Saturday, December 09, 2017

My Favorite Christmas Songs.

Unlike so many other people, I dig Christmas time. The season does not drag on too long for me, but I do find that for me it's over much too soon. For me, part of it is that I just do enjoy this time of year when the days are short and cold weather makes an appearance. And, of course, I have a great deal of warm nostalgia for some of the Christmases of my childhood and youth.

So, I really like the holiday and make no apologies for it.

Here, then, are some of my favorite Christmas songs in no particular order except for the first one which has been my favorite since I was a child. Here goes!

First on my list is "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" from Andy Williams. Except, perhaps, for "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" this is the earliest Christmas song that I can remember enjoying. I know I heard it the year it was released (1963). My mom adored Andy Williams so we watched any show he hosted or where he was a guest.


The Ronette's "Sleigh Ride". Produced by Phil Spector, the song showcases Veronica Bennett's wonderful voice. Again, I must have heard it the same year I heard William's song--when I was six years old. It must have been a good year for Christmas songs.




I have always enjoyed this tune. I have to admit that I've been a Gilbert O'Sullivan fan since I was a kid. I know that some people can't stand his work, but I enjoy it. This tune does bear some similarities to another favorite of mine, but not so much that it bothers me.




Thematically, O' Sullivan probably nabbed some thoughts from this Lennon song. Unlike most Christmas songs, this tune can be enjoyed by just about everyone, no matter what time of the year it is.



I discovered this song very recently. First of all, I have to apologize for a bit of the quality of this recording. It's the best one that I could find, but is such a bit of a novelty song that I couldn't locate a better one. Valerie Masters was a UK actress who also had an engaging voice used to excellent effect on "Christmas Calling". The song was produced by Joe Meek, one of the most tragic figures in 1960s pop music. They made a good artist/producer pairing.



I've always preferred the Bobby Helms version of "Jingle Bell Rock". There have been plenty of others, but this one is my favorite. It first appeared the year I was born, but that's not really why I like it best. Helms just had a damned good voice, especially on this tune.


I have to put a Carpenter's song on here. They did so many great ones, but this is my favorite. I'm not sure whose idea it was to infuse this song with so much bittersweet emotion, but it is extremely effective in that way. Touching, a spirit of nostalgia, and an aching sadness that reminds us all that joy, like life, is fleeting.



Most people prefer Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" and it's a great one, for sure. But to me "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" nails down some of the ideas and images that make Christmas sweet and fun.


For just creating the finest imagery more effectively than any other Christmas song I know, we have Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song" which, Torme' said, Nat King Cole insisted he be allowed the first to record. I think this one is from 1961, which means I was four years old at that time, so I probably heard it that year for the first time.



Here's another song that I just really got a kick out of when I was a very young child. It aired for the first time in 1964 on the Christmas TV Special "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" from Rankin-Bass. Voiced by Burl Ives as the Snowman, to me it's a classic tune and conveys a wonderful idea.



This is the most recently written and produced song on my list of favorites, so I'll close it out with this one. From George Michaels (and Wham!), it's "Last Christmas". One of the few Christmas songs written after the 1960s that I really like.



I could have gone on with a vast list of great Christmas songs, but I'll end it here. To me, these are pretty much my favorite songs of the season. So, I'll leave it here. I'm sure I'll discover more holiday songs as I get older, and songs not at the top of my list now will find their ways to the top. Or maybe friends and family will tell me about some compositions I'd never heard and I'll find they become my new favorites. As I said, life (and tastes) are fleeting.

My wife and I picking out our tree at a choose and cut tree farm in 2009, on an appropriately snow-covered day.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

THE BLACKCOAT'S DAUGHTER

I am not a fan of pop culture. Seriously. I tend to hate that shit. Every day people mention pop music stars and the latest young actors, top-grossing movies, fad novels and such...and I have no idea what they're talking about. I just do not follow current trends in modern media. Basically, except for a brief period of my youth, I never have eaten at that trough.

