Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Why Chris Cornell's Death Affects Me

I realize that the death of Chris Cornell hits me hard because it signals another victim of fame and the grunge movement. 

Understand that grunge music was, for my generation, an entry point into university and adventure and exploring one's self. Pearl Jam's album "Ten", in particular, was the album du jour in fall 1992, and an ideal traveling soundtrack for a 19-year-old going from home to elsewhere by bus or train for the first time. Eddie Vedder's baritone chants and the melodic guitar riffs and anthem album were terrific companions for a new adventure.

Nirvana and Soundgarden were the accompanying heavy grunge music for me. Keep in mind that the grunge sound, with its heavy emphasis on electric guitar and wailing lyrics, were new at the time. Many people my age accepted ownership of this sound as part of the soundtrack for our lives. Sure, we wore plaid and white T-shirts and denim and danced as though we were having some sort of body surfing wish fulfillment, but the music, we felt, was unique to our age group.

Chris Cornell's suicide by hanging is partiucularly haunting as he joins a line of West Coast lead singers and writers to succumb to alcohol and drug addiction, as well as depression, since the heyday of the Seattle Sound in the early-to-late-1990's. Here's the list I came up with that I am sure media will be covering soon enough.

- First there was Mother Love Bone lead singer Andrew Wood who was a heroin addict. He was, in a way, my generation's very own legitimate Jim Morrison, an early casualty of rising fame and drug addiction. Wood tried to get clean before Mother Love Bone's album came out. Sadly, he died in 1990 of a heroin overdose, days before "Apple" was released. Mother Love Bone only put out that sole album. Chris Cornell formed the band Temple of the Dog and the album of the same title as an epitaph for Wood.

- Kurt Cobain, the famous lead singer for Nirvana, another Seattle-based band, died in 1994 under suspicious circumstances.

- Seattle band Alice in Chains founder and lead singer Layne Staley died from drug-related complications in 2002.

- Scott Weiland, lead singer of San Diego band, Stone Temple Pilots, died of an accidental drug-and-alcohol overdose in 2015. Critics often accused STP, as they were called back then, of mimicking Eddie Vedder's rock anthem vocalist style with Pearl Jam. After three albums, though, STP proved their worth as a grunge rock band all their own. They often made a trippier and more oblique style than Pearl Jam, punctuated by severe bass guitar.

So when you learn that the frontman have died in tragic circumstances from nearly all the Seattle bands producing grunge music, whose influence you still feel 25 years later, it's an affecting realization. 

I am deeply saddened by the news of Cornell's death, yet still as thankful as ever for the music Cornell made during his lifetime. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Chris Cornell's Passing

Musician Chris Cornell was immensely gifted. His suicide has given me pause.

Cornell, friend and mentor to newcomer Eddie Vedder, helped launch Eddie's career back in '91. Between founding the band Soundgarden in '84 and making possible the birth of Pearl Jam in '90, Cornell was a seminal force during the birth of the Seattle Sound or grunge movement. He also founded and fronted the band theTemple of the Dog in 1990 as a tribute to friend Andrew Wood (Mother Love Bone's founder, as well as and Malfunkshun's) who died of a heroine overdose.
Cornell's vocals elevated grunge music, with its heavy crunching guitar riffs, and made this music into something utterly new at the time.
On the holiday weekend, I put on a YouTube playlist to educate my nine-year-old boy. I started with "Hunger Strike" (the stunning, mournful duet with Vedder dedicated to Andrew Wood), followed by "Fell on Black Days", and a startling cover of "Nothing Compares to You". Alice in Chain's "Would?" also crept into the mix.
Cornell's vocals are still haunting.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Worried, with cancer after family and friend's marriage falling apart

Just so damn worried in that Kerouac exisential sense about best friends not talking to each other anymore and a friend's marriage imploding despite his outward denials and cancer taking my mother-in-law and Lori-Jean Hodge with that sweet otherworldly voice and my sister also with inoperable cancer.

A lot of other posts seem irrelevant by comparison. Still editing my second novel and waiting to hear how a short-story collection is being appraised by a publisher. But I'm not posting about that, because that's the in-between part of my days of worrying and movig on through daily life.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Review of Doctor Sleep: Stephen King's Worthy Sequel to The Shining

I finally got around to reading Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, the very late sequel (about 36 years later) to his influential 1977 novel The Shining. The Shining was predicated on hero Jack Torrance's flaws, as a father and a human being. Jack was haunted not only by ghosts at the Overlook Hotel, but by alcoholism, a bad temper, and deep doubts about his parenting. Doctor Sleep is about the son Danny, now a grown man, spiralling into alcholism and aimlessness. That said, Doctor Sleep is richly rewarding. It’s not quite the same as The Shining, but if you’ve read The ShiningDoctor Sleep is a worthy sequel. 

Moreover, Doctor Sleep is very good in many places. King writes revealingly and genuinely about a middle-aged protagonist grappling with alcoholism, trying to change his life for the better, but also contending with dark forces with help from the younger generation. I understand that alcoholics attending rehab like the book because it speaks to their own struggles.

