Saturday, October 27, 2012

Now I'm Feeling Zombified

When it comes to zombies, I am strictly Old School, and believe that everyone else should be, too. Give me the Haitian zombie any day, the zombie of voodoo legend and nightmare, the zombie of the pulp novel and old N’Orleans and Val Lewton. The modern flesh-eating variety is strictly a creation of George Romero, and for that Romero and his horde of even less talented imitators have a lot to answer for. How many times can Night of the Living Dead be remade and ripped off? Is this the single most mindlessly aped movie in history? I think it must be.

Some critics exalt Romero’s work as being laced with Deep Social Commentary. I don’t see it. Sometimes a train is just a train, and for me, Romero's movies have no redeeming social context at all, but simply are what they are: revolting exercises in pushing the envelope as to how far he could get away with shocking the sensibilities.

To the people who find “entertainment” in graphic images of animated corpses ripping out people’s internal organs and feasting on them... well, you go ahead and enjoy yourself. After all, we live in a diseased culture that’s providing you with plenty of material for your perverted wet dreams. Go to town.

Now. All that said, I have a confession to make. And I’ve been hating on the modern zombie for so long that it’s not an easy one.

I don’t read Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead graphic novels for the same reason that I don’t watch the A&E TV adaptation of them: it’s just more repetition from the same Trough of Ugliness, and I hated it all in the first place. But when Telltale Games brought out its five-part episodic game based on The Walking Dead earlier this year, I was curious enough to look into the project.

First, the creative forces behind Telltale are nearly all former LucasArts employees, largely the same team that gave us adventure game titles like Sam and Max Hit the Road, The Day of the Tentacle, Monkey Island and Full Throttle ‘way back in the ‘90s. If computer games can be said to have had “classics,” those titles all need to be among them. Since forming their own company, Telltale have released an impressive array of titles, including sequels to both Monkey Island and Sam and  Max featuring the original voice casts, as well as ambitious add-ons to Aardman Studios’ beloved Wallace & Gromit. But the new games, although accomplished and enjoyable, just didn’t have the magic, the golden touch, so to speak. Telltale was poised (and they needed) to knock something out of the park.

Enter The Walking Dead. Although I didn’t care for the subject matter, I was impressed by the visual style of the thing, its somber color palette and hand-painted, graphic-novel look. The designers were clearly not going for a digitalized or conventional computer-game appearance. I thought, if they can animate that look effectively, they could have a pretty powerful visual presentation on their hands. 

Then I read I the description, and had to admit that I was intrigued by the kind of thinking behind the gameplay: “This is not another shoot ‘em up: it’s a game that explores some very dark psychological places, revealing that the undead are not the only thing to be afraid of when society crumbles. ... every action and decision you make can result in the story changing around you. This tailored experience means that your story could be very different to that of someone else. ... Live with the profound and lasting consequences of the decisions that you make ... your actions and choices will affect how your story plays out across the entire series.”

Well, I’m a writer and cartoonist. This is like dangling peanut-butter Oreos in front of me. I decided to try the first episode. And once I’d done that, I was All In.

Because Telltale’s The Walking Dead isn’t really a game at all, but a kind of wickedly clever Social Experiment. It puts you in one Terrible Situation after another and then asks you: What would you do? What would you do if you were stuck between a rock and a hard place and you had two, maybe three choices, and all were horrible, horrible choices -- and oh, by the way, Time Is Running Out, you can’t stop to think, because in some situations not making a choice is the same thing as making one and you’ll still have to live with the consequences. Or die with them.

Not only that, but it isn’t just you that you have to worry about. There’s a little girl involved, and you’re responsible for her.

Never mind the zombies. Well, OK, you can’t ignore them. But they’re not what this game is really about. It’s about YOU. It’s about what kind of a person you really are in a pinch, not the kind of person that you say you are. Would you tell the truth about your past, or lie about it? Would you steal the food? Would you give a suicidal person a gun? What if the circumstances were... different? Who do you save when the chips are down?

