Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Satellite Radio Reshuffling

A couple weeks ago one of my favorite satellite radio channels, Book Radio, disappeared, replaced with something called Rural Radio.

Here's the official word from SiriusXM Radio: "As of July 15, SiriusXM Book Radio is no longer available on SiriusXM, but our commitment to books and authors remains high across many channels. Classic radio theater and stories continue on RadioClassics (SiriusXM channel 82), and audiobooks air on our "Late Night Read" show at night on SiriusXM Stars (SiriusXM channel 106)."

I would much rather have had a 24/7 channel dedicated to audiobooks, but at least something of what once was still exists in some form. Of course, that's not the only worry I have had of late about satellite radio.

Those of you who know me, or are regular readers here, know that I am a huge Coast to Coast AM fan. Or at least a huge fan of some of the show's content and some of its hosts. Due to ClearChannel and SiriusXM parting ways, C2CAM will be leaving satellite some time in August. Despite my problems with its content, it is, along with Opie & Anthony and Radio Classics, among others, one of the major reasons I subscribed to satellite radio to begin with.

My worries are over. This week, Art Bell, the original host of Coast, and innovator of that now much-copied radio format, has announced his return from retirement. Not only that, he will be returning to the microphone on SiriusXM Indie Talk Channel 104. Outside of C2CAM actually returning to its glory days, original programming, and hosts, this is a win-win situation for me. The show begins September 16th.

I'm happy, and I won't miss George Noory falling asleep, doing crossword puzzles, or just not paying attention to a guest on air at all.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Strangler

The Strangler ~ Rather well done for its day, this 1964 crime thriller might seem dated by today's standards. It was designed to exploit the real life Boston Strangler killings but then relocated and altered to distance itself from the case.

Held back by a sad cast, and reportedly the director Burt Topper as well, Victor Buono still rises to the top as the mother and doll obsessed serial killer. He appears to be the only one acting among a crowd of cue card readers.

Had it not been for the lackluster cast, and the uneven score, this could have been a movie on par with Psycho or The Boston Strangler, but it fails to even be a good exploitation flick, despite Buono's performance.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Robin Renee Blog Tour - Wrap-Up

Wrapping things up here on the Robin Renee Blog Tour, and I want to thank everyone involved. Special thanks goes out to all the folks who participated and helped with to tour, including, and not limited to, Shelley Szajner, Marie Gilbert, Becca Butcher, Patti O'Brien, Fran Metzman, Ray Cornwall, Andy Burns, the South Jersey Writers, the GAR! Podcast, Biff Bam Pop!, and especially to Robin Renee herself. You all rock, very hard! Thank you!

Here is a breakdown of the stops on the Blog Tour.

Robin Renee is interviewed by Shelley Szajner here about inspiration, Kirtan, and This..

Marie Gilbert runs down some of the places where Robin can be found on the internet here.

Becca Butcher gives her thoughts on the This. release here.

Here, I give a song by song review of This., along with Robin adding her thoughts and observations as well.

Patti O'Brien talks about Robin's music, and then interviews her about her travels here.

We return to Welcome to Hell, where guest blogger Fran Metzman interviews Robin about her influences, inspirations, and creative process. See it here.

Over on the South Jersey Writers blog, Marie Gilbert returns to interview Robin about encouragement, inspiration, and the ups and downs of a music career.

Robin was a guest on The GAR! Podcast where discussion included DEVO, David Bowie, Saturday Night Live music moments, and the creative process. You can listen to the episode here.

And finally, you can go here for the Biff Bam Pop! interview with Robin Renee, with a few edits for space considerations showing up here.

Robin can be found at her website, and on her blog, and check out her music at CD Baby, and at iTunes. Follow her on Twitter here, and Like her Facebook page here.

And don't forget about Robin's terrific new single "All I Am," now available at CD Baby, with 20% of the proceeds going to the You Will Rise Project.

Thank you, everyone!

The Robin Renee Blog Tour, Odds and Ends

Hi folks, it's been a long journey the past week and a half on the Robin Renee Blog Tour. Tonight, I wanted to share a few odds and ends that had to be edited for space in yesterday's interview with Robin at Biff Bam Pop!. Here you go, enjoy!

Robin on Covers

We both have a deep love of covers, and I wanted to say that your quiet subtle version of Nick Lowe's "Cruel to be Kind" is beautiful. What made you decide to do this song?

Robin Renee: Well, there’s a funny story. When I was in junior high school, I had a Ouija board. When my parents found out, they got all mad and took it away, thinking something evil would come through it or something. After that, I was pissed off and determined to have a Ouija board. I decided to make one by writing out all the letters on a chalkboard I had (in heavy pencil or some kind of ink). Next, I needed an indicator. I had the 45 record of “Cruel to be Kind.” I loved that song, but wasn’t crazy about whatever song was on the B-side, so I wound up using the record as the Ouija indicator with the B-side scratching against the board.

Devo Dan
Wacky story, right? But unforgettable. So first, “Cruel to be Kind” is just a quintessentially great pop song. I was also a rather precocious person and was a bit interested in BDSM, so I liked the song title for that possible construed meaning. And finally, the song will forever be linked to that funny Ouija board memory for me. I guess when I made the
All Six Senses album, it was just time to record a new take on this classic tune.

Robin on Devo Dan

Now you have done other covers of another type. Do you want to talk about Devo Dan?

Robin Renee: Devo Dan… Strange you should ask me about Devo Dan. From time to time, some people have told me I kind of look like him and some think I sound like him. I don’t really get it. But I finally looked him up and I like it a lot! It’s kind of synth pop meets the smooth sounds of the 70’s, or something like that. I found his story here and my favorite Devo Dan song is here.

