Sunday, February 22, 2009

All Hail Shock Rock!

With horror punk icon Lux Interior of The Cramps passing away earlier this month, I felt compelled to write an article about macabre themes in music. Some of my favorite artists have had either very overt occult, horror, or death themes in their lyrics and or music. At the very least, they had a very dark sensibility about them. In this article I will try to document some of my favorite "scary" music. Beware though, this may be a two, or even three part post, depending upon how extensive my recollections end up being.

It would be impossible for me to include every band in these genres (especially when we get to metal and goth, those could be large book projects for each genre) but I am interested in being as fair and complete as I possibly can. I will also attempt to work in chronological order as best as I can, but if any of my dates or times are off, please feel free to correct me. With that said, any other suggestions on how to improve this article would be appreciated in the event that I miss any artist(s) who may have been crucial to the formation and development of macabre themes in music. Keep in mind that I am listing my own personal favorites here, so this is hardly a true academic study. So without further adieu, please read on.

The undisputed progenitor of shock rock is the legendary Screamin Jay Hawkins, real name Jalacy Hawkins. Hawkins was a WW2 vet and accomplished boxer who grew up in Cleveland OH. His most successful song "I Put A Spell On You" was released in 1956, shortly after he had broken out as a solo artist. Hawkins had intended this song to be an elegant ballad, but due to the massive intoxication that took place between himself and his band mates in the studio, he had apparently blacked out with no recollection of ever recording the song. Rather than a smoothed out and romantic blues epic, Screamin ended up with an almost surreal invocation of guttural screaming, grunting and screeching. Hawkins and the band would later on have to go back and re- learn the song from their recording, being that their drinking had gotten so out of hand while it was being recorded.

"I Put A Spell On You" became a huge commercial success, selling well over a million copies. It was not without controversy though, as many radio stations refused to play it due to its overt sexuality. After radio host Alan Freed offered Hawkins $300 to emerge from a coffin onstage, Hawkins started to incorporate a whole slew of voodoo and horror props into his act such as rubber snakes, torches, skulls, a fake bone through his nose, and his trademark smoking skull cane named Henry. Although he never really achieved much more than a cult following in the US, his popularity in Europe was huge. Hawkins died in 2000 shortly following surgery for a brain aneurysm and was rumored to have fathered upwards of 75 children worldwide.

Following Screamin Jay's lead was a flamboyant psychedelic rocker from the UK named Arthur Brown. With a backbone of R&B and soul, Brown released his debut album The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown in 1968. This album actually included a cover of I Put A Spell On You, with the album's biggest hit being the song "Fire". Fire starts out with Brown's ominously shouted intro "I am the god of hellfire, and I bring you..... Fire!" This song is an intense, twisting journey through Brown's dementia, complete with a very trippy sounding, psychedelic organ.

The accompanying stage show to his performances was no less impressive. With his copper face mask and flaming crown, Arthur would gyrate and spasm around the stage with reckless abandon. He was also known for his eccentric yet poignant social commentary in interviews. Brown's mission as he stated was to get a reaction from the audience. Many church groups at the time burned his records and protested his live performances, but Brown has always maintained a very secular position in his interviews. This is a position that many more shock rockers would take in later years.

What is most notable about Brown's career is that he more or less pioneered the "official" image of many future shock rockers. That image is defined by the face paint Brown wore, which later come to be known as "corpse paint". Corpse Paint is essentially painting ones face white while accenting the mouth and eyes in black. Ragged and pointed shapes are often drawn around the mouth and eyes as well. This is the same style of face paint that would later be seen on Alice Cooper, Kiss, King Diamond and the majority of the first wave of Norwegian black metal.

Speaking of Alice Cooper, he deserves mention for possibly being the grandmaster of rock n roll macabre. Cooper's first album was released in 1969 and titled Pretties For You. The album didn't receive much critical acclaim, but by his third album Love It To Death he had released quite a few hits, most notably "I'm Eighteen" and "School's Out". Cooper actually pioneered the term "shock rock" as well as taking the rock n roll stage show to never before seen extremes. Cooper's stage show soon included play acting on mock medieval torture devices and decapitations from a working guillotine. Like his predecessors he was often met with disapproval from the mainstream rock n roll press and church groups, although these efforts only ended up bolstering Cooper's burgeoning popularity.

What is most notable about Cooper's music is that not all of his songs were horror themed. Most were simple, straight ahead, catchy and well executed rock anthems. It was clear that the band was very competent musically, and their initial thoughts of needing a gimmick to succeed might not have been necessary after all. In fact, their grueling stage show actually ended up really taking a toll on Cooper and his bandmates, leading him to have no recollection of some of his early 80's output due to alcoholic amnesia. Alice has since become sober and continued to put out music, although his contemporary hits seem quite contrived compared to his early work. He's also quite obnoxiously bitter and whiny in interviews, claiming that everyone from KISS to Marilyn Manson has ripped him off. The irony is, that without Arthur Brown and Screamin Jay, Alice might not have "invented" a lot of the the stage show and lyrical themes he claims he has.

Shortly after Alice had attained international recognition, a quartet from New York City emerged known as KISS. I shouldn't even have to write much about this band as they will forever be cemented as one of rock n roll's finest and most outrageous achievements. They are, in my humble opinion, the greatest rock n roll band of all time, bar none. Like Alice Cooper, KISS didn't really have many horror themed songs. In fact, their songs were mostly good time- themed hard rockers, dealing with the usual love, sex, betrayal themes that were standard for the time. The songwriting that KISS employed was nothing short of excellent, as their catchy riffs, flashy guitar work and group choruses were a surefire key to success. Although the critics generally disliked them, by 1980 they were worldwide superstars and have to date sold almost 1 billion records.

