Wednesday, January 17, 2018

What Song Is It You Want To Hear? ALL OF THEM!

When I was in the sixth grade, we were studying William Shakespeare. For one of the assignments, we were supposed to write, in Old English calligraphy, our favorite quote from him. My choice was one about music-- If music be the food of love play on.  The quote is from Shakespeare's Twelve Night which, at the time, I had not read.  Many years passed since then, but I still remember the assignment vividly and I also remember I chose the quote because it was the closest quote I could get to what I honestly felt -- music is the food of life.  In the four-plus decades since that philosophy has stayed with me.

There is a soundtrack continually playing in the back of my mind accenting my life on a daily basis. As a result of my strong feelings about music, in my novels often include references to songs which go along with specific scenes because I can actually hear the music playing as I write them. This blog started with me creating a list of the 50 Greatest Motorcycle Riding Tunes and continued as I started attending and writing about live concerts in 2016 during My Summer of Live Rock & Roll.

I am about to head off on my life's most significant musical adventure to date: The Southern Rock Cruise 2018.  In preparation, I have been talking about music online in our group forum a great deal. A lot of what I'm posting is wry commentary along with funny pictures and videos I put together. I was unaware of how much my actual love for music was coming through until I received this from Rick Willis, lead and rhythm guitar with the Marshall Tucker Band --

"I’m not sure if we’ve ever met, but I’ve seen a lot of your posts. I love your enthusiasm and insight about music. I can only surmise that you are, at the very least, a closet musician because this post describes exactly how we feel when we’re on stage. Thanks for your support & love of music."

I have talked before about playing guitar and such,  even performing before an audience  -- but my love for music runs deeper.  The post he refers to talks about one I wrote about how it feels to be in the middle of the crowd during a concert, and looking around at the other people and realizing you’re sharing a universal joy and fulfillment with everyone there to include the band.  It is indeed the greatest high in life.  The first time I really felt and thrived in it was at a Bob Seger concert in 2011.  

I love all genres of music, to include a lot of world music I have been exposed to due to my travels and even Hip-Hop.  But my favorite type of music Southern Rock.

Many people will give you different definitions of what Southern Rock is -- to me it is a blending of Rock & Roll, Country, with the Blues sprinkled all over the top.  I feel its contribution to rock music has been largely ignored by elitist rock critics who choose to ignore its significant influence on everything that came after it.

When my tastes in music started to gel in the mid-to-late 70s, there were several bands which came to the forefront immediately – – the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Marshall Tucker Band, Wet Willy, ZZ Top, and 38 Special.  More bands came in and out during those years --  all contributed to my love for the genre. The sound of heavy guitars, a slight southern twang in the singing, and lyrics talking about things with which I could identify. Those words are ageless and always provide new insight and interpretation -- the lyrics of Simple Man have an entirely different meaning to me now than when I was 17.  Overall, every song released during those years, by any of these bands has a special meaning to me and one I hold dear.

Southern Rock healed and supported me through a turbulent adolescence.  MTB’s Searchin’ for a Rainbow was in the running for the class song my senior year, and when leaned the guitar riff for Fire on the Mountain I was so proud (BTW my current ringtone). Keep On Smilin’ by Wet Willie got me through a few bad breakups.  The Allman Brother’s Whipping Post – a way to express the angst most feel in their teen years. I survived and thrived because of the music.

I can't remember a single high school dance where a live cover band performed, they did not end with Free Bird.  Frankly, the song is the worst choice for dancing. Think about it, your date is close against you, you're holding them -- perhaps stealing a kiss because the dance is almost over and then suddenly the song gets much faster you break apart to dance the fast parts -- but then have to stop because the song accelerates towards the end. Lousy for dancing, but -- damn -- the memories.

No matter where I went in the world, I took the music with me. First on a bad portable cassette player with C cell batteries, then a Walkman, which gave way to a Sony Discman and eventually an iPod.  Today my iPod has playlists labeled things like Southern Rock, Class of 77, Riding Musik, and now Southern Rock Cruise.

Southern Rock is not static, but continuing to evolve. Later in life, I discovered Elvin Bishop, Louisiana's Leroux, The Outlaws and more recently Preacher Stone, Blackberry Smoke,  and Black Stone Cherry.  Are these bands the end?  Hell no. I just heard about the Cowboy Poets and gave them a listen – – love their blues style.  There will always be more Southern Rock bands.
So, as I get ready to board the Brilliance of the Seas, and spend five days at sea listening to the Southern Rock I love -- I am so psyched and ready.

