Rockin’ the Riverside

A small thermonuclear explosion detonated at the River Rock pub in Duncan last night. A collection of extraordinarily gifted musicians gathered and, in the space of a few hours, performed in cohesive bands, exploded and re-coalesced into new groupings, sang, jammed, riffed and generally blew the roof off the joint. It was a rambunctious night of energy and superb entertainment. Rarely in recent memory has such a stellar collection of talent converged on the Trans-Canada Highway. The level of musicianship displayed by local virtuosos was nothing short of extraordinary and had at least one aging rock journalist wondering where the hell the stringers for Rolling Stone were hiding, because last night saw some truly great performances.

Screw “Drunken Duncan.” Last night, it was “Rocking Duncan”.

Thank Helen
Thank Helen, River Rock pub, Duncan BC – 5 Aug 2016

 

First up was Thank Helen, a cow-punk thrash unit from Courtney with surprising melodic range. Fronted by the dynamic Tracey Nolan, Thank Helen found its footing within a song or two. By “Pay the Rent”, they were mesmerizing us with lively renderings of good, solid songs, tightly arranged. Thank Helen is a band to reckon with – a deadly combo of guitarist Jamie Nolan, bassist Caleb Kennedy and drummer Dekan Delaney in a solid polyrhythmic triad kicked into overdrive by the commanding Tracey. Harmonies and beat combined to raise their show to atmospheric levels and by the end of their set, at “Freeway”, nobody wanted to let go.

 

A lull was filled when a young man took the stage with an acoustic guitar. I was gathering my notes and not expecting much when Colton Mann, 20, abruptly launched into some of the most solid improvisational acoustic work I have heard in years. Later joined by Underdogs percussionist Marcus, Mann unleashed a soaring acoustic version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” that was nothing short of breathtaking. By the end of it all, you could hear a pin drop in that crowded bar. Watch this young man: if he develops to even half of his potential, he will conquer hearts and minds. And worlds.

Weak Patrol

Weak Patrol, tearing it up.

Briefly assuming Thank Helen had reassembled onstage, I was surprised to learn that their core instrumental group, absent Tracey, performs a combo unto itself. Weak Patrol, a classic rock power trio, is half Beck, Bogart & Appice and half Rush after they’ve been stiffed playing a gig at a curling arena in Edmonton: cold, angry and precise. This trio wound between hypnotic pseudo-reggae rhythms and soaring, poly-instrumental arrangements reminiscent of Yes. These three, no matter what they decide to play – or when – will scoop the field. Some old school rock trio power happening here: good, good stuff.

The real treat of the night was the Underdogs, segueing from cool bossa-nova combo to Big Brother and the Holding Company that somehow morphed into an extended blues jam. More akin to a musical community than a group, the Underdogs features a twin-vocalist salvo, acoustic guitar and rock rhythm underpinnings. Unconventional perhaps, but sufficiently engaging to hold the audience rapt with a Bear McCreary-flavored rendition of “All Along the Watchtower”. Although unpolished in places, the Underdogs proved, beyond the shadow of a doubt, they had bite. This is a premiere rock band in the making. If they can stay the course, they will shake up the West coast scene.
Underdogs

The Underdogs

With 1 AM beckoning and a deadline looming, I left the bar as the Underdogs were pulsing into the second soulful phase of their opening set. I felt strongly, walking across the highway to where my car was stashed in a public lot, that I had discovered something truly great in Duncan – a motherlode of talent and passion overlooked by the mainstream rock audiences and critics. Be that as it may, this writer will listen and report back. Good music deserves an audience, and this correspondent will do all he can to help these musicians find theirs.

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CHICAGO LAKESHORE 1: How Ann Sterzinger & Jamie Mason Founded Camus-TV

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Much as Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson conspired to create Brexit without any real plan for how to deal with victory, so did Ann Sterzinger and I pitch a pilot to a Hollywood director, that convinced us to found a Kickstarter without ever really expecting people to respond. And oh my God, did they respond …

And so without further ado, the history of CHICAGO LAKESHORE.

1. MY BEST FRIEND

This is Ann Sterzinger. Ann is an alien being inhabiting Chicago who subsists on a diet of caffeine, French literature and raw sarcasm. So far as I have been able to determine, Ann hates just about everybody.

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Ann Sterzinger fucking hates you

She hates me a little less than most others and so we’re BFFs (best frenemies forever).

