Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pink Floyd - Rare Singles

So today Pink Floyd releases newly remastered versions of their 14 major studio albums, along with some other treats, like a six-disc version of Dark Side of the Moon, a new best of album to come shortly, and more. This is exciting for new Pink Floyd fans, who have yet to discover the band, and dedicated Pink Floyd fans, who have lots of money to shell out on fresher, cleaner, fancier versions of what they already have. Pink Floyd was my top favorite band in high school, and they remain one of my favorites to this day. But I guess I fall under that group who already has all this material (albeit in less shiny forms), but doesn't have the money to go out and buy new copies every time they release a new version (you know how many times they've re-released Dark Side of the Moon? And to this day, I've only bought it once).

However, this is a perfect opportunity for me to introduce you to a Pink Floyd compilation I put together myself a number of years ago. I call it Rare Singles, and it puts together a lot of the non-album material from the Floyd's early days. In 1971, the band itself released a compilation titled Relics, which consisted of a few early singles, some standout tracks from their first few albums, and one or two unreleased tracks. I eventually discovered that there were other early singles not appearing on this disc, or any other easily acquired disc (that is, without shelling out a fortune for one of the box sets). So, I decided to "upgrade" Relics by creating a new compilation that would dispense of all the album tracks, and replace them with more of the hard-to-find stuff.

I think it's a fantastic compilation, and it sounds really great. It brings out more of Syd Barrett's genius through those early singles that are mostly forgotten today, and it also has a nice balance of stuff that showcases the rest of the band. I also threw in the great track Embryo which appears only on Works, an otherwise unremarkable Pink Floyd compilation released in 1983, as well as a live version of the song which stretches it out and gives it more life. You know record companies are in that game to scam fans out of their money, so they'll release compilations with mostly stuff they already have, plus one or two rarities they can't get anywhere else. I think it's dishonest, and so that's the point of Rare Singles - to put all (or at least a lot of) that rare stuff together on one disc. You'll never see it on store shelves, but I think it would be very popular if such a disc were ever released.

Here's the track list:

1. Arnold Layne
2. Candy And A Currant Bun
3. See Emily Play
4. Apples And Oranges
5. Paintbox
6. Scream Thy Last Scream
7. Vegetable Man
8. It Would Be So Nice
9. Julia Dream
10. Point Me At The Sky
11. Careful With That Axe, Eugene
12. Biding My Time
13. Embryo
14. Embryo (Live at BBC 1970)

And for the cover, I made a point to search out a rare picture of the band that includes both Syd Barrett and David Gilmour, which bridges the gap between the two main and early lineups, and represents the spirit of the compilation.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Notes on The Goblet of Fire (book version)

Warning: There be Harry Potter spoilers in this post.

* I love that Moody's "Mad-Eye" can see through things - even Invisibility Cloaks!

* I love how Hermione is NOT crushing on Viktor Krum in this version. (He's definitely not her type - not that Krum's any worse than Ron, though :-\).

* I loved the entire house elf liberation subplot. It was a great allegory for slavery. Even down to the fact that the slaves feared their freedom, and most people justified the convenience of having slaves by believing that the slaves enjoyed their slavery - even perfectly reasonable, caring people believed this. There is no force as strong, or as corrupt, as conservativism.

* I am continually impressed by how much of an inspiration and a role model Dumbledore is. He has such wisdom and integrity. The way he treats people with respect who deserve it - whether human or giant or youth or former Death Eater - is so admirable; yet he is a force to be reckoned with against the agents of evil and hypocrisy and cowardice.

* I like how scathing this book is toward both the media (Rita Skeeter), and politics.

* I immensely enjoyed the confrontation between Dumbledore and Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic, at the end of the book. It really shows how inadequate politics are, and how fear and laziness can contribute to evil and corruption. And it also sets up the Ministry as an enemy (even independent of Voldemort's influence), and what is to happen to Hogwarts at the hands of Dolores Umbridge in the next book. Like many things, this is explained much more clearly in the books than it was in the movies.

* On that note, I also liked the explanation for what happened between Harry and Voldemort during their duel (Priori Incantatem). It makes a lot more sense than, "oh, guess what, these ghosts are gonna show up, but we're not gonna tell you why".

