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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Tone Poem Tuesday

I heard this frankly amazing piece the other day on the radio, and I promptly listened to it three more times as soon as I got home from driving about. The work is the Russian Overture by Sergei Prokofiev, and it is simply a collection of tunes, some of which are actual Russian folk tunes and some of which are original themes of folkish nature composed by Prokofiev himself. Prokofiev isn't the type of Russian composer we often think of: he doesn't pour out songlike melody like a Borodin or a Tchaikovsky or a Rachmaninov. His is a more modern sensibility, a reaction against Romanticism but still without the full-on nods to the modern of a Stravinsky. I found this work an infectious listen, with its occasional singing, its frequent playfulness, and its variability between intimate song and boisterous showmanship.

Here is the Russian Overture by Prokofiev.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Greta Thyssen

Roger notified me of the passing recently of actress Greta Thyssen at the age of 90. I confess that I had no idea at all who she was, but thankfully, Roger provided context. In addition to her film career she later became an artist, and was married for a time to Cary Grant.

For my purposes, she starred in several Three Stooges shorts. I've never been a huge fan of the Stooges, but you can't deny that they elevated the fine art form on which Ms. Thyssen several times found herself on the receiving end:


Full points to Ms. Thyssen for her pie-faced slow burn!

Bad Joke Friday

A Star Wars one!


Heh!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Something for Thursday

Wow. Edward Scissorhands is twenty-seven years old. That's meaningful to me because back in February 1991, there was an oboe player in my college band that I suddenly realized was pretty cute. She let slip in conversation that she wanted to see this movie, as did I, so I invited her to see it with me.

Spoiler: she married me, and now we have dogs.

Here is a selection from what is, to me, the finest work Danny Elfman has ever done as a film composer.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Tone Poem Tuesday

Starting off 2018's musical selections with a short and lovely setting by Percy Grainger: a familiar folk tune from Scotland, "Ye Banks and Braes O' Bonnie Doon". Grainger is always worth returning to, for his sonorous settings and his ability to paint an amazing tonal picture in just a few minutes.

Monday, January 08, 2018

From the Books: THE COMING OF THE KING

So yesterday I saw a New York Times article linked on Twitter in which apparently some members of former European aristocracy are starting to raise the notion that maybe, just maybe, world problems might be helped somewhat by a return to monarchy. I confess I didn't bother reading the article because...well, the whole notion just sounds goofy. But I did note the name of the first person quoted in the article: one Count Nikolai Tolstoy, who is a member of onetime Russian nobility, a distant cousin of Leo Tolstoy of War and Peace fame, and the writer of a fantasy novel about the wizard Merlin called The Coming of the King.

As it happens, I bought this book way back when I was in college and going through the big Arthurian phase of my reading life. There was a couple of years where if I was reading a book not related to any of my classes, it was an Arthurian book of one sort or another: either fantasy novels retelling the tale, or a nonfiction book about the legends or the larger category of British folklore from which the Arthurian matter springs. Tolstoy's novel is...well, I started it and got about seventy pages in before I gave up. His writing style was very formal and almost stilted (not unlike The Silmarillion), but what got me was a passage that ranks as one of the strangest passages I have ever read in a fantasy novel. I thought that I had shared this before, but I did a cursory search of the archives and couldn't find it, so here is is anew.

I don't even recall the contextual events in which this takes place, save that it is a big feast-type party or something at the King's great hall. Tolstoy is describing some of the evening's entertainment here, and...well, this happens. I swear that this is from a novel that actually got published.

Low before the king bowed the seven newcomers; and bowed low they remained, with buttocks bare gleaming from the ruddy glare of the king's hearth. For they were the far-famed farters of the Island of the Mighty, whose skill in farting surpassed any that might be found in Prydyn, or Ywerdon, or distant Lydau across the Sea of Udd.

Wonderfully loud was the farting of the royal farters at the feasting of King Gwydno Garanhir upon the Kalan Gaeaf; wonderfully lour, skillfully sonorous, and evil-smelling beyond the achieving of all others of their calling. At first they emitted with rare delicacy the seven notes of the scale, moving up and down the line in harmony, high and low. Then they blew forth tunes such as cowherds and milkmaids sing. They whistled high and they whistled low in semblance of the whistling of the keepers of the king's kennels. or of unseen birds that pipe in the brake.

But these wonderful feats were as nothing to what followed, and an ecstasy came upon the Men of the North as each of the performers excelled his fellow with some new and marvelous display of art and skill. Marvelously true to reality was the snorting of war horses, the braying of trumpets, the roaring of stags, the rumble of thunder, the bellowing of bulls, the snarling of wildcats, and long, low drone of a homing cockchafer on a summer's eve.

