Archive for the ‘Performers’ Category

My apologies. The blog’s been dormant for a while. A bunch of stuff came up — primarily a new job — and I was obliged to put it on the back burner. But I’d like to start it back up. So how about I begin with a new, original novelette, presented to you for free?

Here’s the deal. I have a young, talented friend named Frank who portrays a character known as “Cuddles McSpanky” at haunted attractions. He knows I’m a writer. At a recent party, we got into a discussion about our mutual love of horror and noir. And we agreed that it might be fun if I tried writing a story featuring his character. I found myself really getting into it. To my surprise, the short story I initially intended to write somehow expanded into a novelette.

I tried including it in my short story collection, “The Devil’s Kazoo Band Don’t Take No Requests,” due out from Codorus Press early in 2016. But my publisher told me we’re a bit late in the process for that.

So I figured, what the heck. I wrote it mainly as a fun project anyway. And I’d like Frank to be able to share it with his friends and followers. So here it is, presented as a freebie. Enjoy. Share it, if you’re so inclined. And if you like it, keep an eye out for “The Devil’s Kazoo Band Don’t Take No Requests.” Or check out my Pushcart-Prize-nominated debut novel, “The Freak Foundation Operative’s Report.” You can find Cuddles McSpanky’s page here. And if you’re REALLY brave and/or crazy, you can go see him in person here.

For the record, this is a work of fiction and is not intended maliciously. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any other resemblance to actual events, groups or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

So here goes:



By Tom Joyce

Based on a character created by Frank Paul Staff IV



Somewhere in the night-darkened pines to Kevin’s left, chainsaws buzzed like mechanical hornets. Followed by screaming.

Startled, a cluster of girls in Kevin’s group let out screams of their own, giggling at themselves immediately afterward. The Trail of Terror at the BloodShed Farms haunted attraction in Pierce Township, N.J., followed a snaking trajectory, frequently turning back on itself. Intermittent cries from the densely encroaching pines on either side signaling that the group ahead had encountered whatever as-yet-unseen horror would ambush Kevin’s group next, be it zombie, vampire or psychopath.

An unnerving effect, Kevin had to admit, jangling his already jangled nerves.

Kevin trailed behind a dozen or so teens and adults venturing through October darkness punctuated by pale lights on poles set at infrequent intervals along the paved path. Wishing that the night’s errand was already over. He yanked the brim of his baseball cap down lower on his forehead and pulled the hood of his sweatshirt tighter about his face.


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.



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…)

TeelHere’s an earlier post about my meeting with Teel James Glenn — author, stuntman, martial artist and all-around awesome individual. Teel agreed to an interview with “Chamber of the Bizarre.”

Here’s the abridged version of his bio:

Teel James Glenn
Winner of the 2012 Pulp Ark ‘Best Author of the Year.’ Epic ebook award finalist. P&E winner “Best Steampunk Short”, finalist “Best Fantasy short, Collection” Author of bestselling Exceptionals Series, The Maxi/Moxie Series, The Dr. Shadows Series, The Bob Howard Series and others.
visit him at
And here’s the interview:

Q: Could you talk a little bit about your background?

A: I was born in Brooklyn though I’ve traveled the world for forty years as a stuntman, fight choreographer, swordmaster, jouster, book illustrator, storyteller, bodyguard, carnival barker and actor. One of the things I’m proudest of is having studied under Errol Flynn’s last stunt doubles and continue to teach swordwork in New York.

I have had short stories published in Weird Tales, Mad, Black Belt, Fantasy Tales, Pulp Empire, Sixgun Western, Fantasy World Geographic, Silver Blade Quarterly, Another Realm, AfterburnSF, Blazing Adventures and scores of other publications. (more…)

Here’s my annual video holiday greeting for family and friends. It features my imitation of Jimmy Stewart doing a scene from “Pulp Fiction.” In the world I inhabit, that concept makes perfect sense.

Jonathan Burns is a professional magician and contortionist. When I found that out, I formed a picture in my mind. Something mysterious and exotic.

Perhaps he’d journeyed to some remote spot in Nepal, where he’d spent years in a cave learning esoteric meditation and yogic techniques from some wizened guru before traveling back to the West so he could stun audiences with his otherworldly powers.

When I spoke to him after his performance at the Magicians Alliance of Eastern States 2012 convention, he disabused me of that notion.

How did he become a professional contortionist? Well, he was that weird kid in school who could twist his body in disturbing ways, and liked to freak out the girls with it. To his credit, he never grew out of that. And he managed to turn it into a highly entertaining act.

Seriously. At the convention, he had pretty much the entire room doubled over in laughter as he did stuff like working his entire body through a toilet seat.

Words wouldn’t do it justice, so I won’t even attempt to describe his act, other than to say it was eye-popping, endearingly child-like, and very funny. Here’s the interview and a link to his site, which includes some videos so you can see for yourself.

How long have you been performing?

I was always a bit of a ham. I was the kid who would put his leg over his head to gross out girls in gym class or perform arm pit farts at the family reunion. My parents decided to channel that energy and took me to a local magic shop when I was about 12. I picked up a bunch of tricks and would perform them for anyone who’d watch. Eventually, someone noticed and asked me to perform at their daughter’s birthday party. I gathered up all my tricks, put on a sparkly vest, and made about $20. From there I was hooked! (more…)

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m something of an amateur musician. That “something of” modifier alludes to the fact that I’ll have to get a lot better before I can properly describe myself as “amateur.” For now, I’m just the annoying guy walking around at parties, doing the “Hey look! You’ve got a coin in your ear!” routine that makes people suddenly pretend they have to go to the bathroom as an excuse to get away from me.
I think the main reason I stick with it is because it gives me the opportunity to attend magicians’ gatherings, and see the people who really do know what they’re doing perform.

Last weekend, I attended the Magicians’ Alliance of Eastern States Convention in Cherry Hill, N.J., and had a blast. On both Friday and Saturday night, the convention staged magic shows for attendees. Wow! The word “amazing” barely covers it.

Every performer was great. As an added bonus, you could go up and talk to them afterward.

One of my favorite acts of the weekend was “The Crescent Circus” from New Orleans, featuring Nathan Kepner and Morgan Tsu-Raun. They combined stage magic, juggling and acrobatics. Their whole act was like pure, distilled entertainment value.

I’ve included a Youtube clip so you can see what I’m talking about. Nathan agreed to answer a few questions about the act, and about his journey from Central Pennsylvania to New Orleans. (more…)