Although KISS relied solely on standard hard rock songwriting, their stage show and costumes have remained un topped to this day. Each member had their own face paint, reflecting a different personality. For example, guitarist Ace Frehley was from space, singer Paul Stanley was the "star child", drummer Peter Criss was a cat and bassist Gene Simmons was "the beast." The entire band was known for wearing huge platform boots and flashy jumpsuits. The stage show itself was always incredible, featuring quite a bit of pyrotechnics and an amazing light show. KISS were truly part circus, part carnival and ALL rock n roll!

OK, that will conclude part one. Next edition will have Samhain, The Misfits, heavy metal and many more knowns, slightly knowns, and almost unknowns. Stay tuned....

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Confessions Of A Technophobe

I suffer from severe technophobia. Period. When a new gadget comes out I immediately denounce it and say "what's with all these idiots wasting time and money on cd's, cellphones, the internet, friendster, myspace, ebay, ipods, etc?" only to repeatedly end up putting my proverbial tail between my legs and saying "awwww gosh, maybe them tings aint so bad after all". Trust me, I was the LAST kid on the block to buy a computer, get a cellphone, get on the internet or even acknowledge the existence of the dreaded compact disc (I'm a former vinyl purist w/ borderline OCD tendencies). Then I realized the hard way (after pretty much all of my friends did) that many of these gadgets make life cheaper, easier, and all around more convenient in the long run.

In my defense though, I DID grow up watching movies like Logan's Run, 2001 and Tron, where technology basically goes haywire and practically wipes out or completely de- humanizes humanity.

I am ashamed to admit that I have bitten the bullet and sold out almost EVERY GODDAMN TIME some new gadget which promised to make my life easier came out. This usually happens many years after everyone else had bought one. I didn't get a cd player until 1996 or a cellphone until 2005. Both of these purchases were made many years after everyone else I knew had already gone through several phones AND pieces of hi- fi gear. I tend to cheap out when I make these purchases too. I own a very basic Samsung cellphone, whose only real fancy option is a horrible camera, and my computer is a laughable piece- meal Frankenstein job, built mostly from parts I found in the trash or hand- me -downs that people gave me. My first "walkman" wasn't even a Sony, but a cheap Sanyo knockoff instead. By the time I even got a portable cassette player everyone in my school had one those neon colored waterproof fancy ones with earbuds, while mine was so big it required a shoulder strap. Don't even get me started on what the headphones looked like....

Ironically, the ONE time I put the pedal to the metal and said "kitschy new over hyped technology I don't REALLY need!? Here's $400 Mr. Capitalist!!!!" was when I plunked down my hard earned cash for a 40 gb ipod. That lil fucker rocked my world until exactly 13 months after I bought it. Then it croaked, bit the bust, kicked the bucket and bought the farm. Like an idiot I cheaped out on the additional $75 extended warranty, thinking to myself "what the hell, I already dumped $450 into this freakin' thing, how much money does Circuit Shitty think I have?" Then literally ONE MONTH TO THE DAY after the end of the standard manufacturer's warranty the thing fucking died on me. Can you say "murderous rage?"

So to this day, whenever something "new" comes out I approach it with a lot of trepidation, especially after the ipod debacle. Even when my friends are all like "I went on myspace and met all these totally cool people, hot girls who did me, and my band got a shitload of free publicity!!!" I rarely believe them. Technological advances can and often do improve very rapidly, so it behooves you to wait until some of the kinks in their manufacturing and engineering are worked out before you buy a new gadget. For example, compact disc mastering sucked at first, but a few years later digital mastering started to sound ok and cd's went from $16 to $12 and sometimes even $10 retail. The first cellphones were big, clunky, staticy pieces of shit and now they have ones that are like communication/ multimedia swiss army knives. I really should have waited for Apple to perfect the ipod before I ran out and grabbed one right away. My feeling is that quite a few lemons were produced from the first generation of ipods.

Conversely, I have also learned to become a bit more flexible about new technology over the years, especially when it comes to issues of saving money. When I was hell bent on not buying a cellphone (a device which, to this day I still find incredibly obnoxious) I realized that I was wasting a lot of money on gas and phone bills that I could be saving if I just broke down and got a decent cellphone plan. I remember one afternoon where I was running around from Taunton, to Warwick, to Providence and then Cumberland because I was making shirts for a customer. I had to keep running back to my house because I had to keep calling him back and checking my messages. I used an entire tank of gas that day, not to mention that the job took almost three times longer than it should have. It was then that I finally realized that a cellphone WAS in fact a sound investment.

The question here though is how badly does anyone really need most of the new technology which is nothing more than an entertainment distraction? I would put all video games and new advances in digitized music in this category. Except for the fact that you have cooler and more visually exciting ways of wasting your time, or smaller and more compact ways of storing your music, in the end is it really THAT important? More importantly, is it even that much of an improvement over the outdated gadget or format it may be replacing?

Take my car. It is quite old and broken down but it still has a working cassette player. People often make fun of me or look on in awe when I actually play cassette tapes. Screw them. Tapes aren't THAT bad. In my humble opinion anything beats the radio, and I have some really cool stuff on tape from back in the day. As I said before, as a former vinyl purist I was quite anal about my records being kept in pristine condition, so most of my favorites were dubbed onto cassette for durability and longevity. I won't lie and say that I don't ever miss being able to skip around on my ipod to some 1500 + bands with reckless abandon, but there's just something.... I don't know.... more honest about analog music. All of my tapes have lasted far longer than 13 months, and when I drop them they still work just fine. Sadly, the same couldn't be said for poor Mr. Ipod.

I'm getting really sick of how everything is very disposable and temporary in our society. I tend to like things that are made to last a lifetime, and products like that are becoming rarer and rarer nowadays. I often have to take some pause and remind myself that with a little maintenance many things I already own can last at least twice as long if I just took better care of them. I was actually online the other night looking for new boots, as my 10+ year old Dr. Martens have gotten quite a nasty hole in one of the soles. It didn't take me long to realize that all I have to do is get them re- soled for $40 and they'll actually be better than new. Hopefully out of necessity people will start taking care of their possessions, fixing them up and holding onto them a little bit longer. Now that our economy is about to tank that would seem like a no- brainer to me.