* The Goblet of Fire is the turning point in the series, and I think that's why it's one of my favorite parts of the story. The tension, and the despair when Voldemort finally returns. It's like the ending of The Empire Strikes Back, when the bad guy wins, and everything looks so grim, and you're dying to find out what the heroes will do to fight back. I'm looking forward to reading on!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Horror Realm Con (Saturday)

I got the autograph I wanted on Friday, but I decided to come back for another day of fun at the Horror Realm Con. Being a late riser, I skipped all the programming in the first half of the day and arrived in the afternoon to roam the Dealer's Room a bit more before catching some panels. I was considering picking up some cheap smut, since, you know, where else can you find that sort of stuff (offline)? And there was plenty of it to choose from. But you know how porn is - all the content is pretty similar, and finding something with a model you like can be a crapshoot.

It occurred to me that I could try to find something with Misty Mundae in it. She's a model I like, and she's done both softcore porn and horror. In fact, I think she's even been described as a scream queen; although, the Ladies of Horror lamented yesterday that the label "scream queen" has sort of lost its prestige these days, being diluted by the countless amateurs who grasp onto it hoping to make a name for themselves. Considering what I had seen in the Dealer's Room on Friday, I knew I wouldn't have much trouble finding a title featuring Misty Mundae, but I wasn't expecting to find a booth right outside of the Dealer's Room advertising various erotic features, including some of Misty Mundae's work! I suppose I should have taken it as a sign, but I ended up not buying anything, because I really didn't want to spend any more money. :-(

So what's the deal with all this porn at a horror convention? Well, it's no big secret that the 'sleaze sector' kind of runs through both the 'b' horror and porno genres. Actually, the Ladies of Horror mentioned yesterday the stereotype they have to deal with, where people will assume that if you're a female actress who does horror movies (careful you don't pronounce it "whore movies" ;D), then you also do porn. Which is not necessarily the case. Nevertheless, the naked fact is that there is indeed some overlap between the genres. Like how the exploitation genre covers both gratuitous sex and violence. Which brings me to the first panel I attended on Saturday.

It was a talk with 42nd Street Pete, who grew up around the grindhouse theaters on 42nd street in New York City, during their heyday. He had plenty of sleazy stories to tell about that scene, with all the drugs, sex, and bootleggin' you can imagine. The one thing I took away from it was that as cool as the exploitation genre can be, the grindhouse lifestyle was not very glamorous. The movies were good; but the lifestyle of the movies' patrons - not so great. Of course, there's a sort of cult of sensationalism around this kind of seedy lifestyle, and these guys are idolized for their participation in the history of this genre. But as the panel room just across the hall started drawing a crowd for the Pin Up Contest I had also wanted to see, it became obvious to me that hanging out with a group of guys bragging about their experiences with hookers isn't half as interesting as actually spending time with attractive women, admiring their impressive, and sometimes sexy, costumes.

Speaking of which, I tracked down one girl who had, hands down, the greatest outfit of the entire convention. I don't think it was even horror-related, but it didn't matter, because it was amazing. It was sort of a gold vinyl outfit, that didn't leave much to the imagination, with a huge peacock tail on the back. It was fantastic. I talked to the girl briefly, and I discovered that not only was she the fire-breather from the night before, but she was also going to be the DJ later that night! When I approached her, I was afraid that she'd be weary of the sort of attention she must have been getting a lot of, but she turned out to be incredibly friendly, in a way that very few people are. I guess that, if you're going to wear something like that, you have to be able to appreciate that kind of attention. Which, in my eyes, is a truly admirable quality. ;p (It didn't surprise me when I later learned that she's done some modeling).

So then I skipped off for some dinner at the food court across the street, then I got back just after dark to catch the first half of the Horror High Homecoming Party, which consisted of two bands (one after another) playing outdoors right next to the hotel pool (which was closed - it was rather chilly, anyway). The first band was Devilz in the Detailz, which was not as metal as I was expecting these bands to be, and the second band was River Runs Scarlet, which was very metal and just the sort of band I'd expect to hear at a horror convention.

The second part of the homecoming party was indoors in the restaurant attached to the hotel, with tunes provided by DJ Cy-Fi, the same girl with the fantastic outfit I was just talking about. Except she had changed, into another fantastic outfit.

