Book Review: TITUS CROW Volume Two

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titus crow volume twoBrian Lumley
Tor
1998

Titus Crow and his faithful companion and record-keeper, Henri-Laurent de Marigny, fight the gathering forces of darkness–the infamous and deadly Elder Gods of the works of H. P. Lovecraft. Cthulhu and his dark minions are bent on ruling the Earth. A few puny humans cannot possibly stand against these otherworldly evil gods, yet time after time Titus Crow drives the monsters back into the dark from whence they came.

Volume Two of a series of collections that were released in the later part of the 1990s, containing the novels featuring Brian Lumley’s Cthulhu Mythos investigator Titus Crow–well, kind of. See, that blurb from the back of the book that I included up there? The paragraph in italics? Yeah, that one. Greatly misleading, I’m afraid. You read just that, and one expects a slam-bang couple of adventures where Crow and Marigny throw down with Cthulhu and his minions for severely cheesing off the Old One in the last collection. Nope. Sorry. Though, if you bought this for the cover art itself…I don’t blame you. It’s pretty cool looking.

The first of the two novels contained herein–The Clock of Dreams–picks up where the previous story left off, with Henri-Laurent de Marigny climbing inside the TARDIS…er, I mean the bigger-on-the-inside coffin-shaped clock device that is also a space/time/dimension hopping ship that is totally not a TARDIS, to join his friend Titus Crow and his Elder God girlfriend in Elder Gods Paradise. Only, he takes an unexpected detour when Kthanid–Cthulhu’s benevolent cousin–recruits him to take a trip into the Land of Dreams to rescue Crow and his girlfriend from the clutches of the henchmen of Nyarlathotep (gesundheit). And while Nyarlathotep (gesundheit) and his minions factor into Cthuhlu’s nefarious plans on infiltrating the Land of Dreams, ol’ Tentacle Face doesn’t really make an appearance.

The second story in the collection–Spawn of the Winds–not only does not mention, let alone feature Cthulhu, it doesn’t even mention a very much absent Titus Crow and Friends. Instead, this is a story written from a bunch of psychic transmissions from an agent of the Wilmarth Foundation whose expedition to find the dreaded Walker of the Winds led to being kidnapped by said Old One and taken to a far-off wintry planet, where they join the resistance that’s led by none other than the half-human daughter of said pseudo-deity. Again, I reiterate: there was a serious lack of Titus Crow in a story included in a Titus Crow collection. But I digress.

All pedantism aside, the two Lovecraft Mythos-inspired novels by Brian Lumley are earlier works by the British author, and are entertaining enough as dark fantasy works that plays gleefully in the Cthulhu Cycle sandbox. Mind you, the prose is an interesting shade of purple, especially in The Clock of Dreams. I don’t know if this was deliberate, keeping in the spirit of the original Lovecraft stories that inspired these, or if this just was how Lumley wrote back in the day. Regardless, I’ve read much worse, and the two novels contained were entertaining yarns and flowed pretty well with the faux-Romantic era style, deliberate or not.

And of an item of mere curiosity, it seems that, prior to finding this copy of Titus Crow Volume Two at the 1/2 Price Books, I discovered that I do actually own a 1978 first edition mass paperback copy of Spawn of the Winds that I remember picking up at another used book store in Kansas five years ago. The cover’s a bit worse for wear, but it’s to be expected. And now I realize I sound like a complete book nerd. In any case, Titus Crow Volume Two was a nice detour into Lovecraftian dark fantasy, heavy on the fantasy elements. If you can get past the false advertising of the back cover blurb, this makes for some good bedtime reading.

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In Remembrance Of Jerry Donahey

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Jerry

On Saturday, August 23rd, members of the paternal side of my family gathered together at the Trinity United Methodist Church in Grand Island, NE to bid farewell to Jerry Donahay. Many of us donned hunting gear and camo prints in honor of the man. He was a bit of the “outdoors-y” type, you see. But that’s besides the point. I’m writing this, because I need to. Bear with me. I’ve always been rather bad at eulogies.