From here on out I intend to make it my mission to wear my clothes until they fall apart, play my tapes until they break, and use my computer until it crashes. The irony too is that I often forget just how quickly I adapt when I have to go without something. Case in point, when I moved last summer I didn't have the internet for about a month, and I couldn't believe how much reading I was able to get done, including many books that I'd actually downloaded some years ago and had forgotten about. When I didn't have a car I got into much better shape from all the walking and biking I did.

We don't really need most of the artifacts and junk we hoard. I'm actually looking forward to the day that we no longer have it. These trinkets, artifacts and widgets weren't built to last anyway, and many of them only serve to make us a lot more lonely and distant from each other than we already are. Most of our modern technological possessions are junk and will ultimately end up in a landfill, along with much of our lost humanity. Even with the internet "connecting" so many people I find that with so little face to face contact nowadays people have almost become terrified of actual real human interaction.

Painful as the transition may be, I long for a humanity which returns to a time when we live more in harmony with nature. I crave a society where bards and song smiths are loved by all, where craftsmen and artisans are seen as irreplaceable institutions, where we actually produce our own food, and where the constant roar of automobiles is finally silenced.

(sheesh, that ending was kind of dramatic...)

Monday, February 9, 2009

my thoughts on gun control

Damn Right I'm A Hoplophile

Massachusetts has some of the most draconian gun laws of any state in the country. This is largely due to the fascistic influence of Senator Edward "Ted" Kennedy. This bloated, alcoholic demagogue is responsible for banning almost everything fun, from fireworks to tattoos, to nunchucks, to most edged weapons and even paintball guns. Massachusetts is often jokingly referred to as "The Peoples' Democratic Republic Of Massachusetts" and when I relocated to Rhode Island in 1992 I was refreshed to see that RI had very fair, sound, and well enforced gun laws. Sadly, there is currently a movement in RI to try and adopt the same type of gun laws that people like John Kerry, Ted Kennedy, Adolf Hitler and Mao Tse Tung would approve of. This includes registration of ALL guns (currently RI only makes you register handguns), the banning of high capacity magazines, limiting you to one gun purchase a month, and the ever popular, ineffective, and ghastly unconstitutional assault weapons ban.

Since I was knee high to a grasshopper I've been around firearms. It wasn't uncommon for me to go to my grandfather's house and see one of his hunting rifles or shotguns being taken apart and cleaned on the kitchen table. By the time I was a wee lad of ten I was shooting with my father on a regular basis. Being that my grandfather grew up during the depression and my father grew up dirt poor I was taught how to be self sufficient at a very young age. Being self sufficient meant learning how to survive in the wilderness, how to make a fire with just about anything, and most importantly it included the safe handling and storage of firearms.

Even though I'm a native of New England, my family members on both sides were quite similar to the rednecks, hicks, and crackers of the Appalachians and the deep south. This used to be something that I was ashamed of, but as I've gotten older I have gradually grown to accept and even celebrate my white trash roots. For as trashy as my relatives were they could survive almost any hardship and make a day's worth of fun for us kids using only ordinary household items. You can have your expensive yuppie lifestyle if you want it. I'd never trade my cheap, trashy lifestyle for anything.

Despite my hick confession, there is definitely a misconception about gun owners that doesn't apply to me at all. You see, the anti gun lobby would like the public to believe that all gun owners are racist, paranoid, bible- thumping republican psychos who have nothing better to do than kill defenseless animals and act like tough guys because we're "packing". That is simply not the case. If the truth be told, guns actually prevent more violence than they cause. As author Dr. John Lott Jr. states "a woman without a gun is 2.5 times more likely to be injured than one with a weapon. A man brandishing a gun is 1.4 times less likely to get hurt than an unarmed man."

Gun ownership in the US is currently at an all time high, and right to carry states have increased to 38 from 10 in the past decade. As stated on an NRA support site, "Violent crime has declined while many "gun control" laws have been eliminated or made less restrictive. Many states have eliminated prohibitory or restrictive carry laws, in favor of Right-to-Carry laws. The federal Brady Act`s waiting period on handgun sales ended in 1998, in favor of the NRA-supported National Instant Check, and some states thereafter eliminated waiting periods, purchase permit requirements, or other laws delaying gun sales. The federal "assault weapon" ban expired in 2004. All states now have hunter protection laws, 46 have range protection laws, 46 prohibit local jurisdictions from imposing gun laws more restrictive than state law, 44 protect the right to arms in their constitutions, and 33 prohibit frivolous lawsuits against the firearm industry." One only has to look at the statistics to realize that excessive gun restrictions really have no impact on crimes committed by criminals who use firearms.

In the spring of 1994 I purchased my first firearm. Because I was used to Massachusetts' extremely restrictive gun laws, I assumed that I'd have to be fingerprinted and have the gun registered. After speaking with the Attorney General's office I was pleased to find out that no such laws existed here in the Ocean State. Soon after I purchased the rifle I bought an additional $200 worth of accessories and ammunition. I was now ready to rock 'n' roll.

At the time there were a few acres of undeveloped land in northern RI where you could fire your guns with reckless abandon, so my girlfriend and I decided to christen my new toy one afternoon. I was immediately impressed by how accurate the rifle was, and how little recoil I felt. My girlfriend (who was a little squeamish about firing the gun at first) was also impressed by how much fun the gun was to shoot, and she quickly got the hang of the rifle. The bottles, cans, and various curios that we were shooting at didn't stand a chance against our awesome firepower!

