Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

This post comes courtesy of my friend Doug, who’s a big Star Wars fan. And don’t get me wrong. I love Star Wars myself. But if Doug is right about this, then the franchise has a lot to answer for. I mean, even more than the last three movies. And the 1978 holiday special. Take it away, Doug:

Jon Bon Jovi’s first professional recording was “R2-D2 We Wish You a Merry Christmas”

The album is notable for featuring the first professional recording of Jon Bon Jovi (credited as “John Bongiovi”, his birth name), who sang lead vocals on the song “R2-D2 We Wish You A Merry Christmas.” His cousin Tony Bongiovi co-produced the album and ran the recording studio at which it was recorded, where Jon was working sweeping floors at the time.

So did this launch his career?


Gerry LaFeminaI recently reviewed poet Gerry LaFemina’s debut novel “Clamor” for Chamber of the Bizarre. Drawing on his own background in the punk scene, Gerry crafted a complex portrait of a middle-aged punk rocker that I found refreshingly free of the kind of clichés you usually find in stories about musicians. Gerry agreed to talk a little bit about his personal history with punk, and about “Clamor.”

Q: Could you talk a little bit about your background, and your involvement with punk rock?

A: I started going to punk shows when I was 14/15. I was an outer boro kid—a Staten Islander—and didn’t really fit in with my peers. I had access to a lot of counter culture music from my older sister, mostly Zappa and Neil Young and the Dead, as a kid, but it wasn’t my music. I discovered the Ramones and Bowie and the Clash when I was about 13 and then Kraut, a band from New York, on MTV (was it the Basement Tapes?) at a friend’s house. Then it was onward to the Dead Kennedys and Bad Brains, etc. I joined my first band with that same friend when I was 15, but really didn’t do anything as a hardcore musician until I was 16 and founded Expletive Deleted. We eventually played with a ton of great bands, starting with our first show ever, opening for Suicidal Tendencies at CBGB.

Q: What drew you to punk rock in the first place?

A: I didn’t fit in anywhere. I was one of the few kids at my school whose parents were divorced. I loved books and music and just kind of had my own private life. Punk allowed me to reject mainstream values in an environment where rejection was not only accepted but encouraged. It felt safe at a time when I was looking for safety. That said, it didn’t take me long to realize the inherent limitations of punk as a cultural philosophy—nihilism was never my bag, nor was conforming even to a brand of non-conformity.


Q: What inspired the book, and what were you trying to accomplish?

A: “Clamor” started at a family party: I was looking at my older sister and brother and tried to imagine what it would be like to turn the volume of our personalities up to 11 as it were. I mean, those characters aren’t us in the least, but that’s how it started. Then I had to think what was going on. I don’t write with an outline or an agenda. Once I figured out that the father had died, I had some sense that this was a kind of Prodigal Son story, but that’s not enough to go on

What’s funny to me is that one of the most interesting characters in the book, for me, is Jessica — Johnny’s niece. She didn’t even exist as an idea when I first started writing. That’s all it took.


Q: Is there anything about the punk rock scene that you consider to be widely unknown or misunderstood?

A: When I was shopping the book I had one agent ask me to make it more “punk rock” — by which he said he wanted “more heroin or cocaine and some more sex.” I wanted to avoid these clichés. I was much more interested in the family dynamic that exists. This is a family drama. The drugs, the fighting, all that, that’s a very young take on punk. The fact is when punks survive into their thirties and forties, their concerns are adult concerns — paying the bills, raising the kids, living a life. Touring, writing new music, maybe some sort of secondary income source, all of that is real. Being a punk musician is a job at that point.


Q: Do you have any new projects in the works?

A: Always. I’m working on the fourth draft of a new, untitled novel. I’m playing around with a few short stories, and maybe I’ll eventually have another story collection. But it always comes back to the poems. I’m working on a new book of poems that is tentatively titled “The Story of Ash” but that’s still at least another year from being finished. My first book of essays on poetry, “Palpable Magic,” comes out in early 2015. And musically I’m working with a band called The Downstrokes.



Eleanor RigbyI love the Beatles. Maybe I should curb this habit of over-analyzing their song lyrics. But I heard “Eleanor Rigby” on the radio, and I can’t help myself.

Just as a reminder, here are the lyrics to the song (I won’t bother repeating the chorus. You get the idea.)

Ah look at all the lonely people
Ah look at all the lonely people

Eleanor Rigby, picks up the rice
In the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window, wearing the face
That she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Father McKenzie, writing the words
Of a sermon that no one will hear
No one comes near
Look at him working, darning his socks
In the night when there’s nobody there
What does he care

Eleanor Rigby, died in the church
And was buried along with her name
Nobody came
Father McKenzie, wiping the dirt
From his hands as he walks from the grave
No one was saved

I always figured it was just a mournful meditation on loneliness and isolation. But today, I realized there was something that always puzzled me about the song.

I’m thinking specifically of the last verse, and the reference to Father McKenzie “wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave.” Father McKenzie’s denomination is never specified. I’m guessing Anglican. Possibly Catholic. I was raised Catholic, and I’m not as familiar with the Anglican church. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that Anglican priests, like their Catholic counterparts, just deliver the funeral service for their congregants. They aren’t expected to pick up a shovel afterward and actually bury them.

