Monday, January 26, 2009

The Battle of Waynesboro

Talk about yer serendipity! In an earlier post I made mention of artist Norman Saunders whom, among many, many other things, I just discovered did most of the illustrations for the 1962 Civil War News series of trading cards, including this one:

Yep, that's my hometown and, yep, once upon a time I had a complete set of those cards; unfortunately, I made the mistake of taking them to school for Show and Tell and on the bus ride home one of the older kids decided to relieve me of my entire collection. Just reached into my book bag and took 'em.

I. Was. Devastated.

Not just because of the loss of my cards, though that was bad enough, but no one, NO ONE, would do a thing to help me get them back. Not my classmates (well, no surprise there), not the bus driver, not my parents, not the mother of the boy who took them (okay, yeah, I was dumb and naive enough to go to this kid's house and tattle to his mom. She yelled at me).*

Uh... that got a little off-topic there, didn't it?

Anyway, it was because of this card that I discovered there had been a realio, trulio Civil War battle in my hometown** and not only that, but part of it occurred in the field separating my elementary school from the local high school where my Mom taught! I gave up on the bus (for obvious reasons) and began hitching rides home with Mom, which, since she didn't leave until a couple of hours after I got out of school, gave me ample time to scour the field for the Minie balls and other artifacts I just knew had to be there. Never found anything, but it was fun looking.

As for the Battle of Waynesboro itself, well, here are some points of interest:

"Any considered judgment of (George Armstrong) Custer's military abilities, however, should include an analysis of his performance in a relatively small action on March 2, 1865 at Waynesboro, Virginia. In this battle the 25 year old Brevet Major General Custer demonstrated the bravery and initiative that had made him famous. In a brilliant action he attacked and completely destroyed the last remaining organized Confederate force in the Shenandoah Valley."
--"Custer and the Battle of Waynesboro"

"It was a battle where the Eighth New York Cavalry, under the gallant leadership of Major Hartwell B. Compson, earned undying fame. The major himself performed wonderful feats of bravery and set an example which electrified his men and inspired them to deeds of splendid heroism."
--"Custer's Heroes"

"The Battle of Waynesboro occurred in my hometown on 2 March, 1865. In an area today known as the "Tree Streets", (Upper left of this image) Confederate forces were defeated in what is considered the last Civil War battle in the Shenandoah Valley."
--Old Virginia Blog

*You want to know how traumatic this was for me (or to what extent I'm capable of harboring a resentment)? Forty-plus years later I still remember the boy's name, where he lived, the color of his house, the dress his mom was wearing, etc. In fact, just writing about it works up a certain amount of righteous indignation, which is ironic since I was (am) no angel myself.

**Which, really, isn't saying much. You live anywhere in Virginia and chances are there was a Civil War battle in your backyard.

This Just In! (Monster Memories)

I've been threatening for years to write a post entitled "I Was A Teenage Movie Star"* documenting those days of yore when my friend Sam, armed with a Kodak Super-8 camera and the most astounding powers of persuasion imaginable**, enlisted our aid in producing a series of low-budget (really low budget, as in "close to non-existent") monster movies. Unfortunately, an essay like that demanded photo-documentation and I didn't have any.

Until now.

Sam just e-mailed me a couple of stills from his/Moriser Productions third feature film, The Frankenstein Experiment***, with yours truly playing the role of The Monster (I was maybe 16):

G. W. freshly decapitated and awaiting reconstructive surgery.

Re-assembled and ready for the ladies!

So now I guess I'm gonna have to quit procrastinating and get to writin'. Thanks, Sam, for the pics, for the experience, for the memories, but not for that damned dent in my skull from 10 lbs. of putty atop an ill-fitting styrofoam cap!

*But this ain't it.

**Evidenced by the fact we allowed him to set one of us (well, me) on fire, bury another one of us alive (not me), slather us with gobs of latex, cosmetics, plaster, alginate, and Crom knows what-all in unexpectedly painful multi-hour make-up sessions, have us wander around in freezing temperatures drooling huge mouthfuls of Karo syrup.**** Sam missed his calling; he should have been a professional con man. Or politician.

***Sometimes known as The Frankenstein Experience. Years ago Sam sent in his films to be duped onto videotape and the company providing this service inadvertently recorded the technicians' comments:

"What's that say? The Frankenstein Experience?"
"It's just a bunch of bad shots!"
"You think this is bad? You should see the stuff we get from JMU!"

****It was years before I could eat pancakes again.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bookstuff--Because, Well, You Know--BOOKS!