Instead of telling you how he died–and forgive me for referencing a Tom Cruise movie–I will tell you how he lived. At least, my remembrances of the man.

Jerry was my cousin, older by two years, give or take a week or two. I cannot say we were close in the conventional sense, where we all hung out several times a week or thereabouts. Our families were separated by distance–such is life in the rural Midwest–but there was that tangible…thing there that’s really hard to explain in a couple of words, let alone a paragraph in a post on an obscure blog floating around the flotsam of cyberspace. “It’s a cousin things”, maybe. Though, I feel I’ve failed as a writer by defaulting to that. I digress.

I’ve come to praise Jerry, not bury him in my inane babblings, after all. Sorry, Bill. Now, where was I?

The second oldest of the overall gang of the Case Family Cousins (gads, I just realized that sounds like the name of a 1950s travelling gospel singing group), both Jerry and his brother Allan were the older brothers I never had. With Jerry, the feeling was mutual; this I knew by the way he teased and picked on me as children, as only an older brother worth his salt would do. You couldn’t have convinced me of it back then, but there was nothing mean spirited about it. He was the classic rough-n-tumble type. Me, not so much.

And like any “older brother worth their salt”, he inspired some healthy rivalry, usually inadvertently. Jerry was in the Boy Scouts, therefore I had to be in the Scouts. Jerry was riding his bike without training wheels (and laughing at mine), so gravel and sidewalk burns be darned, I was going on two wheels if it killed me. Sometimes it came that close. I did draw the line at going into the deep end with the others for a while, though. It was easier to resist an attempted dunking when you could feel the solid ground under your feet.

Over time, as is always the way, life went on. All of my memories of Jerry are always in context of with the rest of the cousins, really. Christmases, the odd summer gathering…he was always there. Late spring of 1990, I was there with everyone else when Jerry received his Eagle Scout badge, and then graduated High School the next day. He was always there for everyone in one form or another. I’m afraid I may have taken this for granted that it would always be that way.

As adults, he was a staple at the Case family reunions, whenever we could get the families together. He developed into the strong silent type, something I admired about the man, and I’m certain others did as well.

The last I ever saw of him was this year, on Memorial Day Weekend. He was spending some vacation time at our Uncle Pat and Aunt Joyce’s place in Dunlap, Iowa. Aunt Joyce invited me out to join them, and so I did. Jerry and I went out to lunch the day I arrived, just he and I, after he spent the morning helping out a bit with our cousin Rob. We just chatted as we took in the unique ambiance that only a burger n’ shake place in a small rural Midwest town can provide, talking about our jobs, how things were going with our respective lives, car restorations and all that general guy talk. I think this was one of the only times I have ever spent with Jerry one-on-one; as I mentioned earlier, it was always with the group that I knew him best.

Later that weekend, he and I both helped prepare and serve at the Volunteer Rescue pancake feed in Dunlap with our aunt and uncle, then spent a bit of time with the families of our cousins Rob and Julie, before I went back home to get back to my obligatory life. That was the last time I saw or spoke to him.

It’s the same old cliché, really: “Had I known this would be the last time” and all that. I remember the very last words I spoke to him in this life–“This is some good cake.” Hardly profound parting words.

Are there regrets? Always. Over four decades, though, the one thing I took away from this last couple of days with him this year, was the sense of mutual respect each of us had for each other. Far different individuals, yes, but still the older brother I never had.

And that last sentence was the one that hits me the hardest about writing this. Farewell, Jerry. There is definitely a hole in the world that wasn’t there before.

Music Review: DEAD ARTIST SYNDROME – Jesus Wants You To Buy This Record

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dead artist syndrome - jesus wants you to buy this record
DEAD ARTIST SYNDROME
Jesus Wants You To Buy This Record
Independent
2002

Cornerstone 2002 was the year I got to catch a performance of one Brian Healy and Friends, otherwise known collectively as Dead Artist Syndrome. Having discovered his discography as I was getting acquainted with the Christian Goth scenes a mere handful of years prior, it was a treat to see a live performance. Despite the fact that it was early afternoon, the daystar blazing unabated in the cloudless Midwest July day outside under a tent, I still enjoyed this rare performance. And on a related note, I also picked up a copy of the C-Stone 2002 exclusive CDr release of Jesus Wants You To Buy This Record.

