Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Sort of Homecoming

And A Hearty Hello To U2 As Well!

In order to combat monotony, music was often a frequent topic of discussion at my last job.  One of the more memorable exchanges I had was with a co-worker named Bob who told me that he'd actually seen The Beatles live in Toronto in 1964.  I was in awe when I heard this.  Imagine being able to claim such a thing!  Imagine having been a witness to this sort of music history!     

Well, as of July 30'th I'm hoping to make a similar claim.  I'm hoping to see our generation's answer to The Beatles perform live and in person.

I'm hoping to see U2

Now, there are some people out there who will cry "Blasphemy!" and declare that U2 isn't fit to carry Ringo Starr's drum kit.  Well, I'm not going to stand here and pretend that such an argument is completely devoid of validity, but I would challenge critics to name another 80's-era band that continues to pack in massive crowds and wow them consistently with stellar live shows.

My history with U2 is a bit checkered.  By the mid-to-late Eighties my heavy metal heroes were releasing increasingly mediocre albums.  I was looking for something new.  This conveniently came along in the form of what I now dub "Conscience Rock", so named after it's eternal association in my mind with my High School's Social Action committee.

Here's a quote from the first part of my music-oriented blog entry from May 21'st 2010:

"I fell in with a group of friends who'd joined an Amnesty International group in High School purely to ramp up their sad odds of meeting girls who might mistake them as 'sensitive'.  I was chided for listening to The Scorpions so I began a 'Conscience Rock' phase which involved exposure to...U2 
 U2 was initially a tough sell to me, but I borrowed 'Under a Blood Red Sky' from a friend and it soon grew on me.  Thank God I didn't see the accompanying concert footage until years later since the band's appearance would surely have been a deal-breaker: especially Bono's prototypical mullet, Peter Pan boots and tendency to stage prance."

I'm not kidding here, folks.  If I'd caught sight of U2 back then I'd likely have never been a fan of theirs.  Years later I learned that these young, naive, devoutly religious boys looked the way they did because that was the way they thought they were supposed to look like.  They didn't have a stylist on retainer or an entourage of public image consultants.  All they had was a best guess as to what a modern rock band in the 80's should look like.  Too bad this made them resemble roadies for Kajagoogoo.

Mercifully, the only image of the band that I had at the time was the iconic cover of Under a Blood Red Sky and the video for the following song.  Here's a snippet from this now-famous live performance:

After the live renditions of these songs infiltrated my brain, I purchased the band's first three studio albums Boy, October and War.   The stripped down Red Rocks performance had been so powerful to me that I distinctly recall being disappointed with the studio versions of "I Will Follow" and "Sunday Bloody Sunday", mainly due to their superfluous use of chimes and violins.  Nevertheless, I thrilled at hearing "new" material by the band, particularly "Out of Control", "Stories for Boys", "A Day Without Me", "Another Time, Another Place", "Two Hearts Beat As One", "Seconds", "Like A Song...", "With A Shout", "Tomorrow", "Is That All?", and "Rejoice".

Um, did I mention that they were kinda religious? 

Then I discovered The Unforgettable Fire, still their best and most even album, IMHO.  Although I wasn't a big fan of "Pride" with it's conventional verse/chorus/verse structure and borderline pretentious lyrics, everything else is money.  From the buoyant instrumental heights of "4th of July" providing a flawless segue into the hauntingly beautiful "Bad", this album is pure genius.  I love the kaleidoscopic melodies on display in "Promenade", the propulsive drum beat and choppy riffs in "A Sort of Homecoming" and the driving attack of "Indian Summer Sky", which actually sounds like it could be an out-take from the soundtrack of The Road Warrior.     

"MLK" is a showcase for the sort of vocal passion and delivery growing increasingly extinct in today's musical landscape.  The album's title track alone is an incredible mosaic of  instrumental textures which climbs to dizzying and ever-more powerful heights.  "Wire" comes at the listener with an unrelenting guitar and bass assault and then spins off into an incredibly infectious shout-chant.  "Elvis Presley and America" winds things down nicely but Bono still can't help but raise some vocal rabble towards the end of the song.

The first time I actually remember seeing U2 on stage was probably during the "Live Aid" broadcast.  Speaking of transcendental performances, it was this moment which catapulted the band from groundswell underdogs to bearers of the rock super-group standard.  Too bad this performance nearly broke up the band.

More on that in a bit.  First, here's that historical performance in it's entirety.  Stick with it,  kiddies, 'cuz it's a doozy...

Y'see, the band didn't expect to do a twelve-minute, extended dance-mix version of "Bad" while Bono pulled his little stunt of dragging girls out of the audience to dance with.  In fact, it completely derailed the band's plan to play "Pride" as their third scheduled song.  So, for about a week after their showing at "Live Aid", Bono's name was mud with the rest of the band.  However, as soon as the amazing moment went viral (or as viral as it could go in that pre-internet world), the rest of the lads had to admit that it was stroke of inspired genius.

Then came that cultural juggernaut: The Joshua Tree.  To me this isn't so much an album as it is the soundtrack for tremendous change in my life.  At the time I was about to graduate from High School with all the fears and trepidations that go along with it.  This landmark record gave me tremendous fortitude to face what was ahead and also somehow feel as if better days were to come.

