You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


I love the title of this book. It sounds like something my grandmother would have said around the time I was ten years old and she had noticed my copies of Famous Monsters of Filmland, or the Aurora model kits for Frankenstein's Monster and Dracula, or heard me whining that my parents wouldn't let me go see I Was a Teenage Werewolf. (My parent's had inconsistent rules.) My grandmother would have looked around and said, "When is Dee going to get over all this horror business." And the answer to that, of course, is never. It takes hold around the age of seven or eight and doesn't let go.

This horror fascination is possibly the only thing I have in common with Kirk Hammett, who is ten years my junior but still got hooked around the same biological age. Hammett went on to be the lead guitarist for Metallica, and he has chosen to use some fraction of his disposable income on collecting horror memorabilia in a big way. Too Much Horror Business catalogues his collection of movie posters, toys, movie props, and art. A part of me has to work pretty hard to keep the quotation marks off the word art in the preceding sentence, but he was in a position to buy the original Basil Gogos paintings that became the most famous covers of Famous Monsters of Filmland. Those are cool things to have. He also has a portrait of Bela Lugozi painted in Geza Kende. A little internet research shows that Hammett paid just over $86,000 for the portrait. (Assuming he bought it in auction in 2004.) Kende was a totally forgettable artist, but that price seems about right for something with this kind of special interest. 

In his introduction, Hammett states that he did not want the book to be at all academic, and to insure that he decided to compose the text from his own responses to interview questions. He does an excellent job, coming off as a knowledgeable fanboy with a genuine appreciation of material ranging from 1920's movie posters inspired by German Expressionism to a wallet picturing the Phantom of the Opera in its original packaging!.

The toys and masks are the most interesting part of the collection. There are pages and pages of movie posters, but the abundance mostly marks the decline of poster design from the silent era to the present day. Perhaps in eighty years, the poster for Hellraiser will be as definitive of its day as Hammett's posters of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari seem to be of theirs, but somehow I doubt it. 

Back to the toys. Here the difference in Hammett's and my age really shows, because while I remained devoted to horror films, I was too old to care about Groovie Goolies or a board game based on Alien. But seeing them now is a kick.

Photographs of Hammett appear throughout the book. In several he performs on the custom guitars he has had made from monster poster images. In another he poses with his young sons surrounded by skulls and models including Frankenstein's monster, Robbie the Robot, and Ray Harryhausen Cyclops from Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. Father and sons snarl and make monster hands for the camera. The corruption of youth proceeds apace. 

Saturday, January 26, 2013


This is the first Philip K. Dick novel I have read in seven months, and I have to say -- it felt like coming home.

The Dickian weirdness begins on page one. A policeman patrolling a rundown cemetery hears a familiar sound. A recently revived corpse calls out from her grave, "My name is Mrs. Tilly M. Benton, and I want to get out. Can anyone hear me?"

Dick published Counter Clock World in 1968 and set it in the near future of 1998. But in this world, the Hobart Phase has been operating since 1986. Time is going in reverse. The dead are returning to life, and the lucky ones are rescued in time by vitarium operators, those who dig up the "old born," get them healthy, and then sell them off to the highest bidder. This is usually a family member willing to care for an aged relative who will now, like everyone else on earth, start the process of becoming younger. (Unclaimed old borns become wards of the state.)

Right. The Hobart Phase. That thing where time starts running in reverse. Dick, as is usually the case, cannot be bothered by all the details of such a preposterous notion, at least not to the extent that it might slow down the story. He gives us the bits he finds funniest, most notably the fact that eating has become disgorging, an act done in private. Meanwhile everyone expects at least a daily dose of sogum. They look forward to it like it was cocktail hour and sometimes make a date to meet at sogum palaces. "Sogum," although it sounds like a combination energy drink and drug, is clearly something to do with excrement, and for once we can be glad Dick spares us the details.

But all the implications of a world truly running in reverse are not Dick's concern, and don't let it be yours either or you will never make it through the novel. His plot surrounds the resurrection of a religious leader who the novel's main character, Sebastian Hermes, proprietor of Cup of Hermes Vitarium, realizes will be a hot property on the resale market. What he doesn't expect is the world of dangerous intrigues having the Anarch Peak on hand will expose him to. Rome wants him; the current leader of the Udites, Peak's religion, wants him; and, the librarians and erads, whose job is to keep eliminating knowledge and art that could not yet have existed, they want him bad. They suspect, with good reason as it turns out, that Peak will have insights to the afterlife that other of the old born have not been able to articulate.

Dick's puts his rather flat characters through a plot that spans only a couple of days but is filled with lies, bomb threats, assaults, a little adultery, and some soul searching. This is Dick's most overtly religious novel, although it is hard to know exactly what he is thinking about when it comes to the religious implications of the plot. But he shares that sense of muddle-headedness with his lead character.

Religion, Sebastian thought wearily. More ins and outs, more angles, than ordinary commerce. The casuistry had already gone beyond him. He gave up.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


Raiko hunted demons in Kyoto. The giant ground spider has put the guards asleep and wants to catch our delirious hero. He manages to draw his sword and will seriously injure the monster. Please notice the web at the background.

