Not A Moment Too Soon…

So Charles Manson died yesterday at the age of 83. While I’m not typically the grave-dancing sort, I can’t say the world is a poorer place for his departure.

I do have to say, however, that he’s connected to one of the greatest music reviews I’ve ever read. The reviewer (whose name, alas, escapes me) was considering Lie, the album Manson recorded in 1967 and ’68. Here’s the review, in its entirety:

“Charles Manson is as fine a musician as he is a human being.”

On the other hand, he did inspire a pretty cool song by Klaatu (a group widely considered to have its own Beatles issues, though of a much different nature.)

As the saying goes, may he rest in peace… after a decent interval. (And I was sorely tempted to add a “Family” tag to this post, but managed to refrain.)

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Weekend Wrap-Up

There was a little breathing space in my grading schedule this weekend, so have some potpourri…

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I went to a couple of Mondoville basketball games over the weekend, as we hosted a four-team tourney. The home team won their first game before falling in the championship matchup. No one will ever mistake these games for the ones I attended at Rupp Arena, or even Worthen Arena, in my grad school years, but I find myself enjoying the more intimate setting as the years go by — and of course, I also like seeing the kids, many of whom I’ve taught over the years. I buy a snack or a drink from the student athletes working the concession stand — they raise funds for their squads that way — and sit at midcourt, just behind press row. It can make for a nice time.

On the other hand, over the years I’ve come to be puzzled by some of our fans. There’s a portion of the crowd at every game that seems to attend for the sole purpose of venting spleen. They’re far more likely to berate even their own players than to encourage them, but their most frequent targets are the referees. Sometimes the zebras do mess up — again, this isn’t the big time. But in my experience, they tend to call the games pretty evenly, overall; they’re imperfect for both sides, if you know what I mean. However, to a sizable section of the crowd, every call (or every non-call) is an opportunity to scold and jeer three people who probably just got to the game after a day of selling insurance or dispatching truckloads of widgets. The grief they give the officials isn’t obscene or profane — at least not that I hear — but it’s constant, and lately I wonder if those fans really take any pleasure in the experience of attending at all. Of course, there’s also the fact that it’s an appalling display of sportsmanship, and there’s something depressing when the student section shows better decorum than the folks who pay to get in.

And from a practical standpoint, I wonder if it’s counterproductive. If an official makes a bad call and the crowd yells at him, it’s one thing. But if it’s just incessant billingsgate, I can’t help but wonder if an official (who is human, after all) might occasionally be tempted to spite the crowd. At the very least, I wouldn’t expect to get many close calls in that environment. That the striped shirts remain as professional as they do speaks to their love of the game and the players.

But I think there are limits. While I can’t speak to how this is done everywhere, it’s my understanding that around here, the better officials are given their choice of games and venues to work. I wouldn’t be surprised if the better ones figure out that there are easier gyms in which to make a few bucks, and venues where they won’t be treated like war criminals when they call (or don’t call) a foul. But since all games must be officiated, this would suggest that the refs who work our games aren’t necessarily the cream of the crop, even at our level. That in turn would mean that we get refs who are more likely to make mistakes, and that makes the more abusive fans feel more justified in their harassment, and the feedback loop becomes obvious.

I’ll still go to the games, of course. As I said, I know many of these kids, and I want them to know that I support what they do even when they’re outside the classroom. But when things get this hostile even at a place like Mondoville, it can be a bit dispiriting.

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On a lighter note, after Saturday afternoon’s game, I went downtown to Mondoville’s Ritz Theater, where the local community players mounted a production of John Cariani’s Almost, Maine. It’s a relatively recent work, and although it’s apparently widely performed (including, I’m told, at the college), I hadn’t seen it before. I was particularly looking forward to it as several friends and former students of mine (including two erstwhile Berries) were involved both as actors and directors of the vignettes that make up the play. I was also lucky enough to attend for free, having volunteered to sit in an exit row and direct traffic should an evacuation be necessary. Fortunately for us all, my services weren’t needed, and so I got to enjoy a nifty little play.