The first half of the album is an emotional roller-coaster.  Standouts include the perpetually building "Where The Streets Have No Name", the haunting and melancholy "With Or Without You", the oddly optimistic "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For", the apocalyptic "Bullet The Blue Sky", and the truly heart-rending "Running To Stand Still". 

My favorite song on the entire album, however, is track six: "Red Hill Mining Town".  I don't like my odds for hearing it live on Saturday, but I remain optimistic since it would make for a stirring and rousing sing-along.  This is the band at it's most cohesive, powerful and sincere (even if the accompanying video isn't):

Well, after embracing Americana for two albums, the band went to hell with the joke on Rattle And Hum.  Although somewhat deservedly criticized for being pretentious and self-aggrandizing, there's still a ton of "A"-list material here.  Witness Edge's stark and mournful performance on "Van Diemen's Land", the chill-inducing beauty of "Heartland", the clarion call-out of "Desire" and "All I Want Is You", arguably the band's most delicate and passionate slow tune.  Oh, and you also have to recognize the penultimate delivery given to "Bullet The Blue Sky":

Regrettably, Rattle And Hum gave us too much U2 too quickly (try saying that five times real fast).  Although Bono is the band's resident extrovert by default, the rest of the band is pretty reticent.  As a result, the film's interview segments and "musical discovery" plotline seem terrible contrived.  It almost seems as if America didn't exist until it was discovered by U2.

So, what's the perfect antidote for looking too self-absorbed and serious?  Why, make a daring, avant-garde, German-influenced album that self-parodies fame and dresses the entire band up in drag!   Enter Achtung Baby, one of my top five favorite albums by the group.

If it had been released in the Eighties, fans would have been left to ponder just what the band had been smoking in order to produce such a record.  But in the early Nineties, a time of musical derring-do and alternative acceptance, Achtung Baby was birthed at a perfectly opportune time.  Plus it certainly helps that there is absolutely no dead weight on this album whatsover.

In a moment of synergistic genius, the Zoo T.V. tour that followed in support of the album was an incredible, multimedia-driven assault on the senses.  As it evolved and grew, so did Bono's stage personae.  He developed no less then three self-depreciating alter-egos: "The Fly" a black leather-clad, sunglasses-sporting egomaniac, "Mirror Ball Man" a slippery used car salesman/good 'ole boy and "MacPhisto" a melancholy demonic lounge singer who may very well have been the precursor to Lorne on the T.V. show Angel.  .   

As if that wasn't enough, each live show was an orgy of message-strobing televisions, pop cultural references, channel surfing, prank calls and video confessionals.  It was the perfect way for the band to completely erase their reputation as pompous, goody-two-shoes crusaders and still attack the media-soaked masses for their passive resignation.

Although every song on Achtung Baby is a winner (no lie!), my favorite tune has to be the deliriously melodic "Ultraviolet (Light My Way)".  This rare clip features one of "Mirror Ball Man's" many failed attempts to get then-President Bush on the horn.  It also illustrates the in-born live potential of the new material:

U2's adventures on the Zoo T.V. tour gave them plenty of fodder for their follow-up album, the unfairly maligned Zooropa.  Although it isn't nearly as even as it's predecessor, I find Zooropa certainly more complex and subsequently, more interesting, then some of the band's more recent efforts.  I keep coming back to it over and over again and discovering something new, as evidenced by the haunting title track which explores themes of moral confusion in a future rife with commercial and entertainment-related over-saturation: 

 The band has played "Zooropa" live as recently as eight days ago so, fingers crossed, I may get to hear it this Saturday.  

Am I pushing my luck to also hear Lemon?  Yes?  Um, okay then...  

In typical U2 fashion of going to overboard, their next album Pop really tested the loyalties of fans who were patiently waiting for them to record Joshua Tree II: The Revenge.  I'm a bit guilty of this myself, having chuckled at and then soundly dismissed the video for the album's lead-off single "Discotheque":

Although I die laughing every time I get to the 4:20 mark of the video, the musical landscape at the time was so dire and depressing I really didn't need one of my favorite bands to remind me of just how bad it really was, even in parody.  I needed them to step and provide an antidote to it.  Sadly, since I didn't buy this album until years after its release, it took me that long to realize that Pop actually was a solid kick back against the mediocre musical landscape of the time.

In fact, to this day, I'm confident that if the band had used a different lead-off single (like "Staring At The Sun", "Gone" or "Wake Up Dead Man") and employed a more sober video, the album would have been a massive hit.   

As if U2 could sense the collective will of it's fan base it went back to it's simpler roots with All That You Can't Leave Behind.  In doing so the band composed and released the most anthemic and optimal single possible in their bid to once again be regarded as the best band in the world.  That single was the rousing "Beautiful Day":

 The album yielded a slew of hits, some awesome ("Walk On", "In a Little While", "Wild Honey", "Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of") some unfortunate (like the inexplicably meat-headed "Elevation").  Overall, though, fans came back in droves and U2 rode a renewed wave of popularity.

