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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in thomasroche's LiveJournal:

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Saturday, August 25th, 2012
2:14 pm
Clockwork Orange, Abfab, Reno 911 Matryoshkas

clockwork orange matryoshkas


Quite a long time ago I posted about the Rocky Horror Picture Show Matryoshka Dolls available from bobobabushka's Etsy store. This is definitely a case of No Regretsy. However, all the pictures appear to have disappeared from my server. WTF?

The thing is, since that day bobobabushka has been a busy little whack job-slash-genius. Her name, apparently, is Irene Huang and she lives in Gold Coast, Australia. She is about the coolest person ever, and if you have to ask why, well, perhaps you didn't hear me. Her job is making Clockwork Orange matryoshkas. We are not worthy, Irene.

In addition to the Clockwork Orange dolls up top, below is just a sampling of the awesomeness waiting for you in bobo's store, my little babushkas.

The Addams Family


Is it just me, or does Wednesday look hot? Don't get me wrong, it's not weird of me or anything. I just think it looks kind of like Wednesday Addams just turned 18 and is ready to ritually slaughter Marilyn Munster in a sex-mad blood orgy. (Note also that the artist included little Pubert, so this must be Raul Julia-era Addams, in which case it has been age-appropriate for me to think Christina Ricci is hot for well over a decade now, or at least as age appropriate as it needs to be. Wait...if that's true, though, then...where's Debbie? OH SHIT, SHE'S RIGHT BEHIND ME!!!!AAAAHHHH!!!!)

this is spinal tap matryoshkas


"Hello, Cleveland! This is the first song off our new album. It's called 'Lick My Love Pump.' With backing vocals provided by the Cleveland Hopkins Airport control tower..."

abfab matryoshkas


"Oh, don't be like that, sweetie. Mummy only had one, sweetie, can she be blamed if someone put roofies in it, or whatever?" Yes, that's the crew of Absolutely Fabulous, making your tchotchke shelf, well...FABULOUS.

The Young Ones


That's right! It's "The Young Ones." A mysterious man calling himself M. Chistian introduced me to that show one day in the distant past. I'm still staring blankly, almost twenty years later.

reno 911 matryoshkas


The Reno Sheriff's Department is waiting to ask you a few questions, starting with, "Who's laughing now, Milkshake!?"

 And, of course, we now arrive at the classic...the one, the only....the one everyone thinks about when they hear "Pop culture matryoshkas." I'm referring, of course, to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, where "Everyone gets in Frank," which sounds like it should be an audience participation line from the first act, but it's not. In this case, it's a simple fact of economical Russian design. Because, as Mr. Putin would say, "In post-Soviet Russia, house guests get in your belly."


rhps


 

There's more waiting for you in the shop. How can you not want a set of Royal Tenenbaums matryoshkas? What, other than nesting within each other, could better communicate the film's central theme about the inescapability of family?
11:58 am
Happy International Bat Night!
 

That's right, folks, tonight is International Bat Night. Wanna know who told me? Kylie Ireland. That's why I'm Twitter friends with badass old-school porn stars, you see; sometimes they're also bat nerds.

The video above was taken maybe ten minutes from my house, at the Yolo Causeway, 'neath which the bat hordes doth hide. If you've never seen these babies swarming out of their hiding places at sunset, you have missed one of the most amazing sights in the world; this video just captures the barest whisper of what it's like to see the vast river of bats emerging from their hiding places in the hollows beneath teh Causeway.

But I am given to understand that the Causeway is mini-fingerlings when it comes to bat flights -- fingerlings, even. I remember a couple of friends who road-tripped it to the caves in the Santa Guadalupe mountains, where they said the bats darkened the sky.

I couldn't find a video of the bat flight in the Guadalupe Mountains, but here's one taken at Carlsbad, set, pretentiously enough to "Flight of the Valkries" (I would have preferred "Bela Lugosi's Dead"):

   

Remember, all you baby bats out there, if you're bad ass-enough to go hunt down some bat flights, watch from a distance and no flash photography. It pisses them off. And the last thing you wanna do, kids, is anger the bat gods. They'll get you while you sleep.

Speaking of which, I'll have you know that Google has no predictive search entry for "most adorable bat pictures." WTF? Still get some batty results:

 

Kirsten Hubbard

We Scream to Say

Honduran White Bat

Isciencemag

 

Portrait of the Artist as a Baby Bat

  As a former Gothic Net columnist, I am professionally qualified and required by durable contractual obligation to inform you that no matter how many girls she's kissed, Katy Perry is only posing as a baby bat in the above picture. She's such a conformist. These bats, however, are real:
Friday, August 24th, 2012
9:40 am
Today in 1946: The Big Sleep Premieres

"Physically, I'm not tough. I may think tough. I would say I'm kinda tough and calloused inside. I could use a foot more in height and fifty more pounds and fifteen years off my age and then God help all you bastards."

--Humphrey Bogart

The Big Sleep


Damn, but I love being subscribed to The Humphrey Bogart Estate on Facebook. Last night they posted this:

Today in 1946, a few days after Bogie planted his prints in the wet cement outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre, The Big Sleep premiered, and the world got its first glance at what remains the best portrayal of Philip Marlowe on film.

Of all the great masculine icons of the golden age of film, and the crime film specifically, I admire Bogart the most. He somehow made acting like a man seem simultaneously effortless, impossible, inescapable and seizure-inducing. Watch his Spade and his Queeg back to back. You will need stitches afterwards.

Chase it with Fred C. Dobbs; you'll need a trauma surgeon.

