

Can you imagine what that kind of praise does for a writer who (like Willy Loman) has til then been out there on only a smile and a shoeshine? Ray Bradbury can tell you; he got his from Christopher Isherwood, and it made his reputation. It’s like the first time a girl says yes. It’s like the first time a female realizes she doesn’t have to be some guy’s kitchen slave to lead a fully-realized existence. It’s like Moses getting the tablets.

[…] I was no longer all alone in my opinion of my worth.

I think I get that today. Also, you should buy the book.

***

But that schoolwork is still waiting for me, so I had best wrap this up. Lothar and the Hand People were a psych band based in Denver, and are best known for being one of the first bands to use both the theremin (which was named Lothar, I’m guessing after Mandrake the Magician‘s servant) and the recently invented Moog synthesizer. They also worked with playwright/actor Sam Shepard (providing background music for his The Unseen Hand.) Their song “Space Hymn” received a fair amount of FM radio play when it came out in 1969, but this track, a cover of a Manfred Mann number (written by Mort Shulman) was the single from their first album in ’68. I can hear elements of the sort of music later known as Krautrock, but that may just be me. This is “Machines.”

See you soon!

Posted in Culture, Education, Family, Literature, Music, Why I Do What I Do | 1 Comment

My Daughter the T[w]erp

Last night, the Spawn finally got the news she’s been waiting for.

Old UMD logo

Yes, it’s an old version of the emblem, but I like it, and it’s my blog.

She was informed that she has been accepted into the U of Maryland at College Park’s Master of Library and Information Science program. While we’re still waiting to figure out where things stand on the funding front, Maryland has been her top choice since last year, so this is cause for celebration at the Mid-Century Mondohaus.

I guess I had best get used to the occasional long trip North by car or train — and to the idea that the Spawn’s rent for a studio apartment is going to exceed my mortgage payment for a 3200-sq.-ft. house. On the other hand, I enjoyed our visit to the area last summer, so having an excuse to go back is pretty nifty.

Congratulations, Em. I’d say, “Make us proud,” but you already did, and do, and will.

testudo.

Posted in Education, Faith, Family | 2 Comments

Tuesday Evening Potpourri: Back in Town Edition

I’m back in Mondoville, having spent a couple of days in Atlanta at a conference examining key first-year courses, their role in determining the success or failure of a range of underrepresented students, and how we can improve those students’ odds while maintaining academic rigor. The sessions I attended (focusing chiefly on Froshcomp) ranged from touchy-feely to eminently practical, with several side trips to inspiration along the way. So I learned some stuff and after I mull it over a bit, I’ll make some suggestions to the folks over in the Dark Tower. But in the meantime…

***

I caught a lift to and from the conference with the chair of our Math & Science department. One of our math profs was there as well, and the Dean swung by for part of the event. I was Mondoville’s rep for the Humanities, but as I said, I spent most of my time in sessions on writing, along with a couple on pedagogy.

Since my colleague was driving, I had the leisure to look around as we made our journey. That’s probably why I noticed a sign by the highway advertising “Organic Compost.”

“Glad to see that,” I said. “I’ve found that my plastic compost really doesn’t work very well.” My colleague laughed, but he may have just been trying to be kind.

***

The conference was held in Atlanta’s tony Buckhead neighborhood, where I hadn’t been in 20 years or so, since my days in the magazine business. The magazine sponsored a conference in Stone Mountain, and one evening we ferried the attendees and sponsors to Buckhead for wheeling, dealing, and general carrying on. So it had been a while.

I didn’t stay at the conference hotel, but I was only about a five-minute walk away, and found my accommodations quite comfortable, thanks. I guess it’s my working-class background haunting me, but when I’m in a fancy, big city hotel (as I was this weekend), I always feel a little out of place, a bit like a rube.  After all, most of my family’s vacations when I was a kid or a teen were camping trips, because 1) my dad loved the Smokies, and 2) a tent and a campsite were cheap. I joke that now my idea of roughing it is when the concierge speaks broken English, but honestly, once we get past the Ramada Inn level or so, my impostor syndrome kicks in.  Maybe that’s a reason I tend to overtip as well.

You know you grew up working-class when your definition of a posh hotel is “one with hallways, where the room doors are on the inside of the building.”

