1985

In March of 1985, I moved to Greensboro North Carolina.

I was actually looking forward to it. My family and I spent our March break that year in Greensboro so my parents could house hunt, and so my sister and I could see the city we would call home for the next two years. It was nice. It was clean, and my parents wisely bribed us with some cool toy purchases, one of which I still have sitting on my office shelf:

Pictured: My bribe
Pictured: My bribe

So I’ll admit once we got to Greensboro I was seduced. The climate was warm, if a little dry, and while we were landlocked our condominium complex had a pool, which made the summer heat easier to handle. I was also getting more into comic books by this point, and the discovery Greensboro had a couple comic shops meant the passage of time would be a little easier to handle. There was also the malls (plentiful), the arcades (ditto) and most importantly the toys. There was a Toy City (think Toys R Us without the Giraffe) in the strip mall a five minute walk from my front door, and the day I walked in there and saw shelves laden with toys I didn’t even know existed, well, I figured Greensboro wasn’t going to be bad after all.

Then school started. And everything came crashing down.

***

Let me tell you a bit about Charles B. Aycock Middle School.

Aycock

Short version: I hated it. Long version: I really hated it.

First, it was way on the other side of town. Despite the fact there was a Jr. High close enough to my home in the northern part of town that I could walk to it, being at the tail end of what was known as the Desegregation Bussing era. This meant that kids from the more affluent northern part of town were sent to one of the less affluent schools in the southern part. I absolutely hated this for no other reason that I had to ride the bus there. And for some reason my bus was on a schedule where mine was the last stop to be picked up, and the last one to be dropped off. So in the mornings I had to fight for a seat, afternoons I had to stay on the bus until the very end, and was the last student to be dropped off, close to an hour after school had ended for the day.

Trust me, it was a lot further than that. Memory doesn't lie.
Trust me, it was a lot further than that. Memory doesn’t lie.

[Note that route was the direct one from our house to the school. The route we actually took zigzagged all the way up from the school, though today I couldn’t tell you exactly what it was. It took 45 minutes, that’s all I can remember.]

Second, owing to North Carolina coming in near the bottom of recent national educational standards, the school board decided the best way to correct that was to double down on homework, workload, and classes. We began class at 8:30, and our day was packed. I think we had seven or eight periods, all of which (for me anyway) meant crisscrossing the school, one end to the other. Back and forth, carrying all my books with me because I only had something like 3-4 minutes to get to each class. We got a whopping 30 minutes for lunch, then back into it. As someone who was coming from elementary school in Scarborough where you had one teacher to a Jr. High where you had many, it was like being taught how to swim by being dropped into the deep part of the lake. By 3:15 pm I was exhausted, and still had 7-8 classes worth of homework.

So all of that meant I was not a happy camper. I was bussed across town to a school I hated. And rather than make the best of a bad situation I doubled down on misery. I decided I wasn’t going to make friends, I wasn’t going to join any clubs or extra-curricular activities.  By age 12 I had gotten tired of saying goodbye to people. Two years is a lifetime to a 12 year-old, but I knew I could do the next two years because I had no choice.

So I got home, got my homework out of the way, and retreated into my comics and toys, and dreaded the next day of school. I lived for weekends because that meant I wasn’t in school. But by Sunday evenings I was back to dreading it. I even had developed something of a nervous condition. That clenching fear you sometime get in your stomach? I haven’t had it since I was maybe 14 but back then I had it all the time, and it all had to do with school.

My parents were worried too. They even talked about pulling me out of school and hiring a tutor, but it was decided that school was just something I would have to endure. And lest it seem like I was living through some Dickensian nightmare, my parents did help by signing me up for karate classes, two nights a week and the occasional Saturday. That went a long way to boosting my overall confidence and helped me work out some aggression at an age when I had a lot of it. They also drove me to the local comic shop once a month so I could buy the latest books, and we went to one of the many local malls once a week or so where I could get a book, see a movie, buy a toy, or just unwind. We also did a lot of weekend excursions to places like Asheville, Winston Salem, Wilmington, and vacationed a bunch of times in Myrtle Beach. Were it not for school I would have to say I really did enjoy North Carolina. But not during school. Never during school.

I also had the radio. I began listening to it obsessively. It was your typical Top 40 radio. That meant Phil Collins, Huey Lewis and the News, Bruce Springsteen, Duran Duran (who I was already familiar with), and the occasional David Bowie and Simple Minds tracks. It was all pretty generic; you were guaranteed to hear a particular popular song once or twice a day, but as this was before the era of Clear Channel there was just enough eccentric stuff that slipped over the corporate wall to make things interesting like Paul Hardcastle’s “19”  which was, well … this:

So, I had comic books, I had music, and if you know me or my work at all, you can see this as something of an origin story. And hindsight being what it is that’s a pretty accurate assessment, especially when I think of one song, and one person in particular.