To make it plain, I ignore the latest in hit films and, since the media is packed with ads and promotions for movies that I consider garbage, I tend to avoid the advertising for all modern movies. This means that I often miss hearing about films that I might enjoy because of the fact that I remain ignorant of them due to intentionally avoiding the constant bombardment from vast corporations promoting their vile shit.

Thus, I missed hearing about a 2016 movie called THE BLACKCOAT'S DAUGHTER. The movie was written and directed by "Oz" Perkins (Osgood Perkins, son of the later actor Tony Perkins and Berry Berenson). Set at a private all-girls Catholic school, the story reveals itself as a particularly creepy tale of madness, obsession, and (possibly) demonic possession. Told partially in a series of flashbacks, the story unfolds slowly and effortlessly, although with a kind of cool tension.

And cold is the key word for this film. Everything about it is chilling and sterile. The setting of the film at the Catholic girls prep school is the ultimate of alienation and abandonment. Amid this frozen landscape (both within and without) we are introduced to a pair of students who find themselves trapped at the location because each set of parents failed to show up to gather the girls at winter break. (Yes, the school director attempts to locate and communicate with the two sets of parents, to no effect.) So the girls must wait to be collected by their parents for another day, during which everything changes for them both.

Kat (played by Kiernan Shipka from MAD MEN--yes, I have seen some pop culture TV now and again) is convinced via a nightmare that her parents have been killed in an auto accident and will never arrive.  Rose, (performed by Lucy Boynton, an actress I had never seen before) has intentionally misled her parents to think that she is to be picked up later because she wanted to see a boyfriend before she left for home. So the two girls (one older than the other by a couple of years) are left in the silent halls with only a couple of nuns for company--the girls staying in their structured dorm, the nuns in a brownstone on the campus.

And there is the appearance of a third youthful woman (played by Emma Roberts) inserted into the plot whose story seems disconnected from the others, told in a setting that occurs several years after the initial storyline. Alone at a bus station, she's offered a ride by a married couple played effectively and coldly by Lauren Holly and James Remar (who normally delivers villainous roles, but not here).

I found both Perkins' script and direction to be exceptionally good. The feelings of sterility and alienation that he communicates via images and dialog are effective. The story he tells is also deceptively simple, which adds to the power of it as it unfolds.

If I had any criticism of it after this recent viewing, it would be that the theme of the movie could be considered routine in some ways. But again, I am a hard viewer to please, so I often find fault in most movies.

I do think the movie is engaging in most ways. Keep in mind that it is a horror movie, and an effective one. It's not a romance, and it's not a feel-good yarn. It's a horror movie, with accent on the slowly unfolding, implacable monstrosity. 

Lucy Boynton as Rose.

Kiernan Shipka as the creepy Kat.




Monday, November 27, 2017

Doughton Park

Doughton Park is a recreation area on the Blue Ridge Parkway and is a good example of what is wrong with the way the US government has been run for decades. The Parkway itself, and the specific recreation areas, visitors centers, campgrounds, lodges, and trail system were all created by, for, and with money from the common citizens of the USA. As such, these places belong to the working class who mainly use them.

Unfortunately, for some decades now the National Park Service has been continuously underfunded and our Parks have been allowed to deteriorate. Doughton Park and the structures which were once used as recreation, information, and lodging is a prime example of everything that is wrong with our National Parks system.

This center is still good for picnicking, hiking, and camping (outside of winter). But all of the buildings at Doughton Park are now closed, and have been since 2010. The Bluffs Lodge, the store, and the coffee shop have all been shuttered due--we are told--to the presence of mold and the need for reconstruction. I will take them at their word on this. However, the problem is that while the people who cannot enjoy these places are left waiting, the nation has more than enough money to squander on any number of corporate projects and weapons systems that are not needed.

