Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Lo! There Shall Come An End!

... it’s the sort of title Stan Lee would use whenever he was winding down a multi-part story -- especially in Thor or The Fantastic Four, where he could more easily get away with flamboyant words like “Lo!” -- and couldn’t think of any better title. For my part, I probably could think of a better title if I really applied myself... but if it’s good enough for Stan the Man, it’s good enough for me... and Lo! Verily, an end is coming.

I had an email from my lawyer late last week. My mother’s estate is ready to be closed. Unless the next big February blizzard hits us as originally predicted (and the last prediction I heard sounded like the weather weenie was kind of hedging his bets on it) I’m headed over to her office tomorrow afternoon to, so to speak, put the final nails in the coffin.

At first blush, I would have told you that I was experiencing “mixed emotions.” 

But I would have been wrong. My emotions aren’t mixed. I flat-out don’t like it. I don’t like it at all.

It’s not rational. My reasons for not liking it are 100 percent contradictory to each other. On the one hand, it’s final. It’s the last act, the curtain, the end. Puts everything to rest. It’s good-bye for once and all. My mother was never buried, but instead cast to the wind. In a way, this is the burial, the awful sight and sound of dirt sliding off the shovel and hitting the coffin. 

I don’t want anything to do with it. I mean -- I’m not still in denial about this, but I don’t want to be a party to it. Let other people declare her dead. After nearly three years, there are still times when it seems like a bad dream.

On the other hand, it dredges up feelings that I’d rather not have dredged up, that I’d rather keep buried. I told you it wasn’t rational. I don’t want to be reminded about her death anymore. It’s a bad memory. I need to put it behind me. When I attended the Stonecoast Writer’s Conference back in, I think, the summer of ’88, one of the other students, a talented guy name of Paul K_____, had written a story called “Halcyon Days” about which one of the instructors, Robley Wilson, Jr., made a comment that I’ve never forgotten: “Carrying a torch is one thing, sticking it in your eye is another.” 

I’m done sticking the burning brand of grief into my eyes. I don’t want to think about it anymore. I’ll never stop missing her -- but this bus is moving on. There’s work to be done.

My emotions over the estate rearing its ugly head one last time haven’t been helped by a need to create new illustrations for the paper edition of the story collection, which has forced me to dip into my photo library of the old house as well as the photos I received from the auctioneer. I lived in the old house for so long that when I close my eyes I can physically place myself (and the cats and my mother) back inside of it... but I’ve reached a point where looking at these photos makes me sick. There were an awful lot of things about the estate sale that the auction houses (principally James Julia) frankly bungled ... to give them the benefit of the doubt and use the politest possible terms. I look back at those pictures and see my mother’s life ripped apart and torn down with no care and little respect, just like crazy shoppers turned loose in Wal*Mart on Black Friday. I think back on how awful that whole year was, and I don’t want to think about it any more. I don’t want to think about it any more. I don’t want to think about it any more.

There’s a crass, ugly layer to my feelings about the closing of my mother’s estate as well. I hate to type about it, but I’ve been more or less honest thus far, so it’s a little late to turn back. The fact is that since I got canned from my job last year thanks to the event that also cost me my driver’s license for four and a half months and landed me in jail (but which also led to my ultimately getting sober and rediscovering the things that make me happy), I’ve been living off of the proceeds of the estate... the finite proceeds of the estate.

In addition to everything else, this meeting tomorrow (or whenever it happens) will be my wake-up call informing me in no uncertain terms just exactly how long I have before this Writing Gig needs to start paying for itself. I hear you saying, “So get a job already.” To you, I say two things: First, it’s not so easy for a fifty-four year-old writer and graphic artist in Central Maine to find gainful employment in this economy, and I’ve burned some bridges behind me. Second, that was how I got into this mess in the first place -- and now that I’ve officially been diagnosed with Asperger’s I finally understand why. Those jobs really were making me crazy. If I went back to another high-stress (and it’s all high-stress), unrewarding job, I’ve no doubt but that I’d be drinking again, unapologetically, within a week.

