- Ray Van Horn, Jr.
- Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a seasoned music and film journalist, having written for venues such as Blabbermouth.net, The Big Takeover.com, Fangoria.com, Noisecreep, About.com, Horror News.net, Metal Maniacs, AMP, Dee Snider's House of Hair Online, Pit, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained, Impose, DVD Review, Music Dish and others. His blog The Metal Minute won Metal Hammer's Best Personal Blog Award in 2009. Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut. Ray has been a local beat reporter and photographer for newspapers and journals such as Metromix, an affiliate of the Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine and The Northern News. Ray is the winner of Quantum Muse's short fiction contest for 1999 and his original character superhero stories were collected in the paperback anthology "Playing Solitaire." In 2013, Ray published fiction stories at New Noise Magazine and Akashic Books and he will appear in the upcoming horror anthology, "Axes of Evil" in 2014. He recently contributed work to Neil Daniels' ZZ Top biography and David Zernhart's Friday the 13th series, "The Camp Crystal Lake Diaries."
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
I've had the pleasure of interviewing quite a few notables in music, film and the visual arts, many of them turning into marathons that strayed off-topic and frequently turned hilarious. Hardly a marathon, but by far the most insane interview I've ever conducted in my professional life is Dave Brockie, aka Oderus Urungus, of Gwar.
If you're one of the unfortunates who've never seen Gwar's heavy metal and punk Grand Guignol road show, you're bloody well (pun intended) advised to get there, because there's truly nothing like them. It helps greatly if you're a horror hound to appreciate them, since their latex-clad monster mash is full of pretend-evisceration, dismemberment and gore, usually featuring renditions of pop stars and politicians. 'nuff said on that, since I'm not one to ruin the fun. You're advised, however, to beware of the spray cannons that can hit you from various points and persons onstage, though most fans show up to a Gwar show with the hopes of being doused by fake blood and colored water designed to look like toxic sewage. Here's an example:
In the summer of 2006, I went on assignment to Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland to cover the Sounds of the Underground Festival. I was on-hand to photograph each of the metal and hardcore bands performing, which included Cannibal Corpse, In Flames, Behemoth, Horse the Band, The Chariot, Black Dahlia Murder, Terror, As I Lay Dying and of course, Gwar.
Covering a summer event can be a bit toiling, although depending on the venue, a member of the press can stay relatively cool under the roof of an amphitheater like Merriweather and even better, catch the cross breeze of the stage fans once you're in the photo pit. Nevertheless, I was a pretty sweaty and rank dude covering that show. I thank the In Flames crew for giving me water to hydrate myself and for letting me hang in their air conditioned bus a few extra minutes after a righteous interview with Anders Friden.
After darting back into the photo pit to snap off Gwar's set, I bolted back out to make my scheduled interview with Oderus. You'll note by my photos here, they're all taken from a stage left angle. This was on purpose, because I'd already shot one of Gwar's sets before and caveat to all of you aspiring concert photogs out there, these guys hunt for cameras to fire their liquid cannons at. The first time I shot them, I was targeted immediately. Luckily, I'd waited a few minutes into their set to scope out that very thing and I am grateful to a nice woman who'd agreed to let me hide my camera behind her hair when I needed to. At Sounds of the Underground, I stood stage left next to one of the floor amps that had a tarp over it, so I plunged my camera beneath it when not taking shots. Proof positive, the rookies standing center stage were immediately doused by the cannons. I'll never forget watching four of them scramble for their lives out of the photo pit, one of them cussing up a storm his camera had gotten soaked. Do your due diligence, people.
I recall Gwar's section of the band parking lot with vividness, since they owned quite a hunk of it and it was the outdoor equivalent of a backstage wonderland. I'd been backstage at another of their inside gigs and won't forget the heaping mounds of latex that swelled that venue's rear section. This time, however, I could see a post-show party was brewing and I found myself in the presence of the considerable mass of humanity that is Beefcake the Mighty (or Jamison Land offstage). Land was already out of his costume and had a few guests he was attending to, but he spotted me and gave me a nod even though I'd yet to make official contact with anyone. Rule number one with music journalism: at all times, act like you belong.
