Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Devil Went Down to Florida

by J.S. Holland

Florida's a land of powerful contradictions, which of course suits me to a T. There's something about the mojo of this peculiar peninsula that attracts both the wealthy and powerful, and the downtrodden and fugitive. It's a land of great natural beauty and profound man-made tackiness.

The earliest known European explorers came with the Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León, who discovered it on April 2, 1513 and named it La Florida. (You thought Cristoforo "Christopher Columbus" Columbo was the first European to set foot in North America? Go to the back of the class. He never actually visited the mainland, and the closest he came was Cuba) And yet, even in Juan's telling of this alleged first contact with Florida, weirdness ensues: he was surprised to find an "indigenous tribesman" here who already spoke Spanish.

Over the subsequent years, Florida became a free-for-all mess. The Spanish, the French, and the English were all mucking around here, trying to take it over. The native Americans were warring with all of them, as well as with each other. Africans who had been brought to America as slaves often sought refuge here. It wasn't until 1845 that the USA managed to fully get their lunch-hooks in Florida and claim it as a state, and we did so as part of an agreement with Spain that we would not seek any claim to Texas in the future. I guess you know how that promise turned out.

Though I shut down almost all my blogs back in July, I knew I'd be back here at the Victorian Squares clubhouse to file the occasional report. Having just returned from the Florida Gulf Coast and, by extension, Interzone, I have much data to relay. Unfortunately almost all of it's classified.

What I can tell you is, I drank a lot of the demon rum. It's really disconcerting for a Kentuckian to find himself in a bar with only seven bourbons but 44 different kinds of rum. I hung out with the ghost of F. Scott Fitzgerald (and maybe, just maybe, the ghosts of Ernest Hemingway and Joe Strummer as well) on St. Pete's Beach in an old pink palace. Ignoring my own warnings about Corexit, I happily ate fresh-caught mackerel at the Anna Maria Island city pier and went back for seconds.

But did I get any work done? Well, a little bit. I thought this FL trip would give me the setting I needed to finish these still-in-progress novels I've been fiddling with all year, but what it really did was give me inspiration for other novels to write next.

I was constantly reminded of the dialogue from the Naked Lunch movie where Jack Kerouac says, "My novel's all-American as apple pie, Bill. I couldn't finish it here." And Burroughs responds with the bit about how America is not a young country and how before the settlers, before the pirates, even before the Indians, there was something here, something dark and dirty and mysterious.

I defintely felt that indefinable something while creeping around at night in the untamed jungles of Leffis Key. While chatting with an old Haitian voodoo guy who makes masks and sells them to upscale tourists who have no idea what they're bringing into their homes. While sitting on the dock of the bay at Rod & Reel Pier, seeing the enigmatic Egmont Key taunting me just out of reach. My biggest disappointment of this visit is that an expedition to Egmont got scuttled by high winds, storm clouds, and super-choppy waters that prevented our little catamaran from making the journey. Thanks to tropical storm (almost became a hurricane) Phillipe for that.

I was called unexpectedly back to the Commonwealth, alas, and had to cut my visit short. Missed out on the Salvador Dali Museum, as well as the Mote Aquarium. Next time. I got a lot more Floridizin' on the road to my horizon.

To put the gulf area in perspective for my Kentucky readers, think of Tampa as Louisville and Sarasota as Lexington, with Bradenton as the quainter, mellower Frankfort in between. Then you have your islands off to the side - Anna Maria, Perico, Key Royale, Longboat Key, Beer Can Island (pictured above), Leffis Key, Lido Key, Sand Key, Clearwater Beach, Treasure Island, Honeymoon Island, etc. - which mirror the rural-yet-touristy weirdness we have in Midway, Berea, Bowling Green and Cave City. But, you know, with beaches and sharks and dolphins and gators and women walking around in Wicked Weasels.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dylan Williams In Memoriam

by J.T. Dockery
from his Covertly and by Snatches blog

When I found out in making plans months ago with Tom Neely to share a table at SPX 2011, which happened last weekend, that we would also be representing Dylan Williams's Sparkplug Comics (my favorite publisher), I was giddy as a school girl. As it became apparent to me that he was in ill health, the giddiness gave way to a dark cloud, yet Tom and I, and I think most everyone who knew him, had so much faith in who he was and what he represented, there was light in that dark cloud as we all believed he'd make it...because we needed him to make it. The news came in toward the end of the first day of SPX that Dylan had died. What occurs to me in pondering his passing, is that, because of who he was, there is still light amongst the dark clouds.