The Bogart Estate also posts this beautiful and heartbreaking picture of Bogie and Bacall, as the former imprints his mitts in the concrete jungle:


Bogie and Bacall


On camera, Bogart could be the hard-ass to end all hardasses, and frequently was. But what made him special to me was that in every crazed borderline-psychopath doomed villain-hero or mopey pile of regret stewing in his juices snapping, "Play it!" to his long-suffering friend, there was that smile in Paris, the joi de vivre that the icons of the era, like all men of my father's and grandfather's and great-grandfather's generations, could experience profoundly...as long as they kept it inside. They could dream big and love large but they were required, by their maleness, to hide it the way they had to hide the fear.

Which is why it isn't the hard-ass that matters to me about Bogie. That's not what cooks along just under the boiling point within Humphrey Bogart's genius. The Bogie gift, to me, isn't just the violent and glorious male iconography rampant in that moment when Spade's psychopathic grin breaks across his savage face just before he bitchslaps Joel Cairo, or even the wild eyes of Queeg as he paces fanatically from one side of the Caine's bridge to the other. It's that Parisian smile.

Because the way I see it, the Rick Blaine that handed over those exit visas wasn't the bad-ass. It wasn't the psycho. It was the smiling Blaine in Paris, who was thankful enough for beauty and life and love to give up, irrevocably, both what he had been given and what he had taken. Rick has the sack to take those visas from Ugarte and keep them from Strasser...but his bogeys are bigger still when he gives them to Lazlo.

Bogart "got" that. Did Mitchum or Sterling Hayden understand it? Maybe a little. I'm certain William Holden did. But it's Bogart who could so vividly showcase the desperate, gaping, festering absence of a few days in Paris in Rick Blaine's soul. And it's Bogart who could give it back to us, as casually as handing over a couple of tickets to Lisbon.

Similarly, Queeg's internal landscape of fear and insufficiency was more real to Bogart than to anyone except maybe Herman Wouk himself. The quavering piece of Fred C. Dobbs's rotting soul that never let anyone put anything over on him wasn't some shallow ass-clown of a punch line to Bogart. He was a very real scaredy-cat living underneath the man's man, knowing at any moment the latter could crumble and the former could drag us all, tumbling, into fetid, stinking darkness.

In Rick Blaine, the man's man triumphed because those moments in Paris had been beautiful enough to sustain him...once he let himself understand what they meant. In his Marlowe, as concretely as in Chandler's characterization, it was the gimlet-greased wisecracks that made life tenable.

With Dobbs and Queeg, terrors ate them alive from the inside.

I think any male, born or chosen, can relate, if he's had to maddog his fear and find a masculine identity that matters in the context of a world where Major Strassers predominate and Lazlos and Elsas are far too few.

It's not so much about being a man...it's about mattering, because, okay, Ugarte may not matter in the long run, maybe not enough to stick your neck out for...but Lazlo and Elsa sure as hell do.

And if Rick Blaine blows it and Strasser gets his way...well then, God help all us bastards.

Bogie "got" that equation like no other icon of the golden age.

That's why he matters.

Memento mori, sweetheart.

8:29 am
Don DeLillo Interviewed in The Paris Review

Don DeLillo


I love this quote from Don DeLillo, which The Paris Review excerpted on their Facebook page from Adam Begley's interview with him. It feels eerily reminiscent of how I feel, not so much about being a writer but specifically about being a novelist.



...I wish I had started earlier, but evidently I wasn’t ready. First, I lacked ambition. I may have had novels in my head but very little on paper and no personal goals, no burning desire to achieve some end. Second, I didn’t have a sense of what it takes to be a serious writer. It took me a long time to develop this. Even when I was well into my first novel I didn’t have a system for working, a dependable routine. I worked haphazardly, sometimes late at night, sometimes in the afternoon. I spent too much time doing other things or nothing at all. On humid summer nights I tracked horseflies through the apartment and killed them—not for the meat but because they were driving me crazy with their buzzing. I hadn’t developed a sense of the level of dedication that’s necessary to do this kind of work.


Read the whole interview here, if you're into that sort of thing.

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012
11:19 pm
On Gene Kelly and God

Gene kelly


Happy 100th Birthday to Gene Kelly! Of course, Mr. Kelly passed away in 1996, but today, August 23, would have been his 100th birthday.

He was a brilliant dancer and a great actor and he inspired me very much when I was a kid.

But in this time, and this week, of gargantuan political asshattery, I would like to spotlight one particular thing that Mr. Kelly endured at the hands of certain...ELEMENTS...of society.

In short, like so many geniuses in so many generations, he took a beating from his era's Team Fuckhead. From Wikipedia:
Kelly was a lifelong supporter of the Democratic Party with strong progressive convictions, which occasionally created difficulty for him as his period of greatest prominence coincided with the McCarthy era in the U.S. In 1947, he was part of the Committee for the First Amendment, the Hollywood delegation which flew to Washington to protest at the first official hearings by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. His first wife, Betsy Blair, was suspected of being a Communist sympathizer and when MGM, who had offered Blair a part in Marty (1955), were considering withdrawing her under pressure from the American Legion, Kelly successfully threatened MGM with a pullout from It's Always Fair Weather unless his wife was restored to the part.

And, because this is one of those weeks, I am fascinated to hear the reasons that Mr. Kelly left the Catholic church.
Kelly was raised as a Catholic, but after becoming disenchanted by the Catholic Church's support for Francisco Franco against the Spanish Republic, he officially severed his ties with the church in September 1939. This separation was prompted, in part, by a trip Kelly made to Mexico in which he became convinced of the Church’s failure in helping the poor.

