Category Archives: Leisure

Bruce Blogs #3 – My Top 10 Live Recordings

Any Springsteen aficionado will tell you that his official studio output only tells half the story. The Boss has been touring for over 45 years and played many thousands of shows, most of which have been meticulously logged and recorded by his fervent fanbase. Make no mistake, venturing into Springsteen live recording land is a daunting prospect, and no place for the faint-hearted. For that reason, I’ve decided to make this list to help you navigate. This isn’t supposed to be a definitive list of the best Springsteen live recordings available, because I haven’t heard them all. Instead, think of it as my personal Top 10. Like any list, it’s subjective, but hopefully it will give you a starting point.

Five or six years ago, this would’ve been a list of bootlegs. But then The Boss, or more likely one of his management team, saw a huge opportunity and started selling professionally-produced and packaged live concert recordings on a variety of formats virtually as and when they happen. This had the simultaneous effect of virtually wiping out the bootleggers overnight and creating another considerable revenue stream in one fell swoop. They are even opening up the archives and releasing classic concerts remastered and, where necessary, restored. Genius. It’s a winner for me, because now I instantly download bunches of MP3 files which cost less than £8 for over three hours of music instead of paying £60-plus for a bootleg which sounded like it had been recorded in the back of a van and took seven months to arrive by post. You can check out the existing archive of live recordings HERE.

  1. Brooklyn, New York, April 25th 2016

Let’s start proceedings with a show from The 2016 River tour, and I think the first I ever acquired from the (then) new-fangled Springsteen Live Archive site when it first went up. Having listened to so many sketchy boots over the years I was dubious at first, but blown away by the sound and overall production quality. During this leg of the tour, Bruce and the E Street band were playing the seminal River album (which Bruce refers to here as his ‘coming of age’ record) in its entirety from start to finish, with a few hits and deep cuts tacked onto the end. A bit predictable perhaps, even though many of the tracks are arranged differently and extended far beyond their studio limitations, and Bruce himself evidently soon got bored and started mixing things up. This show is notable for being the last with that rigid format. Oh, and a primo Prince tribute in the form of a storming version of Purple Rain.

  1. The Schottenstein Centre, Ohio, 31st July 2005

One from leftfield. Devils & Dust was a weird tour. The stripped-down album had a lot in common with its predecessors Nebraska and The Ghost of Tom Joad, but the tour, mostly played in intimate theatres, was something else entirely. It was virtually a one-man show, apart from a few guest appearances, with Bruce re-imagining songs from his expansive backlist and playing every instrument needed to bring them to life. Some were almost changed beyond recognition (Reason to Believe) while other interpretations veered off into experimental territory. As a spectacle, it was okay. I understand the need to shake things up from time to time. But as a document, the Devils & Dust tour is little more than a WTF side-note. When the distortion fed into the recordings that surfaced afterwards, it was sometimes difficult to tell what was deliberate and what wasn’t. Still, this effort, with its rarities in the form of Lift me Up (never played before) Cynthia, and a trio of Tunnel of Love tracks (One Step Up, When You’re Alone and Valentine’s Day) is well worth looking up.

  1. First Union Centre, Philadelphia, September 20th 1999

I could’ve picked any show from the Reunion tour, especially the first half, as most were epic and the setlists didn’t alter much. The E Streeters were just glad to be back, and the crowds fed off the energy. I settled on this one, released on bootleg as Backstreets of Philadelphia (Polar Bear Records) for the simple reason that I was in the crowd that night, so it has a special kind of resonance with me. It’s a long way from south Wales to Philadelphia. Plus, the Boss opened with Candy’s Room, which he doesn’t do often, if ever. In fact, the entire set was heavily reliant on material from Darkness on the Edge of Town, with five of the first dozen tracks lifted from that album, which I personally consider his best. On this tour, the newly-reformed and re-focused E Street Band were at the top of their game and they absolutely kille dit every night.

  1. Olympic Stadium, Helsinki, Finland, 31st July 2012. Released on Vigorous Records as The Finnish Finish

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Lauded as the night ‘the myth became reality’ this show is included not only on the basis that it is Bruce’s longest gig to date (well over four hours, not including the five-track mini acoustic set he performed in the afternoon) but because the set-list fucking rocks. Kicking off with a cover of Rockin’ all Over the World, we are treated to a riotous opening section culminating with the ’78 intro version of Prove it all Night. Deep cuts like Be True, Loose Ends and Back in Your Arms also make rare appearances, sitting well alongside material from then then-current Wrecking Ball album. There was just something special about that night, which Bruce himself alludes to before We Are Alive. That’s one of the truly great things about Bruce gigs; the spontaneity. Literaly anything can happen, at any time. No disrespect to Helsinki, but if this was contrived at all, he would have undoubtedly chosen to play his longest ever show at a more prestigious venue, maybe in London, Milan or New York. That’s worthy of another tip of the hat.