2. GOALS

Ann and I are both writers. We’re old school devotees of the late 19th century schools of European literature. While most kids grew up wanting to be Jim Morrison, we wanted to be Balzac.

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Balzac, hung over

Because we were serious literary prodigies, we both went to college. We got degrees. We worked shit jobs for decades and devoted ourselves to our craft. Then ECLIPSE became a best-seller. Since then, we spend a lot of time talking about becoming mercenaries in fucking Syria or something whilst swinging wildly between despair, alcoholism and suicidal ideation.

3. FATE!

We met on Facebook. I imagined Ann as an overweight chain-smoking woman in her seventies who wore mumus. She knew I was Canadian. That was enough for us to develop a healthy mutual suspicion of one another.

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We started writing together. Oh sure, we could have had phone sex or indulged in some form of primitive long-distance cyber-romance but we’re both broke writers so rather than waste time on that bullshit, we started beta-reading each others’ stuff and then, later, collaborating. Our phone calls occasionally strayed into common territory. And we discovered …

4. NUTS

We both had first-hand experience of the mental health system, myself as a guard and Ann as a patient. We began comparing notes and discovered that our experiences weren’t very different. In fact, they were eerily fucking similar.

5. CHICAGO LAKESHORE

Let’s be honest. The world is sinking into for-profit, corporate-driven mass psychosis. Ann and I have decided it’s time for a television show that reflects this emerging reality.

Welcome to the psychiatric-industrial police state. Welcome to Chicago Lakeshore.

Why Ray Buckland is Wrong

It must be a powerful temptation for someone who has spent years as a spokesman for witchcraft to feel a certain sense of entitlement. Ray Buckland, author of multiple books, veteran seminar-giver and media personality, certainly does. He proved it with his response to our public hexing of Brock Turner, rapist and poster child for white male privilege, when he said:

So very sorry to see so many people who call themselves “witches” talking about hexing people. Just undoing all the work that we pioneers worked so hard to do. WITCHES DO NOT HEX PEOPLE; DO NOT DO NEGATIVE MAGIC – period!

It would be wrong to underplay Ray’s contributions to the Craft. He is a pillar of the community, and among those who regularly act as a spokesman and public face for witchcraft. And therein lies the rub.

Ray Buckland isn’t witchcraft.

Ray Buckland is one among many. Let’s not confuse his public visibility with deep knowledge, magickal ability or any special authority in the field in which he claims himself (quite conveniently) to be a pioneer. I don’t begrudge Ray his visibility or his success. On the contrary, I’m truly happy for him. He’s a successful spokesman and media figure, not an Ipsissimus or ritualist. He needs to understand where he gets off the bus.

Ray’s visibility is due in part to his willingness to soft-peddle a palatable form of witchcraft to the masses. In our Christianized society, wherein people are conditioned to meekly accept the wrongs done to them by the rich and powerful, one cannot hope to achieve celebrity without first playing lickspittle to the ideas of Christianity. A meek witch who “harms none” poses no threat to the power structure. We learned this the hard way during the Burning Times, when Christianity spread its influence across Europe by flame and sword, murdering hundreds of thousands of practitioners of the old religion.

But these aren’t the Burning Times anymore.

Much attention in this discussion has centered on the so-called Rede, or Witches’ “Law”, variations of which boil down to:

An’ it harm none, do as ye will.

Students of the Craft revere this maxim. But we also recognize it as one version with multiple variations:

Do what thou wilt. [Satanism]

Do what Thou Wilt Shall be the Whole of the Law. [Thelema]

Nothing is true, everything is permitted. [misc. LHP trads]

These variations speak to different traditions – something Ray failed to do in his sweeping, blanket condemnation of those of us who participated in the hexing. This action was not taken lightly, nor was it taken without appreciation of the context. My friend and high-priestess Melanie Hexen is to be thanked for providing a needed ritualistic prism through which to focus the frustration and rage so many of us are feeling.

Simply put: Brock Turner is privileged white kid from a family with money whose only punishment for raping an unconscious woman, penetrating her vagina with foreign objects and then texting suggestive pics of her naked body to his swim-team pals is a 12 week stretch in a country club jail.

This is a fucking outrage.

An all-too familiar one.