There was also a costume contest, but the theme seemed to be skewed towards an '80s motif (since, you know, that was a great decade for horror movies), which I felt took some of the attention away from the great horror-themed costumes that were around. Like the chefs carting around a zombie wok, filled with disembodied limbs, and lots of brains! There were a lot more people in costumes today than there was on Friday. Several zombies - some of them really good. Lots of violent makeup effects - both on zombies and non-zombies. Spooky contacts were very popular - and I admit, they can have a very disconcerting effect. Have you ever tried talking to someone with fogged-over eyes? It's unnerving.

There were also quite a few goth fashions, though many of those were attached to the lovely Black Hearts girls. I discovered that DJ Cy-Fi is also the owner of Black Hearts Clothing, which had a booth set up in the Dealer's Room. Their clothing is awesome - they have vinyl corsets, and miniskirts, and all the sorts of things I wish I could wear, if only I had the right figure. You know, a girl wears these things, and she's just plain hot. A guy wears them, and it's some kind of bizarre fetish. Then again, maybe I'm just not hanging around with the right crowds.

I caught another well-dressed group who were advertising a stage adaptation (by the Rage of the Stage Players) of the film The Hamiltons, which you'll remember was one of the After Dark Horrorfest films a few years ago. Isn't that crazy? The one girl in the group, who I believe won first place in the Pin Up Contest, had a brilliantly themed "gothic lolita" costume. She was Little Miss Muffet, wearing an elegant dress, but covered in spiders - they were even in her bowl of curds and whey! Ick!

I'll admit that after the party was over, I was reluctant to go home. There was still activity in the halls, and I think there was a midnight show about to go on in the film room, but they looked to be running a little bit late, and I didn't really feel like waiting til after 2am to walk home. So with a heavy heart, I left. I wasn't expecting to have as much fun as I did at this horror convention, but it turned out really well. The only thing that would have made it better is if I had some friends of my own to go with (friends who live in my city and enjoy sharing my interests), and if I had had time to prepare a costume. I actually had one I could have worn, one that I've been looking for an excuse to wear, but the convention was a totally last-minute thing, so I didn't have time to plan it out. Plus, I don't know how comfortable I'd feel wearing that costume out in public all on my own...

Maybe I should stop by Black Hearts' store sometime and get myself outfitted. ;)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Horror Realm Con (Friday)

Horror has a history here in the zombie capital of the world, the City of the Living Dead, where the modern zombie first rose from the grave in George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, the movie that breathed new life into the zombie genre and awakened a new generation of horror fans. In spite of this, and my horror fandom, until today I had never attended a horror convention. But yesterday (and not a moment too soon) I found out about the Horror Realm Con, being held this weekend close enough (and cheap enough) for me to attend.

But the thing that clinched it, that gave me the motivation to get my butt out there, was seeing Kyra Schon's name on the guest list: Kyra Schon, the ghoul next door herself, who played Karen Cooper in the original Night of the Living Dead, the little girl zombie whose face is on the poster - a visual icon of zombie horror. I don't know if I've ever said this before, but I've always wanted to hang one of those NotLD posters on my wall. So I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to get an autographed copy!

When I got to the con, the first thing I did was head for the Dealer's Room, to look for a NotLD poster, or t-shirt, or anything with the iconic image of the zombie girl on it that I could get signed the moment I ran into Kyra Schon. It turns out she was in there, with a booth set up, all ready to sell autographed prints (and posters, and t-shirts). So I ended up getting an iconic print, with a personalized autograph from Kyra herself, who was very sweet and friendly. I was so excited (and also afraid of the print getting bent in my backpack), that I immediately walked over to the arts & crafts store nearby to put it in a frame. :3

But since I had made it out to the con, I was determined to stick around and see what other creepy fun it had to offer me. If I had the money to spare, I could have spent tons on the DVDs available in the Dealer's Room - all kinds of horror and exploitation flicks, including many hard-to-find cult classics. Also lots of posters and prints (signed and not), and plenty of homemade crafts like the stuff you find in the Artist's Alley of the anime cons I'm more familiar with. But, of course, with a horror theme, and a particular emphasis on zombies!

I stopped by the panel room to sit in on the Ladies of Horror Panel, featuring a discussion with four scream queens - Linnea Quigley (the girl who danced naked on a tombstone in Return of the Living Dead!), Tiffany Shepis, Amy Lynn Best, and Sarah French. One thing I discovered is that in spite of my enthusiasm for the genre, my fandom is not so developed, or obsessed, to recognize all the important names and titles that come up. Nevertheless, it was very interesting to hear these ladies talk about their experiences being in horror films, and what's it like being a woman in the industry. (Apparently, it's not as hard as the feminists would have you believe. But then, horror has always been unusually appreciative of its female icons. If you can get beyond the whole "sex and violence is degrading!" mindset.)

