Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 Year-End Lists

This year, I learned everything I know about pop culture from Jimmy Fallon.  My wife and I watch all the episodes of The Tonight Show now that he's hosting (usually a night or two after they air).  My favorite guest has been Jerry Lewis.  Not only am I a lifelong fan, but the practical joke he played still keeps Jimmy Fallon scratching his head, I'm sure.  I also check Box Office Mojo, Billboard, and EW on a regular basis to stay in touch.  Some of this list might reflect releases from late-2013, but who gives a shit?

Of the songs I heard this year, these are my five favorite in order:
"Fantastic Man" by David Byrne and the Atomic Bomb Band.  The energy of his live cover makes William Onyeabor's original sound sleepy.
"All the Time" by Bahamas.  Love the James Franco commercial.
"Tuesday" by I Love Makonnen.  I'll rap this every day of the week.
"I Am a River" by Foo Fighters.  No disrespect to Kurt Cobain, but I prefer Dave Grohl.
"Turn Down for What" by DJ Snake and Lil John.  From one of my favorite comedies this year, 22 Jump Street.

Play these albums often and loud (fuck you, I list six):
Rock or Bust by ACDC
1000HP by Godsmack (Reminds me of my younger brother's band The-Furnace - shameless plug, I know.)
.5 The Gray Chapter by Slipknot
Turn Blue by The Black Keys
The Hunting Party by Linkin Park
The Marshall Mathers LP 2 by Eminem

An Interlude.  I vote Taylor Swift as Entertainer of the Year.  Just because I don't listen to (or like) pop music doesn't mean she isn't incredible.  She's all over the internet, magazines, TV.  She writes her own songs, plays her own instruments.  Has a great sense of humor.  Isn't afraid to go public without makeup.  Stands up for artists' rights.  She's the best right now.  Simply put.

Since going to the movies with my family becomes a $50+ event, I only go to see huge blockbusters.  When I'm in that space, I want to hear and see everything blowing up as loud as fucking possible.  My wife and I watch all the artsy/Oscar-shit at home after the nominations come out so we can pause and discuss or throw something at the TV as needed.  Here are some I enjoyed in the theatre (no order):
Guardians of the Galaxy
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Transformers: Age of Extinction
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Edge of Tomorrow
Into the Storm

I don't watch TV often.  I don't have the time.  Also, there are so many great shows to choose from that I find the menu overwhelming.  Since I don't have an addictive personality, I'm fine letting all that great programming slip by me.  Someday, I'll blog about the greatest shows I've never seen an episode of.  You'll be amazed.  In addition to The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, I watch the following:
The Big Bang Theory (Sheldon is the funniest character I've seen since Kramer.)
The Walking Dead - I struggle with this one.  It's jumped the shark.  Except for a few standout episodes, the last two seasons have put me to sleep in my recliner on Sunday nights.
NFL Football (every day, all day) - This is at an end, actually.  I've resolved to cancel my Sunday Ticket with DirecTV.  I'm a NY Jets fan.  Enough said.
Bob's Burgers -  My little girl asked me to watch this because Bob's bald spot reminds her of mine.  I love it.

This was an amazing year for books.  Yes, because I published my first novel.  What the fuck do you think I'm doing here?  Crow Creek sold about 300 copies.  I can't complain.  I just hope Queensboro sees print this spring.  If you're looking for another great first horror novel, pick up The Specimen by Pete Kahle.  He won the Kindle award for Horror/Suspense.  I also enjoyed My Name Is Marnie by Tracie L. Carbone.

As a member of the Horror Writer's Association, I made plenty of new friends this year.  None better than Tom Calen.  Check out his Scars of Tomorrow series and start with Torrance.  I also want to mention Jonathan Maberry.  Not only is he a brilliant author (Fall of Night is his most recent, I believe), but he takes the time to support struggling authors like myself.

