Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

I made an earlier post about how I came to know music in the pre-Internet Age. One thing I didn’t discuss was cover songs. Art gets regurgitated. Sometimes it’s an homage, a obscure reference, or sometimes a straight cover. We also have remakes and now even “reboots” in these exciting modern times.

There’s a lot that could be said about these efforts and the general response to them, but that’s for another time. In examining my own exposure to music, I realized something – some cover songs eventually led me to learn of the original artist.

A friend of mine made a comment to me on social media about how covers might diminish the originals because younger generations may first learn of the cover and never realize it was by someone else. I’m not making this post to agree or disagree, because it’s really up to the individual. Also, with the advent of the internet, everything changed. So much information is available at our beck and call. It’s unprecedented.

But back to my pre-Internet experience.

Though it took time for my passion for music to bloom, I eventually got into Mötley Crüe and the Thompson Twins. These two bands are obviously not related, except in one way – their covers. I heard the Crüe’s Helter Skelter and loved it. I mean, I loved it, and I had no idea it was a cover. Then the same happened with Thompson Twins’ rendition of Revolution. But I also happen to be a voracious reader, and one thing I used to do when listening to music was read everything I could on the album, cassette sleeve, c.d. booklet, etc.

I noticed that the same credits were not given on the two covers as all the other original songs. “Lennon-McCartney”? I’m sorry to say it took me some time to realize who they meant. At the time, I just wondered why the performing artists in question had not written these songs. It took me a while to get into music and realize the whole idea of covers.

This didn’t directly lead into my love for The Beatles, and once I did dive down that rabbit hole, I realized there were so many great songs of theirs I already knew. I eventually got to better understand music and the music industry. I would eventually discover other covers I loved that I didn’t initially realize were covers. I also found remakes I thought were equal to or an improvement on the original. To avoid any online flames, I won’t mention which one’s.

Covers are not necessarily a good or bad thing. They do not change the value of the original. They may obscure the original; they may lead someone to the original. For me, I say do those covers, remakes, even reboots. We might get a lot of crap, but isn’t the occasional diamond in the rough worth it?

I was born in Texas in 1970. Richard Nixon was president. I don’t remember much of that, of course. I barely remember Jimmy Carter. What I do remember from growing up is video games.

I’ve always been interested in exploring and expressing my imagination. Creativity drives me. I took up creative writing when I was in elementary school (and I’ve blogged about that). Something about seeing the blank page and knowing I can do whatever I want with it is powerful, alluring.

My father got an early Compaq desktop computer. I learned how to use Word Perfect. I remember feeling even more entranced with the possibilities as I sat before that blank computer monitor, watching the blink of the cursor, ready to head out for adventure.

Video games stoked that sense of imagination for me. I have always loved reading, and I always shall, but it is more passive. Playing a video game made me feel like an active participant. I could change things. Due to my age, I got to ride the roller coaster of the development of the computer, video games, and the internet. It was, and continues to be, a wild one.

I loved arcades. I remember walking into them as my mom shopped in the mall, and it was like entering a different dimension. The sounds, the lights, even the smells. Something about it lured me. Like myriad other people, this was my first exposure to video games, and I was hooked.

We then got a home console for video gaming, the Intellivision. I don’t remember exactly what year we got it, and I don’t know if we got it because all the Ataris were out, but that’s what we had. It was marketed as being better than the Atari 2600. I don’t know if that’s true, but I enjoyed it, even though it didn’t have Pitfall. My aunt and uncle had the Atari, so at least I got to dabble with it when we visited them. River Raid was my favorite of what they had.

New developments were happening at a rapid fire pace, and when Atari tried to sell everyone on their E.T. game, things crashed. Some wondered if the video game industry was dead. I didn’t. I honestly had no clue about this. As I said, my family had an Intellivision. I remember the commercials for E.T., and I even tried it once at a friend’s house, finding it a boring slog. I suppose it speaks to the gnashing, fickle nature of the public that one crappy game would make people think the sky is falling even though plenty of solid options before were still making up the foundation.

I still frequented arcades. We took a trip to Hawaii in 1985. I saw beaches, snorkeled, experienced the culture, had fresh pineapple, and I found a nice arcade in an open air mall right beside our hotel. I spent a lot of time there, avoiding the sun. But home games were competing with arcade games now where they had always been lagging. And computer games were going to challenge console games before too long.