After that panel, I stuck around to hear author Jack Ketchum answer questions about his life's work. You might (as I did) recognize him as the man who wrote The Girl Next Door, inspired by a horrific true story, which was adapted twice to film, one of those based on Jack Ketchum's novel (the other one an independent retelling of the true story, and, incidentally, starring Ellen Page). It's tempting to view horror writers as sick, depraved people, but that's a far too easy stereotype to fall into. Hearing Jack Ketchum talk about his work was very illuminating. Apparently, his 'hook' was to translate the sensationalistic violence he was seeing in the cinema back into literature, where it wasn't being represented; instead, authors were in the habit of utilizing too much restraint. I know a lot of people outside the horror fandom would recoil in disgust at that notion, but hey, that's what horror's about. It's not about fluffy bunnies hopping through dewy sunlit meadows. It's about blood and guts and terror.

After nightfall, and coming towards the end of the night, some girls were advertising "half-naked fire-breathing" out in the parking lot. Can you guess which direction I headed? I overheard some talk of the girls dancing on top of a zombified van parked nearby, but unfortunately that did not come to pass (that would have been fun to watch). However, the half-naked fire-breathing did go on as advertised, and that in itself was exciting. I think it's just fantastic that I can say I went to a horror convention and got to see half-naked girls breathing fire. What have I been waiting for all these years?

On a related note, I didn't see a whole lot of full-on costumes at the con, especially compared to what I see at the anime convention I regularly go to. (But there is an '80s horror costume contest planned for tomorrow night). Then again, I did see a lot of people dressed in some pretty groovy gothic fashions. The people overall were very friendly, which to me is not surprising, but might shock you if you believe the stereotype that horror fans are violent, antisocial folk. The fan community may have been skewed toward a male audience, but there was actually a pretty good proportion of females in attendance - especially taking all the actresses into account. There were even a few kids there (more girls than boys!), and though they appeared to be in tow of the celebrities or other con-goers they were related to, they seemed enthusiastic about the atmosphere. (When I picked up my badge at the registration desk, two girls came running up bragging about the candy they were carrying, and we all had a friendly laugh about them "taking candy from strangers").

Friday's programming culminated with the Horror Cabaret, that ran until just before midnight. Four acts performed, starting with Evenings in Quarantine: The Zombie Opera, adapted for the convention. It was, as billed, a zombie opera, featuring music and [some very impressive] vocal performances (plus some really cool on-the-fly arm-severing fx). I don't know if the fact that you can hear the zombie apocalypse story told in opera form reflects the ubiquitousness of zombies in popular culture, or if it speaks to the obsessive quirkiness of zombie fans. Either way, it's a shame the story has become so cliched, because it truly is a good one. But I suppose that even if you beat the story to death, it will just keep coming back again and again, because people love it.

Also performing at the cabaret was the ElectroBelly & Friends Dance Troupe. I have mixed feelings about belly dancing. On the one hand, belly dancers are known for their curves, and I tend to be be attracted to thinner body types. But on the other hand, it's a very sensual dance form. I am impressed that these dancers can get up in front of a crowd and dance so sensually, seemingly without self-consciousness. I could have just been imagining it, but I sensed that some of the guys in the audience were embarrassed to be seen watching too closely (I wasn't - I figured they weren't dancing just to be ignored). Meanwhile, the few people I noticed who were staring intently were female! I also love that, in spite of how sensual it is, belly dancing is considered a legitimate dance form that can be performed in festivals and conventions, and not restricted to seedy bars and back alleys, like "adult" performances are.

The other two cabaret acts were less in tune with my interests, and so they inspired less enthusiasm from me. One of them was mentalist & magician Chris Handa. I'm a skeptic, and I'm not really into "audience interaction" performances, but he wasn't bad. He certainly did a convincing job of "magically" selecting the hottest girl in the audience to come up front for a demonstration. We all know "magic" is just a series of tricks, but a performance like this is all about showmanship, and this guy put on a pretty entertaining show. The other act was a comedian/musician named Weird Paul, who sang a bunch of silly songs with funny lyrics. Amusing, certainly, but not really my preferred style of entertainment.

Stay tuned for Saturday at the con!