Less a proper release, and more a fun collection of odds and ends, Jesus Wants You To Buy This Record has gotten a lot of listens since picking it up in the merch tent all those years ago. The cuts are some of the better I’ve heard, mixing Healy’s trademark mix of dark somber brooding and biting sardonic sense of humor. And in case you’re wondering what kind of sense of humor…read the title of this album again. If you took it seriously, then…well, you probably need this more than I do.

There are some original cuts–“In Your Hands”, “Life Amongst The Dead”, “Pray”, “Rich Girl” (which was originally recorded for the Prints Of Darkness release), and the title track itself–some covers of Daniel Amos (“Through The Speakers”), Cheap Trick (“Surrender”) and The Bee Gee’s (“I Started A Joke”), a couple of unplugged live performances of “Hello” and “Beautiful World”, and a couple of plugged performances of “Christmas” and “Angeline”. None of these sound like filler by any means, making Jesus Wants You To Buy This Record one of the more listened to CDs I’ve gotten in the past couple of decades. Wow, I just typed that last part. Man, do I feel old.

A couple of the original songs on here made it on the Saving Grace release that came a year or so later, something that escaped my attention somehow. Will have to track that release down some time. In the meantime, though it’s a rarity I was very much pleased to pick up when I did, if you happen to stumble across Jesus Wants You To Buy This Record, pick it up. Fans of Dead Artist Syndrome won’t be disappointed.

Movie Review: ZOO BABIES – The Fine Art Of Self-Destruction

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zoobabiesthefineartofselfdestruction
ZOO BABIES
The Fine Art Of Self-Destruction
Ionic Records
1999

There are some albums that somehow wind up in my music vault for whatever reason I can’t for the life of me seem to recall. And then, when I manage to stumble on them again, sometimes years down the proverbial road, I know I have the relisten and review the thing, at least once, no matter how painful it may be. And because the better part of the 1990s was spent indiscriminately amassing anything that was in the “Christian Rock” sections, there’s much, much more in there than I care to admit.

The Fine Art Of Self-Destruction, for instance, by some ban called the Zoo Babies. No bloody idea how this got into the collection. And when I put it in the “Music To Listen To For A Review” que, I really didn’t want to listen to this. Everything about this, from the packaging to the name of the band, screamed Lame Alternative Pop, something that was in rather wide abundance even at the time of this release in 1999. So when I finally reached this, stopped trying to put it off, loaded it into the Media Player, I was greeted with…

…guitar-driven grunge rock? Well, okay. Wasn’t expecting this. Actually, this is pretty decent, like these guys were going for a Mudhoney, Screaming Trees, Which For Eden-if-they-knew-more-than-different-variations-on-the-same-three-chord-riff vibe. The fact that they decided to not copy Creed or Pearl Jam gives them a few more points. And with a bit more researching of this album, it appears that this was a project of former Bride musician Jerry McBroom.

So, yeah. The Fine Art Of Self Destruction was a surprisingly good rock album, that was lost in a vast sea of mediocrity. I can admit this I have to be in a certain mood to listen to this, but at least this made it past the one-and-done level in Uncle NecRo’s music vault. Worth checking out.

Sunday A’La Carte – August 24, 2014

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rogue black holeSunday again. Gotta tell you, this weekend really sucked. Sucked so hard, light could not escape its gravitational pull, kinda sucking. And there doesn’t seem to be much end in sight. So I’ll just get right to it, here.

