69 with Alice Cooper?

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It was Alice Cooper’s (who’s real name is Vincent, by the way) birthday recently. Hilariously, he turned 69. I didn’t do a blog about it then because, well, I had more important stuff to do. Now, though, I have a small gap he can fill. Ahem. To me he’s always been a bit of a parody, something that’s reflected in his image and OTT stage theatrics. It also comes across in his lyrics and song titles, some of which are cheesy, some derivative, some pervy, some borderline disturbing, and some just plain funny, whether intentionally or not.

I didn’t want to do just another tribute. I wanted to do something different and fun, which maybe hasn’t been done before. So here it is…

Top 10 Most Ridiculous Alice Cooper Song Titles Ever!

(and where you can find them)

10: Muscle of Love (Muscle of Love, 1973)

9: Earwigs to Eternity (Pretties for You, 1969)

8: Every Woman has a Name (Dragontown, 2001)

7: I’m the Coolest (Alice Cooper Goes to Hell, 1976)

6: You Look Good in Rags (Special Forces, 1981)

5: Mr. and Misdemeanor (Easy Action, 1970

4: I’ll Bite Your Face Off (Welcome 2 My Nightmare, 2011)

3: Take it Like a Woman (Brutal Planet, 2000)

2: I Never Wrote Those Songs (Lace & Whiskey, 1977)

1: Thrill my Gorilla (Constrictor, 1986)

Most Ridiculous Alice Cooper Album Title:

Zipper Catches Skin (1982)

What I Learned whilst Writing this Post:

1: Alice Cooper’s career didn’t end after 1989’s Trash, but probably should have.

2: He and Steve Carrel might actually be the same person.

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Fantasia Divinity #6

I’m pleased to report that my short story The sharpest Tool is included in the latest edition of Fantasia Divinity magazine, available to read free online HERE.

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The Sharpest Tool is a bit of a departure for me, and deals with some controversial topics I (and most level-headed writers) prefer to stay well away from. It is set firmly in the real world, rather than utilising any supernatural elements and if I tell you the story was inspired by the infamous Fritzl case, it should provide some clues as to the subject matter. I’ve always been fascinated by real life crime, and why people do the things they do. As an outsider looking in, you can usually see why people commit most crime. Money or revenge are two main motivators. Things like the Fritzl case are much harder to understand, and therefore more interesting.

If I say I hope you enjoy The Sharpest Tool I’d be lying. the truth is I hope it creeps you the fuck out, and maybe makes you think a little.


Time for a New Six Nations?

So the Six Nations tournament is in full swing. This always gets me thinking about rugby, and in particular, the competition’s format. Rugby fans might find what I am going to say controversial, whilst nobody else will give much of a shit. But as a rugby fan, I want to make my feelings heard. And before we go any further no, this blog isn’t about the self-destructing Wales team.

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You see, I don’t think the Six Nations should be six nations. Not any more. Frankly, Italy (wooden spoon winners in two of the past three seasons and odds on for a hat-trick) are not strong enough to contest and do themselves no favours by continuing to slug it out with the big boys of European rugby. From the 85 games they’d played up to the start of the current championship, they’d lost 72 and their overall points difference stood at an alarming -1553. That’s more than twice as many as the second worst team, Scotland.

It’s nothing personal. I admire the way Italy stick to their guns, often in the face of overwhelming odds. They are a strong, powerful team, and have produced a couple of top players. But this season really should spell the end of their involvement in the Six Nations tournament. Who needs it? They were effectively out of the reckoning after just two games, having been on the end of two home thrashings at the hands of Wales and Ireland (7-33 and 10-63 respectively). They usually have one good game a year, and that came last week at Twickers. They gave England a scare, more through clever exploitation of the rules than any real skill, but still ended up losing by double digits. All the evidence suggests that Italy are getting worse at this rugby lark, not better. It could be time to go. And you know what? They can take France with them.

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Controversial? Let me explain…

At several points in it’s long history (the first comparable tournament was played way back in 1883) the Six Nations was known as the Home Nations, and consisted of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Then in came the French and it became the Five Nations. Then Italy made it six. Where’s it going to end? Shall we just invite every rugby-playing nation in Europe and call it the 17 Nations? Of course not, that would be impractical. But then you have to wonder why Italy deserve a place. Georgia are actually above them in the world rankings and Romania and Russia aren’t far behind.

I want a return to the old days. But not because I’m some Neanderthal racist who hates Italians and Frenchies. Nope, I have a plan. The tournament should return to its roots, but I think we should do it differently this time. I want the home nations to play every other home nation twice a season, for a total of six games. And lets mix up the draw each year, pulling the fixtures at random, instead of having the format and fixtures set in stone. That gets boring. The draw for the next tournament can be made at the end of the previous one to give fans time to make arrangements, and thereby amping up the drama even more. Put it on live TV, make a spectacle out of it like the FA Cup draw.