Well-fed were the performers upon dulse and lentils and beans, but not beyond the space of half an hour were they able to sustain their skillful performance. There came a moment when their conductor gave vent to a long, low whistling sound like a serpent retiring to its heathery laid; so sibilantly soft, stealthy-sounding, and stalely stinking as to instill an awed silence upon the assembled company. It was a signal for the departure of the troop, and with a final effort of such loudness and force and vigor that men swore afterward it set the goblets rattling upon the royal board, and all but extinguished the pine torches flaring in their sockets and even the great hearth burning beneath the royal cauldron.

Like the gale before which no man is able to stand upright, which blows without ceasing from the mouth of that Cave in the land of Gwent which men call Chwith Gwent, was that mightiest of farts which was in the North at that time. There were those in the king's hall, however, who feared lest the performance might arouse storms and tempests in the winter sky, avowing they could hear afar off in the mountains the rolling of Taran's wheel.

It was amid smoke and confusion and stench that the king's farters flew from the banquet hall to the hostel set apart for them. It was long before the pleasure passed and laughter died away and tongues were stilled, so delightful was their performance to the Men of the North.

As noted, I have little idea what to make of this, and I recall that I read very little farther in the book after this.

As for the novel itself, it was apparently at one point to be the first book in a trilogy of novels about Merlin, but the next books never appeared. Count Tolstoy was apparently involved in some sort of legal action involving libel, which put a bit of a kibosh on his writing at the time. To my knowledge these books have never appeared.

And there, folks, is the strangest thing I've ever read in a fantasy novel.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Something for Thursday

I must admit that I love a good cheesy hard rock ballad, and this might be the greatest of them all.


(And yes, I like the movie that it came from. It's so gloriously entertaining in its jaw-dropping badness that I can never look away from it. It's the cinematic equivalent of a lava lamp.)

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

From the Books: THE RETURN OF THE KING

It's JRR Tolkien's birthday!



Tolkien is, naturally, one of my favorite of all authors. He wasn't my first foray into epic fantasy--that would be Lloyd Alexander--but Tolkien cemented my love of that genre for keeps. He is, for me, as profound an influence on my own storytelling as George Lucas.

Here is one my very favorite passages in a book chock-full of favorite passages. This is from The Return of the King, the chapter titled "The Siege of Gondor".

In rode the Lord of the Nazgul. A great black shape against the fires beyond he loomed up, grown to a vast menace of despair. In rode the Lord of the Nazgul, under the archway that no enemy ever yet had passed, and all fled before his face. 
All save one. There waiting, silent and still in the space before the Gate, sat Gandalf upon Shadowfax: Shadowfax who alone among the free horses of the earth endured the terror, unmoving, streadfast as a graven image in Rath Dinen. 
'You cannot enter here,' said Gandalf, and the huge shadow halted. 'Go back to the abyss prepared for you! Go back! Fall into the nothingness that awaits you and your Master. Go!' 
The Black Rider flung back his hood, and behold! he had a kingly crown; and yet upon no head visible was it set. The red fires shone between it and the mantled shoulders vast and dark. From a mouth unseen there came a deadly laughter. 
'Old fool!' he said. 'Old fool! This is my hour. Do you not know Death when you see it? Die now and curse in vain!' And with that he lifted high his sword and flames ran down the blade.


Gandalf did not move. And in that very moment, away in some courtyard of the City, a cock crowed. Shrill and clear he crowed, recking nothing of wizardry or war, welcoming only the morning that in the sky far above the shadows of death was coming with the dawn. 
And as if in answer there came from far away another note. Horns, horns, horns. In dark Mindolluin's sides they dimly echoed. Great horns of the North wildly blowing. Rohan had come at last. 
That is one of those passages that, every time I read it, I pray to whatever powers there are that one day I might write something half so wonderful.

Happy birthday, Professor Tolkien! Long may your stories shine, into the next Age and beyond!



Sunday, December 31, 2017

Looking back at 2017

I do this quiz every year, so let's get on with it....

Did you keep your New Years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

As I pretty much keep my resolutions to “Read a lot, write a lot, and do cool stuff,” I think I did pretty well on the ‘keeping resolutions” front, since I did all of those things. 2016 was a bad year for me for reading, but I nicely rebounded in 2017: I set a goal on Goodreads of reading 50 books, and I did 57!

It wasn’t a New Year’s resolution, but at some point I decided that I want to add a lot of pink to my wardrobe. And I did. Yay!

In 2018 I’ll stick to “Read a lot, write a lot, and do cool stuff.” Works for me. (I thought about bumping my Goodreads challenge to 60 books, but my reading list currently has a lot of really long books on it, so I’m keeping it at 50.)

And one more: I will be engaging my elected representatives more often, most likely by either e-mail or physical letter. I like my Senators and I deeply dislike my Representative, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

Did anyone close to you give birth?

No. A woman at work is very near to doing so, but I don’t think she’s gone yet. That’s about it. She’s not particularly close to me, but I get along with her, so there’s that.