Among many, many other things (Hey! I'm eclectic! I contain multitudes!), I'm a big fan of the Lowbrow Art Movement, aka Pop Surrealism, despite the kinds of problems Zippy and Bill touch upon...

(he's referring to Todd Schorr, by the way*) it should come as no surprise that I'm all a-quiver about some recently-published books.

First up, The Tree Show by Mark Ryden.

Gosh, I love Ryden's stuff! These are strange, wonderful, dream-like landscapes and portraits, incredibly detailed, superbly executed, though one wonders what sort of hallucinogens Ryden is partial to. One of my biggest regrets is not buying several copies of Anima Mundi when one could have it for $24.95--a new one, if you can find it, will run you about $350.**

Next, there's Cosmocopia, a combination novel and jigsaw puzzle (!) by science fiction writer Paul Di Filippo and artist Jim Woodring involving a character obviously modeled on Frank Frazetta. I love Di Filippo's short story collections and Jim Woodring is yet another artist who seems to have access to (or produces endogenous) hallucinogens as yet unknown to science ("Woodring once told The Comics Journal that under the right circumstances he is still capable of 'hallucinating like mad' "). I can't imagine a more fitting collaboration.

Finally, there's The Art of Norman Saunders. Now, if you're around my age (53) you KNOW this guy even if you don't know his name--he was an incredibly prolific commercial artist who illustrated pulp magazines, paperback book covers, comic books, men's adventure rags, and trading cards, including the legendary Mars Attacks and (the singularly bloody) Civil War News series.

(I love how the one guy is such a loyal and diligent Party member that though he's removed his shirt, he keeps his armband in place)

(Fairness in media and equal time for the ladies--"Tortured Slave of the Whip Goddesses." You see something like this at age 10 and gain an... interesting... perspective on male/female relations for life)

* Whom I happen to like. I mean, the guy did H. P. Lovecraft's Seafood Cart, fer heaven's sake!

**I almost had one when it was first released. I'd been haunting our local (late, lamented) Tower Books for weeks looking for the damned thing and finally, finally found one, but a couple of pages were torn and I decided to wait for a more pristine copy. BAM! Gone. Online prices soared and my moment was gone. I consoled myself with a couple of hardbound Frank Frazetta compilations.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Last of the Poe Birthday Bash

You may recall that the photos I took for Poe's Birthday Bash were... underwhelming. Fortunately, Sarah's friend Danielle was there with a fancy-schmancy digital camera and so, through the miracle of cut-'n'-paste, I hereby share them with you (click to embiggen).

The Poe Shrine, January 19, 2009, 1:45 a. m.

Sarah and G. W. show their love for Poe.

Sarah gets... uh... up close and personal. Make of this what you will.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Poe's Birthday Bash Continues

From JSaM today:

Well, (G. W.), it's Ed Poe's birthday and it's given me time to think a little. What a great guy! He gave the misfits in the world (and I think that's about all of us) a little something to think about, that maybe we aren't all "too" strange after all. I took a little time to re-imagine him (see attachment), 'cause I think he is probably glad that his works and, indeed, his persona have flourished over the last 160 years (and all Griswold has is a blackened footnote in history). Oh well, they are probably in the "beyond beyond" having a good laugh. Enjoy your day!

And through the miracle that is LolBuilder,

JSaM also directs us to this wonderful video of John Astin reciting "The Raven" from his one-man show Edgar Allan Poe: Once Upon A Midnight.

Poe's Birthday Bash

And so, with nothing in particular to do at 1:00 a. m. on a Monday morning and having the day off anyway (one of the few advantages of being a gummint employee), I decided to head over to the Poe Museum, meet up with my friend Sarah, and check out the goings-on for Edgar Allan Poe's 200th Birthday Bash.

It was... interesting!

The entrance (housing Ye Olde Gifte Shoppe--gotta have one of those) is deceptively small (by the way, these first three pictures are not mine)...

..and hides a complex of vintage buildings bordering the "Enchanted Garden"...

..and terminates with the Poe Shrine, constructed with bricks from the Southern Literary Messenger building where ol' Edgar once worked as assistant editor...

Now, imagine all this in the dead of night. Yeah, it was eerie. The garden was illuminated with a few floodlights which somehow managed to make the place decidedly (and surprisingly) gloomy, while the bust of Poe was lit by candles (excuse the crappy cell phone pics--cameras weren't allowed):

All was well and I was suitably impressed... then at 2:00 a. m. they held an outdoor seance.

Which was cheesy, and not necessarily in a good way.