This is the kind of thing that I see when I go out to use our Parks and Recreation Areas that makes my blood boil. Whose ass should I kick? Whose skull needs to be caved in?

For now Doughton Park and the buildings that we can no longer use and enjoy sit vacant and waiting, receiving just enough attention to keep from falling in. There is a pathetic attempt to raise less than one million dollars via private donations to get the coffee shop and the camp store reopened. (You can donate to that effort here.) Corporate welfare and military expenditures consume this much cash in seconds, but citizens cannot enjoy what we built and own because of the greed and stupidity of the way government tax revenues are disbursed. This is insane.

For now I can (and do) still visit Doughton Park to picnic, hike, and camp (in season). However, the rest of the recreation area sits largely ignored and abandoned. This is wrong. Our Parks and Recreation Areas are not meant to make a profit. The profit within them lies in the recreational activities and the pleasure of how our citizens are able to enjoy their leisure time. If it costs tax money to operate these areas, then that is money well spent. Doling out the working class taxes on corporate welfare and for insane weapons systems and the production costs that go into the pockets of the billionaires is a stinking way to piss our money down the 1% rathole.


The Bluffs Lodge. 24 rustic rooms that provide peace and quiet, and a wonderful environment in which to experience that peace.

The Park Service may very well level this lodge that should remain open and in public hands.


Central pavilion between the two buildings.

The view from the paved pavilion.


Thursday, November 23, 2017

Real Alpine versus False Alpine.

I have written a few times about the false alpine environments that exist in a few high altitude places here in the southeastern USA. False in that the ecosystems were produced by rampant clear-cutting, and subsequent forest fires followed by erosion-causing rainstorms.

So I just thought I'd show a photo of a true alpine setting from a long backpacking trip I took at very high altitude in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. The peaks around me here were well over 12,000 feet, and I think the one in the background was well over 13,000 feet. The table lands on which I was hiking is classic alpine meadow.


The second photo is of the slowly healing southern high country (roughly 6200 feet above sea level) in the North Carolina mountains in the Shining Rock Wilderness. It closely resembles the classic, true alpine setting. Eventually the Shining Rock area will once again be forested with red spruce and balsam trees. Until then, it will be similar to the open, high country we call "alpine".


Monday, November 13, 2017

Suckage.

The television show "The Black Mirror" sucks ass. Friends and acquaintances need to stop recommending that lame, obvious, bloated bullshit show to me.

Once again, "The Black Mirror" sucks ass.

It needed to be said. You can go now.

To Hell with this stupid, damned show.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

HP Lovecraft

I was both horrified and amused in recent years as a cadre of sick, twisted, authoritarian no-talent shitheads did their damndest to remove the image of HP Lovecraft from a mildly well known (but largely insignificant) literary award. Every few days the Internet would bring me the news of what these almost brainless louts would have to say about how the little bust of Lovecraft enraged them, or made them angry, or--and this was the best--offended their odious, worthless sensitivities. (This is their code word and their mantra. Things offend them.)

Alas, these punks succeeded in their stinking efforts to remove Lovecraft's name and image from their tiny circle-jerk awards ceremony. Well, I suppose they enjoy lathering the Vaseline upon one another's nether regions every twelve months. Let them have their moment of disgust.

After this went down I kept seeing one after another of these talentless shitheads droning on and on about what they term Lovecraft's worthlessness as a person and a writer or, if they were feeling magnanimous that day, the overrating of his body of work.

Yes, even Lovecraft's most ardent fans will readily admit that his purple prose is an acquired taste and that his fiction is sometimes riven with racist imagery. It was, as they say, a product of its time, and HPL was a result of his era and social station. That does not remove the importance of what he did any more than what any flawed human being did in their life both within and outside of their art. I don't see any of these morons trying to burn down Allen Ginsberg or Will Eisner, both of whom have awards created in their names, both of whom are guilty of offensive actions in their professional and personal lives.