***

3:15 pm Monday to Friday was the happiest moment of the week (doubly so on Friday, quadruple so on long weekends and Thanksgiving and Christmas and March Break). That was when the dismissal bell would finally ring, that’s when we’d run to our lockers to drop off what books we wouldn’t need for homework, and that’s when we beat feet to the fleet of busses parked out back waiting to usher us home (in my case 45 minutes later). Our bus driver was a 20-something named Roger. He had a deep southern accent, and referred to everyone – boy and girl – as “Dude”. “Hey dude, what’s up dude, good day dude?” He also had a boom box parked beside him. Monday thru Thursday he’d have it tuned to one of the Top 40 stations because he wisely knew that music would keep the kids on the bus relatively under control. But on Fridays, he’d play some of his favorite tunes to gear us and him up for the weekend. That means I heard this song once a week, every week, from September thru May 1986 when classes ended for the summer.

Now I mentioned the strip mall earlier. The one with the Toy City? That mall also had a movie theater. Not a first run, but not a rep either. Basically once a movie’s shelf life ended, before it was whisked away back to the studio vaults and eventual home video release 9 months later, it stopped in one of those theaters (the other being on the other side of town). Shows were only a dollar, so on many weekends I would go there on a Saturday afternoon, pay my dollar, and go watch a movie. The Goonies, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Back to the Future, Young Sherlock Holmes, Weird Science, Commando – they’d play for weeks, if not months; as long as people kept coming to see them they’d stay – I think I saw BTTF a total of five times before it left that theater.

Anyway sometime in April of 1986, the movie of the week was Pretty In Pink. Like most 13 year old boys I harbored a crush on Molly Ringwald.

Yes. Yes she is.
Yes. Yes she is.

So I went, down the street, to the theater, armed with my dollar, on a Saturday afternoon. I paid, took my seat and watched the movie. I wasn’t too conscious of how many people were in the theater but there was a relatively sizeable group. Anyway after the movie I went outside, and who did I see standing there, also having exited the theater, bur Bus Driver Roger? He was there with what must have been his girlfriend, and she was talking with one of her friends but he saw me and I saw them and I said “Hey Roger.” Hey Dude, was his answer. I went on to tell him I rode his bus and he said “Yeah, dude, you’re the last one to be dropped off. Bummer, huh?” I don’t remember much else of what we said, but I had to ask him and I did.

“Hey Roger, that song you play every Friday when we leave school? What’s it called?”

“That’s Ready Steady Go” by Generation X, dude.”

I told him I liked it a lot, but I never heard it on the radio.

“Then you need to listen to better radio, dude. Not the top 40 crap from Greensboro, but the station from Chapel Hill, dude. WXYC 89.3. Signal is way weak in the daytime but at night it comes in a lot clearer, dude.”

I muttered something like “Yeah, I’ll do that”. Roger left with his girlfriend, I left for home, got to my bedroom, closed the door, turned on my radio and began searching on the FM dial. I landed at 89.3 or thereabouts and could hear some music, but it was faint, with a lot of static. I raised the antenna and it came in a little bit clearer, but nothing great. After dinner I think my parents must have rented a movie because around 10pm I went to my room to read, and listen to music. By now night had fallen and when I turned on the radio the music came in nice and clear. And that was my introduction to the music found Left of the Dial. Bands like The Replacements, REM, Talking Heads, U2, The Smiths, The Cure, Joy Division. Thing is I didn’t know their names at the time; just the songs, and over the years (and in some cases decades) that followed I would rediscover them. on Much Music, on CFNY, on MTV, on Spotify. Even recently I’ve found songs I heard 30 years ago but lost, finally unleashing the power of the internet to rediscover them.

***

In the end I survived Greensboro. We were there a couple of years, then we moved again and I’ve never been back since.

As for Roger and that bus, the thing that stands out was the last trip I took on it. It was the last day of school, we had early dismissal, and I knew it would be my last time taking that ride and that route. With each stop, with each group of kids who god off, I knew that was the last time I was ever going to see them. As we neared the home stretch, and it was just me and Roger I made a request; “Ready Steady Go. Can you play it again?”

And Roger grinned: “Any time, Dude.”