These reasons do not coincide with my own reasons for leaving the Church, but I do very strongly identify with Mr. Kelly's reported disenchantment.

I do not in any way "hope I am wrong" in my belief that there is no God and no afterlife; any hopes along those lines that I did harbor would be irrelevant.

But, oh, how part of me would love to see Christ get ten minutes alone with Moneylender Ratzinger and a tire iron.

And yes, I believe He would put down that tire iron, with no blows delivered.

But it's the effort required for Him to put that tire iron down that makes the Christ story matter...yeah, even to an atheist.

Happy Birthday, Gene Kelly, and may more than your dancing inspire future generations.
Friday, March 12th, 2010
12:01 pm
Double Indemnity Screenplay

Double Indemnity Screenplay
Originally uploaded by Thomas Roche
Recently, I thought to myself, "Hey, there's money in Hollywood, right? Huh. I should learn to write that shit." I figured I would learn from the masters. That was a terrible idea. Vintage screenplays are formatted completely differently than contemporary ones; after reading a few of them, I haven't the foggiest fucking idea how to write a screenplay. In fact, I'm more confused than ever. It's alright, however, because my "connected" friends tell me, in fact, there isn't any money in Hollywood anymore; it's all remakes and reboots for the next ten years. Everybody's tapped out, so movies are pretty much greenlit only if they're, y'know, "re-imaginings" of The Partridge Family, TJ Hooker and/or Webster, preferably without any resemblance to the originals because, let's face it, that shit sucks.

However, I did stumble across at least one good experience, completely in spite of myself.

If you have any interest in noir, screenplays, movies, popular American literature, or the fact that life sucks and human beings as a philosophical and moral construct quite simply blow chunks, this facsimile edition of the "Double Indemnity" script by Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler is a must-read, like the unparalleled -- but flawed -- novel by James M. Cain.

In fact, I believe it just may be the best screenplay for a crime movie ever written -- with the Maltese Falcon running either a close second or just barely edging Indemnity out, depending on my mood. The script is recreated in exact typographical detail; there are even handwritten notes from the original, whether by Wilder or Chandler I couldn't begin to speculate, but I get goosebumps just thinking about either of them scrawling notes while glaring at each other.

Because the very best part of this amazing screenplay from an amazing book (with a crappy ending, which the screenplay remedies)? It's the story in Jeffrey Meyers's introduction of just how much Chandler hated working with Billy Wilder, and just how fussy and insane Wilder found Chandler.

According to the introduction, Chandler actually went to movie company execs and demanded that Mr. Wilder not wave his cane under Chandler's nose or assign him arbitrary tasks, like "Ray, open the window, will you?" "Ray, close the blinds, will you?" Chandler was also pissed off that Wilder wore his hat indoors. Honestly, the idea of Raymond Chandler, wry sarcastic tough-guy author from England sitting there stewing while Billy Wilder asks him to open the window -- I mean, hell! Could anyone MAKE this stuff up?

That is not to distract from the point that, despite its weak ending, this is one of the most nearly perfect imperfect crime novels ever written, and the brilliant screenplay by Wilder and Chandler completely remedies the weak ending with a one-two punch that leaves you gasping. When Edward G. Robinson lights that match? Fuck's sake, man. You know it's all over: It's the death of the human soul, people, and little time to mourn it.

The screenplay also crowbars Chandler's brilliance out of the master's main shortcoming, in my opinion -- that being his tendency to write detective novels that linger on incredibly confusing details that, honestly, I don't give a damn about. For all that Chandler is a poetic stylist with no peer, his plots could get bogged down in details and repeated red herrings to the point where I always feel like I have no idea what's actually going on and, more importantly, don't care.

Cain was nothing like that. He was straightforward to a fault -- almost to the point of being blockheaded. It seems evident that Chandler thought Cain an inferior writer for this reason. I believe it's Chandler's disdain for Cain that led to his and Wilder's tapping into a breezy, cynical, world-weary tone that was 100% Chandler, 100% Cain, and 100% f#*@!#ing genius. They just don't write 'em like this any more.