***

There were some pretty nifty restaurants in the neighborhood as well. The conference supplied us with full breakfasts yesterday and today (“Ooh! Fancy!” said Professor Hayseed.), and lunch yesterday, but the dinners were on our own, so my colleagues and I went to one of my favorite restaurants on Sunday evening.

I know that the restaurant I suggested is part of a Chicago-based chain with a couple of dozen locations, but again, I hadn’t been to one since my magazine days when I ate at the chain’s mothership, and while it might not be Charlie Gitto’s, neither is it Olive Garden or the late, lamented Spaghetti Shoppe in Muncie, IN (Slogan: “Take home a bucket!”). The other guys went for veal dishes. Me? Yeah, you guessed it.

spags

The meatball in question was slightly larger than a baseball. The meatball who ate it is considerably larger.

After that, I had an apple crostata a la mode, while the Dean went for a bowl of ice cream, and then we waddled back to our hotels. I hope the chain makes it to Real City one of these days. Once every 20 years or so really isn’t often enough.

***

As we were eating, I was absentmindedly tapping along with the background music. The mathematician said, “You’re drumming.”

I smiled, and broke into a grin when the Math and Science chair said, “Yeah, he did that on the ride into town as well, when I turned the radio on.”

What can I say? I’ve always done that. Mom said it was like having a woodpecker in the house. I assume Mrs. M and the Spawn are used to it.

***

Last night, meanwhile, we went to a Mexican joint  near the Math/Science chair’s hotel. I had a plate of nachos, my usual Mexican food go-to. The salsa offered sufficient kick, and let’s just say that none of us left hungry.

***

Monday afternoon, I got a text from Mrs. M, suggesting that I pick up a couple of Powerball tickets while I was in Georgia, as the jackpot is up over a half-billion dollars. Yes, we have Powerball in Mondoville, but occasionally wonder if buying a ticket in another state might change our luck. (NARRATOR: It has never changed their luck.)

My colleague was kind enough to swing by a gas station on the way back to Mondoville, and I accomplished my mission. If I hit, I guess I ought to kick a little into the college’s building fund, huh?

***

I made it home a bit before 4 this afternoon, and I’ve taken care of my laundry and otherwise unpacked. Still, I have my 8 a.m. class tomorrow morning, so I’d better wrap things up. And why not do that with a band from the Atlanta area? I featured half of the Producers‘ two hits a couple of years ago. Here’s the other one.

See you soon!

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Saturday Potpourri: Going Underground Edition

OK, not exactly underground, but I’ll be heading to Atlanta for part of this week in order to attend a conference on first-year/”gateway” courses, and whenever I think of Atlanta, I think of the city’s famous Underground entertainment district. I don’t ever recall spending any time there — nor am I likely to on this visit — but I think of the area because my brother ran up an $800 bar tab there one evening around 1990, on a spring break trip with a bunch of his friends. Apparently he bought trays of shooters for the entire group. I’ve wasted my share of money over the years as well, but I don’t think I ever did it quite so flamboyantly.

But enough of that. On to the potpourri, yes?

***

I went to a lacrosse match this afternoon; the results weren’t what I would have hoped for, but it was a nice golf-shirt-and-jeans kind of a day, and a decent crowd at what is invariably called “Historic Setzler Field,” the oldest college stadium still in use in South Carolina.

I’ve been to a match or two each season, but I find I really don’t have much understanding of the sport. I know how goals are scored and I know about the Jim Brown rule, but that’s about it. But I have kids on the roster from time to time; in fact, one of the guys in my creative writing class picked up a goal late in today’s game.

Apparently the sport is gaining popularity in this region, but I still think of it as a Mid-Atlantic or Northeastern thing, and a lot of our players come from the DelMarVa area. In fact, athletics contribute a fair amount of geographic diversity to our student body. All the same, I’d like to know why our opponents seem to get more free collisions than we do. See? I’m learning to gripe about the officiating in a different sport. Hurrah for transferable skills.

***

Something else I did this afternoon was book a hotel room and rental car for a forthcoming Noir at the Bar gig in a few weeks in Hillsborough, NC. I don’t know who all will be reading, but if you’re in the area on 11 April, swing by the King Street Bar — I’d love to see you.

***

Speaking of writing and such, LB has been posting excerpts of stories from At Home in the Dark over at his place. My story hasn’t yet been excerpted yet (in part, I suspect, because it’s very compact), but it’ll show up soon enough. Stop by, meanwhile —  you may want to see what you can get!

