Tuesday, June 12, 2018

May on the Turntable

I've been obsessively collecting vinyl for years.  Here are my recent scores...


The Pogues - Rum, Sodomy and the Lash

Shane MacGowan and co.'s rum-soaked saltwater masterpiece.  So many memories of singing these songs with friends in Irish pubs in both Dublin and Rome.  Well, maybe the memories aren't all that clear, but oh well.  The last verse of 'The Band Played Waltzing Matilda' absolutely destroys me.

The Cult - Sonic Temple

I'd never listened to The Cult much in the past but this feature on Bret Helm's blog convinced me to give them a shot.  Of all the albums I checked out Sonic Temple struck the deepest chord, so when I found an old pressing for €12 at Radiation I snatched it up.  On the surface it might sound like generic late-80's cock rock, but with attentive ears there's something borderline mystical in Ian's delivery.  Besides, time and a place for everything.


Iggy Pop - The Idiot

This was my one missing entry in the Five Essential Iggy Records: the original two Stooges albums, Raw Power by Iggy and the Stooges, Lust for Life and The Idiot.  It shows Bowie and Iggy at their most subdued, and most refined.  Sometimes I wonder if we read too much into it being the last record Ian Curtis listened to before hanging himself.  Still, you can't deny that its association with his suicide lends an air of beautiful melancholy to a record that was already beautiful and melancholic.  Never is this more evident than on 'Dum Dum Boys' where Iggy rattles off a list of all his friends who lost the war with rock 'n roll.


David Bowie - Diamond Dogs

No need to explain or justify this purchase.  Diamond Dogs was Bowie's final contribution to glam rock, and the title track features the most glam rock opening lines ever delivered: This ain't rock 'n roll!  This is GENOCIDE!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

April's Reads

Between giving tours of Rome, Pompeii and Tuscany and writing a script for my tour company, I only had time to finish two books last month.  I DID manage to read a handful of stories by M. R. James and H. P. Lovecraft as well as the latest issue of Pulp Literature.  Anyway, April's shelf consisted of...


John Steinbeck - The Grapes of Wrath

They never gave us Grapes in high school.  Then again, they didn't have very high expectations for us.  I love Steinbeck.  I love his ability to draw characters and paint scenes that feel so undeniably real, and his knack for making the most shocking acts of his protagonists seem perfectly natural.  The most common gripe I hear about Grapes is that it's too slow.  Jesus Christ, it's about Depression-era migrant workers making their way out of the Dust Bowl.  What the hell were you expecting, car chases?


Gillian Darley - Vesuvius

Interesting look at Europe's most dangerous volcano.  Darley not only covers its geologic history and the eruption that destroyed Pompeii, but its impact on Italy's cultural landscape.  Both Goethe and the Shelleys visited Vesuvius, prompting Goethe to write Faust and Shelley to write Prometheus Unbound.  I was intrigued by how the volcano became a symbol of political upheaval after Spartacus' gang of renegade slaves defeated a Roman army at its base.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

April on the Turntable

I've been obsessively collecting vinyl for years.  Here are my recent scores...


The Smiths - Louder than Bombs

Despite spending my adolescence and twenties devouring everything I could get my hands on from Manchester in the 80's, I never got into The Smiths.  In fact I've spent most of my life actively hating Morrissey.  I always saw him as the poster child for self-absorbed middle-class youth wallowing in self-pity on top of a mountain of privilege.  Maybe I was projecting a bit.  Anyway, for whatever reason, they've been hitting the spot for me lately.  I can see now that I was missing out on how tongue-in-cheek a lot of those lyrics are, and how they allow you to simultaneously laugh at your own first-world problems while acknowledging those very real personal struggles.  Plus a lot of those tunes are just plain fun.  You're all right with me now, Moz.


Suicide - Suicide

It might be a cliche to say so, but in the case of Suicide's first album, you truly haven't experienced it until you've heard it on vinyl.  There's a physical effect to this record that just can't be conveyed over a digital transmission.  It's a remarkable album.  What's even more remarkable is that a record comprised solely of one synthesizer and a vocalist who practically whispers everything is hailed as a milestone of punk rock.  I picked up the Superior Viaduct reissue which contains liner notes by Thurston Moore.  Get it.  Smoke up.  Cleanse yourself in the feedback.