That was the last time I saw Roger, and the last time I rode that bus. 30 years on I do think about those years with a little more nostalgia than I did at the time (the blessing and curse of advancing age I guess). I did hate being there, but in the end it, like most negative experiences, ended up being good for me. And I even managed to make some friends at Aycock. Unfortunately, I can’t remember their names. My time there was too brief, and the span of years since then has grown long.

But Roger? I’m never going to forget that dude, or that song.

21st Century Digital Boy

I realize I don’t really write much about tech. Probably because I have a love-hate relationship with it, especially with things internet-related. For every positive the internet has given us, there’s like ten awful things. I’ve actually been stepping back from all things online over the last year because it was becoming too much. Too much drama, too much distraction, too much bullshit. So it was under that particular cloud that late last year I said to my wife, “we should get an iPad.”

I’m not sure what brought this idea on, because I prefer my books on paper, my TV on a 42 inch set, my movies in a theater, and my music on – well, on my iPod (but preferably with a nice stereo system on hand). Plus, given that I spend my day staring at computer screens, the last thing I want to do on my downtime is stare at another.

I had also never even really picked up an iPad. Maybe at a friend’s place once or twice, but to me it just seemed like an oversized iPod. I didn’t think I needed one. But after doing a little research (thanks, Internet), we decided rather than having a whole pile of Christmas gifts under the tree, we’d splurge on one big gift we could both get some use out of. So we pooled our Xmas spending money and bought a 128 GB iPad Air 2.

Merry Christmas
Merry Christmas

And five months later it has become indispensable.

First, for work. Having found travel to be part of my writing life as of late, having the iPad with me on those travels has made doing my job a lot easier. Sending and receiving emails, obviously, but with Dropbox on my desktop and the Dropbox App on the iPad I was able to access work docs. So that was handy. Also handy; Skype and Face Time. Skype, because my writing partner is based in San Diego, and while email generally gets the job done, sometimes we need to talk face-to-digital-face. Face Time is great because my wife has it on her phone, and it makes calls to her while I’m away a bit nicer, especially on those longer trips. Given when we started dating back in 2003 we racked up long distance bills equal to the GDP of a Third World Country, making calls for basically what we pay in internet access is a huge deal.

Second, for news. I don’t watch a lot of network or cable news because this is America and news here is crammed with partisan bullshit from which there is no escape. I am, however, a big magazine guy, having had a National Geographic subscription pretty much my entire life, and I’ve been an Economist subscriber since 2009. Both magazines have apps for subscribers, so I can download the new issue of the Economist on Thursdays, when the print edition sometimes doesn’t show up in my mailbox until Monday, by when I’m at least half way thru the latest issue on the iPad. I can download the latest NatGeo a day or so before the print mag arrives, and they have some additional features – video interviews, interactive maps etc. I also get Intelligent Life Quarterly for free, thanks to my Economist Subscription, which is chock full of goodness. I’ve even been considering switching to the Digital Only versions of my magazines when my subscriptions are up for renewal, for the convenience, and to maybe spare a few trees.

Don't let that fool you -- those are just the recent issues.
Don’t let that fool you — those are just the recent issues.

Third is entertainment. Spotify, iTunes, iBooks, but also (takes a deep breath) HBO GO, Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Instant Video, PBS, Hulu Plus, and the NFB.

Pictured: All The Entertainments
Pictured: All The Entertainments

A bit about those last two; I went all in for the Hulu Plus subscription ($7.99/month) for one big reason – this:

Drool
Drool

Yeah, that’s pretty much the entire Janus Films/Criterion Collection library at my fingertips. Were I to buy each title seperately I’d be broke. But having Bergman, Herzog, Kurosawa, Chaplin, Lloyd, Keaton, Lang et al just sitting there anytime I want them? Well worth the monthly rental.

If there is a downside to all this, it’s that it feels like I have too much entertainment at my fingertips. Funny to think though that five, ten years ago if I wanted all this content I had to go look for it. Like, in a store. So the ease of delivery and access is great.

But there’s 125 titles in my Netflix queue – titles, not individual things and much is TV. There’s well over a hundred Criterion titles in my Hulu Queue, plus there’s all the HBO stuff, the NFB stuff, lots of great public domain content on YouTube, and that doesn’t even cover my Spotify playlists. I’m never going to have time to enjoy all of it.

Now, for the point of this tech talk; How Much Has This Changed How I Spend My Money? Not as much as you’d think.