So -- with one thing and another I’m mentally in full “fight or flight” mode. It’s kind of an assault on the bastion. 

 For almost the first time in my adult life, I think I’m hoping that it will snow like hell.

-- Freder.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

"Are you a Good Diva, or a Bad Diva?"

Back in the ‘70s, PBS radio had an AM show called Morning Pro Musica, hosted by the slowest-speaking man in the history of Radio, Mr. Robert. ... J. ... ... (wait for it) ... ... Lurtsema. His show began every morning with kind of a nice effect, especially if you were waking up to it -- the long, slow fade-in of birds chirruping, leading into what was usually a soothing selection of classical music. Lurtsema himself was kind of a soothing speaker... or possibly a somnambulant one. But with his deep voice he did have a way of holding your attention, if only... because... took him... long... get to..



... the point. 

In an interview that’s excerpted on the Wikipedia page devoted to him, Lurtsema is quoted as saying that he was never afraid of dead air... well, that’s the understatement of that year! If silence is golden, his show was full of Golden Moments.

I don’t know why I thought about his show this morning for the first time in yonks, other than that I knew this post was going to be about music and I was casting around for a title. It’s funny how stuff rattles around in your head.

As I work through my collection of vinyl LPs, I’m finding more records than I like to admit that I, to put it delicately, have “grown out of.” An unkind person would be more likely to say to me, “What the hell were you thinking of when you bought that piece of crap?” I’m not going to make any excuses. These things happened in my past, and I’m so much better now, and that’s that. I console myself just a little bit by saying that at least I wasn’t the one who brought the Rod McKuen records into the household, and thank Zarkon the Space God my sister took them with her when she got married. She wouldn’t take her horses, but she took her Rod McKuen records -- go figure. Is that a twisted set of sensibilities or what?

Once upon a time, It was almost de rigeur for TV stars to make records. I know. It makes no sense. But it was the ‘60s and early ‘70s, and a lot of Bad Decisions were being made. Still -- after hearing the records made by Shatner and Nimoy you’d think record execs would get a clue. I guess the bottom line is that these records sold. God help me, I bought one. 

I didn’t even watch The Carol Burnett Show and I can’t say that I was ever a particular fan of Vicki Lawrence -- her “Mama” character makes me want to run screaming from the room -- but she had a hit in ’73 with “The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia,” a song that does have a little bit of a cool mysterioso thing going for it. I bought the single and I wouldn’t be ashamed of admitting that. The B-side is a harmless pop ballad called “Dime a Dance” that proves Lawrence can at least carry a tune (which “Georgia” didn’t do -- it’s the kind of song a performer basically whispers through). But why didn’t I stop there? Why did I have to go and buy the damn album? Looking for another “Georgia” I guess... and it’s not there.

I duped it this morning just to get it out of the way. Have to admit that it’s not as horrible as I expected it to be after all these years, I mean, for a studio album made up of assembled songs for a TV performer. It’s a heckova lot better than Shatner’s album! Lawrence has a pleasant enough husky voice, and she sticks to material that doesn’t challenge her or the listener on any level. But on side two she makes a big mistake by covering “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves,” which was a big hit right around the same time for Cher. The two versions of course invite comparison and this is where it becomes evident that Cher is a real singer and Lawrence is not. Cher knows how to sell the song -- Lawrence just seems to want to get through it. And that’s the whole album for you, really... harmless, perfunctory, and but for the fluke of the title cut utterly forgettable.

I can make this Authoritative Comparison, because, unfortunately, I also own the Cher album named for the song. There’s nothing wrong with it -- Cher’s the real deal. There’s just, beyond the title track, not much right with it... at least, not much that’s worth repeat listenings. She opens with “The Way of Love,” and that’s all right. She covers “He Ain’t Heavy” and James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain,” and does it all well with those kind of dark long vowels that she uses. On side two there’s a trio of songs with unintentionally hilarious titles: “I Hate to Sleep Alone,” “I’m In The Middle,” and “Touch and Go.” It’s not an album to be ashamed of owning, but not one that’s going to get a lot of play, either. No one would accuse Cher of being inventive of anything other than her own self-image.

