Thursday, June 23, 2016

Crazy for vinyl

By 1967, the year I started buying LPs, I hadn't completely surrendered the Beatles, but they had certainly ceded any primacy they might have had to other artists: the LA garage quartet The Seeds, for one; the Dallas-based Five Americans; Bob Dylan, whose Greatest Hits was my first LP purchase (though I had to borrow about fifty cents from my mother to supplement the couple of bucks I had on hand). This was probably within a week of when the rest of the universe was lining up for Sgt Pepper and it's possible the price differential had an effect on my choice. But later that summer I began working at my grandfather's gas station pumping gas, washing windshields, checking oil, battery, radiator and tires, excited by the occasional tip. Most of my disposable income, as well as I can recall, started going to records. My 45s came mostly from the pharmacy across the street from the family church or from a television shop in a nearby shopping center which displayed the Billboard Hot 100 in thin wooden supports on the wall. LPs probably came as frequently as possible from Gibson's, the discount store which was, in some ways, probably a precursor to that current behemoth that starts with a W. For a while, my memory tells me, mono LPs were $2.47 plus tax and stereo LPs were $2.87, or $3.17, plus tax. But honestly, distribution wasn't all that good in those days, and we probably bought our LPs where we could find them--except of course for the really big groups whose records were everywhere. But I was already skewing oddball in a lot of ways, I reckon.

Later that same summer I got to see The Seeds in concert at some kind of small scale indoor festival or fair in Ft Worth. I won the tickets on the radio! The fair lasted a few days, and other bands played there--The Doors certainly, and maybe The Boxtops, come to mind, but it was The Seeds I wanted to see. At that point, I think the 45 rpm single of "A Thousand Shadows" was my only Seeds record. I took the paper sleeve of it with me to the fair and managed to get all the band members' autographs on it. Not long after, I used some of my salary to buy the mono version of their first album, the one with "Pushin' Too Hard", from the grocery store music selection across the street from the gas station. And not too long after that I bought the current release, the psychedelic Future, which was probably my favorite LP for a good while, especially the sprawling closer "Fallin'". I don't think I'd ever seen A Web of Sound then, and certainly its lead-off single "Mr Farmer" hadn't been played on Dallas radio. I'm sure it's a weird mix to some of you--Dylan's greatest hits, two Seeds LPs, and the Five Americans' Western Union LP, all bought within a few months. I also saw The Five Americans in concert that summer, on a bill with Buffalo Springfield, which would've been a favorite solely for "For What It's Worth" then. That Christmas my little mono suitcase-style record player got replaced by my first stereo, a plastic fold up model which had detachable speakers. And LPs? Buffalo Springfield Again, A Web of Sound by The Seeds, and A Full Spoon of Seedy Blues by the Sky Saxon Blues Band (actually The Seeds). As a younger boy, I'd spent all my money on car models. No more. I wanted records. My parents were surely wishing I'd regress a couple of years.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Malta in fiction!

Americans don't write about Malta. Americans don't visit Malta. Americans aren't sure if Malta and Yalta aren't the same thing. Mostly, anyway!

But of course there is Thomas Pynchon's V., partly set in Valletta. (I haven't read it.) And there are my tales of the Maltese werewolves, beginning with A Death by the Sea (see And now there is Elizabeth Kadetsky and her On the Island at the Center of the Center of the World. (Remind yourself what Mediterranean means.) Published by, Kadetsky's novella centers around the brief stay of a young single mother and her 11-year-old son in Valletta, as feast days approach, the groceries are in perpetual shortage, and the things on the island seem not quite to add up to reality. Not magic realism, not exactly realism, but something similar, something haunted, something just a bit skewed. Maybe you'll give it a look!

Monday, June 13, 2016

A sketch based on Canova's statue

This sketch (linked above, at, one of several which I made last year and posted to Flickr, is based on Canova's statue of Theseus after he has killed the Minotaur (Victoria and Albert Museum). Several of the sketches reflect Canova's work; others reverse it, making the Minotaur the victor. Theseus is a typical "hero"--strong, blessed by the gods, irresistible to women. The Minotaur is more conflicted. Remember the old adage--the victor writes the history. What if, a la the Borges story "The house of Asterion" (La casa de Asterion), the truth was rather different? What if the Minotaur were not a monster? What if he were a persecuted being, afflicted for his "difference"?

One thing which Canova makes clear--and something that puts me squarely in the Minotaur's court--is reflected in my sketch: Theseus is a slick-limbed, slick-torsoed pretty boy, exactly like you find in Hollywood movies. The Minotaur, on the other hand, is "bestial"--that is, he looks more like a "real man," with hair on his chest and in his armpits.  Granted that hair is more difficult for a sculptor to carve than smooth curves and planes, there is still an animosity at work here, an animus against non-androgyny: sculptors all the way back to Ancient Greece and Egypt don't mind taking the trouble to carve hair on the head, or beards, or even pubic hair; they don't mind carving fur and feathers and scales on animals. But normal masculine body hair is ignored in almost every case. And don't forget the ancient epic of Gilgamesh--perhaps the very oldest story we have: the natural man Enkidu, who becomes Gilgamesh's alter ego and foster-brother, is originally covered in hair like the animals he lives among and that hair must be shorn so that he can join civilized society. What about the story of the enmity of Esau and Jacob? Esau, the hairy; Jacob, the smooth, the clever. And Jacob "wins", despite their father Isaac's preference for Esau, the elder of the two. And even Isaac, who dared to prefer the more "bestial" son, is sort of the lost patriarch of the Hebrew Bible. Jacob becomes Israel and gives his name to his people. Abraham is the father of the faithful. Isaac, not so big a deal.

Why do I care about any of this? Well, I could make an argument simply for reality and accuracy over "style," but it's also true that I'm a hairy guy. I don't like hairy guys being treated like some kind of aberration or prehistoric atavistic embarrassment or, even, examples of ugliness or brutality. Maybe this is a part of the reason for my novels of the Maltese werewolves (see my website at who exult in their "animal" heritage and embrace it. Hair is a part of being mammal, it's a source of sensitivity and protection from the weather, it's an adornment. Are all men hairy? No. But those of us who are needn't be treated like something malformed. My message to all of my hairy brothers: embrace the hair! Start a Neanderthal society! Enjoy what the gods have given you. And if you're not hairy--that's fine too. It's the way you were genetically encoded. But please don't "do a Canova" and turn your nose up at the rest of us.
Hello, all! No, I'm not traveling again yet--that comes in August--but I think I may begin using this site also for stray comments and even "reviews" of books, music, artworks that interest me. In that vein, I'll begin by saying this: on troublesome, wearisome days and weeks and months, when I despair of ever seeing the sun again, some few things can cheer me, one of which is the marvelous song "House of Mine" by Sky 'Sunlight' Saxon and Firewall, from the mid-'80s lp Destiny's Children. While it's really quite an upbeat track, Sky's slightly ditzy take on peace and harmony and philosophical universalism, much more common to the '60s than the '80s (or any time since), can bring tears to the eyes as he bucks us up for whatever we face: "Don't need forgiving / 'cause we're all living / in a house of mine." Fruity '60s organ, perhaps played by Mars Bonfire, is the perfect musical accompaniment to this out-of-due-time hymn to hanging on. You can buy it on MP3 or hear it at YouTube ( I definitely recommend it for any disheartening day.