Let’s be honest, nobody really likes playing the French. Not because anyone is afraid of them (though they do have a nasty habit of running in good tries), but because they bring nothing to the tournament, especially the way the team is at the moment. They currently stand at 8th in the latest World Rugby rankings, lower than any of the home nations, and haven’t been serious contenders for years. They were fortunate to beat Italy last season. If they’d lost, they would have suffered a second whitewash in four years. Not good enough, sorry.

There’s long been talk of introducing a two-tier system into the Six Nations, with promotion and relegation. If that ever happened, Italy would undoubtedly be the first team relegated. And there’s a decent chance France could follow. I suggest we take the initiative and cull them now, then put them in a separate European group with two of Georgia, Romania and Russia. Maybe even Spain, Germany or Portugal. All are emerging nations ranked in the world top 25. Playing each other (along with France and Italy) on a regular basis would improve their game immeasurably, which can only be good for the sport. The European group of four (even five or six would be manageable as these teams play less games per year than the elite) can also play each home and away, then face the winners of the British group in a grand final every year at a neutral venue. Obviously France would dominate for the first couple of years, but I the other teams would soon catch up with them.

There, sorted. Think about it. This proposed new format would benefit everyone involved. The British teams would only have to play one (or two, if they get to the grand final) more games a season, there would be more opportunity for sponsors and TV revenue, the fans would get more of what they really want (Wales v Scotland, England v Anybody), the smaller rugby-playing nations would have a framework and a chance to develop, and there would be a huge showpiece final every year to rival the (football) European Championship.

Who’s with me?


Boss Blogs #1: Meet Me in the City Tonight

For many people, seeing Bruce Springsteen live, especially with the E Street Band, is akin to a religious experience. His epic three-hour plus live shows are the stuff of legend. The vast majority of artists have their carefully arranged 16-song set consisting of a smattering of tracks from their latest sub-par album, closing the show with a few hits from when they were more popular to send the crowd home happy. They play the same songs, in the same order, every night. Even their salutations are hollow. “Thank you (INSERT NAME OF LATEST STOP ON THE TOUR)! This has been the greatest night of our lives!”

Of course it has, pal.

Springsteen doesn’t just go through the motions. Every show, every note of every song, is shot through with energy, emotion and intensity. Virtually every night the set list is different. Sometimes there are minor tweaks, sometimes there a radical overhaul. He usually does something special, making it unique for those lucky enough to be in attendance. He might dust off a rare deep cut, a non-album track, a new arrangement of an old classic, or an unexpected cover. He has an extensive repertoire to draw from, and nothing is off-limits. After Prince died last year he played Purple Rain as a tribute, in London he played the Clash song Clampdown in homage to Joe Strummer, and in Australia he played the relatively obscure INXS track Don’t Change as a nod to Michael Hutchence. It wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility to witness him tackle a George Michael or Motorhead standard at some point. The first time he ever played in Wales on the Magic tour in 2008 he started the show with From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come), in reference to the size and stature of the country.

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I’m not as fanatical as some Springsteen aficionados. I’ve met people who have seen him live literally hundreds of times, making my six gigs in four countries over twenty years seem pretty fucking weak. Still, I do have some good stories. Like the time I was on a coach coming back from Rotterdam and French border police decided to take us in a room one-by-one and strip search us all. I’d never had that treatment before, so that was an experience. As was travelling all the way from Wales to Philadelphia for the reunion tour in 1999 only to arrive at the venue to find the show had been cancelled because of a hurricane. After being shut in the hotel bar for the night, we eventually got to see another show later in the week so the trip wasn’t completely wasted. Unlike me that night in the hotel bar. At the actual gig, my then-girlfriend went out for a cigarette halfway through the show and security wouldn’t let her back in, so she had to stand in a car park by herself in downtown Philly for two hours. No, I didn’t go out to find her. A man has to get his priorities right. Besides, I didn’t know what had happened until later. There were no mobiles in 1999.