Read the novel, see the movie, gape in awe at the genius of it all. This is classic America, A-list noir, the soul of the nation laid open and bloody with a tire iron.
Friday, December 18th, 2009
11:13 pm
Happy Birthday Michael Moorcock
michael moorcock Originally uploaded by Cat Sparx
I can't let the day pass without wishing a very happy 70th Birthday to Michael Moorcock. Best known for his sword-and-sorcery Elric novels and his tales of the Eternal Champion (of which Elric is one aspect), Moorcock also wrote some of the darkest, funniest and most bizarre science fiction of all time. But wait! There's more! Moorcock was also one of the most influential editors of the science fiction New Wave, which completely reinvented science fiction in the 1960s. He edited New Worlds, which for years was the showcase for radical and disruptive sci-fi. Cool enough for you? He's also a political activist and a powerful political writer. Oh, and he also wrote a bunch of songs and created music, most famously in collaboration with the sort of sci-fi-geek-death-hippie band Hawkwind but also in many other projects over the years (my favorite is Hawkwind's "Sonic Attack," a truly creepy and uproariously hilarious sort of acid nightmare). Did I mention he all but invented steampunk with the brilliant The Warlord of the Air and its two even brillianter sequels, The Land Leviathan and The Steel Tsar? Or that I may have come to the conclusion that his Elric series actually may be a bigger influence on the esthetics of fantasy fiction than even Robert E. Howard? (In terms of influence they're both outstripped by Tolkien, of course -- but more about that momentarily). I could write reams of weird stream-of-consciousness Freud shit on this guy...but I've spent most of the day at a funeral and the rest of it driving there and back, so I am not much for deep thoughts at the moment. Perhaps most importantly, I ask your indulgence by insisting (at gunpoint if necessary) that, as soon as possible, at the very least you read Moorcock's The War Hound and the World's Pain, Breakfast In the Ruins, Behold The Man and the abovementioned Warlord and its sequels. Seriously. Trust me on this one. A relentless experimenter, Moorcock practically remade the way my mind worked with his wholesale reinvention of narrative time and space. If I had not read Michael Moorcock when I was in my early teens, I would not be the guy I am today; this fact might conceivably piss Moorcock off a bit, since one of his favored areas of political writing was (is?) as an antiporn activist and a great admirer of Andrew Dworkin (he interviews her here. But then, as a critic Moorcock can still cause outrage and consternation twenty years on with his 1989 essay Epic Pooh, in which he savages Tolkien, and his 1977 Starship Stormtroopers first published in Cienfuegos Press Anarchist Review, in which he refers to:
"Lovecraft, the misogynic racist...Heinlein, the authoritarian militarist...[and] Tolkein and that group of middle-class Christian fantasists who constantly sing the praises of bourgeois virtues and whose villains are thinly disguised working class agitators -- fear of the Mob permeates their rural romances."
When I read the latter essay, reprinted in 1984's The Opium General, I was mindfucked something fierce. Was this a science fiction and fantasy writer politically shit-talking science fiction and fantasy? Was this someone holding SFF writers responsible for their subtexts? To me, at the time, science fiction was utterly divorced from politics; in fact, I felt utterly divorced from politics, except for the fact that I rabidly hated Reagan and was quite sure he was going to drop the bomb on Russia any second and wipe us all off the face of the planet and why weren't all the adults freaking out about that shit? I can honestly say that Starship Stormtroopers was one of the first times I looked at fiction in the context of politics and thought something along the lines of, "Oh, that's why all the adults aren't freaking out about that shit." My brain was a mirror, and what I saw of Moorcock's political writing revised my thinking with a hammer.  A quarter century later I'm still reading Michael Moorcock, and he still makes me think. I highly advise learning more about him at Wikipedia, or at his site Multiverse.org. Happy Birthday, guy. Now hit the bookstore, people -- The War Hound and the World's Pain isn't getting any younger.
Tuesday, December 15th, 2009
10:55 am
Happy Birthday Mr. Zamenhof

L.L. Zamenhof
Originally uploaded by Thomas Roche
Happy Birthday to L.L. Zamenhof, born December 15, 1859 in Bialystok, now in Poland but then part of Russia. Zamenhof is best known as the inventor of the internationalist contstructed language of Esperanto. Today is the 150th anniversary of his birth.

The young Mr. Zamenhof spoke his father's language, Belarussian, then considered a dialect of Russian, and his mother's Yiddish, a German language of Jewish origin written in the Hebrew alphabet. (Bialystok then had a Yiddish-speaking Jewish majority). He also learned German, French, Hebrew, Latin, and English. Zamenhof was sure that the quarrels of Europe and the world were caused by lack of a common language, and he set out to design one that everyone could understand to serve as a lingua franca for a bold internationalist era. He finished his first "Lingwe uniwersala" in 1878 when he was nineteen, but was too young for anyone to take it seriously. He became an opthamologist.

It wasn't until 1887 that he had raised enough money to self-publish his book "International Language, Foreword and Complete Textbook," under the pseudonym "Doctor Esperanto," or "Doctor Hopeful." He believed that the establishment of a common language would lead to international cooperation and peace. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1910, but did not receive it.

Zamenhof later joined the Zionist movement following a wave of pogroms in the early 1880s, but ultimately left the movement and in 1914 declined membership in a group of Jewish Esperantists, stating:



"I am profoundly convinced that every nationalism offers humanity only the greatest unhappiness... It is true that the nationalism of oppressed peoples -- as a natural self-defensive reaction -- is much more excusable than the nationalism of peoples who oppress; but, if the nationalism of the strong is ignoble, the nationalism of the weak is imprudent; both give birth to and support each other..."



He died in 1917. There are streets named after Zamenhof throughout Europe, in Brazil, and in Tel Aviv.

About three weeks ago I was in the cafe at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-Op and sitting there at the table I saw two bookish-looking silver-haired white dudes, chatting amiably. On the table between them sat a tent sign proclaiming: ESPERANTO SPOKEN HERE. Sadly, I was too shy to take a picture.

But, if you wish to pay bizarre acid-nightmare tribute to Mr. Zamenhof, please rent Incubus, the 1965 Esperanto-language horror film starring William Shatner, directed by Leslie Stevens (who created The Outer Limits and with cinematography by 3-time Oscar winner Conrad Hall (Butch Cassidy, American Beauty, Road to Perdition).

Incubus is a fairly predictable Hammer-style gothy horror movie, and Shatner emotes in Esperanto pretty much exactly the way he emotes in English (or, presumably, any other language). It's kind of weird. The film was restored in 2001 and you can rent it from Netflix or wherever; I highly recommend it. Come up with your own Esperanto-language drinking games! It really helps.

Though Incubus is often claimed to be "the first Esperanto horror film," it is not the first Esperanto movie. It's either the second or the third, depending on how you reckon it.

The honor of the first Esperanto feature is usually said to belong to 1964's Agonies, a crime story set in the Paris underworld. But an Esperanto-language silent publicity film had been produced before World War II, called "Antaŭen!" (Onwards!).