Did anyone close to you die?

No. I’m increasingly wary of my continuing to successfully dodge this particular bullet.

What countries did you visit?

Never left the US, as occasionally tempting as it was to do just that.

What would you like to have in 2018 that you lacked in 2017?

More writing success. Less elected Republicans.

What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Getting Amongst the Stars out the door, and completing edits (for now, before I make one more pass) on The Chilling Killing Wind, which is something totally new! I also learned how to use my Instant Pot and started a very overdue reorganization project of my workspace at The Store. (My work room looks like an Ace Hardware store caught fire and a True Value store was dropped on top of it to smother the flames. Not good.)

What was your biggest failure?

There was actually not a lot of failure in my world this year, thank goodness. I do need to engage my elected representatives more (see above), and I do not like making phone calls, so I’m leaning toward good old-fashioned letters in the mail. As long as we have a postal service, that is.

What was the best thing you bought?

Acquisitions I liked: jewelry for The Wife, a new pair of raw denim vintage Lee overalls for me, and a pit bull mix for The Daughter.

Whose behavior merited celebration?

My whole family’s, many of my friends, and nationally, anyone in The Resistance who protested, worked to advocate against bad policy (and there was a shit-ton of that), and who showed up to vote against Republicans.

Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

Republicans. That party is one giant ball of moral rot right now.

Where did most of your money go?

Food, rum, whiskey, books, clothes, and a couple of expensive trips to an antique mall in Rochester.

What did you get really excited about?

The afore-mentioned antiquing trips, the afore-mentioned pair of vintage overalls, and most of all, the entire family getting together (on both sides!) for The Daughter’s high school graduation.

Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder?

About the same, which is amazing given the state of the world. I am in this odd place of being long-term optimistic about humanity and pessimistic about my own country.

Thinner or fatter?

A little fatter. That’s a disappointment. I need to eat more veggies.

Richer or poorer?

A little richer.

What do you wish you'd done more of?

Reading and writing. Always reading and writing. I didn’t blog nearly enough, and only two pies found their way into my face this year.

What do you wish you'd done less of?

Late-night staring at the Internet. I have been working to do that a lot less.

How did you spend Christmas?

With family, unpacking wonderful gifts, and eating and drinking way too much. In short, it was exactly what Christmas should be.

Did you fall in love in 2016?

I fall in love on a daily basis.

How many one-night stands?

Pshaw. Like I’m gonna tell you.

What was your favorite TV program?

We’re in something of a transitional period as far as teevee goes, with not as many shows we catch regularly. Stranger Things made us happy, and I deeply loved Luke Cage. We also discovered Blackish, which is always funny and often brilliant, and we continue to love Brooklyn Nine Nine, which is always funny and even more often brilliant.

Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

I really try not to hate, but in these times, it’s hard not to. There are some local political activists on the right who are as ugly a bunch of souls as I’ve ever encountered, and I’ll be honest: of the current pack of miscreants dominating the political scene in Washington DC, the one whose image tends to anger me the most when I see it is Speaker Paul Ryan’s.

What was the best book you read?

The Sculptor by Scott McCloud;
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker;
Memoirs by Hector Berlioz;
The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke.

What was your greatest musical discovery?

I spent a lot of time listening to classical works by composers who, for one reason or another, never quite broke through into the “standard repertoire”, even though the music is often very, very good. It’s always sad to me to reflect on how much art gets forgotten that in no way deserves to be.

What did you want and get?

Some really nifty new Star Wars music by John Williams! That’s always a delight. I hope there’s one more in store from him....

What did you want and not get?

I’m honestly not sure I want an impeachment, given what a dunderheaded weirdo the Vice President is. I don’t know, really. Maybe more book sales? I never have enough book sales.

What were your favorite films of this year?

As always, I tend to be pretty bad at seeing movies in the year they are released, so I’d go right now with Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2 and The Last Jedi.

The best movie experience I had was either seeing Castle in the Sky or Casablanca on the big screen. I love both films (indeed, the latter might be my favorite movie of all time that doesn’t take place in a galaxy far, far away), and to see them in their big-screen glory was just fantastic.

What did you do on your birthday?

On my birthday? Went to work. We continued our tradition of enjoying a weekend getaway right after my birthday, to a farm-and-craft festival in Ithaca, NY. It was a great, great time.

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2016?

Vintage workwear chic, now with added pink!

My ongoing pinkification continues with a hot pink hoodie! #ootd #overalls #vintage #Lee #bluedenim #dungarees #denim #rawdenim #pink #thinkpink

Think Pink!!!

What kept you sane?

My family; the cats and the dogs; writing; reading; going on adventures and doing silly things.

Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

So many brilliant people doing brilliant work! I can’t name any, but for a time that feels as dark as this, there are an awful lot of brightly-shining lights out there.