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  1. Berlin Night, 19th April 1996

The Boss didn’t tour the Nebraska album. The closest he came was performing nightly mini-acoustic sets as part of the main show on 1984-85 Born in the USA tour. Taking the stage alone must be a daunting experience, especially for an artist so accustomed to having a full backing band behind him, but Bruce rose to the occasion. Of course he did. This show, partially broadcast on the radio in some countries before being released in its entirety by famed bootleg label Crystal Cat, is perhaps the pick of the Tom Joad shows. Less experimental and more folksy than the Devils & Dust recordings, as you would expect, the setlist is dominated by tracks from the ‘solo acoustic’ albums. However, Bruce still manages to throw a few spanners in the works, as he always does, stripping down Murder Incorporated, Bobby Jean and Adam Raised a Cain, to name but a few. He also deserves some kudos for trying to speak German.

  1. The Spectrum, Philadelphia, September 17th 1984

This might be sacrilegious to some fans, but the Born in the USA tour is probably my least favourite. Most of his concerts are timeless. You could listen to one from 1976 and another from 2016 and have difficulty telling which is which. But the Born in the USA shows (like the album) are instantly recognisable as a product of their era. All elevated keyboards swirling around vast stadiums and tinny production values, they couldn’t be more eighties if you wedged them into a pastel-coloured tank top with shoulder pads . It doesn’t help that not much quality material emerged from that tour, with most examples being audience recordings taken on those old cassette recorders. This show, the penultimate night of a mammoth six-date residency at the Spectrum, is a rare exception. It was released on bootleg as Tramps Like Us, and then in a remixed form as Perfection At Last. It’s not quite perfect, but it’s not far off. Opener Born in the USA segueing into Out in the Streets is simply breathtaking.

  1. Hammersmith Odeon ‘75

And now we’re going back. Way back. The Hammersmith Odeon now goes by the less auspicious name the Eventim Apollo, but this still stands as one of Springsteen’s legendary gigs. This is the sound of a band captured just as they are hitting their stride. After a low-key Thunder Road, you can feel the bristling intensity during the intro to Tenth Avenue Freeze Out. Shows from this era were generally shorter, barely scraping the two-hour mark, because more often than not the band would play two a night. Boasting definitive versions of It’s Backstreets and Jungleland along with a killer 17-minute rendition of Kitty’s Back (featuring an improv section and a few bars of Van Morrison’s Moondance) this gig was so good it became one of the few to be granted a long-overdue official release.

  1. Coliseum Night (29 December 1980)

Before the pomp and extravagance of the Born in the USA tour, many would argue that Bruce & the E Street Band peaked on the 1980/81 River tour. The shows in general were more geared toward blasting out a succession of 3-minute crowd pleasers (as was the album) than the more indulgent focus of past tours. No 17-minute versions of Kitty’s Back here. Of those currently in circulation, most people would probably choose the famous NYE bootleg, recorded a couple of nights later at the same venue (these shows collectively make up a significant proportion of the Live 1975/85 box set), but a combination of the quality of recording and a slightly superior set-list takes this one for me. Over the span of a 37-song performance Bruce expertly moves the audience through the gears, from openers Night and Out in the Street to the sombre Factory and Independence Day a few songs later. It’s like being on an emotional rollercoaster.

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  1. Washington, 26th September 2016

Despite the band missing some big hitters in Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici, the second half of the River tour of 2016 is probably my favourite run of Bruce shows ever. I love the way the band sounds, and the quality of the recordings on these later sets is incredible. Listening to them is like having Bruce and the E Street Band perform in your living room. Most stateside shows kicked off with a jaw-dropping 13-minute orchestral version of New York City Serenade and generally favoured older material, mostly taken from the first two albums, giving the whole thing a glorious retro summer vibe. Some of those tracks, in particular Kitty’s Back and Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street? feature a lot of lyrics and chord changes. They must be a nightmare to play live, which would explain Bruce’s apparent reluctance to do so over the years. Why set yourself up for failure? The 34 track set list performed here also borrows heavily from Born in the USA (six tracks), and throws up the odd surprise like Because the Night, Trapped and Secret Garden. Sublime.

  1. Capitol Theatre, Passaic, NJ

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The one and only. Released on various bootlegs, most famously as Piece de Resistance, this is a near-perfect recording of the second in a trilogy of triumphant shows running from 19-21 September at the Capitol Theatre, New Jersey, again on the Darkness tour. For many years, this was considered the king of bootlegs. The show has recently been given the archive treatment so it’s now available in better sound quality. During my ‘research’ for this articles, I listened seven or eight Darkness shows virtually back-to-back, and apart from varying sound quality (dependent on sources) there is very little to choose between them. I very nearly went for perennial favourite Winterland recorded in San Francisco a few months later, but this one takes top spot firstly due to the near-mythical status it has deservedly earned in the intervening years, and on the strength of a scorching Incident on 57th Street, which surprisingly enough wasn’t played too often on this tour. It comes at the expense of Streets of Fire, but everything has a price. The only thing I dislike about this show is the inclusion of Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Why. WTF? It was September.