They managed to distill this momentum directly into their eleventh studio album, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb.  Sticking to the successful formula of it's predecessor, HTDAAB cranked out more radio-friendly unit shifters like "Vertigo", "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own" and "City of Blinding Light".  Although I enjoyed both of these albums quite a bit, I still couldn't shake the feeling that the band was taking a risk-free step back and pandering somewhat to audience expectations.

Which is why I prefer their most recent album No Line On The Horizon.  Although it's wildly uneven and even a bit off-putting at times, I believe it's their deepest and most daring offering in this recent crop of releases.  Maybe I dig it because of the semi-experimental Achtung Baby/Zooropa-esque flirtations which crop up album from time to time.  Although I'm not a big fan of "Get On Your Boots" (although I do acknowledge it's potential as a stadium-pleaser) I really like the title track:

And so U2 find themselves at a cross-roads.  Like other venerable and legendary rock outfits like The Rolling Stones, their new studio releases might not be quite as urgent or relevant as they used to be.  But their appeal as a live act is as undiminished as ever, in fact this year the U2 360° Tour became the highest-grossing concert tour, with ticket sales totaling over US $700 million.

I'm hoping to contribute to this myself on Saturday and finally earn the right to claim that I've seen the biggest band in the world live.  It's been a long time coming...

EPIC   Five must-have U2 albums:
WarThe Unforgettable FireAchtung BabyThe Joshua TreeZooropa

FAIL: Sign of a great band: their earliest albums don't sound dated like this pablum...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Elephant In The Room

"I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks] will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs."   Thomas Jefferson

Welcome, Free Thinkers!

So, America is teetering on the edge of total financial collapse and the mainstream media is doing a fantastic job keeping the general populace blissfully ignorant of this looming catastrophe. Instead of warning people about the ramifications of the U.S. dollar evaporating, we're hearing about J-Lo's separation, "McSteamy's" pain killer addiction and rampant speculation as to what chemical finally killed Amy Winehouse.

But, hey, maybe it's our own fault.  Maybe all we really want to do is keep fiddling blissfully while Rome turns into the equivalent of Backdraft.  Sometimes it's difficult facing reality, especially when it's the equivalent of a greasy pork sandwich served up in a dirty ashtray.

I will endeavor, in my own modest way, to try and compensate for this.  If and when everything goes bizzonkers, at least the five or six people on this planet who regularly read my blog will know what the hell is going on.

I don't want to split hairs here, people. When the U.S. economy tanks out (please note the deliberate use of the word 'if') we're all in some serious shit.  It will likely result in a planet-wide economic depression, the proposal of a centralized global economy, the subsequent erosion of sovereign nation identity and a major hit to our quality of life.  It will also result in the utter annihilation of bank savings and personal investments and make the debt-ridden middle and lower classes further beholden to their economic slave masters.

First and foremost, here's a documentary about the U.S. Federal Reserve: the shadowy and secretive organization at the heart of this financial crisis:

Some take-away's to consider:
  1. The U.S. Constitution clearly states that the nation's currency must be Gold and Silver coin not government-issued paper I.O.U's.  Paper money no standard anymore, no backing.  In fact, it's printed like Monopoly money by the Federal Reserve whenever the government asks for it. 
  2. The Federal Reserve is about as Federal as Federal Express.  It is not a government body but a cartel of large, elite, private Federal Banks who have allied together to curtail competition and maximize their own profits.
  3. Ever wonder why the U.S. government never increases taxes?  It's because that, under the Federal Reserve system, Congress can go to the Fed and request that money be printed out of thin air without having to piss off voters by raising taxes.  
  4. Income tax was introduced in the same year that the Federal Reserve system was instituted partially to off-set the in-born interest that every bill comes with as soon as it's printed.  
  5. Banks routinely loan out more then they have in reserve in order to make lungfuls of money.  The market sets prices and wages based on what it assumes is the total amount of money in circulation.  When the Central Banks bleed reams of cash into the system, it devalues the dollar, increases the cost of goods and services and drives inflation through the roof.  That's why a bag of chips that cost twenty-five cents in 1978 now costs $2.25.   
  6. If you want a sneak preview of what may happen to us if we don't smarten up, just have a look at Germany between World War I and World War II.  Forced to pay for war reparations, Germany started printing their currency like the Federal Reserve does now.  Eventually it destroyed the Middle class, who were forced to take wheelbarrows full of money down to the market just to buy a loaf of bread.
  7. This all seems pretty important, so why aren't we hearing about  this constantly on T.V. or in the newspapers?  Well, ever since deregulation set in we went from having over 100 independent media voices to about six, which are all now owned by wealthy corporations.  Corporations that don't want the general populace to be informed about how the money system really works for fear that we'd all get super-pissed off and start rightfully demanding change.  
  8. Inflation has nothing to do with the rising cost of living and everything to do with our currency losing it's value
  9. Things actually should be getting cheaper not more expensive anyway because our modern production capability easily outstrips demand. 
  10. Inflation caused by the Federal Reserve is so severe that it now takes a two-income family to make ends meet.
Now I'm not an economist, but that actually helps my argument here.  The powers that be are not just doing a poor job running the world economy; I believe they're doing a terrible job running the world economy, so terrible in fact that I believe that it's deliberate.

