THE ABSENT - out now!


Out Now - For sale on Amazon and other onlne book sellers


Out Now


My first book of poetry available through Amazon and other online booksellers

Thursday, June 20, 2013


The thing I liked most about A CHILDHOOD by Harry Crews was the lack of self-pity.  This is an autobiographical work not a work of fiction and contains the details of a hard scrabble farming life in rural Georgia and later in Florida with malnutrition, horrific childhood accidents, the death of a father, an alcoholic stepfather, poverty in general etc.

However, Crews’s tone throughout is lite.  He’s looking backwards through the mirror of a life well-lived with some or all goals achieved.  He’s a successful writer and these were the life experiences that made him who he was.  They didn’t scar him but rather gave him a wealth of living to draw from when writing.

Crews’s descriptions here are immediate and easily visualized and packed on top of each other like sardines.  They come so fast, the effect is tiring.  This is a short book about a 170 pages and reads very quickly but feels like it’s much longer.

Maxim Gorky did something similar but with much longer prose in his MY CHILDHOOD trilogy.  Like that book, the most terrible parts are the most memorable especially Crews’s childhood injuries – A weird condition that leaves him crippled for a period as a small child (and which is never diagnosed) and an accident in which is he is burned on much of his body.  The scenes describing his healing and especially the scabbing process will make you grit your teeth.

What the reader is left with is the age old discussion of how much a writer’s life experience is important to his writing.  With Crews, he shows us a positive outcome which is the birth of a writer from the hard life of poor sharecroppers and tenant farmers.

The people in this book have dignity.  They are the characters every writer dreams of.  I understand why many people consider this Crews’s best book.      

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Civil liberties are non-negotiable.  The selling point of the United States is a level of personal freedom unparalleled in the world which is directly due to minimal government interference in the life of its citizens.

Of course, that is all marketing BS.  There may be a higher degree of freedom for matters of personal choice such as abortion and gay marriage (and those have not been fully realized and/or are under constant assault by religious fanatics – Many European nations are freer in this regard) but just try speaking out against the actions of our government.  If you are not part of the two party pseudo debate, the corporate owned news media will marginalize you and the government itself might penalize you as we’ve seen with whistleblowers and, in America’s not so distant past, those who spoke up about civil rights and workers rights.

And the problem IS the two party system.  When it comes down to it on the issues that matter to me (foreign policy, civil liberties, campaign reform, drug legalization), the Democrats and Republicans are basically the same.  There is more lip service to issues I care about in the Democratic Party but that is from the ignored progressive wing and doesn’t actually translate into action such as legislation.

No greater illustration of this than hearing people who style themselves as progressives and liberals mouthing the Dick Cheney 1% doctrine bullshit in a misguided attempt to bolster the Cult of Obama.  President Obama, honestly speaking, is in the process of establishing one of the worst civil liberties records of any president in US history.    

Edward Snowden is a hero IMO.  It is true that what he has exposed could be twisted through the mire of judicial nuance to be considered legal but it is constitutionally and morally wrong.  America went insane for a few years after 09/11 and we are seeing the damage now.

Effectively, all privacy in America has been eliminated as one of America’s greatest senators Russ Feingold warned at the time of the passing of the Patriot Act -

While FISA (The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act ) is problematic, it had safeguards which were decimated by The Patriot Act.  I would argue against legislation like FISA but the root of the problem is the Patriot Act itself.  It is a Pandora’s Box (as many of us knew at the time) and when you open it, you get on the slippery slope to dictatorship.  America is a dying empire and one of the phases of the death process is domestic totalitarianism as all the chickens come home to roost – Not able to invade and terrorize other countries for their natural resources so you end up terrorizing your own country as you sink into economic depression and political disorder.   Oswald Spengler identified this as part of the “winter” phase of the decline and death of a civilization in THE DECLINE OF THE WEST – a book with a lot of pertinence to where we are today in America.    


Wednesday, June 5, 2013


SPEEDBOAT by Renata Adler is a book that is all style, almost too much style.  The style works in the sense that this is not a boring read and it stops inches before slipping into gimmickry.

The style is short paragraphs which are vignettes often with an ironic twist at the end.  The vignettes are filled with oddball characters, musings on different philosophical issues, remembrance of things past.  These are loosely framed around school and then work and also travels the narrator has taken.

Adler does a good job minimizing the snotty post-modernist New York accent.  She retains enough ironic distance that none of this comes off seeming too precious. 

While certain images from this book will stick in my mind (the Argentine polo-playing existential psychiatrist for one), a lot of SPEEDBOAT was forgotten as soon as I read it.  I think the framing mechanism could have been tighter so as to have things that happen relate directly to the chapter heading.

But I have to give this book some kudos for originality of style and while it’s not particularly deep, her use of language as it relates to flow is impressive.  She writes like a journalist, she writes like someone attending a wild non-stop party describing the other guests.  