Witchcraft flourished in feudal Europe as a reaction to the greed and corruption of the priestly and land-owning classes. Since then, we have watched as Christianity has been complicit in erecting the tower of Western culture, blessing and anointing kings (later Presidents) and providing a sop to the conscience of any who would practice genocide, rape, torture, child abuse and apocalyptic levels of environmental destruction. We have listened to the “thoughts and prayers” of Janus-faced politicians who wave with one hand while stuffing money in their pockets with the other. And we have tasted the bitter ashes of outcome: misogyny, widespread poverty, institutionalized racism, hunger, war and global warming. The Empire is one of violence and oppression: particularly to wildlife, women and children. Now it’s killing the planet.

And we say: enough.

Christianity, Judaism and Islam have all demonstrated their utter failure and impotence as a moral force in this new millennium. As the monotheistic religions whittle each other’s numbers down by means of terrorism and exploitation, we in the Craft find ourselves faced with a conundrum. Can we continue to support a socio-political system so hostile to life? And can we afford to hesitate using what few weapons we have left at our disposal to fight injustice and the threat of global extinction?

I understand, Ray. We make compromises to become public figures. We measure and temper our speech. But after a certain period, this amounts to tailoring our thoughts and beliefs. Quite simply: you’ve sold out.

We haven’t.

And we’re just getting started.

Simple-Totkas

 

Group Sex with Me & Mary Shelley

Hi My name is Jamie and I have written a wonderful new novel entitled ICK!

Victor “Frankenstein” DeVito realizes his lifelong dream of becoming a mad scientist by creating Industrial Color Killer, a living turpentine enzyme. While stripping paint off the hull of a US warship, ICK breaks free and goes berserk, turning the ocean, land, plants and animals all the same shade of off-white. Victor must battle anarchist color revisionists (CRAYON), Black nationalists angry at no longer being black, Vatican spies and his own demons to subdue his greatest creation.

It’s a great novel. It’s a total mad scientist novel. I mean – how cool is that? Don’t you just fucking LOVE mad scientists? And if you don’t, then ask yourself: just what the hell is wrong with you, anyway?

My favorite novel in the entire universe is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Did you know that Mary was hanging with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley the summer she wrote it? They were all crashing at this castle on Lake Geneva in Switzerland, being all louche and taking drugs and writing ghost stories and Mary – sweet, meek, nobody-pays-attention-to-her Mary, the Mary they sent out for beer runs in the row boat and more or less ignored when time came for group sex – Mary wound up writing Frankenstein, the ghost story of all ghost stories. And now she’s more famous than either of those two bums. So I sort of identify with her, right? Like, I could totally see rowing the boat out on the beer run with her, and being ignored during group sex  (because assholes, hey?).

So I have this mad scientist novel up at Amazon Kindle Scout. All I need are enough people to go to the website, click the nominate button and BOOM. I’m in the running for a book contract and all kinds of neat, free advertising and stuff.

So click and nominate. And if you don’t then ask yourself why. Could it be perhaps as a result of some mean heartedness on your part? Could it be that I perhaps intimidate you with my all-consuming, mysterious machismo? Or maybe that you just don’t like novels that start with the letter I. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. What the hell does it cost you to click, go and nominate? Seriously. You can’t DO that? I mean, what? ARE YOU DEVELOPMENTALLY IMPAIRED OR SOMETHING? I mean, EVEN IF YOU WERE, it’s not like I’m asking you to perform open heart surgery or compose the Oratorio for Prague or volunteer for 6 months building a Burma railway, for Christ’s sakes. JUST CLICK ON THE DAMN THING! You get to read an excerpt and everything! If not for me, do it for Mary.

And thank you. So much.

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Daddy Loves His Work

I was saddened by recent exchanges with two writers, both of whom expressed dissatisfaction with their careers. One says she no longer wishes to write at all while another, frustrated by a lack of commercial success, speaks frankly of killing herself. A third friend with a book coming out has complained to me privately about how the publisher is handling the release. And a fourth lamented that he still does not consider himself a “pro” (whatever that means) despite a very impressive set of publishing credits. All four of these are writers I respect a great deal, and who have achieved more than I with their work, and yet they are unhappy. Understandably so. This is a tough racket, and many writers have walked away …

I can’t.

I would not consider myself a particularly visible or well-known author, even within the genres (SFF) to which I have devoted myself since 2009. I am no great commercial success, by any means. I can’t live off of what I do (although I have hopes it may supplement my retirement income nicely). But the option of walking away is just not there for me. It never has been. The prospect of life without the words is as unimaginable to me as losing  eyesight or hearing and just as terrifying. Laura Dern explained it so beautifully in THE WEST WING episode “The U.S. Poet Laureate”: “This is how I enter the world.” The act of writing is, simply, how I experience and process my existence on planet Earth. I would still be filling notebooks and cranking out fiction even if I never sold a thing because I simply don’t know any other way to live.