Stephen King published two novels this year, Mr. Mercedes and Revival.  Although I tend to be harsh when criticizing him, he's still the best, and it's only to his own works that I compare him.  Both books are solid.  Great characters, thrilling plots.  He's our generation's Mark Twain (to paraphrase the late HWA President Rocky Wood).

Finally, Joel Williamson (UNC-CH professor) published Elvis Presley: A Southern Life.  I'll post more about The King on January 8th (what would be his 80th birthday), but just wanted to say that this biography does an excellent job of defining the context of his life and work.

Have a great 2015!  Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Christmas is the best time of year.  My parents did what they needed to make sure the three of us enjoyed the holidays.  We had parties, friends, and lots of food.  I remember scanning the night sky for Rudolph each year after we were sent to bed.  My brothers and I never slept.  I loved sneaking downstairs to spy on Santa as he placed the gifts.  I'm not sure why my parents didn't treat every day like Christmas.  Might've made their marriage easier.

My wife and I take great care to give our children the best Christmas possible, especially since (so often) we spend the holiday by ourselves.  We've established plenty of traditions (brand new Christmas pajamas, my reading of A Visit from Saint Nicholas, an extra plate for the weary traveler are but a few).  Our celebration is always punctuated by music, so I thought I'd share some of my favorite songs.  The list won't include any traditional carols.  Or anything by Elvis.  That just wouldn't be fair.

"Buon Natale" by Nat King Cole. It wasn't until a couple of years ago that I first heard this gem.  I only knew his signature "Christmas Song" and ended up buying his album.  His backup vocalist steals the track, but the entire song is festive and makes me think of our 2013 trip to Italy.

"Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas" by Burl Ives.  What could be better than Big Daddy playing the most adorable snowman since Frosty?  No Christmas song makes me think of my childhood more than this twangy folk song.  We loved those Rankin/Bass animations.  And I was definitely the Heat Miser to my big brother's Cold Miser.

"Go Tell It on the Mountain" by Andy Griffith.  You might be surprised to know that this NC native and silly sitcom star recorded some great gospel music.  I can listen to this one on repeat for the entire morning commute to work.

"Mele Kalikimaka" by Bing Crosby and the Andrew Sisters.  I love Bing Crosby's smooth baritone vocals and how they contrast with the angelic harmony of the Andrew Sisters.  Plus, there's the pool scene in Christmas Vacation.  Enough said.

"It Must've Been Ol' Santa Claus" by Harry Connick, Jr.  This one deserves to be at the top of the list if I were ranking them in order.  I'm not a big fan of Harry Connick, but this song has the drive of the best bluesy/jazzy numbers ever recorded for the holidays.

"Pretty Paper" by Roy Orbison.  Elvis said he had the best voice in rock-n-roll.  This song proves it.  Written by Willie Nelson.  An ode to the 50's (my favorite era) and downtown shoppers.

"That Spirit of Christmas" by Ray Charles.  Another song inspired by Christmas Vacation.  Brings me to tears every time I see Chevy Chase locked in the attic watching old movies.  Jerry Lewis once said great comedians make you laugh.  The best make you cry.  So true.

"Christmas Bells" by Perry Como.  Very Bing Crosby-inspired.  Our first Christmas in NC, a custodian at the middle school recommended Perry Como.  Here I was trying to impress him with my knowledge of all things black and bluesy, and he hits me with a white crooner.  I had to laugh.  But, he was right (no surprise).  After Elvis, Bing, and Dino, Perry Como is my fourth favorite at Christmas.

"Christmas at Our House" by Lou Monte.  I always knew "Pepino the Italian Mouse."  My wife's Meemaw gave me Lou Monte's album for Christmas about fifteen years ago.  Makes me think of the roll of scotch tape she wrapped up in my present.  I still have it.  I miss the days we spent with Alexis' family when we were young and first married.

"I Told Santa Claus"/"Christmas is a Special Day" by Fats Domino.  Nobody rocks and rolls like the Fat Man.  The album was produced as part of a throwback holiday collection that includes a Christmas album by Dion.  Both are must-buys.  Dion sings all the staples, so no specific ones make my list, but I love his version of "Silent Night," especially the ad-lib interlude about growing up in New York.

