Friday, May 26, 2017

My Travel Sabbatical


There's really no other way to put it: 2016 sucked. We lost Prince and Darwyn Cooke, among so very many others. My dad lost a brutally painful battle with lung cancer three days before my birthday. I lost my job after spending the summer alternately building a new website for my former company, and stifling tears while riding the length of an entire subway line — from Astoria to Brighton Beach — to maintain a stiff upper lip and be with my family. Then a huge neon orange monster came and left a miasmic stench no one can seem to get out.

So I took a long, much-needed break and traveled.

It really helped to be away from home, now the site of so many nervous nights pacing the rooms, meticulously reorganizing every inch of the place as if controlling the tidiness of my possessions would somehow bring order to all the chaotic situations that were so big and out of my control.

Thorns, always a proponent of experiences over material gifts, came in to help. For our five-year anniversary, he flew us out to Portland, OR for a fun several days before he started his tour with Red Fang in their hometown.

I'd been wanting to check out Portland for a while, since I already had an affinity for the Pacific Northwest and the wide availability of dairy-free mac & cheese (there are a LOT of vegan options in this town).

Surrounded by mossy trees at Hoyt Arboretum.

During our time there, we enjoyed the mild fall temperatures with long walks around Cottonwood Bay, located right behind our hotel, and destinations like the Hoyt Arboretum. We did a walking tour recounting the city's "seedier" past that included the famed Shanghai tunnels, and ate well at Portland's many quirky joints (including Voodoo Donuts, the food carts, and my buddy's new brewery, Wayfinder). Coffee on the East Coast will never taste the same after sipping PDX's endlessly tasty brews, and nightly meet-ups at the B-Side tavern for Buffalo Trace & gingers were dangerously cheap. Photos from the Portland trip are HERE.

My next adventure came by way of my dear friends, comic book creators Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner, who let me know they were special guests on the fledgling Fan2Sea cruise, which sought to bring all the fun of a comic book convention to the high seas aboard a smaller Royal Caribbean cruise ship.

The itinerary included the port city of Tampa, Key West and Cozumel, but who cares? I love comics. I love cruising. I love Jimanda. So as soon as they told me they already had a buddy in mind for me to room with, I said yes. And it was a BLAST! More on that one in its own post soon. [Photos HERE]

Trekkers rolling deep aboard Fan2Sea.

Unfortunately, 2016 really decided to wring out the last bit of blood and tears out of those I hold dear. And in early February, I went out west to the high desert in California to support my best friend as she memorialized the life of her longtime partner, Doug Evans, who now shares the same last day on Earth as Lemmy Kilmister (December 28).

Having zero expectations of any kind of elaborate accommodations, I was stunned to find myself staying in a colorful suite at a gorgeous Moroccan-tinged bohemian hideaway isolated high up the mountain. Filled with tons of imported antiques and unique sleeping options, the views all around were of wild desert — a far cry from my current life in Queens. So remote that cell phone service wasn't an option, nor were there any road signs after a certain point.

The Desert Airie, hiding in plain sight on the left.

The celebration of Doug's life was beautiful and emotional, filled with friends, family and fans. Music, great food, memories, tears and temp tattoos were shared among the many in attendance. And I hope it gave the divine Ms. M a little closure.

There was still some bonding time with the family, dogs, and Merilee's band of "desert hellcats" with trips for surprisingly tasty sushi, a long hike at Joshua Tree National Park and a cursory tour of downtown Palm Springs. I was grateful to spend the time with my best friend, her mom and sister, Doug's sons, and Mer's supportive, beautiful local friends, who will always have my deepest gratitude for being there when I couldn't.

Of course, I took a bunch of photos that can be found HERE.

For a while now, Thorns and I had been planning a grand trip to Europe, with hypothetical pins dropping in places as varied as Portugal and Croatia, with a detour to Iceland. Ultimately, T planned us the perfect four-country exploration of central Europe, starting in Budapest, then heading via train to Vienna, Prague and Berlin over the course of 12 days.

Sign of the Hammer a Deux at Cafe MontMartre in Budapest.

To say it was the perfect metal vacation would not be hyperbole, and I definitely plan on breaking down the trip in a longer post. Not to be forgotten were visits to a Manowar-themed bar on the Pest side of the Danube River; a day spent wandering the streets, then a sleek museum acknowledging Budapest's Nazi and Fascist past, and an evening enjoying the variety of thermal baths and pools as crews remained busy setting up for the even later "Sparty" DJ night. [Budapest photos]

Blow-up DJ booth in the distance at Szechenyi Thermal Baths in Budapest.