I attended the funeral of another cousin yesterday. If I say he was far too young, it’s because he was far too young. I understand that everyone says that about everyone; in this case, he was only 42, a scant two years older than myself. And his older brother died from cancer when he was only 40, about four years ago prior. In cases like this, I always feel like it’s my civic duty (in a manner of speaking) to just be there, not really say anything and grieve the best way possible, without bringing others down around with me. I don’t try and say the right thing, because really, who can? And I certainly will never, ever use those tired old bumper sticker platitudes that people use that think mean something, but don’t. Things like, “God has a plan”, or “When God closes a door, he opens another one”, or “Here’s a casserole, I’ll just put it with the others.” Okay, maybe that last one has nothing to do with stupid pat statements said to the grieving. There’s only so much green bean casserole you can accept before things star getting awkward, though. Now I’m rambling. Sorry. Point is, goodbye Jerry. I shall eulogize you in upcoming days, give or take. Still trying to get my jumbled thoughts together on that one.

if silence looks away from a weeping angelThis weekend was also the weekend of a new Doctor Who episode. Yesterday (that being Saturday, August 23rd for those of you playing at home), after having been on holiday since the 2013 Christmas Special, which saw Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor regenerate into Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor at the end, the Eight Season had finally arrived, and Whovians everywhere gathered to watch the 80 minute premier of “Deep Breath”. I waited until today to watch it, along with my Nephew/Godson, because who else am I going to watch it with? It’s not like I have anyone special to share this interest with anymore. Overall, I found this kick-off episode introducing the new Doctor…interesting. I may have to rewatch the episode, because there was some competition coming from a younger nephew that wanted to play loudly, and a bunch of puppies still trying to be weaned off of the mama doggie. But, here’s some randumb thoughts I had:

–I wonder if the whole Clara having trouble coming to grips with the much older-looking Doctor after so much time with a much younger Doctor (the bad age makeup in The Time Of The Doctor notwithstanding) was a kind-of dig at the New-vian fangirls who were whining about Capaldi being the Doctor instead of some other hunky something-or-other? I like to think it is.
–Strax complementing Clara on her spleen. Comedy gold.
–I’m sorry, but are you two married? I’m afraid I didn’t get it the first five or six times you obligatorily said that. What was that definition of Ad Nausium, again?
–So, correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t there a reference some time ago that the actual weight of the TARDIS was (scientifically speaking) a whole bunch of tons? Does that “Relative Dimensions” part also mean that it somehow doesn’t translate to the exterior? I know it’s just a show, but…it’s a question that has nagged me in many episodes that feature the transport of the TARDIS, and today it made me wonder, “Why isn’t that wagon busted under the weight? And how did they manage to get it up on there without several Victorian-era hernias suffered?” I’m thinking too much about this.
–FLAMING DINOSAUR!
–CALLBACK TO “THE GIRL IN THE FIREPLACE”!
–THE DOCTOR HAS A SCOTTISH ACCENT! Okay, I’ll take the Caps Lock off, now.
–an Ed Gein-inspired hot air balloon? Gotta admit, that’s kinda dark, even for me.
–it may have been the ranting speculations due to the post-regeneration madness, but I can’t be the only one thinking that the Doctor questioning how he came about this face has some kind of tie-in with “The Fires of Pompeii”, can I? Or am I over-thinking things again?
–CALLBACK TO “THE TIME OF THE DOCTOR”! That’s the last time I’ll do that, I promise.
–Huh…scary-looking crazy lady calling The Doctor her “boyfriend”. Say hello to this season’s over-arching mystery tie-in, folks.
–hey, second episode, and they’re already bringin’ out the Daleks.

like your autobiographyDidn’t do a lot of reading this week (see the paragraph at the beginning of this post), but I am going through Spawn of the Winds, an earlier Brian Lumley novel, featuring his take on the Elder Gods mythos, and his supernatural investigator-type Titus Crow. I think. So far, it’s just narration from a bunch of guys in a plane that were abducted by some nasty pseudo-deity named Ithaquoa or something or other.

loopSTUFF I’VE WRITTEN: Not too much this week, again, other than reviews of three Daniel Amos albums: Daniel Amos, Shotgun Angel, and MotorCycle. What can I say, other than my mind has been preoccupied with the goings-on and such.