Okay, without going into too many details, a few suggestions: (1) if you're going to hire an actor to play a medium make sure she can act. (2) If you're going to stage an apparition of Poe, make sure the actor (a) in some way resembles Poe and (b) doesn't audibly stumble over the underbrush as he makes his escape. (3) Perhaps most importantly, don't park your clearly-labeled special effects truck in front of the museum.

But the crowd of about fifty (which was, surprisingly, completely Goth-free, yet included a lot more girl-on-girl action than I or Poe could have imagined) seemed to enjoy it, so who am I to complain? Besides, the Museum itself is unspeakably cool, especially at night.

Happy Birthday, Edgar; see ya next year!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Heads Up, Poe Fans!

In case you didn't know (or remember), Monday, January 19, 2009, is Edgar Allan Poe's 200th birthday and there are all sorts of things going on; in fact, so many there's even a blog (The Edgar Allan Poe Bicentennial--Celebrating 200 Years of Poe's Life and Work) to keep track of them. Why, even the oft-stodgy USPS is getting in on the act by issuing a very nice-looking commemorative stamp!

I assume the Poe Toaster will be out and about in Baltimore and I'd love to be there for his appearance, but I'm going to settle for something more local-- the 24-Hr. Birthday Bash at the Poe Museum* here in Richmond:

The Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond will host a 24-hour birthday party for Edgar in his bicentennial year. On January 19th, 2009 the Poe Museum will open at 12:01 a.m. and remain open for 24 hours. Enjoy poetry readings during the day, tour the Museum in the dead of night, or join us for birthday cake and a candle-light vigil at Poe's shrine at dusk. There will be something for everyone during the 24-hour celebration. Specific times for each event are TBA but updates will be posted to this site on a regular basis.

And for the naysayers? Those who don't (or can't) understand what all the fuss is about? Well, author Nick Mamatas has something to say about that:

How can we read Poe today? (**) Even those who heroically managed to resist schooling well enough to find pleasure in reading have to search through two centuries of baggage to find the real Poe. He is everywhere — on The Simpsons and The Gilmore Girls, in the National Football League, and if the industry gossip is true, in a script by Sylvester Stallone which the actor is also planning to direct. "Nevermore!" isn't a coda — it's a punchline. Then there are the well-known facts of his life, and the dubious results of biocriticism. Every pale girl is Poe's wife, or his young mother who died when the author was a child. Every fever is delirium tremens or rabies, just like Ms. C Kelly suggested. Poe also left us without unforgettable, well-rendered characters of the sort readers of contemporary realism have been trained to see as the apex of quality literature. What we are left with is what we've always had: the power of the Gothic.

--"Poe at 200"

*1914-16 E. Main St.
Richmond, VA 23223

**Punchline: "But we should read Poe for the sheer bloody-minded pleasure of knowing the truth: Some motherfuckers just have it comin'."

Be Seeing You...

We lost Patrick McGoohan yesterday... and I'm sad.

There are obituaries and tributes all over the web (BBC News, Six of One, etc.), but I won't recap them here. Better to remember him in Secret Agent (aka Danger Man), The Prisoner, The Three Lives of Thomasina (no, I am not kidding!), The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, Ice Station Zebra, Scanners, and, later, the most interesting character in Braveheart.

I'm gonna miss you, Patrick; you made my early years much more interesting and entertaining.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Morbidity and Mortality

No, not a deep, dark, philosophical discussion--I try not to do that here. This is fun stuff, believe it or not...well, fun should you possess a certain dark and peculiar twist of mind, a sensibility that compels you to view sideshow exhibits, freaks of nature (human or otherwise), disease progression, medical anomalies, and icky stuff in general (for example... and thanks, Cath!). I'm looking at you, Wayne!

Should you be such a person, then you're probably already aware of the Mutter Museum (umlaut over the u; Wikipedia entry here) in Philadelphia; you may even know they used to publish a calendar featuring high-quality photographs of their exhibits. Well, according to the Morbid Anatomy blog ("Surveying the Interstices of Art and Medicine, Death and Culture") they've resumed publishing after a 6-year hiatus and they're for sale at a reduced price on!

You'd better believe I've already ordered mine.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Three Quickies

I spent an inordinate amount of time surfin' the Web and, being the borderline obsessive-compulsive that I am, archive the bits and pieces I find particularly amusing. Just thought I'd share with the group.

This exchange occurred in a LiveJournal community about Richmond, VA:

Post: Odd question, I know, but does anyone know where I could get a fez in the area? The lazyweb has been fruitless.
It's difficult to explain why I need three of them, but it's for an art project.

One reply: sure, sure.. everything can be explained away as an "art project."
don't be ashamed of your sexual fetishes. it's what makes you special.