Granted, with so many streaming options for film and TV, I don’t buy nearly as many DVDs or Blu-Rays as I used to. Really, it’s mostly July and November, when Barnes & Noble have their excellent 50 % off Criterion titles that I go nuts, and even then usually to the tune of $100 for the entire sale period. The Criterion titles I can access on Hulu fill the rest of that void so I only buy the titles I really want copies of.

In addition I will admit my movie going has dropped off in the last year or so(that means “go to the theater to see a movie”). I used to go almost once a week. Now if I go once a month it’s usually for a good reason. Frankly there hasn’t been a lot to really entice me to the movies as of late. What I do try and do is seek out the smaller indie films than the big blockbusters. Age of Ultron doesn’t need my money, but The Babadook, It Follows, and The Guest do.

With one exception ...
With one exception …

With TV, we’ve cut our bill down to just basic service and HBO. We’re buying a new modem so we can return the one TWC charges a monthly rental fee. We could cut the cord entirely, but paying for the basic package gets us a good deal on our high-speed.

As far as music, I’m actually buying more even with Spotify giving me my music for the price of listening to their ads. I know Spotify gets a bum rap for the tiny royalties they pay out to the artists, but I’ve actually been prompted to buy songs and albums from a lot of the artists I discover on Spotify. I still like owning my music, and I like the artists to get a piece of my money because I want them to keep making music. In fact, if Spotify were to give you an option to buy digital files of the songs you stream, a lot of those criticisms might be muted.

Pictured: My shopping list
Pictured: My shopping list

I also find that with the iPad I am spending less time at my desk, which could be a lifesaver. A sedentary lifestyle is not a good one, and when my internet browsing was limited to that chair, it wasn’t doing me any favors. With my work desk focused on actual work it’s not uncommon for me to finish writing a couple hours earlier and switching it off for the day, keeping the iPad on hand to answer any emails that trickle in after the fact.

While it’s weird to think that 5-10 years from now iPads and tablets may look as anachronistic as flip-phones and Walkmans, ours has actually been a pretty good investment, especially when you realize this entire post was written on an iPad, and pictures were taken on it and uploaded on it.

Now all I need to do is know when to turn it off for the day.

 

Deep Blue

Let me go on record now by saying I am pretty much over the whole year-end top 10 list of movies, TV, music, et cetera. They’re cheap, easy things to write and pretty much required for any creative person. Websites are cluttered with them, comments sections are cluttered with disagreements over them, and every year they repeat.

I am so done with them.

So, in the spirit of the season here’s Brad’s Top 5 of 2014, plus runners up which I guess makes this Brad’s Top 10 List. Not necessarily The Best in movies, music, TV, comics, and books, but the ones that most left an impression on me, and will likely remain with me for years to come.

MOVIES

I start with movies because they’re technically my thing.  And I really had to make a Sophie’s Choice here because of the movies I did see in 2014 two stood out from the pack for very different reasons, and deciding between them was a monumental chore.  And while the year technically isn’t over yet I doubt anything I see in the next two weeks will equal, let alone surpass ..

boyhood-teaser-poster

If I was to make a movie version of Mixtape it would probably be like Boyhood. Not in the sense that we’d film it over a dozen years, but because Boyhood is such a great celebration of the moments you don’t think will amount to anything but in the end realize they’ve had enormous impact on you. For me no sequence captured the power of film than a brief one where young Mason dresses up in a Hogwarts costume to attend a midnight book launch of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix  with some school friends. These friends only appear in that scene and then we’ve jumped forward another year. We never see these friends again. Their lives are just supporting roles in the life of Mason, just like so many of or friendships are just points on a map. When the book of the first decades of the 21st century are written, Boyhood will surely be a part of it, documenting average, ordinary people moving through life in search of those special moments, only to realize those moments were with them the entire time.

Runner up:

grand_budapest_hotel

Because I had a big goofy grin on my face throughout it. Beautifully shot, performed, scored, funny, touching and surprisingly sad all at once. It may even be my favorite Wes Anderson film. But what puts it atop my list is that I think The Grand Budapest Hotel, despite its 1930s setting, spoke most poignantly to life in the year 2014. That deep down we’re all decent people struggling to remain so in a world that seems increasingly spun out of control into chaos and darkness.

MUSIC

Lykke_Li_-_I_Never_Learn

My wife and I jetted across the Atlantic to Scandinavia back in October. We toured Stockholm, then Oslo, then Copenhagen, and back to Stockholm to make our return flight. On our last day we loaded up on souvenirs – clothes, shoes, and candy, and I grabbed I Never Learn the latest album by Sweden’s Lykke Li. Probably because I’d listened to it on the flight over on Air France’s entertainment service, probably more because I wanted some audio record of our adventures that I could listen to in years to come and remember things like Gamla Stan at night, the train to Oslo, Tivoli Gardens. It’s also a really great album too and I’m glad I discovered her.

