Thursday, February 27, 2020

Tower of Adventure

Not too long ago I wrote a review of two different adventure books. This was done to emphasize the small ways men's adventure stories had changed over the years. The first was a Dirty Harry-inspired '70s romp that leaned on hopelessness for drama, and the other was a post-apocalyptic trek where misery lurked under the surface as an inescapable reality. The creeping doom had been slowly consuming adventure fiction for awhile.

Despite all of that, they are still great adventure stories that anyone in the genre would be happy to read. The writers told good tales.

However, my thesis was that this slide into depression was a cultural one and natural to the writers without them even realizing the change around them. I believed that the authors themselves had been mired in this attitude and did not even realize it when writing their tales. We all are products of our culture, and writers are no different. However, that view was a bit shortsighted. This was arrogant of me to assume the authors didn't know what they were writing, and I do apologize. I say this because there's probably more to it than just the attitudes of their times.

As Nathan Housley, the Pulp Archivist, likes to say: fiction in the 20th century was ruled by editors and their tastes. So while Romance stayed the same because the women in charge knew what they wanted and have delivered constantly over the years, the male dominated fields would instead constantly tinker with what they thought other men wanted based on outside industries. The writers wanted to put out thrilling adventures for the guys to dig, but the editors wanted to appeal to watchers of big Hollywood movies.

Where I got this was from a writer himself who was interviewed by Paperback Warrior. The success of big budget Hollywood action movies meant publishers of Men's Adventure needed to catch up. If you wanted to know why there were so many rogue cop and fed-up vigilante men's adventure books in the 1970s it was because of the success of Dirty Harry and Death Wish. Unfortunately, chasing the Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson dragons never really paid off for novel writers. You won't find many books in their mold from that time that were hits.

One example of this fruitless pursuit was the C.A.T. (Crisis Aversion Team) books by Warner Books for their Man of Action line. This was meant to be their attempt at Dirty Harry, but it ended up being nothing like it, at all. And that was a good thing.

I read the first entry, Tower of Blood, and I'd like to tell you why it succeeds where most stabs at the hero cop formula in fiction failed.

First, some back story.

The C.A.T. series only lasted three entries, getting canceled almost right out of the gate (something that happened far too often at the time), written by two different authors who were planned to alternate between books. The plan was to put out a book a month for a year. Duane Schermerhorn wrote book 1 and 3, and George Ryan wrote book 2. There were 3 more books written, book 4 and 6 by Ryan, and book 5 by Schermerhorn, but of course they were shelved, never to be released. And if I'm to speak frankly, they were far too hasty in canceling this series before giving in a proper shot at the gold. There is something here that could have been nurtured into bigger things.

For one, the first book was released in 1982, before even Cannon Films' action formula blew up, before Richard Donner discovered buddy cops, and before Schwarzenegger, Norris, Stallone, and Van Damme, ruled the action movie world. I say this because this book doesn't actually follow the Dirty Harry mold such fiction was trying to ape at the time, including The Bloody Monday Conspiracy which I covered last time. This book is a 1980s action movie, full stop. It did this ahead of the cultural curve, and before Hollywood got there.

The editors didn't realize what they had with C.A.T., and interfered with what could have been a hit franchise if they had just let it gain steam with their original plan of 12 books for a year. By 1983/84 they would have had just hit the rising trend in action cinema with enough backlog to count. Their lack of enthusiasm in the series was misplaced, and their editorial tweaks to it were unnecessary. Tower of Blood is a firecracker of an action book, and should have had support around it instead of being left to die right out of the gate.

Allow me to explain.

In twelve chapters spread across 220 pages, our pair of hero cops chase down a mad drug-dealer through dirty back alleys, disgusting sewers, an exploding chemical plant, and the twin towers (oh boy), while being chewed out by their boss and while one is trying to spend time with his family and the other is trying to pick up chicks. Our pair of heroes, Weston and Santillo, rib each other along the way, and turn criminal scum into Swiss cheese while they hunt down a sadistic prick and his cadre of mercenary scumbags.

It's a heck of a good time, back to front, and is a lot less downbeat than the Dirty Harry and Death Wish-inspired stories that were floating around at the same time. Someone even has some common sense because it can be purchased as an e-book for less than a dollar. I would highly, highly recommend grabbing this one. It is an obscenely good time, and surprisingly clean of gunk. Well, mostly. I'll get to that.

So where do the editors come in? The interview the author (RIP) had with Paperback Warrior back in 2018 revealed a little of the process behind the series. It is very revealing.

The series was meant to be released in monthly installments before new editors came in and decided to cancel the line early. So C.A.T. never really had a chance to get off the ground. It was a real loss.

As the author explains:

“I met with the editor to understand what sort of series this was to be. He wanted a high-volume series, with books being published every couple of months. This sort of pace basically cannot be maintained by a single writer, so there was to be at least two in the C.A.T. series - more if the series took off. The two of us were contracted to write three books each. I wrote 1, 3, and 5 and a writer in North Carolina [George Ryan] was to write 2, 4, and 6.”

Yes, pulp speed wasn't even enough for this series. To release a 200 page paperback every month, and have it be good, is beyond most writers, including yours truly. But there was a hunger for good men's adventure books at the time, so the plan made sense. It is just unfortunate they didn't stick with it.

However, the first book was practically wholesome in comparison to what was being put out at the time. Good is good, evil is evil, and things do not feel hopeless or empty. This is much more in line with traditional action stories.

That said, the editors wanted to change that.

Schemerhorn wrote the ‘bible’ for the C.A.T. series to ensure continuity among the other authors who would one day be brought on board as the series achieved the literary status of The Executioner and The Destroyer. “After the release of C.A.T. #1, the editor sent a note requesting more sex and violence. So in #3, I raised the level to near-parody,” Schemerhorn confessed. “I wrote all three of the books I was contracted for and I assume my co-author did the same. But the series didn't do well, and I think only the first three were actually published.”

The editor's notes strike me as strange. For one, the violence in book one is perfectly logical, fierce, and powerful. It works very well. It's bloody, but not gory. The same thing with the sex--there is a hot encounter between a husband and wife that never gets too descriptive, but there is otherwise no sex in the story. Because there's no time for any.

This leads me to believe that the slightly jarring moments in the book were editor requested. This is because they feel as if they are crammed into an otherwise tight tale. I only have two gripes with Tower of Blood, and I now believe they exist because of editorial suggestion.

In the first chase scene in the book Weston and Santillo are after a pair of dirtbags who assassinated their informer. The drug-dealer's henchmen lead them through Fear City (The unofficial name New York City had before Giuliani cleaned it up) and through some of the darker elements of the time period. But along the way they burst into random apartments and establishments in fits of firefights and innocent people are hit in often overly descriptive ways instead of them . . . hitting the floor or fleeing when the shooters arrive.

Now, one or two innocents being hit in such a situation would make sense, but the death toll of civilians in this sequence is a bit hard to believe when neither shooter is going out of their way to actually shoot any of them. This feels like the editors wanted more blood and gore, and this was the way to do it without altering the core story too much. It doesn't fit with the rest of the action in the book, as if it is a remnant of '70s action.

I believe editorial interference might be the case because the fallout to this event is far less severe than what happens later in the story. They are berated harder later even though random unrelated civilians are never in the cross-hairs again. And neither are the victims ever actually mentioned beyond their initial deaths in said chase scene. It is very weird. It doesn't quite add up, though such a thing is easy to put aside.

The aforementioned call for more sex is also more than a bit awkward. The little sex in the book focuses on the villain's growing madness, and the love of a married couple, both of which stop short of being graphic. The knowledge that editors wanted more than this is kind of missing the point of an action book. There's nothing wrong with hot babes, but when you're chasing a hollowed out drug-dealer who is fixated on killing innocent people then taking a break for some rolling in the hay is just plain absurd. Why would an editor recommend breaking pacing?

This is reminiscent of the movie Commando which originally had a sex scene before it was cut out for not making any sense. Of course it didn't make any sense--John Matrix had mere hours to save his daughter before terrorists executed her. He had to drive and fly over a great distance to reach her before she was killed. Why would he be having a romp in bed with his co-star while his daughter's life is on the line? It not only slows down the story, it is stupid on a narrative level.

Pacing matters a lot in action stories. Keeping adrenaline and excitement high is the priority, and you do that by constantly moving the plot along. A descriptive in depth sex scene is the exact opposite of what an action story needs. It brings the plot to a crawl, and it rarely adds anything to any story. Its just there for titillation.

Then there is the fact that the "Just add more X" executive meddling nonsense is not a way to tell a story. It is a way to break or distort them from their original intent. Tower of Blood is a perfect action book, and to hear that it wasn't enough for editors is baffling from my position here in 2020.

As said before, Tower of Blood was actually ahead of its time. One could see this made into a high budget affair years later starring someone like Stallone, James Woods, or even the big man Schwarzenegger himself. Heroic cops suffering through bloodshed and carnage to stop the villain was not quite so common in 1982. But editorial interference cut that potential future short.