At any rate, this all got me dwelling on what it was about HP Lovecraft that made him and his fiction so important and so influential. The following is why his stories became such seminal works. In addition the fiction of the anti-Lovecraft louts will be totally and utterly forgotten the second they are dead or otherwise unable to engage in their magical circle-jerk. And the stories of Howard Phillips Lovecraft will still be published, will still be read, and will still be imitated, will continue to influence many writers who will come.

And this is why Lovecraft and his works are deserving of respect.

Here's the thing about Lovecraft: He was an atheist. An adamant atheist. He believed in not one speck of the supernatural. Nothing. They also called themselves at that time, "realists". If it could not be detected or proven, then it was likely false.

So...a truly guilty pleasure of Lovecraft's was supernatural fiction. He loved the stuff. He reveled in it. Combined with his ironically Puritan ethics, such guilt must have driven him close to bats struggling with the incongruity of it all.

Thus, to assuage his guilt and put the matter to bed, he was struck with the spark of brilliance to create fiction in which the supernatural was given a SCIENTIFIC origin and principle.

This is the genius of Lovecraftian fiction. It puts the shade of supernatural within the realm of what is real. There is no magic, only science. There are no gods, only alien beings. Evil has no place; but cosmic indifference to squalid, tiny, insignificant Man rules the universe.

Therein lies the art of what Lovecraft did with horror/supernatural fiction. Nothing was the same after he created his literary work. It has dominated horror fiction and fantasy since the day he began to publish these works.


The whiny cadre of modern literary worms care not one whit for art. They only bother about themselves, all of whom will soon be forgotten and extinct. I have no doubt that they would dearly love to burn Lovecraft's books, but that would be too obvious.


The busts--created by artist Gahan Wilson--which so offended the worms.


Howard Phillips Lovecraft, the writer whose works offended the worms.

And yet, somehow, some way, for some reason, the man who created this image fails to upset any of the worms. They are not, for some inexplicable reason, offended by his name and reputation being touted and announced and celebrated every year for another award largely among a similar and connected genre literary ghetto.



Hideous, offensive, racist image created to demean and dehumanize, from the pencil and pen and mind of Will Eisner. Somehow I don't hear any voices raised over this offensive image of a widely published character that influenced millions of people in its day. Why is that?

Monday, October 30, 2017

Beauty from Disaster.

My last two trips to the North Carolina high country were to a pair of areas that are actually parts of the same ecosystem and lie cheek by jowl. The two are at very high elevations with one slightly lower (relatively speaking) than the other.

The first of the two I chose to visit was Graveyard Fields. It's located adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway and is an extremely popular spot on that National Park-administered roadway. The first thing that strikes you about the place when you hear about it is its name: Graveyard Fields. How the heck did it get such a macabre term to describe it? As simply as possible, it got that way due to Mankind's tendency to create ecological devastation.

In the case of Graveyard Fields what we have is an enormous, flat, high elevation valley. The mean altitude there is roughly 5,100 feet above sea level. For eastern USA that is extremely high for a valley of this type. It sits on the northern shoulders of the highlands that are among the tallest in the state. Several peaks of over 6,000 feet above sea level loom over the valley. And the floor of Graveyard Fields is wide and moderately level creating a vast plateau where streams meander in shallow pathways that are almost without banks and nearly forming braided patterns like some western streams down in glacial valleys.

So...how did it get that name? Well, we can thank the rapacious timber companies of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries for that. When railways came to western North Carolina and penetrated the high country (thanks to government sponsored tax dollars), the timber firms found that they at last had access to the highest and most rugged territory in eastern North America. Finally, the timber barons could get their mitts on those untold thousands of square miles of virgin hardwood and evergreen forests. And grab it, they did!

Over the course of a few decades those companies turned untouched forests of cove hardwoods and dark spruce expanses into ruined clear cuts. They left nothing but stumps and dead limbs and took out the vast trees that had stood tall and strong since before Europeans had set foot on the continent. Within the blink of an eye they left the forested summits and peaks as denuded, ruined landscapes.