***

Some sad news to report — Gahan Wilson, one of my favorite cartoonists (and the author of a genuinely delightful horror short story entitled “Ellison-AgainDangerousVisions00.jpg“) — is struggling with dementia, and with the loss of his wife of more than 50 years. Wilson’s stepson has set up a GoFundMe account to assist in the cost of his memory care, should you wish to contribute.

At the account page, Mr. Winters (the stepson) offers the following anecdote from a few days ago:

I went over to see Gahan this morning and was going to take him out for a drive. As I came in I asked one of the staff at the memory care ward how he was doing. She said, great. Where is he? He’s eating. I peeked around a corner and he looked good. I decided not to bother him and I used the time to talk with the nurse. So, he’s doing pretty good? Oh, yeah, he’s settling in really nicely. Good. He even drew me this drawing. She opened an official looking binder on a cart and there was a beautiful, signed, Gahan Wilson cartoon of a very cheerful, mouse, dressed in clothes walking along. They were all coloring, and I asked him to draw me a picture, and he drew this. I smiled. You know it’s worth a lot of money, I told her. I know, she said. I slipped out without disturbing his flow on the day. I’m so happy he is adjusting to the memory care side of things. They’re treating him like a celebrity and they are getting him to draw cartoons. Sweet.

Here’s hoping it stays sweet for as long as it can.

***

But let’s wrap this up with a little more music. Emitt Rhodes is somehow both a legendary pop songwriter and an obscure one. The multi-instrumentalist/singer/songwriter/recording engineer/producer hasn’t really had hits in any normal sense of the word, and a series of near-Badfinger-level legal hassles stifled much of his career. However, fans of late-60s light psych and sunshine pop speak of his work with wonder, and Rhodes has been the subject of The One-Man Beatles, a documentary that has attracted some notice. In the past decade or so, an interesting assortment of notable musicians have worked with Rhodes, and he put out Rainbow Ends in 2016.

This track dates to his early work with the SoCal group The Merry-Go-Round, but is probably best known for having been covered by Fairport Convention as the opener of their first album in 1967. While the  FC version is the best known one (relatively speaking), I slightly prefer the original. With a rather odd nostalgia video, this is “Time Will Show the Wiser.”

See you soon!

Posted in Culture, Education, Literature, Music, Pixel-stained Wretchery | 1 Comment

A Mistake that Made it Better

Once upon a time (in 1967), Roulette Records released a pretty cool, jangly psych single by a band from Brooklyn. Reportedly, Chris Stein (later of Blondie) was a friend and posse member of First Crew to the Moon — a perfectly fine name for a band in those pre-Apollo XI, Space Race years.

However, someone at Roulette made a labeling error. They misspelled the band’s name, turning them into the much cooler…

Unfortunately, the band dissolved in January of ’68, when the guitarist succumbed to leukemia, but they left a legacy of three tracks, which have appeared on a number of psychedelic anthologies. Anyway, consider it a bit of lagniappe.

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QotD: Je Parle Francais Edition

Well, I do speak a little (and read a bit more) of the language of Asterix, but in this case, the French to whom I refer is David French. In an article at National Review Online yesterday, he talks about the polarization of the American political and cultural scene, mentioning (among other things) some rather ominous developments:

 […T]he New York Times’ Thomas Edsall published an important essay highlighting a new study that analyzed the extent of “lethal mass partisanship.” As Edsall observes, the paper contained some disturbing statistics. Among them, “42 percent of the people in each party view the opposition as ‘downright evil.’” A stunning 20 percent of Democrats and 16 percent of Republicans believe “we’d be better off as a country if large numbers of the opposing party in the public today just died.” And if the opposing party wins the 2020 election, 18 percent of Democrats and 13 percent of Republicans “feel violence would be justified.”

But that’s not the QotD. For that, we turn to another portion of the article:

I speak and write quite a bit about national polarization, and when I criss-cross the country, I often ask this question: “Are the people you know who are most obsessed with politics in general more or less angry — more or less gracious — than the rest of your friends?” [Emphasis mine — Prof. M.] Few people respond that their political friends are the most hopeful and tolerant members of their community.

I would suggest that French’s final line is an understatement. Of course, I would also suggest that this argument has been anticipated by Eric Hoffer and W.B. Yeats, but that’s pretty good company.

So ask French’s question. And then, consider where the answer leads.

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