This is why I'm considering that my earlier post on Men's Adventure might have been slightly misguided. When it comes to mainstream fiction there is no telling how much an editor's say might contribute to altering a book from its original intent. We know this practice ended up chasing adventure, wonder, and the Gothic, out of genre fiction, so it wouldn't be surprising that it also broke trust in the action adventure scene. 

Editors had more say over the literary scene in the 20th century than any writer did. They were so powerful that agents began working for them at the expense of authors and readers. It was no longer about giving stories to the audience, but looking for a formula to make the cash-cows keep pumping money into corporate. Not to say there was never a hint of selling product over story before, but at least the nature of the medium was respected by those in charge. At some point that too was lost and it became about selling something other than storytelling.

But the era of the editor doesn't really exist anymore. We aren't in the 20th century.

Now writers in the new world of online publishing can hire their own editors to help shape the story they originally envisioned without having to alter it or sand off edges to a focus group that wouldn't buy the book anyway. We are free to do whatever we want.

Of course that still means a focus on telling a good story and trusting the editor enough to know when something is a bad idea. The point is that it is about more than trying to please invisible audiences and instead about pleasing the audience the story is already for. This is the way it is meant to be.

The tower of adventure climbs high into infinity. We don't need to settle with less anymore. There's a whole world out there. 

Let's go find it.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Story Sheets: "Inside the Demon's Eye"

Welcome back to another edition of Story Sheets! It's once again time to talk stories. I have a bit of a surprise for next week's entry, which will be the last, at least for now. I'm planning what to do for Lent this year, and since I don't have many more short stories to write about in this series (for now!), these entries will be taking a short hiatus. But until we get to there, enjoy the show.

Once again it's time to take a look at one of my stories. In this entry we're going to be walking backwards in time a bit. I'm going to be talking about the first short I wrote outside my stories in Someone is Aiming for You & Other Adventures. It's still quite the departure for me, even now.

I wrote this one after reading a lot of pulp. It took me a while to get this one right, so it's going to be nice finally talking about it.

This time it's Inside the Demon's Eye, a dark adventure story. It was printed in StoryHack #3, and was quite different from my other stories.

The setting's quite different, but you get the gist

I could sum up where this came from in in a single sentence: I was reading a lot of C.L. Moore at the time. That's pretty much it. Mrs. Kuttner's early stories of space bounty hunter Northwest Smith and warrior woman Jirel of Joiry were undeniably influential on me when thinking up this one.

I wanted to write a story in the sort of frame she created here. Of all the classic writers I went through during my pulp reading binge a few years ago, Moore was one of the ones that gave me the biggest dose of thunder and lightning. That s because she isn't quite what you would expect, especially if you believe the lies about what the pulps were from those who followed inferior traditions. There is much under the surface.

What she would do was what looked like a simple trick to many "scholar" types, many who write her off even now, but was recognizable (maybe even subconsciously) by readers. She was popular for a reason. As a consequence of her unique flair she is a bit of an acquired taste these days, but I acquired said taste rather quickly.

So how did she do it?

First she would take a character who is strong and mighty on the surface and put them up against a threat that would attack a core weakness of their soul. With gritty and tough Northwest Smith it was his weakness for women and a longing for a touch of something more than the hard life of a bounty hunter. With noble and poised Jirel of Joiry it was her feminine softness the lingered below her stubbornness and arrogance. They would have to deal with more than someone with a bigger sword or gun. Moore's approach was a very Gothic approach to an adventure story, and it was one I admired greatly. No one did it like C.L. Moore.

In my case I also wanted to add a wrinkle when it came to the setting. It is meant to add much atmosphere to the proceedings.

So while my setting might seem like a plain fantasy setting, there is a back story behind it all that I hope to explore in future entries in this world. I can say that there was an event a long time ago that brought this kingdom through endless waves, under the sea, and into a whole new world where the formerly worshiped demons are now in control of it all. You should probably understand just what it is supposed to be now. That said, the legend it is based on is well known. Or it was well known. You don't hear so much about it these days. Nonetheless, there are hints as to what the inspiration is for it via some of the references to said myth in the story.

I'm not much of a reader of modern fantasy, so I couldn't tell you if it is like anything much out there. That's not meant to be an insult, it's just the way it is. Not even what I was listening to when writing it was much like any fantasy I'm aware of.

The sort of atmosphere I pictured

The main character, Gallus, is a lone explorer, wandering the Black Lands to find a flower that will help someone important to him. However, these lands are haunted by darker things, and if one is not clean enough he might find himself susceptible to what lays out there. Especially if their motive isn't quite as pure as they believe it to be.

This is his story as he attempts to find his way out of the web he has landed into. Will he make it out of the Black Lands, or is he doomed to be consumed by his quest? Is there any escape in a world where sin rules the land? Read on to find out. It's just yet another story from inside the demon's eye.

So you can tell just how C.L. Moore's Gothic stories inspired this one to come to fruition. I wouldn't have been able to write this without her.

As for the knight in the story? Sir Dynas is meant to be a counterpoint to Gallus. I can say I was reading Sir Thomas Mallory at the time, and I wanted a knight as intimidating as Sir Palamedes was to show just what sort of inner and outer strength one needs to roam the Black Lands without succumbing to it. There is no better example of the ultimate paragon of light and good than the classic knight.

Most fantasy in the modern age treats knights as nothing more than either hypocritical curs or naive weaklings because said writers are unable to write one properly. My goal here was to show a fearsome warrior who gives his life to Christ and the innocent above all, but is no soft-gut coward. There is no one better prepared to face down evil of both external and internal evils than a true knight. That modern fantasy gets this wrong is one of many reason I don't care for it.

Sir Dynas' personality is needed to show the difference between our main character and him to emphasize just how over his head in all this Gallus is. The reason there are no multiple POVs in this story is because the knight's quest is incidental. He is not the main drive to the story, just the anchor for our main, and needed to balance out the two. We are not meant to see from his perspective. This entire story is about Gallus and his quest.

And if you're wondering about the Christianity portrayed in the story and why it is not quite what we know of in the modern day as normal, well, it has to do with lore reasons as to what the Demon's Eye is and how isolated the kingdom is. Since that's not the point of the story, it isn't explained here. Perhaps in a future story.

Since this was so challenging for me to write, I enlisted the services of ace editor and Dragon Award Winning author, Brian Niemeier, to edit my story. His suggestions allowed me to sharpen and prune the tale into the piece you see before you. If there's anyone who knows anything about weird fantastical adventures in demon-haunted worlds, it is Brian Niemeier. As an aside, his first book of space pirates meets Dante's Inferno, Nethereal, is on sale for $0.99. Be sure to read it for yourself, it is quite worth your time and unlike anything else out there.

But that's all I have to say on Inside the Demon's Eye, the rest can speak for itself. It is still the most out there story I've written. For now.

I wanted a story of intrigue, adventure, horror, and wonder, all at once, and this is what I delivered with Inside the Demon's Eye. It still holds up. You can read it for yourself in StoryHack #3 with seven other great action and adventure stories!

Once again, thank you for reading, and I will see you for the next entry. We've got more places still to explore!

Find it Here!

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Generation Green

Things don't always change, at least not in obvious ways. However, generation gaps exist because of what parents give to children and children take from parents. When it comes to passing on tradition one bad apple can really spoil the whole bunch. It really does take a village to raise a child, but if you can't trust the village then it doesn't do the child any good.

Last week I published a short fragment to the blog in lieu of a full-on post like I always do. It was even shorter than my Story Sheet entries. The reason I did this was because I wanted to put it out there on its own to establish Generation Y. I needed to do this before talking about the why of it all.

It's no secret that one of the biggest problems we are living with today is a split among those younger than Gen X age but older than the just-graduating High School kids of Gen Z. Right now, they are the ones making the biggest noise.

The divide is between those who mindlessly chant "Future!" and "Progress!" as if we are marching towards some sort of paradise on Earth that hasn't changed definitions at least twenty times in my lifetime. The other side are those who try to escape the din of this aggressive chant by hiding in their concocted man caves and choose to remember a time where things were less overbearing than they are now. These are two very different sets. This second group is the one I want to talk about today.

I wish to bring it up partially because I am technically part of it. The majority of those in this second group are in my age bracket, and are the ones currently being pandered to the most by every industry that has something to sell. Because we will spend everything to reclaim our long forgotten youth.

The story I shared last week, Why Not: A Gen Y Fragment, is based on those in this very group. I grew up with them. None of those in the fragment from back then are around anymore, but of the ones I do get to talk to from those days they have little to say about their past other than to mention products they grew up on. That's all they have to share.

From 2001

I had recently been enjoying posts from authors Brian Niemeier and David V Stewart about Generation Y. They nailed the description of eras they clearly are from. Another post that hit a mark was this one by author Clawson Smith. The topic has been hot for some time now. Nostalgia has always been around, but it has never been as aggressive as the period we are currently in. So where did this very obvious fracture in culture come from?