If you enjoyed reading this, you might appreciate my previous Boss blogs about my experiences following the Boss around the world and a more detailed account of my first Bruce gig.


Loose Ends @ 34 Orchard

I generally try to avoid literary fiction. In my experience, it is a path lined with pretentious smugness and people all trying to sound more clever than the next. On rare occasions, though, I stumble across a literary magazine which is filled with quality writing but less elitist and altogether more accessible. 34 Orchard, edited by the incredible Kristi Petersen Schoonover, is one of these. Its tag line, “The most frightening ghosts are the ones within,” sums up 34 Orchard’s ethos nicely, in that it deals more with uncomfortable and no-less terrifying topics like grief and abandonment, rather than the usual horror tropes. Also, it doesn’t cost the earth. You can get the e-version for free, or you can pay a voluntary donation. Trust me, it’s worth it. 

34 Orchard is published biannually, and you can find my contribution, a short story called Loose Ends, in issue two. Loose Ends is about a young couple who fall in love, and are forced to confront the hopelessness and sheer futility of it all. They are isolated in a small village, their parents don’t agree with the relationship, and they are stuck in dead-end jobs. They can see no way out, no route to happiness, and come to a horrific final decision.

The title, and the general concept of the story, comes from a Bruce Springsteen track of the same name from his Tracks compilation. It carries many of the same themes as my interpretation, and is just the kind of dark, self-destructive love song The Boss is famous for. Check out the lyrics:

“It’s like we had a noose and baby without check
We pulled ’til it grew tighter around our necks
Each one waiting for the other, darling to say when
Well baby you can meet me tonight on the loose end.”

The rope in the song is clearly intended as being metaphorical, perhaps not so much in my story.

Issue 2 of 34 Orchard featuring Loose Ends is available now.


The Bookshelf 2019

As is now customary, below is a complete list of all the books I read, from cover to cover (or from 0 to 100%, as is increasingly the case) last year. I gave up on more than a few, which I won’t bother to name. Life’s too short to read a shitty book.

I didn’t read as much as I would have liked in the first half of the year, but in my defence a couple of entries in this list are absolute monsters. I actually started the longest, Sleeping Beauties, weighing in at 702 pages, about eighteen months ago. I kept drifting in and out of it. All things considered, let’s just say that it was far too long and meandering. A good editor could cut at least 30% off the word count and not lose anything from the plot. I had high hopes for the Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware, but I rolled my eyes so much reading it that by the end it was like a physical affliction. Amy Cross hit another couple of home runs, but probably the best book I read last year was Lost at Sea by British journalist Jon Ronson. A selection of essays and investigative reports, it’s not my usual thing but I found it both insightful and refreshing.

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I’ve been making a conscious effort to read more widely, which is why I gave some new writers a shot. At least, writers new to me. And I fell back in love with the short story and read a bunch of anthologies, the pick of which being Body Horror: Trigger Warning. And I’m not just saying that because one of my stories is in it. Ultimately, however, I returned to Dean Koontz after a long break. I actually forgot how good the guy is. At first, anyway. But then a dog and a demented serial killer turned up like they do in all his books and I had to suffer yet more preachy, religious overtones. Sigh.

 

Signal Failure by David Wailing (2016)

Private Number/claws by Derek Muk (2018)

Stranded by Renee Miller (2018)

The Lighthouse by Amy Cross (2015)

The Last Days of by Jack Sparks Jason Arnopp (2017)

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware (2017)

Filthy Beast: Diary of an English Teacher in China by White Buffalo (2018)

Bad News by Amy Cross (2019)

Body Horror: Trigger Warning by Various Authors (2019)

Living After Midnight: Hard & Heavy Stories by Various Authors (2010)

Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Owen King (2017)

The Nowhere Men – The Unknown Story of Football’s True Talent Spotters by Michael Calvin (2014)

Room 9 & Other Stories by Amy Cross (2018)

Lost at Sea by Jon Ronson (2012)

The Neighbour by Dean Koontz (2014)

Take the Corvus: Short Stories & Essays by Luke Kondor (2018)

Strange Weather: Four Short Novels by Joe Hill (2017)

The Corona Book of Ghost Stories by Various Authors (2019)

The Taking by Dean Koontz (2007)

Zombie Punks Fuck Off by Various Authors (2018)

You can check out last year’s bookshelf HERE.

 

 


You Don’t Always Have to Start at the Beginning.

You may wonder why I don’t post more about writing and/or publishing. After all, I’ve been doing this a long time. Well, the answer to that is that I jealously guard any knowledge and information I’ve gleaned on my journey and file it away for my own personal use. Find your own knowledge and information!