Which seems like a good time for me to wax enthusiastic about Diana Marcovitz and her debut album, Horse of a Different Feather (Columbia KC 33063, 1974). I came across it in the sale bin at what was then the local Zayre’s department store, which shows you about how big a hit it was. Diana who, you say? I did a quick internet search... seems that after two flop albums at Columbia she decided to give up showbiz, rediscover her Jewish heritage and relocate to the “Holy Land.” 

And yet, Horse of a Different Feather is such a fun and original album that it’s still fresh to this day. This was one talented chick who, because of the eccentricity of her work, was just never going to find her niche in a music business that liked its cookies to all come out of the oven in the same shape and size and with all the same decorations on them. You gotta like a girl who, in 1974, had the cojones to put a song on her album called “So Pissed Off” that begins with the words, “Who in Hell’s name do you think you are...?”

Ranging in style from ballad to honky-tonk, from easy pop and smoky cabaret to parodies of anthems and Gilbert & Sullivan, the songs of Diana Marcovitz (there’s only one song on the album not written by her, and that one’s by Randy Newman) are by turns funny, romantic, wistful, hostile ... and the lyrics are always, always unexpected. In “Groupie’s Lament,” a pampered rich girl reveals a lonely heart at the center of a comical piece; in “Herschel,” a woman who paid for her boyfriend’s college tuition only to be dumped by him vents her anger and her despair. In the autobiographical “William Morris Agency,” Marcovitz describes her humbling experiences in the music biz. 

My favorite cut on the album is “Prima Ballerina,” a haunting piece about a haunting, Baroque in style, played entirely on a harpsichord. The song is about an elderly ballerina who takes up residence in her old theater and spends her days alternately reliving past glories and frightening away intruders, until she ultimately fades away into time. This song alone is worth the price of admission. In the days long before music videos, I used to listen to it and think it would make a magnificent animated short. Today, no one would bat an eye at that idea. Back then it was crazy.

Marcovitz came along well ahead of her time. I can’t help but think that she would find a more significant audience today, now that the “homogenized” music business is basically a thing of the past and eccentricity is a significant niche market. Steampunk was practically made for this girl, she was doing it before it was a word. 

Years and years ago, I kind of thought I was crazy for buying and liking this album. Today, I look back and think it was one of my better choices. I guess if you don’t experience at least a few reversals in life, you aren’t doing it right.

-- Freder

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Midwinter Movie Night's Dram

“Twas Movie Night here at The DuckHaus this past Friday, something that’s becoming a congenial every-month-and-a-half or so tradition around here. I do confess that I dislike going out, but having folks come around here every once in a while is another matter. An evening of company and snacky treats, and then they go away -- works for me! 

I think I’ve mentioned this a time or two before here at the blog, but if you come to my house for a Movie Night you’d best be prepared to hang out for a minimum of three hours. In addition to the feature, I always lead with a cartoon, a comedy short, and an episode from a serial. I’d run a newsreel, too, if I could get my hands on any, but it strikes me that the DVD boom and the wave of film restoration that it helped bring about stopped short of rescuing the newsreel. Leastways, I’ve never seen any DVDs that offer complete newsreels; the closest anyone comes is Warner Brothers with its “Warner Night at the Movies” bonus features, which do sometimes feature one-off newsreel stories.

It seems strange to me, because from a historical standpoint I would think there’d be a lot of interest in something like that. But what do I know? I’m still waiting for Lili, the original Willard and A Thousand Clowns to come out on DVD, too. You’d think they’d be no-brainers. On the other hand, I am sometimes forcefully reminded that my interests are esoteric, to say the least. 