Runner up:

jw

I’m a fan of Jack White. I’m a fan of his music, be it with the White Stripes or the raconteurs or the Dead Weather. I really like his solo work, and Lazaretto is as good if not better than his first solo album Blunderbuss. But what I most like about him is he’s been able to carve out his particular niche of music and business of it in an age where everyone and everything is competing for your dollar. That low-fi approach of third man records is a model I wish more creative types emulated. I certainly hope to do so with my work.

TV

2014 was the year I realized television was, for me anyway, the more exciting visual medium. Certainly more so than movies were. It was the year “event” television became the clock around which I organized my free time around. And while I could have gone with Vikings, The Americans, True Detective, Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, or Masters of Sex, my favorite TV show kind of snuck up on me.

fargo-fx-tv-series-poster

Because on paper it shouldn’t have worked but it did. There wasn’t a false note in the ten episodes of this twisted, twisty story that more than captures the feel of the Coen brothers’ 1996 classic – it made that film feel like a smaller chapter in a much bigger story. Loaded with memorable performances, particularly Allison Tolman’s crusading cop and Billy Bob Thornton’s malevolent killer,  it was the one show that really snuck upon me. And with Season 2 taking place in a different time period with a brand new cast, expect to see more TV like Fargo in the near future.

Runner Up:

peaky

Set in post WW1 Birmingham as a gangster played by Cillian Murphy attempts to build a criminal empire while still remaining an honorable man in a world without it. Standing in his way; Sam Neil, Noah Taylor, and Tom Hardy. If those names don’t grab you then trust me when I say Peaky Blinders is not the show for you. But if they do chances are you already saw it.

COMICS

With the release of Mixtape #5 in June and the completion of Vol. 1, I actually had time to get back into comic book reading. Much of that was catch-up with some ongoing series – The Massive, Fables, Astro City – I’ve been reading for some time. And while my choices didn’t technically see their initial release in 2014 I picked them because they grabbed me.

trillium1

Printed in 2013 but collected in 2014, Jeff Lemire’s endlessly inventive dystopian time travel love story sci-fi epic surprised me with each turn of the page. I want to write volumes about how much I loved it but hate the thought of spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t. So let me just say if you did read Trillium you already know why it’s so special, and if you haven’t, here’s your chance (doubly so if you haven’t picked up a comic book in years).

Runner Up:

saga issue one

Because Brian K. Vaughn & Fiona Staples’ sci-fi epic is as good as everyone says. Maybe better.

BOOKS

This is a tough one because I only read one book in 2014 that was actually published in 2014, and this is supposed to be a 2014 list. There are 2014 books on my “to read” list but with work reading and writing dominating much of my year I missed out on things like The Bone Clocks, Perfidia, Revival, etc. And if I’ve been a good boy maybe I’ll get some of those for Christmas. But in the meanwhile

FICTION:

Terror_simmons

technically fiction, even though the characters and situation are all-too real. but the great thing about unsolved mysteries is you’re free to imagine what could have happened, or just chuck it and tell your own white-knuckle story. Published in 2008, I got around to reading it this year, fueled in part by my travels through Scandinavia, and by my ever-present interest in the age of polar exploration. Plus, the fact a scientific team discovered the remains of Erebus at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean this year reignited that interest.  And while I have some quibbles about The Terror which I won’t get into because it ventures into spoiler territory, I admire its attention to detail and for putting a desperate bunch of characters into a terrible situation, then having that situation deteriorate even further until you think things can’t get any worse. Then they do. Again, and again. Best read at night while the wind howls outside the window.

NON-FICTION:

ME

It’s rough around the edges and could use a good copy editor, but Keith Sharp’s look back at the rise and fall of Music Express Magazine pressed all sorts of nostalgia buttons, even though its heyday was well before I was a big music fan. But more because the book and the Music Express era were a unique time and place, and for the music industry that most certainly will never come around again.

So that ends my 2014. I hope anyone reading this finds time in the weeks remaining to read, watch, and relax with a good book, a movie, some television, and some music.

 

 

Shut Your Mouth

My wife was having dinner the other day with a friend, catching up after several months apart. The usual chit-chat developed into the familiar question; “what’s new?”