Well, first is that Generation Y and Millennials were originally refereed to as separate groups. Gen Y were advertised and catered to as the little brothers of Gen X. If you weren't around during the late 80s into the 90s then I suggest looking up some commercials from the time. They are weird, abrasive, loud, and sarcastic.

From 1994. This wasn't aimed at college aged Gen X.

From 1996. No Millennial was old enough for this yet.

From 1998. All character is gone. What happened?

Around 1997 or so Madison Avenue saw 2000 coming and wanted to make a shift. They began to advertise for a completely new group (their own words) and changed things accordingly. It happened almost over night. By this time the Political Correctness movement was in full swing and it reflected in the change in entertainment for kids. No longer were kids getting series like Rocko's Modern Life or Gargoyles, but were getting sanitized fare like The Wild Thornberrys.

Television alone was an entirely different beast between 1997 and 1998, and was unrecognizable for those who grew up in the '90s by the time the '00s hit. Madison Avenue and Baby Boomers wanted to court this new upcoming crop of kids and shape them into their own pet projects that would bring their progressive, forward looking utopia to reality.

At the same time, in 1999, an event at Columbine High School, where a couple of mentally ill teenage boys killed 12 innocent students and a teacher, changed the public school system overnight. It wasn't even the first major school shooting of the decade. Just two years earlier in 1997, a boy went into his school and murdered 3 students and wounded 7 others as part of a Satanic Cult called The Kroth. This was never really covered by the mainstream media, probably because it went against a lot of the narratives of those that wanted to change the culture. I highly recommend the book Child's Prey by Jon Bellini if you want the details on this case. It will make you see canards about the "Satanic Panic" in a new light.

Ask yourself why you never heard about this, but heard constantly of Columbine.

Nonetheless, this event was used as a way to sew distrust among students and teachers and to implement new stricter rules that have done nothing to improve the state of education even decades later. The only solution is taking away their access to weapons and entertainment without questioning why a child would become so empty in the first place that they would kill their fellow peers. Decades later and the question still hasn't been asked by those in charge. It won't ever be asked.

The school system that Gen Y grew up in changed overnight and is a distant memory now.

That wasn't the only thing that changed.

In 2001, twin planes hitting the Twin Towers in New York altered common discourse. Those on political divides became more aggressive towards each other, demanding instant changes and stricter guidelines, and mistrust flowered from this. Late night shows began taking nasty shots at those they disagreed with under the guise of "jokes" and humor became weaponized. Religion soon became a target of a certain crowd, spreading even more impotent rage. All this contributed to a poisonous atmosphere we have yet to escape from even two decades removed.

By the '00s the internet had taken over every facet of life, and smart phones were quickly becoming a reality. Instant communication meant no more need for down time or quiet. Gen Y were slow to adapt, but had already lived their formative years without it. Millennials grew up with these things in their pockets as they were escorted through the metal detector at kindergarten. This was a very different world from the one of only a few years before.

This all happened within the span of less than a decade, and this is the only world the Millennials knew growing up. They only knew this bleak world that arrived fully formed out of the void, for all they knew. This is what the world was to them. They were fashioned to be warriors for causes they don't understand but subconsciously react to as if they're programmed to. And considering the world they grew up in, injustice is all they know. This isn't meant as mockery, it just is what it is. This is why no other age bracket can quite understand them and why they are constantly stuck in an aggressive state snapping at everything their teachers informed them was bad. No one else is like this demographic: that is why the "snowflake" insult became so popular to refer to them a few years back.

As for those born in the '80s? Gen Y's childhood wasn't a misery mire. It was in fact, not really similar to the Millennials' at all. This is what their childhood was like:

Read by David V Stewart

There was no helicopter parenting. There was no unbridgeable gap between political opinions or religious beliefs. There were no anxieties over school shooters. There was no fear that a terrorist attack could kill you at any moment. There was no worry for a kid who grew up at this time. A kid could just be a kid. Everything was fine.

Until it wasn't anymore.

You might think my story was a praise of Gen Y, but there's a reason I didn't call it an ode. There is more to the story than just remembering the good times, but remembering what we didn't understand at the time. It's because we were just ignorant kids who didn't have to worry about anything that we didn't know what we were missing. We were not prepared for the changes to come, mostly because we were ditched and the world we knew was dismantled seemingly overnight.

Our Baby Boomer parents had everything set up. Think back and you'll remember how simple it was, and how much they knew. After all, they were the adults! You can always trust adults. Their job is to raise their children and prepare them for the world ahead. Anything less is a failure. This isn't just about Baby Boomers, this is standard parenting. But they did have it all laid out, and you can even see it in entertainment they produced in the 1990s.

Just go to school, graduate college, get a job, and you can ride out this life in style. It's simple stuff, Stupid. Sure they didn't really teach us religion, and we didn't really get to know our extended family, and we didn't think about anything at all beyond the here and now. So we dove into toys, trinkets, and baubles instead of thinking about the future.

Why would we? It was set in stone. Just do what you were told and all would work out. It worked for the Boomers, and they were successful, so why wouldn't you trust them?

That was before everything mentioned above occurred. By the 2000s, while the Millennials were having the correct thoughts pumped into their heads about how to fix a broken world that had been jack-hammered overnight, Gen Y was learning that everything they learned turned out to be half-truths at best or outright lies at worst. While Millennials were becoming Good Citizens, Gen Y was falling apart and being left behind.

The '00s were a lousy decade overall, colorless and miserable, so bad that there will not be any movement for nostalgia over it, just as there wasn't for the 1970s. By decade's end the 1980s returned, at least in spirit. Retrowave synth music appeared, '80s aesthetic made a comeback online, and old properties were getting movie and TV reboots. The best part of the 2010s ended up being this oddball retro aesthetic, as it had no character itself, just as the '00s didn't.

That this 1980s trend has lasted far longer than any previous nostalgia boom should say something. I'm brave enough to say that it will probably never go away. Because there is nothing to replace it with. The best parts of the 1990s was 1980s hangover that was scrubbed out, as established above, by 1997 or so. There is nothing else after that but grey gruel.

So who was this nostalgia meant for? We just established that Millennials are only forward looking. They despise the past and hate old things, and ween't around in the 1980s nor remember the early '90s. Gen X haven't been given any attention since the late '70s and don't have much in the way of fond memories of their youth. Baby Boomers lionize the 1960s and loathe anything after it. There's no one left. That's right, this was all aimed at Gen Y.

And it worked. It worked because Gen Y only has their past.

I know people who went to see that forgettable Ghostbusters reboot because of the brand name alone. It didn't matter that no one behind it had anything to do with what made the original movie(s) and spin-off projects great back in the day. It had the name and the name gave them fuzzy feelings. It reminded them of sunny times, better days, when the world wasn't on fire and everyone wasn't screaming at each other for using a word that they've been using their whole lives that had now been deemed unacceptable. They had nothing but those memories, so those memories are what they turned to. What else could they do? They have nothing else to believe in. Everything they were told broke down and died. It all turned out to be lies.

They want to be left alone in their bubble of happier times and they need these scraps of communion wafers to satiate that constant need. They have no hope for a good future and, to be honest, they have no reason to think one is coming. Memories are all they have.

The reason the nostalgia plague is around and reuses to die, the reason Hollywood can't make anything new anymore, and the reason Gen Y needs to be reminded of their youth, is because they are empty inside and have nothing else to them aside from remembering when they were not as miserable. They don't know anything else, because everything they were taught turned out to be wrong, and everything around now was made for those other than them--those that are now taking a sledgehammer to the foundations of what bore them to begin with. Gen Y are eternally green, unprepared for what lays before them. They have no safety net, no wider relationships, and have receded into a shell of recycled memories.

Ironically, it is their green that funds those who hate them. Boomers who forgot them overnight have handed over industries to their handpicked successors who detest everything Gen Y grew up on. It is why every reboot or relaunch of an old property deliberately subverts everything Gen Y loved about it to begin with. The above Ghostbusters reboot was exactly this. Thus even their shallow childhood is hollowed out just a bit more every time it is soiled. These others wish Gen Y would die so they could finally gut this old junk and make their own subversive slop meant for propaganda purposes instead. So what you have is a homeless wanderer generation pestered by those passing them on the shoulder of the road and spitting on them as they speed by.

Maybe they really are the younger siblings of Gen X.

Author Brian Niemeier wrote a story, much longer than my own, about this phenomenon among the generations. Buckle in for this one. His is called "A Gen Y Tale":

Also read by David V Stewart

It is funny that it was Gen X who used to call themselves the Zero, EmpTV, and Blank, Generation, when they have more of an identity to them than those in my own. We don't have an identity beyond what we don't have anymore and will never have again. We are the true Blank Generation. There is nothing deeper than the shell.

So we spend our green to give us something to get excited about instead of facing what we lost instead. We can't move on. We hide our heads in the sand and hope one day those lost days will return. If they don't came back then maybe we can at least pretend they will. We can always dream, right?