Back in school, a friend of mine had shown up one day with a copy of The Ancient Art of War. The new video game, not the actual book. I was hypnotized just from the box. My eagerness showed itself as I chewed his ear off about it, wanting to go to his house and play it with him. I don’t recall why, but he wasn’t going to be able to try it for a few days, so I actually talked him into letting me take it home. I would try it, then get it to him when he would be able to play it. That game changed everything.

This showed me what computers could do. I felt like console games and arcade games had been left in the dust. I began going to a store in the local mall that sold computer games, and I found the adventure section. I began experiencing classics from Sierra On-line like Space Quest, Police Quest, and even Leisure Suit Larry. These games were tickling what would become my real interest – the rpg.

I had been an avid player of Dungeons & Dragons when younger. I don’t know exactly what led me to stop playing it, though I have my suspicions. Video games weren’t there yet, but they were getting close. I had gotten a Texas Instruments computer, and I used it to play Tunnels of Doom, which was a game based on D&D. I enjoyed it. You created your party, choosing the archetype of each person, giving them stats, and they grew as you played. Though this happened before my experience with The Ancient Art of War, it hadn’t quite hooked me.

I graduated from high school in 1988. I would not be taking the Intellivision or my dad’s computer with me. Instead, he scored me a Macintosh SE from the supplies at his work. It did have a copy of Dark Castle on it. This was a fairly difficult platformer, not exactly my cuppa, but I played it a lot. Across from my dorm was a small software store, and I scrimped and saved and got a copy of the first SimCity. I found many hours of entertainment with that classic.

I still hit up the arcade from time to time, as one lurked very close to the dormitory. I managed to get good enough at Black Tiger to beat the entire game on one quarter. Yes, I excelled in college. Don’t ask about my GPA. During this time, though, my interest in video games waned. It never entirely left, but it gurgled under the weight of other interests and responsibilities. I graduated, met a woman, got married, became a father, and during all that time, the internet was coming into its own.

I didn’t get on that particular ride right away. Like so many others, I received many free discs from America Online, trying to get me, well, online. It was painfully slow back then, and you paid by the minute. This didn’t make the internet particularly accessible. I did get my first Windows-based PC, and I bought a copy of the first Civilization game. I spent most of my free time playing this game. It helped me get through my divorce. I’m pretty sure it didn’t cause my divorce …

The internet then became more reliable. I even learned to code in HTML, and I built some websites of my own. I got more into gaming, but it still wasn’t what I would call an obsession. That changed when I discovered the MMORPG Dark Age of Camelot. This was truly bringing me back to my early days playing Dungeons & Dragons. This was a persistent world that existed even when I was not online. My character grew as I grew in my experience of this virtual environment. I loved it.

To this day, role-playing games are my favorite. I enjoy other genres, and I even rarely play a console game, but in line with my love of telling and experiencing stories, my preferred type of video game is one where I can do the same. I am amazed at how far this technology has come, and I’ve gotten to experience it all in my lifetime. I look forward to what’s next.

Most, not All

Posted: July 20, 2020 in Blog
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“All men are pigs.” “All women are bitches.” “All rich people are evil.” “All poor people are just criminals in training.”

We’ve heard it all. Or most of it. Haven’t we? And often the reply arises that not “all” of the selected category are that way. Most of us know someone that doesn’t fall under that stereotype. But what happens?

“Of course, I know all (x) are not (y). We all know that. You know I didn’t literally mean all, so stop trying to derail the issue!”

It is a detour, and it doesn’t benefit discussion, awareness, and change. I suppose we could all accept the rule that “all” doesn’t always mean “all”, but why? There are plenty of words out there that should accurately show the meaning. If you don’t mean “all”, why are you using that word?

Do you feel you are not able to properly convey your point without the word “all”? Do you not realize this is potentially hyperbole and almost certainly inaccurate? It’s easy to ignore hyperbole. It sounds propagandastic. 

Marginalizing the response that not “all” are (x) is dismissive. It is akin to holding up a hand or plugging your ears. Instead of trying to set up some predetermined script that 1. You didn’t literally mean “all”, and 2. Of course we “all” know you don’t mean “all”, then why not try something else?

