Saturday, April 30, 2011

Next Meeting

Watch this space - details of next week's meeting of the Old Order of Transylvania Gentlemen will be announced here shortly.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Victorian Squares


Big things are in the offing for the Old Order of Transylvanian Gentlemen - we're expanding and elevating our game to truly be that hillbilly Shriners lodge that logic and destiny dictate we must. That order of business will now be the main thrust of this URL, while you can expect the same old vapid prattle about Beat poets, bourbon, and stockings at the shiny new secret clubhouse for Cheeseburger und Fries (It's so secret, we put it on the web!) at victoriansquares.blogspot.com. There, Mssrs. Dockery and myself, Victorian squares that we are, will continue our ongoing appraisal of belgian ales, Spider-man, and other things literary. Find us.

- - JSH

Monday, April 18, 2011

Of Mice and Meetings


Even as a precocious tot, I was very interested in organizations, clubs, groups, societies, and alliances. From a tender age, I was starting "secret clubs" in and out of school with various chums. Some employed codes, charters, mission statements, protocol, rules and regulations, and of course, public outreach. This usually consisted of asking the girls down the street, "you wanna join our secret club?" and then immediately contriving peculiar new initiation ceremonies on the spot.

And even when I wasn't ringmastering these elementary-school secret societies, sometimes they would come looking for me. When I was in fourth grade at Model Laboratory School, a man who was supposedly a student teacher from EKU instituted "The Pirate Club", apparently with the teacher's blessing. While the rest of the class went about their regular work, The Pirate Club were excused so we could hold meetings in a back room. The lights were turned out, and we would don our paper pirate hats and stare into a large candle while sitting in a circle. Most of the kids in the club were dumb toughs and bullies, but a couple of them - including me - were semi-brainy nerds. We would answer questions and talk about our feelings on various subjects, and were awarded pieces of that "Gold Rush" chewing gum that looked like gold nuggets and came in little drawstring bags. The man would repeatedly tell us that we were superior to everyone else although he also cautioned us that, like with Spider-man, with great power comes great responsibility - and that we should all try hard to fit in with the rest of the students because they would never truly understand "gifted" people like us.

Now, this was great fun when you're in fourth grade, but looking back, I wonder: what the hell was this all about? Who approved a secret society to tell already rowdy kids that they really are better than everybody else? Was it a ploy to use reverse psychology to defuse our rebelliousness? Or was it some sort of test to look for certain kinds of answers from certain kinds of kids, much like when a young John Locke on ABC's LOST is presented with a test from the future?

Whatever they were fishing for, they must have found it. One day, it was announced that the Pirate Club was disbanding. "We're still the Pirate Club", the guy said, "we just have to make it so secret now, that we never talk about it, never acknowledge it, but we will know, won't we?", or words to that effect. It wasn't until years later that I realized just how creepy the whole thing was. (Of course, another student teacher later confided to me that she was a Witch, and said I could join her secret Witch Club, and that probably creeps me out even more, so much so that we'll save that story for another time.)

Anyway, I continued my interest in fraternal organizations as I grew older, and the game pieces remained but the stakes got higher. I soon aligned myself with all sorts of groups ranging from the hilariously time-wasting to those seeking a higher purpose of serving mankind. And now, I've come full circle again and have started my own fraternal club all over again, the Transylvania Gentlemen. My theatre company also functions as an exclusive cliquish sort of club, with its own chain of command, meetings, bylaws, and mission purpose. Hopefully these organizations will achieve more noble goals when all is said and done.


But re-reading my surprisingly well-preserved copy of The Three Mouseketeers #26, October 1960, which I obtained used from a flea market in Irvine probably around 1969 or so, it dawns me that a large part of my procedural fascination stems from this very comic book, written and drawn by the great Sheldon Mayer in the 50s and 60s (plus a reprint revival in the 70s).

The Three Mouseketeers concerns a trio of mice who operate a secret club that holds official meetings obsessively - even when there's no pressing business at hand - inside a tin can with a leaf for a door, and a Hogan's Heroes-like secret tunnel that leads up into it from a hidden entrance. Given that tunnels, spelunking, and all things underground have also been lifelong points of interest for me, I feel re-reading this comic is nothing less than a personal satori of self. (Cheaper than a shrink, and I don't have to get pumped full of soul-draining big pharma meds.)