The Soul Christmas Album.  I put this on the list because it's a collection that every bluesy music fan should own.  All the greats are here.  Otis Redding (his stirring, soulful cover of "White Christmas" is probably my favorite version of the song), Ray Charles, Solomon Burke, Clarence Carter, Carla Thomas (daughter of Memphis legend Rufus Thomas), William Bell.  Also has some stunning instrumentals by King Curtis and Booker T. and the MGs.  You will listen with a smile the whole way through.

And that's what Christmas is all about for me.  Giving happy gifts.  I thank all my friends and family (especially my wife and children) for picking me up, not only around the holidays, but all year long.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

These Are My Rules

I make them up.  Yes, that line comes from George Carlin.  Grandma Nance and I took a trip to Las Vegas in the early 90's and went to his show.  We laughed our asses off.  We enjoyed his Sports routine and Masturbation bit.  While there, we also saw David Copperfield (mesmerizing), Tom Jones (rocked the house), and Wayne Newton (he sucked).  You wouldn't think an 80-year-old could keep up, but she did.  We both went home winners.  She played my number on the roulette wheel, and I used my craps strategy (I'll share both if you want).  We stayed at Caesar's Palace and had farting contests every night.  Well, really, it was me farting and blaming it on her.

But this isn't about Grandma Nance, as much as I would love to keep writing about her (and will again soon enough, I'm sure).  This is my list of rules.  Remember, I make them up, so if you don't like them, write your own fucking rules.  There's no order here.  Only how that pop into my head.  And I'm in the mood to rant.

1.  Don't shake my hand.  I don't want to touch you.  If you must make contact with me upon greeting, a fist bump will do the trick (I can wipe my knuckles later).  A simple nod works better.  'Sup?

2.  Wear shoes.  I don't want to see your feet.  Honestly, I don't know how you fuckers walk around with flip-flops or sandals.  I'd feel naked without my black Reebok walking shoes.  Been wearing that style since my freshmen year of college when I trudged my ass across campus twice a day.  I even wear bathroom slippers and house slippers while indoors.

3.  Don't send me photos with your pets in them or sign their names on my Christmas card as if they're your children.  They're not your children.  They're not human.  Give them a puppy biscuit for me instead.  If you have a cat (or any other exotic animal), have a brief stare down and tell them it's from me.  That'll suffice.

4.  Put dishes in the dishwasher, not pots and pans.  Wash that shit by hand.  I don't give a fuck if there's a setting for pots and pans.

5.  If you're driving in front of me, just drive.  Defensive drivers cause accidents and need to stay off the roads.  If you use your cell phone while driving, I hope you die.  Just don't take any innocent people with you.

6.  Don't post every intimate detail about your life on Facebook, especially not your political or religious views.  If your friends don't already know you, then they're not your friends.  They're just faces that you're trying to impress.

7. If you invite me to your house (and I realize how seldom this happens - I'm not easy to get along with), don't ask me to bring food.  I'll offer.  And don't make me go outside.  I'm not an animal.  I'm happy inside.  That's why we have shelters.  Outdoor parties are for hunters.  I'm proud to be an indoorsman.

8. Courtesy flush, for the love of God.  I don't want to walk into the bathroom and find your shit streaking the bottom of the bowl.  Here's what you do:  take a shit, flush, wipe your ass, flush, pull up your pants, flush, wash your hands, get out.  Three flushes, and we're good.

9. Avoid small noises.  They're annoying.  Don't tap your feet, crack your knuckles, click your pen, rattle your keys, jingle your change, scrape your silverware, slurp your straw, pop gum, sniff, cough.  You get the idea.  Let me add, don't bite your fingernails.  Holy fuck, is that the worst.  Adults don't need to teethe.  If you're that stressed, get a prescription for Xanax.