The Imperial Crypt in Vienna truly tested my self-control as I love touching things and getting intimately close to art, but didn't want to be the ugly American to set off the touch sensors in what is considered a royal cemetery. We later speed-walked through the streets of Prague, stopping only for me to see David Černý's hanging installation of 'St. Wenceslas Riding a Dead Horse' on our way to catch a bus to the Medieval town of Kutna Hora to visit the world-famous bone church, Sedlec Ossuary, where the bones of 40,000 victims of the black plague are stacked in elaborate configurations. [Vienna & CZ photos]

Dead H.A.P.S.B.U.R.G.S. at the Imperial Crypt.

Chandelier of Bones at Sedlec Ossuary

Dead Horse & St Vitus in Prague
In Berlin, we spent an afternoon at the Stasi Museum in the former secret police headquarters. In no less than two exhibits, Iron Maiden were featured as a negative Western "ideological influence," which, to me, completely vindicated buying a Powerslave T-shirt dress at one of the seven H&M's I passed within a two-block radius earlier on. And on our last day in town, we ventured over to the city's informal Ramones Museum to gawk at some cool artifacts that made us think of our NYC home back when it was still kind of dangerous. [Berlin photos]

Posing with some street art in Berlin.

All that traveling finally did the trick. I'm refreshed, inspired and ready to kick ass.

What's next? Finding a full-time job... so I can save up for more adventures. Think you can help on that front? Holler!






Thursday, December 8, 2016

My Top 8 Records of 2016 & Then Some


Unlike the last few busy years, I really sought out new music in 2016. Maybe I was looking for respite from the shit year it’s been, or maybe I took an old co-worker’s comment to heart.

After posting that I didn’t like a particular Top 40 single, a now-benched music industry vet surmised that it was time to give up; that pop music was no longer being made for my demographic or sensibilities, so I should stop keeping up with all things new. That struck me as sad. Imagine going through life thinking that every good song had already been written? I can’t. Granted, they might be harder to come by these days.

Though I tried, I could only really think of eight records that perked up my ears in 2016, and my favorite should come as no surprise. Call me basic, but without fail, any new Deftones record will likely be my favorite release of the year.

Live shows were a weird thing for me in 2016. Usually they are my comfort zone, a pastime that has as much to do with culture as it does socializing. But because of my dad’s cancer battle, I often found myself too emotionally spent to attend some concerts I’d really been looking forward to.

But then, I couldn’t think of skipping Nails’ blistering set at Marlin Room on the day my dad died. Catharsis, I guess? I also randomly met actor Chris Bauer (True Blood's Andy Bellefleur) that night. Guess my life will never be boring.   

I’m the muthafuckin’ Starboy. ¯\_()_/¯

Top 8 Records of 2016
Deftones - Gore
OpethSorceress
Nick Cave and the Bad SeedsSkeleton Tree
NailsYou Will Never Be One of Us
Whores.Gold.
Oathbreaker - Rheia
The KillsAshes & Ice
NeurosisFires Within Fires

Honorable Mentions:
The SwordLow Country
Death AngelThe Evil Divide
Lady GagaJoanne
Lord Satan strike me down, but I kind of like Metallica's Hardwired... To Self-Destruct

Nah: Into Another Omens; PJ HarveyThe Hope Six Demolition Project

Band I’m Glad I Discovered this Year: Couch Slut

Bands I Marginally Care About That Released Albums I Only Found Out About While Researching This List:
Planes Mistaken for Stars; Ignite; Skunk Anansie; Tricky; Massive Attack; Voivod; Dustin Kensrue; Metal Church; Kvelertak; Band of Skulls; The Monkees; Taking Back Sunday, Miniature Tigers, and at least two Elvis Presley “unearthed” collections.

Jam:

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Help Support Mike IX of Eyehategod



To say that 2016 is one of the worst years of my lifetime is not hyperbole. 

This year, I've lost treasured icons like Prince and Lemmy, cried over dear friends like Darwyn Cooke and Steve Dillon who will never be able to create art again - and most precious of them all, I lost my dad to extremely ugly lung cancer just a few days before my birthday.

There's so much else to be upset about these days, but this overture isn't about the American empire crumbling around us. It's about a man who provided the soundtrack for this sort of madness, starting decades ago.

It's no secret I've been a longtime fan of Eyehategod. It's also no secret that their members, particularly vocalist Mike "IX" Williams, have had a long and storied history with various substance dependencies. And now it's caught up with him in the form of cirrhosis of the liver, which is why he couldn't make the last EHG tour.

He's currently receiving long-term hospitalization care while waiting for a liver transplant. You can read all about it on his donation page, where I also urge you help. Though a donation milestone of $50,000 has been surpassed, anyone stuck within the grips of the US medical industry knows that won't go far.

It's not about dismissing other topical issues like #NoDAPL; it's not about lifestyle choices and consequences. It's a matter of family and community. 

At this point towards the end of 2016, more and more people seem to be dropping like flies. Maybe that's why there's this feeling of urgency to ensure Mike IX survives and thrives.