My wife answered; “Oh you know, this and that. Spent a week in Scandinavia …”

This was news to my wife’s friend, who wanted to know everything. She also expressed surprise that, despite them being Facebook friends, my wife hadn’t mentioned the trip at all. She hadn’t updated her FB page while we were trekking through Stockholm and Oslo and Copenhagen, and hadn’t posted any photos from our vacation, save for changing her profile picture to her in a Copenhagen bar that bore her name.

Scandinavia October 2014 159
Pictured: not my wife and not that bar. But Copenhagen was really nice.

Oh yeah, we took a lot of photos – well over 200. But on getting back home we decided pretty quickly that we weren’t going to upload them anywhere public. At most we were going to create an album of them here, to sit on our shelves, as memory of what was a fantastic trip. Naturally you’re asking what this has to do with, well, anything.

Then you maybe notice it’s been a while since I updated this website.

Yeah.

***

I’ve always been what you would call taciturn. I’m not one to offer up information out of the blue. Ask me a question I’ll give you an answer. But in any social situation you’ll find me gravitating to the nearest wall. Some interpret this as me being snobbish or unfriendly. Others figure I’m just an introvert, when the truth is I really just don’t like people or being around people that much.

Okay, that was a joke, but I don’t consider myself an introvert. I like to watch, and listen, not to talk. The world is full of talkers, and some truly have the gift of gab. But the majority of it is a white noise of lip-flap, and eventually it’s just static in search of a signal.

Look, I know how it’s supposed to work. In our hyper-connected world we’re supposed to share our vacations, our family moments, our personal moments with people we barely know. Heck, I even considered doing a post vacation update to this website with some observations on Scandinavia, its people and culture. I even drafted one and was deciding on which pictures to upload when I realized I didn’t want to share those photos, those moments, or those memories with anyone. It was a wonderful vacation – a genuine adventure – but by feeling obligated to share the details of it, I felt I’d only diminish the experience.

I get it. We’re supposed to be linked in, we’re supposed to cultivate our little patch of cyberspace so people know to stop by. What we’re not supposed to do – especially if you’re a creative type – is let that patch of landscape grow neglected and fallow. If you’re a writer you’re supposed to blog constantly, optimise your SEO, contribute guets blogs, direct people to your author page on FB and Goodreads, and constantly pimp out work – available on Kindle for only .99 cents – while you amass tens of thousands of twitter followers (i.e. “buy followers”) and generally puff yourself up to be someone more popular and more important than you really are. because it’s important people know who you are and what you do at all times.

Ahem
Ahem

Thing is; all that is, to my mind at least, total bullshit. You don’t need to do any of it – you want to, but you don’t need to. What you need to do is spend less time talking about your work and more time doing that actual work. So that’s where I’ve been the last number of months; I’ve been doing. Hard at work on several projects that I feel no string compulsion to talk about just yet. First off, they’re not anywhere ready to be talked about, and even then, to what end does telling you what I’m working on make any difference whatsoever? They have yet to be produced or broadcast or published; maybe when we get closer to those dates I’ll start promoting them, but for now I’m content for these projects of mine to remaine mine and nobody else’s.

But in this age of connectivity I would like to submit the somewhat radical notion that maybe not constantly talking about or promoting yourself and your work is the new black. Despite your personal feelings on the recent U2 album that magically appeared in your iTunes, you have to admit that it just appearing out of the blue was a bold move. Contrast that with the usual process – announce the project-to-be, drop a trailer or a song and video, get some (hopefully) glowing advance reviews, blitz your media and then hopefully people are lining up for the resulting work. And that approach definitely works.

Until it doesn’t work.

Because sometimes you just get so burned out hearing about something before it’s released, by the time it does appear you’re already well and sick of it. And if the end result underwhelms you’re going to be over it in about a week. Books get read and shelved. Albums uploaded, listened to, and forgotten. Movies watched once, and never more than once. Sometimes talking about a thing can rob it of its power, and its wonder. Sometimes too many samples of it, too many sips or nibbles, and eventually you lose the taste for it. It’s a variation of the advice Charles Beaumont gave to Harlan Ellison on the latter’s arrival in Hollywood. And I paraphrase:

“Achieving success [in Hollywood] is like climbing a mountain of cow shit to pluck the single, solitary rose at its summit. By the time you reach it, you’ve lost the sense of smell.”

So as we close up shop on 2014, I look forward to cocooning a little as I sit out the eye of the storm circling me at present. Catch up on some reading, some movies and TV, and brace myself for 2015. Because I want to keep my sense of smell. Because if I don’t how am I going to appreciate the fragrance of that single solitary rose?

Because 2015? That is going to be quite the year.