Google put the Esperanto flag up on their home page in honor of Zamenhof's 150th birthday. The fact that Esperanto hasn't generated world peace should not serve as a mark against Mr. Z. It's the dreaming, ain't that the point?

Courtesy of the Online Esperanto Translator at http://traduku.net/: "Feliĉa naskiĝtago, Mr. Zamenhof, kaj multaj feliĉaj revenoj" -- "Happy Birthday Mr. Zamenhof, and many happy returns."

Information and photo from Wikipedia.
Friday, December 11th, 2009
8:12 am
Happy Birthday to Harriet Stratemeyer Adams (1893-1982)
Born December 11, 1893, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams was the daughter of Edward Stratemeyer, head of the Stratemeyer syndicate that created the Tom Swift, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and Bobbsey Twins lines, plus literally dozens of other juvenile properties. Harriet herself wrote Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and Bobbsey Twins books under each series' house pseudonyms.

With her sister Edna, Adams took is credited with maintaining the business through the Great Depression after her father's death in 1930. In the '50s and '60s, she also reportedly started revising the books to take out some of the "racial and ethnic references," according to the awesome page Girls Series Books Rediscovered at the University of Maryland. If you've read the original Stratemeyer Books, or even the ones from the '50s, you probably know what I'm talking about. Those Brungarians could be so inscrutable, and why did the "agents of a foreign power" in the WWI-era works always have black mustaches?

Anyway, back to Harriet: a short list of her works at her Find-a-Grave site, but none of it's in the public domain so you'll just have to visit your public library, where plenty of these series are probably still safely ensconced in the juvenile section.

Happy Birthday to the ghost of Mrs. Adams, and for what it's worth: "To Tom's consternation, the computer had come unhinged from its moorings with a thundering CRASH and was sliding toward the railing of the tiny schooner! With a cry of surprise, the blogger's hand hurtled toward the PUBLISH button -- but would it arrive in time?"
Sunday, November 15th, 2009
12:10 pm
Graf Zeppelin, Pyramid at Giza, 1931
The Graf Zeppelin over Giza, 1931, for no particular reason except it's cool.

Happy Sunday.
Wednesday, November 11th, 2009
6:31 pm
Armistice Day




Armistice Day


Originally uploaded by Thomas Roche

Present Thomas Note: I am still on assignment for the Illuminada, engaging in top-secret threesomes with Bigfoot. I'm afraid I'm even too busy to scribble a new screed in honor of world peace and/or our honored veterans, so here is something I wrote last year on the topic, long before the candles lit then for troops and civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan long since melted into goo, necessitating the lighting of many more.


If you've read this already, feel free to be annoyed -- I know I would.

 



NOVEMBER 11, 2008 -- In the United States, today is known as Veteran's Day, which it has been since long before I was born. I like to think of it as Armistice Day which, as Vonnegut (A World War II veteran) put it, was sacred, whereas Veteran's Day is not. This is its 90th anniversary. Celebrations were held in Europe.

Armistice Day marks the end of World War I, with hostilities ending at 11am, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

Germany was the last of the Central Powers to capitulate. The Bulgarians had already signed an Armistice, on September 29, and the Ottomans on the 30th of that month. The Austro-Hungarian Empire had collapsed following an Italian offensive in late October.

It was the German Revolution which caused Kaiser Wilhelm to flee on 9 November to the Netherlands, where he would remain until his death in 1941. Wilhelm hoped the monarchy would be revived after the Nazis took power, but Hitler, a commoner, had no interest in sharing power or bringing back the Second Reich at the expense of his Third, and in any event, the two men did not see eye-to-eye on many things. Of the Jewish persecutions of 1938, Wilhelm said: 'For the first time, I am ashamed to be a German.'

Speaking of which, the French commander Ferdinand Foch said something kinda interesting upon the signing of the Treaty of Versaille in 1919, which formalized the terms of the surrender. Anyway, Foch said of the Versaille treaty "This is not a peace -- it's an armistice for 20 years." Twenty years from November 11, 1918 is, as devoted readers of this blog will recall, a day after Kristallnacht, so Foch was either off by a day, the f*cking Nostradamus of his day, or matters in the German political system were agonizingly, terrifyingly, infuriatingly obvious and Allied officials chose to ignore them in the interest of expediency, optimism, just plain wishful thinking or mind-boggling studpidity. The Allies would then at least partially ensure that Foch's prediction came true by extracting crippling reparations payments from the defeated Germans, which ruined what was left of the German economy and led to hyperinflation, mass unemployment, near-famine and, in the long run, the stunning attractiveness of a right-wing nutjob to the majority of the German people.

After the treaty was signed, Foch, incidentally, refused to shake the hand of the German signer. During the war he had advocated the utter destruction of German war capabilities, to ensure that Germany would never pose a threat to France again. He also called the Treaty of Versailles "a treason," because he considered its terms (particularly the occupation of the Rhineland for only 15 years) insufficient to prevent another world war.

Foch had been considered a great war hero following early gains in the war, but had been dismised after disasters at Ypres and the Somme in 1915/1916. He was brought back late in the war as the chief of the general staff. He was then named supreme Allied commander earlier in 1918. He died in 1929.

The Great War, as it was called then, or the War to End All Wars, resulted in about 20 million deaths, about half of them civillians. There were also about 20 million wounded.

Today is also my mother's birthday.