The Mouseketeers are led by Fatsy, who insists on strict adherence to the club's charter and Robert's Rules of Order. Demerits are handed out for all manner of failure to comply. And yet they are a loyal and close-knit group, whose main purpose seems to be twofold: to gather food for survival and to have fun. Minus is a tiny, energetic mouse whose enthusiasm constantly leads to misadventures and disciplinary action from Fatsy. Patsy, the only mouse of the three who doesn't wear clothes, is a good-natured but dimwitted fellow.

The Mouseketeers' main enemies were humans (or the "Big-Feets", as they called them), and in this issue, Fatsy and Minus actually have something of a moral argument regarding their dependency on human resources. Fatsy insists they own the land their clubhouse-can sits on, while Minus tries to remind him that no, the land belongs to the Big-Feets, and the mice are just squatting there hoping no one notices. When Fatsy further declares that they have every right to just take the land anyway, Minus proffers an opinion that Mouseketeers should not own property at all, and be above that concept. Heady stuff to read as a toddler! Probably warmed me up for Proudhon.


Sheldon Mayer's other major comic book, Sugar & Spike, was also a huge influence on me as a child. It concerned two toddlers whose baby-talk functioned as a secret language by which they could communicate perfectly between themselves as well as all other children, forming a sort of alliance against all adults. They, along with their super-genius baby friend Bernie, made their way through the world looking at the grown-ups as their adversaries even as they pillaged their snacks - just like the Three Mouseketeers, really.

- - JSH

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Test Your KISS Vocabulary


You might be suffering under the popular but unfactual belief that KISS are nothing but a bunch of ineloquent louts who only sing about girls and rocknroll. Nothing could be further from the truth, my friend; KISS are very eloquent louts, and in addition to girls and rocknroll, they also sing about Gin.

Can you, without perusing your record collection and without consulting the internet, identify each KISS song in which each of these word or phrases appear?



President
Reservation
Gravity
Conversation
Ninety-Three
Baltimore
Noose
Echo
Candy Cane
Streetcar
Windowsill
Traffic
Aphrodite
Granny
Predicament
Knight
Submarine
Complicating


Tempered
Famine
San Tropez
Tin
Manchild
Uniform
New York Times
Barstool
Allegiance
Dripping
Reconsider
Market
Insulation
Denmark
Punching Bag
Headlight
Amplifier
Wedding




The first person to post the full list of correct answers here (or e-mail me) will win........ something. Don't cheat. We will know.

- - JSH

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Ghyslain



A Ghyslain restaurant opened this month in Louisville, and you have to see this place for yourself. This place is way too good for the likes of us, but let's enjoy it while we can - because we do think we're worth it, don't we?


I had a really nice French Onion Soup here, and the Espresso BBQ Pulled Pork Brioche is to die for. No really, it really is to die for - if you stuck me on Death Row and asked me what I wanted for my last meal, I'd say this. (And maybe some beer cheese.) It consists of homemade pulled pork marinated in cinnamon, brown sugar, mustard, cayenne, and cumin and is slowly braised and served on a brioche with espresso BBQ sauce and caramelized onions. If you aren't salivating already, go have your salivator examined.



But it's the desserts that people really come here for, and it's for desserts that Monsieur Ghyslain Maurais is world famous. I'm not kidding - world famous, you know, like the Iron Chefs? Ghyslain Maurais was born in Qu├ębec and studied to be an architect before switching to the culinary arts, French cuisine, and chocolate technology. Thank goodness for us that he did, although his buildings would probably have been genius also. His artisanal chocolates are hand painted and crafted in his "Ghyslain Chocolate Artisan Center" headquarters, which are currently located in Union City, Indiana.



Nobody was sitting out on the schanigarten (oh wait, this place is French, better make that terrasse de cafe) either of the times I was at Ghyslain, which surprises me because it's most pleasant out there. I'm definitely going to be camping out here and cluttering up their patio for a long time to come.

It's at 721 E. Market Street, but kinda hidden behind other buildings. Find it.