Although Telltale has had to supply all of the blood and gore that fans of this genre have come to expect, I’ve found that I’m able to get through the worst bits, in part because of the shadows and the muted color scheme that Telltale has built into the design, but also because I’m not a spectator, not just idly sitting back and watching these things happen. In episode one, for example, when a zombified babysitter attacks unexpectedly and the only defensive weapon at hand is a hammer, I know what I’ve got to do. The situation is dramatic enough and visceral enough that my will to survive outweighs my essential squeamishness. 

On the other hand, I do sometimes find myself squinting, closing my eyes and looking away when I can afford to, just as I would in real life.

As advertised, this is not a shooter. There’s a plot and there are characters and you have choices to make just like real life, and it absolutely matters who you align yourself with. There’s even one decision in the first episode that decides which of the other characters survives to travel with you into future chapters. The game asks if you have the strength to do some terrible things, and puts them in a context that makes it meaningful.

Words don’t do justice to how addictive all this is. The evidence can be found on Telltale’s fan forum, where customers frequently wail (not too strong a word) about the plodding, not to say erratic, not to say sadistic release schedule that Telltale has adopted for each new “episode” of the five-part game. Part four recently came out for most platforms; iOS users only just got episode three. The wait between episodes can indeed be excruciating. 

Why? Because we’re so emotionally invested in this thing. It’s not about bashing zombies, not at all. Even in the context of an artificial gaming experience, when people are put in a hypothetical situation with realistic characters that play on their emotions, and then are forced to make awful decisions under extremely stressful conditions... there’s no two ways about it, it’s hard not to become involved. 

Telltale have made monsters of us all.

Episode three contains some of the worst choices yet; during my playthrough, there were times when I was caught off guard and simply dropped the ball, made mistakes, and Bad Things Happened as a result. Now, if I wished, I could go back and re-play those scenes until I got it right, until I achieved the result that I really intended: but in real life you don’t get replays, and I’m playing this very lifelike game as if there was no going back.

-- Freder.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Shake, Shiver, Rattle, Roll... Dem Bones

So, what’s on my Halloween Music Playlist for 2012? I’m glad you asked.

A real good curtain-raiser is Jill Tracy. I never knew of her before this year, and she is one of the best discoveries I’ve made in ages and ages. A little honky-tonk, a little rag, a little Charles Addams, a little Billie Holliday and a little Edward Gorey, this gal just steals my heart (I wonder if she’d eat it). She actually wrote an orchestral score for F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu. I have to make it a goal to sit down and pair the two before the season is out. “Evil Night Together,” from her album Diabolical Streak, is the opening cut on my 2012 Halloween Playlist.

No Halloween playlist is complete without the Great and Unique Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and his angst-driven “I Put A Spell On You” contrasts beautifully with Tracy’s opener.

Amberian Dawn is a metal group that’s more melodic than most and employs an operatic female voice in their music to striking effect. They shake the house with “He Sleeps in a Grove” in the number three slot, from their album The Clouds of Northland Thunder.

Contrast is something I like. Fancifulness and Romance are two more things that I like. My fourth song gives me all three, as Captain Hook (in the person of Cyril Ritchard) sings to “Oh, My Mysterious Lady” from the original Broadway cast of Peter Pan.

Another recent discovery, The Birthday Massacre, then rocks the house with their sweetly hard-edged single “In the Dark” at song five.

Always a proponent of unexpected turns, I then chose “Asa’s Death” from Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite. The version of it that I have, unfortunately, is exceedingly minor. Remind me to track down the brilliant George Szell / Cleveland Orchestra version someday.

Ever hear of a group called Adrian H and the Wounds? Me neither, until I picked up an album called A Dark Cabaret 2 earlier this year... one of my better musical buys. My cut number seven is a delightfully eerie number from them called “Bad Man.” Its theme is circular: you are what you’re obsessed by. In tone, it makes me think of Tom Waits doing really scary circus music.