After phoning my contact to let him know I was on-site for the interview, Gwar's tour bus opened and I was waved in. Again relishing the coolness of the a.c., I pulled out my tape recorder and questions for Oderus and waited about a minute or so as members of the crew came on and off the bus like sweaty ions. Next thing you know, I am looking at Dave Brockie sitting across from me on the bus. Now at this time, Gwar hadn't quite yet revealed their persons outside of their costumes, so it took me a few seconds to know who I was dealing with after shaking hands. Brockie sat down with a congenial welcome and only when I scoured his tattoos did it occur me that it was game time.
I didn't make a big show of this special treat of interviewing Brockie out of his Oderus gear, but I was admittedly feeling giddy about it all. I quickly popped on the recorder and got out of my first question and could never have been prepared for what happened next.
Instantly, Brockie pulled his best Oderus character growls and avoided answering my question directly. Instead, he offered (as Oderus, understand) to sodomize everything in the world including me. So it rolled on, Oderus talking nonsensically about carnage, fucking and interplanetary combat with a hundred expletives a minute. I ended up chucking my spiral pad to the side and laughed my fool head off, shooting from the hip and feeding into Oderus' gonzo splatter world, where Michael Jackson, Paris Hilton and George W. Bush were ripe for gruesome cornholing with his latex demon phallus.
You'd seriously have to hear the tape to appreciate the insanity of it all. While Oderus ranted along, one of Gwar's stage minions appeared on the bus with a couple of dripping young ladies and then disappeared into the back of the bus. Oderus rumbled on about intestine-twisting farts and I couldn't help myself but roar through it all. I swear, no less than three minutes later, the minion and his duo of honeys came parading back down the bus corridor and left. All I can say is that was either staged as a stunt for my benefit, or the dude could use some serious staying power.
After a directionless but completely hilarious interview, I shut the recorder off. At that point, Brockie came right out of character, stood up and in an even tone, invited me to stay for barbecue. We shook hands again. As Oderus, Brockie wound his hands at me to come up with questions to keep him rolling, though I'd already dispensed with my planned session. As simply Dave Brockie, the guy was laidback and cool. I did hang out for awhile in the Gwar camp and had some barbecue as their guest before I had to jet back to the theater to photograph Cannibal Corpse. I got to meet a couple of the other stage minions who were still covered in slime and perspiration as we ate and chatted. One of them was a guitarist from Virginia and we got to talking about local flavor. I even saw the late Corey Smoot tramping by and the above photo is posted as a tribute to him. You might've already seen another one of my photos of Smoot in an earlier post.
My wife, who is not the biggest fan of metal or punk, rolled on the sofa crying in laughter when I played her this interview. She even made me pull it out on three different occasions when we were hosting parties. Everyone likewise found amusement by it, though I'll never forget an ex-friend commenting afterwards, "You sure live a weird life, Ray."
Photos (c) Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Listenin' to: The Edgar Winter Group - They Only Come Out at Night
Monday, March 10, 2014
Sunday, March 9, 2014
Saturday, March 8, 2014
Friday, March 7, 2014
Thursday, March 6, 2014
I see your face and I know my place
the candle was out before it was lit.
I walk straight lines, your shadow chases mine
pavements are abstract when you are near.
Hide behind your eyes, hide behind the lies
you know my heart is past the doorstep first.
We’re bound by lust, yet there’s still no trust
the chase is more glorious than the catch.
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Listenin' to: Afrika Bambaataa - Looking for the Perfect Beat 1980-1985
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
As a big fan of movies, I'm naturally a sucker for a good soundtrack or film score. The last score to win me over in the theater was Thomas Newman's sleek and hip treatment of Daniel Craig's modern man James Bond for the largely brilliant Skyfall. That one may one day edge itself onto a list of my all-time favorite scores the more I listen to it.