Perhaps the oddest aspect of Dylan's death to me is that I never met him in person (I've spent most of my life "land locked" in Kentucky, far away from the centers of zine and comics culture). Yet, knowing him from a distance, as far as I can remember, began with the issue of Destroy All Comics which featured an interview with John Porcellino and Dylan's article on Bill Blackbeard. I wore that issue out in the 90s, reading and re-reading it. It caused me to take note any time I saw Dylan's name in print connected to comics. As Sparkplug developed throughout the oughts, I followed its progress and came to see that I admired Dylan's work as a publisher more than anything in comics besides simply the work of individual artists.

I kept up a correspondence with Dylan via mail, email, and Facebook. I treasured Dylan's Facebook postings so much I remember being upset when he'd get taciturn about it and disable his account for a while. If I never got to meet Dylan in person, I certainly treasured our correspondence. Whether it was bonding over obscure zines from the 90s we'd both read, or whether it was discussing horror movies and Dylan saying he'd repeated my musings at his store, Bad Apple, and jokingly confessing he didn't give me credit when "stealing" my ideas, or whether it was a discussion of the metal band Flotsam & Jetsam spiraling out into long autobiographical digressions into metal and music that devolved into statements of shared personal philosophies, Dylan, six years older than me, was like an older brother whom I much admired so that when we got on the same page, it gave me great joy.

When I started to do comics reviews in the past year, I ordered some Sparkplug books. When Dylan realized what I was up to, he sent me a huge box of books for free, which I did not want him to do. Even as I explained to him it was my intent to pay for all the books I reviewed, he wouldn't listen to me. Even as an arch critic of comic book culture, in microcosm, and the culture at large in macrocosm, Dylan always struggled to be big-hearted, inclusive, and generous, instead of giving in to cynicism. When Dylan went on record to say nice things about my work, it meant more to me than any review or any other sort of accolade (and even when he had criticism or disagreed with my approach, it always resonated). Did I tell him this? I don't think I did. I should have. I thought I would have a decade, two, or three to get to spend time with him in person; it didn't work out that way. The tragedy of untimely death.

On Sunday evening after SPX sitting outside with a group of folks, I remarked to Tom Neely that it was apparent that in 41 years Dylan had done a life's work. "More than a life's work," Tom corrected me.

To aspire and to be inspired to be more like he was, we can bring the chilling use of the past tense next to his name out of the past and into the present tense. Dylan did what he was born to do. The burden to do and be better, following his example, is on us.

Everything I will do in comics...the memory of Dylan Williams will be close to my heart.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day

by J.S. Holland

Happy 4th of July!

In no particular order and off the top of my head, these are some of the things I'm working on for the future, goals for the next few years:

First and foremost, more books. Lots of them. Over the last year, the requests I've received for e-books has increased exponentially. I've not been a fan of e-books myself, but there's no denying that this is the way things are headed. And though I lament the death of paper, if people tell me they want e-books, I listen. I'm talking to several different publishers right now, assessing my options, trying to decide if I want to go through them or if there's any reason not to just start my own e-publishing imprint and cut out the middlemen. I continue to welcome your opinions on the subject of e-books and e-readers.

There are a lot of writing projects cluttering up my desk these days - a couple of crime-detective-noir novels I've been working on, plus projects devoted to specific local subjects like Springheel Jack, The Pope Lick Monster, and Kentucky artists. Theoretically Weird Cemeteries for Sterling is still a go, but it seems to be held up in Development Hell for reasons known only to my editors and publisher. My cemeteries book will see the light of day, however, in the next two years one way or another.

I'm still very excited about working for KyForward, a news website focusing on the Bluegrass area (Lexington and surrounding counties) with a consciously positive, upward-toned sense of civil discourse. Which, as you must know, is all too rare on the internet these days. If you'd like to support such a venture, potential advertisers, please contact them and inquire about ad rates! We're also kicking around the idea of doing video content, including an interview show hosted by yours truly.

And I still love Kentucky Monthly magazine! You can find my column, Commonwealth Curiosities in each issue. If you don't see it at your local newstand or bookstore, bug 'em till they stock it! (Having said that, though, it's a hugely popular magazine and getting more popular all the time; I don't think I've ever seen a reputable store that didn't carry it.)

I'm still a painter first and foremost, although hyping my primitive neo-expressionist outsider-folk-art flavored canvases has taken a back seat in the last couple years to everything else. I aim to rectify that in the weeks and months ahead, with a renewed drive to get these paintings in the hands of as many people as possible, by any means necessary. Do you want a JSH original in your home or office? Talk to me. It's so doable. I offer interest-free payment plans for every budget. (And my Happy & Froggie painting that was featured in the film When Happy Met Froggie is still available, although its price has gone up since the movie was released.)