Robin on the Mutant Mountain Boys

How about the Mutant Mountain Boys?

Robin Renee: I absolutely love being part of the Mutant Mountain Boys! We come from all over the country, so we get together when we can. The band is the brainchild of Samantha, whose musical favorites are Devo and Charlie Poole. She put the two together, added some Church of the Subgenius, and Presto! You’ve got a Devo-gone-bluegrass, SubG gospel band! We have so much fun, and I really hope we can figure out a way to get together and play more often. We need some nerds and geeks to invite us to play their favorite venues and conventions (hint, hint).

Check out "Look Away from the Pinks" and a few other Mutant Mountain Boys tunes.

Robin on the Holidays

You have also released a couple terrific and unique holiday songs over the years, "(Almost Had A) Holiday," "The Yule Song," and "Hare Krishna Christmas." What can you tell us about these great tunes, and especially the video for that last one?

Robin Renee: I know, I didn’t set out to have a tradition of releasing holiday songs, but it seems a trend has started! Who knows – maybe there’ll be a holiday album one of these days that includes the tunes already recorded plus some more from various traditions. “The Yule Song” is to the tune of Adam Sandler’s “The Chanukah Song,” and it kind of serves the same humorous and serious function for those of us who celebrate Yule, or Winter Solstice in the Pagan traditions. “(Almost Had A) Holiday” is actually an original song I first recorded with a band I used to be in called The Loved Ones. It is upbeat, but about planning a perfect holiday with a partner only to have a breakup and wind up somewhere far away. It’s a fairly true-to-life song, and the cool thing about it is it’s come full circle – After many years apart, I have started spending Christmas Eves with that ex and his family. It’s a nice shift.

I wrote “Hare Krishna Christmas” (“Holly Jolly Christmas” parody) around the time I was first getting deeply into kirtan and bhakti. It was Christmastime and I was just in this really intense place of diving into something new while trying to uphold all the traditional stuff and holiday obligations. So, I was kind of laughing at myself and that song just came out while I was doing my holiday decorating. For the video, I asked friends to send me all kinds of holiday pictures, I had a few, and we used some royalty-free images, too, to come up with something kind of funny and also clearly embracing all winter holiday traditions.

Robin on Her Background

If I'm not intruding, could you tell us about your upbringing?

Robin Renee: I was born a poor, black child (Somehow that line was funnier when Steve Martin said it.)

But seriously, folks… you aren’t intruding at all. It is a ginormous question, though. I grew up in Southern New Jersey and I was lucky in that my interest in music showed up pretty early and my parents were very supportive of that. They also encouraged my interest in science and I got to travel since I was fairly young, which I really appreciate. My parents are (were, actually – they are both deceased) my maternal grandmother and her second husband, who raised me from the beginning and adopted me when I was about five. She was black and he was white, so I had a completely biracial upbringing, though it took me a long time to recognize that as a big part of my identity. I’m really happy I understand that now. They had an interracial marriage several years before Loving v. Virginia, and while it was not illegal in New Jersey, I think it was courageous of them and probably wasn’t always easy early on.

There was always a lot of music in the house, and my parents were pretty metaphysical in their outlook. They were Christian, and also into Edgar Cayce, so I learned about meditation and other broad and alternative spiritual perspectives early on. My brother was there, then off at college & other travels, but we grew to have certain things in common like some musical tastes and love of cartoons. My grandmother (i.e. biological great-grandmother) lived with us, too, and she really was the overriding mother figure. I have often reflected that I think my relationship to Grandmom has been the purest of my life – there was just so much love without complication. My mom was pretty political, so I probably inherited the activist gene from her. Of course there is so much more, but I’m not sure what else I could say without writing a book here.

Robin on Wigheads

Tell us about Wigheads.

Robin Renee: I kinda have no idea. I love them. I find mannequins in general to be strangely compelling and beautiful – maybe that’s the New Wave/Gary Wilson aesthetic. Somewhere along the line, something moved me and I discovered that wig display heads are my canvas for now. I love making 3-D collages with them, and as I work it’s as if they start to tell me their story. Songs and other writings do that, too – they change and grow in the process. I’d like to make more wigheads, and to make photographs from them. I have a lot of other practical and artistic projects that seem to be ahead in line, but I haven’t forgotten them. One day, I’d love to do commissioned wighead works, like create them for clubs and other interesting spaces.

More to come!

Robin Renee - The Biff Bam Pop! Interview

Robin Renee with Spy Gods at Deiner Park, New Brunswick, NJ
Photo by Joel Primer 

Today's stop on the Robin Renee Blog Tour is a big one, a 2500+ word interview at the pop culture website Biff Bam Pop!. You can check it out here.

In the interview, Robin discusses her music, her musical past (including Spy Gods, pictured), labels, and features some great performance video. Do not miss.

Tomorrow, be back here at Welcome to Hell, as the Blog Tour winds down for a wrap-up and unseen excerpts of interviews from the tour.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Lone Ranger 2013

The Lone Ranger ~ When the film was over I turned to The Bride and said that if Walt Disney was alive and found out his company had obtained the rights to make a Lone Ranger movie he would be so happy, and if he'd seen what his company had done with it - it would kill him.

I have a long association with the Lone Ranger, although I can't remember where it began. I recall the cartoons of the 1960s by Format Films. The Ranger wasn't quite a superhero, but the bizarre Ralph Bakshi meets "The Wild Wild West" style of these shorts mesmerized me. I also remember being introduced to the radio show at an early age, and seeing Clayton Moore in reruns of the 1950s series. And when I learned that he was related to the Green Hornet, to me, that just made the Lone Ranger even cooler.