After about 90 minutes of shooting we returned home and fell into the sack almost immediately. In our post coital embrace, my sweetie whispered "Maybe we should go shooting more often" as we both dozed off with huge smiles on our faces. Unfortunately, this woman would later on reveal herself to be Satan's concubine, but at the time her statement was strangely poetic. It was at this point that I decided that anyone tyrannical enough to try and deprive me of these magical moments could only be one thing; my mortal enemy.

You see, a primeval transformation tends to occur in people when they use firearms, and with myself I'm often five times happier and fifty times hornier after I've blown off a few rounds at the range. As my friend Forrest said on the ride home the last time we went shooting "Jeez Aaron, you haven't talked about how much you hate everybody this entire ride home." Amen to that. Recreational shooting makes me happy, and I happen to be a law abiding citizen. Is there anything wrong with that? I implore all gun control supporters to rethink their position on guns, especially if they've never fired one. How can you rally against something you know nothing about?

It is my opinion that if you're against guns, you're against freedom. Period. Civilian firearm ownership is what truly sets America apart from other less progressive nations in this world, and is truly the REAL "homeland security". As the wise old maxims states; "Know guns, Know peace and safety. No guns, no peace nor safety."

Saturday, February 7, 2009

an old ebay listing that got a few laughs....

AWESOME handmade damascus kerambit from India. This is a high quality, hand forged knife which has over 200 layers of steel and will hold a wicked edge. It isn't sharpened, but unlike most kerambits it can have BOTH edges sharpened instead of just one- making it quite a lethal weapon. There is no scabbard. I don't really know how to measure this damn thing, but the blade seems to be about 4" and the handle (from the base of the blade to then end of the ring) is about 6". It's actually about 8" from the point of the blade to the end of the handle, but straightened out it'd be more like 10". So NEVER underestimate "curvature" kids (heh heh). CAUTION- if you have Chris Sayoc sized fingers you might not want to bid on this knife! Since this is made in Asia where people tend to be a lot scrawnier than here in the US, the finger hole is only 15/16 of an inch across. It fits me fine, but I'm only 5'3, so go figure (that might explain my weapons fetish- can you say "small man overcompensating?") I also polished the inside of the finger hole, making it easy to spin around when doing fancy- shmancy techniques that look cool but would get you thrown in the slammer and acquainted with men named "Hoss" and "Bubba" if you ever did them in "real" life (put THAT in yer pipe and smoke it Mr. "reality" self defense). I actually really like this knife, but since I'm in danger of losing my college credits because of being overdue on tuition payments, my precious heirlooms must go the way of the dinosaurs. (Sigh) it's a sad day. Anyway, winner pays $6 priority shipping US (with confirmation)- $10 world. PLEASE READ ALL MY TERMS BEFORE BIDDING! This is being sold AS IS and for the love of god, PLEASE be at least 18 years old if you bid on this, or you will have proven that the throng of parents who forbade their kids from hanging out with me when I was younger because I was "a bad influence" were right all along :-( Lately people have been trying to get me to end auctions early and low- ball me on postage. That is unacceptable. My prices are FIRM, this is not a flea market- so don't bid if you can't pay! I like paypal the best- please use it if you have it! I WILL (begrudgingly) accept money orders, but in lieu of a whole bunch of bozos recently pulling the old "I'll send the $ out this week, I promise" routine and then taking 3+ weeks to pay me, if I don't get the money order within 10 days I'm relisting the item and filing an unpaid item dispute. I strongly recommend that you use paypal, and pay me ASAP. Really, it doesn't bite, kids. In fact it's quite convenient and fun to use- so get with technology ferchrissakes! ALL deadbeat bidders will get what I affectionately call "the feedback smackdown" regardless of whatever lame excuse you concoct, so don't even think about it kids... I'm a reasonable guy, but since I'm broke I'm not very patient- dig? Nor am I the most emotionally (OR psychologically) well adjusted individual. I mean, just look at the stuff I sell on here! Bidders LOVE me tho- just check out my feedback! Please check out my other auctions for more cool (yet completely unrelated) items!

How I Became The Badger

Badgers are common to pretty much this entire planet, sans the New England area for some reason. They are members of the mustelid or weasel family, and are characterized as such by the fact that they have a musk gland, which is used to produce strong smelling secretions. All members of the mustelid family have this gland, except for the sea otter. Other members of the mustelid family include skunks, ferrets, weasels , martens, wolverines, fisher cats and otters.

Like their cousin the wolverine, badgers are known to be relatively small in size but extremely vicious. They live in underground burrows and are excellent diggers. They are also avid nocturnal hunters and the North American variety is a common farmyard pest. The diet of the Eurasian badger consists mainly of earthworms, insects and grubs, while the honey badger consumes honey, porcupines and even venomous snakes.

I had first heard of badgers when I was 16. I was working landscaping at the time, and the guys I was working for were both from Iowa. One of them had just returned from the midwest and was complaining about a "badger problem" at one of the new construction sites he was working at out there. Since we don't have them here in New England, I had never heard of a badger before. When I asked them what they were like he replied "They're a real pain in the ass." When I asked him to describe the physical characteristics of one, he paused for a minute and said "You know, they kind of look like you, if you were small and furry." This prompted me to go to my local library and look up badgers in a nature encyclopedia. Sure enough, I could see the resemblance between these fine hunters and myself. At the time I'd had a mohawk, a bullet belt and a leather jacket with about 30 pounds of studs, spikes and other punk rock goodness on it, so the shoe seemed to fit!

Fast forward some 13 years later and I was at a really BAD hardcore show here in Providence. A friend of mine named Martha (not her real name, as I'm not sure she wants this story revealed to the public) was there. Martha stood about 5' 3 and was kind of well... nuts. She was also kind of hot, but in a real prickly, porcupine-y kind of way. In reality I took her to be a big softy deep down, but her tattooed, tough girl exterior served as a bit of a "stay away" billboard for most people (except for me of course, since those are the kind of girls I like!) Anyway, despite her rough and tumble exterior, Martha was a total sweetheart and always greeted me with a big hug.