Thinking about it, my Boss gigging history has been dogged by drama. I was also at the infamous Hyde Park gig in 2012, when the council pulled the plug in the middle of a historic duet with Paul McCartney. Hilariously, the Boss started the next gig in Dublin in the middle of Twist & Shout and had a fake policeman drag him from the stage at the end. The first time I ever saw the him live was as a starry-eyed 18-year old at Wembley Arena in 1992. By some fluke, my friend and I had great seats, just a few rows from the front. But probably my favourite ever Boss gig was at the San Siro, Milan in the summer of 2003. I’ve always thought the music spoke to me on some weirdly personal level, and that show seemed to prove it. I still worked in a factory in Wales at the time. I had a car, a steady girlfriend and a PlayStation. All the things that are supposed to make you content. But man, I was so fucking miserable. I was beginning to realize it’s a big world out there, and I was frustrated at only being allowed to experience a tiny part of it. My first book had just been released and, I knew big changes were coming in my life. He sang ‘Follow That Dream,’ a song he doesn’t do often, and it almost sent me over the edge. It certainly put things in perspective. I decided to roll the dice and risk everything to pursue a career in writing. Within a few months, I’d split up with my girlfriend, sold my car, laid my PlayStation to rest (which I still think is the biggest loss) and moved to Southampton to study journalism. Strange how things turn out. I look back on that San Siro gig as some kind of tipping point.

When Bruce & the E Street Band began this latest tour, they were playing The River album in it’s entirety from start to finish, then a handful of oldies at the end. Everyone knew it wouldn’t last. It was too rigid, too predictable. The handful of oldies at the end soon stretched to a dozen, then 15 or 16, and by the time he got to Europe the ‘whole album’ format had been discarded altogether in favour of a career-spanning mash-up. What’s even better is EVERY show is being recorded and released via his website. I used to collect live bootlegs. Over the year I amassed hundreds of them. I’ve always been aware that the studio albums, even taking into account the 4-CD retrospective set Tracks, only tell half the story. But they were expensive and the sound quality was hit or miss. Normally miss, to be fair. These new releases are absolutely flawless, and at $9.95 (MP3 format) for four hours of music, reasonably priced. There’s a bit of polishing and mixing going on, but if it enhances the sound quality I’m not against it like some purists are. Incidentally, if you want my opinion, I don’t think you can go far wrong by investing in the Washington National Park show.

After a few months off following the last US leg, the River tour found it’s way to Australia last month. Because, bizarrely, it’s summer there. And winds up next week in New Zealand. I’m envious of all you Australasians who were lucky enough to get tickets but I’m not that put out. I’ll just get the MP3s.

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Feverish Dreams #2

My twisted little paranoid sci-fi chiller, Other Me, is available now in the latest edition of Feverish Fiction, which is limited to just 50 print copies.feverish_fiction_2

Feverish Fiction is a new player on the scene, and is a paying market looking for: Pulp, Sleaze, & B-Film-inspired flash fiction stories and poetry inspired/influenced by Twilight Zone, Tales from the Crypt, Creepshow, Roger Corman, John Carpenter, Grindhouse, Troma, Night Gallery, etc.

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I first wrote ‘Other Me’ back in 2013 (I think). It immediately aroused some interest at a publishing house, who advised me to extend it to novella-length, as they felt it should be ‘part of a longer work.’

I rejected that idea. In my opinion, Other Me felt complete. I wanted it to be short, thought-provoking, nightmarish and shocking. I had no desire to spend weeks, or even months, bowing to the whims of a publisher with no guarantee they’d like the finished product, anyway. I shelved Other Me and waited for the right home to present itself, which it duly did with Feverish Fiction.

Thank you to Michael Faun for the opportunity, and good luck with this exciting new project.


Film Review – The Darkness (2016)

Last summer, I attended what was billed as the ‘World’s First Live Facebook Séance.’ What happened? Nothing much. It was hosted by ‘celebrity medium’ Mistica Maria Louisa and Britt Griffith, the volatile gun nut who once got himself fired from the cast of Ghost Hunters. Britt invited virtual participants to ask questions, which Madam Mistica would then attempt to answer. I ask who killed JFK. Disappointingly, my question was ignored. Other, equally valid questions from curious observers included, ‘Is Hillary Clinton the antichrist?’ ‘Where are my keys?’ ‘Can ghosts use Facebook?’ ‘Am I going to get laid tonight?’ ‘ ‘Should I wear my black shoes or the brown ones?’ and, hilariously, ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’

Another participant doesn’t ask anything, instead typing I WANT BLOOD into the comment box repeatedly, which was a bit worrying.

One of the few questions Madam Mistica did choose to answer read, “My mother just died from lung cancer. Is she doing good?”

Personally, I don’t think a medium is needed to answer that particular question. And on it went. The point of the exercise? It was a publicity stunt for this movie.

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As a marketing ploy, the ‘World’s First Live Facebook Séance’ seemed to work. For a while, at least. It generated a lot of online discussion, even if most of it was tongue-in-cheek, and I wrote about it for Fortean Times. But the fact that the broadcast lost almost 50% of it’s viewers before it ended, and the organizers didn’t seem to know what a séance actually entailed, meant that ultimately the event had to go down in the ‘epic failure’ column. I couldn’t wait to see if the movie itself would join it.