I’m kidding.

Kind of.

I have written about some aspects of writing on this blog before, most recently writer’s block and indie publishing and do so occasionally for various publications like Writer’s Weekly and Funds for Writers. But thinking about it, the reason I don’t do it more is because writing is such a subjective topic that it’s very difficult to impart any actual bona fide wisdom. What works for you, might not work for anyone else. I can give an opinion, sure. Maybe even an informed opinion. But at the end of the day, it’s still just an opinion, and as the saying goes, opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one. You like the way yours smells, but everyone else’s stinks.

Anyway, from an altruistic point of view, I probably should blog more about writing and publishing in the hope that someone somewhere might take something from it. So today I’d like to address what I see as one of many rookie errors, and that is the assumption that when writing a story, a novel, a novella, or even a feature or article, you have to start at the beginning and work diligently through to the end.

It’s bullshit.

That’s right. You can start in the middle if you want. Fuck it. If you have a killer final scene, write that first then work backwards. Obviously, I don’t mean write the words backwards. I’ve never tried it, but I imagine that would not only be ridiculously taxing, but satanic as fuck. Plus, editors won’t appreciate it.

Moving on…

It genuinely amazes me how many people start a writing project full of optimism and the very best of intentions, only to grind to a shuddering halt for some reason, abandon the project, then just moan about how hard it was instead. It’s easy to blame writer’s block but c’mon, you know that’s just an excuse. My advice is, if you are struggling with a particular scene, or have some plot issues to work through, or have plain hit the wall, just pick up the story at a later point (on the other side of said wall) and continue from there. When it’s finished nobody will even notice, much less care.

For example, imagine you are writing a murder mystery and the victim has just been found dead in the kitchen with their own intestines stuffed in their mouth. Maybe you aren’t sure about the order of events leading up to the murder, or the weapon used, or what day of the week it was, or even who the killer is. Maybe you can’t decide on the time frame, motive, or any number of other technicalities. Don’t sweat it, just let the story hang there for a while and move to another section. Believe me, sooner or later things will fall into place.

Personally, I often start short stories with little more than a single scene in my head, then I write around the scene. If I’m lucky, I’ll have several semi-related scenes floating around. Then it’s just a matter of stitching them together. Sometimes the initial scene doesn’t even make a final cut. It’s there as kind of a sign post or marker, and when it has served its purpose I might pull it and throw it away, or use it in another story.

How you write is up to you. That’s the beauty of it. You are the master, and the page is your domain. Own it. The important thing is the end result. The story. How you arrive at the destination is irrelevant. You don’t always have to follow convention, and you certainly don’t always have to start at the beginning.

This post first appeared on the Deviant Dolls website.


The Bookshelf 2017

As per tradition, behold!

Here’s a list of every book I managed to read cover-to-cover in 2017:

The Cabin by Amy Cross (2015)

Wrong Attitude: A Brief Guide to Living In & Visiting Thailand by Steve Price (2015)

An Introduction to Thailand: The Ultimate Travel Guide by Robert Halstead (2014)

The Beach by Alex Garland (1996)

To Travel Hopelessly by English Teacher X (2012)

Cold Call by Jon Hillman (2016)

Appetite for Destruction: Legendary Encounters by Mick Wall (2010)

The Kennedy Conspiracy File by David Southwell (2012)

Meat by Michael Bray (2012)

Lost Signals by various authors (2016)

We Are Always Watching by Hunter Shea (2017)

The Printer from Hell by Amy Cross (2016)

I Am Haunted by Zac Bagans (2012)

Accidental Agent: Behind Enemy Lines with the French Resistance by John Goldsmith (new edition, 2017)

Unit 731 by Craig Saunders (2016)

Sinister Scribblings by Matt Hickman (2017)

DOA 3 by various authors (2017)

Battlefield by Amy Cross (2016)

Scavengers by Rich Hawkins (2016)

Preppers: Survival Basics by John Adams (2014)

Part Reptile: UFC, MMA and Me by Dan Hardy (2017)

Abandoned by Blake Crouch (2009)

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen (2016)

The Housemates by Iain Robb Wright (2011)

Church by Renee Miller (2017)

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For previous year’s lists, check out these links:

2016

2015

2014


No More Chinglish?

The Chinese government, anxious that certain unfortunate ‘Chinglish’ phrases are showing the country in a bad light, are trying to stamp out comically bad translations by introducing a national standard for English language use in public places. That’s right. Come December 1st 2017, China’s Standardisation Administration and General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (an actual government department) will oversea a clampdown and introduce strict new guidelines which could mean the end of Chinglish as we know it.

This makes me sad, because while some Chinglish in nonsensical, other examples are hilarious. The crux of the problem is that English and Chinese are so vastly different, not all the words ‘match.’ Heck, some don’t even come close.