Something else I've been slowly putting together over the years is material for an Unusual Kentucky museum - something that would be not only a legitimate educational and historical museum, but also take a truly "Weird Kentucky" spin on the whole thing, showing cultural artifacts of the Commonwealth that might be a little - okay, a lot - fringier than what you might see at the Frazier. There have been some nibbles of interest in the concept from parties in both Louisville and Lexington, but I'm holding out until I get a guaranteed deal that gives me control over the place if it's going to be using my name. There are some recent rumblings that give me hope this thing will actually happen, and sooner than later. Keep your fingers crossed with me; it's gonna be a lot of fun.

Those are the primary projects on my front burners, but there's plenty more still bubbling under. My interest in Kentucky's horse industry is going to manifest in some way sooner or later, we'll see. A couple more goals I have: I intend to operate a Steampunk-themed bar and a hillbilly/exotica miniature golf course (the crazy over-the-top kind with giant statues and weird gimmicks like you see down in Pigeon Forge) before I die. All in time. Wait and see. (And when that retro bar does come to life, my bartending blog Transmissions from Agent J will be pressed back into service.)

There's still more. A lot more. This'll do for now though. Stay tuned to JSH News for the latest updates on my dreams and schemes! And remember, I can always be reached, by anyone on the planet, at You can also text me on Twitter or just pick up the phone and call me at 502.649.3378. Find me.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

That Was Then, This Is Now

by J.S. Holland

Tomorrow, July 4th, will be my last post on any of my blogs, for some time to come. I'm increasingly busy with a lot of exciting real-world projects that demand my full attention, and I just don't have as much time to devote to the internet.

That may sound odd, since my internet presence has always been rather over-the-top. But the fact is, this is not the same Internet I originally signed on for. In recent years, it's morphed into something that I no longer am sure I want to be associated with. I was all for the digital revolution like everyone else, but that was before it destroyed newspapers, pay phones, the music industry, the book publishing industry, the antique mall/flea market business, the art of letter writing, the right to privacy, and any and all semblance of enforced Copyright laws. Most important of all, the internet has brought about a real end to basic civility. The term "flamewar" has even gone out of style now, because bickering, sniping, arguing and negativity has literally become the norm.

I've been mocked for my refusal to take part in social networking. Someone recently said to me that people who say "I am not on Facebook" are the new "I don't watch television" people, not realizing that I am one of those annoying anti-Facebook, anti-TV nuts. Well, now I'm going to really give 'em something to snark about, because now that Facebook and Google have essentially taken over the entire net and dumbed it down, I want off the carousel. Mostly.

I'll still be online plenty, of course, checking email and doing research. But as of tomorrow, my contribution to Victorian Squares will diminish severely but not entirely. My blogs Unusual Kentucky, Voraxical Theatre, Revelation Awaits An Appointed Time, Krampus the Cat, Whitewashed Windows and Vacant Stores, Creeps Records, and JSHNYC are going into cryogenic sleep.

The JSH Combo blog will probably return if and when that twice-aborted musical project reaches fruition. The Catclaw Theatre Diaries will also be updated when there's relevant news to report. Transylvania Gentlemen will eventually be retooled for the purposes of that organization, but by someone other than myself. I'm still looking forward to cranking out more fiber batts for the Etsy crowd soon, but the exploits will probably not be followed on my Appalachian Voodoo Fiber blog in the foreseeable.

Rebecca and friends over at the Telecrylic Foundation will continue operating my official JSH News blog (with my direct input, of course. I'm too much of a control freak), so that is now more than ever the place to go for the latest "News flash! JSH eats a turkey sandwich!" breaking news. I'm not sure what's up with the actual Telecrylic blog, but I suspect it's dead in the water since it's going to be superceded by another online archive of my paintings and comics.

I already saw all this writing on the wall back in the winter, when I got rid of all my dot-com websites, including,,,,,,,, and more that I'm probably forgetting. I thought I would miss them all dearly the moment they went offline. I don't.

So what is surviving the purge? After tomorrow, other than JSH News, the best place to keep up with what I'm up to will be:

* My Twitter feed (I don't use it as a social network and you don't have to be a member; in fact, 99.9% of my friends are not on it, they just read it directly on the web same as any other of my blogs)

* My photo blog will also continue for the time being. The mundane details of my day-to-day life will still be over-exposed amply for the handful of people on Earth who care, so between this and my Twitter feed, my stalkers shouldn't feel shut out in the cold.

* My writing blog will still continue to exist. More details about this tomorrow.

Tomorrow, on the fourth of July, we'll get into the good news - all the fun things that I'm working on that'll be better than blogging, and things that I want you, dear reader, to feel free to get involved in! As Jack Lord used to say, "Be here! Aloha!"