Music is indeed the food of life – – play on...


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Self-Published -- Among the Subpar and Undeserving of Being Read

While reading an article about authors and how best they should get published, I got to a part where it talked about self-publishing and how this was a terrible idea. The writer of the article went in depth as to how such self-publishing projects were for books that were subpar, and as a result more of the author's vanity than work being deserving of being read. I considered what the person had written for a few minutes and then I recalled some stories I had heard about other authors who went the self-publishing route and what the results were.

Mark Twain is among my favorite authors. Not only for the words that he put on a page but the humor that he managed to inject into his entire life. He also worked as both a journalist and wrote factual works as well as fiction. Therefore, I tend to self-identify with him as we share a similar writing CV, although I would never claim to have his talent. 

One thing that many people do not know about Mark Twain was that in addition to being a writer, he also became a publisher.  The book Huckleberry Finn was his first self-published work and goes against both of the rationales that I came across in the article I mentioned. The work was neither subpar nor was it strictly for the man's vanity. 

As far as I have been able to discern, Twain self-published because he was tired of publishers making more money off of his books than he did, so he took on the effort as a business decision. If you have ever read Huckleberry Finn, I think you would agree with me that it is well deserving of being read. 

When author Charles Dickens self-published A Christmas Carol in 1843, he did so out of sheer desperation. He realized that the tale needed to be in print for Christmas and not a single publisher was able to meet that deadline. So, he took it upon himself to make the print version a reality, to include contracting John Leech to provide the four original illustrations within the pages of the book. Dickens worked with a printer, and the first edition of the book came out on December 19, just in time for Christmas. In fact, the first printing of the book sold out by Christmas Eve.

Is there a single soul who would consider the book to be subpar? Dickens, like Twain, had business reasons for self-publishing.  The only way to ensure the book’s commercial success was for it to be in stores on a particular timeline.  A timeline no publisher would agree to meet. That publisher has now joined the ranks of those who failed to realize genius when it was placed in front of them and one who let a historic opportunity slip through their fingers.

I wonder if the writer of the article was even aware of these two examples of self-publishing that disprove his theory that such an effort is either subpar or the result of an author's vanity and undeserving of being read?  I do not doubt that he probably read both works at some point in his life, and enjoyed them as well without realizing that neither would've existed if they had not been self-published.

Reflecting on my efforts in fiction, all of which is self-published, I can tell you that I spent time deliberating over whether what I wrote was worth the time it took me to write – – or the time it would take to read. Once released into the wilds of online and physical bookstores, I sat nervously waiting for the first reactions.  Based on the reviews both from readers and from peer journals – – I am proud to say that they were not considered subpar and were all considered to be a worthwhile read – – with one book being called Unputdownable, which may or may not be a word.

Oh, in case you did not realize it the writer I spoke of – was a publisher.


Monday, January 1, 2018

A Sally by Any Other Name

I have always been about the funny from stand-up comedians to campy movies.  But all of this had its start because I was lucky enough not to grow up in the Golden Age of TV but in the era of the Golden Age of TV Reruns.  Why was it better?  I got to see 5 or more episodes of Gilligan’s Island, or other choice shows a week.  If I had a favorite, I got to see it repeatedly, just by flipping the dial to another channel that was playing the same show in a different timeslot.   These shows also provided a distraction when I was home from school sick.

Even though I was familiar with Lucille Ball, one of my favorite funny women was Rose Marie.  I never saw her stand-up, although I have heard she was hilarious.  I also never saw her in any other role other than Sally Rogers on The Dick Van Dyke Show, I always thought she was the among the best out there. Rose was not in a leading role, but she was a critical part of the show and provided an equal for Morrie Amsterdam to conspire with and as a foil.   She had great timing and to me still came off as feminine even though she was strong and independent.  Physical comedy was not within Rose’s role, but I have a feeling she would have done it well.

At the end of 2017, it was announced that Rose had passed – and I paused for a moment to recall how funny she was and how her comedic skills are still alive within my appreciation of funny.  She was a funny woman who deserves remembrance.

Later in life, when I entered the world of IT, if I was called upon to create an imaginary user for instruction manuals I was writing or to test new networks or programs, I always used the name Herman Glempshire first.  As a result, I would get the occasional question as to who this person was – I am guessing most people thought it was a friend of mine (imaginary or not).  No.  It was a hidden homage to Rose Marie.  Herman was the name of Sally Rogers’ sometimes boyfriend on the show and only mentioned a few times. 


Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Clock Stops for No Man

Regular followers of my blog have probably noticed that there have been no entries since my review of The Rocky Horror Picture Show just prior to Halloween.  This dry spell hasn't due to lack of appropriate topics or lack of observations that I've made during that period, it is simply been lack of contemplation time that I use to mentally prepare these entries.  I call such mental breaks allowing myself to pander to pondering.    I really wish that was all that was going on, but it isn't. I find myself facing the same challenge that many of my generation are as we turn from being independent adults to being the person that our elder parents are turning to for support and assistance as they grow older.

Without going into too many specifics, out of respect for his privacy, many of the issues facing my father are just those of someone who has reached a certain age when the body has started to transition as a result of getting older.   Having spent a good deal of time with him, over several visits in the past few months,  I am mentally and emotionally torn as I see his frustration when he discovers that something he was able to do routinely until now, is suddenly a challenge of dexterity or strength. I know from my own experience that living inside yourself you see time progressing differently and for some reason, you allow yourself the luxury of overlooking your own aging process until faced with the realization that years have passed. So, such realizations and failings take a great toll as you try to grasp onto those things you see as vital to your own independence.

This is the same man who taught me so much in the early years of my life and was supportive of me as I transitioned into being an adult, so I share the guilt of expecting him to be the same as when I left home to pursue my own life. Capabilities and skills that he had then, have now faded away -- not possible anymore – – it is a brutal realization. My brother once told me that he felt that his son was deprived of knowing the man that we grew up with in some ways --  our shared memory is that of a man who had led an infantry company in Vietnam and spent 20 years serving this nation in uniform. I think that some of my father's frustration at his current situation is a result of that military career, one in which he was never allowed to show any weakness or need for assistance because he was there to lead.

What may be one of the most terrible gifts of this time is the realization that what you are seeing is where you were destined. In a way it is frightening and at the same time, it is this knowledge that provides some foresight to help prepare mentally for the road ahead. My grandfather on my father's side died in his 40s of a heart attack, so my father never had to go through what I am. I hope that somehow what I am learning now will be beneficial to me when I reach this point in my life -- when I am faced with these frustrations as the years catching up with me.

Things appear to be at least smoothed out -- or at least smoother -- for the moment which will enable me to once again provide a weekly viewpoint and mental wanderings as I go through my own life. While I may not allow myself the luxury of dwelling too much on memories of my father as I grew up, I will allow myself to remember that my father still has a lot of great lessons to pass on. 


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Ha! I've Seen It

For personal reasons, last night was low-key for me so I will not be posting a regular blog entry reviewing the 21 October 2017 performance of Rocky Horror Picture Show at The State Theatre.  However, I do feel that I would be remiss if I did not mention the shadow cast that performed in front of the screen during the evening.

There are several ways to the view a shadow cast, from exhibitionists who have nothing better to do on a Saturday night to those who take their performance area seriously and try to genuinely add something to the on-screen experience raising it from 2D. I will say that this is the best shadow cast that I have ever seen, based on casts that I witnessed in Georgia, Missouri, and elsewhere in Michigan. They should be proud of the effort that they made and their success in adding that unique dimension to RHPS.  Well done.

In an ensemble performance like the one presented by the shadow cast, it can be a disservice to point out the performance of one of the individuals without considering them all, but failure to acknowledge a truly spectacular performance would be a disservice to that one actor. In this case, that actor was the one who played Columbia -- she is more than deserving of an individual shout out.

This actor was putting her entire heart and soul into her performance and never once allowed a break in the character. The hard work she put forth made watching her embodiment of the character effortless and entertaining.  When someone has the talent to occupy a role down to the most minor detail, they allow the observer to cross the bridge between reality to fantasy and feel they have indeed witnessed the character they are portraying. Every expression, every bit of body language and each speech inflection lived and breathed the character.  

All of last night’s attendees can now say they have met Columbia.

I do not recall seeing the shadow cast names provided anywhere, but I do feel that we will hear from this talented performer again because that kind of dedication to a role is the mark of someone with a level talent that will shine through every time she steps on stage. 

Finally much praise for the much-enjoyed and little-acknowledged part of last night’s performance -- the Kalamazoo State Theatre, the best venue in Michigan.