STUFF OTHER PEOPLE HAVE WRITTEN: Found this rather interesting piece from the online Relevant Magazine site, about the Bible and profanity. Nicely done, gents.

kirk and spock 2014Time for me to take my leave. Get my beauty rest and all that. Another week ahead of me. So, I leave you all now with the Star Wars: The Radio Play, as it brought a much-needed laugh to my lips today, after so many days of oppressive sorrow. Cheers.

::END TRANSMISSION::

Music Review: DANIEL AMOS – Motorcycle

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daniel amos - motorcycle
DANIEL AMOS
MotorCycle
BAI
1993

Daniel Amos is one of the more legendary names in Christian alternative rock. They’ve been around since the 1970s, and have released some very influential albums in the 1980s and into the 1990s, being on the forefront of the Christian Alternative music scenes, pushing and challenging boundaries with their well-produced and diverse musical compositions and cerebrally well-crafted lyrics.

MotorCycle (I can’t tell if it’s supposed to be “Motorcycle” or “Motor Cycle”; there’s different claims, and so I just decided to go with MotorCycle, seems like a nice middle ground) was released in 1993, on the Brainstorm Artists, Intl’ label. It was their twelfth studio album, and marked the return of longtime guitarist Jerry Chamberlain, who departed in 1983. The release itself is a lush-sounding retro-psychedelic alternative pop rock recording that essentially sounds like you’re lying on a grassy hill, watching the sky melt into a surreal landscape. MotorCycle is very haunting, both in the instrumentation and the lyrics of the music, and the only apt comparison I can find is with the Beatles in their later part of their career. Admittedly, I found this rather appealing as late-night chill-out music, when I’m in that kind of mood.

Very well-produced, very well-played, overall a quality album to be sure. Not exactly a style I listen to a whole lot, but this would definitely be something fans of Oasis and The Choir would get into.

Music Review: DANIEL AMOS – Shotgun Angel

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daniel amos - shotgun angel
DANIEL AMOS
Shotgun Angel
Maranatha!
1977

Daniel Amos’ second release, also on the Maranatha! label, leaned a bit more to the “rock” side of the country rock genre, making this one a bit more fun to listen to as a whole. Nowadays, I wouldn’t doubt that Shotgun Angel would be listed as “alt. country”, as the country flavoring is there, with a definite and pronounced alternative streak.

The song that this album derives its name from is actually a cover by another contemporary of Daniel Amos–The Road Home. I haven’t heard the original version, but the Daniel Amos version sounds good, and they named the album after the song, so there’s that.

Really, it’s with Shotgun Angel where we get a glimpse at the unique musical brilliance of the band. And yes, I concede that Daniel Amos is brilliant, even while not being an overall fan of the music. Side A of the record–or, the first 6 tracks, for those who aren’t familiar with the old vinyl and cassette formats–would be the business-as-usual Eagles-inspired country rock side of things, side B is a full-on mini rock opera complete with orchestration instrumentation and complex musical arrangements, and based on the book of Revelation, predating Saviour Machine’s not-even-finished Legend series by a good 20 years. It was a pioneering moment in Christian rock; so much so, that ten years later, the entire second side of the album was re-released with a newly recorded song and additional narration as Revelation in 1986.

When compared to the first record, Shotgun Angel is several steps ahead in quality; it shows progress of what the band would eventually become in later years. I own this record on vinyl, which seems rather appropriate in how to experience it. From what I understand, there’s a 25th Anniversary edition put out in 2001 on M8 Records that is, shall we say, not quite up to snuff in terms of quality, leading the band to produce their own proper edition on their Stunt Records in 2006, which is probably the version you’d want to find on CD if you were inclined.

Is Shotgun Angel a classic? Sure, why not. Mind you, I’d be more inclined to pop on Resurrection Band’s Waiting For Your Reply when it comes to 1970s-era Jesus Hippie Rock. But Shotgun Angel, like their self-titled debut prior to this, is a really good quality release that should be checked out at least once for a taste of the band’s early history.

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