Luckily, during my five years in the Middle Kingdom, I managed to capture lots of evidence of classic Chinglish at work. Here are some of my favourites.

I’m sure there’s some good advice buried deep in this notice. But…

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From a shopping bag in Tianjin…

‘Ainol’ is actually a legit brand name. I just don’t think they realise how close it is phonetically to ‘Anal.’ My teaching assistant couldn’t understand why I thought this was so funny, and i didn’t have the heart to explain it to her. Especially as it probably would have necessitated the use of diagrams.

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Er… no.

As it turns out, it seems describing toilet habits pose a particular challenge to translators.

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They have a tendency to, er, overstate things. Fantastic.

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And some make no sense whatsoever.

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RetView #1 – The Lost Boys

Title: The Lost Boys

Year of Release: 1987

Director: Joel Schumacher 

Length: 98 mins

Starring: Jason Patric, Corey Haim, Corey Feldman, Kiefer Sutherland, Jami Gertz

It’s a conversation which comes up every so often. There you are, semi-drunk with a group of colleagues, or on one of those awkward Tinder dates, when in an effort to lift the tension and find some common ground, somebody asks, “So, what’s your favourite film?”

Obviously, there’s no right or wrong answer. It’s entirely subjective. But it’s still a bit of a loaded question. Say the wrong thing, and it could cloud someone’s opinion of you forever. What would your peers and prospective lovers think if you gave the accolade to Human Centipede 2? Or even worse, the Adam Sandler disaster Jack and Jill?

For me, there are a few contenders (neither Human Centipede 2 or Jack and Jill is among them, you’ll be glad to know). But for as long as I can remember, my answer has always been the same.

The Lost Boys.

It’s not always a popular choice. Horror buffs and 80’s film aficionados usually nod with appreciation, while others, especially the younger crowd, invariably frown and say ‘You what?’

Given that The Lost Boys came out exactly thirty years ago (July 29th 1987 to be precise) I suppose that’s an acceptable reaction. Upon release it was a modest hit but was no Top Gun or Dirty Dancing, and has since passed into the ranks of ‘cult classic.’ That said, it has certainly aged better than most 80’s movies. Have you seen Weird Science recently? Didn’t think so.

Anyway, directed by Joel Schumacher and made on a budget of just $8.5 million, the Lost Boys was a triumph of style over substance, in many ways encapsulating the 80’s as a whole. It was big, brash, gaudy, and ever-so-slightly camp. A bit like a 98-minute 80’s pop video. Yet by the same token it was funny, slick, and immeasurably cool. In the case of Kiefer Sutherland, it might also be one of the very few times a lead character rocks a mullet and gets away with it.

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The producers originally wanted to call the town where Lost Boys is set Santa Cruz, because during the 1970s Santa Cruz gained a reputation as being “the Murder Capital of the World” after three infamous serial killers (Kemper, Mullin, and Carpenter, aka the Trailside Killer) hunted victims there. However, the Santa Cruz council ‘strongly objected’ to the town being portrayed in such a negative manner and allegedly withheld filming permits, forcing the producers to change the name to Santa Carla.

For the uninitiated, The Lost Boys is the story of two brothers, Sam (Corey Haim) and Michael (Jason Patric) who move with their recently-divorced mother (Dianne West) to stay with her eccentric father in Santa Carla, California. Cue lashings of teen angst and despair about feeling isolated and not fitting in and stuff. At a local comic book store, Sam bumps into the Frog Brothers (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander) who warn him that the town has become overrun with vampires and give him comics to educate him about the threat, while big brother Michael falls in love with Star (Jami Gertz) who happens to be in a relationship with a local gang leader called David (the aforementioned mullet-sporting Sutherland). Yup, you guessed it, David’s gang is actually made up of the very same vampires that have been terrorizing the town and making people disappear, and they want the star-struck (sorry) Michael to join their ranks. The story builds to an epic showdown between good and evil featuring a few fantastically creative kill scenes and some better one-liners.

At the time, Lost Boys represented something of a gamble by Warner Bros. Horror comedies aimed specifically at teenagers was an unexplored genre. To make things even harder, at the time, the main cast was comprised mainly of untested wannabes and even director Joel Schumacher was a largely unknown quantity with only The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981) and St Elmo’s Fire (1985) on his resume.

Even with the benefit of having 30-years to think about it, it’s hard to pinpoint what makes Lost Boys work so well. The plot itself is a little thin with not many surprises, but the script is sharp and witty. A piece of marketing genius, the slogan (‘Sleep all day, party all night, never grow old, never die. It’s fun to be a vampire’) captured both the imagination and the mood of a generation, while the sleek MTV-style visuals are positively spellbinding, Kiefer Sutherland made the coolest villain ever, and Jami Gertz playing the little girl lost role sent pulses racing. As sultry and vulnerable as she appeared, you just knew she was as dangerous and ruthless as a coiled cobra. The haunting soundtrack, an essential component of any 80’s movie, was also a contributing factor. Even the dog Nanook deserves special praise for several show-stealing scenes.