In the superhero movie boom (a firecracker compared to recent decades) of the 1970s, they tried badly to put the masked man up on the big screen, but that ended horrifically with the mess known as The Legend of the Lone Ranger. That dud, along with the bad publicity of not allowing Clayton Moore to wear the mask in public, was enough to bury the character for years to come.

This 2013 movie production, starring Johnny Depp as a mentally ill, delusional Tonto, along with Jerry Bruckheimer and Gore Verbinski, his behind the scenes pals from the Pirates of the Caribbean films, just seems like a bunch of guys got drunk, had money to burn, and decided to 'play' Lone Ranger. And the kid who had all the toys wanted to play Tonto as an idiot.

I'm sorry. I just can't abide this rape and mutilation of beloved childhood characters. First, we are meant to sit through another longwinded origin story. Let's get this straight, if an origin story can be told in two sentences or less - we don't need to see it. Just say it, and get on with the movie's story. This is one of my biggest pet peeves with superhero films. Stop wasting time with origin stories. Superman's origin was told in seconds at the beginning of every episode of the George Reeves TV series. DC Comics of the 1970s featured a one paragraph origin of the title hero on the first page of every issue. Let's go back to that.

I can't understand the premise of making this movie honestly. Was the point to destroy a lot of trains and ruin childhood heroes? Poor Armie Hammer is given very little to do, hardly any of it heroic, as the title character. What he does do is kill, which is something the real Lone Ranger would never do. The writers made Butch Cavendish into a cannibal, and not subtly either. I personally thought this should have had an R rating, just for that.

The only thing worse than Butch's cannibalism would be the way Johnny Depp chews up scenes and spits them out like steaming vomit. Taking his character cues from Kirby Sattler's painting, "I Am Crow" rather than the character Tonto, Depp is unforgivable. From his halting stereotypical speech to the dead bird on his head, his Tonto is an absolute disgrace.

I hated this movie, and I hated even more that my childhood heroes were destroyed in the making of it. I will get through it. There are still the movies, TV series, cartoons, and especially the radio shows to preserve the legacy. I will survive this travesty, but will the Lone Ranger?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Lost Hits of the New Wave #26

"Jocko Homo" by DEVO

Over on The GAR! Podcast, as part of the Robin Renee Blog Tour, Ray and I interviewed Robin for about a half-hour or so. One of the things that came up in conversation was transformative moments in music on "Saturday Night Live."

In those early seasons of the program I was exposed to many new musical experiences that shaped and influenced how I perceived music, and in the growing punk and new wave atmosphere of the late 1970s, "SNL" was full of new musical experiences. Both Robin and I were affected by an appearance by David Bowie. Ray talked about seeing Fishbone, although much later. I remember being amazed by Patti Smith, Elvis Costello, The Specials, The Clash, the B-52s, Gary Numan, and yes, DEVO.

I wouldn't be as hardcore into the band as I was later in the Freedom of Choice and New Traditionalists years, but the visuals and sounds stayed with me. I was especially drawn to their cover of the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," and that it did what all covers should seek to do, overtake the original. I still to this day feel the DEVO version is superior to the Stones'.

Don't forget to get over to, and listen to the Robin Renee interview, and go to Biff Bam Pop! tomorrow for the next stop in the Blog Tour.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Robin Renee Blog Tour, Stop Eight and Beyond

Just a reminder, today's stop on the Robin Renee Blog Tour is at the South Jersey Writers blog, Tall Tales and Short Stories, you can check out regular site blogger Marie Gilbert's interview with Robin there.

Probably as you read this tonight, my partner Ray Cornwall and I will be interviewing Robin on The GAR! Podcast, and that will be posted tomorrow morning as Stop Nine on the Tour.

On Friday, be sure to check out the Robin Renee interview at Biff Bam Pop!, then come back here on Saturday for the close of the tour.

Robin can be found at her website, on her blog, at CD Baby, and at iTunes. Follow her on Twitter here, and Like her Facebook page here.

Bad Blood

Regular readers know how much I love HBO's "True Blood." I even reviewed every episode of season three here on the blog. Now, in its sixth season it has started to go sour for not just myself, but for a lot of fans. Here are just a few reasons why, and not just because Sookie and Bill and/or Eric are not still together.

From the beginning, within the show's credit sequence, and with references like "God hates fangs" and "coming out of the coffin," the vampires of "True Blood" have always been a metaphor for the gay rights movement. At times the analogy has become quite uncomfortable, while happily when homosexuality has been shown in the world of the show, it's been normal and accepted.

This makes "True Blood" a welcome fence post in modern television, but this season has been different. It's cutting too close to the bone. The in-story escalation of anti-vampire protests has produced some frightening parallels, the most horrifying being the dragging to death behind a car of a young vampire in Texas.

We all know this happened to a young man a few years back, spurring on murders against race and gender minorities. I, like most viewers, turn to TV fantasy to get away from the cold darkness of the real world. I not only don't want to be reminded, I don't want to see such things trivialized in what has become a supernatural comedy drama. And with recent events in Russia these last few weeks, the vampire concentration camp subplot is even worse by comparison. There may just be such places for gays soon.

Those issues aside, the stepping down of show creator Alan Ball as writer and showrunner seems to have had a serious negative effect on the show. In my mind "True Blood" seems to have lost its way. The show this season feels more disjointed and less real.

The characters feel more like cookie cutter templates being moved about a chessboard than real people. They have been broken down to their basics and show very little else in the way of depth. Sookie, Jason, and Tara, for instance, might as well just be 'slut for supes,' 'dumbass,' and 'clever curser' for the lack of depth they have shown of late.