And from an article about how gambling casinos (among other places) are intentionally designed to suck you in:

"Slot machines are also designed to deal out a high number of 'near misses' with, for instance, the first two reels set to land on the 'Jackpot' far more often than the third reel, dealing you more false hope than your high school girlfriend (emphasis added and believe me, I am SO stealing that line)."

And finally, a quote from Neil Gaiman to which I deeply relate:

You spend your adolescence dreaming that you'll grow up to be Lou Reed, and then you grow up to be Leonard Cohen.

Which reminds me of That '70s Show episode where the kids (kids? Did I just write "kids"? Geez, I'm getting old!) are trying to come up with quotes for their high school yearbook. At the episode's end we see a montage of their pictures and under Donna's it says Most likely to move to New York and become Lou Reed's reluctant muse.

One can only dream.

Monday, January 5, 2009

And Now For Something Completely Different...

Or Further Into the Basic Connectedness of All Things...

I'm currently on a Thomas Pynchon kick, reading both Vineland and Against the Day because, well, I like dense, complex, quirky, post-modern novels by dense, complex, quirky, post-modern novelists. Uh, novelists with mad skillz.

Relax. I'm not about to go on some kind of fanboyish tirade. Far from it.

Okay, so remember the "More Cowbell" sketch from Saturday Night Live? The one with Christopher Walken as "the Bruce Dickinson" ("Guess what? I've got a fever... and the only prescription... is more cowbell!") and Will Ferrell (you can listen to it here)? 'S funny, right? And I had to wonder which SNL writer came up with the idea and what, exactly, was going through his mind. I mean, sure, the absurdity of a cowbell in "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" is self-evident, but what, exactly, inspired this sketch? What made the writer think of cowbell?

Fast forward to Dec. 31, at work, where one of my numerous bosses, who is also a Pynchon fan (in fact, he loaned me his copy of Vineland when I mentioned I was reading Against the Day) as well as a devotee of weird and unusual music, was expounding upon the works of Spike Jones and Thomas Pynchon (it was a slow day). He whips over to his office and prints out a little summary sheet and directs my attention to the following items...

--"Pynchon wrote that Spike Jones, Sr.'s orchestral recordings had 'a deep and indelible effect on me as a child.' "
--"Pynchon supplied the liner notes to Spiked! The Music of Spike Jones. In his notes, he writes of Spike's unique blend of music as being 'like good cowbell solos, few and far between.' " (emphasis added)
(hoc loco)

...then made reference to the SNL sketch.

Erudite bored pathologist say whaaaa?*

The moment was positively Pynchonesque.

*Okay, confession time: sometimes I watch TV shows intended for the 'tween set**, shows like (I am so embarrassed to write this) Hannah Montana. Yeah, I'm a 12-yr. old girl. Shut up. The show has its moments. One of the catchphrase formulas has the main character responding to something completely outrageous and unexpected with "(string of adjectives) (noun cluster) say whaaaa?" It's a guaranteed Diet Pepsi Nose Spew every time. Of course, I'm easily amused.

**This has led to some meta- (not mega-, though it could be mega) embarrassing moments, most recently when I was texting my friend Erica and made an iCarly reference to which she replied, "I don't know how I should respond to the fact you knew that."

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Welcome, 2009!

And about damn time, I might add, 2008 having been something of a Suckfest for all involved. That includes pretty much everyone I know, online or off-.

[run-on sentence]

In the early part of the year I came down with a severe case of bacterial pneumonia, then my father came down with pneumonia, then my mother lost the ability to walk as her Alzheimer's progressed slowly, steadily, inexorably onward, then my father died, then (unrelated) my low-grade depressive tendencies deepened, then someone I was just starting to get to know committed suicide, then my DVD player died (okay, that was merely an annoyance, but given the timing and the fact that movies are my life, I was upset), then I had a crisis of faith with (and within) my Super-Secret Support Group, then my job reached new and unexpected heights of suckiness, then I entered Recluse Mode...

[/run-on sentence]

That enough whining for ya?

Notable deaths in 2008 (from my perspective): Edmund ("Why Everest?" "Because it's there, ya twit.") Hillary, chess wacko (and Jewish anti-Semite--go figure) Bobby Fischer, Suzanne Pleshette, Roy ("We're gonna need a bigger boat!") Scheider, William F. Buckley, Jr. (the man I loved to hate), Gary ("Roll for damage") Gygax, science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, Richard Widmark, Charlton ("Wait! I need to rip off my shirt for this scene!" "What, again? You're playing Moses, fer crissakes") Heston, Albert (Mr. LSD) Hoffman, Sydney Pollack, Bo Diddley, Mel Ferrer, special effects guy Stan Winston, George Carlin (who finally has a place to put all his stuff), Isaac ("Duke of New York") Hayes, David Foster Wallace (I guess this was yet another supposedly fun thing he'll never do again), Paul Newman, mystery writer Tony Hillerman, Michael Crichton, Forrest J (no period) Ackerman, Nina Foch (especially for her role in the Outer Limits episode "The Borderland"), pinup cutie Bettie Page, and Eartha "Catwoman" Kitt.