However, despite all this, Lost Boys was much more than the sum of its parts, making an undeniable impression on the psyche Generation X and paving the way for everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to the Twilight saga. The movie did spawn two low-key sequels of it’s own, Lost Boys: the Tribe (2008) and Lost Boys: the Thirst (2010) but neither set the world on fire, and a rumoured proper sequel, the Lost Girls, also directed by Joel Schumacher and which sounded fucking amazing, failed to materialize. The enduring legacy of Lost Boys ties in neatly with the source of the title, J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan who, just like vampires, never grew up. To my knowledge he didn’t end up dissolving in a bath of holy water and garlic or being impaled on a fence post either, so there’s that.

Trivia corner:

Actress Julia Roberts started dating Jason Patric just days after cancelling her wedding to Lost Boys co-star Kiefer Sutherland in 1991. Ouch.

This is the first installment of the RetView series.


Coming Soon… RetViews!

Regular visitors will know I post (or have posted) about whatever takes my fancy. In the past I’ve written about topics as diverse as Bruce Springsteen gigs and animals that shit coffee, but most of my posts are in some way related to teaching, sport, China, horror fiction, music or films. Sometimes, two or more of those categories bleed into each other, which makes me happy. What all these topics have in common is the fact that they’re all important to me. They make my world go around.

I realized some time ago that as our lives trundle on and we get ever older, our perceptions change, as well as our tastes. As our reserves of life experience swell, we come to see things in a different light. This logic applies to a lot of things. You could probably argue that it applies to everything. But it is especially noticeable with regards to music and films, these being the spheres where fads and fashions are most prevalent. For example, how many people were into Johnny Hates Jazz or the Christians in the late 80’s? And how many of those people still play Shattered Dreams or Harvest for the World? Probably not that many. Let’s not forget, the arts also serve as open forums for social commentary, which makes them especially relevant.

This is just one reason why I thought it might be interesting to revisit some classic cinematic moments, and take another look at them in a ‘modern’ context. Or at least, with the benefit of knowing some stuff I probably didn’t know before. Older movies have also generated more academic research, comments and opinions, which I can draw upon as I endeavour to provide some valuable insight, rather than a simple ‘It was rad!’ review.

I’m going to call this my RetView series. Short for Retro Review. See what I did there?

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I’m starting with films. Horror films, to be precise, and have earmarked such classics as An American Werewolf in London, the Evil Dead, Eyes Without a Face, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Thing and one of the Alien films (haven’t decided which one yet) for the RetView treatment. I will also re-visit some more modern examples, like the Blair Witch Project, Train to Busan and [REC]. In time I might branch out into other genres, or even music. Hell, I might even dig out some cassettes and fire up my old Sony Walkman. I might leave Johnny Hates Jazz and the Christians out of it, though.

I am well aware that this site needs some structure, so I am going to be aiming for a new a new instalment every month. On the 13th, to be precise, in keeping with the horror theme. Each RetView will contain essential information such as the year the film was released, who directed and starred in it, and a synopsis. Where possible I’ll also scratch beneath the surface to provide a bit of context, make observations where appropriate, and uncover a bit of light-hearted trivia to make the whole thing more slick. The fun starts next week with Lost Boys, one of the greatest 80’s films ever made.

I hope you read my RetViews and take something from them. Like I said, for one reason or another, these are all films that deserve some recognition. Comments, likes, shares and blow jobs are always very much appreciated, and don’t forget to sign up so you never miss an installment.


Reading Habits

Like a good little writer, I read a lot. You might say obsessively. All things considered, I guess I read between 2-4 hours a day. I read widely, across a lot of platforms and topics, but mostly in sport, lifestyle, travel, crime, history and the paranormal. These are the areas I usually work in, so being knowledgeable helps me follow trends and keep my finger on the pulse.

Newspapers

Yeah, I know they are going out of style, but I’m keeping the dream alive. For me, The Times is the best newspaper out there. I don’t agree with all their politics. In fact, I usually skip those sections. But they have excellent writers and the articles are usually not only newsworthy but informative and often a bit quirky. It’s not unusual to find articles about dinosaurs or owls occupying column space with scientific breathroughs or the latest poison the Russian are using. There’s something quintessentially British about The Times, and I love how it treads the line between broadsheet and tabloid. My ‘happy place’ is a quiet pub on a rainy afternoon, with a pint of craft ale and a copy of The Times.