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Kellerweis Device

by J.S. Holland

It took a few years of me and other fans of Duvel-style bottle-conditioned ales to keep yapping and jawing and hammering our cause home, but finally it's starting to pay off. Check out how Sierra Nevada, a brewer I've never particularly had strong opinions about one way or another, now offers this here Kellerweis Hefeweizen with copious yeast right in the bottle, and with that Duvel quality through and through. (Previous supermarket-level hefeweizens I've tried have been OK, but lack that certain Ommegang charm.) It's less hoppy than Duvel, but retains that golden cloudy carbonated manna quality. I adore it. Nevada, to both your brewery and to your sierra, I say Bravo.

I got some of this the other night while pondering the life and times of intrepid landfaring heroes like Daniel Boone, and equally intrepid seafaring villains like Black Sam. I started out at Ernesto's but soon my usual Ern-buddies tipped back their last glass and went home to their wives and TV sets. Me, I stuck around a little longer and found myself soon surrounded by some tremendously hostile losers trying to play the bar's electronic trivia game. You learn a lot about your fellow man playing Trivial Pursuit, or some equivalent, with them.

And ignorance isn't bliss: these people were bitter, self-absorbed, filled with anger, filled with hatred, highly toxic and unpleasant to be around. In between trivia questions, they spent most of their time griping about their exes and insulting the celebrities on the TV screens. I heard them rage with acidic bile against all manner of stars (and for reasons totally unfathomable to me) but when the whole bar erupted into a transparently racially-charged hate-fest against my pal Tiger Woods, I downed my drink, tossed a bill on the bar and didn't stick around for my change. Call me an asshole, but everywhere I go now it seems, more and more people these days are psychic vampires, and when they walk in, I walk out. I used to think it was only about 2½ percent of the population, but I do believe the statistic is now much higher. And the more I feel their invisible tendrils of negativity sniffing out toward me, the more I prefer the company of dogs. (And cats.)

By chance I grabbed a six-pack of this Kellerweis, which my eyes had never beheld before, at a licka stow on my own back to the plantation, and went back to writing another Great American Novel (currently working on a crime-detective-noir novel called The Bartender, all about a solitary loner beer-puller who has a high sense of moral and ethical principles but finds himself tempted by an opportunity for larceny due in part to the perks of his profession.)

According to their website, "Kellerweis is one of the only American Hefeweizens made using the traditional Bavarian style of open fermentation. This difficult and labor-intensive technique adds uncommon depth and flavor complexity. Our hazy-golden hefeweizen is deeply flavorful, refreshing and perfect for a sunny day. To serve, pour two-thirds into a glass, swirl and pour the rest." I generally prefer to drink my froth from the bottle (stays cold longer) but yes, pouring a bottle-conditioned beer out into a glass is a must. Some like to painstakingly pour such brews down to the last quarter inch and then discard that last bit, choosing to avoid the yeast sediment. Me, I drink it all, the yeast, everything. I think Dan'l Boone and Black Sam would expect no less, and even now, I hear them calling my name.

(And if you think I'm just blowin' smoke with all my negativity about the negativists, tune in this here blog tonight sometime after midnight, cause ol' Jeffy has a big announcement to make.)

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Ubiquitous Dr. Graves

by J.S. Holland

Hi there ho there, fellow travelers. You've dropped into the old Crap-Keeper's Vault of Unintended Horror at an opportune time; another specimen from the Inner Inner Inner Sanctum of my comic book collection has just been dug up for you to dig.

For you Ditkological devotees, I bring you The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves #22, October 1970, brought to you by those wonderful hacks at Charlatan - er, I mean Charlton - comics.

Dr. Graves, like Benway, Caligari, and Acula before him, may be a self-styled Doctor who got his degree conferred on him by unconvential means (perhaps from Johnson-Smith) but he's my kinda Doc. Unlike some horror hosts who are content to bookend a story with brief comments at its outset and finish, Graves just can't stay out of his own stories.

Almost every page has multiple panels in which Graves appears right in the midst of the story - sometimes hiding subtly like a "Where's Waldo?", sometimes lurking in the background or even the foreground, and sometimes just plain tromping around on the set in the middle of the action, making a total goddamn mess of everything. "CUT! Graves, get OFF THE SET!"

It's like someone pointed out to him that Hitchcock made a secret appearance in every one of his films, and Dr. Graves felt the need to keep up with the Joneses. And the really mentally ill thing (mental illness? Ditko? Naw!) about it all is the frequent insertion of panels that have NOTHING WHATSOEVER TO DO WITH THE STORY and are usually just depictions of floating heads. (Ohhhh, okay, now the disembodied head panel in Hunk #5 starts to make sense - could it really be a Ditkonian homage?)