Leading up to the economic crash of 2008, efforts had been made to deregulate the banking industry in the United States.  The venerable Glass-Steagall Act, which recognized the conflict of interest inherent in allowing financial institutions to pursue both investment and financial banking, was systematically dismantled during a tsunami of industry lobbying.  Once the floodgates opened and banks began to engage in the most drunkenly reckless use of unlimited credit and Derivatives-based Ponzi schemes, the end was inevitable.

This is perhaps best-illustrated in the tremendous documentary Inside Job, which endeavors to explain just how this often-convoluted and Machiavellian economic false flag event was orchestrated:

Untitled from harisgr on Vimeo.

So, after things start falling apart as expected, George W. Bush's Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson goes before Congress to begin a campaign of what can only be called economic extortion.  He warns the American people that if the big financial institutions don't get bailed out, the entire edifice will crumble.  Under threats of a global financial meltdown and warnings of impending Martial Law (!) Senators and Congressmen feel compelled to approve it:

Long after those notorious bailouts got rammed through, it's since come to light that a frighteningly large chunk of this money (which was supposed to write off bad debt in an effort to remedy the sub-prime mortgage crisis) was misappropriated.  In fact, huge tracts of the stuff was given away, blank-check style, to hung-over financial institutions to snatch up more assets that they didn't already own.  Co-incidentally, this also included a life preserver for Goldman Sachs, one of the biggest sinners during the investment frenzy and Henry Paulson's old Alma-mater!

As if that wasn't bad enough, there's at least $700 billion dollars still unaccounted for.  When asked about this, all the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke will say is that it was given away to foreign banking interests and and that no-one has the right to ask who those institutions are.

Can you believe the unmitigated arrogance of this asshole?  It just blows me away that the Federal Reserve has never been the recipient of an external audit.  If one of us regular, old, clock-punching, carbon-based units acted like this in the workplace we'd be fired and then locked up indefinitely...

It also pisses me off that people keep cutting Obama slack in his utter failure to jump-start the economy.  The old argument that he "inherited a mess" from Bush just doesn't hold water anymore.  The sad fact is, Obama's promise to keep his administration free from lobbyists and economic opportunists was cast out the window just as soon as he picked his cabinet.  Check out this Rogues Gallery of creeps:
  • Larry Summers helped neuter the Glass-Steagall Act, served as Chief Economist for the ultra-shady World Bank and was forced to resign as the President of Harvard University over conflicting economic relationships and some pretty sexist remarks.  For most people, this would result in a black-listed resume but Obama apparently thought he'd be make the ideal director of the White House National Economic Council.
  • Timothy Geithner, Obama's Secretary of Treasury was once the President of the private Federal Reserve Bank of New York.   He oversaw the dispersion of $350 billion dollars of bailout money which criminal outfits like AIG translate then used to give massive bonuses for it's own executives.  Frankly, making someone like Geithner Treasury Secretary is like putting a fox in charge of a hen-house.
  • Speaking of a massive conflict of interest, William Lynn was made Deputy Secretary for Defense despite being a former lobbyist for Raytheon, one of the world's largest defense contractors.
  • Geithner's Chief of Staff is Mark Petterson, a former Goldman Sachs lobbyist.  
  • George Mitchell, former lobbyist for the Saudi Royal family, now enjoys the position of Lead Envoy to the Middle East.  
  • Tom Daschle was a lobbyist for several health care firms and was tapped by Obama to run the Department of Health and Human services.  
Frankly, I was willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt for awhile but his time in office really does drive home that there's no difference whatsoever between the Republicans and the Democrats.  They both serve the same corporate masters.  In fact, every one of Obama's broken campaign promises leads me to believe that he is 100% in the back pocket of the big, global corporate interests. 

Face it, if Obama was really committed to driving down the debt and cutting spending he would have immediately followed through on his most popular campaign pledge to shut down American military garrisons around the world and bring the troops home.  Senator Ron Paul, one of the few sane voices in Washington today, reminds us of that right here:

So what happens when the rest of the world wakes up one morning and decides that the U.S. dollar isn't worth the paper it's printed on and then demands that all past payments are now due?  Well, the following video may be a tad alarmist and mercenary, but it'd also a fairly good 'what if?' speculation:

So what can be done to try and offset this?
  1. All the corporate criminals, special interest groups and lobbyists have to be flushed out of Washington pronto.  Corrupt "walking dead" businesses must be allowed to fail to make room for fresh growth.
  2. The United States must cease to be global policemen.  Rampant military spending must halt immediately.
  3. The Federal Reserve system must be moth-balled and the gold standard has to be re-married to the dollar.
  4. Free-thinking, non-partisan and truly independent political visionaries like Ron Paul need a kick at the political can.  Be wary of the same old, two-party choice of bad and worse being foisted up by the mainstream media!  Embrace those candidates that make sense but are being ignored! 
  5. People need to get out of debt as soon as possible and must stop spending beyond their means.
  6. Cash and bonds are a volatile form of savings right now.  Gold, silver and other commodities are the smartest investments when fiat currencies are revealed as the financial house of cards they really are.  
  7. If the worst-case-scenario happens and hyper-inflation takes root in a panic, you can expect the value of investments and cash savings to evaporate.  The price of goods and services will skyrocket.  Having a stockpile of food and supplies as well as growing your own produce would be a very smart thing to do in this scenario.
  8. If a crash does happen and suddenly our politicians are telling us that we must abandon our Canadian currency in lieu of an amalgamated North American/Global currency, this is our cue to rise up.  After all, this emergency could easily be used to usher in a global version of the Federal Reserve system which is designed for one purpose only: to make poor people poorer and the rich even richer.   
I truly hope that I'm wrong about all this.  In fact, I hope someone reads this, does their own research and  comes up with a truly compelling rebuttal that completely deflates my concerns.  But when you take a long, hard look at the current debt figure, it's hard to feel optimistic:

You know that when the corporate-controlled mainstream media is suddenly talking about the possibility of a U.S. economic default, then we need to unplug ourselves from the opiate of mainstream infotainment and be very vigilant.

Don't say that I didn't warn you.  Now go forth and get informed...

EPIC  Another documentary about the sketchy origins and ruinous nature of the Federal Reserve:

FAIL This doc if far from even-keeled but it does do a fair job cataloging Obama's failure to deliver any of his campaign promises. 

MINOR FAIL: Hate the song and video but I LOVE the mantra towards the end...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Hey, 'Geezeraid'! Suck on THIS!

Hello, Youngsters, Oldsters and 'Tweeners!

So, I pop up to the Irving Circle K the other day to gas up the ol' Ninjamobile and abuse my bank account  (simultaneously, as it turns out).  Just as I'm pulling up to the front of the store I see this:

Now, I know that exclusion, prejudice and discrimination still exists in our wonderful society, but I'd kinda hoped that by now we'd all come to a general consensus that using insulting terms to describe a person's identity is just not cool.  After all, the elderly have about as much choice about being elderly as a Korean man has being labeled as a visible minority or a wheel-chair bound person being categorized as "physically challenged".     

Honestly, can you imagine if Circle K had decided to do a campaign called "Asianaid"?  Or "Cripleaid"?  Jesus, what were they thinking?  What the f#@% is the point of this stupid ad campaign, anyway, except to insult people?  Does it mean that if you dare drink this goop you'll age yourself prematurely?  'Cuz if you consider just how nasty this manufactured, hyper-sugary, nuclear day-glo slop is, that's probably the case. 

So I see this poster and think to myself: "Jesus, that's pretty f#@$%^& insulting.  If I was a senior, I'd be hella-pissed!"

So I go in and pay for my crap and the pimply-voiced teen with the patchwork facial hair behind the counter squeaks:

"Thanks!  Have a nice day, SIR!"

Instantly my brain was seized by a red rage.  I began shaking like Hulk Hogan in the denouement of a Pier Six brawl with Rowdy Roddy Piper.  I instantly tore off the yellow wifebeater I just so happened to be wearing, inadvertently crushing the "Twix" bar in my left hand during my fit of berserk fury.

"Sir!?  SIR!?!   I'm no 'Sir'!"  I raged.  "My Dad's a 'sir', you gangly, mangy-looking, pencil-necked, mutant Adam-appled genetic casualty!"

I immediately whipped him into the ice cream cooler, followed up with a boot to the mush and then polished him off with my patented leg-drop.  After Earl Hebner conveniently materialized from out of nowhere to provide a timely  three-count, I posed down for the benefit of my adoring fellow patrons, snatched up my Championship Belt  and then stalked back to my dressing, car... all the while indiscriminately pointing at people.  

Actually none of that really happened.  In reality I think I just said something edgy like "Thanks, sonny" and then flipped him a dime and told him to spend it on penny whistles and moon-pies.

It's a sad time when you realize that you're not as young as you used to be.  I'm going to be suffering through another birthday soon and frankly, I couldn't give two shits about it.  From age one to age eighteen birthdays still hold some novelty but at my age it's just another reminder of how far away you still are from where you want to be in life.  Not to mention the fact that you seem to wake up every morning like the Tin Man in dire need of an oil can.

Which is why I think I'm so hyper-sensitive to this whole "Geezerade" thing.  In twenty or thirty years from now it could just as easily be my kisser up on that sign.   

It's a tough thing to come to grips with aging, especially when you didn't think you'd live long enough to see thirty let alone forty!   As a kid, I thought forty was ancient.  Cripes, you might as well be Kharis, the Immortal Mummy at that age!

And why not?  As I've gotten older I've started to become acutely aware of how shabbily older folks are treated by the media and pop culture.  In fact I think it's the last bastion of acceptable discrimination.