But they will never return. They're gone.

This is why we live in a landscape of endless rehash punctuated by a half-cocked new product swimming in college classroom cliches. The former is all we are capable of consuming, and the latter is all Millennials are capable of producing. It's an Ouroboros that isn't likely to be finished eating itself anytime soon. Meanwhile the younger ones in Gen Z sit by wondering what the deal is with this chaotic mess. It doesn't make much sense to an outsider. At this rate, there might not be anything left of the corporate entertainment world by the time this war is over. Those in the younger generations that have no nostalgic attachment have already walked away. They don't read Marvel comics. They don't go to the cinema. They have never seen a record store in their lives. Once they seize control, this will all go the way of the dinosaur.

So be it. If the best those in charge can do is reheated Gen Y product and heavy-handed woke garbage then they deserve their demise. They get what is coming to them. No one will mourn their death, and no options will spring up in their places.

As for those in Gen Y who are trapped in the endless cycle of consuming product? They merely need to let go. In this case it isn't a matter of just buying a better product, it is first finding a better and higher thing to put all your energy towards. Your youth is not a religion. No one can desecrate your memories except you. They were fun times, they might even have been good, but they are over. Hiding behind them only prevents you from seeing better days ahead or asking for more than what you are given. The cycle needs to be broken.

I'm saying this because I am a member of Gen Y. We need to hear this. There is nothing compassionate about letting a friend harm themselves, and sometimes we need to be told to stop waiting by the door for Dad to come home with that pack of cigarettes. It's not going to happen. Those days are gone, and you need to move on. It might be hard, but it must be done.

Here is one last snapshot of your youth, this time by author David V Stewart:

Written and read by David V Stewart

That was fun, wasn't it? It's nice to remember. It's good to take what worked in the past and bring it forward. That's what it's for. We live and we, hopefully, learn.

But things need to be put in their proper place. Those are only memories. They are lightning in a bottle. It will never be the same again. The past is not a refuge.

Until we either die off and are replaced with another generation or get over the world that left us behind, nothing will change. Thankfully with so many reboots and the like bombing that looks to be changing, at least a little bit. Gen Y is getting older and, hopefully, wiser.

That hollow attachment needs to be put to something bigger than corporate product. Find connections, and cherish them. Put things in their place. You only have a limited time on this world to do this. Don't waste it enamored with your dead youth.

One day we won't be here anymore and all we leave behind will become nothing when the sun scorches out. Why cling to the temporary? It's going to go away one day, whether you want it to or not. Your ancestors knew this, and that is why they were a lot happier than we are. It is also why Millennials, who can only reject the past for an impossible future, are so miserable. Neither of us is putting the past where it needs to be, and we have yet to figure out why. We all have our own hurdles to leap over.

Just look to the past as a guide, not something to hide in, and not something to despise and destroy. Eventually we can get back on track to where we need to be.

One day we will and hopefully by then we won't be so green anymore.

I write stories that won't pander to or mock the past, but are informed by it. Check out my most recent work of magic and superpowered noir adventures here. There is absolutely nothing else like it.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Story Sheets: "Black Dog Bend"

I said I'd be back and here I am. It is time for more Story Sheets! I'm planning on making a few more of these into March, up to Lent, so be sure to keep a look out.

These entries are going to be a bit shorter since these stories didn't take as much time for me to figure out or plan as the ones in Someone is Aiming for You & Other Adventures did. These ones came during lightning strikes of inspiration.

Part of being a writer is getting ideas for stories while you're already writing other stories. This is what makes a writer's block so uncommon. Usually between drafts or bigger projects I'll take a break and write a short to clear my head. It is a good way to keep yourself inspired. You need to remind yourself that there are other stories to tell outside the current one you are sweating over. Writing is just as much about creativity as it is work. Most every job is on some level.

Today I'm going to talk about a story I wrote for the most recent issue of StoryHack Magazine. That's right, it's still warm. This is the piece known as Black Dog Bend.

Find it Here!

Before you ask: no, it's not related to Grey Cat Blues despite a similar naming structure. That was a Rock n Roll adventure on a distant planet with a healthy dose of action. Black Dog Bend is a weird horror story in a more straightforward setting, with a lot of death. There is actually a small relation that is similar back to Grey Cat Blues, but I will talk about that later.

There is something to be said about video games as story inspiration. I've heard certain writers say they should be discarded and forgotten as they do little except cause writers to lose focus and waste time. But that simply isn't true for most of us. As a storyteller you can, and should, get inspiration from anything that strikes your fancy and gives you an idea or two. You live in a big, bright world with a lot going on. You can find inspiration anywhere you look. And that's what happened here. I've gotten more than a few ideas from video games over the years.

There was a hotel scene in a game where if the player failed he would have to redo certain parts in a certain particular order. It was as if he was stuck in a time loop. As I pondered on that I thought what a weird situation that would be in real life, and wondered how that could occur without anyone noticing this strange thing happening again and again. That is how the setting and general idea for this story came to be. I just wanted to know.

I needed a protagonist that had a reason to be out in the middle of nowhere to find such a place and had a reason to need to go back where he came from in an urgent manner. That takes a very particular type of person. A musician was the best choice for that, and I chose the one no one thinks much about: the bassist. They are frequently overlooked despite being a subtle, yet important part of a band's sound. That's where the main character, Jordan, came from. He's the most levelheaded member of the band who is the one that volunteers to go out to help his band mates when they're left in the lurch after a bad situation. He regrets his decision rather fast, as I'm sure we all would.

In case you didn't notice, the music was the one part that tied into Grey Cat Blues. There is a sort of romanticism embedded into Rock n Roll that can't be scrubbed away no matter how self-serious or pretentious it gets. Might it have something to do with originating in teenage love ballads and serenades? Possibly. From the energetic opening to Streets of Fire to the success of music videos in the 1980s there has always been something inherently large in the genre of music that oozes charm. It's something that keeps me coming back, even now as a writer.

The music can help with the creative process. It certainly did here.

I get pictures in my mind of far off places that don't actually exist. In this story, a bass player running dry on inspiration finds himself alone in the dark and up against things that shouldn't exist. What aides him? A little supernatural force of his own. But I don't want to get into spoilers.

As for what style of music he plays? I mention it in the story, but not everyone might know what it actually sounds like. It's not easy for print to get that across. A good hint to his band's music is right below this paragraph. This also clues into the style of story this actually is.

The lo-fi sound adds to the underground feel

So what was the inspiration beyond that? Well, it was old pulp stories. That's the majority of my literary inspiration these days.

I was reading some of Manly Wade Wellman's Silver John stories at the time. For those that don't know, they are about a wanderer in the American Appalachians where he continually comes across supernatural weirdness. He fights it off with his wits and, sometimes, his guitar. Those were a rather large inspiration on this one.

Also, I wrapped that influence into some C.L. Moore. Her Northwest Smith and Jirel stories where the Gothic can crush in on even the most stoic of figures is untouchable. She still possibly remains the most influential pulp era writer on my own writing.

But the biggest inspiration was the eerie tone of A. Merritt's Burn, Witch, Burn! which is of a unique tone that is one that leaves an impression on everything I do. This is one about evil dolls that come to life, but the weirdness around it manages to retain an intensity in such a brief length that few writers can do today. It's hard to get more odd than an A. Merritt story.

Up to this point most of my stories were action pieces, but this one is not so much. This is more about the weird and how it breaks in on normality. Of course there is action, but it's certainly not as involved as something like Someone is Aiming for You or Under Suspicion in Summerside. I write action adventures stories, so action is inescapable. It's just what I do. But in this case I wanted a piece more focused on the weird than the action, and that's what this is. It just happens to be really bizarre.

Here is the official description from StoryHack itself:

A musician stumbles into a time warp and finds himself part of a revenge plot. Now he must battle a killer dog, hired hitman, and a witch to escape.

It didn't sound half that odd when I wrote it, but it certainly is that strange. How is our intrepid bass player going to escape from his peril? Read the new StoryHack to find out! With all those other great writers inside I can't imagine passing it up. There's a ton of bang for your buck here, and I'm not just talking about my story. This is the new age of pulp, after all.

Before I go I want to leave you with a bit of a tidbit. This is mainly for those who have already read the story, but its not much of a spoiler for those who haven't.

Do you want to hear the song Jordan came up with? There is a song that was in my brain when writing this story. It doesn't sound too far away from what I had in mind for what he started scribbling down in the story. 

Sonically, I believe he wrote a piece similar to this one:

I swear the album title and the protagonist's situation are just coincidental! It just just ended up being that way in the end. I don't think the lyrics would quite match entirely what Jordan was going through, but you get the idea of the sound. He is still in a Rock n Roll band, after all. (RIP Roy Loney) 

But at the end of the day it was a fun story to write. It was also enjoyable to cover a small band on tour as they get into strange mishaps. Perhaps you'll see more of these guys in this scrappy underground band in the future. Maybe. We'll see.