And I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

UPDATED:

Irony of ironies that this blog entry has become one of the most popular I’ve ever done. I should blog about not blogging more often. Or is that less often?

But on a serious note I’m setting the alarm and turning off the lights on 2014. It was a great, albeit frequently exhausting year full of travel and work and adventure and more than its share of surprises, many of which won’t fully raise their heads until 2015. So I’ve earned a break. Catch up on reading. Do family stuff. Oh, and maybe squeeze in some revisions to a TV project I’m planning to send out in the new year.

Later, gators.

Right Here Right Now

So I have this website/blog thingy. I’ve had it for four years now. You can travel back to the very beginning and my very first post in August 2010.

The whole point of this website was to give me a web presence. So whenever someone (like a prospective employer or person I met at some industry thing) punches my name into a search engine, this website popes up, they click through, read about me, read my works and go “damn this dude is good –  let’s throw money at him.” As you can imagine this hasn’t happened yet, but having a web presence in this day and age is essential for a successful yet somehow still struggling creative type. People read or view your work or just want to get some insight into you as a person, they can find out.

But sweet Jeebus I hate blogging. Hate. It.

If I’m lucky I can knock out one, maybe two posts a month. Contrast that with people who do it every day and I’m failing at it. Often I write and post just to make it look like the website is still active. Sometimes I’m inspired, other times amusing, and occasionally I say things relevant to the writing process. Once I even had a post go viral, though the subject matter – my discovery of David Bowie and Duran Duran – may have had something to do with it.  But my need to keep this website current means too often I fall into the trap of this little nostalgia bubble. I’ll write about stuff that happened years if not decades ago, and try to make some tenuous connection to present day, but more often than more often it comes across – IMO – as being too maudlin. Yes, I did shit when I was younger. Some was fun, some wasn’t, but increasingly it looks and feels like the sad reminiscence of someone past their prime.

That’s bullshit. I’m better now than I ever have been, creatively, personally, you name it. Cool stuff – a lot of cool stuff – is happening right now, and I hope to be able to divulge details on all of it very soon.

But what about the here and now? What is exciting me or entertaining me or making this a very cool time in my life and one that I’ll look back on years from now? What keeps me moving forward by not looking to the past?

Well, I’ll tell you.

jack-white-lazaretto-628x541Yes, I dig Jack White. Yes, I dig his music, his business model, his attitude. Yes, his attitude. Sure he’s a cocky asshole – and one of those types I can’t stand to be anywhere around – but if you were in one of the few genuinely *great* bands to debut at the turn of this millennium, formed your own record label specializing in vinyl albums of all things, while forming two other bands and producing a bunch of other albums before launching one, then another solo album of your own, you earned the right. Plus his new album Lazaretto is really good and you should pick it up now.

(And you should listen to the 7th track at least once a day like I do because it’s my fave)

gregory-s-coffee

Gregory’s Coffee. Picture a less douchey and less corporate Starbucks. They’re a NYC based chain and they do coffee right. Seriously, I need to grab an Americano there once a week, and they have a location conveniently close to Midtown Comics, so you can go grab your purchases and then read them at Gregory’s. Plus they bake their own croissants, biscotti, cookies, muffins, and donuts. Plus the WiFi is free and speedy. And unlike Starbucks their coffee doesn’t taste like ass. Actually screw the rest of this update, I’m going there now.

house_of_cards_poster_2

House of Cards. Apparently it doesn’t hold a candle to the original (nothing ever does), and it gets awfully silly at times but damn if it isn’t totally addictive. I’ve been soaking TV up like a sponge lately as I’m in development on two different TV series of my own so naturally I like to see what’s out there so I don’t fall into the trap of “oh there’s totally a show like that right now, sorry you wasted all that time on your thing”. I’d also add Masters of Sex, Justified, Hell on Wheels, Turn, The Americans, Sherlock, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Da Vinci’s Demons, Downton Abbey and Spartacus to the mix. That said I’m not a fan of the whole “binge watch” – I need time to absorb what I’ve seen before speeding through the story. Like reading a really good book you have to apply the brakes to avoid racing to the end and wanting more.  But another thing I’ve found is the most TV I can handle at a time is 2 hour-long episodes. Any more and my eyes glaze over. Probably because I spend most of my day staring at a screen there’s only so much more of that I can take when I want to unwind. I am in awe and a little bit frightened by people who can tear through a season in a weekend, the “binge watch” that has become ubiquitous. Me, I’d rather read a book.  And speaking of reading:

ALL-AMERICAN ADS BOOKS (3)Taschen. In particular their All American Ads series. Partly for research as one of the aforementioned TV projects is set in the 1950s, but also because I find them utterly absorbing. Like:

GAYAnd:

frigid-woman-cold-war-pushbutton-ease

And let’s not forget:

(The "T Zone" is cancer)
(The “T Zone” is cancer)

I also enjoy the series because it reminds me of how the mundane and everyday can gain extra meaning once time passes. It makes me think of my parents growing up under the shadow of these same ads. It makes me think of the comic books in my collection from the 80s and 90s, and how the ads and letter columns are what keep me from selling them and converting the series into trade editions; it’s that “in situ” act of reading them knowing how things changed but at the time nobody knew the ending.  In fact I’d say vintage advertising is the best way to get a sense of how people lived decades ago and – aww, there I go again down the nostalgia hole. Moving on. …

coldinjulyposterMovies. I still watch them, I write them for a living. And increasingly the bloom has been off the rose. I enjoyed The Winter Soldier and The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Raid 2 and Days of Future Past and Edge of Tomorrow but I didn’t love them the way I would have once (and I really disliked the Godzilla reboot after anticipating it for so long). And while I could blame The Movies for sucking, it’s not so much them as it is me. Tastes change and the stuff that used to get me excited before just doesn’t anymore. I want stories about people, not explosions, not comic book video game rebooted remakes.  And that’s why I keep watching and looking and occasionally find something unexpected that reaffirms my faith in the medium.

CIJMe and Joe Lansdale go way back as far as “author and fan” are concerned. I interviewed him for Rue Morgue a couple times. And Don Coscarelli’s adaptation of Bubba Ho-Tep was directly responsible for me meeting my wife.

So in 2009 when I was on a set visit to director Jim Mickle’s Stake Land that he mentioned he and co-writer/co-star Nic Damici had optioned a novel called Cold In July, I perked up. “Oh, the Joe Lansdale one?” The fact that I knew this “obscure” novel and “cult” writer grabbed Mickle’s and Damici’s attention too. And as I mentioned already I’m something of a fan:

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As the “Lansdale” shelf in my office would attest. And that’s only half of them.

Flash forward to 2014. That adaptation of Cold in July is in theaters and On Demand as I type this, and if you’re a fan of vintage John Carpenter or just plain good storytelling and propulsive filmmaking, you owe it to yourself and to cinema to see it. It’s also kind of restored my love in the movies. It’s the type of movie I got into the movie business to make. It’s the kind of movie that keeps my faith in the medium.  It does all of those things despite the fact that having read the book several times I was in suspense throughout it (even though I knew how it was going to end). That, my friends, is the hallmark of great storytelling.

And if you don’t support stuff like Cold in July you’re just going to get Tran5former$.

CSCCarmine Street Comics because they’re one of the few brick and mortar stores who stocks Mixtape, and because they’re a great conduit for indie comic creators to find an audience for their niche books. They have artists in residence, they hold regular events and signings and podcasts, and are everything a good comic book should be; carrying the Marvel DC books on one hand, but giving over substantial amounts of precious little shelf space to indie books. Plus, unlike a lot of comic shops they’re not dudebro dickish to female fans and creators so visit them and glimpse the future of comics retail.

TravelI should probably announce right now that I won’t be at this year’s NYCC. My request for an artists alley table was declined, and while I am on the wait list, there’s a thousand people gunning for the same slot so it looks like I’ll be out in the cold. It’s not all bad news; I’ve applied to some other shows and hope to appear at them instead, and while I could apply for a NYCC pro pass and would probably get one, that leaves me to just wander around aimlessly without benefit of a place where people can meet me, pick up some books and so on, which is why I go to conventions anyway.

Besides, if I’m going to wander aimlessly I’d rather do it here:

Stockholm

And here:

Norway

And here:

icelandscenery

My wife and I last got away – really got away, in late 2011 to Paris. And we’ve wanted to go back to Europe since then. We’ve been diligently kicking money into our vacation fund. All we’ve been lacking is time. Stuff keeps intruding. So when the rejection from NYCC came in I told her we were going back in October. Not back to Paris but a tour of Denmark, Sweden, Norway and probably Iceland because why not? And because we only have so many opportunities to have adventures and the worst thing you can do, whether you’re a writer or not, is to pass up that chance to look at the world with different eyes.

So there you have it. Stuff I like in the here and now. And in 20 years time, assuming the Internet is still a thing, this blog somehow still exists and I’m amazingly still alive, you can read my ravings about how awesome things were 20 years ago and hear me wonder where I left my car keys damn it.