This just might be the end for me as far as "True Blood" goes. But for those still on the bandwagon, be sure to catch my friend and colleague Marie Gilbert's recaps/reviews of the current season of "True Blood" at Biff Bam Pop!.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Fran Metzman Interviews Robin Renee

Today on the Robin Renee Blog Tour, guest blogger Fran Metzman interviews our guest of honor Robin Renee on her inspirations, influences, and creative process. Take it away, Fran.

Fran Metzman: What inspires you?

Robin Renee: I am inspired by so many things – Every time I am asked this question, it feels entirely new. The strange rituals and pitfalls and triumphs of human interaction fascinate me, and make for good things to learn from and write about. Artists who show us the deep and sometimes bizarre bits of their minds inspire me (Salvador Dalí and Gary Wilson come to mind). People like that show me how it’s always possible to dig deeper and to talk about what’s real, what’s primal. I am inspired by dancing, costumes, laughter, and people who allow fun and joy to move through them without reservation. I am completely in love with the ocean. I strive to be my best self, so anyone I see who is pushing their own boundaries through what may be scary in order to get to something stronger and more powerful on the other side –they are inspirations to me all the time.

Fran Metzman: What instruments do you play, what are your favorites, and why?

Robin Renee: I play guitar, harmonium, piano and keyboards, and I kind of fake it on percussion at times. It is hard to say what a favorite instrument is, because in a sense, the best instrument is the one you need to make the sound for a song in that particular moment. Nothing has that amazing drone quite like a harmonium. So many sounds can come from a guitar – harmonic, percussive… All that said, I seem to have a very deep resonance with the piano. It is my first instrument, which may be why playing piano is so close to my heart. I am also a huge fan of electronic music, and I love the sounds that synths can make. I most often play guitar when I am performing out and about these days. The guitar is a more portable instrument, which is why I think I began to favor it, but lately I’ve had to wonder why I don’t spend more time playing and developing songs on keys. See response #1 re: pushing through boundaries and fears, perhaps. I predict more keyboard sounds in my future.

Fran Metzman: How do the various instruments enhance your music?

Robin Renee: I am not sure what you mean here, actually. There are some general things I could talk about. Harmonium gives a sense of Om – of well-being, acoustic guitar might invite tunefulness or singability – but I think you’d have to ask me about a specific song you’re curious about and I could talk about the roles of each instrument in it. What musical instruments do in any given moment isn’t really a static thing.

Fran Metzman: How many ways do you arrange a song before deciding on a final draft?

Robin Renee: There are no rules. I think sometimes it’s more about an incubation period where I can tell a song just doesn’t have the right melody or lyrics yet. When that happens, sometimes the thing to do is to sit down and work on it, but often enough it is more productive to let it float around in the back of my mind and when the missing pieces show up, I’ll know. During that time, the song needs to exist in the “I’m letting you percolate” zone rather than the “I’m avoiding you” zone. I’m getting better at keeping them in the former and not the latter.

Fran Metzman: Take us through your songwriting process, from start to finish, how do you do it?

Robin Renee: Again, there’s never really one way that this happens. Sometimes I am walking or driving and I’ll hear a trail of a piece of music that just sparks me to want to write. I might have a conversation with someone and a phrase will come out that screams “lyric.” Sometimes it doesn’t come from any prompt I can discern. When that spark happens, however it happens, it usually is like a few words, often with a melody, that show up very suddenly. I scribble it down or record a voice memo on my phone, or whatever, as soon as I can.

It might just go into a virtual pile of ideas for another time, but if there’s something pressing about it, I will take what I have and do some purposeful work on it. I like to write lyrics with an actual pen and paper- There is something about the tactile nature of it that seems to connect more readily to the creation of solid lines and meter. I may sit with pen and paper and guitar and just work freeform until the basics are there. Once the basic idea for verses and the structure of the song is there, it is less about the initial inspiration and more about the craft of writing. I’ll think logically about things like the progression of a story or where certain sounds will have the most impact.

A lot of the real formation of my songs happens in the recording. I will sometimes have some pretty strong ideas of what the full production should sound like, but it isn’t until I start adding sounds that what is really needed starts to reveal itself. At that point, when we’re adding voices, samples, and other sounds, it feels like sculpting.

Fran Metzman: How does kirtan influence your pop music and vice versa?

Robin Renee: Kirtan, has influenced me overall because of its effect on the mind and mental/emotional health. Like silent meditation, I think, it changes the brain and consciousness in positive ways. In regard to how my pop music has influenced the kirtan – pop, rock, and folk rock form the basis of how I play. So, I think it is natural that the kirtans that show up for me have those influences. I like that about the way kirtan is developing. The backgrounds and influences of kirtan artists can be very evident, so if you groove on rock, jazz, raga, simple melodies, or complex orchestrations, there are probably some kirtan sounds somewhere that will be a way into the experience for you.

How kirtan has influenced my pop music: It basically “insisted” on being part of it! There are a couple of songs like “I’m Coming Down” and “Holy River” that really seemed to cry out for mantra. I like the sound that has emerged from the integration.

In another sense, kirtan has held back some of my pop music interest. There were several years when I was so consumed with mantra that I really wasn’t writing, per se. It feels to me that this was a natural response to a practice that can make the stories of life seem insignificant in relation to the whole, the drive toward Oneness. It has taken some time for me to discover where I am now and relearn how to present what I do. I think the media loves a simplistic story, and for a while it felt like adding this overtly spiritual piece to what I do made it more difficult to make a clear presentation about who I am. I’m glad to be figuring that out now. Writing has reemerged for me and I have discovered that my message was hidden within the challenge all along – It is to insist upon being all that I am. That is the singular intention and image, and my work stands for those who are taking on a similar journey.

Fran Metzman: Where do you see yourself in the future musically?