But is the comic any good? Frankly, I can't tell; it's too damn distracting trying to follow the plot when you've got this mustachioed bargain-basement Vincent Price hamming it up and mugging every other panel. The most normal and conventional horror story in this issue is the one that Ditko didn't do (and of course it has the fewest appearances of the floating head of Doctor Graves.) The others are, well, kinda wacky and convoluted, and in typical Ditkoic style one of them is heavy on rants about medical ethics and suggests that ghosts can be put to sleep by spraying them with knockout gas. The man had a certain reality principle.

However, if we take a look at the comic's debut issue, which some enterprising upstart has posted online in its entirety, we see that Dr. Graves was not only a Rod Serling-esque narrator, he also was originally an actual character in some of the stories, brought in as an expert in the paranormal to solve some of the mysteries. By the time we got to #22 it would seem that Graves' direct involvement in the plots was no more, and he was relegated to haunting his own comic like a ghost himself.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Blender is the Night

by J.S. Holland

Last night I was at Ernesto's sippin' Blue Moon with my usual crew of East-end oddfellows. The lively bar-talk included such topics as Zachary Taylor, Zachary Taylor's daughter who married Jefferson Davis, Jefferson Davis' Inn, Pass-a-Grille, Valkyrie vs. Inglourious Basterds, and Steve Nunn avoiding the death penalty. Finally I wandered out into the night, and decided to confer with my friend Drew Estate under the starry skies. I slapped my shirt's breast pocket; it was empty. I'd forgotten to tuck a cigar into it when I left the house.

It wasn't that late, but it was late enough that Cox's was closed. I didn't feel like tootling all over the city looking for a noctural tobacconist, so I ducked into Walgreen's. I'm less picky about my cigars than my pipe tobacco - some of the drugstore junk I've discussed here, like Red Cap and Prince Albert and Middleton's Cherry, were so nasty I won't even smoke them. (You want them? Contact me, I'll give them to you. Only one briar bowl smoked from each.) But cigars? Eh. I'm easy. The only stogies I've really crushed out and walked away from are ones that are stale and taste cardboardy, and ones that were rolled so tightly it's like trying to smoke a roll of electrical tape.

Which brings us to last night's drunken drugstore selection: It's called Blender's Gold, and I got a 4-pack of 'em for a mere $9.99. Now, I firmly believe you get what you pay for, so I had every right to expect a $2.50 cigar to be a disaster, right? But me and the Blender had a real good time, and I daresay I'll invest in another pack of these after I exhaust my supply here. They're leathery, simple and no-nonsense, like something a boxer would smoke in 1921, or maybe like the boxer himself. Oscuro addicts would call these things unsmokeably mild; bland even. There's a disconcerting rubberiness to the texture, and there is a certain sensation at first that you're actually smoking cabbage or lambskin or something, but this passes quickly. The bulk of the cigar was fairly consistently tasty all the way through.

I know you'll probably never buy one, at least not in a 4-pack and at least not after I said "lambskin". C'mon over to the plantation and you can bum one of mine. You'll see. It ain't that bad. Check it, it really is gold. Especially for the price. As my bud Tom says:

This was an OK low to mid medium bodied cigar. Sure, it was one dimensional and this particular cigar had some burn issues, but as a whole they give you your $2.00 worth. It’s not like every one you smoke will have issues. If you are on a budget, I say give these a try.

I did, in fact, suffer the same burn issues he spoke of. Although I lit it precisely and evenly and it burned just fine for the first half, it began to get drastically sidegoggledy and falling apart in my hand by the end (as you can see in the photo.) Weird thing is, though, the ad copy on the packaging says "The rich maduro wrappers have been selected for consistency of taste and area found only in the best of the world's fine cigars." Maduro? Really? Uh.... guys, these wrappers are pale as Chai tea, what're you talkin' about Maduros?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


by J.S. Holland

Greetings once again, my friends. Close the giant creaking door behind you, pull up a cobwebbed chair, and make yourselves comfortable while I, the Crap-Keeper, fix a pot of spidermint tea and blow the dust off the cover of another entry in my deep, dark, labyinthine dregs of comicdom archive in my Vault of Unintended Horror.

I keep trying to find the most jaw-droppingly awful comic book from my files, to exemplify just how bad it can get out there in the hairy world of forgotten off-brand funny-books of a bygone age. Problem is, even when I'm certain I've hit upon the worst comic book in the world, I start feeling sorry for it as one would for the dumbest kid in school and then I start developing a working aesthetic for it against my will. I'm just too soft hearted for my own good.

Charlton's Hunk is one of those comics that you find yourself rooting for out of sympathy, like a special-needs little brother. As you turn the pages, you find parts of your brain lamenting that God ever allowed it to exist, and other parts of your brain respecting it for persisting in existing. These are comics that make you feel embarrassed for everybody involved - not only embarrassed yourself for even viewing it, but feeling pangs of the shame that the Charlton guys must have endured when their friends, lovers, and family members saw a copy of Hunk and leafed briefly through it before looking up with an expression that telegraphed, "You made this? This is what you do for a living?"