Please donate to Eyehategod's Mike IX on his YouCaring page, because I, for one, can't lose him.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Halloween Hearkens: A Throwback Viewing Guide

Halloween viewing lists are the new end-of-year music lists — but far more fun and fluid (mostly, the shiny red kind).

It's validating to see that so many more of my cohorts celebrate this fall tradition than, say, fawning over the latest pumpkin-spiced food-stuff creations. Taking into consideration several genres of TV and film, plus decades of biting fodder to choose from, it's easy for even the most squeamish among us to find a Halloween niche to revel in. (Just look up #31DaysofHalloween on any social media platform for inspiration.)

My only really parameter in choosing viewing material was a loosely-established "throwback" theme, mostly nostalgic stuff from my youth or about that era - plus some recommendations. I also found myself with more free viewing time than usual this season, and no one to fight for the remote, which helped when calling it quits preemptively on a few options, while marathoning through some others. And since I've never been a fan of graphic horror, this collection is definitely on the milder side.

Ultimately, my list isn't meant to be a hard-and-fast guide - merely some ghoulish guidance from someone who sat through 'em. In no particular order:

Fright Night - Championed by my man as his favorite '80s vampire film, it's easy to understand why a then-young boy would have loved it (two pairs of free-range boobs within the first half hour). But there's also the perfect mix of campy humor, shape-shifting gore and '80s high style. Definitely check out this version before trying on the 2011 remake.




The first 10 minutes of Penny Dreadful, The Addams Family, Underworld - Too dry; too dated; too trite. In that order.



Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth - There are very few movies I can quote by heart, and this is one of them. Delving into Pinhead's human back story while introducing a new female protagonist, this is by far the best installment of the Hellraiser film series. There's also so much '90s nostalgia to enjoy: the faux Limelight club, Terry Farrell's cheekbones, Armored Saint's performance—there's even a Cenobite made out of CDs! Then there are Pinhead's endless blasphemous one-liners, like the one below, and Motorhead's official theme song.




Nightbreed: The Director's Cut - Based on a classic Clive Barker novella, this newer extended edition of the 1990 film only serves to embellish the already exotic feeling and arty nature of the original. It's always been easy to perceive Nightbreed's underlying allegory about how outliers and "freaks" are misunderstood in greater society - in this case, one made up of Al Binewski's dream cast.


American Ghost Hunter - As a fan of A&E's Paranormal State, I was hoping for a bigger ending to this full-length documentary about frequent guest Chad Calek's return to his haunted hometown to seek personal closure. Throughout, I kept thinking, "Why is this jerk smoking cigarettes around Ryan Buell? Isn't Ryan sick?" Then I read THIS. Oops. 


American Horror Story: Hotel - Let's just get it out of the way - Lady Gaga is no Jessica Lange; and nothing will ever top the goth factor of Coven. Still, Hotel breaks away from past seasons of AHS if only by unfurling a seemingly linear (ie: not totally bat-shit) storyline. There are still plenty of traditional AHS staples, including loads of rich styling, copious flesh-filled grotesqueness and cheeky nods to real-life historical villains, including Lily Rabe's spectacular take on Aileen Wuornos. 

 


Sleepy Hollow - Having only seen it during its 1999 theatrical release, I'd truly forgotten how much I missed the Lisa Marie Smith era of Tim Burton's films... and young Johnny Depp. This lush, atmospheric film is rounded out by an even more extraordinary all-star cast, including a cherubic Christina Ricci and a sharp-toothed mostly-headless horseman aka The Hessian, played by Christopher Walken. And let's not forget how ahead of its time Sleepy Hollow was with the Steampunk aesthetic. Proof? Take one look inside Ichabod Crane's bag of homemade contraptions.


The X-Files, various episodes - How does one decide which episodes are spooky enough for the season? Find a list online, duh. Though "Home" and "The Host" can easily be singled out as the creepiest of them all, a few resources I relied on quickly pointed out dark gems like "Folie à Deux," "Die Hand Die Verletzt" and the Stephen King-penned "Chinga." But really, the only way to lose with The X-Files is by watching Season 9.



Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Halloween episodes – To be fair, BTVS is good all year round. ALL. Year. Round. But a few of the holiday-themed episodes throughout the series exist to tickle your fancy, like Season 4's "Fear, Itself" and Season 6's coming of age, "All the Way." But the quintessential episode to watch is Season 2's appropriately titled, "Halloween," in which the kids of Sunnydale take on the personas of their haunted costumes - and Buffy is stalled as a helpless 18th Century courtesan. Quoth Willow: "She couldn't have dressed up as Xena?"