In the number eight position I chose Par Benatar’s version of the Kate Bush song “Wuthering Hieghts” -- in a nutshell, the never-filmed ghost story segment of the book. I like Kate’s version, but I like Pat’s better. It sacrifices the etherial, but gains passion as a bonus. A standard -- or it should be.

Next we get to Party Down in ElectroSwing style with The Talented Mister & His Berlin Bohemians, playing “Jive the Mood” -- it’s not meant to give you the heebie-jeebies, but the energy is so squirrely that this definitely fits in at a Halloween party. Shake dem bones!

From Cirque du Soleil’s show Quidam then comes a quick little mood-changer, the very wistful “Innocence.”

Nox Arcana is the only performer or group who gets a double hit on my playlist this year, and that’s only because the first song that I selected, the one that I had to have on the playlist, was so short that it hardly seemed representative. So, from their Circus of Lost Souls album, I picked “Spellbound” and “Calliope.” The first is a mournful scratchy-record lament. The second is, well, an arcane calliope in a necromantic sideshow.

“The Monster Mash” just gets too, too much airtime around this time of year, so much that it’s become downright trite... and the even sadder thing is that stations often play third-rate knockoff versions at that. (Hint: if the version of “The Monster Mash” that you are playing is NOT by Bobby “Boris” Pickett and The Crypt Kickers, you had best get out of town on the fastest horse you can find!). But that doesn’t mean that the Kickers can’t be represented, because they turned out a couple albums worth of material, and “Skully Gully” is one of their better pieces. It gets pride of place as the number THIRTEEN song on my playlist.

“Mystic Eyes” by Them is fourteen, followed by the always-sublime Cab Calloway with one of his half a million recordings of “Minnie the Moocher.” I really wanted his “St. James Infirmary Blues,” but it seems I haven’t got a digital copy of that one. Yet. Next Year.

Another cut off the Dark Cabaret album took my fancy, this one by a group called Spiritual Front. “Song for the Old Man” is fine and wistful and eerie and mystical, and being an Old Man myself I appreciate the sentiment. 

 You don’t know the title, at least I didn’t, but you do know the tune, and you’d recognize it if I could play it for you here: a sort of creepy, collagenous, clunky, rag-taggy jazz tune called “Peter Gink” by Six Brown Brothers takes us into the eerier byways of N’Awleans at number seventeen.

There’s a group called Horslips that put out an album called The Book of Invasions yonks ago that I quite liked... just not well enough to buy any of their other albums. I included one of their songs on my Halloween playlist. It’s called “The Power and the Glory,” and it starts out with a simple, spooky organ riff that suddenly erupts and rocks the house down. It seemed apropos.

Raymond Scott is known to all of you from Carl Stallings bastardizations of his music for Warner’s Looney Tunes cartoons. With a title like “New Year’s Eve in a Haunted House,” my number nineteen pick was a no-brainer.

Another recent discovery of mine, the wonderfully odd and outrageous cello-based rock band Rasputina, gets the penultimate entry with a winking, sly short piece called “Utopian Society.” When I listen to it, I see once-elegant creatures of the aristocracy in their fancy gowns and swallowtail coats, frozen at a mile-long table in the Castle Hall, covered in dust and cobwebs.

And my last song on the list, number twenty-one, is a little foot-stomping, fist-pumping rocker with an organ line that puts a period on the whole selection. It’s “Belladonna & Aconite,” by a band that I know nothing about called Inkubus Sukubus, from This is Gothic: The Bat Cave Anthology. They have a gal lead singer, and although it rocks, the song has just a hint of sadness to it, a mournful edge underneath its hard-driving guitar licks. It has a long, slow fade-out. 

That’s what Halloween is, after all: the long, slow shutting down of the year before winter comes and closes its evil fist around us. From Jill Tracy welcoming us to a ghoulishly delicious celebration of life’s impermanence to Inkubus Sukubus’ defiant pounding on the coffin lid, I think my selection covers the season pretty well.

What’s on your Halloween playlist?