The scenes range from cute to poignant, but a layer of absurdism keeps things from ever getting cloying. The performances were uniformly solid, and the scenes and transitions well paced. I don’t know if this is typical for performances of the play, but during blackouts, as props and scenery were moved as much as the minimalist staging required, bits of ’70s love songs played over the house sound system. Selections included “Close to You” and “We’ve Only Just Begun” by the Carpenters, Player’s “Baby Come Back”, and other songs of that ilk. I was slightly disappointed, however, that the version of “Love Hurts” was neither the Everlys’ nor Nazareth’s renditions.

I’ve talked before about how I’m glad to see groups like the Newberry Community Players — people who are in it for the love of the game, as it were, and who share that passion even in the middle of our cynical era. And shows like the one I attended last night remind me once again that the root of the word amateur is love.

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This afternoon, I went ahead and booked my rental car and room for my trip to Durham, NC in a couple of weeks, where I’ll be reading as part of a Noir at the Bar event on 7 Dec. If you can make it, I’d love to see you!

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Finally, I’ll wrap things up with a bit of music. I was listening to a hard rock stream over the weekend, and ran across this track from a band about which I basically know nothing. But I like what I heard, so I’ll pass it along. From the banks of the Mersey, here’s Enamel Animal, with “Red is for Danger.”

See you soon!

Posted in Broken Glass Waltzes, Culture, Education, Music | 1 Comment

Mini-Potpourri: Tuesday Point of View Edition

Getting ready to take the Spawn for a flu shot in a little bit, but in the meantime…

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Crime writer S.W. Lauden (whose Bad Citizen Corporation is worth your time) did an e-mail interview with me last week, and it appeared at his blog yesterday. Feel free to check it out, and spend a little time looking over his other conversations with independent crime writers.

(By the way, the books I mention late in the interview are for sale in both dead tree and e-dition versions. Pick up the charity anthology Betrayed here, and place an advance order for Alive in Shape and Color here.)

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I had a very satisfying 8 a.m. class today. It’s my theodicy class, and we’re working through Camus’s The Plague this week and next. I have several very bright kids in there, with a variety of philosophical and theological stances. As a consequence, discussions break out (as they should), and today four students stuck around after class, arguing about absurdism, ethics, and the idea of objective and subjective moralities (with Your Genial Host tossing in the occasional strip of red meat as needed). In fact, I had to run them into the hallway when it was time for my next class, but before I did, I got an idea. Next Tuesday, those four kids are teaching the class about Part 4 of Camus’s book. I love what I do, but some days I love it more than others.

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And as befits my potpourri posts in general (and this one in particular), here’s a nice slab of fuzz from The Plagues, a Lansing, MI-based combo led by William Malone, who is now best known for making such movies as Fear Dot Com, the remake of House on Haunted Hill, and 2008’s Parasomnia (which features quite a bit of garage rock on its soundtrack.) In fact, this is one of the songs you’ll find in the movie, and it actually kind of makes me want to check out the film. From 1966, this is “I’ve Been Through It Before.” Dig the way the drum sound gets bigger and bigger as the track progresses.

See you soon!

Posted in Broken Glass Waltzes, Culture, Education, Literature, Music, Why I Do What I Do | 2 Comments

From a Lollipop Shoppe to a Dead Moon

Last night, Lawrence Block sent me a link to Fred Cole’s obituary. Mr. Cole was 69 and died of liver disease. I was aware that he had been ill, but was not aware of the extent of his illness.

Much of the coverage of Mr. Cole’s career focuses on Dead Moon, the Portland, OR-based punk band he formed with his wife. The band lasted from 1987 to 2015, and was marked by a raw, sloppy-but-muscular attack that echoed the Stooges and presaged the White Stripes. Most of the group’s work was issued exclusively on vinyl, cut on Cole’s mono lathe that had been used for the single of the Kingsmen’s “Louie, Louie.”

However, the first time I heard the group, I recognized something familiar about Mr. Cole’s voice. After some brief digging, I discovered that he had been the vocalist for The Lollipop Shoppe, the garage band best known for 1968’s “You Must Be A Witch“, a track immortalized on Rhino’s 4-CD Nuggets box set. Cole’s reedy yelp is unmistakable.