- - JSH

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Later is Now


All these current events sure make a man work up a pow'ful thirst. I was sittin' around Starbucks this morning thinkin', maybe those freaks was right when they said the end of the world is here and Judgment Day is upon us.

Not.

Even amid revelations that the BP oil disaster is still going on, and that more and more toxic Corexit is still being sprayed down there in the Gulf, and that Monsanto's genetically modified alfalfa is well on its way to polluting the world's food supply just like its GMO corn has already done, and that growing unrest in the Middle East is threatening the world's economy, and that Earthquakes in the pacific rim indicate growing tectonic instability that has already literally altered the planet's rotation, and that the nuclear fallout from Japan's melting reactors is already turning up in limits over the maximum EPA limits, I remain bursting with optimism.


Sitting on the ol' veranda here on the JSH plantation, sippin' Veranda Cocktails and pondering the future, I know that Kentuckians ain't skeered of a little radiation. My ancestors already survived the great potato famine, harassment from British jackasses, the Little Ice Age, grueling travel to the new world of America and the responsibility of creating a new civilization, Indian attacks, rattlesnakes, frostbite, sogginess, and usurpation of our Transylvanian heritage from the state of Virginia. There's nothing we can't handle, because we're already mutants.

Like the fella said, a country boy can survive.

- - JSH

Monday, April 11, 2011

Secrets In Lace


Just like it can be hard out there for a colonel to find a decent hat or a good tin of snuff or get to a good bottle of whiskey, I realize it can be hard for the ladies of discretion out there to find hosiery which isn't just the substandard cheap adornments of a dying world which has no use for luxury.

Well, ladies, you don't have to walk alone, and when you walk with me, I suggest you check out the nylon stylings of Secrets in Lace, a company that manufactures nylon stockings with an eye for quality and detail not seen since the 1940s or 50s, just like the good Lord intended. As the guy in Macao, I got stockings for sale; henceforth, any of y'all make a purchase from Secrets in Lace after following my link, old salesman of the month here gets a taste.

This isn't costume stuff, but the real deal, meant to be worn daily. They also make high quality pantyhose and other lingerie items, including but not limited to the Bettie Page and Dita Von Teese collections. The question I'm wanting to ask: why wouldn't a woman want to dress like Bettie Page?

You've got legs. Learn how to use them. Trust me.

--JTD

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Dead Jewish Artists





Albin Grau (1884-1942) was a strange cat. An artist and architect, he was an occultist back when being an occultist really meant something. A member of the Fraternitas Saturni, he founded his own film studio, Prana Film, with the idea of producing movies with occult and supernatural themes. The most famous/only fruit of his ambition was F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu, which was a true collaboration with Grau handling not only all of the design but also the marketing of the movie.

Litigation with the Bram Stoker estate due to copyright infringement for Dracula put the whammy down on Grau's dream, bankrupting Prana. I like the idea of these Weimar era comrades of Grau's sitting around and getting lost in symbols and hieroglyphs, wearing funny hats at their avant-garde elk lodge meetings. The Nazis copped this style that was hanging like so much atomic fog in the Germanic atmosphere at the time, streamlined it with the darkness of fascism, slapped the SS lightning flash on it, sucking the occult dry like some kind of vampire, thusly perverting one fine hobby into something more brutal and sinister. Leave the goose stepping to the goose steppers, I'm with Grau. Unfortunately the goose steppers like to place those jack boots on the heads of their enemies. Them Nazis was no Johnsons. Grau was arrested on charges of being a Socialist and died at the Buchenwald concentration camp. Grau wasn't jewish, but I'm sure the Nazis didn't care either way.



But then Grau leads to Hugo Steiner-Prag (1880–1945), an illustrator, stage designer, and professor, famous in his day. Surely his illustrations for Gustav Meyrink’s The Golem, which was a big seller in Europe in 1915, were an influence on Grau's sketches for Nosferatu. He converted from Judaism to Catholicism in 1905. Either way, when the Nazis took power in 1933, he was removed from his post at the Academy for Graphic Arts and Book Design. He made it to to the United States where prior to his death he did a beautiful set of illustrations for the poetry of Edgar Alan Poe in 1943.