Robin Renee: I don’t want to predict too far into the future, but right now I am interested in electronica and ambient music. As I mentioned, I have always been big into synth sounds and sometimes haven’t reflected that in my own music as much as I would like. I hope to retain the kind of singer/songwriter craft that feels natural to me while bringing in more electronic sounds and see where that takes it. I’m very open to collaboration these days, so I am looking forward to finding out what’s next, too.

Thank you Fran, and Robin.

You can check out Fran's website here, and the Blog Tour continues tomorrow at the South Jersey Writers blog, Tall Tales and Short Stories from South Jersey.

Robin website can be found here, and you can purchase her music at CD Baby, ReverbNation, and iTunes.

Her new single "All I Am" is available at CD Baby, with proceeds going to the You Will Rise Project.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Sentinel

The Sentinel ~ This 1977 horror, in the style of other urban 1970s horrors like Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist, scared the hell out of me as a kid. No, strike that, not the movie, the ending of the movie scared me. The rest of the flick is pretty typical of the genre at the time, and fairly pedestrian.

Written and directed by Michael Winner, and based on the book of the same name by Jeffrey Konvitz (who also co-produced with Winner), The Sentinel is the story of a troubled flaky model, played by Cristina Raines, who wants her own place. She gets an apartment in a sectioned brownstone filled with equally neurotic neighbors, and a blind priest on the top floor who's always staring out the window.

The kicker is the neighbors are demons and the brownstone is a gateway to Hell. Burgess Meredith does a fine turn as the head demon, kindly and subtly sinister. On the other hand, Chris Sarandon demonstrates that none of his ex-wife's acting skills rubbed off onto him in this flat performance as Raines' boyfriend. Also look for early roles for Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Berenger, a very creepy Beverly D'Angelo, and a scary young Jerry Orbach.

The cat's birthday party is one of the more messed up scenes I've seen. It's comparative to the wedding reception in Freaks. Instead of "one of us," you'll have "black and white cat, black and white cake" ringing in your head.

The scene that scares the crap out of me is at the end, as I said. The priest guards the gate to Hell, but he's about to die, and a new guardian is needed - guess who's elected? I'm not really giving all that much away. Once you get to a certain point, it all becomes pretty obvious what's going on.

When the switch is made there's some overflow from Hell until the new guardian is installed. We see the denizens of Hell walking and crawling across the floor after Raines, and that's the part that gets me. Speaking of Freaks, this film did set off a bit of a controversy when it was revealed that, like that movie, real disfigured persons were used for the ending. To much effect.

I must admit, after seeing it for the first time again after almost three decades, it was more the anticipation of the ending that I remember scaring me than the ending itself. Still, not a bad flick for the genre of the time.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

This. Song by Song

I love Robin Renee. I love her as a friend, a fellow creative, and especially as a musician. The girl can rock, and I love that, but some of her musical journeys go beyond my horizons. But then, I guess that's all part of the mantra pop mystique.

Robin's latest album is This., it features call-and-response chanting, soulful voices, and a rich soundscape of organic instrumentation blended seamlessly with light, heart-opening electronic ambience.

I must admit my ignorance. I am unfamiliar Eastern spiritual music, kirtan, yoga, meditation - it all remains a mystery as much as I have tried. It is impenetrable. Or perhaps it isn't. This. is perhaps a gateway drug to understanding, as I like it. Maybe I just need to understand it.

What follows is my track by track impression of the album, followed by Robin's thoughts on what the songs are really about. Enjoy.


Glenn: The origins of this title come from, I believe, an aspect of Vishnu that is venerated to avoid bad luck or achieve good luck. It is a gentle start to the album, blending pop flavor and sensibility with the call and response method. Like many of the songs on the CD it has a subtle and wonderful build that I love. It is proof, as with much of This., that I can enjoy the music without knowing what it is about - but I am sure learning is the real joy of the journey.

Robin: My first order of business here is to try to dissuade you from taking This. as an intellectual exercise. From my perspective, kirtan is most essentially an experience meant to take us out of the chattering mind. Sanskrit has been called a language of energy or vibration, one that evokes peace, deepened consciousness, and infinite subtle expressions of love. What is most important is to allow yourself the experience of being still enough to just sing, or just listen and notice the experiences that come up for you in the process. By moving through whatever emotions and thoughts that come up in the practice of kirtan, you eventually get to a quieter place – the place that we all have somewhere inside where one encounters what some may call inner peace, awakening, God, Goddess, No-Self, or any other term (or no term at all) that most resonates with you.

Of course there are many stories that come out of the spiritual traditions that inform This. While it can be useful and interesting to study those, Sanskrit chants still aren’t really “about” anything. The words may have multi-layered translations, but the true “meaning” can’t really be stated. The intention of the music is to help bring about an experience beyond the mind rather than the experience of being caught in the mind. But since you asked:

Keshava is one of the names of Krishna, who is an avatar of Vishnu, who is called the Preserver of the Universe. The aspects of Krishna that show up for me while singing “Keshava” are the Universal Love that connects and runs through all, as well as the childlike playfulness and divine beauty that is associated with Krishna. The other names in the verses call out to some of those who appear in stories of Krishna’s life (mother, caretaker, lover, wife, Goddess of the Ganges River) as a way of conveying the many faces and many ways one can connect to the Sacred.

If any of that explanation feels directly important to listeners, that’s great. If not, that’s great as well. I don’t really know about the good luck/bad luck thing.

Funky Bhagavate

Glenn: I'm learning. I had to look it up, but it makes the music make more sense. 'om namo bhagavate vasudevaya' is a twelve syllable mantra used to attain freedom. The song is truth in advertising. It's the chant, the mantra, set to a groove. I dig it.