The feature the other night was Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s breakout hit Amelie. Normally I let my guests vote on the feature, but this time I made a command decision after learning that none of them had seen this, or any of Jeunet’s pictures. For me, Amelie is a must-see movie, and furthermore the dead of winter is a really good time to watch it. Why? Because the movie is so visually rich and warm that it helps take the edge off a frigid black winter night. Try it and see if you don’t agree.

At least one of the multiple story-lines in Amelie is 100% true, and actually happened here in Southern Maine. No one in the local press picked up on the fact that Jeunet had sucked up a popular local story and Frenchified it and put it into his movie. That’s the calibre of local journalism for you. As far as I know, my mother and I are the only ones who noticed this little filmic slight of hand.

For the serial -- we're up to Chapter Eight of Republic's 1941 wartime comic book epic Spy Smasher. Although  this episode flagged a bit -- something to be expected shortly before a serial gathers itself for the episode 12 finale -- chapter eight had the best out-and-out comedic moments in the whole series as the title character infiltrates a warehouse from where Nazi saboteurs are shipping mines. In a truly ham-fisted move, Spy Smasher knocks over a stack of crates for no reason other than that the writers needed to think of some way for the Ratzi henchmen to find out he was in the warehouse. Henchman #1 then draws his gun. Henchman #2 admonishes him, saying, "Don't use a gun, stupid! This place is full of explosives!" Cut to Spy Smasher hiding behind his fallen crates -- sheepishly holding his gun. Which he then proceeds to look at, as if to say, "Duhhm, uh, D'OH!" before, looking like an idiot, he shoves it back into its holster. This scene brings audible laughs from every audience I've shown it to. 

But the real hit of the night was one of only a handful of short subjects that W. C. Fields made in his lifetime, The Fatal Glass of Beer, a Mack Sennet parody of silent-era melodrama that taps pretty deeply into The Great Man’s sense of the ridiculous and his vein of surrealism. Virtually plotless, it’s Fields in The Frozen North facing the elements and a deadbeat son on a night that “ain’t fit for man nor beast” -- but watch out for the offscreen stagehands when you say that line, because it’s a cue to get pelted in the face with a handful of obviously fake snow! This was one of those things that caught us in just the right mood, I think... and it certainly was proof that comedy plays better when there’s more than one person in the room.  

I know that Fields isn’t to everyone’s taste -- when I was in for detox the third time, my RN at 4 East, an otherwise terrific woman, looked at me terribly askance when I mentioned his name -- but here’s my take on Fields the man: I suspect that he was a dreamer and a pure soul who had been battered and kicked around pretty hard by life, and had survived only because he also had a streak of cunning. I think for most alcoholics, drinking is their way of filling the gaping holes in their spirit. I doubt that Fields was any exception. He made a kind of poetry out of his addiction. Perhaps he didn’t do us other alcoholics any favors in the process. That’s not his fault. All true comedy is based on pain.

-- Freder 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

"Who Asked You, You Blood-Sucker?"

One of the records that I actually replaced digitally long before I got my USB turntable was the 1973 London Records reissue of The Original Monster Mash (XPAS 71063) by Bobby “Boris” Pickett and The Crypt Kickers.

I’m glad now that I replaced it digitally, because as it turns out, the London reissue was kind of an abomination, although I never knew it at the time. Not only did the release re-arrange the order of the songs, but it flat-out deleted four songs entirely -- as it turns out, four of the best cuts on the album! 

Even the album packaging had issues: although a then-contemporary (circa 1973) portrait of Bobby Pickett was used, the liner notes were reprinted exactly as they appeared on the original 1962 edition (GARPAX SGP 67001)... making it sound as if Pickett was still twenty-two years old and the album had only just been been recorded!

The thing that impressed me at the time was how young Pickett still looked, even in 1973. At that time I was a sophomore in high school, and time moves at a different rate of speed for a kid that age than it does for us older people. To me, at that age, 1962 was, like, a million years ago, and I had expected Pickett to be (and look like) an Old Man! But do the math -- if he was just twenty-two when the record first came out, that means he was only in his young thirties when “The Monster Mash” became a hit single for a second time in the early seventies (on Parrot) and the album was subsequently reissued in its bowdlerized form.