The year was not without its bright spots, though. When Dad died a lot of people, a lot, bent over backwards to express their sympathy and support, to reconnect, however briefly, and to help out whenever and wherever they could. That meant something, especially since Mom wasn't (and to some extent still isn't) aware of what happened and I had to go it alone for a while.

I read some good books, I saw some good movies, I ate some good food, I hung out with some cool people, sometimes IRL, sometimes online. I spent time with Sid-the-Near-Feral ("Is this the Year of Daily Tuna?") Cat. I rediscovered the simple, quiet joys of coin collecting, of all things, something I'd forgotten about since adolescence.

Still, I'm ready for a new year, so here's hoping it's a better one for everyone!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Books Read In 2008

2008 was not a particularly good year for me (more later) and this is reflected in how few books I managed to complete. Yeah, I started a bunch and maybe got a third of the way through before I lost focus, set them aside, and went on to other things. Call it a strange form of literary ADD I hope will vanish in 2009. I still spent hours reading shitloads of other stuff, mostly online--blogs, discussion forums, and the like; the occasional magazine--but that was more like constant snacking.

Anyway, in 2008 I read:

1. 3/Jan/08--The Sign of the Book by John Dunning (2005).
2. 4/Jan/08--Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen (2006). *****
3. 9/Jan/08--The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem (2003). *****
4. 11/Jan/08--Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill (2007).
5. 16/Jan/08--New Orleans Noir ed. by Julie Smith (2007).
6. 22/Jan/08--Will Eisner: A Spirited Life by Bob Andelman (2005).
7. 24/Jan/08--JPod by Douglas Coupland (2006).
8. 27/Jan/08--Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn (2006).
9. 28/Jan/07--If You Liked School, You'll Love Work by Irvine Welsh (2007).
10. 26/Feb/08--The Echo Maker by Richard Powers (2006).
11. 28/Feb/08--Skeleton Man by Tony Hillerman (2004).
12. 5/Mar/08--Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (2005).
13. 11/Mar/08--The Gift of Asher Lev by Chaim Potok (1990).
14. 14/Mar/08--Shockingly Close To the Truth!--Confessions of A Grave-Robbing Ufologist by James W. Moseley & Karl T. Pflock (2002).
15. 21/Mar/08--Novel by George Singleton (2005).
16. 26/Mar/08--R Is For Ricochet by Sue Grafton (2004).
17. 5/Apr/08--Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology ed. by James Patrick Kelly & John Kessel (2007).
18. 8/Apr/08--State of Fear by Michael Crichton (2004).
19. 11/Apr/08--The Vanished Man by Jeffrey Deaver (2003).
20. 17/Apr/06--Voices From the Street by Philip K. Dick (2007).
21. 22/Apr/08--Martian Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick (1964).
22. 24/Apr/08--The Blue Moon Circus by Michael Raleigh (2003). *****
23. 24/Apr/08--Me and Orson Welles by Robert Kaplow (2003).
24. 28/Apr/08--Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand (2007). *****
25. 29/Apr/08--Child of God by Cormac McCarthy (1973). *****
26. 5/May/08--Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (2008).
27. 13/May/08--The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy (1994).*****
28. 21/May/08--The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon (2007).*****
29. 10/Jun/08--The New Weird ed. by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer (2008).
30. 19/Jun/08--Steampunk ed. by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer (2008).
31. 17/Jul/08--Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (1999).*****
32. 18/Jul/08--Tank Girl--Armadillo! by Alan C. Martin (2008).
33. 22/Jul/08--Yellow Dog by Martin Amis (2003).
34. 19/Aug/08--Created By by Richard Christian Matheson (1993).
35. 26/Aug/08--Just A Geek by Wil Wheaton (2004).
36. 1/Oct/08--The Coin Collector's Survival Manual by Scott A. Travers (2006).
37. 2/Oct/08--Glasshouse by Charles Stross (2006).
38. 13/Dec/08--Job: A Comedy of Justice by Robert A. Heinlein (1984).
39. 24/Dec/08--Next by Michael Crichton (2006).

***** indicates books I particularly enjoyed.