Monday, June 3, 2013


Chapel Club’s second album GOOD TOGETHER retools the sound of their first by replacing the big guitars with heavy use of synthesizers and programming.  The thumping drums remain but are now augmented by electronic percussion.

While I thought their debut PALACE an excellent record (wrote about it here,  the new record’s heavy use of synths and less use of guitar have the effect of pushing the melody to the forefront even more than in their debut.  There is a sense of freedom on this record.  Songs such as “Sequins” are glittery and over the top with a lot more emotional connection available to the listener that the songs on their first album.

GOOD TOGETHER is just the most recent example of the return of the synthesizer to the forefront of music through the return of 80’s bands like Ultravox, Visage, and The Human League as well as existing guitar bands such as The Editors switching to more electronics.  That should be differentiated from all the one man bands popping up these days working in their bedrooms and making music that is totally synthetic.

What was great about the synthpop of the early 1980’s was how human it was.  Many of these groups such as Yaz, Heaven 17, and Soft Cell had soulful, passionate lead vocalists that contrasted with synths which were much less chilly than their pioneering predecessors.

Kraftwerk set the instrumental lead but their music while innovative had little or no warmth and no footing in pop.  Synthpop by its very definition was pop.  What changed also was the interaction between the performer and the synthesizer.  It became an instrument just like a guitar or anything else as opposed to a disembodied pre-recorded backing track like The Who used on Baba O’Riley, Won’t Get Fooled Again, and Who are You?

Joy Division and consequently New Order were the first band(s) to comfortably move back and forth between guitar heavy songs and those featuring synths often integrating the two.  Chapel Club is just one in a long line of bands to follow suit – a practice that is once again returning to alternative music.      


Sunday, June 2, 2013


Listening to TONIGHT’S THE NIGHT by Neil Young.  This is a record the critics fall over themselves praising despite it being Young’s most difficult “good” record as opposed to his difficult “bad” records which are difficult because they aren’t very good. 

Inspired or disturbed by the drug overdose deaths of roadie and friend Bruce Berry (mentioned in parts one and two of the title track) and Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten (who sings on the live track “Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown), Young created an album of drugged out music, languid, sharp in places unexpectedly, tired.

I don’t however feel that this is a depressing record with the exception of the title track and perhaps “Tired Eyes”, the rest of the songs taken independently seem to be descriptions of an aimless musician’s stoner based life.  However, they achieve their power when listened to in sequential order.

This is one of those records like PINK FLAG, MOTT, I WANT YOU, EXILE ON MAIN STREET that must be listened to in its entirety.  The individual songs don’t mean as much apart.

I also feel the power comes from knowing the backstory already.  Without it, it doesn’t feel as desperate, as mournful, as sad or angry.   The songs bleed into each other and one could transpose that onto the 70’s themselves, an era of destructive, fatigued, self indulgent hedonism.

It’s not my favorite Neil Young album.  I would rank it 5th or 6th but that’s still saying quite a lot as Young has made many great records.  I will say that none of his other records sound like this one.  His voice in particular is much rougher as if he’s screamed himself hoarse before each song.   

Saturday, June 1, 2013


By the time I made it through the almost 800 pages of the EUSTACE AND HILDA trilogy by LP Hartley (comprising the originally separately published THE SHRIMP AND THE ANEMONE, THE SIXTH HEAVEN, and EUSTACE AND HILDA) I’d run the whole gamut of opinions about the writing – Great story filled with interesting scenes and in particular realistic dialogue to still interested but wondering where the story was going to wondering what went wrong and finding it a challenge to get through the book.

The story is about the relationship between brother and sister Eustace and Hilda.  The SHRIMP takes place when they are children, The SIXTH when they are in their early 20’s, and EUSTACE in their late 20’s.  Hilda is three years older than Eustace.

In SHRIMP, we are given a picture of Eustace as a sickly little boy who has a close relationship with his strong-willed older sister Hilda.  Their father is a widower and is not poor but not rich either.  Their relationship with some of the neighbor children such as the wealthy Stavelys (Dick Stavely develops a crush on Hilda) and the Steptoes(Nancy Steptoe seems to like Eustace although nothing ever comes of it) are also explored.  The big event in the first book is when a wealthy invalid named Mrs. Fothergill leaves her inheritance to Eustace when she dies.     

The writing in the first book is really amazing especially how Hartley frames expositions scenes.  There is a lengthy interior monologue Eustace has while in the bath that is stunning in its complete rundown of events and character’s relationships with each other.  The theme of the book is established with the opening scene when in trying to save a shrimp from an anemone in a tidal pool Eustace and Hilda kill both.  They are a negative force  in each other’s life and hold each other back.