What political issue stirred you the most?

Oh lord. All of them. I’ve never seen a political party stake out stances on issues that are so completely wrong and just plain mean.

Who did you miss?

Barack Obama.

Who was the best new person you met?

Captain Fashnatan Strel of Orion’s Huntress. If all goes according to plan, you might get to meet her in 2019.

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2017:

Elections matter.

But the old lessons apply, don’t they? So, as I always end up copying-and-pasting:

Read a lot, write a lot. Listen to music. Go for walks and look at sunsets. Take all the pictures you want. Learn new things and try new stuff. If you have a dog, take him for walks. Buy books for your daughter, even when she complains that she likes to pick her own books (let her do that, too). Nothing fits your hand so well as your lover’s hand. Eating out is fine, but learn to cook things, too. Have a place to go where they know you and what you order. Don’t be afraid to revisit your childhood passions now and again; you weren’t always wrong back then. Overalls are awesome, it’s OK to wear double denim, and a pie in the face is a wonderful thing!

If you take selfies, post your six favorite ones:

The Dee-oh-gee and me #Cane #DogsOfInstagram #greyhound #KnoxFarm #EastAurora #wny #autumn #overalls #dickiesworkwear #bluedenim #dungarees #denim #doubledenim

My beautiful wife bought me a scarf! She did not buy YOU a scarf. Just me. #winning #scarf #overalls #vintage #Lee #bluedenim #dungarees #denim #rawdenim #pink #thinkpink

Adventure's end. Time to get a donut! #Cane #DogsOfInstagram #greyhound #spraguebrookpark #wny #summer #nature #hiking #overalls #vintage #dickiesworkwear #bluedenim #dungarees #denim #ootd

This is my "Holy shit this water is COLD" face. Ayup. #ChestnutRidge #wny #OrchardPark #summer #hiking #nature #stream #runningwater #pool #swimminghole #huzzah #overalls #dickiesworkwear #bluedenim #dungarees #denim #taketheplunge

Pretentious selfie with YAY I HAS A BALL #Carla #DogsOfInstagram #ootd #overalls #dungarees #denim

Old depot selfie (potential future author pic) #overalls #vintage #Lee #bluedenim #dungarees #denim #tiedye #ootd #longhairdontcare

And then there were the usual pies in my face:

Final Pi Day preview! The last second, Prismafied. Video and other stuff tomorrow! #piday #pieintheface #pieinface #pieface #splat #pietotheface #overalls #vintage #Lee #bluedenim #dungarees #denim #rawdenim #doubledenim

Pies, Prismafied

Videos here and here, if you're curious!

Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

And if I pass this way again, you can rest assured
I'll always do my best for her, on that I give my word
In a world of steel-eyed death, and men who are fighting to be warm
Come in, she said
I'll give ya shelter from the storm.



I’m not sure what I hope 2018 brings most, but what I think it all boils down to is that I hope we can all come in and find shelter from the storm.

Thus I end my 2017. See you all next year!

2017: What I Said, When I Said It

My annual rundown of content here commences...now!

Richard Thompson and Cul de sac
Dear 44
Dear 45
"I am one with the Force and the Force is with me": Thoughts on Rogue One
VHS Memories

Ear infections and why they suck
In which I continue to love my wife
Happy Pi Day! (in which I get hit in the face with a pie)
In which I made gluten-free fried chicken
"Let me help" (Thoughts on the fiftieth anniversary of City on the Edge of Forever)

Dogs and sniffing
On being married twenty years
Nobody did it better: In memoriam, Sir Roger Moore
The Force will be with you always: Star Wars at 40
Larry Havers, 1946-1967

He'll save every one of us! (On seeing Flash Gordon
again on the big screen)

"I believe in love" (Thoughts on Wonder Woman
Twenty years of Harry Potter
On choosing happiness (in which I dip myself in magic waters and get hit in the face with a pie)
A Box of Dreams

One Memory of Each Grandmother
On Fantasy in Film
"I pronounce you man and wife. Proceed with the execution!" (Thoughts on The African Queen)
A Guide to Making Good Life Choices

Tornadoes in the Forest
The 15 Greatest Science Fiction Movies EVER (according to me)
On Combos, the world's finest junk food
On Immigration

The Hobbit at 80
On the pleasures of raw denim
In which Mark Hamill is aware, for a second or two, of my existence
The Final Victory of JR Ewing, and other thoughts one year into the Age of Trump

I also had an interview on another website! The fine folks at The Geekiverse had me over, and you can read that here. And don't forget to check out my content at ForgottenStars.net.

I've made much better use of my Goodreads account this year, using it to track my reading. Most of my content that relates to specific books is over there now, and to see what I read (and what I thought about what I read) in 2017, check it out.

Finally, photos and videos, via my Flickr stream.