-- Freder.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Bargain Basement and the Pendulum

It's just a fact that you'll do some things you wouldn't normally do when they are dirt cheap. And so it was that I scoffed up a Roger Corman / Vincent Price Double-Horror-Header out of the five dollar DVD bin, thinking at that price I could afford to hate them both.

Tales of Terror was first on the menu, and I'm glad that it was, because that left the 1961 feature The Pit and the Pendulum for this week. With the same writer, same director, same star all working for the same studio and all purporting to adapt Edgar Allan Poe (but really just looting his work for titles, horror set-pieces and the occasional one-liner), this is a virtual second helping, with one major difference: this is probably the first-ever Roger Corman movie that I could watch without holding my nose.

Surprised? I was. Maybe he had a better than average crew. Maybe he had a bigger than average budget. Maybe for once in his life he decided not to sleepwalk through the making of a movie. I don't know the reason. I just know that, "praising with faint damns" as a friend of mine likes to say, The Pit and the Pendulum doesn't stink on ice.

Which doesn't mean that it's good, exactly. But it's not inept and it has its moments and the finale actually has a colorful, spirited look about it that I've never, ever seen in a Corman movie before.

Price walks the fine line between comedy and drama quite well for the most part, slicing the ham just right barring one scene in which grief is supposed to get the better of him. And Oh! The Agony! He leans against a bedpost and buries his face in his hands. By the end of the picture, of course, his character is intended to have completely gone around the bend, and so Price has permission, so to to speak, to munch on the carpets and chew the curtains to his heart's content -- and chow down he does, with relish, ketchup, mustard and glee. Not since the days of the silent pictures have I seen madness presented with such histrionics, and you know what? It's okay. It's Vinnie. It's what he does.

The rest of the cast -- well, Barbara Steele was brought in presumably on the strength of her work in Mario Bava's barbaric Italian "gallo" horror pictures, in which she was called upon primarily to a) look great, b) be tortured to death, and c) lie perfectly still with her eyes as wide open as possible... and that's essentially what she gets to do here, although this being a strictly "made in the USA" picture circa 1961, her fate is not nearly so gruesome as what Bava routinely dealt out to her. John Kerr is on the set to look stern and serious and to keep his face as absolutely straight as possible, presumably to act as a counterbalance to Price; and the rest of the cast are simply third-rate Hollywood hangers-on for whom this probably represents a highlight of their career. Some fates are worse than death.

In his able, workmanly way, Richard Matheson managed to carve a sensible and appropriately gruesome movie-length plot out of Poe's decidedly bare-bones short story. We have scary castles and torture chambers and a Love to Defy the Ages that was Snipped Short in its Youth. We have Secret Passages and suspicious domestics and harpsichords playing in the night -- all the trappings that affairs of this sort are supposed to have.

Corman directing as if he gives a damn is not the same thing as saying that Corman has talent: that would be going too far. But it came as a pleasant surprise to this jaded fright-fan to stumble across a Corman picture that was actually competent, that not only attempted mood but sometimes -- wonder of wonders, Halloween miracle of Halloween miracles -- achieved it. The Pit and the Pendulum doesn't have one original bone in its body; even its cobwebs have cobwebs. But it's possible, barely possible, to look at this picture and wonder whatever happened to the director that made it.

-- Freder.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Oh, Poe -- No Go.

With a runtime of just 80 minutes, and even with a screenplay by the usually-reliable Richard Matheson, still Roger Corman’s Tales of Terror would be more aptly titled Tales of Tedium. Well, after all, not even Roger Corman ever claimed that Roger Corman was a great director, and although the Poe movies that he made for American International probably come as close to being “A” pictures as anything he ever attempted, still they were bargain-basement ventures, made on obvious standing sets with stars who, for the most part, were at the very end of their careers.

Only Vincent Price can be said to just be coming into his own, and this is largely because he had washed out at the major studios; I can’t think of any other actor who can reasonably claim that working for American International was the best thing that ever happened to them, but for Price it absolutely was the case. 