Tonight though, things were different. I immediately approached her when I saw her standing at the edge of the pit and she gave me her usual hug. She wasn't smiling though, and seemed to be in a bit of a foul mood. She was continually eyeing the moshers and putting her hands up like she was ready to punch somebody. I'd seen her randomly kick and punch moshers before, and had heard that she was a bit of a scrapper, but I had still yet to see actually throw down with anybody.

Let me clarify for a bit as to which type of "hardcore" show this was exactly. You see, by the mid 1990's, the term "hardcore" had come to mean two different things. There were hardcore bands who followed the early 1980's definition of the term, essentially playing a sped up, more aggressive punk rock style, and there were "other" bands who used the same moniker to describe their music. They played an almost entirely different style of music which was characterized by slow, chugging, downtuned metal riffs. They also had a really ridiculous image centered around some kind of quasi- ghetto street gang mentality. Most of the adherents of this image were, of course, middle class suburban white boys, but they'd like you to believe they had just relocated to the means streets of Cumberland RI from the meaner streets of Brooklyn or something.

In a nutshell, I was a HUGE fan of 1980's hardcore and a huge detractor of 90's hardcore. By the mid 90's any and every intellectual or political component of original hardcore punk had been leeched out in favor of stupid macho attitudes, bad tattoos, baggy clothes, and ridiculous gang mentalities. Gone was skateboarding, mohawks, or anything else even remotely "punk" related, only to be replaced by a bunch of knuckle dragging illiterates playing bad metal and singing about how they'd kill you for "talkin' shit." The original circle pit slamming (which, with all its mildly violent tendencies was actually quite fun) had been replaced by this stupid ritual where these idiot gangster wanna- bees would all just throw flurries of punches and spin kicks at each other. They had taken the violent aspects of hardcore punk to a cartoonish and sometimes frightening level, while any intelligence found in the original hardcore scene quickly went the way of the dinosaurs.

Anyway, back to the gig. By this time "new school" hardcore had become a thriving institution here in New England. I think I was only there for lack of anything better to do, or to see perhaps the ONE band on the bill that interested me, I can't remember.... Anyway, Martha was there and she clearly has a reason to be there. I had attempted to make small talk with her, but she seemed distracted. Of course, you had to be on guard in case one of the spin- kickers, windmillers or change- picker- uppers in the moshpit decided to try and attack the innocent bystanders, but Martha was clearly focusing on one individual in particular. I only had a vague idea of what was going on when she said, "Hold my bag for a second." Then it happened.

Martha proceeded to step into the pit and grab some guy by the front of his shirt. This guy stood about six foot four and had to have tipped the scales at at least 250 pounds. His entire neck and hands were covered in tattoos, and he just looked, well..... scary. He was big, he was mean, he was dancing violently, and I had a really bad feeling that in a couple seconds I might have to intervene. In less than a blink of an eye though, Martha proved just how wrong I was.

To say that she beat this guy up would be an understatement. Martha straight up brutalized him. The term "opened up a can o whoopass" isn't even apropo here, "opened up several five gallon drums of furious vengeance" is more like it. She didn't really have any technique or strategy to speak of, just unbridled, homicidal fury. She was throwing so many punches and kicks at this guy, it was really hard to keep track of them all. The crowd immediately stopped dancing, the band stopped playing, and everyone in the place looked on in complete awe. We were witnessing some of the most uncaged estrogen fueled fury ever to be unleashed on this planet. It was savage, it was brutal, it was epic and it was primal.

And I'm not going to lie, I got extremely turned on watching my 5' 3, 105 pound friend fuck this loser up. The fact that this woman was such a power packed little pipsqueak was arousing to me beyond words. Martha and I never did end up hooking up or dating, as has always preferred far more docile men than myself, but this moment will forever be cemented in my mind as one the hottest spectacles I have ever witnessed. Call me crazy, but there's just something incredibly arousing about a woman that small in size who could kick the ass of someone almost twice as large as her.

Eventually some folks felt bad for this poor fellow, whose dignity, facial piercings and neatly gelled hairdo were being decimated beyond repair. So a couple brave souls grabbed her and pulled her off of him, while she was screaming "Motherfucker!!! I'll fuckin KILL you!!!" and spitting at him. I waded into the brawl to make sure she was ok, and to make sure any of the horribly defeated Mr. Testosterone's friends didn't jump in to try and salvage the micro fraction left of his dignity. When I said "Martha, holy shit, what was THAT about!?" she replied "Goddammit, I'm so fuckin' PISSED I didn't kill that guy!" Did I mention I was turned on? Being in the presence of a true Valkyrie like Martha was an honor not to be taken lightly.

Some days later I was talking to Martha via AIM. When I inquired as to what the previous weekend's fracas was about, she replied that this guy had been harassing one of her female friends and needed to be taught a lesson. She then proceeded to explain that he would get more of the same if she ever saw him again (rumor has it that Mr. Testosterone later apologized to Martha's friend AND Martha, and actually turned out to be a semi- decent individual). I said to her "Martha I had no idea you were so tough, you're like a wolverine. In fact, that's going to be your new nickname, 'Wolfie!'" She replied "Well, you're small and tough too, so you must be a badger!"

So viola, from there on out, the moniker has stuck. It's my alter ego, or spirit totem so to speak, and since I hate my real name (it was given to me when my mother was going through a bible phase, ewwww....) I prefer to be called Badger.