Now -- Pickett is dead (from leukemia at the age of 69) and I’m twenty years older than he was when the record was re-issued! The mind croggles...

The one good thing about London’s re-issue was that the original cover art, which was kind of stupid, was replaced with a terrific new cover (pictured above) by the master of comics mysterioso, Mike Kaluta. In fact, my digital download came with the original cover image, and looking at it every day in iTunes rankled me to no end until I finally replaced it just today with the Kaluta version. 

I also rearranged the song order. It’s taken me an inordinate amount of time to learn that the song information in iTunes can be manipulated just about any which way you want, and now that I’ve learned how to do it I’m taking advantage of it in a variety of ways. The song stack on London’s reissue of The Original Monster Mash was all wrong... but it’s the song order that I’m familiar with, so that’s the song order that I want. The four additional songs I stacked up at the end, as a kind of “bonus material.” It works for me.

Here’s how much things have changed since 1973. Here in the Twenty-Tweens, when I decided that I needed to replace my Monster Mash LP I didn’t even question that it would be available -- I just knew that it would. I hopped online, plunked down my plastic, downloaded the files, and within minutes I was listening to the album. I burned it CD so that I could listen to it on my player in the library.

But in 1973, you were limited to what was available in the local record store... and if you lived in the suburbs, getting to the record store in town wasn't so easy in the first place. When I learned (through The Monster Times, a really neat but long defunct monthly newspaper devoted to all things fantastic) that the London reissue was coming, I had NO idea how I was going to get a copy of this record. I knew that there was no way the local record stores were going to stock it (and I was right). Mail order for records was unheard-of in those days. As it happened, my sister had a school field trip to New York City and I charged her with the mission of going into a big-city record store and getting it for me. It’s about the only good thing she ever did for me!

Getting your hands on media of various sorts, media that you regarded as Vitally Important for your Emotional Well-Being, was a major source of exasperation in those days. 

I still have my cravings for music and movies and books and the occasional comic book. Media is still my life blood and I still regard it as Vitally Important for my Emotional Well-Being... but these days, the problem is just exactly the opposite. There’s so freakin’  MUCH of it, and it’s so EASY to get ahold of. Once upon a time, an obscure silent movie was practically a Life Quest -- now, you hop on the internet and it’s yours for the asking, you can be watching it within minutes. The challenge for me today is to control myself and keep my wallet in my pants pocket! 

Sometimes it’s not so easy. The Original Monster Mash was a no-brainer.

-- Freder.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Spirit Table

I feel like the blog was a lot more interesting back when I was a desperately unhappy drunk. Grief and misery make for a lot more compelling reading than the sort of things that come out of the typing fingers of a relatively contented person. Being of good midwestern stock with strong Scandinavian currents in my blood, I do actually feel guilty about this. A writer has a responsibility to his readership, and I feel like this blog was built on a foundation of Angst that I’m just not feeling right now.

If it’ll help any, the first real bite of winter has finally sunk its teeth into New England; but even that has not got me down this year... for the first time in I can’t remember when, I don’t actually have to go outside in this crap. I shoveled my front walk this morning -- took me maybe fifteen minutes, that was the extent of my Winter Inconvenience so far. 

Misery being the resilient thing that it is, I know that it’s never far away and that it’ll probably be back... so that’s why I’m enjoying myself while I can, doing the blessing-counting thing and not spending all that much time looking back. It’s pretty dark back there. When you’ve been living in a dark, dank hole in the ground and you finally manage to climb out into the sun, you don’t waste any time looking behind you back down that hole, do you? 

Here’s something interesting, though. An intangible part of the past may, somehow, have managed to come with me from the old house. I’m going to be careful here and not make any claims at all. I’ll just tell you what happened.

I’d noticed for some time that the cats liked to sit on top of the wooden table that my mother carved and painted all those years ago, and which used to sit in the kitchen of the old house. My mother spent most of the last five years of her life sitting at the end corner of that table. It’s in my dining room now, here in the new house, against the wall, the only place here where I could put it. 