Greedy old woman chose the heavy box 
An old woman could choose between a small and a large basket. The small one contained gems. She selected the big box and greedily opened it. Awful creatures appeared. She has fallen and will be swallowed.

Images by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi
from New Forms of 36 Ghosts

Friday, January 4, 2013


Ellison in middle age
This was my first and is likely to be my only encounter with the writing of Harlan Ellison. It's not as though I didn't know what I letting myself in for. Ellison's reputation as an old crank, which he wears a a badge of honor, precedes him. I have watched Dreams with Sharp Teeth, the 2008 documentary on him and actually rather enjoyed it. (It might have been very late at night) But this anthology dates from the mid-1970's, so he was at most a forty-year-old crank. Old cranks can have undeniable charm and even a sense of gravitas about them. In his forties, Ellison comes off as an overaged college student with a weighty chip on his shouler who has just discovered that the world is neither fair nor very nice and goddammit he's going to tell it like it fucking is. 

I dislike so much about this book I hardly now where to begin, although the title, the subtitle, and the jacket copy seem like a good place. (I read a book club hardback edition.) A book published today with the title Approaching Obliviion could be a screed by Glenn Beck or any number of right wing hand wringers who lament the disappearance of an America they think existed sometime sixty years ago. Hyperbole swings both ways. Ellison caps it off with a subtitle, Road Signs on the Treadmill Toward Tomorrow, a phrase that evokes a self-pitying Jeremiah. Then there is the predictably slavish praise of the promotional copy on the book's inside flaps. Apparently the New York Times once described Ellison as "relentlessly honest," a fact relentlessly repeated in almost everything you read about him. Buried on the back flap is this irrelevant and irritating nugget. "[Ellsion} created a series called Starlost and walked away from $93,000 in profits when the producers departed from his original concept." Mr. Ellison, you are a pillar of integrity. I assume he did accept payment for the episode of The Flying Nun he wrote in 1968. It actually sounds pretty good, a kinky mix that has Sister Bertrille crash-landing on a desert island and patching up the relationship between the shipwrecked lovers she finds there.  I really did read this book and can say about its eleven stories. But I have forgotten to mention one more indigestible nugget of pretension that comes before the stories themselves. Ellison titles his introduction, "Reaping the Whirlwind." Maybe I should have replaced Jeremiah with Hosea in my earlier comment. 

Fiction can be "of its day" or even dated and still be if not very compelling at least an interesting window into its time. But Ellison's diatribes and experiments with transgressive material are too easily targeting a disenfranchised readership eager to accept as radical anything that spices its politics with sex and anger. "Erotophobia" is a neither very funny nor very dirty dirty joke that could have seemed the height of sophistication for those reading the issue of Penthouse in which it first appeared. In "Knox" right-wing groups are sponsoring a race war that is dragging into its conflict people who seem incapable of resisting its violent allure. When it turns out aliens are involved, readers of the original story in Crawdaddy were no doubt nodding their heads and thinking, yeah, dude, I knew it was something like that. "Catman" is an enjoyably weird far future tale that makes little sense but ends in an act of misogynistic incest that is more puzzling that shocking.

Enough. I hated just about everything about Approaching Oblivion, and as I said up top I doubt I will be searching out more Ellison. (Although I have been told that the Dangerous Visionsanthologies are good if you skip Ellison's introductions to each story.) Strangely his book I am most drawn to is a nonfiction anthology An Edge in my Voice. This is the publisher's description.

At the beginning of the 1980's Harlan Ellison agreed to do a regular column for the LA WEEKLY on the condition that they publish whatever he wrote, without revising it or suggesting rewrites.

This is trumpeted as though the editors of LA Weekly considered Ellison on a level with Samuel Johnson or Andre Malraux. I suspect they just knew his name could shift a few papers, and those publications are always hurting for editorial staff.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


Vince Neil
This slender black paperback comes with no forward, preface, introduction, or author's note. There is a table of contents to let you know that what is on its way involves a panoply of America's most excruciating media whores, the actors, musicians, and TMZ regulars who trot their anything but private lives before the cameras of paparazzi, reality TV producers, and their friends iPhones. This is the leaked sex tape as burgeoning art form, the drug-fueled or drunken tirade as the spoken word art of the 21st century. Narrow black inserts list the featured celebrity's legal history, and in case you have trouble keeping up incident by incident a final section analyzes and graphs the sorry state of the American justice system when it comes handling those who drink and drug their way into the courtroom on charges ranging from street brawls to vehicular homicide.
Laurence Fishburne's Daughter

I am old enough not to know who some of these people are, but I was equally intrigued by the fact that I already knew so much about so many of them. They may sound like idiots, they probably are idiots, but similar transcriptions of You Tube tapes of solid middle class Americans watching their young children or pets play cute for the camera would probably be just as incoherent and inane. In such cases, however, I assume their would be fewer run ins with the law

Amy Fisher Today

Jason Shaw: A Model