10. I guess I'll wrap this up.  Here's something that bothers me:  I walk up to you, but you're already talking to someone else.  That's cool.  I'll wait my turn.  But, acknowledge that you know I'm waiting.  "I'll be with you in a moment" or "give me a second" works just fine.  Don't leave me standing there with my dick in my hands.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Drago vs. Stephen Hawking

I have a few moments, so I might ramble.  I spend an excessive amount of time watching my computer think.  The spinning circle of death.  Used to be an hour glass or something stupid.  I hate it.  I prefer the days when I completed my attendance and calculated my grades on paper. 

Did you know that I worked in a single screen movie theatre while in college?  (There's a point to this.  Maybe.)  I ran the box office.  This was back in the days of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batman, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  Our theatre manager was an old Italian woman with wavy blue hair and spotted hands.  She favored me.  Made the rest of the staff jealous because she was as mean as hell but let me hang out in her office and eat candy (not movie candy - she kept a bowl of peppermints).  I went to visit her a few years after I graduated, but she had died.  I felt a twinge of sorrow despite the joy of the employees who'd worked at the movie house long enough to remember her.  She talked of her desire to return to Italy.  Too bad she never made it back.  The rolling green hills and cool evening breezes.  I see myself ending up there.  My wife and I holding hands as we walk along the beach or sit outside a cafĂ© eating cannoli and sipping espresso.  My wife has pretty hands.  I like holding them.  She has soft feet.  Makes me happy.  People who don't take care of their feet kind of disgust me.

I said there was a point to this.  When I worked at the movie theatre, I computed all the transactions in my head.  No calculators.  No computers.  I spent two years in that fucking box office window and never made a mistake.  Never short.  Never over.  I don't know that I can do that anymore.  Or if anyone can.  We're all too dependent on machines.  Drives me crazy.  I'm even at the point where I hate watching television.  I don't want to get addicted to any programming.  The Walking Dead was my last guilty pleasure, but I find myself nodding off this season while that plays.

The other night, while out walking with my little girl (yes, our family takes walks together and eats meals together), she said that robots will take over the world someday because people are getting too fat and lazy.  Reminded me of the movie Wall-e.  The next day I read a news article (online, of course) about Stephen Hawking's prediction that artificial intelligence will bring an end to humanity.  The same thing my twelve-year-old said, only his was in a creepy automated voice, no doubt.  The point remains.  It doesn't take the smartest man in the world to know that something's wrong.  Only the smartest little girl.

If you're looking for a good book to read (as opposed to collect dust on a shelf), pick up a (print) copy of Men, Women, & Children by Chad Kultgen.  He could be my favorite author right now.  Just a warning - his books are pornographic (and I don't mean the sanitized 50 Shades-bullshit), so if you're a prude, don't get it.  I have no idea how they adapted it into a movie rated anything less than NC-17.  Kind of disappointed if they did.  The child-like adults and children in the book lead meaningless lives, go through the motions, and have no control.  Think Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot.  The point, I believe, is that we need to find meaning in our lives.  We can't just go through the motions.  We need to take control.  This is all we'll ever have.  All there'll ever be.  (And don't spout any religious hocus pocus at me right now - you know what the fuck I'm talking about.)

Did you know that I'm wearing an old Dracula tee-shirt today that says "Bite Me" on the front?  Funny how some people pronounce it in the traditional way as "Drac-yoo-luh" but some change the middle syllable to "Drac-uh-luh."  I'm OK with either.  Did you know that I can pull my knees up higher than my chest while standing?  I can.  One at a time, of course.  I still run, ride my bike, jump rope, do cartwheels across the stage, and hunt and peck on a keyboard with two fingers.  I laugh, cry, sweat, pick my nose (we all do - only the honest among us admits it), sing, dance, yearn, doubt, wonder.  I watch Chad Kultgen's squirrel videos on Instagram.  I wouldn't miss them.  I have priorities.  Passion.  I love.  I take the time.