Dead Like Me, Seasons 1 & 2 - To be fair, the long-gone cult Showtime series is more comedy than fright. But this chronicle of corporeal soul reapers, with a sassy Daria-like lead in Ellen Muth's Georgia features so many random, uncontrollable, sometimes Darwin Awards-worthy deaths that it had me scared to leave the house after a mini marathon. Know that "What If?" domino-effect speculation you feel after catching a Final Destination flick? Imagine that vibe after seeing 29 cleverly devised dances off the mortal coil in Dead Like Me.


Now, on to the new season of Black Mirror, Nightmare Before Christmas and Luke Cage (Mike Colter can stoke my November Coming Fire any time!).


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Winter Solstice

At least it's the shortest day of the year; 2015 can't come and wipe the slate clean soon enough.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Who Gives a S#!t?: My Music Picks for 2014



Too exhausted for pithy intros.

For most of the year I was still wrapped up in a pop wonderland, so I'm sure there are some gems that've been missed. But as someone who habitually shuffles through 24,000+ songs on an iPod Classic (what of it? they're worth money now), it's seldom that I become obsessed with hearing a record in its entirety. Over and over again.

That's pretty much the only criteria I used in choosing my Top 10 Albums of 2014. Enjoy.

UPDATE: How did I ever miss Eyehategod? Also, the Tokio Hotel record is garbage. What did they do to you, Bill?

Best of 2014 (in order, based on how many times I spun the record straight through):
1. Cold World - How the Gods Chill
2. The Afghan Whigs - Do To the Beast
3. Rancid - Honor Is All We Know
4. Mastodon - Once More 'Round the Sun 
5. Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels 2 
6. Godflesh - A World Lit Only by Fire
7. BehemothThe Satanist
8. Ghostface Killah - Twelve Reasons to Die 
9. Eyehategod - s/t
10. Pallbearer - Foundations of Burden
 
Pretty Damn Good:
Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues
At the Gates - At War With Reality 
Exodus - Blood In, Blood Out
Youth Code - A Place to Stand EP
Finch - Back to Oblivion
Lana Del Rey - Ultraviolence
Vance Joy - Dream Your Life Away

Have yet to listen to these artists' latest records: Swans, Tokio Hotel, Shellac, Ex Hex, TV on the Radio.

Postscript: I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever get into Taylor Swift. Basic pop music has never suited me.

Best Shows of 2014:
Motley Crue @ Madison Square Garden - Though the set list was better when I caught Crue's Las Vegas residency, there was nothing like sending off the geezers at the most befitting NYC venue of them all.
Godflesh @ Irving Plaza - This was an experience for all senses, including the vibrations it swept through my body. Loudest show of the year that left me physically spent.
King Diamond @ Best Buy Theater - The double-decker stage, replete with gates! The actors! The light-up upside down crosses and pentagram! King's live show was like everything all concerned parents assume metal shows are like. READ this take on it.
Infest @ the Well - Seeing the underground icons plow through their discography was eye-opening; and a good hang (thanks for the ticket, Richard!).
Gorilla Biscuits @ House of Vans - Every summer there's one magical show where you get to see all of your friends, meet some new ones and enjoy some old-school hardcore. This was it.
Bonus: Pussy Riot @ Vice 20, Brooklyn Navy Yard - It was an honor to be in the presence of these blunt, independent Russian women (who are willing to risk their lives for their expression) as they covered riot grrl darlings, Le Tigre.

JAM

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Decade Without Dimebag


Hard to believe it's been a full 10 years since "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott was shot to death as he performed onstage with his band, Damageplan, at the Alrosa Villa in Columbus, OH. The result is my almost-exact recollection of what occurred that day—a rarity for me. Probably the only other date and time this could be said for is September 11, 2001 in New York City.

A decade ago on this day, I was finalizing up ankle surgery plans, then met up with some High Times staffers to catch Doug Benson and Tommy Chong perform The Marijuana-Logues off Broadway. For that reason, I clearly recall this joke from the show:

"They call marijuana a crutch..." 
"...Yeah, but crutches help people."

The lot of us went and had dinner with Tommy afterwards and it blew my mind that he actually spoke in THAT lackadaisical voice; somehow surprised by how chill he was, considering he'd just gotten out of jail for selling glass pipes online.

I can't remember if it was there, or on my way home when I got a text message alerting me to a shooting at the Damageplan show. Truth be told, I can't even remember if it was my old editor at Revolver, or mutual friends. I was shocked as much as any fan could be, but didn't want to spread false rumors. Then I started thinking about the vulnerability of my friends and idols in bands (especially as Superjoint Ritual was starting to resurface).

Like so many others, I spent the night reaching out to my network of friends, kept others informed, and hoped against logic that the news was false; that somehow this brother in metal was still with us. Sadly, national news confirmed the worst.

There were three other people murdered by gunman Nathan Gale that night, including a fan who was trying to give Dimebag CPR. Let's not forget them, either.

Rest in Power. Forever.