Here are just a few examples:
  •  I'm listening to the CBC broadcast of the Boston Bruins/Vancouver Canucks Stanley Cup finals and the moron doing color commentary is stunned by a burst of speed by 43-year-old Mark Recci because "he's, a hundred years old."   Instantly I turned to my infinitely better half and said: "Um, did I just hear what I thought I heard?"   Man, can you be more insulting?
  • In 2004, Eighties-era punk band The Alarm released a comeback album.  Aware that their more recent efforts were never getting any airplay on “younger and mainstream” radio stations they recruited a young local band named The Poppyfields to be their stand-ins for the video for "45 RPM".  The single was their first to chart in years and, interestingly enough, got tons of heavy airplay on radio and T.V. 
  • According to American Idol you can't possess a whit of talent beyond age thirty.  It's like the entertainment equivalent of Logan's Run... 
  • In the 80's people like John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, David Bowie, Yes, Dire Straits, Tina Turner, Robert Plant, and Robert Palmer all had chart-topping hits.  Hell, even in the Nineties, Roy Orbison, Tom Jones and Johnny Cash all experienced major career revivals.  In an era where the next pop icon is likely to be a singing/dancing fetus, I maintain that such acknowledgment of our collective musical legacies would never happen now.      
  • The BBC, in all of it's infinite wisdom, decided to put Miriam O'Reilly out to pasture, a twenty-five year employee and presenter for the television program Countryfile.  A tribunal soon ruled that the BBC's claim that they were restructuring the show was just a weak excuse to bring in hosts twenty years her junior.  
  • In the motion picture industry, women in particular suffer the worst sort of indignities.  Actress Hope Davis was once asked to portray Johnny Depp's mom in a film, despite the fact that she's actually a year younger then he is!  Glen Close's Gertrude would have been about ten years old when she gave birth to Mel Gibson's Hamlet.  Then, after serving as Tom Hank's love interest in the film Punchline, Sally Field found herself playing Mama Gump only six short years later!      
  • Honestly I love the character of Grampa Simpson and often laugh in spite of myself, but when you get down to brass tacks, he's a pretty mean-spirited stereotype:
*pfffttttt*  Hee, mean...disgraceful!

Now, let me also mention a coupla corollaries to this rant of mine.  First off, I don't believe people automatically deserve respect just because they have crow's feet.  I still believe that people need to earn respect, regardless of seniority.

I'm also still pissy about the Baby Boomers clinging to their jobs and avoiding retirement like it's a greased slide into a crematorium.  How vapid and one-dimensional are you as a person if you think your identity and self-worth is completely tied up in working some generic, crappy McJob that has no creative input but just serves to make some rich asshole who doesn't give a f#@$% about you that much richer?

Get a grip, people!  If it makes financial sense, retire, dammit!  Make room for the younger generation who desperately need to pay off crushing student loans.  Go enjoy life!  Volunteer your time!  Read a book!  Buy an X-box!     

In a related point, also think that there's plenty of examples of ageism that go the other way and discriminates against younger people.  Have you looked at those automobile insurance rates lately?   

I just think it's brutal how we almost seem to go out of out way to denigrate the elderly in North America.  In certain Native and African cultures, age is synonymous with wisdom and experience.  In Japan the term for an elderly person is "Oji-San".  In the Western world we'd likely interpret this to mean "Old Person", but it's most literal translation is actually "Venerable One".

I'd invite you, Kind Reader, to remain vigilant about this.  Post a comment below if you come across any specific examples of blatant ageism whether it be a line in a movie, a television commercial, or a CD review.

I'm just asking you to be aware of it.  After all, I'm gonna be old myself one of these days.

But, more importantly, you will be too.   



FAIL As bad as it is for men, women seem to get it ten times worse:       

ANIMATED FAIL I sincerely hope Hogan got a truckload of filthy lucre to attach his name to this pile of poo:

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Okay, So Now What?

All Hail, Diligent Readers (and Writers!)

Well, after the first draft of my book was completed I endeavored to get it published through the traditional route.  In order to do that, I first had to find out if there was anyone out there even willing to look at it.   

I felt that local publishing houses were immediately right out.  After all, my book was a tragic revisionist modern historic fantasy, not some slice-o'-life Atlantic Canadian yarn.  These people wanted Nights Below Station Street and I wanted to give them Tigana crossed with MacBeth.  

So, I set my sights on the big American fantasy publishers.  I diligently picked up a copy of the Writer's Market, a publication that lists thousands of prospective publishers and agents.  Each entry gives you the name of the periodical/publishing house/agency, the contact names, what they're looking for, the submission guidelines as well as their terms and conditions.  Unfortunately most of them also maintain that they:
  • Don't accept unsolicited manucripts
  • 85 to 95% of what they publish is agented fiction
  • Or, my own personal favorite: agented submissions only
Nevertheless, I did find one or two places that were willing to look at unsolicited manuscripts.  So, I cobbled together a query and fired it off.

What's a query, you ask?  It's the method by which writers prostrate themselves before potential publishers in the vain hope that the GOD OF DISTRIBUTION will actually read your proposal and grant you some semblance of a future.  Typically there are three components to a query: the letter, the synopsis and a few sample chapters.

The query letter is your book's Player-esque sales pitch.  You'll include information about the book, what makes you uniquely qualified to tell the story, and how it fits into the literary market.  As such, here's an example of a good query letter:

Dear Ms. Conclusion,

Thank you for your continued encouragement of my short stories, including my most recent submission, "The Sad Goat".  At your suggestion, I've enclosed a new story, "Philandering," for your review.