However, I have a heavy rotation of thirty soundtracks/scores that routinely jump off of my shelf, frequently while I'm writing, but sometimes just to provide a private sanctum that nothing else is permitted to invade. I would include The Beatles' A Hard Day's Night and Prince's Sign 'o the Times on this list since they're two standout bodies of work from each respective artist, but especially in the latter case, the film was a live concert built around the music. In the case of A Hard Day's Night, it's one of the first examples of the interactive mainstream music video and not quite what I consider a true film soundtrack.
So, without further elaboration, here are my thirty favorite film soundtracks (at this point, anyway), in no particular order:
1. Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope) - John Williams
2. American Beauty original score - Thomas Newman
3. The Graduate - Simon and Garfunkel
4. Return of the Living Dead - v/a
5. The Empire Strikes Back - John Williams
6. Tron: Legacy - Daft Punk
7: The Virgin Suicides original score - Air
8. Conan the Barbarian - Basil Poledouris
9. Fast Times at Ridgemont High - v/a
10. Heavy Metal the movie - v/a
11. Repo Man - v/a
12. Raiders of the Lost Ark - John Williams
13. Shaft - Isaac Hayes
14. Carrie (1976) - Pino Donaggio
15. Halloween/Halloween II - John Carpenter/Alan Howarth (this is me cheating since they're essentially the same score, only with denser synths on the second film)
16. Gladiator - Hans Zimmer
17. The Thing (1982) - Ennio Morricone
18. A Clockwork Orange - v/a
19. Batman (1989) - Danny Elfman (I'm also keen on Prince's Batman film music)
20. Trick or Treat - Fastway
21. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly - Ennio Morricone
22. The Crow - v/a
23. Halloween III: Season of the Witch - John Carpenter/Alan Howarth
24. Spartacus (1960) - Alex North
25. Purple Rain - Prince
26. Pump up the Volume - v/a
27. New Jack City - v/a
28. A Fistful of Dollars - Ennio Morricone
29. American Graffiti - v/a
30. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1985) - Charles Bernstein
Special mention goes to the Dawn of the Dead (1978) incidental music album, which has everything else in the film not performed by Goblin and Dario Argento (originally released as Zombi). A comprehensive gathering of all of that film's visceral music in one serving is grossly overdue, but this will have to suffice for now. And of course, there's Saturday Night Fever, because we all have our guilty pleasures.
Listenin' to: Heavy Metal the movie soundtrack
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
There's something about the number one that people not only identify with, they ascribe to it as creed. First counts for everything in terms of sports, social status, prestige, acumen and material acquisition. We always want to be the lucky folk who can brag on our favorite sport teams "We're number one!" and have it count in the form of a championship. People live vicariously through sports, after all, football being tops. It's never acceptable to come in less than first in a beauty pageant, since no one remembers who came in second. Ditto for Olympians. It's not just enough to medal anymore after competing against the world's best. Gold or nada. Number one. Back in the day when we camped out overnight for major event concert tickets, being the first in line was the most coveted spot there was. Otherwise, you subconsciously feared the show would be sold out before you got to the ticket booth and had pissed all night away on a sidewalk.
"1" carries a spot of honor and distinction, but underlying that is the competitive nature of life it takes to achieve that placement. In comic books, "1" is a different story somewhat, but not really. First issues of popular characters in comic books used to carry an allure about it, largely because most of the superheroes we've come to embrace in pop culture started in the time of our parents and grandparents. We were hardly alive to have a crack at obtaining those issues off the spindle racks in five and dimes of yesteryear for a mere dime. Of course, a dime back in the Great Depression and World War II when a lot of these comics came to life, could provide a full meal, much less a fantastical diversion we've somewhat taken for granted in modern times.
As I've spent much of my life wrapped inside comic books with about a decade's pause to pursue my music and film journalism path, I've come to see the number "1" downplayed a bit. Rather, it's been overused. I believe that many of the publishers are trying to keep their products flourishing in a transitional period for both the economy and the print medium by halting existing titles at their last issue counts and wipe the slates clean. Both Marvel and DC, the big guns of the genre, have gone back to the "Go" spot and restarted their titles. It's worked for them, but is there a price to pay later?