For now I will leave you be until the next time. The sun is getting low. Stay safe and don't go out after dark. 

That's when they get you!

You can find the issue of StoryHack with Black Dog Bend here.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

"Why Not": A Gen Y Fragment

It’s just another day, but not for you. The other kids are out playing and their excited shouts fill the stuffed schoolyard. Recess always brings out the best in everyone. You laze under the boughs of your favorite tree with hands nestled behind your head, and just listen. Chirping birds and roaring car motors remind you that the neighborhood is alive.

One of your friends might be calling your name somewhere out there in the chaos, but it doesn’t matter right now. You’re here, and everything’s fine. There’s always the next recess.

The soft, freshly watered grass under your shorts and scuffed up red sneakers make you comfortable. You cross your legs, close your eyes, and take the oncoming summer in.

You can smell the humidity building—only weeks until school lets out. But it won't be out forever. You’re not that lucky. Your eyebrow twitches at that realization. It’s okay, though. Autumn is a ways away. Why bother worrying now?

A soft breeze carrying the scent of a nearby barbecue grill makes your mouth water just a bit. Porterhouse steak. You just had lunch, but it was only a lousy bologna sandwich. Maybe Mom will make steak for the family tonight. Heck, maybe Dad will decide to order pizza! The sky is the limit.

Bells ring from the nearby church. They seem to rattle with the constant beat in the back of your brain. It’s about time to pick up a new CD or two—the old ones are getting samey. One of the guys mentioned a catchy song playing on the radio recently. Oh well, one more mowed lawn and you’ll have enough to get whatever you need. Heck, there should be enough extra to spend at the arcade with your pals. They might have gotten some new games recently.

Today it’s Friday, and tonight there’s a familiar television block waiting for you at home. You also have your pick of cartoons on Saturday morning. The weekend schedule is packed. Time to kick back and relax. Everything is lining up just right.

In the corners of your mind, a tinge tickles your thoughts. You’re supposed to be remembering something important, but it remains just out of reach. Is it homework? Did Mom ask you to do the dishes? Maybe, maybe not. It could be anything. You brush the thought away. You can deal with that later. Why bother worrying now?

The school bell rings and the sounds of children silence as they slip away like water down the drain. They’re gone now, and you’re alone. No big deal, they’ll be back. They always come back, and they always will.

But there you remain, sitting under your favorite tree. You could get up, but there's no need. They won’t notice one kid sitting alone outside.

You open your eyes to catch fat puffs of white clouds drifting through the the harsh beams of sunlight and bright blue sky. The summer heat makes you sigh. That sun is merciless today. You might as well be sitting in a desert.

However, none of that is important right now. Why worry about any of it? The weekend is near.

The silence overtakes your busy thoughts as you slip into slumber.

You could wake up.

But why bother?

Action! Superpowers! Magic! Noir! Read it today!

Find it Here!

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Story Sheets: "When the Sunset Turns Red"

Now we reach the final story of the collection, and the one where it all comes together. Don't worry, Story Sheets isn't over just yet. I have a few more published stories to talk about after this one, and these posts are popular enough to keep people reading, so I'm going to keep at it.

Frankly, I'm glad for that. I don't talk enough about my writing process on this blog, mostly because I wasn't sure how to. These posts have helped me learn to express my enjoyment of writing in a way I couldn't otherwise. It has also been quite a fun series to write.

As an aside, I also just wrote a post for the Cannon Cruisers blog questioning why Cannon Films died when it did. This is beyond the financial reasons. You can read it here. We just finished up season 5, and our 75th episode, and we're currently recording material for season 6. It starts two Sundays from now.

I'm also going to be in the upcoming Uranus Planetary Anthology! It's part of an 11 volume series of short stories based on each planet in our solar system (including our sun and moon) and the mythology behind each. It's up for preorder on amazon and you also find other volumes to check out there, too. More on this one at a later date.

Whew. It's been a busy week!

So with that out of the way, let us return to business as usual. It is time for the seventh, and last, story in my new book Someone is Aiming for You & Other Adventures.

“"Drink the water if you start to go under.” 
"Chambers forced his eyes open as the slumber barreled down on him. The other men in the cell had already fallen into sleep. If he hadn’t bitten his tongue he would have joined them."

So after seven stories of mayhem in the magic city how exactly do you end it? Where can it go from here? Obviously, with a beginning.

No, this isn't a prequel to Endless Nights in Villain City, I mean thematically this is about new starts. It isn't literally the first story chronologically in the book. Other than Endless Nights, they all take place more or less in the same time, though some obviously take place after or before others. It's not that important when you're reading, but you can pick up on it. There's nothing confusing about it. It's not really that important in the overall scheme, though.

It's funny because this was one of the earliest ideas I had for stories set in Summerside, but it was the last one I wrote for the series. Having it be about beginnings is awkward after everything that happened over the previous six stories.

Chambers is the only main character in any of these stories without any powers, whether magic or not, aside from Spider in the previous story. The two characters do have a lot of similarities other than that. They were both criminals, they were both unrepentant in what they did, they have both seen the worst the city has to offer, and they are both facing down death. However, Chambers' story goes further into all this than Spider's does. In many ways When the Sunset Turns Red is almost a sequel to that story in what might have happened next. Unlike Spider, Chambers has already given up and has accepted his dead end fate. There is no more sunrise coming in his life, and that's the way it always will be.

Every main character in each of the seven stories that I wrote for this book has a distinct reason for doing what they're doing. Walker wants revenge, Horace wants freedom, Rhodes wants to save his family, Spider wants to live, Flatline and Concrete have a job to do, and The Seeker . . . is The Seeker. Their motives define their battles going forward.

Chambers is dry, his tank is empty, and he has nothing left. His world was shattered and everything taken, leaving him with nothing but skills he honed and a name that doesn't mean anything to anyone anymore. Now he waits for the end.

But that doesn't mean he's going to sit around twiddling his thumbs and hoping for Ragnarok. Especially not when Ragnarok comes for him.

This is the story of a man meeting his destiny . . . and finding more than he bargained for.

Writing this one I wanted a balance of light and dark, unlike the full fledged plunge into one or the other previous stories had. Chambers is wandering in and out of a world that wants to destroy him, and unless he keeps his head it will consume him whole. Here he constantly sees and experiences both sides on his way through hell.

Throughout this story you will find nods and mentions of the other six stories, and how they all lead into a guy like Chambers who is on the edge of an important decision being the capper tale. This is the end!

And When the Sunset Turns Red is a sum up of the entire work, and all seven stories in the book. Eventually, choices have to be made. Will you make the right one or the wrong one? One day the sun will set, and you will be left with no one to blame but yourself. Everything ends, and all stories are no different from that reality.

It's not just Chambers' tale coming to a close. Being the last piece in this entire collection, this story had to close off everything around it and sum up the larger point and issues at play. This is still a piece of a larger work, after all.

The inspiration I had for this one is a bit different than the other stories. For this story my inspiration basically consisted of an entire album. That is definitely different for me. I have not yet written another story were a whole album drove me through a writing project.

The work in question was Megahammer's Raw Licks, Sleazy Flicks, a Retrowave album that is one of my all-time favorites. Every track here was an inspiration when writing.

I'm not sure what Megahammer did with this album that made it hit so hard for me, but it is a perfect storm of hooks, atmosphere, mood, and energy. Every time I listen to a song from this album I get inspired to do something, and when I was thinking up this story it ended up being a huge inspiration for everything that occurred. I highly recommend it, especially if you're a fan of, or nterested in learning more about, Retrowave. I'm stunned that this one isn't more well known.

Also, since this is the last entry for stories from Someone is Aiming for You & Other Adventures, I should clarify the point of the larger set of tales in the streets of the magic city. Why exactly did I choose to write them this way?

I received the idea for this structured from old anime series. This is where they would have standalone episodes leading up to a bigger story event that tied them all together before going forward to the end for the big finale. It was an interesting way to combine standalone stories and an ongoing plot at the same time. The difference for these stories is that I wanted the setting to be as much of a character as the cast, and wanted to show Summerside from different viewpoints and places. It's a dark place, but it's not pitch black and hopeless. There is always a sunrise waiting.

This is a battle between good and evil, and it's also a noir story, which means the lines that might be blurry at first solidify by the end. Those who enjoy noir sometimes miss the point that the final confrontation is always a duel between black and white. There is nothing grey here. When the Sunset Turns Red is the solidifying point where that final turn takes place. There's no turning back here. You've made your bed, and now there's nothing left except to lie in it.

All this is also why I waited to write it last.

I knew all about Chambers as I wrote through most of the rest of the stories, but couldn't exactly nail down his tale. He was always in the back of my mind. It wasn't until I explored the stories of everyone else that I could finally discern his place in this twisty tangle of webs. In fact, he turned out to be the final word on what Summerside is and what these stories are all about. It ended up being the perfect cap on this bunch of tales, and several have told me it's their favorite of all seven. Waiting to write this one was definitely the right call.

