Saturday, June 26, 2010


This is Rosemary, Goddess of Herbs, sculpted by Mary Albrecht and erected in October 2000. She watches over the herb garden at the Zilker Botanical Gardens, and I found this to be a very striking piece, mostly due to its abstract quality, with simple planes and lines. Plus ( though not really a danger in a low-pollution city like Austin ), the lack of realistic detail would certainly allow this piece of work to last with little appreciable damage over the years. But what this reminded me of was of a couple of images created by Danish photographer/filmmaker Lasse Hoile. One was a costumed figure with a blank, rounded face, rather like a tree stump, with a vile, Jabba-esque tongue, which appeared in the video for Steven Wilson's "Harmony Korine", the lead-off track from his solo album Insurgentes.

( It first appears at about 0:27 in the video. )

The second image is very similar to the figure in the video, at least in posture, but the face is...well, a little more detailed. It is a photograph in the CD booklet from Porcupine Tree's latest album, The Incident.

( This photo is actually from the deluxe edition of the same CD, but it appears in the retail edition, as well. )

The "Rosemary" statue is probably supposed to engender a bit of tranquility, like an avatar of a spiritual overseer. I wonder if that says something about my outlook, if the first thing that came to mind was some creature of nightmare from the same guy who revisits the dark and twisted aspects of perception. Some of his visions are...disturbing.

Seriously, check out his portfolio:

Friday, June 25, 2010

No real topic today

Right, I thought I was going to update this thing on a regular basis. Well, real life has decided to jerk my chain to the extent that, when I do think about that next entry, I sit here with that thousand-yard stare with not the foggiest idea what I'm going to write. It happens. I can say that I have written recently, but nothing I particularly want to share. Was that writing relevant in any way? Certainly it was. My baby sister sees fit to call me out on the subject matter from time to time. I should listen to her more often, and that's all I'm saying on that.

So, what is going on that I don't mind revealing?

British Petroleum is starting to really piss me off. Everything related to it, really. The internal politics as we know them, the company turning a blind eye to those whose livelihood is dependent upon the Gulf shores, and probably most grievous of all to me, Rep. Joe Barton kowtowing to the corporate giants, showing once again that a lot of public officials do not care, and probably do not even know, about the little people. And in the WTF Department, how about these items:

Yeah, you get the idea.

Okay, next up: hair loss. Notably, mine. I don't mind the going gray part. I've had silver temples for ten years now. I like them. Other people like them. I can even handle a bit of receding hairline. But the thinning out of my once glorious tresses is starting to alarm me, and that seems to have coincided with my being on medication for hypertension. I can see my scalp, and it's freaking me out a bit. And I can't ( and won't ) do a combover or anything goofy like that. I could shave my head, sure. Maybe even cut it short. But at this point...nope. I rather like the long hair phase for now. I will investigate this undercurrent of vanity. But if I ever get to the moment that I realize I have a skullet, and nothing will change it, and I have to resort to wearing a bandana a la Bret Michaels, or a cowboy hat a la Dwight Yoakum, off it goes.

In current rotation:
Porcupine Tree: The Incident and Fear Of A Blank Planet
Coldplay: Prospekt March
Jeff Buckley w/ Elizabeth Fraser: "All Flowers In Time"
Cardiacs: a variety of tracks from all periods
Rush: "Caravan" and "BU2B" from the forthcoming Clockwork Angels
Marillion: Misplaced Childhood
Pearl Jam: Live at Benaroya Hall October 22, 2003
Daniel Johnston: "Walking The Cow"

Random picture:

I like migas and green eyes. And I am hungry.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Conan Canon

"Know, O prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles under the stars--Nemedia, Ophir, Brythunia, Hyperborea, Zamora with its dark-haired women and towers of spider-haunted mystery, Zingara with its chivalry, Koth that bordered on the pastoral lands of Shem, Stygia with its shadow-guarded tombs, Hyrkania whose riders wore steel and silk and gold. But the proudest kingdom of the world was Aquilonia, reigning supreme in the dreaming west. Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet."--The Nemedian Chronicles

This was the world's introduction to Conan, in a story that appeared in the pulp magazine Weird Tales in its December 1932 issue. "The Phoenix on the Sword" was a rewrite of a rejected story featuring another of Robert E. Howard's creations, King Kull. Howard wrote two more stories in rapid succession, but after writing an essay detailing the history and geography of what would become known as the Hyborian Age, setting and character truly began to coalesce with a story called "The Tower of the Elephant", one of the best of the canon.