I worked retail in comics back when I was in college, so I saw firsthand what the power of "1" did for sales. The launching of a new title during the nineties was relatively a big deal, considering all of Marvel's successful attempts to branch the mutants into subdivisions of their own teams and solo series. Then there was the rise of Image and Valiant, who were putting out numerous new books and characters that were gobbled up in curiosity by the reading public. Todd McFarlane's Spawn became one of the biggest hits that I can remember and we were soon ordering second printings at the comic shop to keep up with public demand. Only the notorious "Death of Superman" story arc sent the buying public into a bigger frenzy. I'll never forget seeing a long line of people queued outside the store on Black Friday in 1993, waiting to get their mits on Superman # 75 where the assumed killing stroke of the Man of Steel came about. Those were second printings, for the record. Fellow comic nerds, I invite you to tee-hee over that one.
So I get it. Trust me, I was a marketing major in college and I studied intently what was selling and what was not at the comic shop. We had one of Rolling Stone's writers as a regular customer, so I routinely memorized what he was reading while ringing him up so I could at least check out what entertained someone doing something I would one day do myself as a music journalist.
The influence of "1" is an attention-getter. It subversively summons value in the backs of the minds of the average reader. If you've been paying attention, an original copy of Action Comics # 1 (from 1938, not the contemporary New 52 reboot) featuring the granddaddy of superhero comics, Superman, fetched $2.13 million at a recent auction. Bank! Yet, of-late, "1" is cropping up more than it should.
There are tons of new books coming out these days that you have to be a regular habitué of the comics scene to know when to jump on something as it's (often) hitting the masses for the first time. The introduction of new characters and concepts is so very hard to launch, especially for the independent publisher. Not everyone has the luxury of kicking their number counts of familiar characters back to start and have readers stay on board. Rebranding has become the norm in comics and I'm not yet sure I like it, albeit the results have frequently been astonishing with the introduction of new creative teams and new angles. As Depeche Mode has said, it's a competitive world, but they also said everything counts in large amounts. Top Cow Comics initiated their universe overhaul dubbed "Rebirth," but kept their titles rolling in sequential order instead of starting over. Food for thought.
I remember trudging two miles through ankle-deep snow one Saturday in 1982 after I was handed my allowance. I was 12 and the overall four mile excursion was nothing to me then, but my destination was the convenience store on a busy throughway, which I wasn't allowed by my parents to walk on, for obvious reasons. I knew a back way through the woods out of my development and thus I stomped through the snow and found Marvel's G.I. Joe, A Real American Hero #1 on the spin rack at the store. As a younger child, I'd played with the full-sized G.I. Joe (no kung-fu grip, but he did have that groovy felt beard on him) all the time, so I just about sank to the floor with excitement when I saw that book.
I bought G.I. Joe # 1 and the latest Amazing Spiderman along with a Whatchamacallit candy bar and blew my allowance just like that. As I slogged home with numbed ankles, I didn't feel a thing until I got home and got my cold and wet duds off of me. I was ordered to the bathtub to warm up and there I sat with G.I. Joe # 1, feeling like I'd netted the biggest prize of all-time. Too bad # 1 issues don't feel like that anymore.
Listenin' to: Blur - Parklife
Monday, March 3, 2014
Now live at Blabbermouth, my reviews of the latest albums from The Pretty Reckless, Reverend Horton Heat, Red Fang, Iced Earth, Sierra, Michael Schenker's Temple of Rock, Axel Rudi Pell, De La Tierra, Chastain, Sunn O))) & Ulver, Sammal, Omnivore, Trench Rot, Junius, Eye of Solitude, Mantar, Varga, Starsoup, Dead, White & Blue, Oruga, Blacklist Union, Indian, (We All Die Laughing), Soul Remnants, the reissue of Ronnie Montrose's Bearings and Concert for Ronnie Montrose DVD.
Listenin' to: Uriah Heep - Demons and Wizards
Saturday, March 1, 2014
Friday, February 28, 2014
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Taking on a major project by yourself takes guts. It also takes a lot more from you and out of you, as I learned when I attempted to launch my own digital magazine, Retaliate, in 2010.