I'll be lighting a candle for everyone in Iraq and Afghanistan... including the Iraqis and Afghans, thank you very much. And in Georgia, and Chechnya, and Darfur, and Tibet and the Congo and everywhere else... everywhere that humans bear arms, for whatever justified or reprehensible or half-assed reason, or don't have arms to bear or choose not to bear them, and get soundly and royally f*cked for it.

Image: German and Alllied (or, more accurately, Entente) officials after the signing of the Armistice, November 11, 1918. From Wikipedia.
Sunday, November 8th, 2009
9:38 pm
Hammet Tour of San Francisco

 



Hammett Tour
Originally uploaded by Thomas Roche


For something like 35 years, Don Herron has been giving the Hammett Tour of San Francisco. I took this tour at the request of Borderlands Books owner Alan Beatts, who was hosting a big signing in conjunction with San Jose's 2009 World Fantasy Convention and wanted to make sure none of his VIP writers fell into a manhole -- or if they did, that it was quickly hushed up.

Principally focused on The Maltese Falcon, this walking tour covers the areas of downtown in which for a time Hammett lived and Sam Spade did stuff. Herron adds some occasional Continental Op facts and some anecdotes covering his other esoteric genre knowledge -- about San Francisco writer Fritz Leiber and occasional San Francisco visitor Charles Willeford, who once ran into Herron on a Hammett tour and told him the story of how he wrote one of his crime novels in the Powell Street Hotel. Turns out he had written the book somewhere else; he was either confused or pulling Herron's leg.

 



In the pic above right, Hammett Tour, host Don Herron points out an interesting feature of a building. Clockwise from left, Steven Erikson, Graham Joyce, Ian Cameron Esslemont, Bill Willingham, Hammett Tour host Don Herron, Mark Van Name, Jenny Faries.

SPOILER ALERT

A bit later, as you'll see from this photo, Don Herron is caught red-handed with the murder weapon; standing in the foreground is Graham Joyce, who's just been plugged 'right through the pump.'
Thursday, October 29th, 2009
9:22 am
I'm Speaking at the World Fantasy Convention

The raven (Edgar Allen Poe)
Originally uploaded by kevindooley
The World Fantasy Convention starts today in San Jose. This year's theme is the celebration of Poe's birthday -- he's 200. Many happy returns, pal.

For the uninitiated, WFC is the main convention for professionals in the field of fantasy writing -- including, to some extent, horror. It's a con attended principally by writers, editors, artists, booksellers and others who make some part of their living (or want to) out of fantasy literature. It's most assiduously NOT a fan convention or a media convention -- films and TV are, generally speaking, not covered there, and if you see any Klingons, bug-eyed aliens, or Vikings rampaging through the lobby, they're probably real and you should run like bloody hell.

I have not been to a WFC since the one in Monterey in 1998, unless you count the one in Tempe, Arizona in '04 when, on the way back from Central America, I stopped off in Phoenix, fully intending to attend the convention but instead walked into the hotel lobby, got annoyed and decided to shoot naked pictures of a multiply-pierced goth girl named Nemesis instead. It was one of those things I've done that sports epic weirdness.

This should not be considered a criticism of World Fantasy itself, which I have always found to be an erudite, fun, and friendly convention, probably my favorite of all the conventions I've been to.

I'm speaking tomorrow on a panel with a real idol of mine, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, on a panel moderated by Daniel Paul Olson. The deets are here, but here's the description:



Friday, October 30

10:00 AM Crystal Room Who, What or Why Done It

In both the ghost story and in modern urban fantasy there is the potential for a central mystery that must be solved and the denouement of which is the climax of the story. Is this element critical for a successful work or is merely the icing on the cake? What are some of the outstanding examples of this and what are some examples of works that were not successful because they missed this mark?

Danel Paul Olson (moderator), J. Kathleen Cheney, Laura Anne Gilman, Thomas S. Roche, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro



I intervieed Yarbro some zillion years ago and she proved to be one of the nicest, quickest, most interesting writers I've ever interviewed. I'm looking forward to actually meeting her in person.

All the memberships are sold, but if you're a San Jose person don't despair. Sometimes if you wear a trenchcoat and dark glasses you can sneak in to the panels. Don't tell them I told you. Dodge serpentine to avoid the WFC snipers.

The convention is at The Fairmont Hotel, 170 South Market Street, San José, California.
Sunday, October 18th, 2009
4:52 pm
Happy Birthday Mr. Gifford

Happy 63rd to Barry Gifford, author of a pile of intense modern noir and vast amounts of nonfiction. Best known for his seven Sailor and Lulu novels -- one of which was made into the David Lynch film Wild at Heart -- Gifford has written dozens of other books, fiction and nonfiction, as well as the screenplay for Lynch's Lost Highway.

My personal "we are not worthy" factor with Gifford, however, is that in the 1980s, he started the Black Lizard imprint as part of the Creative Arts Book Company, in Berkeley, California. Back in my tender years, I stumbled across Black Lizard books at Bookshop Santa Cruz (the location that would later collapse in the '89 quake, resulting in the death of a friend of a friend).

Back then Black Lizard Books weren't the classy, art-photo-cover trade paperbacks they would become after Random House bought the imprint in 1990 and merged it with Vintage Crime. These were small-press-lookin', trash-art kinda dirty mass-market paperbacks with art deco covers. Knowing nothing about crime fiction beyond Raymond Chandler and Agatha frickin' Christie, I grabbed and devoured them in the stacks because I was too poor to buy them. How weird is it that I was either to ethical or too chickenshit to shoplift books about bad-ass criminals?