Tales of Terror proves beyond doubt what I’ve suspected for some time: that Price was never a serious actor at all. Give him a straight part and his innate hamminess sells it straight down the river. Ah, but give him a comedic part, and you have done something for which he is ideally suited. In fact, all of his greatest horror characters, Dr. Phibes et al, are actually gloriously over the top comedic roles that Price gleefully milked for all they were worth. 

In Tales of Terror he gets to do both. In the first story, “Morella,” Price is a mournful lush who has been pining for his dead wife for something like a quarter of a century. If he’s been putting away the booze for all that time in the quantities that he’s shown throwing it down during the events of the story, it’s a miracle that he didn’t join his wife years ago. His performance in the part is so wet that we wish he had. However in the second story, “The Black Cat,” (which owes as much or more to “The Cask of Amontillado”), Price is typecast in an out-and-out comedic role as a foppish wine-taster, and here he is genuinely fun to watch, rolling his eyes and puckering his lips outlandishly as he simpers through the task. As a serious actor, Price is a lot more entertaining (and a lot more credible) when he’s making fun of himself.

By 1962 Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone were at the looking at the writing on the wall. Lorre had just two years left to live. One wonders how badly they needed the money, or if they simply wanted to work; Lorre gets the better deal in Tales of Terror with a plum role as a drunk and a cuckold who walls Price up in his basement. Rathbone gets what should have been and could have been a juicy role as the mesmerist Carmichael in “The Case of M. Valdemar”; but his former onscreen fire flares only briefly, and for his part Corman seems actively to undermine Rathbone at every turn, cutting away from him during his lines, focusing on other actors when the attention, by rights, should be on Rathbone.

This was one of American International’s more respectful treatments of Poe -- they would evoke and abuse and misuse his name many times in coming years. But respectful or not, it just doesn’t have any life on its bones. It doesn’t even look particularly good: its Gothic trappings stink of the five and dime store. When Price’s rapidly-decaying M. Valdemar walks at the end of the film, you get the sense that he’s not motivated by vengeance: he just wants out of the movie. Sad to say, I felt that way long before the end.

-- Freder.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Roll Up For The Mystery Tour!

I'm happy to announce that the KINDLE edition of my novel, Persephone's Torch, is now available at Amazon. You can follow links here or from our catalog page above. A full description of the novel is available either way. The NOOK version should be up at Barnes & Noble in the next day or two, UPDATE October 12: The ePUB version for iOS devices is finally online at iTunes (though we had to make a concession to their bizarre author naming rules). If you have a choice, go for the ePub version, I think it's the best-looking and most reader-friendly of the lot. I'll update this post as the different editions roll out!

It's just a buck ninety-nine in all formats -- at that price you can hardly afford NOT to give it a try!

While I'm making announcements, I thought I'd unveil the cover for the companion volume to TorchMéliès’ Notebook and Other Stories. This is due out at the end of November and will contain approximately twenty unusual tales, including one brand-new story and "The Death's Head Man," which was nominated for The Pushcart Prize back, oh, yonks ago when it first appeared in the July 1996 issue of Kinesis.

Don't they look swell together? You know you want them on your e-bookshelf. Méliès’ Notebook will also be available across all those platforms and will also sell for just $1.99.  It's just the first wave of publications from Duck Soup Productions. I hope that you like them.

-- Freder.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Another Whack at the Family Tree

Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte, aside from having a really annoying title if you have to type it out multiple times, is Robert Aldrich’s followup to Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (you can read my review of that film here), and although it can’t be faulted in terms of the talent and skill on display, it is nowhere near as interesting as its predecessor.

Made two years later in 1964, it was originally slated to have Davis and Crawford repeating in the starring roles, but Crawford had to bow out due to “health issues” -- or was it just because she was making a pain in the ass out of herself on the set? -- and was replaced, greatly to the benefit of the movie I think, with Olivia de Havilland. Others of the Baby Jane repertory cast returned, especially including Victor Buono, and were joined by Agnes Moorehead (seemingly having a wonderful time in the part of Velma, sort of a blunt instrument as Faithful Retainers go), the always-wonderful Cecil Kellaway, Joseph Cotton, a one hundred percent unrecognizable Mary Astor (is this really the same femme fatale who played Bogart for a fool in The Maltese Falcon? It hardly seems possible), and, most briefly, Bruce Dern.