I don't even remember how this copy of Hunk #5 (May 1962) came into my possession. I probably lost a lot of I.Q. points and brain cells, including the ones meant to retain that information, on contact with it. Imagine a Flintstones kinda deal, with an anachronistically civilized caveman society, except that the focus is on two little Cro-magnon kids - Freckle-faced red-headed "Hunk" and his shaggy-haired best friend, er, what is his name? I don't remember and I already filed the comic back down in the JSH wine cellar and comics crypt. Oh well. Drink your tea.

Almost every page in this comic has at least one panel rendered completely in silhouette - a sure sign of a burned-out hack trying to finish entire issues of a comic in one sitting, racing a grueling schedule and facing a deadline.

I felt like I was tripping when I saw this panel:

The context of the story is that Hunk and his buddy have been implausibly nominated Chiefs of the fire department, and they're riding around on a dinosaur putting out fires - as you can see from the panel shown at the top of this post. But in the panel shown here, the artist just drew their floating body-less HEADS sitting atop the dinosaur! The hell? Is this some sort of deliberate motif, a heretofore unmined storytelling technique we're seeing here? Or was the artist just ripped on Rye and driven half demented by the sound of his screaming kids in his one-room coldwater flat in Milwaukee?

And yet, is it really that far removed from the works of modern-day scribblers like Ron Rege, Jr.? Is a man better off living today where one can make a comic like this that makes a big hit on the internet and in hipster galleries, or have we lost something by no longer living in an era where a brain-damaged comic like this got to be in supermarkets, drugstores, grocery stores and department stores all over, placed directly in the sticky grasp of virtually every kid in North America?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Touched by a Shark

by J.S. Holland

This time I gotta disagree strenuously with those super-snobs over at Beer Advocate. Their gang of self-styled brew experts dismiss Landshark Lager with C- and D ratings, mainly because it "lacks complexity". This is rather like an overbearing cheese "expert" saying that no one should ever eat swiss cheese because it's blander than Gorgonzola.

Beers are tools, essentially, and one must apply the proper tool for the proper job. I certainly wouldn't order Landshark at a five-star restaurant to accompany my Lobster Newburg (not that they'd even be carrying it anyhow), but hey, I wouldn't order a Coke either, and that doesn't mean that Landshark or Coke sucks. Landshark's place on the beer scale is the same as Corona's, Caguama, Miller High Life, or Dundee's Honey Brown - a simple, unpretentious gullet-washing cerveza with no aftertaste yet not as soulless as a "dry" beer. Perfect for outdoor activities, like hanging out on the beach, as the whole oceanic packaging makes obvious.

I enjoy the stuff immensely, especially with a lime slice and accompanying spicy foods and cigars. I can drink a whole 6 of these and not feel like I'm about to turn into a loaf of bread rising in the sun, which is more than I can say for a lot of chewy brews that the beer intelligentsia assure us are superior.

I guess you might have to be part Floridian to get it, and I confess this Kentucky Gentleman's got a lot of Florida on his shoes in recent years. I've enjoyed Landshark on many a sun-drenched day in my primary Gulf of Mexico stomping ground, which is pretty much everything between Clearwater and Sarasota, and all the islands and keys in the area. I especially love Pass-a-Grille, Perico Island, Longboat Key, Anna Maria Island, Siesta Key, and Lido Key, and a sip of the shark transports me back there, to those baby powder beaches and that nautical nightlife.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Over Cracker Barrel

by J.S. Holland

My pal Carla and I stuck our beaks into Cracker Barrel a couple days ago, and it was immediately evident that a lot has changed around the old roadside cornpone eathouse. Firstly, they had a bunch of their tack from the gift shop dragged out front for a sidewalk sale, with not one but two brown-aproned gals greeting you and urging you to stop and check out the amazing bargains before you go in. Seemed a little too hard-sell for the Barrel, thought I, but OK.

Then when we got inside, we encountered another greeter, who again pointed out that they have all kinds of exciting crap for sale in the gift shop. Okay, okay, crackers, I get it, I get it. Funny thing is, then when we got to the actual podium where you say "party of two" and they tell you there'll be a 20 minute wait, there was nobody there. Too many greeters and not enough cashiers!

Once we got our table and grub, I was saddened to see that the economic hard times has resulted in some severe cutbacks at the ol' C.B. and it ain't pretty. Their pancakes, once huge and clearly for-real with irregular crispy edges, are now the same lame perfectly-formed pre-made little flapjacks that they serve at Denny's, McDonald's, and Hell. Their sausage patties are now tiny pucks with about the same circumference as a can of Fancy Feast cat food. And the side order of french fries, formerly served copiously on a plate, was a bowl with about ten fries sticking out of it. I kid you not.