The short answer is no. It’s not the best film ever made, as we all know, that title will forever belong to Lost Boys, but the Darkness isn’t as bad as feared, or as some critics would have you believe. Starring Kevin Bacon as the patriarch of a family who inadvertently take something else home with them after picking up a rock as a souvenir from the Grand Canyon, it’s a bit like a mash-up of Poltergeist and Stir of Echoes. On their return to the family home, mysterious events start to occur. Taps turn on by themselves, there are disembodied shadows all over the place, hand prints keep appearing everywhere, their slightly-weird son Mikey has conversations with ‘Sky People’ and most bizarrely of all, what appears to be a portal to another dimension opens up in the middle of Weird Mikey’s bedroom.

Finally accepting that something might be amiss, the family discover that the Anasazi Indians believed demons could be bound to rocks hidden in underground caves. Rocks just like the one they’ve brought into their house. Director Greg McLean claims the story is a true account relayed to him by members of the family in question, but we only have his word for that. The Anasazi certainly existed, they are the ancestors of several Native American tribes and are most famous for living in fortified cliff dwellings and suddenly fleeing their homeland sometime around the year 1200 for reasons unknown. Few events have provoked as much discussion and controversy amongst scholars of American history. Traditionally, it’s also not uncommon for visitors to want to return objects taken as souvenirs from supposedly cursed places because they feel some negative force has invaded their lives as a result. So, silly portal aside, this film is slightly more believable than a lot of other supposedly true stories given the Hollywood treatment.

The original version of this review appears in the Morpheus Tales supplement. Available free HERE.


Little Virgin Boy Pee Eggs

Today is Chinese New Year! That means it’s time for another China story from the vault. I’ve posted quite a lot here about China, like the time I ate brains and the time I got to be Bad Santa. There was also the snake shop, and when I got pulled in Shanghai airport and some beefy security guards tried to take my cheese off me. No way, mister! Even the most mundane things, like getting a haircut, take on a whole new meaning in the Middle Kingdom.

In 2009-2010 I lived in an extremely inhospitable northern industrial city called Tianjin. I imagine it was a bit like a Chinese Middlesbrough. I only went there to be closer to a girl I was dating, who then promptly dumped me for another dude leaving me alone, miserable and stuck in a job I hated. Said job was teaching English in a primary school. It wasn’t the teaching I disliked. it was the kids. There, I said it. It’s probably hard enough trying to educate children that young when you speak the same language, but at least then you can reason with them. If you don’t speak the same language, forget it. It’s like fighting a war with no weapons. Every class was anarchy.

Eventually I hit on the bright idea of rewarding the good kids with lollipops, hoping the naughty ones would see what they were missing and fall in line. It didn’t quite work out like that. Instead, every kid who didn’t get a lollipop threw an epic temper tantrum. Mostly products of the one-child policy, they were a mass of Little Emperors. They broke me. Regularly. I would cave in and give them all lollipops just to shut them up, costing myself a small fortune in sugary bribes.

One of the few things I liked about this school was the little breakfast stall stationed outside, selling a selection of traditional local food, along with some more normal fare like boiled eggs and corn on the cob. I stopped by there most mornings. It was cheap, and saved me time.

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There was a lot I didn’t like about the school. But the worst thing were the toilets. Toilets in China are gruesome places at the best of times. But in the school there were no locks on the doors, because the little shits would shut themselves in. That meant whenever I used it, I had a swarm of kids around me pointing and laughing. It was enough to give anyone a complex.

I noticed the boys all peed in buckets, which struck me as a bit weird. But lots of things struck me as a bit weird in China, and the buckets of piss just blended in with all the other weirdness. People would come in sporadically, carry the full buckets out, and come back with empty ones. Presumably, they were emptying them down a drain somewhere. I didn’t know, and frankly, I didn’t care. I didn’t think much about it. Until one day, when I was talking to my teaching assistant and he told me something that first confused me, then horrified me to the core. The school was selling the pee. Those people who came in to take out the buckets of piss were actually paying the school for the privilege.

“What? Who would buy buckets of pee?”

“People.”

“What people?”

“Like the people at the breakfast stall where you go in the mornings.”

“Why?”

“Tong zi dan.”

“What’s that in English?”

“Not sure. Little virgin boy pee egg or something.”

He explained that in some regions of China, Tianjin included, urine from young boys, preferably under the age of ten is harvested. It is boiled, and eggs are soaked in it for a few hours. Then the shells are cracked, presumably to let the pissy goodness inside, and it is boiled some more. The practice has been going on for centuries, and is tied to TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). Eating little virgin boy piss eggs is said to reduce high blood pressure, stop you catching a cold, and relieve joint pain, and I’d been unwittingly eating them for months.

I’ve never been able to look at a boiled egg in quite the same way since.


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