Robin: Yes, all of these mantras, really, point toward moksha, or freedom from ego and the beliefs that keep us limited. Om is the primordial sound, the All-That-Is, and it is chanted by itself and as part of many mantras. Namo is usually translated as “I bow to.” One way to think of Om Namo Bhgavate Vasudevaya is “I bow to the God of the Heart” or “I bow to the indwelling Divine.” It is recognizing and connecting to the inner essence, allowing space for the untruths and limitations to fall away.

Kali Ma Potluck Singalong

Glenn: Much of Robin's work renders itself to singalong, whether by intent as a call and response song, or as just a great tune that pulls you in and you find yourself humming and singing along in the car. This is how this one strikes me. It's both, and I've found myself doing exactly that. And much like the above, there's a subtle groove to this one. Another winner.

Robin: This song originated during one Friday evening when three women friends and I met at my place for dinner and chanting. We had our “Kirtan Intensives” fairly frequently then. They could be quite intense, indeed, and also a lot of fun. The melody and words to this one just sort of popped up during our singing and hangout time. Songs to the goddess Kali are often more minor-key and somber – Her energy is about the “tough love” of destroying what one no longer needs or what stands in the way of growth. I enjoy celebrating the energy that facilitates even that kind of often painful, jarring, but ultimately positive experience with an upbeat song.

Jaya Jaya Shiva Shambho

Glenn: As the song begins I am hypnotized by the drums and their depth, and then, at first slowly, then quickly, the song builds and speeds up. I really dig this song as well. What I did not know in my several dozen listenings of the tune, before I moved to research what it really meant, is that this is a cover. And ancient cover perhaps, but a cover of a chant used to praise the joyous aspects of Shiva. Beautiful song, and beautiful rendition, Robin.

Robin: I don’t remember where I first heard this melody – It may well have been when I first encountered the music of Krishna Das. Shiva is the Lord of the Dance, turning the wheel from death and dissolution to rebirth and renewal. I do like how the drums are prominent and so evoke movement and dancing in this one.

Blessed Be, Namaste

Glenn: This is perhaps my favorite song on the album, a multilayered lullaby. From what I understand, 'namaste' is a greeting or salutation in the East when meeting and parting. As I said, I like this one a lot, from its many layers to its slow subtle build, it is terrific.

Robin: Namaste is a greeting in everyday use, but it also has a deeper meaning. It really is saying “the divine in me honors the divine in you,” so it is a recognition of the still center where we are all One. “Blessed Be” is a common Wiccan/Pagan blessing from the Western mystic traditions, and “Namaste” is from the Eastern, so this song brings those together and recognizes the synergy among varied paths. It does feel like a lullaby, or Irish blessing song. It is my favorite, too.

Leaving Space

Glenn: This song makes me smile. "Leaving Space" is a song of bells, liberally spaced bells with silence that might make you think you have a problem with your iPod if you're not paying attention. It reminds me crazily of a song on the most recent Eminem album where he lowers the volume and yells at you, the listener, for falling for his trick and turning up your device's volume. Other than my crazed comparison, this is beautiful in its way, as well as thoughtful and relaxing.

Robin: That’s a funny comparison – I like that. “Blessed Be, Namaste” is kind of an ending song. I often will sing it at the end of a concert or kirtan. The next one, “Om Mani Padme Hum,” really is an ending song, too. When finishing up the recording of This., I realized I literally had to “leave space” somehow in order to have both of these songs appear. And “leaving space” in one’s life and mind for transformation, awakening, healing, love – that’s basically what kirtan and other spiritual music helps us do. Those were the concepts in mind as producer Jack Walker and I composed this ambient track.

Om Mani Padme Hum

Glenn: The slowly rushing water is both a relaxant, and an irritant if you need to go to the bathroom. I kid, but I am sure this would be excellent meditation music. There is a definite movement toward center here that I like. While the water reminds me of environmental vibes meant to put one to sleep in those sound machines, it's accompanied by sounds to clear one's mind and give focus. The combination works well.

Robin: The rainstick is convincing! The Buddhist mantra, Om Mani Padme Hum, roughly, is “the jewel in the lotus” – our center or True Nature. If this track brings you closer to center, allows for more focus, relaxes you, or brings a peaceful sleep, I’d say it’s done something right.

Glenn: Thank you, Robin, for taking the time to give your thoughts on my impressions and your work. I have to confess that having This. on my iPod these last few months, and especially more recently delving deeper to write this, I have just liked it more and more.

This. is going to be followed up in 2014 by the singer-songwriter genre album …and Everything Else. I'm looking forward to it, and I'm sure we'll be talking about that when it arrives. Thank you, Robin!

Robin can be found at website, on her blog, at CD Baby, and at iTunes. Follow her on Twitter here.

Don't forget the Robin Renee Blog Tour continues at Patti O'Brien's blog, A Broad Abroad, tomorrow, check it out!

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Robin Renee Blog Tour Continues

Today's stop on the Robin Renee Blog Tour is at Gilbert Curiosities, where Marie Gilbert lists some of the artist's various links where she and her work can be found online. You can check that out here.

Besides her music, Robin is also a poet, an artist, a blogger, and a journalist. She has done some great work, like these remembrances of Richie Havens and Stompin' Tom Connors.

But then, yeah, there's the music. Here's one of my favorite original tunes from Robin Renee, the acoustic version of "The Other End of the Line," from her collection.

Earlier this month, Robin released a terrific pop/rock single "All I Am" with proceeds going to the You Will Rise Project. I am showing my true colors here and being non-objective, but I have to say I really love this song. You can obtain it through CD Baby here.