And just to set the record straight, I'm not nearly as "tough" as Martha would think I am. I am just.... well.... very thorough in violent situations. I've trained in martial arts for many many years, but truth be told, violence scares the shit out of me. When I say violence too, I don't mean controlled, "let's get on the mat and spar" violence, I mean real life altercations which are NOT controlled, where anything can happen. Over the years I've crossed paths with many skinheads, bikers, gang bangers, drug dealers and psycho ex- military types, not to mention all manner of drunks, jocks and assorted other "tough" guys. I have always made sure to avoid fighting and have done well with that. I don't see walking away from a fight as a sign of cowardice, in fact I see it as a sign of intelligence.

But the few times I HAVE gotten into fights have been epic. I've been known to hit people with blunt objects, suckerpunch people, kick people in the balls and (my favorite) bite people. The way I look at it there's no such thing as a "fair" fight, especially if you didn't start it. If someone attacks you, I say anything goes, especially if you're me and you only stand 5' 4. Ironically the few times I've been attacked I managed to walk away in much better shape than the morons who attacked me, but the fewer times I was the attacker I got my lily ass handed to me. One thing that I noticed was that any time I got cocky I ended up losing, but in the situations where I didn't throw the first punch (or when someone attacked one of my friends, that's when I get REALLY nasty) I was so terrified I ended up pulling every dirty trick I knew, and that managed to save me from any serious harm.

Again though, to me REAL violence is downright terrifying. You never knew who might jump in, who is friends with who, or who is armed with what. Any "tough guy" posturing I've ever done, or actual tough guy actions I've ever shown were done more out of fear than actual confidence. Preventative measures so to speak. After being on the receiving end of violent attacks from people I was convinced were trying to kill me, I don't have any desire to re live those experiences, much less hear about or witness anyone I care about having to experience anything even remotely similar.

So yes, I'm still the Badger, but these days I'm a badger who'd rather burrow into his badger hole than pick a fight with some random stranger.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Review of last year's NEARA conference.

On Saturday, November 8th I attended a conference put on by an organization called NEARA. NEARA is an acronym for the New England Antiquities Research Association and they are known for examining the many archaeological oddities found here in New England. There is speculation that everyone from the Phoenicians to the Vikings and even the Chinese landed on and possibly settled the shores of New England many years before Columbus discovered the new world. This conference would deal with many of these alleged pre- Columbian people's, and being that this is something which interests me quite a bit, I was very excited when the big day finally came.

I showed up a bit late and walked into the first speaker's presentation. His name was Norman Brockenshire and he spoke about many artifacts that he'd found on his property in the town of Batavia in upstate New York. On this property he has found quite a few hundred arrowheads, as well as large burial mounds which he suggests is evidence that his property may have been the site of the genocide of an ancient people who had settled in North America previous to the Indians. His assertion was that these people were of Caucasian/ European origin, and he referenced the Book Of Mormon numerous times to support this claim.

Brockenshire himself is also Mormon, but he repeatedly kept saying that he had no bias or agenda. Although his presentation was interesting, he provided no actual physical evidence that an early Caucasian civilization had existed here in North America, other than the claims made by the Book Of Mormon. Being that this was the backbone of his presentation, I'm not fully convinced that he is completely bias or agenda free.

The next speaker was Daniel Fernandez- Davila. His presentation was quite intriguing and his presence was very dynamic. He spoke of some fascinating discoveries in the Peruvian mountains where a civilization known as the Chachapoyas had previously existed. His slides were completely amazing, as were the stories he was telling of how rigorous and dangerous it was to travel so far into the mountains to find burial sites, some of which couldn't be reached unless you rappelled 300 feet down the side of a mountain! Mr. Fernandez- Davila was a real expert and a real professional whose confidence and humor were quite infectious. He was also the only actual archaeologist who spoke at this conference.

Immediately after Mr. Davila concluded his presentation he left along with almost half of the conference attendees. I found this a bit odd, but took it as a sign that he may have been the scheduled highlight of the day. My assumption would prove to be correct, as from this point on the conference degenerated into a veritable circus of speculation and pseudo science. For instance, the next speaker William Smith spoke about a mysterious character named “Nephi” whom he ascertained was an ancient Israelite Samaritan who had traveled to North America in 50 BC. Again the Book Of Mormon was used as evidence to support these claims. This speaker's presentation was completely full of ridiculous assumptions and conjecture for which he had little or no evidence for. A funny looking rock he found on his property in Ohio that he thinks is a sundial is what he bases many of his claims on. The fact that he followed Mr. Davila's presentation only made him look even more ridiculous.

During the break I decided to look at some of the books for sale, as well as look into the location of some local historical sites. Most of the books were very poorly written and self published, and many came with a hefty price tag as well. Call me cheap, but $30 for a 100 page homemade Kinko's “book” isn't exactly a great deal in my opinion, especially when most of the information contained in it can be googled or found on wikipedia for free. I'd arrived at the conference with a bit of worry that I might be tempted to spend more money than I should, but after looking at the book selection I realized that I had nothing to worry about.

Once the break was over I returned to the conference room, albeit slightly annoyed. I had hoped that the quality of the speakers would improve after Mr. Smith's downright embarrassing presentation. They did not. Instead they kicked off the second half of the day by playing a ridiculously contrived looking trailer called “The Hooked X: Key to the Secret History of North America”. Set to some stolen Lord Of The Rings music, this trailer had some riveting sound bites like “This will change history forever!” and “The dialect, the code, it all made sense!” The assertion is that the hooked x is a secret Templar symbol, found on everything from runestones here in the US, to the mysterious Newport Tower, to Christopher Columbus's signature. One of the speakers named Scott Wolter would elaborate on this further when he finally gave his presentation.