Since last submitting to the River Tam Review, I have had stories accepted by The Hudson Hawk Review and the Skull & Bones Review (both forthcoming), stories published in the Berkeley Breathed Fiction Review and ByMine Magazine, and I recently secured representation for my first novel.  My fiction has also appeared in The Salamander, The Flannel Review, Black Panther Review and a Room With A (Re)-View.    

I am originally from the Sheboygan area, and returned here last fall after completing the Creative Writing Program at the Correspondence College of Barstow.  I now teach writing at the Sheboygan School of Applied Wankery.

Thank you for considering "Philandering".  


Lisa Awesomeface

Okay, here's an example of a bad query letter (my comments are in brackets):

Dear River Tam Review,

         Enclosed in this envelope are some of my writings.  Thirty-one years old. Poor. Pist (I think he means "Pissed"). Ready to unleash some malcontented words upon paper and society.  Not having a degree in english (Obviously) leaves me at a disadvantage.  Writing was once just a hobby.  Now I feel that it could be more.  My dream is to someday have something, anything published (Dream on, pal).  Whether it be a short story, prose or novel (Um, redundant much?). This is what I will work for. Working long taxing hours.  Late hours as a waiter adds to the white noise that I call my meager existence (Wha..?).  Okay, maybe it's not that bad.  Actually every night is like a Saturday night (Um, where are we going here?). Women, alcohol and fun (!).  Words come with ease but I feel that they are unnoticed (Gee, I wonder why?). Prose is the great escape.  Shorts (Does he mean short stories?) are, well like a silent fart of a mongoloid (!!!). All writing is enjoyable to me. My true passion is the working of a novel.  Last week I embarked upon Blowjobs, Whiskey, and Steak (TMI!!!  TMI!!!). This is my arena.  Believe me when I say that I will send you the work (Is this a threat or a promise?). You will not be able to ignore the way the words will speak to you (Creepy!). Safe to say that you have not heard the last of me (Creepier!).  Yes I am in love with the word; it has never let me down (Except, say, in this awful query letter).  With this in mind I am ready for failure (Well, that's a good thing).  I believe that a man or a woman can only be measured by their reaction to failure.  So any words of encouragement, or even if you feel the need to rip me apart (More likely). It would be greatly appreciated.  I would even settle for a list of other publishers in your area that might offer some advice.  My expectations are low, by my writing is different (That's one way of putting it).  Thank you for your time.  Hope to hear from you in the near future (Not bloody likely).  

Michael Mutant                      

Although I goofed around with the references, both of these letters are completely real.  Here's what the editor said in response to the last letter:

Our magazine is a 20-year old award-winning literary magazine and his style would never fit in or be accepted.  The writer did not read our guidelines.  This is, by far, the most offensive and profane letter I have ever received.  If the goal was to capture my attention and make me want to read the manuscript, the writer failed miserably.  The query disgusted me.  Period.  

Okay, so what have we learned here, kiddies?  Make sure your query letter is brief, to the point, inventories your accomplishments, gives pertinent details about your current submission, avoids gratuitous use of the word "mongoloid" and also opts not to mention the last time you got a hummer.

Well, after I'd removed all of these references from my own query letter I also noticed the conspicuous absence of one other key element: publishing experience.  Frankly, in this day and age, with so many books to choose from (not to mention all the other entertainment-related distractions) publishers are quite keen on  known quantities and a certain amount of bankability.  I can't say that I can slight them for this, but then again, who's gonna roll the die on an emerging writer in an effort to uncover that new, original literary X-Factor?

Typically included with the query letter is a plot synopsis, which either indicates that you actually finished the damned thing or at least you know how to finish it.  Plus it also shows if you have a head for crafting a full-bodied story with a beginning, middle and end.  Please note: unless you're Steven King your finale probably shouldn't include prepubescent group sex or a Pier 6 donnybrook with a giant space spider.  I'm just sayin' is all...

So, after I'd crafted a pretty decent, fellatio-free query letter, typed up a synopsis and Über-proofed my first three inclusive chapters, I sent this plucky little document blindly off.  During this entire process I felt like I was trying to double into a game of darts with my helmet's blast shield down.

Sending a query letter to a prospective publisher is sure to generate feelings of despondency and helplessness  for the budding writer.  Your book could be the modern day equivalent of The Great Gatsby but unless there's a cappuccino-fueled agent pushing the publisher to the floor and trying to stick your manuscript up his nose, it's much more likely your book will end up in that most dreadful of purgatories: THE SLUSH PILE.

And what is that you may ask?  Well, the traditional description (a pile of dirty, half-melted snow) isn't too far off the mark.  It's the name publishers give to the massive mound of unsolicited manuscripts lying around the office, a stack so high that every year a bakers-dozen interns around the world are killed trying to scale their respective peaks.

Liberating your manuscript from slush pile oblivion is one of the hardest things for a new writer to do.  Which is traditionally why you need an agent to constantly be screaming  "HERE!  Read it!  Read it!   Don't make me go all Clockwork Orange on your ass!"  Truth is, there's a real double-edged sword at work here.  You can't get an agent without first being published and you can't get published without having an agent!  See how annoying this is?