Tomorrow the Blog Tour continues at Becca Butcher's Blog, and then on Sunday returns here for my thoughts on Robin's latest full release, This.. I'll see you then.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Robin Renee Blog Tour, Second Stop

On today's stop on the blog tour, author and artist Shelley Szajner interviews Robin Renee on her blog. You can check out the interview here.

For more of Robin, check out her website.

Quickies 7-18-2013

The Revenant ~ This black comedy revolves around a American soldier killed in Iraq who comes back from the dead with a thirst for blood to survive. Seeking his best friend's help, they become vigilante crimefighters, feeding on their prey. Imagine a zombie version of The Boondock Saints and you've kinda got the picture. Fun if you turn your mind off, better than a Troma flick, but it's no masterpiece.

Tit for Tat ~ This great Laurel and Hardy short from 1935 was nominated for an Academy Award. The boys run a hardware store and feud with the grocer next door. Look for the ever popular Mae Busch as the grocer's wife, slightly worse for wear from her Rosie O'Grady role in The Unholy Three a decade earlier. She actually had a successful career in the Laurel and Hardy comedies, a sort of second coming for the 'versatile vamp.'

He Who Gets Slapped ~ This silent film from 1924 is based on a Russian play and later film set in a circus where a clown, played by the master Lon Chaney, takes grisly revenge for the unwanted affections of a baron on the woman that he loves. It is the sort of twisted revenge story Chaney would become known for when later working with Tod Browning and Valdemar Young. A spectacle featuring Chaney at his emotive best, also starring Norma Shearer and John Gilbert as leads, and directed by Victor Seastrom, this was MGM's first film.

Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic ~ An excellent documentary from Showtime about the genius comedian. Great footage of concerts and behind the scenes stuff, as well as interviews with friends and family, however, much was edited out for the sake of his family if the rumors are true. That said, still the best doc on Pryor done so far.

The Terrible Truth ~ A couple decades earlier, and a lot less graphic, this ten minute anti-drug propaganda short subject is like a "Dead Is Dead" for the 1950s. Like a cross between Duck and Cover and Reefer Madness, this color short from 1951 has a good message, if dated and funny. The hipsters will probably laugh their asses off.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Robin Renee Blog Tour

Today marks the start of the Robin Renee Blog Tour. For the next week or so, we'll be guiding you through a journey of the work singer/songwriter/poet/activist/journalist, Robin Renee.

Who is Robin Renee? Besides, my talented and creative friend of several decades of course, Robin Renee is Mantra-Pop! - accessible, lyric-driven alt-folk rock with a spiritual twist. Conscious and melodic with an edge, think of blending the voices of Chrissie Hynde and Joan Armatrading with the wordsmith intelligence of Elvis Costello and the mystical passion of kirtan chanting.

Her CDs include In Progress, All Six Senses (produced by the world renowned Scott Mathews who has worked with George Harrison, Elvis Costello, Barbra Streisand, and many more), Live Devotion (East-meets-West chanting), and – mantra-pop headlines from the clairaudient dreams of the evocative Robin Renée.

She has shared the stage with some of the West’s best-loved kirtan singers including Krishna Das, Dave Stringer, and Girish. Also a poet, artist, and writer, Robin’s work has appeared in PanGaia, Big Hammer #12, Curve Magazine, Songwriter’s Market, Blessed Bi Spirit – Bisexual People of Faith (Continuum Press), That Takes Ovaries – Bold Females and their Brazen Acts (Random House), and many other publications.

Her newest recording, This. (chant and sacred song), will be followed by ..and Everything Else (songs and spoken word) in 2014.

Here's the schedule for the Blog Tour:

Tomorrow, Thursday, July 18th, Shelley Szajner will be interviewing Robin at her blog.

Friday, July 19th, Marie Gilbert will be hosting at her blog, Gilbert Curiosities.

Saturday, July 20th, Becca Butcher will be hosting at her blog.

Sunday, July 21st, we return here to Welcome to Hell, where I'll be reviewing Robin's "This." Album.

Monday, July 22nd Patti O'Brien will be hosting at her blog, A Broad Abroad.

Tuesday, July 23rd, Fran Metzman will be guest blogging an interview with Robin here at my blog, Welcome to Hell.

Wednesday, July 24th Marie Gilbert will be hosting an interview with Robin at the South Jersey Writers Blog, Tall Tales and Short Stories.

Thursday, July 25th Robin Renee will be a guest on The GAR! Podcast, with Ray Cornwall and myself.

Friday, July 26th I will be conducting an interview with Robin Renee at Biff Bam Pop!.

Saturday, July 27th I will be closing out the blog tour here at Welcome to Hell.

And don't forget to check out Robin Renee's new single "All I Am" at CD Baby, with proceeds going to the anti-bullying organization, the You Will Rise Project.

See you tomorrow, at Shelley Szajner's blog!

Dumpstas Return Tonight!

The Dumpsta Players Present… "Star Whorez!"


Tonight, Wednesday, July 17th, doors open at 10 PM, show time is 11 PM sharp!
…at Bob and Barbara's, 1509 South Street, Philadelphia PA. 215-545-4511
$1.99 to get in, must be age 21 and up!

Last day, Capricorn 15s, year of the city, 2274, in a galaxy far, far away… hapless Trelena 12 obsesses about uninterested drug smuggling hunk, Starbuck 6. Her foolish attention is lost on him as he has his eyes on Trelena 12’s BFF, Tatiana 8.

Just as Starbuck 6 leaves on a secret mission, mechanical evildoer, Mr. Roboto and his fembot cohorts, R2FU and C3PU, seek the unloved heart and innocence of Trelena 12 for power and galactic domination. Trelena 12 must dodge nefarious attacks while seeking wisdom from Exstacia the Enchanter and Empress Aviara.