I didn't come here to gripe about all of this, however. No, what really appalled me is that Crackle Berra, supposedly the epitome of old-fashioned living and values, has jumped on the bandwagon of cyber-stalky technocracy with the rest of you data-packet-pushing chimps. According to this sign placed on all the tables, they're proudly announcing that they've finally caught up with the rest of the world and joined Facebook, like, big whoopty doo. Even more sad and embarrassing, they're actually requesting you to click "like" on them. The only thing more pathetic than having a "like" button in the first place, is to actually beg people to click it.

But it's not enough that they've gotten the figurative mark of the beast by getting all Facebooky with it; they actually have gleefully accepted the literal mark of the beast, the QR Code. I don't follow this nonsense myself, but apparently if you have a smartphone, you can actually use it as a bar-code reader, and these here QR Codes (which look like a Wordpress user avatar), once scanned, can do all sorts of useless, pointless things. (Example: Kylie Minogue's music video for her 2010 single, "All The Lovers", featured an on-screen QR Code which allowed you to point your iPhone at the TV and decode the word "LOVE". Big whoop.) Many companies now use them in billboards so that people can access websites, messages, and info on their phone simply by pointing it at the billboard, even while driving. In other words, more useless information and more ads that very dumb people and their very smart phones will happily embrace just because the technology that delivers it is the gadget novelty du jour.

When you point your smartphone at the QR Code on this Cracker Barrel sign, guess what it does? It takes you to their Facebook. Wow. Golly gee, grampa, that's really somethin'. All the kids are really gonna think you're hep now. Instead of spending cash on this purposeless gimmick, why don't you put that money back into the quality of the food?

Hank Williams played over the loudspeakers as I left the restaurant. Can you imagine going back in time and trying to explain all this bullshit to Hank? "I don't b'leeve I care for any of that, boys, if it's all the same with you I think I still prefer to just go ahead and die in the back of my Caddy. Thanks, though."

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Fix the Cable

by J.T. Dockery

"I said where'd you get your information from, huh?
You think that you can front when revelation comes?"
--Beastie Boys

"Man has sold his soul for time, language, tools, weapons, and dominance."--William S. Burroughs

"Together we shall save our planet. Or together we shall perish in its flames."--JFK

I'm not much of an activist. No sir, not built it for it, me. Which does not mean that I do not collect information and make decisions, which I in turn put into action, based upon my understanding of that information.

Human beings have not really devised a better form of transmitting information than marks on paper. Feel free to disagree with me. I don't argue points. But I'll discuss anything.

Symbols on paper which can be translated into the reader's mind act as a form of telepathy, just as recorded performance, be it film/video, spoken word, or music, act as a kind of time travel device. Until we conquer time travel or understand telepathy to an extent that humans can standardize its use for the average person (which, hey, is probably not necessarily that far off, if not, nefariously now (I'm talking for common, democratic usage)), marks on paper are the best gadget, insofar as it goes. All other gadgets, including the machine I make these facsimile "marks" on "paper" over the electric radio you're reading right now, appear to me as so much gadgetry, show business, and minstrelsy.

That leads me, cough, to the point of this transmission. Back to my own personal internal "activism," I have for quite a while now, based on too many facts, placed a ban on cable television "news" channels as an improper conduit through which to receive information. It rots the brain, jack, should be avoided at all costs, and I give you this advice like a brother (or sister).

Let's dispense of all tinkertoy arguments of "liberal" vs. "conservative." That either/or thinking is merely a shuck and jive and does not exist within any "news" corporation. Cable "news" channels exist to produce revenue through higher ratings and advertising which benefits the corporation of which backs them by manufacturing drama and entertainment under a mask of "information."

Don't get me wrong: I'm all for free market capitalism. It's just the synthetic network of corporate power style capitalism these cable "news" companies represent is not what I call capitalism. I learned in school that laissez-faire capitalism wasn't a good thing. I guess they don't teach that no more.

ALL of these cable "news" entities are selling me things I don't need, be it war or deodorant, and creating an environment of left vs. right which causes citizens to resent fellow citizens over goofy social issues which man has always debated and which keeps the citizenry with paranoid eyes fixed staring at each other and keeps them from turning those same peepers coldly towards its elected officials (outside of the parameters of soap opera drama) and the shadow government of corporations and industrial complexes which prop them up which get away with murder (for starters).

I fear the fix is in. That whatever was meant to be won or lost was lost long ago, and we just watch the residual maintenance of the status quo with this weird behavioral control and the regimentation of keeping on with the keeping on in a thought police state. But when one arrives at that conclusion, that's when one gets a taste of freedom, and one may just start making moves to split from the whole program. But speaking of a taste of freedom, turning off that idiot box, and at the very least those cable "news" programs, brother, it felt and feels mighty good. A lot of noise cut from my life. It made my teeth whiter, and gave me more confidence to win at business and at pleasure.