I decided to cover both bases for awhile by sending my queries out in pairs: one to publishers willing to accept unsolicited manuscripts and another one to potential agents.  I could only do this one set at a time since publishers tend to get upset when confronted with evidence that they're not the only game in town.

And then, you wait.  Often for months at a time as your poor, sad proposal slowly works it way to the top of that Olympian-sized slush pile.  The responses that you get back are often non-committal, blandly inoffensive and uselessly abstract.  Here an example of one of mine:

Dear Author (Why didn't she just address it 'Dear Carbon-Based Lifeform'?):

Thank you for your recent inquiry.  I'm sorry not to respond personally, but the volume of submissions that we receive unfortunately makes it impossible.  I always enjoy reviewing the wealth of material that crosses my desk, but we do receive hundreds of submissions every week. 

Your proposal has been considered, but I regret I am unable to offer you representation.  Thank you, however, for thinking of (insert name of short-sighted literary agency here), and best of luck in the submission of your work elsewhere.  

Yours truly,

Marianne Foad 
Dictated but not read

So, as you can well imagine, once you've been on the receiving end of a half dozen of these little missives you begin to equate the submission process to palming a red-hot stove burner.  Frustrated by THE MAN and THE MAN'S SYSTEM of doing things, I once again put my manuscript away in a hermetically sealed vault until new avenues presented themselves.

This happened a few years later when a friend of mine turned me on to Cory Doctorow.  He's a Canadian writer who's done some brave and groundbreaking stuff with digital media, copyright laws and open access to his work.  In 2003 Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (and much of his subsequent work) was released electronically under the Creative Commons banner, which allows people to read and circulate his work for free as long as they don't alter it in any way or try and make a profit from it.  It garnered the writer a tremendous amount of attention, including a standard paperback publishing deal.

So, I thinks myself: "Hey, self, why don't you make a portion of the book available for people to read for free?  It might garner some hype and help you attract a publisher!"

Conveniently, another buddy of mine soon told me about a website called Storiesville.  Storiesville allowed writers to post their flash fiction, short stories and serialized works on a blog-like website for readers of all persuasions to peruse and review.  In 2008 I began to post one chapter of my book every three or four days until the first third of the book was available.  Soon I'd earned myself a pretty ardent little following.

The dozen or so people that read it and left a comment were very supportive and complementary.  After this confidence booster, Storiesville inspired me to set up a "pay to read" website.  I'd make the first third of the book available for free and then charge fans a small stipend to unlock a new chapter or the rest of the novel in one fell swoop.

This was a boffo idea except for one thing: I had no clue how to go about doing it.  I made a half-assed effort to cobble a website together about a year ago but the web host (HostPapa) and their affiliate site builder (SohoLaunch) proved to be w-a-a-a-a-a-y too creatively inhibiting.  The templates they provided were frustratingly restrictive and generic.  If I was going to create a internet billboard to promote my book I didn't want it to look like the website of a small town dental office.

Then disaster struck in September of 2009 when Storiesville vanished off the face of the interwebs.  The site's administrator soon revealed that some douchestore with way too much time on his hands had released a virulent attack upon its web host resulting in a complete loss of all data.  Faced with the monumental effort of having to get the site back up and running, he decided to pack it in for good.

And with it, all the great comments people had left for my book were also lost forever.  The only information I had about my supporters were a bunch of vague usernames like Pastor Reg, Rage Age, Chicago Jake, Moxjosie, and R.E. Potter.  I had no way to contact them.  I wish that I'd had the foresight to save their feedback in a Word document but I never thought in a million years that the site would ever be so utterly annihilated by hackers.

I was at a whole new low.  It seemed as if I was destined to keep my book all to myself like some malformed mutant brother locked up in the spare room and kept alive by a diet of fish-heads.

Then in late 2010 I did Stephen Patrick Clare's C.K.D.U.'s radio show "The Book Club" while promoting Open Heart Forgery.  One of the other guest was an interesting local actor named John Alexander Baker, who'd just self-published a book called God Yes, Hell No.    

Now, although the book's subject matter wasn't exactly my cuppa joe (and there's no chance that I'd ever be able to plaster my own mug all over the cover of my book), I could see the potential in self-publication.  At least I'd be able to steer people to it if they really wanted to read it.  And although John's formatting, editing and organization was a bit cockeyed, I was still impressed by the book's overall production values and reasoned that my anal-retentive nature would ensure that I could produce a pretty decent-looking product.

Plus, John's an older guy and (I suspect ) not the most technologically savvy dude on the planet.  So, my theory was, if he could pull it off then so could I.

So, I set to work researching Kindle and CreateSpace publication routes.  My goal: to make my book available to anyone who wanted to read it by hook or by crook.

But, as you might expect, things are never quite as easy as you'd hope...         

EPIC  Here's an inspirational news report on a tremendous independent publishing success story.  Damn, I wish I'd written a book about 'tween paranormal romance instead of deathwish-obsessed berserker pirates.  Which begs the question: are only teenage girls reading en mass anymore?    

FAIL  More query letter FAIL-ures.