But what kinds of trouble await Trelena 12 on the disco planet of Carillon? Will she be sent to Booty Jail or fed to the daggets for being a socialator? And who is behind a deadly attack of meteor showers?

Destroy your life crystal, prepare to energize but beware of mouth sores in - “STAR WHOREZ”!

A portion of proceeds from this event benefit, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to creating opportunities and exposure for visual artists.

You can also check out The Dumpsta Players on YouTube and Facebook, as well as on PhillyCAM television.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Beware the Batman

I approach this new Batman series with both trepidation and resentment. We're getting this series as not only a replacement for the old "Brave and the Bold" series, which gave us an intriguing and entertaining new direction for the character, but also a replacement for the much loved, and inexplicably ended "Green Lantern" and "Young Justice." I would have much rather had either of these series back, or a JLA spin-off from the later than anything else Cartoon Network is offering lately, especially the superdeformed mutilation called "Teen Titans Go!" or this newest version of Batman.

"Beware the Batman" is a bit of an oddity, with, in my opinion, very little to like. The animation is CGI style like the aforementioned Green Lantern series, and there seems to be very little reason to have it done in this method. There are no wild scifi elements that this style would benefit. Batman's head is odd and his whole costume has a wet, almost slimy, vinyl rubber look.

It is also quite violent. I was surprised at how violent, and I'm pretty desensitized to that sort of thing, especially when it comes to superheroes and cartoons. This is also a very different concept for Batman. He is, once again (groan), early in his career and therefore inexperienced. Why can't we have the confident and competent Batman? That's the one we like, not the bumbling amateur.

I said this was a new concept, well, young and dumb isn't what I was talking about. Alfred is very different. More than a butler, he is an Australian ex-spy who looks like cross between Lex Luthor and Vin Diesel. It's an intriguing idea, but I don't like it.

Also in the way of change, I understand that the standard rogues gallery is being jettisoned for this new series. I think this is a very odd decision as Batman's bizarre enemies are as much a part of his popularity as everything else. In the opener, he fights the very strange Grant Morrison creations, Professor Pyg and Mr. Toad. I was not impressed.

Also featured in the episode were a non- Mr. Terrific Michael Holt and a decidedly pre-Metamorpho Simon Stagg. Was this just for the Easter egg name drop then? Let's face it, Mr. Terrific and Metamorpho are what makes these characters interesting, without them, why use them?

I'm giving this series a wait and see option. I haven't really decided yet. It could go either way after watching just one episode, but I really don't know.

I did however like the DC Nation short featuring the Tarantino-esque Aeon Flux style retro Wonder Woman short. Can't wait to see more. Instead of another Batman, why not a series based on this, of one of the other better shorts like Amethyst, Sword of the Atom, Plastic Man, or Thunder and Lightning? Or if you insist on Batman, how about Batman of Shanghai?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Glee Star Dead at 31

Over the weekend, "Glee" star Cory Monteith was found dead in Vancouver, he was 31. Recently released from rehab, drugs are suspected but unconfirmed.

Acting since he was a child, he rose quickly to stardom on Fox's "Glee" a few years back playing Finn, high school footballer who joins the glee club. The musical comedy drama experienced great success in the first couple seasons, but then fell victim to what does in most high school shows - graduation. Trapped between following popular cast to college and introducing new characters, "Glee" has floundered. Finn recently returned to a bigger role as a co-teacher of the glee club.

The Canadian actor and singer had been in a relationship with "Glee" co-star Lea Michelle for a time before his death. He will be missed.

Friday, July 12, 2013


Sharknado ~ It's a tornado. Made of sharks. Sometimes when I hear the concept of a movie, I can't help but think what the pitch for it was like. I see a boardroom sometimes, filled with executives in suits. And in this case, one stands up, clears his throat, and says… "It's a tornado, made of sharks."

The Syfy Channel has made The Asylum's movies famous. Whereas the company used to make its money making rip-offs of major blockbusters, now they are chiefly known for their giant reptile epics starring washed up 1980s and 90s stars. Syfy Saturday nights have made things like Dinocroc, Supergator, and Megashark the stuff of legend. Sharknado, on a Thursday night, is an epic landmark.

If you were paying attention to the Twitter and the Facebook the night it was airing, you would think the entire world had divided up between folks who were watching it, and folks who were refusing to watch it - but everyone was aware of it. I had to watch it. How could I resist what very well be the worst film ever made?

Did I mention it's a tornado? Made. Of. Sharks. Might as well be made of awesome. If you didn't see it, you surely missed something.

Tara Reid was supposed to be in this but I couldn't find her, or maybe I just couldn't recognize her after all that plastic surgery. But yes, yes, that is cousin Oliver himself, Robbie Rist, as the heroic bus driver. No, Ray, it was not me.

Did they really steal the Ferris wheel scene from 1941? And a bit of the drive-in scene from Twister? And even a twisted hybrid of Phoebe Cates from Gremlins and Robert Shaw from Jaws... wow. Cool bit with the Hollywood sign though. I gotta say though, the shot continuity (day to night, sunny to rainy to overcast, all randomly) was driving me a bit nutty.

Okay, reality check, there is a plot. A freak hurricane has brought sharks in droves up onto the now flooded land. There are sharks in the streets, sharks in the sewers, and yes, it's even raining sharks.

An hour into this flick, The Bride commented, "They must have spent five, ten minutes, working on this script..." That genius screenwriter is Thunder Levin, who was also responsible for the Battleship clone, American Warships, and some flick called... sigh... Atlantic Rim.
Yes, folks, it's true, global warming causes sharknadoes. And you can stop a tornado with a bomb. Riiiight.