Charlotte has all the same cunning sadism, the same crisply photographed patterns of shadow and light that Baby Jane had and then some; unfortunately it is also far more visceral and in-your-face with its shock scenes, and far more predictable and ordinary in its plot and conception. Although based on a novel by the same author, it just isn’t as clever, and without the cleverness to wink at us from behind the veil, so to speak, what we’re left with is just a really ugly story populated by really ugly characters who make you feel dirty just by spending time with them.

Which isn’t to say that it’s not well done; it is. Aldrich handles the affair with the precision of a cutting laser, and the cast are all uncomfortably effective in their roles. Once again, Davis performs valiantly in a deeply unglamorous role, not just in the spectacular pyrotechnic displays of mental breakdown that are frankly disturbing to watch, but in the kinder moments that her character is sometimes allowed. De Havilland, with her nice-girl looks and manner, turns in a shrewd and, by the end, deeply mean-spirited performance. Meanwhile, Cotton moves in like a smooth-operating machine, Buono brings the full force of his physicality to bear, and Kellaway just does that smooth, languid thing that he does. 

The picture opens with a scene of violence that is far more graphic than fans of Baby Jane have any right to expect, and indeed I wondered how Aldrich could even get away with it until I reflected that this was 1964, right around the time when directors were beginning to experiment with more explicit depictions of sex and violence; this, after all, is what gave rise to the MPAA’s still-infamous ratings system. Britain’s Hammer horror films were already weltering in gore, and Aldrich must have felt that he couldn’t afford to seem quaint in the shock department. Instead, Bruce Dern’s messy exit almost kills the movie in one, shall we say, chop. It stops the show before the show has even begun. 

Beyond that, Charlotte may disappoint fans of Baby Jane just by belonging to a different gene pool. The two movies are really only related in superficial ways. Baby Jane was a Hollywood Gothic and as such belonged in the same family as Sunset Boulevard, with a flavor, with twists and quirks and freakishness, that only Hollywood, only modernity can bring to bear.

Charlotte on the other hand is pure Southern Gothic and no two ways about it, and if you like that sort of thing, this is your -- ehm -- meat, but at it’s heart this is a very different animal. Southern Gothic is all about Tradition and wisteria and magnolia and long-buried secrets dragging “theyseffs” out of the bayou muck to haunt the living, and that’s what Charlotte does. The cousin-to-cousin manipulation and mental torture is merely a colorful add-on, and a predictable one at that.

I do appreciate the climax, however. Without, I hope, saying too much, and speaking as someone who has personally ventured rather too close for comfort to the edge of madness in the past year, it is enormously gratifying (though telegraphed from a million miles away) when the Crazy Lady pulls herself together and gives Them Bad Folks the message from On High that they have coming to them.

In the midst of its carnage and its very conventional Southern Gothic hugger-mugger, Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte does contain one really lovely, exceptional passage of dialogue, beautifully played by Kellaway and Davis in a rare tranquil moment as the pair walks back to the house from the family plot. Quoth Kellaway, “You’re my favorite living mystery.”

And Davis draws herself up. She turns; for a moment we can see a ghost of her youthful loveliness pass flitting over her face like one of those lacy Southern Gothic curtains wafting in the summer breeze. Quoth Davis:

 “Have you ever solved me?”

-- Freder.

Replay Value

Seems like every morning a song called “Box of Secrets” by British singer/songwriter Zarif gets at least two plays on my iPad “Juke Box” whilst the Quats of The DuckHaus get their morning meal. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to it; it’s a recent discovery, one of “those” songs that I never get tired of.