If you'd told me as a kid what we'd be using Star Trek technology for, I probably woulda walked off into the woods and never come back. That scenario may still not be entirely out of the question.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Booked Passage

by J.S. Holland

Only a couple of you kids have gotten the full report on this yet - and I'll be disclosing more in the days ahead - but soon I'm going to be on the road like Jack Kerouac, and on the road again like Willie Nelson. I'll chase my fortune round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Antares Maelstrom, and round perdition's flames before I give it up, but ultimately, you're looking at a man who's bound for Interzone. Yes, Interzone, land of enchantment, where the beer in the canteloupe lay. Where Jerry Lee Lewis is waiting, at the end of the road.

I've never been to me, but I have been to Interzone a few times before, and lemme tell ya, friends, the food there is exquisite. Any kind of cuisine you're lookin' for, they have it there, provided you like it spicy and with spices of the like you ain't et yet. Why, I bet they even have monkey-picked tea and weasel-chewed coffee. And Petula Clark wasn't just frontin' when she said the lights are much brighter there.

Son, I've seen water towers that look like martians, palm trees that looked like mummies, mummies that looked like Colonels, women who talk like zithers, and zithers the size of vampires. I've drunk shamanic cocktails with hillbilly secret agents in Croatian blacksmith shops, waiting on the Robert E. Lee. I've danced the Hades Ballet with the ghost of Ruth Etting and had our pitcher taken in wallet sized glossies.

I've seen saloon fights fought entirely with guitars, cathouse curtains made of the hides of Johns who didn't pay up, Karaoke bars where all the songs are solely from planets nobody really believes exist, pig races with jockeys, bullfights held in bathrooms, and mind-over-matter billiards matches with entire nations as the stakes. Good times.

I'll send you a postcard. I'll also send you a copy of the report.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Man Behind the Mask

by J.S. Holland

"Man, Evil is real. It is out there. Evil has a face, a look of its own and nothing else looks like it. But for it to be truly terrifying, for evil to do its job it has to hide behind the mask. Evil has to function in society, it has to rub elbows with all the good folks and decent people, it has to been seen smiling all the time as it lurks and lives and breathes its fetid breath down our throats everyday. We live with the horror that at any moment, at any time, that mask will slip off the person next to us and we'll see the face of true evil, true horror."

- Tobe Hooper.

I say, chaps, this here Dollar Tree store is somethin' else, eh what? I was just in the one in Middletown, KY and scored this amazing hardcover edition of Dan Madigan's Mondo Lucha A Go Go for only a clam, a bone, a sawbuck, one American dollar. As a longtime devotee of the noble tradition of Mexico's masked Lucha Libre wrestlers, color me stoked. I researched my way into the genre backwards years ago, after discovering Kentucky's "Appalachian Voodoo" tradition which is definitely influenced by Mexican rasslers - especially Grillo the Clown.

Wrestling expert that he is, Madigan herein covers every conceivable aspect of the sport, from psychology to kitsch to genuine athletic prowess to humorous anecdotes galore. One that gave me a chuckle in particular: "Many times the referee counts at a very leisurely pace to get to twenty. I've been at a few matches where one Luchador was knocked out the ring and ref started counting to twenty. At six I got up, went to the bathroom, got some tacos, a beer, stopped to talk to a friend on the way back to my seat, and when I sat back down the ref was at eleven."

What exactly is my attraction to an obscure genre of Mexican wrestling dating back to the 19th century which rose to global prominence after it began to dovetail with the concept of the horror movie, and after fantasy and reality switched places in the looking glass and neither El Santo nor Rodolfo Guzman Huerta (as his mother knew him) could tell who was who anymore, and which was which?

Partially, it seems to go back to those same pre-Cambrian genetic memories that draw me towards Japanese rubber-suited robots and bug-lookin' cops. And on another level, I'm intrigued by these men who have sculpted themselves into something larger than life (or as Grillo once sang, "larger than big"). I'm reminded of one of my favorite flicks, Inglourious Basterds, where the Hillbilly leader of the Nazi-killing Basterds ("Aldo the Apache") and their evil arch-enemy Hans "Jew Hunter" Landa fight World War II by measuring it in part by their own celebrity. Both the good guy and the bad guy in the film are very interested in their legend and reputation, asking others, "Have you heard of me?" and "What have you heard?"

Lastly, the mystery that is Mexico itself has to figure into it all, obviously. This land packs a powerful mojo and when its ley lines intersect those of Kentucky, something magical happens. Something powerful. Something profound. Also absurd and silly looking. But who can say it isn't beautiful?