So I can’t think of a reason why Father McKenzie would be burying Eleanor Rigby himself, unless … HOLY CRAP! FATHER MCKENZIE IS A PSYCHO!

Kind of puts the song in a whole new light, doesn’t it?

And another thing. How come on the back of the Sgt. Pepper album, Eleanor Rigby is the only one with her back to the … never mind. That’s a totally different thing altogether.


oderusFor all of comedy thrash metal band GWAR’s blinding awesomeness, I wouldn’t have considered it possible to write a piece about the passing of its frontman that’s both thoughtful and poignant. But writer Neil Morris has somehow managed it.

With Neil’s permission, I’m posting the following piece that previously ran in the September issue of “The Speculator,” the quarterly newsletter for Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers.

Neil’s Queue tip of the quarter:

The videography of GWAR

by Neil Morris

Last time around, I lamented the tragic death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, done in by a heroin overdose on February 2, 2014. Less than two months later, on March 23, another performer passed away after injecting too much junk. His name was Dave Brockie.

On stage, he was Oderus Urungus, well-endowed interplanetary demi-god, warrior and lead singer of the theatrical thrash metal band GWAR.

GWAR formed in the late ‘80s, gaining national notoriety in the ‘90s thanks to their outsized, outlandish foam costumes and the transgressive excesses exhibited in their lyrics and live concerts. Simulated acts of molestation, ejaculation, sodomy, cannibalism, dismemberment and disembowelment, usually perpetrated against latex caricatures of political, religious and pop culture personalities, propelled the typical GWAR show, in the same way the fake blood and body fluids that accompanied these graphic displays sprayed on the audience from pressurized hoses. (GWAR fans knew a souvenir t-shirt wasn’t the one you shelled out fifteen bucks for at the merch table; it was the white undershirt you wore into the pit that came out covered in bogus blood, pretend piss, sham shit and counterfeit cum. Unfortunately, the dyes washed out after the first run through the Maytag.)

Led by Brockie and backed by an artists collective known as The Slave Pit, GWAR were more than musicians in makeup like KISS; they were actors inhabiting the roles of larger-than-life space invaders crash-landed on Earth, but only recently freed from their centuries-long imprisonment in Antarctic ice. Once loosed, Oderus, Balsac the Jaws of Death (lead guitar), Beefcake the Mighty (bass), Flattus Maximus (rhythm guitar) and Jizmak da Gusha (drums), proceeded to enslave mankind and publicly humiliate/mutilate the humans they found particularly disagreeable. Assisted by scantily-clad, torch-wielding Slymenstra Hymen, some-time rival and partially robotic Techno Destructo, The Sexecutioner and their manager Sleazy P. Martini (wearing a coif that would’ve made Dee-Lite’s Lady Miss Kier jealous), GWAR consistently conducted a carnival of world-wide chaos for twenty-five years, somehow managing to find the time to record thirteen albums.

Unlike some purveyors of death metal and black metal, who got so carried away by the subject matter that they committed real-life thrill killings or burned down churches in the name of Satan, GWAR’s brand of metal was strictly looney tunes, never meant to be interpreted as anything more than cartoonish, satirical, anarchic and infantile, an adult version of the kind of rebelliousness and destructiveness that any ten-year-old kid could understand. Behind the rotting-corpse mask festooned with strips of flesh, the shoulder armor fashioned from giant, spike-topped, World War II German Army helmets, the mutant genitalia with nuts bigger than any you’d see dangling from a truck bumper, one need only look into Brockie’s eyes and see his far-from-serious assessment of his character: Oderus is an idiot. Through all the fierce imagery, Brockie conveyed unmistakable stupidity with his eyes alone, and emphasized it with basso Brooklynese full of “dems” and “deez,” and a general ignorance of simple concepts, like arithmetic, uncharacteristic of one supposedly so omnipotent.

Like his bodybuilder’s physique (which I assume was not maintained through the use of performance enhancing drugs), Oderus presided over what was essentially a puppet show on steroids. And what a grand, grotesque and ingenious puppet show it was! Thanks to the multi-talented minds at the Slave Pit, we have an enduring record of the revolting creativity on display over the course of GWAR’s career. Concert videos like “Tour de Scum,” “Rendezvous with Ragnarok,” “Live from Antarctica” and “Dawn of the Day of the Night of the Penguins” capture the band in full (sword) swing, and feature some of their most undeniably clever eviscerations, including the chest dissection of Mike Tyson. Each show piles atrocity upon atrocity, and when you think they’ve gone too far, they top themselves, reaching a spectacular climax that threatens to burst the boundaries of the stage. You’ll scratch your head wondering how they pulled off the attack of Gor-Gor (a pre-“Jurassic Park” 10-foot T-Rex) at the end of “Tour de Scum” or his impressive rebirth that brings “Penguins” to a close.