This is a story about endings just as much as beginnings, and I think that's the point of the entire anthology. It all comes around in the end.

I've had this universe in my mind for a few years now, ever since writing my first proper book, Knights of the End, back in 2016. It's great being able to see others get to experience it now after years of work. These seven stories took some effort to cobble together in between so many other projects, including those that will be out later this year.

So you could say this is book an end and a beginning unto itself! I still have many more stories to tell going forward. The beat goes on in this shambling circus.

That's what the title of this tale is all about. It's a sunset, but a sunset does not mean the end. The future is always open and never set it stone. While Chambers' story ends, so do others begin after his. It always continues on, and you are always part of a bigger whole. You are never really alone. And that's the way it was meant to be.

Remember: someone is always aiming for you.

So thank you for reading about these stories. It's been a lot of fun writing about them, just as it was putting them down on paper. These seven tales are not like anything else you'll find out there, I can assure you of that! How many supernatural noir action stories are there? Never mind any that aren't nihilistic. I've never come across any.

Be sure to grab a copy today. There you can see the fruits of all previous posts in this series going forward. Sunset is just a state of mind. Eventually it fades away, and the morning comes. That's just the way it is. I don't make the rules, thank God.

Thank you for reading this series! It's been a blast.

I will continue next week with a story outside this collection, but for now you can read all seven interconnecting tales in the collection below. Reaction has been great, and I would love to hear your thoughts on them. Reviews so far have been thoughtful and in depth, and I'd like to see more! That is what I wrote these stories for, after all.

Until next time!

Find it Here!

Thursday, February 6, 2020

The Great Rock n' Roll Swindle

"Nine out of ten of what we call new ideas are simply old mistakes."  
~ G.K. Chesterton

There are two cultish groups in the modern world, both of which contribute to why things are as muddied and confused as they are in the wider culture. I'm not referring to those that prefer to live in their own world at the expense of the one the rest of us live in. These are the secular religious who gain their entire identity from the entertainment they consume. A consequence of being placed in front of a screen and left alone for your formative years, I suppose.

The first is the pop cult of grown children who put their personality, livelihood, and faith, in cheap plastic at the expense of any higher existence. We've covered this type a hundred times, and many other writers have discussed this more succinctly than I. Constructing your identity around a brand or product is demeaning, and disgusting. It's what someone does when they have no idea how to grow up so instead get their morals from the consensus of a tiny group out of joint with tradition or the wider society. Yes, it is a cult.

But that's not what we will be taking a look at today.

The other group is slightly different. This is centered on a gaggle of people who take one piece of one subculture and run with it at the expense of the remainder, chasing out all the impure. These individuals are so selfish and with such a narrow tunnel vision that they cannot see outside of their bubble or understand that their freak, off-center view of the world is anything but normal. Everything is about them, as opposed to conforming to a small murder of cultists.

Not only to they not understand that they are a minority opinion with fringe ideas, but they believe that their strange off-center obsession should be foisted on the larger world. To do this these obsessives sneak into industries under the guise of being allies until they get into a position of power. Once they get said power, they begin to reshape the subculture in their image. Want to know why no medium even slightly resembles what it was even 15 years ago? This group is why.

Once upon a time these people were called poseurs. They don't love things for what they are, they obsess over what these things could be if the right person were given control of them. That right person is, of course, the poseur in question. Their strange hobby will change the world, and only they can see it.

Nowhere is this attitude more prevalent then in the history of music journalism, specifically the Rock world.

For those that don't know what Rock music is, it started as a genre of playing sped up Blues music for teenagers to dance to over 60 years ago. It was a simplistic musical style of three chord (sometimes four) music made of corny love ballads and silly adventure stories meant to entertain the listener while making them want to dance. It was a nutty past-time created for kids and teenagers. That's where it began, as a fun, exuberant musical style.

Gone too young

But then something changed. The music began to get popular and the dollar signs began to flash in the eyes of every record executive, manager, and poseur, in Christendom. The first two have plenty of pieces written about the screw-jobs they initiated, but the latter rarely has. I wrote one post, but that's about all that exists on this topic. It is as if everyone forgot these people were real, and a problem for every subculture since they began. They didn't just go away one day! They still exist. This is because they successfully came in through the backdoor and infiltrated industries. The music industry is the perfect example of this poseur victory. They are the music industry now.

Back in the 1950s, poseurs saw a genre they could co-opt for their own ends, and they did. It took time, but they pushed their way in based on the clueless knowledge of the art from their parent's generation and the uncaring shrugs of politicians of their own. They took culture while everyone else was arguing over policies and the like. They twisted Rock music into a sad mockery of what it began as, before putting the bullet in it themselves and abandoning the genre for rap, bubblegum, and whatever electronic scene is big this week. Now Rock is dead, and in the process of being forgotten.

This all came from abandoning the music's core ambition, and its original goal of entertaining first.

Here is something that wasn't a controversial statement in the 1950s, but is now. Poseurs worked hard to subvert this truism. It is controversial, despite being factual on a level that everyone knows but won't ever say.

So here it goes.

Rock music is for kids.

Teenagers, specifically. It's juvenile at its core, and was always meant to be such as a counterpoint to the more serious Blues. There's nothing wrong with that, but self-conscious adults never wanted to admit they enjoyed silly, corny music. This is why to this day most Baby Boomers still sneer over music made before the four mop tops and are convinced their childish, overproduced self-important three chord songs are better than the previous decade's childish, under-produced goofy three chord songs. A juvenile reaction for lovers of a juvenile genre.

There was a period where rock was meant to be fun, and not up its own rear. The poseurs made sure to bury that era and throw a tarp over it. But that was a long time ago now, and the roots have since been purged from serious discussion over the form.

This is what a Rock song was.

However, around the time Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper, died in that plane crash and Rock was thought to be dead, poseurs saw their opportunity. This was their chance to reconstruct the genre in their image. They could make it about grownup stuff! And that's just what they set about doing.

A new form of critic arose in the ashes of The Day The Music Died, determined to convince the world that Rock n' Roll music could be "adult" and "grown up" and simply needed to shed its identity for credibility from . . . some sort of group. I'm not sure who. Perhaps Sam Lundwell or Phil Fish can tell you. What is important is that the mouth-breathers have their hobby or interests destroyed instead and what remains being a hollow and gutted form of what came before. This is why it stopped being called the more apt "Rock n' Roll" title for the more serious "Rock" moniker. The "Roll" part suggested fun, and that was a no-no.

It's a familiar story, and you might have even heard it yourself. The fact of the matter is that "serious" Rock music by "serious" people was a meme created by the music press who existed to shape the genre for proper consumption. What actually sold back in the day was actually far different than what the journalists pushed on the populace. They used their pull to make sure only the "correct" music would get the majority of the coverage on radio and the like.

Recently I had a browse of a site for bad Rolling Stone reviews and was reminded as to just how bad the magazine was, even at its so-called peak. It was just as awful as I remember. You can find the site here. The quotes in this post can all be found there.

Click these quote images to read them as the blog's formatting messes them up. I apologize, but they couldn't be read otherwise and if I copy-pasted this post would be far too long. One click to open the image is a better solution for everyone involved.

This is Rolling Stone magazine, the source of credible music criticism . . . for some reason.

That was about the infamous Wedding Album that John Lennon put out after he broke from the Beatles. One of Lennon's many self-indulgent turkeys that the press gloss over to this day. Wenner's expert criticism relied on making sure the artists he liked were over-hyped and pushed extensively while those he didn't were tossed in the trash. And to a Baby Boomer, John Lennon was a media-approved genius and god.

Was the album any good?

That doesn't matter. It never did.

For an example at how much cred Rolling Stone had even at its formation, you can find it all over this site. They were never unbiased or focused on criticism above all else. They were about selling you a lifestyle of "cool" over corny. It was about shaping identity.

And this is supposed to be the most trustworthy music magazine there is. It should be mentioned that Rolling Stone's problems did not end with Jann Wenner. He merely set the stage for the magazine that would warp Rock n' Roll for years to come.

You will also notice above how childish these people who obsess about pop music "growing up" are. How are these sorts mature enough to decide what "growing up" means? But no one questioned it back then.

Now I will give you a bigger picture as to just what was going on.

Here is an article that sheds some light on it. From critic Robert Christgau, written in the 1970s, where he admits just how much of what is labeled "serious" and "grown up" was manufactured by rock journalists with biased tastes. He is one of the cabal of rock journalists from back in the day who shaped modern music criticism.

He unironically wrote this piece for Rolling Stone called: Yes, There Is a Rock-Critic Establishment (But Is That Bad for Rock?) and the article makes no bones about that assertion that there is a cabal of influencers. No one seemed to notice or care at the time, though. Nowadays I'm not so sure anyone would brag so openly about their subversion, but I digress.