Is the word “all” used in order to grab the attention? Is it used to help the point pack more punch? If so, and especially with the foreknowledge that it is inaccurate, then it is propaganda.

Try this:

  • most
  • nearly all
  • a vast majority of

Perhaps it may help your point if you sound more accurate, dare I say, even less alarming? Of course, if you’re not really trying to initiate awareness and change, it may not matter. If you’re just preaching to the choir, they may all listen. It’s possible.

 

Do you listen to music when you read or write? Do you like to have something going on in “the background”, or is it something particular to set a mood?

Personally, I am very particular about music when I read or write. When I read? Well, there is almost nothing suitable. Any music at all proves distracting, and I’ll soon realize I’ve gone through several pages and have no idea what I just read! When I was in college, I tried playing music when I’d study to hopefully make study more entertaining. Nope. I had to turn off the tunes.

I know some people enjoy having background music when they read, whether or not it fits the mood of what they’re reading. Some have told me that without the music they can’t concentrate. I am amazed by this. More power to you.

Reading to Music

When it comes to writing, I also generally choose silence over music. I have a similar dilemma where the music distracts me rather than helping. There are times, though, when I really want to set that mood, and the music can be inspiring.

Firstly, it has to have no lyrics or be on a very low volume. I wrote an early novel to a particular album that helped to inspire it. There were, of course, lyrics. In order to make it work, I had it set on such a low volume you might wonder if I heard it. I did. I needed it to bleed into my consciousness, sneak in and find a comfortable place.

I’ve also used instrumentals. If the music contains no lyrics, it works much better for me. I have written to the scores from the Hannibal t.v. series and even some select tracks from video game soundtracks I found that worked.

Hannibal OST

In the end, it seems that the use of music when reading and writing is as varied as we are. It reflects not only our personalities but our methods. I might use some music as writing background that I’d otherwise not ever listen to outside its original presentation. It’s carefully chosen to craft the feel. Isn’t that what music is? Something of a reflection?

What do you listen to when you read and write, if you listen to anything at all?


 

Please feel free to find me on Amazon and partake of my published works. I’m also on Facebook and Twitter.

Finding Music

Posted: January 21, 2020 in Blog
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I grew up in a household that wasn’t terribly focused on music. In a recent conversation with my mother, she mentioned how she and my dad loved showtunes and had the soundtracks of some of the more popular musicals. I asked her if they listened to them with we kids, and she, of course, said ‘no’. No particular reason why; it just didn’t happen. The radio was rarely on when we were around the house, even though we had a nice stereo that my father, the engineer, had built from a kit. It just wasn’t a musical family.

My two sisters and myself did get piano lessons. This was a sort of “expected” thing. You just put your kids in there and waited to see what would happen. My older sister excelled at it, and I do remember sitting on the bench with her or in a nearby chair and listening as she played some of the greats of classical music. She even played some songs from films. I heard her laboring over “The Entertainer“, and I loved it.

This didn’t get me exposed to any popular music of the time, though. The other exposure we had to music was via the 8-track player in our Buick. I think it was a Skylark. I don’t remember, but it was curvy, white, and fast. The tunes, though, not so much. My parents’ vast collection consisted of three tapes, all greatest hits from Glen Campbell, John Denver, and Elvis Presley. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t lend to too much rockin’ in the car as we drove around.

John Denver's Hits

As you might surmise from my mention of 8-track and the Buick Skylark, this was before the internet. You couldn’t just get on your computer or device and find an endless treasure trove of nearly all music ever recorded. But wait, what about MTV? Well, that started in 1981, and by then, my father had moved us out to the country. So, even in those days of nascent cable television, it wasn’t even available where I grew up.

What was a poor lad to do? Well, buy records from K-Tel, of course! These commercials would come on, and during them, samples of songs would play over some announcer lauding the benefits of the product. There’d also be eye-catching graphics of the contributing artists available beyond just those chosen for a short audio sample during the ad. The albums were actually good deals with great collections, so my parents got some for us.