Now, there are lots and lots of comfy places for quats to lounge around in this house. Lots of soft furniture, sofas, chairs, even a cushy cat bed and a nice rug right in front of the gas fire. By contrast, that table is hard and bare, and it’s in a cooler room, and it’s far from the comfiest place a pussycat could want to sit on. And yet, all four of them spend a lot of time on and around that table. For a while, my little Honey even made a point of squooshing herself into the corner spot exactly where my mother used to sit. 

I didn’t really think too much about it. It was just something I noticed. Then one day, I needed a place to do a tarot reading, and the center part of that table was just the best and most convenient spot. Still is. I use it regularly for that purpose. But at the time I’m speaking of, this was my first tarot reading in a while -- and it was the very first time that I had sat down at that table since it was moved from the old house, which was (I can hardly believe it myself) going on two years.

-- And the moment I sat down at that table, I felt a wave of -- something -- pass through me. It was a kind of energy. It was strong. I jumped up from that table. 

On a hunch, I fetched my iPad and launched an app that purports to allow EVP sessions. These things... I dunno. I’d played with it before in the house, and mostly I got nothing. When I did get words, they were always random nonsense words.

When I set this thing up at my mother’s place at the table, I suddenly got a flood of words... and they made sense. Whatever it was seemed to respond intelligently to my voice. Over the course of several sessions, it spoke of bills and taxes, of diabetes and doctors and of a leg and fear. (My mother’s right leg was amputated below the knee due to complications from diabetes. She never fully recovered. Her final months were plagued by financial worry). At the beginning of one session I asked, “Are you here, Mom?” -- and the machine immediately responded with: “Present.” Later in the same session, I felt something stroke my hand.

When stuff like that happens, your mind actually goes into denial mode. You start to say to yourself, no way did that just happen. This isn’t happening because it can’t happen because things like this don’t happen. 

So -- I’m not making any wild claims. I’m just telling you what did happen. 

I’m not even a believer in these things, not really. But if there’s anything to it at all, then my mission of recovery is not complete. If there’s anything to it, then there’s still some unfinished business living in the carved wooden table in my dining room.

-- Freder

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Burn, Baby, Burn!!

Y'know, crap happens, and nothing is a sure thing until you can hold it in your hand --  but as of right now, it's about 99.9% likely that there's a PAPER edition of Persephone's Torch in the very near future -- and that you're looking at the title page of that edition. I'm pretty danged excited about this and just had to share the news. More details as they become available -- and thanks so much to everyone for the support and encouragement that has gotten me to this point! Stay tuned ---

-- Freder

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

You Takes Th' Sublime With Th' Insipulous...

The first record that I duped over to MP3 format was the one that pushed me over the edge into buying the USB turntable in the first place. Originally issued in 1967, The Wizard of Oz and Other Trans Love Trips by the West Coast Workshop (Capitol ST 2776) has been out of print pretty much ever since its first release, and when a small independent label named Relics finally reissued it on CD late last year, the sale price at Amazon tipped the scale at $20. 

No matter how much I remembered enjoying that old record and wanted to listen to it once again, the Scrooge McDuck in me could not abide spending that kind of money to replace one LP that was sitting right up there in my closet, especially when the turntable that would allow me to convert it and all the rest of my LPs only cost $40 more. It was only natural then, that the first platter to hit the spinner was this one... and what a thrill I got setting the needle down and hearing the opening strains of this little gem once again, for the first time in probably a decade.

From the title and the release date, you’ve already guessed that this isn’t your traditional Wizard of Oz. Using just three of the classic Harold Arlen / “Yip” Harburg songs from the 1939 Oz as a jumping-off point, the Workshop -- a modern jazz ensemble conducted by someone with the impossible name of James E. Bond, Jr., who with producer Nick Venet also wrote all the new music -- takes off into a mostly fascinating and even charming series of riffs ranging in style from classical Baroque to acid jazz. Quoth the liner notes, “You’re off to see the Wizard, but you may find yourself looking through prisms and waterfalls along the way.”