Bruno Schulz (1892-1942) mostly just wanted to be left alone, to live quietly, peacefully writing and illustrating his own stories content in the provincial existence of his hometown of Drohobych. But, you see, the Nazis had other plans.

Schulz is most known for the small body of written work which was not lost or destroyed by the Nazis, such as the short story collection, The Street of Crocodiles. But ever since I saw The Drawings of Bruno Schulz it is his art, what little scraps survived down to us (this volume represents the sum total), that I admire and create the portrait of Schulz in my mind's eye. Dwarfish, fumbling men, often reduced to animal/pet-like behavior, at the feet of distant, leggy women, cradling their feet, worshipping their shoes. Bruno saw the human circus a certain way, and he stuck to it.

He was shot by the drunken rival Gestapo officer to the Nazi who was using Schulz to paint a portrait in his home out of petty jealousy. Painted over and thought lost, this restored mural was exhibited to the public for the first time in 2009.

Faulkner said the past isn't dead, it's not even past. I salute these artists for what they could have been and, more importantly, for what they both were and are. To Albin, Hugo, and Bruno. Cheers.

--JTD

Friday, April 8, 2011

TV Dinner



Don't we spend enough time in front of video monitors and TV screens?

I know I do, and I'm not even exposed to them nearly as much as you are, dear reader. I haven't watched broadcast/cable television in almost a year (I only kept cable until LOST went off the air, then I had no further use for modern television.) And I spend more time tromping around in the forest than I do hunched over a hot laptop lately. Furthermore, I don't play video games. So, chances are, you probably are exposed to digital video monitors at least twice as much as me, probably much more.


Is that bad? Maybe. There are those, such as myself, who maintain that digital media can make you stupid if you don't know how to safeguard yourself against its soul-sucking powers. In the early days of CDs, Neil Young went on a tirade that lasted for years against digital music, maintaining that it could never ever be anything more than a soulless choppy approximation of the source. Sooner or later he gave in when surrounded and outgunned at every turn. "Come on Neil, you're just being stubborn. Digital music is the way of the future. Play ball with this conspiracy."


And Anton LaVey once cited a university study in which test subjects were asked to extend their arm while listening to analog music under headphones, and the examiner would push down on your extended arm and ask you to resist and keep it straight as possible. Then they'd repeat the process while the subject listened to digital music. The study showed that people were noticeably weaker while listening to digital music.

Then, too, there's the perennial conspiracy-theory concern that mere analog is insufficient for delivering flawless subliminal brainwashing signals, whereas digital is the perfect medium for it. If you were being bombarded with digital mind control frequencies while watching CNN on your snazzy flat-screen TV, how would you know? You wouldn't. That's why they call it mind control.


Even if all that is pure hogwash - and maybe it is and maybe it isn't - there's just no getting around that I find TV annoying. I hate bars that surround me with giant screens, each tuned to a different station. (That's one of the few drawbacks about my beloved Ernesto's, in fact.) And now, the growing trend in supermarkets is to have these damn talking monitors blasting commercials at you while you're shopping.

The super-Wal-Mart in Middletown now has these god-awful annoying monitors in many aisles throughout the store, and it's drivin' me crazy, it's drivin' me nuts. It wouldn't be so bad if they didn't plant them so close together. When you're standing looking at one, you can hear the chatter from two others nearby at the same time. I didn't give up watching TV only to find we're rapidly turning into a world where you have no choice but to watch TV everywhere you go.


Fortunately, I don't find myself hanging out at Wal-Mart too terribly often. But now these damn monitors are literally popping up everywhere. You start with one TV monitor in a store, where does it end?

At the Motor Vehicle Department on Westport Road, there was an entire row of TVs blasting some in-house channel with commercials and "community info", and every one of the sheep sitting there waiting with their little number in hand was staring up at those screens, mouth hanging open and eyes looking faraway.


Even at Feeder's Supply today, I was stocking up on grub for America's favorite fluffster only to find the damn screens were there too. And people were standing around watching these commercials, sucked in, as if there was anything remotely interesting about a man selling dog food who isn't Ed McMahon.

I'm starting to feel like it's John Carpenter's They Live and I'm the guy with the special sunglasses.