I'd spent the previous seven years knocking myself out working my way up through the tiers of music and film journalism and I'd been writing simultaneously for numerous magazines and websites. With the transition in media toward the digital age, I found myself, along with my colleagues, dropped to the bricks as the trad print mags were sadly folding, one-by-one.
It was a very difficult and upsetting thing for me to digest since one, a lot of my secondary income was tied into my freelancing work for those rags, especially once I became a new father when we adopted my little guy. I'd already learned to fight for work, having been downsized from the mortgage title industry on numerous occasions since the rollercoaster nature of that business dictates employment, naturally.
Nonetheless, as I found myself being courted by loads of websites who couldn't afford to pay me, I nearly bowed out of media journalism, since my attempts to coax the editors of the few remaining big dog mags and newspapers were met with frustration. So too was the fate of many of my peers since those periodicals still hanging on were well-fortified with staffers and freelancers already.
As I turned to beat reporting for a local newspaper and also some field data collection for Patch.com, I got the idea that maybe I should take on the digital realm and begin my own venture. I had all the industry contacts I needed to get launched, so why the hell not?
To this day, I still thank every publicist and record label who got on board with me when I proposed to launch Retaliate, a digital magazine focused on heavy metal, punk rock, hard and classic rock and horror films. By now, it's been proven that horror and heavy music are natural bed partners, which I've said since the eighties. It was a winning concept my industry friends and my guests all believed in.
I deemed myself Editor-in-Chief and recalling my time as Assistant Editor on my college newspaper, Spectrum, I used my old layout techniques and learned to apply them in a digital format. Just this part of the process took a bit of time to refine before I began the months-intensive succession in assembling my debut issue.
Wearing multiple hats, I took on every aspect in making Retaliate a reality. I booked and conducted every interview. I fielded the music reviews. I did the live photography and used supplemental press photos from the labels. I laid it all out and banged my head against my desk when the pages wouldn't merge in succession, then rejoiced when they finally did. Outside of the cover fonts and logo, which I owe to my dear friend, Sheila Eggenberger, everything was done my me. I sometimes bounced my son on my knee while I edited my articles and told him I was going to do something big for our family.
I engaged a partner, who was going to handle online production and distribution. By the time I was ready to release Retaliate # 1 with a test price of $2.50 per download, I was already finding hints of gray on my head. Nonetheless, I'd assembled a hell of a guest list for Retaliate #1: Marky Ramone, Dave Lombardo from Slayer, Jacoby Shaddix from Papa Roach, Stevie Benton from Drowning Pool, Richard Patrick of Filter, Chris Adler from Lamb of God, Wolf Hoffmann of Accept, Jim Gustafson of Poobah, former Overkill drummer Rat Skates, Nick Cantanese, formerly of Black Label Society, Steve Von Till of Neurosis, Alexx Calisse and others. I had esteemed horror directors Mick Garris and Adam Green on board for my "Van of the Dead" horror section. It was gold.
I took to the pre-launch campaign trail and staged some goofy intro photos with me pimping Retaliate. One has me standing amidst a flurry of political candidate placards with my own stating "RETALIATE FOR READERSHIP." Another one has me dressed up as Pinhead from Hellraiser hitchhiking along an interstate with a sign stating "RETALIATE OR BUST." These photos were sent to all of my press contacts and I was offered publicity services from a few firms out there. I wanted to get the first issue running and then take them up on it to implement my marketing plan.
I'd spent many months hitting concerts to gather my live photos, going backstage for interviews and taking phone calls at ungodly hours to conduct chats with those who I couldn't connect with on the road. I was giddy beyond words through the whole thing, though, most especially when Marky Ramone and I kept playing phone tag with bad connections on our cells. I hightailed it back to my work office at the time and begged the use of their phone to get it done with Marky. As a Ramones freak, it was one of the most gratifying interviews I've ever done.