Choice quote:

"Since I am one source of the persistent rumor that Bruce Springsteen is the first rock star in history ever to be propelled into prominence by print information, I feel obliged to qualify it. For one thing, he's probably not the first--possible precedents include Bette Midler (but does she count as rock?), David Bowie (but just how far did we push him?), and (I hate to bring this up) Bob Dylan. Much more important, even a recording artist who is as ideal a critic's hero as Springsteen is depends ultimately on audible media. Although that usually means radio, it doesn't always--the Monkees and the Partridge Family were launched by television shows, while Grand Funk Railroad and ZZ Top built record-biz fortunes from the concert circuit."

You might think he's lying or exaggerating to take credit here, but he's not. Music critics had the power and the connections to pull strings.

Simply look up the reviews on the review site for any of the artists Christgau listed in the quote above. Aside from Bowie who had mixed reception at the time with every new release (this is a man who scraped his way up, critics or not) the reviews for The Monkees and Partridge Family-style groups like The Carpenters are vicious and sneering, only now looked back on by postmodern ironic winking for enjoyment. To this day these groups are an undeserved punchline by serious rock cultists. At the same time hard working road bands such as Grand Funk Railroad and ZZ Top have always been hated by the establishment despite having no pretensions about what they were. But they weren't serious enough to be taken seriously.

Then there is the whole very suspicious and shady dealings in Laurel Canyon in the totally-not-manufactured 1960s hippie movement that involve far too much rabbit hole digging to cover here. The connections formed by these shady happenings in the 1960s changed the musical landscape far more than any of the actual music did. It was about greasing the right palms and massaging the right egos with the right connections. Any semblance of what Rock n' Roll actually began as was washed out by self-important weirdos who can't enjoy anything lighthearted without a heavy layer of irony. It's their cocoon of protection for their self-serious image.

Nonetheless, there has been an influence on the dead end state of pop music that goes beyond any sort of meritocracy and even a bit beyond payola from questionable sources.

You're dealing with True Believers Who Know Better now. The same set of poseurs responsible for destroying every art medium in the 20th century have appointed themselves custodians of culture. They are everywhere, and they are many.

These critics worked hard to make sure you liked the correct things. Very little of what has "endured" is due to cream floating to the top, but by payola and true believer scenesters jury-rigging the process and sliding into positions to make sure the correct things were to be played and supported. Do you think those radio stations were entirely honest about what audiences requested? Why would they need to do that?

If you doubt me then tell me when the last time classic rock radio played a song by The Carpenters or The Big Bopper. They sure weren't doing it in the 1990s.

Another quote:

"Yet I read on, as much from inclination as from duty, and find that a fair portion of what is bad, like some strains of "bad" rock and roll, has the sloppy appeal of all open, democratic phenomena. We hope that what is good is open and democratic in the best way, culling the art (and the craft) (and the fun) from a masscult form that, except during its flash of status in the late '60s, has always been assumed drecky until proven otherwise. Among the best of us, the numerous contradictions of this task have been a subject of discussion and analysis for years. Chris Welles reports gleefully that the lines between "counterculture" and "Establishment" connect rather than separate, and that rock critics strive to retain their fannish fervor, as if we were barely aware of these conundrums. But in fact they have long since become working assumptions, by now passed off in asides or implied in an ironic tone that Welles fails ever to identify: rock critics are disinclined to bore their readers just to make sure media critics get the point."

No comment needed.

He goes on:

"Yet it seems to me that there is a story here, and what's more a story with an unpleasant edge to it. I'm part of the story myself, but not so close to its center that I don't find it disturbing sometimes. Perhaps Welles missed it because he was so entranced by his discovery of the obvious--although Newsweek, which called its treatment "Making of a Rock Star" but never quite explained how he was made, missed it too, and so did Henry Edwards, who could have figured it out if he'd followed his best instincts, which are those of a gossip columnist. For not only is Springsteen a rare instance of a rock musician who owes much of his stardom to print support. Not only does he embody critical standards that no one but Langdon Winner has tried to define with any precision. He also represents the first victory of a brand-new grouping of five journalists who for want of a more felicitous term I have to label the rock-critic establishment."

If you hammer a nail in enough it eventually has to reach the other side, especially if you make sure to limit the available nails and spare boards. Nonetheless, there it is. The establishment true believers who are going to tell you what should be popular or not shoved their noses in the tent and muscled their way inside. It's easy to do if you have a limited pool of what to listen to and what is accessible, and have the right backers, I suppose.

Perhaps this is why no one aside from Baby Boomers has listened to Bruce Springsteen since 1987. They have gotten other options since then, and the cream no longer floats. That is, if it was ever cream to begin with.

He continues:

"The fannishness of rock criticism, which when it works evokes and analyzes good times simultaneously, has less to do with the paucity of solid Springsteen analysis than does its journalistic context--when a star is born you begin with a lot of star-is-born stories. But in the absence of a counter-analysis let me point out some underlying contradictions. The stock explanation of why successful media professionals like Landau and Marsh and Nelson (not so much Rockwell, whose enthusiasm is more purely musical) identify so intensely with an idealized youth rebel like Springsteen is that they want to preserve their own youth, but this is stupid. Say rather that they want to preserve their rebellion. Like most people with a rock and roll jones, these are natural fighters, but they are also adults who live comfortably in the Bloomingdale belt; in some sense, they have won. Springsteen is a fighter, too; he has always played a winningly articulate kind of loser, and now he is rich as well as smart. And so my colleagues both thrill to a fellow winner and identify with his loser rebel persona, forgetting in the rock and roll moment how much the winner in them shares with what the fighter was fighting against."

This is becoming a pattern in the arts, isn't it? Declaring victory over purging normal thought from a medium is a strange way to go about it. But this happens every single time.

As for the "rebellious" nature of Rock n' Roll . . . there isn't any. It's all media hype and sloganeering. The genre was never about rebellion.

I defy you to find a 1950s rock song that has anything even slightly rebellious to it. And no, silly comedy songs about cats and cars don't count. Wanting a date is not rebellious. Serenading a woman is not rebellious. Yes, Elvis Presley swung his hips when he danced, because he was on television and standing still gives the audience nothing to look at. That isn't rebellion, and it's about time we grow up and stop pretending this crafted image is anything other than Baby Boomer self-aggrandizement. The genre is about having fun.

But that's too embarrassing!

Music critics trying to relive their pathetic, rebellious youth is why they had to dig to find meaning in goofy three chord songs and demand their dancing monkeys make material they could rub in Mom and Dad's faces.

And when they didn't get it? Well, Rolling Stone knew what to do.

Just make sure the Good Word is spread! Honesty is secondary to the revolution.

Journalistic credibility was not Rolling Stone's strong suit:

Don't insult the modern prophets! Shut up and consume, kid. All for the glorious Utopian future to come. And these critics brought you there. Hoist those golden statues, plebeians!

When these very mature individuals didn't get their way, they could be just as much a crybaby as the one Mom and Dad sent to their room without dinner years before.

"If you don't let me go to the dance, I'll kill myself! I hate you Mom and Dad!"

This is the sort of person who seized control of an industry. But songs about cats and cars are seen as too juvenile for them.

It's hard to imagine any of this is real sometimes, but there it is.

The finale of Christgau's article:

"I said this story had an unpleasant edge, and that's it. I wrote it because I figured someone who knew whereof he spoke had better put his two cents in, and I put it harshly to make my point. In fact, things ain't so bleak. The rock-criticism establishment has nurtured artists much thought than Springsteen--Randy Newman, Lou Reed, Patti Smith. Moreover, Springsteen's own sentimentality is much preferable to that of the Eagles-style post-folk easy-listening so favored by FM deejays and opposed by us. Compared to The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle, which preceded it, Born to Run sacrifices breadth for focus, spontaneity for power, humanistic narrative for expressionistic statement. But even if this is a false step, as some feel, it is not over the brink. For each album enriches the other; the limitations of each encompass an aesthetic stance consciously exploited, rather than defining a stylistic trap. 
"And now things could go either way. Springsteen could formalize down into yet another maudlin trials-of-a-rock-star opus. Or he could reach out and combine humanism and concentration, adding a little of his new media hip for perspective. That's conceivable, and it would really be something. And Landau and Marsh and Rockwell and all the others would have made it possible. Not bad for an establishment, if you ask us."

Thank you, Mr. Christgau for taking the reins and telling us what we lessers should be listening to. I'm happy to learn God descended from Graceland to give you and your pretentious pals authority over what good music is and isn't, and what should be played on the radio. It must have been tough "nurturing" those artists and building their careers for them. It's just a sad thing that none of them have any influence left in the industry, and will have none by the time your generation is gone.

If Springsteen even has any influence left in music it flamed out way back in the 1980s. And the others he listed? Much the same. Now we are left with no more Rock music, good or bad. It's all corporate-approved Clear Channel trash. You critics helped that come about, too! Don't forget to take credit for the state of music today.

Your "rebellious" spirit led to billion dollar corporations owning the stupid music industry from what once used to be about a few guys in a bar singing to shift workers about cars and girls. Give yourself a round of applause!