- - JSH

Thursday, April 7, 2011

They Sure Know Something


I grew up as a KISS fan starting in 1975, when my little hillbilly self walked to Britt's Department Store in Richmond and bought their Alive! album with piggy-bank money. From there, I rode along with the boys through the next three albums that represented the peak of their classic years (Destroyer, Rock and Roll Over and Love Gun.) And that's when things got kinda sketchy.

1977's Alive II was a great album, and I worshipped the bonus studio/soundcheck songs on side four ("Rocket Ride" actually broke the Top 40, but you never hear it on classic rock or oldies stations today). But part of me really thought, "do we need a second live album already? I would rather have had a full new studio album." As fast as the band had been cranking out material, I was certain there'd be a new solid rockin' KISS album out before I could turn around and say tequila.

But that album didn't come.

To my surprise, they followed up the expensive double live album with another expensive double album - this time a greatest hits collection, except all their hits weren't on it, and some of the songs were remixed and sounded tinny and weird. "Strutter" was completely re-recorded with a slightly disco-fied beat, of all things, as "Strutter '78". I was pissed. As a kid, every cent of my allowance was important and after I took Double Platinum home, I wanted my money back - I really didn't need my fourth version of "Deuce". But I forgave them. I knew that next new solid rockin' KISS album would be out before I could turn around and say vodka and orange juice.

I was wrong.

Instead, my allowance was completely wiped out by the simultaneous release of four KISS solo albums - in which Gene Simmons sings Walt Disney, and Peter Criss revealed himself to be a frustrated Leo Sayer. Paul and Ace's albums were pretty good, but still, all of these parts did not add up to a whole for me. I had blown every teenage cent I had on four albums yet somehow still managed to feel like I had less than one album to show for it.

By now my interest in KISS was starting to show some cracks, and I wasn't alone: many of my friends at school tried to keep a stiff upper lip but by then there were plenty of other bands who were starting to seem a lot more interesting. We had our doubts now whether the KISS we knew and loved would return to form, and we didn't hold our breath waiting to see if it ever would be cold gin time again.

Dynasty was another big disappointment. Ace's unexpected cover of an obscure Rolling Stones song, "2000 Man", showed promise that KISS was not yet totally braindead, but they were now going for an overtly disco-rock fusion. That wasn't what we wanted. The next album, Unmasked, was even worse, going full speed ahead into pure disco and pure pop like never before. Looking back, I love these albums now, of course, and it's easy now to forget exactly how annoyingly revolutionary it was for a hard rock band to try to merge their style with disco. But back then, my high school compatriots and I were completely appalled at how far our favorite band had drifted, so fast.

At this point, we all gave up on KISS and moved on to other things. By then my favorite bands were The Dead Kennedys, The Clash, The Jam, Devo, and increasingly avant-garde stuff like The Residents. My taste for pan-directional eclecticism had no room for a has-been 70's band trying to go disco after disco itself was already dead.

And then the unthinkable happened: KISS released an album that was the apex of pan-directional eclecticism.

On November 16, 1981, KISS released, out of nowhere, Music From The Elder. They'd been working on it in the studio since March 13, during which time Ace essentially gave up on the band. Everyone else around me - that is, among those who bothered to buy it or listen to it - fiercely hated it and chalked it up as yet another disappointing KISS flop. Me, I fell in love with it instantly, if at first for no other reason than the album was completely insane and was almost a surrealist art-object unto itself.

The citizenry of 2011 are savvier than those of 1981, thankfully. Thirty years after it was foisted upon an unknowing world, The Elder has become a cult classic, highly regarded among KISS fans as being way ahead of its time, and one of their finest achievements.

The "story" of the concept album is only hinted at piecemeal, and various explanations of limited authenticity can be found circulating online, but the gist of it is: a young boy joins up with an ancient and noble organization, undergoes training to become worthy of the fellowship, and somewhere in there, somehow, there's a guy named Mr. Blackwell. Oh yeah, and somebody escapes from an island, apparently.

It's actually a good thing the story wasn't delineated more clearly, because it leaves the listener to speculate for himself - and that might be a whole lot more interesting than what mssrs. Stanley and Simmons had in mind. Then again, there are plenty of nuggets of wisdom on the record that exemplify the general message - like the haunting "Only You" (with Rush-like prog-rock flanged chords and voices over, of all things, a reggae beat). Not only is it the only pop-rock song I know that uses the word "manchild", but it pompously proclaims things like:

"In every age, in every time,
A hero is born as if by a grand design!"