Ah, yes. The canon. The tales generally accepted by scholars and serious fans alike as the definitive representation of one of the most well-known ( if not THE most well-known ) figures in the sword-and-sorcery genre. In Howard's lifetime, he had written twenty-one stories and numerous fragments and synopses featuring Conan of Cimmeria. However, most readers and fans of Conan were introduced to the character through a comprehensive, mutli-volume collection of stories, under the "guidance" of authors L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, who edited, completed or in some cases rewrote Howard's existing stories, much to the chagrin of readers who longed for the original stories in their raw, original form. Thankfully, blessedly, efforts were made to collect Howard's stories, ignoring the pastiches and adaptations by de Camp, Carter, and other writers who churned out scripts and novels featuring Conan, but not really "about" Conan. There's a feel and a style that seems to have been lost in the literary continuity...except for Frank Frazetta's covers for those de Camp/Carter editions published by Lancer, then by Ace Books, between 1966 and 1976.

( As I don't feel comfortable infringing upon the Frazetta estate by possibly violating the copyright, it's perhaps best you follow the link above to view some of his artwork. "Barbarian" is probably THE iconic image associated with Conan. There are several other paintings in that gallery specific to the Conan books. Go on, take a look. )

Me being me, I was REALLY interested in reading Howard's material as it was originally completed and /or published. A three-volume omnibus of those stories, notes, drafts, essays, and fragments was published in the U.S. by the Del Rey imprint, with wonderful illustrations ( no Frazetta ) throughout. And in reading those stories, one really gets a sense of the grit, the drama, the violence and can virtually smell the adventure. Howard wasn't the greatest writer, and mind you, he was a product of his time and of his upbringing. But Conan was never portrayed as a mindless sword-slinger bent on wanton destruction and debauchery--although he was a "live in the moment" man who drank deeply from the goblet of life. He was not a jolly old soul, nor particularly altruistic. He didn't live by any particular code of conduct. Conan didn't trust civilization or government, and yet the very first story featured him as king of Aquilonia, the grandest nation in the Hyborian Age.

So it's a little irritating, as a fan and scholar, that any Conan tale absolutely must feature him wearing nothing but a loincloth and a scabbard, hacking and slashing his way to rescue some nearly-naked damsel in distress or to acquire some fabulous bejeweled prize. Somehow, that seems to have become the template not only for Conan, but for any number of imitations. Bread and circuses, indeed.

There's little that Robert E. Howard himself can do to defend what is arguably his most enduring creation. Born in 1906 in Cross Plains, Texas, his writing career, however prolific, was very short. Plagued by his own "gigantic melancholies" ( the general consensus of those who have written about him ), he committed suicide in 1936. His surviving notes and letters to his contemporaries give much more information about his motivations and thoughts behind chronicling those adventures than any one story or collection can reveal. I'll tell you this: those Del Rey editions are an invaluable resource for anyone wanting to know the history of Conan, both in his stories and as his creator saw him.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Huanying, huanying

Dajia hao!

You know, I've had an online journal for a number of years, and have filled volumes of paper journals for a couple of decades, at least. A lot of pontification, a good deal of kvetching and spewing nonsense, and some creativity and clarity went into those volumes, but it's been mostly for my own purposes. A number of people, good friends and passers-by, have been privy to my expressions and impressions. I've made some folks happy, I've made them think, I've made them uncomfortable. And I'll tell you why.

Though I've learned to exercise some restraint in what I reveal ( for instance, a lot of the heavy stuff remains in my handwritten journals ), I tend not to sugarcoat anything. I'll shoot from the hip, I'll let raw emotion come out, I'll be absolutely honest. A lot of people won't do that. I also have a penchant for the slightly ridiculous, the absurd, the elusive and hidden truth, and the snarky and the witty and the lighthearted. There's not a great deal of self-editing going on when I start writing. After all, this is a personal blog, not the National Geographic. But my audience, such as it is, are bright and smart and perceptive people. There's not much I need to explain to them.

That said, I hope you'll follow along with me while I jot down the events and observations for posterity. Give me your input. Cheer me on. Say hello.