For more of my own history with RHPS, check out this entry

Post Script, 31 October:  I was provided with a shadow cast list but not by character -- In alphabetical order:  Natalie Burdick, Patrick Hill, Katelyn Langwith, Payton McCarthy, Madison Merlanti, Dayna Palya, Will Porter, Gabriella Smurawa, Ryan Wagner.  Costumes by Evan Petrow. 


Monday, October 16, 2017

Never Judge a Book by Its Cover...Judge the Cover by the Book

On 9 September 2017 when I released my latest book, From Within the Firebird's Nest, I braced myself. I have often said that writing a book is a solitary occupation, but the hours and days between the release of a book and the first real feedback are among the loneliest times. Honestly, you begin to rethink everything that you did in the storyline – – all of the dialogue – – and all of the characters. You have to come to the point where you can set all that aside, take a deep breath and just wait for the feedback. I am happy to say that most of the feedback thus far has been very positive to include several five-star reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads.

Along with feedback has come a variety of questions, one missive was a compliment on the book’s cover, I responded with gratitude and mentioned that I had designed it –. In fact, I not only designed this book cover but have designed the covers for all of my books and plan on continuing to do so.

Whenever I tell someone that I am a novelist, I am often asked about my process. I do not see what I do as a process, but it does consist of many parts that I tend to do over and over again – – one of those parts is designing the book cover which I do fairly early on. Since my design for From Within the Firebird's Nest is still clear in my mind, I thought I would tell you about it. To me, the cover design is a graphic representation of the main parts or elements of the story and meant to be an abstract of where I plan on taking the reader. For this book, I wanted to include elements of coding, numbers stations, espionage, and of the myth of the Firebird.

At first, I was going to make the background a collection of numbers and letters used in the book as a crypto code. However, after a bit of consideration, I thought using an actual KGB one-time sheet would be a better representation. It is a piece of history that was functional during the Cold War and represents the code part of the book very well.  What you see in on the cover is an authentic KGB one-time sheet.

The next element I chose was the Slavic Firebird. Due to the name of the secret project in the book, the Crimson Firebird Initiative, I needed a Firebird that was also red. Shutterstock is an excellent resource for various artwork, and I licensed two Firebirds from the site that I thought worked very well. Eventually, I decided between them and used that one for the cover of the book.

The third element that I wanted for the book was the KGB badge. I wanted a representation of the badge in use during the period when the CFI would've been developed and thanks to the Internet I was able to find one.

I took these three elements and placed in a pleasing layout that also allowed me to include the book title and author name.  The only real essential element from the story not represented was the numbers station. However, I realized I also had a back cover.

The back cover only contains one element -- the tuning dial of a radio that included the city names of the stations. Obtaining this graphic was less involved and only required me to take a picture of the tuning dial of a Blaupunkt stereo console that I inherited which matched the one that I used in the story. Now, the significant elements of the story were all included.

CreateSpace was handling the printing of the paperback copy of my book, and one of their services was cover design. Since I already had a design in mind and created, I presented this to their team and told them the extra style factors I wanted to be included but was unable to produce myself.  Among the factors were stencil-style lettering and a more sinister coloration and presentation of the graphics on the cover. I was more than pleased with the cover design that they put together. I also found their explanation for their creative concept to be interesting as well:

For your cover design we have used the provided cover images whilst also following your inputs made within the design profile and also using your cover mock-up as guidance. We have used additional stock imagery to add more of a grungy and distressed feel to your cover images - almost as if they are rusting away upon the cover itself. We have done this as we understand your book is under the thriller category, and you also mention with referenced covers that this is a style you’d like to use. We have also used more gritty styles over the rising firebird. We have used the radio image at the top of the back cover, blending it into the background style so it doesn’t appear too stuck on. We have used your cover references as inspiration for typography, choosing a stencil style font which we have replaced in colours sampled from the Firebird - this brings great cohesion to the cover composition. We have also altered some of the illustration so it intertwines with the typography, as opposed to the typography covering the beautiful details.

Now you know how the cover design came to be...I sincerely would not have any problem with this book being judged based on its cover because I like the final cover and think it is an excellent representation of the story presented on the pages within that cover.


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

My Summer of Live Rock & Roll, 2017 Edition Act VI – Alice Cooper, Deep Purple, and Edgar Winter

Photo ©2017 Chris Schwegler

Whenever I provide a review or write up, it means that I have bought and paid for the item or admission costs myself.  In the rare instance when items or admission are being provided free of charge or at a discount, I say so.  This site is non-monetized therefore the opinions provided are truly free of influence.