Definitely not the stuff of Hall & Oates. Nor do you hear medieval horn instrumentals on a Huey Lewis album. Nor do you get backing vocals that sound like choirs of Rosicrucian monks on a Loverboy record. Paul, who usually was the anchor keeping any KISS record down to Earth, actually provided the most spaced-out "WTF" moments. Consider "Just A Boy", sounding more like Queen with its falsetto vocals and synthesizers. And then there's the total ELO-ish "Odyssey":

"From a far-off galaxy
I hear you callin' me
We are on an Odyssey
Through the realms of time and space
In that enchanted place
You and I come face to face."

Was it genius? Or drivel straight out of a little girl's school notebook? Both, maybe? No one knew for sure at the time. But a lot has happened on this third rock since then, and a lot of things make more sense with the passage of time. Uh, and space.

The album wasn't a 100% disaster - "The Oath" was actually a big hit in Italy, and "A World Without Heroes" reached #56 on the U.S. charts. A far cry from the days when "Beth" hit #7 and "Calling Dr. Love" reached #16 (#2 in Canada) but hey, at least they made it onto the Billboard Top 100 charts at all, and halfway up it at that.

For my yankee dollar, however, it's "I" that marks this album as the most crucial pivotal moment in KISStory. Musically, it's like a heavy metal show tune (especially live) with an Adam Ant beat, an Elvis-like swagger in Paul's voice, and a stop-start vamp right out of Rocky Horror's "The Time Warp". Literally the last thing on Earth we ever expected from KISS.

Loaded with positive affirmations and more shibboleths than you can shake a stick at, it provides the philosophical keystone for Gene's much-remarked-on egotism:

"I was so frightened I almost ran away
I didn't know that I could do anything I needed to
And then a bolt of lightning hit me on my head
And I began to see, I just needed to believe in me

Cause I believe in me
And I believe in something more than you can understand
Yes, I believe in me."

Whether you look at the song as a sort of mystical invocation, a "law of attraction" affirmation, or a mind-over-matter psi experiment, it worked. Their next album, Creatures of the Night, finally was that hard-rocking classic KISS album the fans had been waiting on for six freakin' years, and it yielded an identity-restoring hit, "I Love It Loud". KISS subsequently played their largest show ever in Brazil, then took off the makeup to reinvent themselves as a cutting-edge hair-metal band. In the process, they racked up far more hits in this new guise than they ever had in the old one and wowed a whole 'nother generation of fans.

Amazingly, they then had a third lease on life. They returned to the makeup and the original lineup and had a great run with that, touring nonstop until Ace and Peter, whose health was fragile because of their drug use, gave out. Ace quit the band all over again, and Peter had to be let go. Gene and Paul, on the other hand, were still healthy and still going strong and gave the band a fourth incarnation - the age we are presently in - with Tommy Thayer, pro golfer and player of Ace's solos better than Ace ever played. As Gene said in Sex Money Kiss, "this strange band continues to write its own rules."

Oh yeah, and their new music is better than ever.

Ironically enough, all those albums from KISS' great "odd period" between Double Platinum and Killers are now among some of my very favorites. Time has been kind to each of their efforts, to the extent that I even love Peter Criss' solo album, for which my Judas Priest-craving adolescent mind had zero frame of reference for upon its original release.

I also think it's worth noting that some of my favorite songs from the solo albums seem to have a very Elder-ish quality to them, not only musically but thematically. I have to wonder if they weren't cooking on the concept long in advance. Take a cold hard look at Paul's "Take Me Away (Together as One)" or Gene's "Man of 1000 Faces". Even the triumphantly celtic prog-rockness of "Fractured Mirror" seems to indicate that whatever Gene and Paul had tapped into, at least some of it had rubbed off on Ace.

2011 marks the 30-year anniversary of Music from the Elder and its transcendentally off-kilter beauty. Let's make this an Elder year. The people gotta know. The band also has a new album in the works due for a summer release. We're in for some interesting times. Can you feel it coming?

- - JSH