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If I can’t get a copy of The Times, the Guardian will do. Or the Observer on a Sunday. I never get The Sunday Times because it’s like a metre-squared fucking Argos catalogue. My tabloid of choice is The Sun. It gets a lot of bad press (ho ho!) but it serves a purpose and the sports pages are outstanding. Wales on Sunday and the Western Mail are my regional newspapers when I’m in Wales but I rarely buy them these days. The quality of local journalism has nosedived. It’s largely due to less people reading newspapers and consequently their resources taking a hit, but you could argue that one reason less people are reading newspapers is because the quality of the product isn’t what it used to be. It’s the chicken or the egg scenario. My most hated newspapers would be the Metro, because it reads like it was written by a bunch of 6-year old’s, and the Daily Mail, because that’s why.

Magazines

Ten years ago, there were eight or more different magazines I bought religiously every week or month, depending on their frequency. Sadly, most of them are gone now. Of the few that remain, the only one I subscribe to (and I have done for twenty years or so) is Fortean Times. I like the crazy. I also buy Classic Rock almost every month, and either GQ or Esquire. Both are slightly pretentious, but they are the closest thing remaining to FHM and Loaded, and they make decent toilet reading. I also like going to large newsagents and impulse buying whatever catches my eye. I grab Kerrang! Empire, Fighters Only, All About History and Mojo semi-regularly, along with the occasional travel title or hobbyist writing magazine. One day I woke up hungover, fully-clothed in my bed, covered in about £35 worth of mags. What a glorious day that was. When in London, I make sure I pick up whichever free mag is being distributed that day, Sport (when it was about), Time Out and Shortlist being pick of the bunch, with Escapism and Red Bulletin not far behind.

Websites

I spend a lot of time surfing the net, but there aren’t many websites I use on a regular basis apart from Facebook and WordPress. Does Wiki count? How about Bet 365? Otherwise, MMA Fighting, Louder Than War and BBC News are probably my most visited. I habitually used Wales Online a lot until recently. But this outlet is suffering in much the same way as the print products Media Wales oversees is. In an effort to maximise profits, the quality of reporting has declined to laughable levels and the site is literally clogged up with advertising. It often takes several minutes to load, and when it finally does you are inundated with pop-ups. Sometimes you have to participate in a survey before you can even read the article you clicked on. I understand they have to (try and) make a profit, but that’s just intrusive. Life’s too short.

Books

I try to read widely, both fiction and non-fiction. I love sports autobiographies, travelogues, and rock memoirs, along with a healthy dose of true crime and the occasional tale of survival-against-the-odds.

The fiction I read is almost exclusively in the horror genre (as broad as that is). If there are no ghosts or zombies, or at least a demented serial killer on the rampage, I get real bored real fast. I’ve never been the kind of person to read one book at a time, but only when I wrote this post did I realize how bad things have got. I really should show some more composure, but there are just so many books and so little time. At the moment, I have no less than seven on the go. For the interested, these are:

Physical copies:

Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen

Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead, Neil Strauss

PDF’s on the PC:

DOA 3, various authors

Wild Talents, Charles Fort

And on the Kindle:

Sinister Scribblings, Matt Hickman

Unit 731, Craig Saunders

Battlefield, Amy Cross


The J-Horror Movie Marathon

I have a thing for Japanese horror. It’s pretty unique, partly because ghost stories have permeated Japanese culture for millennia and been granted more respect and freedom to evolve than in most other societies. Other than that, Japan is one fucked up place. Have you ever seen Japanese porn? There’s more incest, rape, and sex with crustaceans than you can shake a stick at.

Because they so often work within limited budgets, Japanese film-makers are forced to rely on plot, atmospherics and pure acting ability to make their work shine. Things that are sadly often neglected in Hollywood these days. One recent Saturday night, with a pathetically empty social calendar and a storm raging outside, I decided a J-Horror marathon (with English subs, obvs) was in order.

 

5:55 pm

Title: One Missed Call

Year: 2003

Director: Takashi Miike

Running time: 112 mins

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On the back of successful fore-runners like Koji Suzuki’s classic Ringu (The Ring), Pulse, and Dark Water, in 2008 One Missed Call became the latest Japanese horror movie to be remade by an American studio for an international audience. I’d watched the remake for comparison a couple of days earlier, and though the basic storyline pretty much stays true to the original, it’s more of a sugary teen flick lacking any real resonance and emotional impact. In short, the movie stinks.

The original is something else entirely.

On the surface the premise is pretty standard fare; a young student receives a voicemail on her mobile on which she can hear herself screaming. Putting two and two together, she decides the message must be from her future self warning of her imminent demise. When the message proves prophetic, it soon transpires that it’s just the latest in a long line of similar events and the girl’s friend Yumi takes it upon herself to solve the mystery. The result is a pretty intense, suspenseful, psychological experience, rather than the kind of uninspired gore fest we are so often subjected to. Typically of J-horror, there is a curse involved, some rogue technology, and hot girls in danger. We’re off to a decent start.