For about a year, a trip to the mystery section was for me a visit to Skimmsville. As a result, some of those books I have only the vaguest recollections of, but they blasted a big fat hole in my brain, opening up, in that special way only violence can, new vistas of thought and dreams of black-souled perdition. Jim Thompson, Peter Rabe, Charles Willeford, David Goodis and Harry Whittington were some of the Black Lizard authors I remember discovering for the first time during my lean years in SC. If I'd been more of a criminal, I might still keep them, cherished, in a shoebox alongside my .45. If that had been true, or if I had never stumbled across Black Lizard, things might have gone different, pal, different indeed.

Vintage Crime/Black Lizard continued to publish great crime fiction, but I will forever have my fondest memories of the early years of Black Lizard, and their trashy little paperbacks that hacked into my soul the old-fashioned way. Happy Birthday, Mr. G.
Friday, October 16th, 2009
12:07 am
Blind Man Blues

Blind Willie Johnson
Originally uploaded by Thomas Roche
Did you know that October 15 is White Cane Safety Day in the United States? Yeah, I bet you did.

Created by act of Congress in 1964, the day is intended to recognize the accomplishments of visually impaired persons. The white cane, of course, is an international symbol for the blind.

While people with visual impairments occupy many walks of life, they've had an overwhelming influence on a field close to my own heart: the blues. While this fact may be due to the lack of opportunity offered to disabled African-Americans, the trend shouldn't take away from the accomplishments of individuals like harmonica player Sonny Terry and guitarists Blind Blake, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Josh White, or artists in related fields like Art Tatum and Ray Charles.

There's some interesting stuff at the National Resource Center for Blind Musicians about reading music and Braille. The American Federation for the Blind also has an interesting page on the Louis Braille bicentennial -- Braille was born in 1809.

Incidentally, Louis Braille went blind at age 3 following an accident with an awl... the same implement he later used to invent the language that bears his name, beginning in 1821 -- when he was 12. He finished the language when he was 15, and the first book in Braille was published when he was 20.

Back to the blues: I highly recommend taking a moment to listen to some of the best blues harp ever played, some great guitar playing, more great guitar, the Father of the Texas Blues, some of the best jazz piano in history, and, of course, "Superstition. I can never resist that one.
Monday, October 12th, 2009
10:59 pm
Happy Birthday, Lester Dent

The Man of Bronze
Originally uploaded by Thomas Roche
Pulp fiction author Lester Dent, born October 12, 1904, died 1959, was better known by his pseudonym of Kenneth Robeson. Under this pseudonym Dent wrote 170-ish novels featuring his most popular character, the "Man of Bronze," Doc Savage -- a character he didn't actually create, but adopted from the publisher and an editor at Street & Smith, one of the big pulp publishing enterprises from the time.

Doc was a two-fisted adventurer and brilliant scientist who was the model for a zillion later heroes -- most notable among them, to modern readers at least, being Indiana Jones. Doc became the star of radio, movies and comic books.

Born in Missouri, Dent became a telegraph operator in 1924 and later, while working as a telegrapher for the Associated Press, found out one of his coworkers had sold a story to a pulp magazine. It paid $450 -- a strong incentive for Dent, who already read a lot of pulp fiction, to try his hand.

After a small number of sales, Dent found himself solicited by Dell Publishing for a $500 a month job writing exclusively for Dell publications. He and his wife Norma moved to New York. But it was Street and Smith who later poached Dent to write a novel series, a gadget-driven take-off on The Shadow, for $500 per novel. The resulting character was Doc Savage, who became the lead character in a series that would run from March, 1933's The Man of Bronze to July, 1949's Up from Earth's Center, and beyond.

Dent also wrote for Black Mask, the legendary pulp magazine where the hard-boiled style was all but invented. His book Honey In His Mouth, is a grifter-thriller I have not yet had the pleasure to read; it came out recently from Hard Case Crime. Dent's also one of the characters in Paul Malmont's pulp meta-novel The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril.

Though I love the idea of Doc Savage and many of the influences he wrought, every early Doc Savage novel I've read is a gooey, pulpy, likable but ultimately bewildering mess -- like first season Buffy, writ lantern-jawed and steel-thewed. Dent was really cranking them out in those years, and I understand the later books have a certain charm that's missing from the early ones I've read.

My very favorite Doc Savage book is not a Doc Savage book at all -- it's the fictional biography, Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, in which Philip Jose Farmer both reminisces about his experiences reading the series as a youth, and treats it as if it's all bloody real. It's a wonderful pulp study, and the most fun I've ever had with Doc Savage.

That said, Dent is still one of the originals, an architect of the pulp landscape. Remember him with reference, and while you're at it, Friend him on MySpace.
Thursday, July 30th, 2009
7:42 pm
On Extended Hiatus Visiting With Bigfoot and/or Elvis

Life Behind Bars
Originally uploaded by Thomas Roche
Those of you who follow this blog may be asking yourselves, "Is he ever going to post again?"

You may find yourself asking this with considerable frequency over the next few weeks. I have been on extended hiatus at an undisclosed location with Bigfoot in either Eastern Washington state or the Southern Himalayas -- seems like they always black out the windows on those god damned black helicopters so I can't honestly be sure. That is to say, I'm making a concerted effort to focus on two principle areas of great interest to me lately: 1) more challenging fiction projects, and 2) finding a day job. To this end, I have been rather holed up lately and have been sitting tight as far from the blog, really, as possible. Some day in the future -- weeks, months, years, decades, maybe centuries from now if this brain-freezing stuff works out -- I'm quite sure one or both of those -- or something else entirely -- will come to fruition. Then I'll have something substantive to report.