As a child in the late ‘60s, I thought this record was weird, but in a fascinating way. As I grew into my teens, I kept coming back to it, and the sense of its weirdness gave way to a sense sense of wonderfulness. I never really stopped listening to this album, because whenever I came back to it, at whatever age, it rewarded the listening with what I only gradually came to realize was its sophistication. It’s still as fresh today as it was when it was first released, and that’s no mean feat... knowing as little as I do about jazz, I would still venture to say that this is a largely undiscovered and unknown classic of the genre. Now, in my fifties, it’s a gift to be able to stroll down its psychedelic brick road again, as often as I want, and to share it with others, which I am happy to do. 

The album cover (pictured above) is kind of smashing. With its hand-colored stained glass motif framing the center image, it’s a classic ‘60s design, connected to the art neuveau twenties revival, psychedelia, and its combination of adult and childish sensibilities. The grown-up Dorothy very much in command of her jazz-trio, turned-on Oz friends is a smashing image, and the kind of vaginal frame that surrounds them delivers an intentionally subliminal message. Is that a black dude as the Tin Man?

Rediscovering my old record collection has not been, as you might guess, all hearts, flowers and psychedelic yellow bricks, but so far, the only record I’ve duped that made me want to rip it off the turntable and fling it out the window like a frisbee was Ray Thomas’s From Mighty Oaks (Threshold THS 16). It seems that the members of every famous band want to get away from each other now and then, and The Moody Blues were no exception. But, no fools, they -- even when they released solo albums, as nearly each one of the band members did in 1975, it was a coordinated effort. Hayward and Lodge, Edge and Thomas each had almost-concurrent solo releases that even seemed to be designed to color-coordinate in your record collection. 

I’d long felt that -- second only to Mike Pinder, who’d left the group by then -- Thomas was the most brooding and therefore one of the more interesting members of the group. As flautist, he contributed to their sound in an important way, and he wrote some darkly strange songs for them, especially “Dear Diary.” When I saw the three albums in the rack together and had to choose just one, I ruled out the pretentious Grahame Edge right away, and ended up bringiing home the Thomas. It’s one of those records that’s kind of haunted me ever since... excepting only the title track, this can’t even qualify as a guilty pleasure. It’s more like something you’d like to bury.

Far from brooding, Mr. Thomas seems to have discovered Nature, and the discovery seems to have filled him with sunlight. I’m happy for him, but it caused him to put out a record that put the “sip” in “insipid.”

From Mighty Oaks starts out well enough with a kind of pop-classical full-orchestra overture, but the minute Thomas opens his mouth on the second cut he’s in trouble: as you can probably tell from the title, “Hey Mama Life” has some of the most inane lyrics you never wanted to hear, and unfortunately it goes downhill from there. By the end of the album we get a song called “I Wish We Could Fly” with lyrics that go like this:

I wish we could fly
I wish we could fly
Oh how I wish...
... we could flyyyyyyy!

Calgon, take me away! In between there’s a song called “Adam and I,” about Mr. Thomas’s young son. The message of the song, delivered with extremely heavy hand, is that Mr. Thomas likes his young son. I’m very happy for him, but personally, I don’t give a shit.

Thomas has a good strong voice, but he’s singing with the backing of a full orchestra here, and sometimes the effect is overpowering to the point of being, well, comical. Perhaps the key here lies in the words, “Produced by Ray Thomas.” Sometimes self-producing, like self-editing, is a good thing... other times, this happens. Thomas had another solo album after this, called (are you ready for this?) Hopes, Wishes and Dreams. Kind of makes you want to get out your Blue Mountain Arts greeting cards and read them again, doesn’t it?

Oh, well... the LPs can’t all be winners... and heaven knows they weren’t. Memory Lane may be lined with beautiful flowers, but mind those potholes!

-- Freder
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