7:48 pm

Title: Uzumaki (Spiral)

Year: 2000

Director: Higuchinsky

Running time: 90 mins

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No rest for the wicked, it’s straight into movie number two, which proves to be one of the weirdest, creepiest, most fucked up films I have ever seen. It was adapted from a Junji Oto manga series, so I should have expected as much. His other notable works include Tomie, about an immortal girl who is so beautiful she drives people insane, and Gyu, about killer fish with metal legs. Yep, that’s the kind of guy we are dealing with.

Uzumaki is about a town obsessed with spirals. To be ‘at one’ with uzumaki, one character commits suicide by crawling inside a washing machine. The result is not pleasant. His wife then becomes so anti-spiral that she chops off all her fingertips so as not to have anything resembling a spiral on her body. That plan falls apart when she learns that there is a spiral-esque vortex buried in the deepest part of the human ear. I won’t say anymore so as not to spoil it, but you can probably guess it doesn’t end well for her. Oh, and then all the students at the local school start turning into giant snails. What the absolute fuck? I’m glad I watched this early on in the marathon. It’s the kind of thing that can make a grown man go scurrying off crying for his mother.

9:20 pm

Title: Carved: The Slit-Mouthed Woman

Year: 2007

Director: Koji Shiraishi

Running time: 90 mins

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After a quick pit-stop to make coffee and grab some Dorito’s, it’s straight back on it. The subtitles were out of synch on this one. I didn’t know what people were saying until about three minutes after they’d said it, which made the whole experience even more surreal. Someone would do something, then you’d find out why they were doing it later. The name alone is enough to give you shivers. The Kuchisake-Onna (slit-mouthed woman) is a bi-product of a real playground legend. Those Japanese kids, huh? A tall, skinny woman wearing a long trench coat, pointy shoes and a surgical mask covering her horribly disfigured face is said to appear and ask ‘Am I pretty?’ before carting off unruly school kids and doing unspeakable things to them with a massive pair of scissors. So far, so creepy. But things take a nasty turn when the urban legend turns out to be real, and one-by-one kids start disappearing. A pair of intrepid young teachers then set out to uncover the truth, and reveal one shocking secret after another. Harrowing and atmospheric, The Slit-Mouthed Woman (aka Carved) contains most of the elements audiences have come to expect from J-Horror. Curses, vengeful spirits, abused children, disused buildings, a haunting musical score and cold, brutal violence. It’s all here. If one film sums up post-Ringu J-Horror, it’s this. The last scene will chill you to the bone.

Am I pretty?

10:50 pm

Title: Ju-on: The Final Curse

Year: 2015

Director: Masayuki Ochiai

Running time: 90 mins

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More coffee and more Doritos.

You might not know this, but whereas the turgid American incarnation of the Grudge franchise was wisely curtailed after three instalments, the Japanese juggernaut just kept on rolling. And rolling. If you include that trio of western Grudges, this is the eleventh Ju-On (Grudge/Curse) film in the series originally created by Takashi Shimizu, and a continuation of last year’s Ju-On: The Beginning of the End, itself a reboot of the earlier films.

Phew. Now that’s all cleared up, on with the show. This latest (and allegedly last) instalment is a Paramount Pictures production, meaning it’s much more polished than you would normally expect. No shaky camera work or sub-par special effects here. Without getting too much into it, the plot evolves around Mai, who goes in search of her missing younger sister, the elementary school teacher from the last film (which is helpfully re-capped at the beginning). Let’s just say she gets more than she bargained for when Toshio, the terrifying little kid who makes those annoying cat noises, puts in an extended appearance. The plot is a bit stretched, as it would be after ten previous outings, but overall this film is pretty slick.

12:20 am

Title: Grotesque

Year: 2009

Director: Koji Shiraishi

Running time: 73 mins

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It’s that man again. Our friend Koji of the Slit-Mouthed Woman fame. To be honest, I don’t know what he was thinking with this. This film is banned in the UK, which is usually a good sign. I’m a horror fan, and I’ve seen some pretty far out shit. I’ve developed a reasonably strong stomach, or so I thought. Not this time. This is way out of my league. It’s downright fucking nasty, and I was soon sorry I munched all those Doritos.

I’m no prude, I believe violence has it’s place. In literature, art, films and even in real life. But there has to be a reason for it. This is exploitive torture porn, plain and simple, and has no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

Two young lovers are walking down the street, minding their own business, when they are kidnapped by a mad doctor who then proceeds to do the most awful, sadistic, depraved things to them. That’s the whole storyline right there, and it’s not fun to watch. In fact, it’s extremely fucking hard to watch. Which I guess is the point. If so, mission accomplished, Shi Shiraishi. You twisted fuck. This is the only film I’ve ever not been able to finish. I don’t know if that’s a criticism or an accolade.

This article first appeared on the Deviant Dolls website.

 


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