The Cure - The Head on the Door

I share a birthday with both Iggy Pop and Robert Smith.  It's been a tradition of mine these past few years to pick up something by both of my birthmates on the 21st of April.  Birthdays are for nostalgia, so this year my pic was the first album I ever bought from The Cure.  THOTD isn't marked by the doom-laden post-punk of Pornography or the lush brilliance of Disintegration.  Instead what you see here is the band taking the gloomy world-view of the earlier albums and shaping it into a deliciously eccentric pop sound.  It might not be their finest moment, but it's still a damn good one.  And 'In Between Days' is one of the greatest opening tracks of the 80's.


The Stooges - The Stooges

Maybe I'm in the minority here, but I've always preferred the Stooges' eponymous debut over Fun House.  '1969', 'No Fun', 'Anne', 'Little Doll'... this is stoner-rock bliss, and I knew I was gonna need it this summer.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Amor sacro e Amor profano

I'm happy to announce that my story 'Amor sacro e Amor profano' will be featured in the next issue of Dark Moon Digest.  I wrote this story in a three-day burst of inspiration almost one year ago to the day.  It's about Rome, sex, desire, the beings that inspire us and the high toll they demand in return.  I'm proud of it and immensely pleased that it'll soon have an audience.

My story 'Death in Paradise' appeared in DMD #24 in 2016, and it's a thrill to be working with them again.  Details forthcoming...

Sunday, April 1, 2018

March's Reads

I've been traveling around Thailand for the past month.  Here's what was in my bag... 


Agatha Christie - Murder on the Orient Express

The perfect night train novel.  I read it on a sleeper from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.  On my flight home I watched Kenneth Branagh's perfectly cast (if not particularly memorable) remake.


John Langan - The Fisherman

This one's been on my radar for the past year.  It's impossible not to draw parallels with Lovecraft when a story deals with ancient underwater evil, forbidden eldritch tomes, the dark secrets of a North-Eastern town, etc., but I was also catching hints of M. R. James, Peter Straub's Ghost Story and Stephen King's Pet Sematary.  Anyway, this was one of the finest written pieces of weird fiction I've come across in recent memory, and I highly recommend it.


Raymond Chandler - The Big Sleep

The granddaddy of the pulp detective novel.  A copy had been lying around my house untouched for months.  One night at around 11:00 I was watching an old interview with Lou Reed in which he cited The Big Sleep as his all-time favorite book, and I decided to give it a go.  Suddenly all those William Gibson cyberpunk novels came into sharper focus.


Elmore Leonard - Hombre

More Leonard, this time one of his westerns.  Reads like a bullet.  Fast, to the point, no bullshit.  I read this one on the Thailand-Burma line, aka the Death Railway, built by thousands of POW's during WWII.


David Mitchell - Cloud Atlas

I'm pretty much the opposite of a literary scenester, always the last to catch up with the latest work of staggering genius.  I'd read Slade House a few years ago, but never got around to Cloud Atlas.  I finally dipped into it while spending a week in a beach bungalow on Koh Phangan.  What a fucking humbling experience.  It absolutely deserves all the praise that's been heaped upon it, even if my patience was wearing a bit thin with the dialect in the post-apocalyptic segment.  This book was a great reminder of how happy I am to live in an era in which the barriers between literary and genre fiction have been so rightfully blown up.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

February's Reads


Daphne Du Maurier - Rebecca

Daphne Du Maurier's most celebrated novel, basis for the Hitchcock film of the same name, will probably always be pegged as a gothic romance.  There's a lot more to it than that.  It's also a Golden Age murder mystery and a story about the quest for identity.  The afterward in my edition brings up an interesting theory about the characters of Rebecca and the unnamed narrator reflecting dual aspects of the author's persona.


Christopher Hibbert - The Borgias and their Enemies

People tend to favor Hibbert's book about the Medicis over this one.  In all honesty, if you're already familiar with the Borgias, it isn't going to offer any newfound insight.  It is however good for a straightforward review.  If someone asked me who the Borgias were, I'd tell them to watch the Showtime series for a sense of authenticity (if not necessarily accuracy), then read Hibbert's book to set the facts straight.


Elmore Leonard - Rum Punch

Elmore Leonard is one of the most celebrated writers of dialogue in the American literary pantheon.  Quentin Tarantino has cited him as one of the three greatest influences on his own writing style.  In fact, this book was the basis for Jackie Brown.  I spent a few days sipping Negronis and Aperol Spritzes on a leather couch in a bar called Yeah! reading it.


Jerry Hopkins - Thailand Confidential

Jerry Hopkins is the American journalist who wrote the famous Jim Morrison biography No One Here Gets Out Alive.  In 1993 he moved to Bangkok and never came back.  This very informative and entertaining read is a catalogue of his experiences, observations and accumulated wisdom.  I read it after booking a flight to Thailand in March.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

February on the Turntable

I've been obsessively collecting vinyl for years.  Here are some of my recent scores...