And so it’s with a Lollipop Shoppe song that I’ll bid Mr. Cole adieu. I heard this one over the weekend via my favorite garage stream. The song was recorded for the 1968 bikesploitation flick Angels from Hellwhich also included pop-psychsters The Peanut Butter Conspiracy on the soundtrack. This is “Who’s It Gonna Be?”

Thanks for the music, Mr. Cole, and a tip of the Mondo Mortarboard to Mr. Block.

 

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Weekend Potpourri: Fall Back Edition

Mrs. M and I agree that the Sunday of the autumnal time change may be the most pleasant day of the year, the day when even after sleeping in, there’s plenty of day ahead. So why not put that bonus hour to work here at the blog, eh?

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Another pleasant sensation the week brought my way came on Tuesday evening, when I finished grading papers on Paradise Lost from my Theodicy class. At that point, I was caught up on my grading, a rare event during the semester. Of course, I knew I’d only feel this way for a few hours, as by ten a.m. Wednesday, forty new papers from my freshpeeps would be waiting in my inbox. But for a few hours, I was at par. One takes one’s victories when they come.

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I also spent some of the week making my way through books I picked up at Boucheron a couple of weeks prior. One of the perks of the convention is that attendees receive free books, and invariably I find others that I want to check out, so I bought a few while I was at it.

At the week’s beginning, I read an advance copy of Sirens, by Joseph Knox. It’s an undercover/rogue cop thriller, set in Manchester, England. Aidan Watts is the cop in question, on a mission to keep an eye on a politician’s daughter who has taken up with the local drug kingpin. The book is an example, I think, of the strain of hard-boiled called “Brit Grit,” and it’s definitely a page-turner. The book is identified as part of a series, so I’ll be looking forward to DC Watts’s future adventures.

I also enjoyed Ian Truman’s Grand Trunk and Shearer, a revenge noir set in the working-class sections of Truman’s Montreal home town. I’ve not yet been to Montreal, but Truman excels at depicting the underbelly of a big city, one where ethnic pride exists in an odd balance with multiculturalism.

An interesting facet of the book is Truman’s facility with code switching, where characters will switch from English to Quebecois French and back within the course of three sentences. Truman doesn’t translate the French — nor does he need to, really — but the reader gets the hang of things pretty quickly. (I’m a fairly competent French reader, and was already aware of Quebecois profanity, so it just added to the verisimilitude for me.) Again, the book is hard-boiled — a twenty-minute egg — but it has an odd habit of inserting humor into some of the most vicious episodes. While there are some copy editing issues (the occasional missing word and a couple of homophonic misspellings) here and there, it’s still a very good read. Check it out.

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As for my own writing, I’d like to remind everyone that Dale Phillips’s interview with me can be found over at his place, and that I’ll be taking part in a Noir at the Bar reading on 7 December at 106 Main. I should have some books to sell and sign, and I’d love to see you!

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And since I was speaking of Canadiana earlier…

For my money, one of the coolest songs of my adolescence was “This Beat Goes On/Switching to Glide” by Toronto-based bar band The Kings. Part of this may be my memory of hearing it on Friday afternoons in Cincinnati, and part of it may just be the sheer truth of the lines, “Nothing matters but the weekend/ From a Tuesday point of view” — the rock and roll equivalent of Hemingway’s One True Sentence. I covered the song in a band with the Mad Dog before the Spawn was born, and perhaps I’ll cover it again one day; I wouldn’t mind that at all.

While I’ve posted the official video for the song in the past, I ran across something this afternoon that I figured I should share. The Kings (who are still around and still gigging) put together a documentary about “the hit”, which they regard with great good nature. For years, the doc was only available on a DVD, but the band has posted The Kings: Anatomy of a One-Hit Wonder on YouTube, so I thought I’d share it with you.

See you soon!