The mountain men who had ended up in the high country after chasing away and killing the native Cherokees looked upon the valley and, seeing no trees but only the shortened stumps of the trunks that had once greeted them, instead saw something else--a gigantic graveyard full of dark tombstones stretching toward the heights. How fitting that they saw death where once had been life.

The same fate befell the enormous mountain peaks that rose above Graveyard Fields, which I hiked a week later. One of the tallest of these peaks is Black Balsam Knob. At 6,214 feet above sea level, it had been named for the dense forests of red spruce and Fraser firs that had clothed it in forests so lush and so dark that from a distance they appeared not green, but black. Black like shadows. Black like the rich, peaty loam that fed and sustained those trees. The timber barons took them all, leaving nothing whatsoever. No patches of forest to replenish the land. No seed stock to repopulate the ridges. For the first time since the last Ice Age these giant eastern peaks were bare of forests and were suddenly just dirt and stumps and the drying trash of wizened limbs lying on the ground like flammable tinder.

And, as was repeated over and over up and down the spine of the high Appalachians, these very tall summits and ridges were struck by drought. Streams dried up. Springs failed. The skies did not give up rain and the remains of the vast forest cuts became like matchsticks, the once moist peaty soil like parched brick.

After that, all it took was a single lightning-generated spark.

Those high lands went up. The mountains became a roaring Hell. The stumps burned. The limbs cast aside like trash were like fuel in a fireplace. Even the soil, once several feet deep, packed with carbon similarly burned not unlike a vast thousand-mile blanket of coal. Yes, the dirt burned until all that was left of the ecosystem that had birthed the forests were mountains from horizon to horizon cooked down to rocks and the most basic of mineral soils.

And, of course, eventually the rains returned. Gully-washers. Cloud bursts. Thunderstorms. Floods vast and powerful swept these great mountains and if there was any soil left to feed any returning vegetation it went flowing down the creeks and valleys toward the lowlands, fouling the waters, wrecking the fisheries, sending the stored centuries of fertility down and down toward the coast where it was wasted in the seas.

After that, there was nothing black at all about Black Balsam Knob.

Graveyard was indeed a fitting term for what remained.

It has been well over one hundred years since the timber barons raped these mountains and scoured away everything of value that was growing in this place. And the winters at these altitudes are severe. The heights are raked with powerful prevailing winds and shocked by ice and snow and temperatures that rival those one would expect a thousand miles to the north. Even if the grasses and shrubs could find some sustenance among the rocks and rubble, the cold adds yet another barrier to the recolonization of these ridges by the forests looted and gone.

These days what one sees in the heights we call the Shining Rock Wilderness is a false kind of alpine environment. Our southern Appalachians--even our highest peaks above 6,000 feet--do not create true alpine zones. But exposed here due to environmental rape and harsh winters and denuded soils we have false alpine spots. Shrubs and grasses have managed to come back, and there is the beginning of a new topsoil just starting to form itself again. The spruce and firs are merely starting to poke their needles toward the skies. It will probably take two or three hundred additional years before the stone and sand of Shining Rock and Black Balsam Knob will be clothed in a dark, green, billowing cloak of verdant forests.

Yes, there's a kind of beauty there in the open vistas and grassy flats. But one must understand that it is there because of a monstrous crime; the rape of Mother Earth.


No balsams these days on Black Balsam Knob.

The soils that have been built up are shallow and fragile and easily eroded.

Foot traffic reveals that just below the inch of so of soil is an even more shallow layer of easily removed sand.

In Graveyard Fields one sees some patches of beeches and spruce trees beginning to make a presence.

In the flat, damp expanse of Graveyard Fields some shrubs and grasses have established dominance.


Hiking in Shining Rock, Part I.


Hiking in Shining Rock, Part II.