Two new projects are reminders for me of the real joy I take in the process of writing and publishing.

My short story “Mr Johnson & the Old Ones” will appear in the forthcoming anthology from Martian Migraine Press CTHULHUSATTVA: TALES OF THE BLACK GNOSIS. This is my first piece of Lovecraftian horror fiction, and is the point of departure for the next stage of my career, which will focus mainly on writing mystery and horror. The story combines my twin fascinations of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert Johnson and has the two meeting in a jook house in 1930s Mississippi under surreal circumstances. I found the process of exploring that world so fascinating that I am now adapting the short story into a full length novel. Meanwhile, it’s been a real pleasure working with MMP C-in-C Scott Jones to bring the short-story version out and get it to you. Look for CTHULHUSATTVA to drop in late May.

I am also engaged in contract negotiations with Amazon for GAVIN’S WOMAN, a sequel to GAVIN’S WAR which came out last year. Although we’re still ironing out the details, the project as been green-lit and we are a go. GAVIN’S WOMAN picks up four years after the events of GAVIN’S WAR and features the return of known characters Iris and Salazar along with several new ones. Researching the piece has me learning much about the BC coastline, various types of military helicopters and the U.S. Army’s famed Nightstalkers. I imagine the novella will see daylight some time this summer. Stay tuned for further details on that front.

Recent events in the United States have caused me to reflect on World War II. While watching the mini-series FLEMING: THE MAN WHO WOULD BE BOND, it occurred to me that I’ve always wanted to write a story set during the Blitz, an event that had a great impact on my father’s family. The time has come to write that story and, in so doing, perhaps come closer to an understanding of my father, a man with whom I had a complex and very uncomfortable relationship. I’m not entirely sure I really want to explore that region of my past and psyche … which merely serves as confirmation that I must. Again: writing as my way of processing life on Earth.

And so the words roll on.

Mishima once said that life is a line of poetry written with a splash of blood.

I have to agree.

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Pivot

I was surprised when my tongue-in-cheek Facebook post concerning my “retirement” from science fiction prompted a response. I received several messages from fellow writers and one editor asking what gives. That’s when I realized I haven’t done a very good job explaining my decision. So here goes.

Why I Write. Money. I write to supplement my income (which ain’t great). The few extra hundred dollars here and there since my first pro sale in 2009 have really made a difference. If Churchill boasted he bought Chartwell “with his pen” then I can make a similar claim regarding the warmth and dryness inside this 1970s-era mobile home I own, which leaked like a sieve until last autumn, when proceeds from my Kindleworlds novella Gavin’s War paid for my pal Roger’s game-changing roof repairs. It’s been raining non-stop since yesterday afternoon. I haven’t awakened to a stream of rain-water on my pillow in over a year. Money well spent.

There’s No Money in Sci-fi. Oh, I’m sure there’s some there. I just hardly ever get to see it. Second-tier markets pay a pittance and, with few exceptions, the pro markets have perfected the art of stretching out payments to writers such that I’m convinced hieroglyphs of our vanished culture will show a legion of the starving would-be  Asimovs on their knees with laptops in hand,  pleading with an Ibex-headed Editor God-thing. (Part of why they can get away with this is because most sci-fi writers don’t have to write for money – more on this “pride culture” later.) I have worked with some awesome sci-fi editors and publishers. But I have worked with many more that drove me absolutely bug-fuck then didn’t pay me. I have had to resort to using a bill collector on occasion. Nothing personal, folks. Just business.

The Culture is Poisonous. It’s a small little pond the English-speaking sci-fi world paddles in. Girdled by instantaneous global communication via Facebook, these geeks have carved out a vibrant and busy little sector of the digisphere for themselves. Unfortunately, it’s one riven by politics, prejudice, bullying and sanctimony. I really began to realize how poisonous the scene was when I began branching out into horror and mystery. Interactions with editors and fellow authors there were of an entirely different complexion. Where in the sci-fi field I encountered ad hominem attacks centering around identity politics and plenty of thrown shade, mystery and horror writers were comparatively welcoming. We learned from each other. We support each other. It’s nicer here.