We all have them, right? Especially when we’re young. The songs that we play over and over and over again until our parents come around and holler up the stairs at us, “Don’t you have any other records up there?” Nowadays you can just set your MP3 player to “repeat” and either zone out or dance and sing along to your hearts content until you’ve burned out in that happy way that’s almost like the aftereffect of good sex. When I was growing up, we had to physically take the record out of its sleeve, put it on the record player, lift the tone arm, then lift it again, move it back to the beginning of the cut, repeat as necessary and wait for those first notes. Wonderful stuff. There’s something to be said for having that level of personal involvement with the playing of music.

In those days, among the singles that I played the most were “Hitchin’ a Ride” by Vanity Fair, “Ride Captain Ride” by Blues Image, “For You Blue” by The Beatles, “Vehicle” by The Ides of March, “These Eyes” and its flip side “Lightfoot” by The Guess Who -- oh, and so many more. Being a teenager of a Certain Age in a Certain Time I harbored a Guilty Fondness for The Archies and The Partridge Family, but don’t pass that around. We’ll just keep that between you and me, okay? 

The point is that it wasn’t enough to listen to any of them once. I had to listen until they were imprinted in my brain. I guess that was the point; I guess that’s how our music becomes Our Music, how culture becomes personal. We begin to feel that the music (and the comics, and the TV shows and the movies) actually belong to us, and not to their original creators. At a certain point, the stuff that we love becomes grafted on to our DNA.

That’s less true now that I’m older. I’m more or less fully formed, and so it’s rare these days that I encounter a work of art that impacts me in that soul-changing, DNA-molding way of youth. When I listen to music over and over again, I’m still making it a part of my life, but it doesn’t become something that Mister Satan would get in the bargain if I signed my soul over to him next week (which could still happen, by the way; I’m open to offers. Where is that SOB when you need him?).

What sort of music are you re-playing lately? iTunes (which only tracks what I listen to here at the computer) tells me that “Hey, Soul Sister” by Train is far in the lead of my repeat plays with 88 hits, followed by “Reflections” by the Supremes with 46 and “Little Arrows” by Leapy Lee with 41. Nat King Cole’s rendition of “Stardust,” which will bring tears to your eyes if you have any kind of a soul at all, has had a measly 36 plays, while the “Batman” TV theme song has had 29. But none of this is scientific. I do much of my music listening elsewhere. 

For instance: “Hang On Sloopy” by The McCoys and “I’m Gonna Be” by The Proclaimers weigh in at just 14 plays each. This is an Incorrect Statistic if ever there was one. If there are any two songs that have a claim to splicing themselves onto my genes after I became an “adult,” these would be them. I can’t listen to either one of them just once. I defy anyone to listen to “I’m Gonna Be” just once; like a certain brand of potato chip used to claim in their advertising, you can’t do it. The song is actually drunk on itself. It’s so full of life that you can’t put it down.

Some songs are like that, just Made to Be Played More Than Once. What are yours? 

-- Freder.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Notes From the Inside

After my experiences this year I cannot help but come to the conclusion that America’s approach to “justice” is completely broken, a system not so much consciously devised as merely grown like a crazy mold over too many generations of contradictory and sometimes nonsensical laws enforced by an army of licensed bullies and thugs and devised by a two-hundred-year-long parade of self-serving politicians, officials and administrators, most of them corrupt, nearly all of them working at cross purposes, having at their core a set of social values that is diseased at best.

You say “diseased” is too strong a word to describe our social values? I say not. I say any culture that still puts people to death is diseased. All life is sacred, and none can be replaced.

I feel for the families who have lost a loved one to murder, but two wrongs don’t make a right, and demanding the blood of the perpetrator is not justice. It is asking someone else to become a murderer in order to satisfy your own lust for revenge.

As long as governments are in the business of taking lives, we are all at risk.