After an extremely boring travelogue of Israel that went way overtime it was finally time for the much ballyhooed Mr. Wolter to give his talk on the Kensington runestone. Scott didn't talk about the stone much, except for linking the "hooked x" rune it has with similar hooked x runes on stones found in Maine and Rhode Island. What Scott did do is jump to at least ten different conclusions, saying that the Vikings sailed over here with a Cistercian monk who had carved the Kensington stone using a secret code. He asserts that the same Cistercian monks built the Newport tower, which he claims was used for goddess worship. The hooked x as he explains it is a coded symbol to mean male and female energy, plus an unborn child. It represents the holy trinity if you will. This assertion fits in neatly with Dan Brown's popular book The Da Vinci Code, and Scott even mentioned a scene from the Da Vinci Code movie as an example of what the hooked x means. He also gave some VERY questionable examples of how the windows in the Newport tower are used to chart the summer and winter solstices. The icing on the cake though, was when he gave some ridiculous example of how if you trace the latitude and longitude of the tower and then somehow use the path of Venus's orbit, the tower will align directly with the Kensington runestone.

This kind of ridiculous guessing game speculation that passes as "research" was present in almost every speaker's presentation. I actually left before the second to last speaker went on. His name was William Penhallow, and he was introduced as a Freemason. That made him the fourth out of seven speakers who declared themself to have some sort of religious affiliation. Although his academic credentials actually did look quite impressive compared to all the other speakers, sans Daniel Fernandez- Davila, I was far beyond my tolerance level for hearing about Mormons, the lost tribe of Israel or the Knights Templar. Mr. Penhallow does have an MS in Physics and is a retired Physics professor, which makes me want to take him a bit more seriously than most of the other speakers, but the old "Even though I'm a Mason/ Christian/ Moonie/ Mormon/ whatever, I don't have an agenda, I just want to know the truth" alibi was something I did not want to hear any more of. I don't know if that was Mr. Penhallow's angle or not, I just know that his introduction was enough to persuade me to hit the road early.

The ride home got me thinking about a great many things, the least of which was how much personalizing was going on with the speakers. What I mean by personalizing is when someone observes artifacts and then immediately assumes that the person(s) who left them behind had a similar mentality to their own, or were somehow related to them. For instance, Scott Wolter looked at the Kensington runestone and determined that it was a coded Templar message. Now if we are to assume that the Vikings who'd traveled all the way to Minnesota were some of the first Europeans to arrive here in North America, it strikes me as odd that they'd travel all that way only to leave a coded message (?) To me that just seems like Scott is assuming that his self important egoism must be present in the consciousness of every average person, much like the first speaker (Norman Brockenshire) giving so much credit to the Book Of Mormon, when he himself is Mormon. Based on some of the speaker's disclaimers, these aren't exactly what I would call unbiased conclusions.

NEARA collectively has an agenda, and that agenda seems to be the assetion that the Knights Templar secretly discovered and settled here in North America before it was discovered by Columbus. The fact that they made a documentary about this that they are releasing next year leads me to believe that they are confident that their research can prove these claims, or can provide a compelling argument for them at the very least. This seems like quite a risk for a non- profit organization to be taking, as they may very well shoot themselves in the foot and derail any mainstream credibility they actually do have. Then again, with so many dramatic speakers and the fact that The Da Vinci Code was such a popular book, they will likely gain a large following of gullible rubes who are desperate for something to believe in. Conspiracy theories are all the rage these days, and it really doesn't take much to get people on the bandwagon. Especially when you're talking about organizations which most Americans have already heard about like the Templars and the Freemasons.

With all my criticism of the various agendas I've spoken of, it would lead the reader to assume that I must have one of my own. I will admit that that assumption would be 100% correct. In fact, I will admit that on a personal and spiritual level that I found many of the speakers at the NEARA conference to be downright bigoted and offensive. The reason why I say this is because I am not a Christian. In fact, I harbor a very deep disdain for the Judeo Christian mentality, which many of the speakers at this conference reinforced.

What I find most distasteful about Judeo Christianity is the idea of "one god, one way, my way, the ONLY way" which the various branches of it espouse. As I mentioned several times, many of the speakers made the "I just want to know the truth" disclaimer, and then proceeded to try to push their own religious bias on the audience. I'm inclined to believe that many of them did this without even realizing it, as this is the kind of warped mode of thinking which has polluted the worldview of much of Western society today. Christians will push their agenda both consciously and often unconsciously, as they are taught that they follow the only true path, and all non believers will be condemned to hell. They'll use this as both a guilt trip and a threat, either to try and convert you or insult you. When they tell you that they're only trying to save you by showing you the truth, it's the guilt angle. When that doesn't work, they'll tell you that you're going to hell to insult and scare you.

Most Christians are completely incapable of looking at the world from any other perspective besides their own, and given that it is predicated on a mentality of "one god, one way, my way, the ONLY way" it's not a particularly open minded one. Their arguments for why their religion is the only "true" religion are usually based on the existence of the Bible. The Bible is what they will inevitably claim is proof that their god exists, yet the Bible has had some 40 + authors and been revised an untold amount of times. I for one am very wary of anyone who uses a book full of questionable accounts to define something as deep and complex as spirituality. The ridiculous book table at the NEARA conference was proof that you don't need to be talented, enlightened or even intelligent to write a book. From a purely critical and academic standpoint the bible proves absolutely nothing, but even the most level headed of Christians refuse to admit this.

The Christian bias was even evident with the speakers who didn't claim any religious affiliation, but attributed the discovery of North America to the Templars and/ or the Freemasons. In the wake of all the post Davinci Code fervor, many Christians were insulted at Dan Brown's assertion that Jesus wasn't immortal, and had actually married Mary Magdeline and settled in France. I feel though, that many more Christians "in name only" found a renewed interest in their part- time religion after the Da Vinci Code was sold to millions of readers. It seems that even though the Templars and the Freemasons represented esoteric and arguably heretical offshoots of Christianity, it is much easier for the average Christian to accept that renegades of their own faith were secretly behind many of the world's most significant historical events than it is for them to accept that non Christians were. Again, the act of projecting is present here, which has much more to do with a person's ego than it has to do with following any spiritual "truth".