K-Tel_logo

Before long, we had K-Tel’s Full Tilt, Soundwaves, Rock 80, and Pure Rock. This allowed me exposure to many new songs as well as being able to listen to some I had caught on the radio during those rare few times when listening to the local pop or rock station. “My Sharona” was the earliest one I remember hearing when it was new, and I loved it. This was the first song that actually got me to turning on the radio in hopes of hearing it. When we got that record, I could listen to it all I wanted. Other songs to quickly become favorites were “I Was Made For Loving You“, “I Wanna Be Your Lover“, and “Don’t Look Back“. There were many, many more. I’ve provided the links; feel free to check them out. I’d while away hours just listening and grooving to these songs. Without these records, I would have never heard this gem, and they provided my first exposure to New Wave, which I loved. It was well worth it. What an education.

Numan SNL

In time, I learned more about music and was able to drive myself the long trek to the nearest mall or record store to scratch my itch. I owed a lot, though, to those K-Tel records. My mom says she still has them. Maybe I should dig them out and dust ’em off for a play. Oh, except, no record player. Ah, well, at least we have YouTube.

The Force is Evil?

Posted: January 2, 2020 in Blog
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The Force is Evil_

The latest Star Wars movie, The Rise of Skywalker, is in theaters right now. It’s creating the usual buzz and mountains of money. Star Wars is a phenomenon. It has so thoroughly woven itself into our pop culture that it feels odd to think of a time without it. I was around for all of it. I went to see the original trilogy in the theater. There are also some great documentaries out there talking about the toys and merchandising that came from Star Wars. It blazed the trail. Movies were not gold mines for merchandising back then. I recall being an eager young lad when those toys hit the shelves, and yes, I wanted them all. I didn’t get them all, but I wanted them all.

Back in the early ’80s, I had several toys from the collection. I even had a carrying case for the action figures in the shape of Darth Vader’s head. It was around this time that a family visited us. The parents of this family were friends with my parents. They had two children, a son and a daughter. The son was close to my age, a little younger. We didn’t know each other that well, though, because his family lived overseas. They were missionaries in Asia, you see.

The boy was going to sleep with me in my bedroom, and after the initial arrival and re-acquainting, we disappeared into my room. I was ready to trot out my various toys and show them off, and then we could settle in and play. The pride of my collection was, of course, my Star Wars toys. As I brought out my Darth Vader carrying case, something was off. He wasn’t impressed. In fact, he was tense.

In true fashion, he began to proselytize. He told me that the Force, Star Wars, yes, even George Lucas, were spreading evil. I was confused. The Sith and the Empire are evil, but surely not the Jedi or George. “No,” he countered, “Think about it. The Jedi are like wizards. Space wizards.”

“Okay?”

“And they don’t worship God.”

“Okay?”

“And if you have magic powers, and you don’t worship God, then you’re evil, because those powers come from the Devil.”

I remember sitting there, blinking, just looking at him, looking at my toys, thinking about the films. They weren’t evil! What kind of bullshit was this kid selling? Of course, I was a lot more naive and impressionable then, so it did sort of shake me. He had some serious resolve, too. Brainwashing can do that to you.

He told me that he knew a kid who had Star Wars curtains in his bedroom, and at night, they reached out toward him, waving about like spooky arms, trying to get him. “He left the window open,” I countered, but I was assured he did not. This was the power of Satan, himself!

We debated it for a short time. He finally backed off on saying George was evil, but he said that Lucas was being influenced by the Devil to put out these movies that showed Jedi as the heroes. It was all so worthy of a gigantic facepalm, but I have to admit, it scared me a little.

He said he would not be playing with my Star Wars toys, and he wouldn’t even sleep in my room unless I tucked my collection away in the closet. I should have told him sayonara and had my bed to myself, but again, impressionable. I was also trying to be nice to a guest, even though he was spouting some of the most bizarre nonsense I’d heard in my short life.

Instead we trotted out my Iwo Jima playset, because representations of real war were apparently okay. He did, though, tell me we had to come up with some sort of backstory. Why was this battle happening? I suppose the historical reason wasn’t good enough. I agreed with him that the Americans were fighting for God and trying to stop the Satanic Japanese. I just wanted to get on with it, since I wanted to play. This, though, was a seriously scary indicator of just how people are brainwashed and can use it to justify violence.