Or I'll go back to posting brief missives on Central Asian archaeology and alien sightings in Texas, which is pretty much the same thing. Bless you all; keep your tinfoil shiny.
Monday, July 6th, 2009
10:09 am
July 25: Perverts Put Out
I'm performing again at this summer's Perverts Put Out, before the Dore Alley Fair. If any of all y'all are in town for the event, please be sure to grab me and say hello. I'll try to read something new -- I usually do, though admittedly it doesn't always work out. These events are often raucous and always a good time!

PERVERTS PUT OUT!

Perverts Put Out!, San Francisco's long-running pansexual performance series, is rearing its swollen head yet again.

The next PPO, on Saturday, July 25th, will be the traditional
pre-Dore edition, celebrating in word and deed San Francisco's
kinkiest, most hardcore street event, the Up Your Alley Fair.

Performers will include Greta Christina, Jeff Stroker, Thomas
Roche, horehound stillpoint, Steven Schwartz, Hew Wolff,
emcees Carol Queen and Simon Sheppard, and more!

Saturday, July 25
7:30 pm
CounterPulse
1310 Mission Street, San Francisco
$10-15 sliding scale, no-one turned away for lack of funds.

(Please feel free to forward and/or repost. Keep track of this
and other shows at: simonsheppard.com.)
Thursday, June 25th, 2009
7:57 am
Pulp Culture: Hardboiled Fiction and the Cold War

Pulp Culture
Originally uploaded by Thomas Roche
I recently slogged through this book from 1996, back when hardboiled crime novels were for the second time in a decade the cause célèbre of arty pricks who intoned the words "Baudrillard," "Foucault," and "Motorhead" with measured distinctness and casual self-importance while swilling microbrews at the local fuckface hipster bar. My first anthology, a hipster fuckface book of erotic crime-noir, came out that same year, so I probably should have read it then. But doing so would have been unthinkable at the time to me, as reading about writing was something I studiously avoided. Oh, how we change.

Anyway, I have mixed feelings about it.

While Pulp Culture: Hardboiled Fiction and the Cold War is invaluable to me for its many mentions of forgotten noir classics. It's also got some political observations of varied value. Unfortunately, most of it falls into the let's-dissect-the-text category of literary histories, which I find only vaguely interesting at the best of times and astonishingly tedious most of the time.

Initially, the author's comments include some interesting perspectives on Mike Hammer fascism vs. left-of-center Lew Archer; he has a nice segment about Dashiell Hammett's appearance before McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee. There's also some great stuff about Chester Himes, a black detective writer whose first book, the non-detective If He Hollers Let Him Go reflects his deep fury about race relations in the US. We appear to be heading into an actual consideration of cold war paranoia, race anxiety and how it gave rise to the anti-Communist, anti-outsider, anti-sex, anti-deviance tone that marks the majority of American crime fiction despite its liberal use of flesh, freaks, and firearms to generate atmospheric interest.

Not really. Most of the political writing in here has nothing to do with the cold war directly, but seems to be a critique of American culture overall, and particularly of capitalism. In particular, I feel like it fixates on what seems to be a sort of crypto-Marxist interpretation of consumerism, cities/suburbia, and race and class in America, rather than focusing on the actual cold war, even as reflected in those four things.

I'm not bagging on Marxists -- I remain largely neutral on that odd German who seems to obsess the academic community. But here, Haut is not entirely up-front about his political orientation, so his more snide left-wing "critiques" come across as passive-aggressive and kinda Berkeley. It ends up not being so much about the cold war as about the problems the author (who lives in England) has with American culture overall. Don't get me wrong; I have some problems with it myself. But in my view a "critique of consumerism" never ages well, whether it's from 13 years ago or 50.

Probably more importantly, most of this book is a very densely text-based analysis of certain noir writers, consisting of summary-analysis, summary-analysis what felt to me like ad infinitum. Some of the analysis is deeply insightful, but much of the rest of it struck me as just plain self-important pseudo-intellectual lefty wanking.

Personally, I do not like text-based analysis; I find it passable when done in brief, but tedious when it becomes extended, as it is here. When it comes to politics I'm more interested in historical events and in actual people, whether they are right-wing fucks or commie pinkos, rather than texts per se.

That said, there is some amazing stuff outside the framework of the text-based analysis, particularly about the politics of the time; I very much appreciated the look at Mike Hammer as a rabid right-winger, but it's the briefest treatment in the book, maybe because calling Mike Hammer a fascist is like shooting fish in a barrel. Much of the rest of the analysis is interesting, but so dense it reads almost like a book report.

There's enough to justify a read for noir fans and those who like wanky text analysis, which I'm sure includes many of my friends (love ya, guys -- mean it!).

But I am way more interested in the broader social aspects of the era, from a genesis of historicity rather than text-analysis, text-analysis, text-analysis, particularly when it's got kind of a pushy ideological subtext. I understand that such analyses are seductive and fun to write, but I'd really rather pound nails into my forehead than read them.

Why did I go looking for it, then? It's got .45s on the cover, pure and simple. Sometimes that's all it takes.
Wednesday, June 24th, 2009
11:44 am
Cybernet Expo

Cybernet Expo
Originally uploaded by Thomas Roche
For any of you attending the Cybernet Expo adult webmaster conference in San Francisco at the Golden Gateway Hotel on Van Ness this week, I'm on a panel Saturday at 1:30pm with Jean Stine, M. Christian, Violet Blue, Darklady, Erin Ann Myer, and Damon Brown.

The panel is on writing copy for adult websites and should prove interesting & fun. Hope to see you there.
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