Posted in Broken Glass Waltzes, Culture, Education, Family, Literature, Music | 1 Comment

In Which the Prof Responds to Questions

I mentioned my Bouchercon encounter with author Dale Phillips recently, and I’m gratified to report that should you be so inclined, you can check out an interview Dale did with me a few days ago.

And while you’re over at Dale’s place, why not take a look at his work, including his Zack Taylor series? Chances are good that you’ll find something to like. Check it out!

Posted in Broken Glass Waltzes, Culture, Literature | 3 Comments

Weekend Potpourri: Bookish Edition

So there’s a little bit of morning left, and I thought I might check in before I head to the office this afternoon for some lesson planning and committee work. Maestro — a little traveling music?

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I spent much of Friday afternoon/night and Saturday grading papers from my Freshpeeps, and I was thinking a bit about how technology has changed my process. The kids now submit their papers electronically, via “plagiarism detector” software at Turnitin.com. Of course, it isn’t really a plagiarism detector — it simply identifies writing that it already has in its database; if a match is properly cited, there’s no plagiarism happening. The software also includes a grammar check feature, but it strikes me as being a bit hit-or-miss — I spend/waste a certain amount of time deleting “corrections” that aren’t, and I find plenty of stuff to mark that seems to have eluded the Skynet branch office.

So I now do the bulk of my paper grading in an online environment, and what I’m discovering is that it feels more laborious to me than the paper and pen method. This is because I have to navigate menus to find the “button” for the error I’ve noticed, and then I have to click the comment window fairly often in order to elucidate. When I’m working on hard copy, I just whip out my purple pen and jot what I think is needed. Doubtless I’ll get better as the years pass (and as the software evolves), but right now, it feels like another layer of hassles. All the same, I got the work done with enough time to watch my beloved Kentucky Wildcats pull off a rare football victory over the University of Tennessee, so I guess it’s a win here as well. And I even had a little time for reading…

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… specifically, I read one of the books I picked up at Bouchercon, Robert Rotenberg‘s Heart of the City. Rotenberg is a Toronto-based defense attorney and writer, and his books are set on his home turf. The books (at least the two I’ve read) occupy a space with elements of the police procedural, legal thriller, and p.i. novel, and they entertain me both in themselves and as reminders of my favorite city. Heart of the City is his latest, and I think I might go back and check out some of his work that I’ve missed.

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But there was other book-related stuff yesterday as well. I received an advance copy of Alive in Shape and Color, the Lawrence Block-edited successor to last year’s In Sunlight or In Shadow. The book includes gorgeous color plates of the artworks that inspired the authors, and I’m quite happy to see my name in there with stars like David Morrell, Joe R. Lansdale, and Joyce Carol Oates, as well as fellow up-and-comers and friends like Thomas Pluck and Jill D. Block.

My story, “Ampurdan”, is based on Salvador Dali’s The Pharmacist of Ampurdan in Search of Absolutely Nothing, and while it’s a bit of an odd story in some ways, it’s one of which I’m quite proud. I hope you’ll like it as well.

But that wasn’t all that showed up in my mailbox…

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I also received my copy of The Beallsville Calendar, by Jeff Sypeck (whose blog Quid Plura should be a regular stop, by the way.) I’ll let Jeff describe it:

A print book of formal poetry about life in the Maryland woods, inspired by Old English alliterative verse and ancient and medieval calendar poems! Almost nothing is less marketable.

But he’s a very good poet, and we should encourage such people when we can. If you agree, or if you just want to check out something different, swing by Jeff’s blog and find out how to get a copy of the book.

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And speaking of copies of books, I’d like to remind you that my novel Broken Glass Waltzes and the charity anthology Betrayed (which includes my story “The Birthmark and the Brand”) are available at very reasonable prices. Why not pick them up, if you haven’t already?

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Well, morning has given way to afternoon, so I’d best get on with my day. But as is my custom, let’s close things with a bit of music. Since we’re closing in on Halloween, I thought I’d go with something spooky from Russian “horror-surfers” Messer Chups. I don’t know much about them, but I may have to change that. This is “Magneto.”

See you soon!

Posted in Broken Glass Waltzes, Culture, Education, Literature, Music | 1 Comment