We live within this myth of an egalitarian society where all things are equal, except guess what, they aren’t -- and this includes crime. You wouldn’t give a child who swipes a pack of bubblegum from a supermarket the same sentence that you’d give a twenty-year-old who robs a couple at gunpoint, but blanket laws for operating under the influence do just that. I did some research on this. It doesn’t make any difference if you drive a mile or ten miles, or even if you never leave the parking lot. It doesn’t make a difference if you only drive a foot and a half. If you get into a car with keys in your pocket, but crawl into the back seat in order to sleep it off (in other words, if you’re doing the right thing), you can still be arrested for OUI and suffer the same consequences as someone who careened down the middle of main street at fifty miles an hour and took out a lamp post. 

I want to spell out the bleeding obvious right now and make it clear that I’m not defending drunk driving. What I’m saying is that in order for “justice” to have any meaning whatever, all cases need to be judged on their individual merits. Blanket laws make that impossible.

I have friends who were so badly injured by drunk drivers that they nearly lost their lives. Like the families of murder victims, I feel for them: but they need to let go and listen to reason. All incidents of operating under the influence are not created equal, and should not be treated the same, and it defies reason to suggest otherwise. 

In most, but certainly not all cases, it is plain crazy to throw alcoholics and drug addicts into jail. These people are not criminals.

They have a problem. You might just as well throw someone in jail for being fat. Are they guilty of being stupid? Indeed, they often are. But if we jailed everyone for their stupidity, then everyone would be in jail, including you.

You say that the law is meant to be a deterrent: but that’s not how it works. Because alcoholism and drug abuse are not “bad behaviours” like robbing a store or punching someone in the face that one can simply choose not to do. I met a man in AA who lost his business, his house, his family, everything he had, not just once but three times. He didn’t do that because he got out of bed one morning and said to himself, “I think I’ll get pickled today and then go out and smash my car into a police cruiser.”

The only thing that jailing alcoholics and drug addicts does is to clutter and crowd the prison system, and sometimes to set these people up for more failure.

What they need is help. I was very fortunate to land first in 4 East, where I received medication, treatment, counseling and, this last time, a ticket into an extended outpatient program that finally nailed down my recovery. If I had landed in jail instead, I guarantee you the outcome would have been different.

But then, based on my personal experience with our jails, I’m not convinced that any but the hardest, meanest, worst offenders belong in there. 

If you have not spent time as an inmate in a jail, you have no right to an opinion on this subject. You cannot understand what it is like until you have been through it.

The fact is that any significant amount of time spent in one of those places will turn anyone into the kind of person who is unfit for any other kind of existence, someone who is unfit for life on the outside. It is the ultimate vicious circle. You can put someone in there whose only crime is to have a self-destructive habit: and they will come out a menace to themselves and society.

God forbid that someone fragile or mentally challenged ends up in one of those places. I’m sure it happens. God help them. It must be a shattering experience.

Actually, if they treat other people in the long term the way they treated me in the short term, I’m surprised that there aren’t more fatalities. I won’t go into most of the gory details, but I will say that, just for starters, I was denied my necessary medications. I shudder to think what would have happened to me if I had stayed any longer without access to my meds. 

Just don’t call them “correctional facilities.” There is nothing correctional about them.  By the time I entered jail, I was already determined never again to get behind the wheel of a car while under the influence of alcohol, and so for me jail was just an unnecessary slap in the face. But I met two addicts while I was in there, and both were repeat offenders. So you see: jail doesn’t change anything or anyone. If you’re like me, the “correction” has already occurred internally; if you’re like the other fellows., or like the young man I met in the Seton IOP who had no less than five OUI’s under his belt, jail time won’t correct you.

Ask any alcoholic. The change has to come from inside you. And there is nowhere, nowhere on earth that is less conducive to helping a person make that internal adjustment than the inside of a jail cell.

-- Freder.

PS, I also have a “friend” who said, and I quote, “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time,” a comment that I thought unconscionably flippant and arrogant, not to mention ignorant. And not only that, but, hmm, I don’t recall him saying anything like that when George Bush was the perpetrator. Oh, and by the way, Bush got off scot free because -- oh yeah -- he was George Bush and remember, we live in an egalitarian society. Yeah. Right.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...