I could spend the rest of this post gabbing about the wonderful interviews I had for Retaliate # 1. I won't forget Adam Green getting on a roll about the production of his film, Frozen, and him generously asking me if he could call back because he had plenty more to talk about. He kept his word. On the nuttier side of things, my interview with Dave Lombardo was completely insane as I waited for my liaison to come get me, which was pretty danged long. I was scheduled to photograph Slayer and Anthrax's sets at the Baltimore Arena and by the time I was finally brought back to Lombardo on Slayer's bus, I was given five minutes. We did a lightning round that I think left both us dizzy afterwards. Dave's a gentleman, and I'm sorry to see what's happened in the Slayer camp since I've also had an amazing chat with Tom Araya in the past.
I'll never forget seeing the late Jeff Hanneman lounging on Slayer's bus and jamming to Zeppelin with a hundred lit candles around him. We said hello to each other in passing and that still strikes me today now that Jeff has passed. Afterwards, I had to blitz and navigate my way from the loading docks to the rear of the stage in the arena and bolt into the photo pit as Anthrax began their set. It's something you can't necessarily put into words, but it was a huge rush, disorganized as that night ended up being, but that's rock 'n roll for you.
Running into Stevie Benton of Drowning Pool a week after we'd interviewed in the photo pit of Godsmack was a kick and Stevie was cool enough to get a photo with me. I'd done phoners with Benton, Jacoby Shaddix of Papa Roach and Adam Green back-to-back, another chaotic but wonderful night of the Retaliate cycle.
And then reality struck.
As I was ready to hand over my work to my partner upon execution of a formal business agreement, the guy flaked out on me. No response, no further communication. I had to find out from a mutual friend he'd blown our little enterprise off despite his enthusiasm by my progress. In scrambling mode, I found another party who expressed interest but once again, those overtures fizzled out. I attempted to pitch on Kickstarter and was shot down. I then opened ties with one of my guests and we nearly got it off the ground together, but his prior commitments took precedence and by that time, my material was in danger of being too old to be marketable. Besides, the true reality of things is that nobody wants to pay for what they get for free everywhere else on the web, regardless of product quality.
With gnashed teeth and a heavy heart, I decided to throw the pages of Retaliate onto my site, The Metal Minute for free. I'd won an award from Metal Hammer at that blog, so it made sense, particularly as a commitment to everyone who participated in my endeavor.
To be honest, the entire experience ragged me out and I was in the throes of fatherhood anyway. Thus I pulled the plug on Retaliate, even as I received a nice outpouring of support from the industry. I'd had high hopes, as the song goes, but it takes more than a mere man these days to accomplish anything of significance. Retaliate was and still is my baby and I look at those pages with tremendous pride and gratitude toward the musicians, directors, publicists and labels who gave me their time. I thank them all for the crazy adventure that was Retaliate. At least it was an indirect path to landing with Blabbermouth.
All photos and pages (c) Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Listenin' to: Devo - Duty Now For the Future
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
In 2009, I was invited out to the reunion gig of punk legends, Naked Raygun. I won't ever forget that night since I went with a buddy of mine and we ended up seeing many of the figureheads of the halcyon DC straight edge scene from the eighties in attendance. I met Government Issue vocalist John Stabb and one of these days, he and I have a sitdown planned that we need to freakin' book already.
Prior to Naked Raygun's set, Philly hardcore revivalists Paint it Black took the stage and ripped Baltimore's Ottobar to shreds. Think I'm overexaggerating? I've got the visual documentation here. A few of the pictures I got of Paint it Black's set made it into AMP magazine after I'd told their editor I'd fought the trenches and peeled off one of my personal best live photo shoots. Many of these photos feature animated vocalist Dan Yemin losing his shit, but hopefully I captured these guys in their rawest form. There are no photo bit barriers at the Ottobar, so I took a hell of a beating hanging front and center against the stage and nearly had my camera batted away a few times from all the rolling, jumping, moshing and pounding of the crowd at my back.
I'm long retired from the pit, ironically having gotten my first crack at slamming at a Government Issue show in 1987, which I discussed with Stabb after the Paint it Black shoot. Many of these shots are appearing for the first time from my archives. I hope you enjoy them. My back and shoulders are still smarting just looking at these shots, but I'm glad to have hung tough and snapped them off.
Photos (c) Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Listenin' to: Gorillaz - Demon Days