This concert was very different, in that the tickets were provided to me as a result of my being a veteran, and by someone other than the act being reviewed.  Therefore, I will explain a little bit about Vet Tix before I talk about the concert itself.  

From their website:

For more details, click here
Vet Tix provides tickets to events which reduce stress, strengthen family bonds, build life-long memories and encourage service members and veterans to stay engaged with local communities and American life. We support our troops by honoring their service and providing positive family and life experiences, during and after their years of service to our country.

There are too many details as to how all this works to get into here, but if you are a veteran I would recommend you check it out and sign up.  Short version:  They go out and seek donations (and ask that you help), they have a fair way to make sure every Veteran gets a chance at what tickets are available and the manage the administration of the distribution of the tickets very well.  This was only my second event for which Vet Tix supplied admission, but they have recently started offering a lot more shows and events in my area.  

This show was the last for Summer 2017. It was also the best show I saw all summer.

Edgar Winter

When I was in high school Edgar and Johnny Winter put out some of the best rock 'n' roll that was on the radio. I think both were underrated and I always liked the free-form bluesy feel they added to their songs.  Edgar Winter was a great opening act and while he only played five songs, each of them had a significant punch. He started with Free Ride and ended with Frankenstein.  From the first note to the last, there was plenty of time taken for the reinvention of each song and some really spectacular solos.

Alice Cooper 

Photo ©2017 Chris Schwegler
Photo ©2017 Chris Schwegler
I thought Alice Cooper was the headliner for this show, given the fact that he was playing in his own hometown he rightly should have been. I've said it before:  I was never a big Alice Cooper fan when he was really big, but having seen him twice now in concert I have become a fan. I've talked before about the way he owns an audience from the moment he walks on stage until he takes the final bow. That is an absolutely true statement whether he is performing with the Hollywood Vampires or as Alice Cooper. The man is the best Showman in rock 'n' roll.

The playlist was filled with his biggest hits, including Billion Dollar Babies, Only Women Bleed, and I'm Eighteen -- all of which included the usual Alice Cooper frills of a guillotine, demonic ballerina, and an evil nurse with a large hypodermic needle. It was not just to show it was an event.

Photo ©2017 Chris Schwegler
Photo ©2017 Chris Schwegler

Photo ©2017 Chris Schwegler

The biggest treat came at the dead center of the show when Nita Strauss, lead guitarist,  played what has to be the best guitar solo I’ve ever heard.  Notice that I didn't say the best female guitar solo  --  it was without a doubt the best guitar solo PERIOD.   She owned every string on that instrument, every fret, and put on the best playing show I have ever seen any guitarist ever do while pumping out awesome licks and sounds that were almost otherworldly.  Nita performance was overwhelming.

Photo ©2017 Chris Schwegler
If you look at all of my reviews from last year, you will see that for almost every band I mentioned something about the bass guitar player. There was just a tremendous group of bassists last year who was flamboyant enough to be considered a large part of the performance beyond the part they were playing. Not so much this year, until I saw Chuck Garric.  The man played great bass and beyond that, he was truly a part of the show.

Likewise, I've mentioned many percussionists before – – but not so much this year – – until I saw and heard Glen Sobel playing in the background as well as his own drum solo. So much talent and such a treat to watch.

Alice’s encore was School's Out  -- and I can tell you without a doubt the man left it all on stage.

Deep Purple:  The Long Goodbye

Photo ©2017 Chris Schwegler
Most people know only one of their songs – – Smoke on the Water. I am not claiming much of a high road, because I can only add two to the list: Hush and Space Truckin'.  But, isn't that enough to make you want to listen to the rest of an album or a set? I'm glad I did, as I've added a few more songs my favorites from the band. Also, there was a terrific keyboard solo by Don Airey -- unlike many solos which have a tendency to go totally free-form his included bits and pieces from many different composers including Mozart.

The band was fired up, and so was the crowd by the time they took the stage. I hate it when a band holds their best hit until the final encore though, by then many bands are out of steam and have nothing left to provide in what should be the triumphant performance of the night. But I guess that is the difference between true road veterans and amateurs. I will tell you that Deep Purple did not leave it all on stage with that final song – – they borrowed some from the next show and found tremendous energy when performing Smoke on the Water and the crowd went wild.