They left the next day, and it couldn’t come soon enough for me. Once they were gone, I went to my parents and told them what had happened. A small part of me was a little worried that the kid may be right. My family was Roman Catholic, and we attended church every Sunday. My heart wasn’t in it, but I was a young boy in a religious family. Thankfully, my parents told me there was nothing wrong with Star Wars.

Good thing Jar Jar Binks wasn’t around yet.

Confessions of a Criminal Kind

Posted: December 10, 2019 in Blog
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I’m not sure when it began, but I’ve always held a fascination with serial killers and to a lesser extent, the True Crime genre. I recall as a young child being more afraid of someone breaking into our house with ill intent as opposed to monsters lurking under the bed or in the closet. As I got older and learned more of these heinous things going on in the world, they drew me in like a dark magnet. It bothered me that people behaved this way. It haunted me that I might become a victim of such. But instead of shutting it behind locked doors, I dove in.

I used to hunt books voraciously. My consumption has not necessarily decreased so much as the method for acquiring books has changed. I rarely go to the brick & mortar book store anymore, but back in the late eighties and early nineties, there was no other choice. I enjoyed it, and I would often browse the shelves, looking over books, reading their synopses. I might spend a good deal of time at this quasi-investigation even if I had already made my choice of what next to buy.

Zodiac Cover

I recall seeing the cover of Zodiac by Robert Graysmith. It felt like a beacon, like I was a moth involuntarily drawn to this light. I thumbed through it, noting the pictures, and it scared me. I was actually worried about how I might digest this information, so I didn’t buy it. I did the same with books on John Wayne Gacy, Henry Lee Lucas, and Charles Manson. Instead, I continued reading “safer” books like those by Stephen King and Clive Barker.

Silence of the Lambs came out around that time, and the dam broke. It seemed the country was in the throes of a similar fascination. Maybe it had always been. I gave in and began my own journey with books on Ted Bundy and Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer (this was years before Ridgway was arrested). I eventually bought and read the Zodiac book. It was certainly chilling, but it didn’t drop me down some inescapable, dark well as I feared it might. I also got a hold of several encyclopedias of crime and serial killers, gaining limited insight into more and more that might lead to avenues of further delving.

Eventually technology gave us better access to lesser known fare like documentaries. I have always enjoyed them, and it pleased me when they began gaining more popularity. Now you can watch well done documentaries on all sorts of true crime. I’ve seen plenty. Some are clearly better than others, and some are chilling right to the bone. I watched Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes and hearing Bundy’s voice felt like a haunting hypnotism. It didn’t even feel horrifying until some time later, and that made it even scarier to me.

Tedd Bundy Tapes

In addition to Silence of the Lambs, there have been plenty of fictional movies made about, and often inspired by, serial killers and true crime. I used to work at a video rental store when I was in college, and I can tell you, I watched just about all of them I could get my hands on. None were as good as Silence, but several were just as horrifying. Most were formulaic crap.

And now we have the amazing series on Netflix, Mindhunter. This is another one that is based on true events, and it shows how American law enforcement at the time began to deal with serial killers. It comes from the book of the experiences of John Douglas, one of the pioneers in criminal profiling and a consultant for Silence of the Lambs.

mindhunter-s1

This dark interest has undoubtedly influenced some of my writing. As much as such criminal behavior scares and sickens me, it is, unfortunately an actual behavior. I’ve made myself go further and further into horrific explorations just to try to not pull punches, since reality doesn’t. I’m not entirely sure how much it has affected me as a writer, but it’s there. I like to think that exposing and facing it is how we eventually eradicate it. Maybe that’s naive, but I’m not sure any of us have a perfect crystal ball. Besides, I need to cling to some optimism in the face of such darkness.

Sleep well …

Kaffee Klatsch

Posted: October 24, 2019 in Blog
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It took me a while to “discover” coffee. I remember visiting my maternal grandparents out in the resonant isolation of Forest, Mississippi. My grandfather and I would always wake up before everyone else. He’d be sitting there in the dark kitchen with his coffee, and he offered me some to try. I didn’t care for it, even after he added milk.

Flash forward many years until I was a sophomore in college. I lived right off campus, and even closer was a legendary Austin coffeehouse called Quackenbush’s. I’m not sure if it’s even still there, but it held a darkly romantic allure to me. I couldn’t explain why. After mulling it over several times in my adventurous brain, I finally convinced my body to go in. I was with a friend, and we were both flummoxed by the offerings. What the hell was a café au lait? A cappuccino? I just opted for the cheapest thing on the menu and stumbled upon the espresso.