My Bloody Valentine - Isn't Anything

Kevin Shields is an aural genius.  The man picks up guitars and creates sounds the likes of which no one has ever conceived.  That combined with a beyond-obsessive attention to detail when it comes to recording technique has produced some music that is truly sublime.  When he announced last November that he was going to release all-analog vinyl reissues of Isn't Anything and Loveless, I immediately pre-ordered.  Isn't Anything marks the transition away from their early The Cramps-meets-The Birthday Party psychobilly, and into a refined distortion-powered indie rock, paving the way for their subsequent masterpiece Loveless.  It's a great fucking record, and now it sounds better than ever.


My Bloody Valentine - Loveless

This, in every sense of the word, is the big one.  It took over two years to record in nineteen different studios to the tune of a rumored £250,000, making it one of the most expensive records ever produced.  And my God, was it worth it.  It's not only the quintessential shoegaze record, but it consistently ranks in the Top Albums of All Time list in every magazine from Spin and Rolling Stone to your self-published neighborhood hipster zine.  Shields went back to the original master tapes to create this version of Loveless entirely in the analog domain, a process that, like its original recording, turned into a multi-year ordeal.  As always, his perfectionism paid off with interest.  If you want to hear guitars make the sounds of love, sleep and sex, get this one immediately.


The Chameleons - What Does Anything Mean? Basically

The Chameleons were a post-punk band from Manchester who, by all rights, should have been as big as Joy Division and The Stone Roses.  Their debut album Script of a Bridge is universally hailed as their masterpiece, and rightly so.  However, it seems that What Does Anything Mean? Basically (along with everything else they ever recorded) is doomed to stand perpetually in its shadow.  However, that's not to say this isn't a good one.  If not wholly different, it's a natural post-Script, with that same slick production, suave vocals, stonking drums and pristine wall-of-sound guitar.  I found this one in the sale bin at Radiation Records.  Despite never having heard it before, and my resolve not to spend any money, I ended up going back for it.  Very glad I did.


The Cure - Three Imaginary Boys

The Cure's debut album was never my favorite, but when I found it in the sale bin at Radiation, I had to get it.  I was surprised how much this album had grown on me.  I was also surprised how different the track listing was on the UK edition.  The singles like 'Boys Don't Cry,' 'Jumping Someone Else's Train' and 'Killing an Arab' that made the album such a hit in the US (released as Boys Don't Cry) are absent, and in their place are five tracks I'd never even heard before.  Personally, I think it flows better this way.  When I first got into The Cure, I was after their darker material like Faith, Pornography and Disintegration, and this one didn't do much for me.  Now I look at it as a solid pop-punk record not too far from the Buzzcocks, that launched the career of a band that would continuously reinvent itself over the next four decades.


Johnny Cash Sings the Songs That Made Him Famous

Yet another score from the sale bin.  The second album by Johnny Cash has more to do with wholesome radio-friendly 50's country-pop than the outlaw star who played at Folsom Prison, smashed the Grand Ole Opry's lights and smuggled amphetamines in his guitar case.  It's still got plenty of great tunes like 'I Walk the Line,' 'Ballad of a Teenage Queen,' 'Guess Things Happen That Way,' 'Home of the Blues' and a cover of Hank Williams' 'I Can't Help It.'


Miles Davis - Birth of the Cool

I generally only allow myself to buy one record per week.  This time it was a toss-up between this one and Coltrane's Blue TrainBirth of the Cool is a compilation of tracks from three sessions his nonet recorded for Capital records in 1949 and 1950, marking a transition away from bebop and into the then-emerging cool jazz scene.  I don't know man, there's something about jazz that makes you feel cool just by hearing it.


Attrition - The Unraveller of Angels

I've been a fan of the Coventy band Attrition since I discovered them on Projekt Records in the late '90s.  Their sound is a strange brew of experimental electronic beats and the occasional wind or string instrument, with dark, surreal lyrics about love, sex, death and religious kitsch.  Frontman Martin Bowes delivers his vocals in a semi-spoken Cohenesque tone, often backed up by an operatic female singer.  It's eerie.  It's sexy.  It kicks ass.  You can dance to it.  Through a series of fortunate events, Martin and I have become friends over the last two years.  He and his wife Kerri (keyboards and backing vocals--the girl on the cover) crashed at my place while they were in Rome for a gig, and brought me this as a gift.  For a taste, check out 'Karma Mechanic' and 'One Horse Rider.'