The hook for Doctor Sleep is that little Danny Torrance, from the first novel, is now middle-aged now, an alcoholic like his father Jack. Dan drinks, though, to numb himself from seeing horrifying ghosts and apparitions. Unlike ol’ Dad, who succumbed both to alcoholism and to the influences of ghosts at the Overlook, Daniel endures an experience that grants him an epiphany. He realizes he must stop drinking. Reintroducing readers to Daniel Torrance, King writes adeptly about a hero grappling with alcoholism and white-knuckle sobriety, not to mention about some truly horrific situations.

As in his 1975 Salem’s Lot, a modernized Dracula in small-town America, King’s hero relives a scene that motives them through their long journey. (In Salem's, the young Ben Mears witnesses a man who hung himself in the abandoned Marsten House.) Dan, in Doctor Sleep, wakes one morning in bed with a barroom pickup, several hundred dollars poorer, and having hit rock bottom. He realizes he must confront his alcoholism.

After this all-time low, Dan imbibes alone under a bridge. Realizing how far he has fallen from anything resembling a stable life, he decides to sober up. Dan also realizes he needs help, an alcoholic’s toughest realization. He moves to the small town of Frazier, and tries to start over. King in showing Dan's long nights and agonizy over resisting the temptation of having just one drink, King taps into serious oil, here. Every toss and turn that Dan feels the reader also feels. Dan is at his wits’ end. Doctor Sleep is not so much as a descent as the Shining; it’s the character’s attempt to ascend his addiction. 

The story moves forward several years. Daniel holds down his day job at a palliative care unit. Here he earns the moniker that is the book’s title. Daniel has a knack for seeing patients off for their final moments. When the house cat, Gabe (Gabriel, here, in heavy-handed symbolism), sits overnight on a particular patient’s bed, this is the signal for Dan's co-workers to call Doctor Sleep. King succeeds, in several touching scenes, in showing Dan help people in their last moments of life. Such scenes made me teary-eyed.

The Shining sequel also introduces Abra, a younger character who shines. She sees ghosts and other otherworldly entities like 12-year-old Danny Torrance could see such things in The Shining. But she's far more powerful than he ever was. There’s a supernatural band of Recreational Vehicle (RV) drivers tracking down Abra, sort of soul-draining energy monsters. King portrays some cruel and scary characters here while also revealing their human sides, if that makes any sense.

Forgive the drift into vagueness. No spoilers, here. 

Doctor Sleep is, in turns, a little bloated, from Dan's internal monologues to touchstones of American life to brand names. Dan argues with himself in his head. This internal argument has long been King's favourite means of characterization and internal interplay. The author doesn’t steep his story in Americana—he deep fries it. His continues to profess his love of the interstate highway system. This was a noticeable detail from his 1984 fantasy novel, The Talisman, co-authored with Peter Straub. In Doctor Sleep, King also drops many brandnames, mentioning WalMart and the EarthCruiser recreational vehicle a little often. Admittedly, the antagonist drives an RV but to repeatedly name this make and model, along with the make and model of a car of a protagonist, gets conspicuous. That said, King likes touchstones that Americans see on a daily basis, whether familiar brands or famliar businesses.

But Doctor Sleep have the same visceral impact as The Shining

Well, no, because the novel is not weighted on a father’s tragic flaws. Rather, it is weighted on the son feeling doomed to become his father. Doctor Sleep is, oddly enough, a brave horror story. Dan struggles with his drinking and his temper like his father Jack did. Unlike, Jack, though, Daniel stares down his alcoholism and tries to connect with other human beings, even getting to know the younger generation. 

And, of course, this being a King novel, King shows that he still has the chops for truly terrifying and heroic moments along the way. Doctor Sleep hits hard in places, landing emotional and horrifying blows. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Hap and Leonard - Damn Fine New T.V., Pardner

I've started watching Hap and Leonard - some damn fine T.V., in Texan parlance - thanks to the recommendation from Lovecraftian expert, academic, editor and horror scribe Sean Moreland.

Now I'm not sure whether it's such a good show good because of the solid acting by James Purefoy,  Michael K. Williams and Christina Hendricks or because of the soundtrack motif (cue the C.C.R.!) or simply because the show is based on Joe R. Lansdale's book series. While I've not sampled the Hap and Leonard books, the show feels like a Lansdale tale, with tough Texan characters, outlandish villains, bizarre situations, a coating of film noir, a touch of horror and a dash of the absurd. In short, it's just ridiculously entertaining, as only a Lansdale book can be. (Keep in mind that Lansdale once started a story with “On a day hotter than two rats fucking in a wool sock…")

I also dig that one protagonist is a queer person of colour (Leonard Pine) and the other is Caucasian (Hap Collins). The black-and-white best friend combination reminds me a little of my youthful shenanigans with one of my best friends, who is also black. The two heroes joke easily about race and sexuality, although Hap is fiercely protective of Leonard, and vice versa, and it's obvious they care deeply for each other as only best friends do.