Diversity? Please! I hate to say it, but the diversity wars in sci-fi, and those who stoke them, strike me as “methinks they doth protest too much”. Sci-fi is white-boy culture writ large, and efforts to prove otherwise have been about as convincing as a country-club full of drunk Caucasian aunts and uncles forming a conga line to show how hip they can be. The most strident debates for inclusion and diversity occur in a white liberal echo chamber from which diverse voices are conspicuously absent. Flame wars, Amazon sabotage campaigns, angry blog posts, podcasts – has any of it led to more money in the pockets of more diverse writers of sci-fi? No. (See, “There’s No Money in Sci-fi”, above.) Which leads me to the crown jewel, the golden goose of sci-fi’s embarrassment …

The Fucking Hugo Awards. Spare me. Of all the literary cultures of which I have been a part since stumbling, wide-eyed, into my first American Publishing Association convention in 1982, sci-fi is the most fixated on literary prizes. Sci-fi is a “pride of place” culture, with prestige counting as currency. (Unfortunately, this acts to disqualify people who are too poor to jump on a plane to go hob-nob. Pride cultures tend to favor those with means.) “Hugo nominee” on a cover moves books, sho nuff, but the concentration of accolades within the prize communities has enabled the rise of reactionary forces gaming the system. Pity those who must wear their coveted rocket like an albatross this year. The genre is an embarrassment. “Hugo nominee” don’t have the cachet it once did.

In 2004, when Bush was re-“elected”, I came home. “You’re lucky to have Canada,” literary critic Roger Bowen e-mailed me.

I’m lucky to have mystery and horror. And I have gone home.

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BOOMTOWN

In the fly-blown desert strip-mall that was Reagan’s America, authenticity was hard to come by, particularly in music. After a Me-decade spent hashing out new technologies, market jurisdictions and FCC red tape, the unweildy goose known as the “entertainment industry” had landed. Media moguls invoked focus-group wisdom to foist “edgy” punk acts and big hair metal bands on the public while conspiring to craft the ever-elusive mega-hit. 1984 was the year Columbia Records dumped half its advertising budget into a single album, yielding BORN IN THE USA’s record round of hits and a windfall for shareholders. No one could be happier. But amid the ticker-tape and champagne, a few of us felt like something had been lost. The era of the contemplative songwriter with the journalistic focus and eye for small-time detail had been drowned out in the goldrush.

Enter BOOMTOWN, the stripped-down, guitar-driven album from David & David, a rock duo that appeared from out of nowhere with a catalogue of songs perfect for what ailed the era. Arranged with raw beauty and featuring rich lyrics growled with a kind of fuck-you insolence, “Welcome to the Boomton” proved a signature hit. Like the other songs, “Boomtown” was a starkly-drawn portrait of an LA underbelly populated by losers – the road-kill of the very media moguls bestriding the landscape: a mean old man washing his hands in the bathroom of the Firefly lounge, a former footballer dealing dope out of Denny’s, a coked-out rich girl gunning her 944 down a dark road toward her destiny and a puzzled guy on the cusp of middle age looking back and wondering how his old friends got swallowed by the cracks. No focus group could have given us the rich cast and dark pathos of BOOMTOWN. Baerwald and Ricketts had succeeded, in an era of shallow pretense, in creating a masterpiece.

There was no follow-up. Pressures internal and external conspired to derail any sequel to this promising debut. Singly and together, both men would go on to pursue other interests, contributing music to film projects or furnishing material or chops on other peoples’ records. Toni Childs and Sheryl Crowe were two who benefitted from cross-pollination with the Baerwald/Ricketts magic, as did their listeners. MOULIN ROUGE, LEAVING LAS VEGAS and a host of other films would be powered by the sound. But an opportunity to reform and release new music would elude David & David until 2016. Now on the brink of releasing BOOMTOWN’s sequel, Baerwald and Ricketts are turning to the public with the simple question: do you want more?

We have come a long way from the hair bands and media moguls of the 1980s. Those of us who care about songs with killer lyrics and great musicianship now have a chance to show those focus-groups just where we’d like the damn money spent. Backers are promising to bankroll another album if the boys get the support. Consider this short retrospective an appeal to David & David fans past and present to step up and support the band’s return by “liking” their Facebook page and getting as many friends as possible to do likewise. 6000 more likes and we’ve got ourselves BOOMTOWN 2.

Go on.

You know you want to.

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