But we're giving journalists too much credit! They had many successes, however, we can't give them credit for their achievements without also pointing out their failures. It s only fair.

You see, despite how "progressive" and "forward-thinking" these self-important critics are, they are still prone to get it wrong . . . most of the time.

Okay, almost all of the time.

I should also point out that these critics have missed the boat on every single rock genre since the Beatles, and colossally at that. These experts in criticism have never once understood or clicked with a genre, as if they had to be given a cheat sheet to understand what they were about. Here are some examples below of their genius:

Note: While Lester Bangs revised his opinion on the band, Rolling Stone did not. They trashed them in their music guides up until the '00s when Metal began to be seen as cool by hipsters and self-serious scene kids. Rolling Stone missed the entire boat when it came to Metal and landed directly in the bay.

There are other bad examples:

This David Bowie produced album more or less started Post-Punk and inspired countless bands from U2 to Joy Division. Ian Curtis even listened to this album on the day he killed himself. Urban legend was that Mass Production was playing on his turntable when his body was found. This indicates that there might be something more to this album, and something inspiring at that.

Amazing that mature, grownup expert critics could entirely miss any of this. But they are the experts so shut up, pleb.

On one of the first punk albums:

This is about the first Dictators album, but it is not the only punk band they trashed. Richard Hell, The Damned, Television, Wire, The Jam, Devo, The Saints, Jonathan Richman, Suicide, Blondie . . . they didn't understand any of them or what their music was. All they saw was "rough", "sloppy", and "silly", just like the 1950s music they dismiss and need to bury all traces of. You can see the reviews for yourself.

It turns out Boomer critics were far too self-serious to understand the point of Punk was literally to be the opposite of what they championed. But I guess that's Gen X in a nutshell.

But they were just as hard on goofy entertainment-oriented bands that weren't rambunctious or rowdy!

On the third album of one of the most unique bands of the 1970s:

And on a brilliant songwriter ignored by the press for writing silly songs:

Stiff-necked to a fault:

And the topper:

As can be seen, they ran wild with this attitude of self-serous fun haters for a very long time. Every Punk and Metal album is disregarded as trash because they weren't "mature" or "grown up" enough for the clique. Hard Rock, Blues, and Boogie bands were all but ignored or tossed in the trash as redundant and not having enough important to "say", as well. This sounds all too familiar, does it not? This behavior only makes sense if you understand they were working for an agenda and not to inform the customer about their interest.

What these critics wanted were "thoughtful" pieces and "adult" subject matter from music established on goofiness. It was completely backwards. They needed to be thought of as respectable above all else. No, Rock n' Roll was not founded on rebellion, drugs, or sex, despite what their overreacting parents thought or the self-serious Boomers taught themselves and their kids to believe. It was founded on being silly, entertaining the audience, and escapism. What the musicians did in their spare time is not reflected in the music of the 1950s and early '60s. It's simply not there, because it didn't exist. It's a complete fabrication used as a marketing device.

And those mature artists the magazines pushed? Surely they were exceptional people that lived up to their name and the fawning the press gave them over the hardworking blue collar bar bands? After all, if they were so important as to redefine an entire genre and landscape they must be moral paragons and worthy of you bowing to them.

Well, no. In fact, it was the opposite.

I'm at a loss as to how broken, moral hedonists are supposed to help guide the life of the common man trying to do his best. This slop was pushed over songs of imagination and lighthearted fun. Of course, this is if you believed any of that was for the listener's benefit. It very obviously was not, as established above.

The fact is that it only led music down a thin road to nowhere that had to be bailed out several times by outsiders from punks to metalheads to blues and garage revivalists, many of whom were initially hated by the press until they could backpedal and claim they were always on their side to begin with. Music critics were never on their side, they just wanted to be at the forefront of the revolution. It's not about music, and it never was.

Destroy, build, destroy. The process repeated all the way up until the confused postmodern wailings of Kurt Cobain trying to make art out of saying Verse, Chorus, Verse and lamenting that there is no originality left. You have to be important, not good.

As critic cabal member and future Springsteen acolyte Jon Landau said about being one of the chosen few:

So you become this guy

All this from goofy teenager music about holding hands and dancing. You hated joy so much you let your own hubris crush your soul to become a peddler of corporate product.

The result of all these games from adult children? A fractured, and hollowed out genre.

"Thought to be strictly for teenagers", indeed. I want you to look at early concert footage of the Beatles and tell me how many adults you see at their shows. Find me any evidence of an adult in the 1960s that took the British Invasion as anything other than annoying fad. Show me movies that portray Rock n' Roll as anything other than music for silly kids.

You can't do it.

Sorry, but even then, it was kid music. That never changed just because you change chords around or add distortion to it. The song remains the same. The Beatles were marketed to kids. They always were.

None of this is bad, either. But it needs to be accepted. The reason the genre is up its own rear and a joke today is because of the inability to accept that truth. You're not part of a revolution and you're not going to change the world. You're writing simplistic music. Why isn't that enough for you?

Trying to whitewash that lighthearted segment of your genre has left you with the self-serious/hyper-ironic dichotomy that has strangled any creativity out of it. No one has any fun anymore, and critics love it so much they still give every album they review a 4.4/10 or lower anyway. What a lovely existence or self-serious misery.

Remember, rock music was built on songs like this:

And now we have people bashing those who play music like this:

Do you not see the issue? The early example is what rock started as. The latter is no different near 30 years removed and yet is dumped on and deliberately ignored by supposed "critics" of said genre as if it is outdated. This despite it being closer to the origin of the genre than a James Taylor type. These are both silly, fluffy songs meant to make you move. This is what Rock n' Roll is. This is its legacy, its tradition, and what it started as.

And the critics hate it.

Critics hate what the music is at its core, and need to change it to suit their image of it instead. In other words, they detest what the genre is and what it stands for.

This is why pop music is dead. More than "changing trends" or other options for listeners or whatever excuse you want to give it. The industry wanted their hyper-serious crybaby garbage to be what rock music was about at the expense of what built said genre to begin with. Now they have it, and it's as irrelevant as ever.

This is because they never liked the music to begin with: they liked that one piece of it they cherished above everything else. In the process of pushing and shoving their views they ended up crushing the life and vitality of a genre that could have made it much longer and gone to more places than it did. We will never know what could have been, and the cultists are the reason why.

And now these critics move on to testosterone-free underground indie rock obsessed with sniffing Thom Yorke's used socks from 1998, and the four hundredth gangsta rap crap factory that hasn't changed one iota since the mid-90s.

Rock n' Roll isn't allowed to stay what it began as, but these crap genres that have remained static longer than it ever has gets a pass for their stagnant state. There is no consistency with this group. This is why no one should take these critics seriously. They aren't serious; they're fetishists. And they have helped warp an entire musical genre into a walking corpse of a joke.

These aren't experts, they never were. These are self-important hedonists with a thesaurus looking for a religion replacement, telling you why you require meaning in a genre founded on songs called Johnny B. Goode and Twenty Flight Rock. Why should you be having fun after a hard day of work when your entertainment can make you think instead? Demand more by having less fun.

Sure you could go to Church or read an author like Dostoevsky instead, but that requires actual thinking and effort. Why seek out knowledge when you can have the nihilism pumped directly into your head through catchy candy corn instead? Intellectualism at work!

Truly the position of a deep thinker with complex thoughts. No wonder so many of these artists kill themselves or fall into drug comas all the time. They must have important lessons to impart on the filthy peasants. Anything to avoid the stinging truth that they made their parent's criticism about them right after all. You made the music into the corrupting force they believed it to be. Now, that is a sad realization. All that rebellion just to prove Mom and Dad were right. Maybe the last 60 years of Boomer cultural upheaval should be reexamined. It's going to be hilarious when all that is erased.

But I'm getting off-topic.

Yes, you can have pop music with thought put into it. Smart pop music exists, usually by those with a sense of humor. You can also have overwritten pompous garbage, too. But neither are the goal of the genre in question. You are not a literary author, you are an entertainer. Rock n' Roll is about entertainment above all else.

Rock n' Roll is a showman's genre: it's meant to entertain, and to lift. It's far more than the post-Nirvana whining sludge it has been stuck in for the last twenty years. It used to be much more to far more people than it is now.

And that's why it had to go.

It's also why it's not coming back. This is what they wanted to begin with. Now you have a lifeless genre for uptight, smug urbanites and greasy, antisocial geeks with nothing in-between for the common man. Take it in and savor it. It's dead, Jim.

So before Rolling Stone goes out of print and is forgotten to the mists of time and history like it deserves to be, let us instead celebrate the good times we had, and the good times still yet to come. We can't go back to the past, but we can learn from its mistakes.

Keep looking up, above the muck and the miserable. There is always hope for a better day ahead.

I'm bringing back the fun in my own way. Check out seven stories of monsters, magic, and mobsters, in the dark city. Superheroes and noir are all over this one. There's nothing quite like it!

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