In defense of some of the speakers, I will say that when dealing with such mysterious and odd artifacts one cannot help but find one's imagination running a bit wild. The thing is though, to get to the bottom of the mystery one must also accept that if the actual truth shatters their preconceived notions of what they want it to be, it is their obligation to accept that and report their findings accurately. Much like the Tocharian mummies in China, one does not have to look too far to realize that even mainstream archaeology is often heavily political and biased. When these amateurs come up with alternative theories that serve to promote their own biased worldview they are behaving in exactly the same way that the people they claim to be against are behaving. They need to be mindful of this, and it didn't seem like too many of the speakers at this event were able to take any pause and ask themselves if there might be some wishful thinking happening in their research.

What I found to be the saddest thing about this conference was that like the majority of the speakers, most of the conference goers weren't actually historians, archaeologists, paleontologists, or specialists in anything even close to resembling what I thought an “antiquities research” group would attract. Instead, the conference seemed to be largely attended by conspiracy theory nuts, Nostradamus followers, Dan Brown fans, Coast To Coast AM listeners, and people like Norman Brockenshire and William Smith who had just happened to stumble on interesting and odd artifacts on their property. When I casually mentioned to one gentleman that I thought there might be some “speculating” going on, he got kind of irritated and replied “Well this stuff is ALL connected ya know!” Our conversation was then interrupted by a gentleman who claimed that he could prove that the Chinese discovered America before anyone else did.

The saddest thing is, the people having these discussions were all well into adulthood. At 36, I was easily the youngest person in attendance, and often felt like I was surrounded by a bunch of children on a scavenger hunt.

Birthday Memories

I was waxing nostalgic about the few fond memories I have of my estranged family on my father's side. When thinking back on some of the experiences I had with them, the handmade birthday cards we used to make remains one of my fondest memories. Customized birthday cards were always a very important priority for us, and it was considered EXTREMELY tacky to give someone a store bought card, unless of course it was someone the family didn't particularly like, or someone you were pissed off at for some reason. For the record, members of my father's clan were often pissed off at each other for some reason.... or someone else.... or at the world in general....

Everyone's birthday was a veritable birthday card pissing contest, and you could expect no less than three individually or collaboratively created birthday cards from our cousins and immediate family. My parents would literally ORDER me to make cards for our relatives, getting out all the paper, pencils, paints etc. and saying "now make him/ her something NICE!" every single time. My mother would usually out- shine most contenders, being that she had gone to art school, and I suspect.... secretly harbored a fair amount of resentment towards the boorish, loud mouthed French Canadian family she had married into.

With that said, my cousin Pierre was no slouch either. Given the reference material of his extensive comic book collection, he'd often draw a mini comic about you doing some heroic deed, concluding with "happy birthday", etc. My mother on the other hand, could weild acrylics like no one's business. She would often paint you a large full color foldout birthday card, complete with a nature or city scape that included your favorite cartoon characters, foods, etc. Pierre ultimately started taking things to the next level when one year he gave my sister a card where this little guy flew out at you when you opened it (he had rigged it up with a spring of some kind). Then I got a card from him a year later where he had taken apart the motor from a little wind up toy, so when you opened the card it was a cut out of me spinning around because i was being sucked up into a tornado. Finally, he completely brought the house down when he made a full on pop up BOOK for my cousin Karla. By then everyone was like "you win dude, we give up...."

Despite the kick ass card making, the actual gifts our clan would give you were usually a big letdown. You could expect things you "needed" like socks, and in the spirit of making your own gifts you got a lot of crudely knitted items like mittens, hats, blankets, etc. usually about as aesthetically pleasing to the eye as something you'd find at Building 19 or Job Lot. The one crown gem was the year my meme (knowing that I was on a big camo kick, which I still haven't grown out of yet) made me a COMPLETE set of kiddie sized fatigues, made from that old WW2 marine camo pattern. I wore those damn things so much my father actually ordered me to stop wearing them or he'd take them away from me. I don't know how the hell she made those, but they were like..... seriously just as good as anything made by Asian slave labor nowadays. I think the next year I got a sweater where one arm was like 4 inches too long.

Before, during and after the unwrapping of gifts and cutting of the cake, my aunt would bust out some pretty hot impromptu birthday jams. She'd make up songs on the spot about you, and if she was having problems freestyling it, the old favorite "Birthday" by the Beatles would be played at least once. She had this kick ass electric piano that had a downright eerie tone to it. It's no wonder that horror punk legends The Misfits opted to use a similar instrument on their first record!

Oh, and they ALWAYS wrapped your gifts in newspaper. Always. And you always got a birthday plant of some kind. Since my b-day is in January, I'd get seeds (my uncle was a farmer at the time) intended to be planted the following spring. But even if uncle Bobby didn't hook you up with seeds for some kind of weird hybrid squash he'd invented the previous year, someone would just give you a packet of your standard, run of the mill "burpee" brand seeds for some kind of vegetable or flower. Whenever the garden was started the next spring, I was always ordered to immediately plant my birthday seeds (they would often either not grow at all or take over the entire garden....)

The more I think about it, the more I suspect that this plant giving tradition was a pagan holdover from our Celtic/ Gaulish past that was imprinted on our collective subconscious or something....

As a side note, I think my father is a giant douche, and I haven't talked to him in over ten years. After my parents got divorced I never heard from his side of the family again either, although he did make it a point a few years ago to track me down via the interwebs so that he could tell me (for the 9000th time) that my dead mother was a whore and that he was owed my unrequited gratitude for the amazing job he did as a father (he left out the drunken, abusive, child support skipping part of the story). The one thing I AM grateful for though, is that his side of the family sure did know how to party on very little $$$, and the knowledge of such old time traditions is a blessed thing in this day and age. If you can do a lot with very little, eventually you'll figure out how to make something out of nothing.