The second book introduces Eustace’s college roommate, Stephen Hillaird who develops an interest in Hilda.  Eustace is well off due to the legacy bestowed on him by Mrs. Fothergill.  Hilda runs a clinic for crippled children.  The wealthy Stavelys who they have not seen in years re-enter their lives and Dick resumes an interest in Hilda.  In the first book, Dick invited Eustace out riding but only as an excuse to get Hilda out too.  When Hilda doesn’t want to accompany Eustace, the ride is called off.  In the second book, Dick invites Eustace and Hilda to his house.  This time Eustace convinces Hilda to go and….It is implied Dick and Hilda might have slept together but this is book is so genteel and Victorian in its descriptions of relationships it’s hard to tell.  The second book ends with Dick’s aunt inviting Eustace to Venice

The third book finds Eustace in Venice where he decides to write a book and where the whole book goes to pot.  Eustace’s time in Venice which is about 75% of the book is dullsville.  The scenes of importance that do happen, a confrontation with Dick Stavely and a weird stilted reunion with Nancy Steptoe, are poorly written.  The rest of his time there is a collection of boring geographical details and meaningless trivial interactions.  Meanwhile Hilda, after being dumped by Dick Stavely, slips into a psychosomatic state wherein she can neither walk nor talk.  Eustace comes back, takes her out in her wheelchair, fakes having a heart attack which brings her out of her state to help him then dies of a heart attack later that night.

The first two books built up a very interesting storyline with a lot of possibilities, a lot of directions it could have gone in.  Having Eustace get hung up in boring Venice and again the genteel descriptions which means we never know if Eustace is asexual, gay, or slept with Dick’s aunty (I bet on the first option) mean that there is essentially no story in the third part of the book.  Hilda’s make-believe coma is just ridiculous and doesn’t fit her character at all.

This is not to say LP Harley is a bad writer.  I’ve read his most famous book THE GO BETWEEN as well as a number of his short stories which could be called ghost stories and he is a great writer.  Very good at subtlety.  Very good at delivering the dark twist.  All of this is on display in the first two books but lacking in the third.  This is perhaps Hartley’s BRIDESHEAD REVISITED an attempt to write a serious book as BRIDEHEAD was for Evelyn Waugh but Waugh’s other books contained a lot of humor.  Hartley on the other hand would have been better served sticking with the tone of his previous writings.       



HEARTS AND KNIVES, Visage’s first album in 29 years, has to be one of the most unexpected comebacks of all times.  I loved Visage the first time around– A great singles band that featured frontman Steve Strange with a backing from musicians from other bands (especially Ultravox and Magazine).  Most noticeably Midge Ure who actually chose joining Ultravox over staying with Visage whom he was already affiliated with

Visage’s return does feature Ure on a couple tracks but more importantly Steve Strange and his assembled band deliberately uses 80’s technology.  The end result is full of burping, beeping synths and sampled guitar swalls. Strange sings about beauty and fashion and danger as if it was 1982, The New Romantics were still in charge, and the club he ran Blitz was still open for business.

The closest thing to this I think is the Ultravox reunion album BRILLIANT from last year.  I wrote about that here .  Like that record, HEARTS AND KNIVES sounds like it was released back in the 80’s and the intervening years didn’t happen.

A really satisfying record for those who appreciate 80’s music such as me.

Still Corners  - STRANGE PLEASURES  

As sweet as this music (and it is sweet), it is the distance that hooks the listener.  Still Corners’  Tessa Murray’s laidback vocals and Greg Hughes atmospheric arrangement create songs that function as soundscapes.  Modern indie meets 80’s boogie such as ”All I Know” and  “Future Age” are offset by longer moodier denser passion plays such as “The Trip”.  The overall effect is a bit 1980’s in places and also 90’s as some of the faster songs remind me of Dubstar.  This is meticulously pretty music not clean without personality but hooky and mind altering.


My novel THE STRONG AND THE WRONG is out today!!!!  Can be bought here

What's it about?

At the heart of The Strong and The Wrong are dual themes.  The first one being if one lives in a society or is a citizen of a country whose actions they disapprove of and they are not in a position to affect change, it is a valid form of protest to leave.  This is discussed in reaction to general American policy and then specifically the USA’s actions in the world following 9-11.  The second theme is travel and relocation to a new land (in this case Malaysia) not just open you up to new experiences but also new ways of thinking that might help you erase old negative ways of thinking. 

The Strong and The Wrong could be described in three parts.  The first part is the dark history of America’s intervention in the affairs in the twentieth century as told from the narrator’s viewpoint.  This and his impending marriage to a Malaysian woman lead him to try living in Malaysia.  The majority of the book deals with adapting to life and culture and work in Malaysia.  The last part deals with the narrator learning about Buddhism.  While not necessarily embracing it has his own personal philosophy, he learns much from it and comes up with his way of dealing with life.

 The Strong and The Wrong is neither a travel book nor non-fiction nor an adventure novel nor post-realism doggerel.  It is a simple story of wherever you go you take yourself with you but it also possible to replace pieces of yourself with where you go.