Other videos are more “conceptual” in nature. “It’s Sleazy” casts manager Sleazy P. Martini as the host of a lower-than-Morton-Downey talk show that further degenerates into a bloodbath when the band squares off against a man-eating toilet and a booze-oozing behemoth reindeer dubbed Jagermonsta. “Ultimate Video Gwarchive” assembles GWAR’s music video output, and features the MTV-friendly “Saddam A Go-Go;” “Surf of Syn,” in which the group goes Power Ranger to defeat a kaiju-sized Christian Fundamentalist mecha; and Slymenstra Hymen’s jazzy, ultra-loungy anti-torch song “Don’t Need a Man.” Brockie’s band, disguised as one-note shock rockers, explored disparate musical styles, crossing more genres than a certain speculative fiction writers group I know.

But again, I ask the question: how does someone so adventurous, so smart, so self-aware, so embracing of his freedom to question authority and condemn hypocrisy, allow himself to be enslaved like the human maggots who easily fall victim to Oderus Urungus?

The irony is absurd.

Dave Brockie played an imaginary demon on stage, one that was harmless and self-deprecating when you peeled away the viscera, but he lost his life to a real and unforgiving one.

clamorThere are plenty of things I like in Gerry LaFemina’s novel “Clamor,” which is the story of a 39-year-old punk rocker going home for his father’s funeral. But it’s one of those books that I like just as much for what’s not in it. More on that presently.

When I was reading it, I found myself remembering a question that a black friend of mine once asked me more than a decade ago. Why don’t white people respect older musicians?

I told her that I don’t think that’s true. These days, older musicians such as Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris and Elvis Costello are regarded more as revered elder statesmen than creaky relics. But I could see where she was coming from.

In thinking of the musicians that white people are into, she was probably thinking of rock stars. (And for the time being, I’m not going to go into the oversimplified but certainly not meritless assertion that white people simply appropriated rock music from black people. That’s a big can of worms.) And the template for rock stars was forged, with some overlap in adjacent decades, in the youth-obsessed 1960s.

I remember a time not so long ago (By my standards. I’m no spring chicken myself.) when the mere act of getting older was considered a kind of failing on the part of rock musicians.

Back in 1989 when the Rolling Stones were on their Steel Wheels tour, a lot of my peers were making dismissive cracks about “Steel Wheelchairs.” As if the fact that the Stones were in their 40s — their freakin 40s! — meant they were far too old and decrepit to continue their careers, and it was pathetic of them to even try. I can’t see anybody harboring that attitude toward a painter or a writer. Or a classical musician, for that matter. (more…)

NorwegianI believe I have a new personal rule. If you like a song, NEVER look up the backstory. See, “Norwegian Wood” was my favorite Beatles song. It has such a simple but beautiful melody. I’ve heard it many times over the years. And without even consciously trying to do so, I came up with a backstory based on the lyrics, which would run through my head like a movie whenever it played. Then I recently looked it up on Wikipedia, and found out the actual backstory is considerably different from the version I pictured.


Call me literal-minded, but I pictured the events playing out in a beautiful, old-growth forest in Norway. The “Norwegian Wood” of the title. In the course of his travels around the continent, John Lennon meets a strikingly attractive Scandinavian woman and finagles an invitation back to her place. It’s not hard. He’s John Lennon, after all.

He discovers that she lives in Zen-like simplicity in a rustic cottage, where she’s moved to paint and write poetry in solitude. She doesn’t even have a chair to offer him. No matter. They sit cross-legged on a rug and share a bottle of wine, talking late into the night. About art. About philosophy. About life in general.

John feels a strong connection, and he finds himself quite smitten. He very much wants to make love to her, and takes it for granted that he will. He’s a Beatle. He can have any woman he chooses. To his surprised dismay, she gently but firmly rebuffs him when he makes his move. She’s a strong, independent woman, not some starry-eyed groupie, and she won’t be one more of his conquests. Tail between his legs, John crawls off to sleep in the bath, as the song goes.

She’s gone when he wakes up in the morning, but she’s left him a note telling him to make himself at home. He makes a cup of tea, and lights a fire in the fireplace to stave off the morning chill. As he sits there warming himself, he smiles. Despite his nettled pride, he’s amused and impressed at the way she put him in his place. He decides to write a song about the experience. Maybe she’ll hear it on the radio and it will put a smile on her face when she gets his personal message to her – that even though the night didn’t turn out as he’d hoped, he still treasures the memory of the time they spent together.


John Lennon was screwing around on his wife, and quite pleased with himself about it. So much so that he decided to write a song paying tribute to this accomplishment. Paul McCartney helped him with the lyrics, which tell a fictionalized version of the affair. One that goes as follows:

John is trying to get into some woman’s pants. He goes to her place. It’s an apartment with no furniture, done up in cheap-ass Norwegian pine – just like the apartment of every other Bohemian poser chick at the time.

When John tries to initiate sex, she shoots him out of the saddle. He wakes up in the morning and she’s gone. So he torches her place, to punish her for not fucking him.

Oh well. Guess I need a new favorite Beatles song. If “Octopus’s Garden” is actually a douche-y sexual revenge fantasy, please don’t tell me.