It was too intense for me. This did not seal my fate with coffee. I resumed drinking the “watered” down stuff my friend and I brewed in our dorm room. Still, those dark, roastable beans had been planted.

I also found that I just loved the atmosphere at coffeehouses. I began frequenting them. A professor of mine held a post-class discussion hour or two at the same locale. I went to those as often as I could. I would study and read in coffeehouses, meet new and interesting people. And I finally found my love for coffee.

That same friend wanted to dive in deeper, so we began researching coffee for an ambitious project (one that ultimately did not come to fruition but the journey was well worth it). I found out what a vastly traded commodity coffee is. I found out the legends of its discovery and smuggling out of its native lands and into Europe. I read of the invention of café mocha and the gender-exclusivity of early coffeehouses, the supposed influencing nature of coffee and how it might lure one down the paths of sedition or even worse – philosophy.

This same friend introduced me to Turkish coffee, giving me an ibrik, and I began making it myself. It is powerful stuff when done correctly. We even had multiple sets of ornate demitasse cups and saucers. We’d have little gatherings and drink the strong brew, then upend our cups and let the contents dry on the inside to read our fortunes. I got a hold of a Vietnamese coffee press, and I began having my own Vietnamese coffee at home. This was all good stuff, and it stoked something inside me, seeming to brew my imagination along with the drink.

I don’t experiment like I used to, but I still enjoy trying new things or having a strong cup of Turkish coffee when I can get it. I finally went to Europe and tried a lot of coffee there. It is stronger (in general) than what is available here, and it’s good. The best I found was in Frankfurt.

It’s amazing to me how this drink has had such a profound impact on not only myself but also human civilization. It was as much a sought after valuable as any spice or flower for those lands that could not produce them locally. It is a treat that has woven itself into feeling like a necessity. And I love it.

Cheers.

cup-of-coffee-800x462

Poetry

Posted: September 10, 2019 in Blog
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The planet turns …
and night falls.
We are all moved.

Night Falls on Earth


I used to dabble in poetry much more when I was younger. I kept a small, spiral-bound notebook and filled it with poems. I used to attend live readings at various coffeehouses when I lived in Austin. It was fun and inspiring.

Eventually, I just stopped writing poetry. I’m not sure why, but it happened. Then, just the other night, this one hit me. I was walking down the stairs in my house, and it was dark. I’ve done that countless times, but for some reason, I stopped in my descent. It hit me that this darkness had come as I sat upstairs typing away on the computer. It was the same house, but now it was shrouded in darkness. It had changed, and the inevitable magic that comes with night enveloped me. I had moved without moving.

I hope you like this little foray of mine back into poetry. I doubt it indicates more to come, but it felt very profound to me.

Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride

Posted: August 1, 2019 in Blog
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Ticket Booth

I’m not sure why this continues to need to be said. It doesn’t even matter if I am desperate for food or phenomenally wealthy, I deserve to be paid for my work. Books are not too expensive, especially eBooks. Some people just seem to feel they deserve some kind of handout, or they seek to take advantage of authors by expecting free books. It saddens me that there is sufficient use of free book (piracy) websites that they are still functioning. You’re hurting authors by using them. It is very disappointing. It saddens me that people are so willing to hurt others for success, though I realize that is nothing new in human behavior. It also saddens me that people patronize these sites. If they didn’t, there’d be no power to them.

It also baffles me that there is a prevailing attitude that people somehow freely deserve the fruits of artistic labor, yet they’ll somehow manage to afford that $3.00 coffee five times a week. They also manage to afford a smartphone. Has anyone thought of expecting an iPhone for free because Apple has “enough” money already?

Here’s the thing. Books are cheap! I sometimes wonder if it is even about the price, or if something is just wired into a lot of people where they try to unfairly worm whatever benefit to themselves they can. That sort of approach is sadly selfish, immature, and unsustainable. Hopefully humanity will largely mature beyond such an attitude at some point in the near future.

Buy the book, take the ride.

Find more discussion here on my blog about art being affordable.