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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."

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Skippers 'n Snakes at Stones River Battlefield, Murfreesboro, Tennessee

From age 10 through my mid-twenties, I was a pretty serious Civil War buff.  My folks would drive me to numerous battlefields within reach of the mid-Atlantic and I'd always thirsted to venture further the more sites I saw.  I live in close in proximity to Gettysburg, the pivotal theater of the conflict, and frequently hike up there or drive around with my son to clear my head or to climb the rocks at Devil's Den and Little Round Top.  It also happens I have a great-great-grandfather and great-great-uncle who fought for the Union Army at Gettysburg, so I continue to be drawn to the Civil War, though my schedule hardly allows me to delve deeper than I get to.

In my recent travels, we spent a lot of time driving around in preparation of my brother-in-law's wedding, and there wasn't a lot of time initially to do much sightseeing, considering I was in a hotbed of Civil War action.  Fortunately, luck presented itself when my wife took my mother-in-law to get her fingernails done and I'd spotted the entrance to Stones River Battlefield, scene of a three day outbreak where Union Major General William S. Rosecrans took on Confederate General Braxton Bragg's troops in a bloody affair.  Historians consider the outcome of the Battle of Stones River inconclusive or a draw, but the end result found the rebel army in retreat of its foes after hostilities ended at the field on January 2, 1863.

If you're a parent, you no doubt know what it's like to take a young child on a long haul trip, one initially filled with zero fun and lots of grown-up responsibilities.  I like to brag on my son since he rolls with the punches when it comes to being dragged about for family business.  Still, I could detect his fading spirits and growing desperation for some sort of energy release the longer we ran from one task to another throughout Nashville, Franklin and Murfreesboro.  I knew from my studies that there was a great likelihood of crossing into one of the scenes of the many skirmishes and battles that raged throughout Tennessee and admittedly, I too was suffering a severe case of wanderlust.

Thus me and the boyo let the ladies do their thing and we ventured off to Stones River in search of a quick-fix adventure.  I knew with a body of water, the opportunity to throw and skip rocks would be the most appealing proposal to my son at that point of the trip.  As for me, I was finally getting to see a deep Southern battlefield after all those years of tramping in Yankee and northern Virginia territories.  Call it a win-win.

Despite the bees that terrorized my kid at first, he eventually got with the program and began asking me about the Civil War.  After correcting him that war is not cool, despite how it looks to young eyes, we tramped about the premises.  I read a marker that talked about a nighttime ceasefire between the armies that found the Union soldiers playing "Hail, Columbia" and "Yankee Doodle," with the Army of Tennessee countering them with "Dixie" and "The Bonnie Blue Flag."  Before turning into a pissing match of ballads, someone kicked up "Home Sweet Home" (not the Motley Crue version, obviously) and both armies laid down their differences for a brief moment to sing the tune in unison.  That was the only cool thing I could say about war, I told my son.

With my son finally starting to relax, I found a weathered path to the river to guide him to and as expected, he asked me if he could throw some rocks into the water.  With a firm smile, I told him "absolutely," and thus we had at it, pelting the gurgling river with everything we could scoop from the banks without tumbling into the drink.  I'd shown him how to skip rocks many times in our hiking travels, and once again, he got the bug to mimic me. 

Not satisfied until I'd gone as far as I dared without getting us lost in a state I knew very little about, I guided us along the river's edge while my son tried to no avail to replicate my skippers.  In the past, he'd grow pouty and frustrated when he couldn't complete them, but this time, he just gave a heavy sigh and did what most six-year-old boys would do in his case; he picked up a bundle of rocks and hurled them simultaneously into the water.  "Is that what the war here looked like, Dad?" he asked me after that and I responded, "Yeah, spot-on, my man."

And so we trailed along and I saw my son's curiosity growing more intense as the small cliffs grew more rugged.  I had that spark in his eye when I used to mountain climb in college without ropes.  I'm a lucky bastard to have survived my reckless scales back then and I felt a growing dread in the pit of my bowels, though I totally understood the escalating yearning inside my kid.  Then that dread turned into a full-fledged knot when I spotted something my son thought was a big branch on a rock beneath us.  "That's no branch, buddy," I whispered.

Slowly raising my camera, I took this shot of a brown snake and quietly ordered my son backwards after letting him look for a few seconds.  I'm no fan of snakes, to be honest, and this was as far as I cared to meet this guy, who was sunning himself.  We were the intruders, I reminded my son, as we slid back and got out of there, fist-bumping each other along the way.

We explored more of the battlefield after a cautious laugh from our encounter before heading back to get the ladies from the nail salon.  My son would talk about our confrontation with the snake to everyone at the wedding rehearsal and rehearsal dinner that evening.  I understood his transference of fear to enthusiasm since we'd gotten away without hassle from that snake, but when you're the parent, the fantastical allure becomes something altogether different and unsettling.  I found myself lifting a prayer of thanks that I hadn't put my son in real harm's way and now, I'm thankful for this one of many bonding experiences we've enjoyed together as father and son.

                 Listenin' to:  Grace Jones - Warm Leatherette

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Many, Many Miles to Memphis...Impressions of Graceland

So I just completed an eleven day trek that found me hitting Nashville, Memphis and Kansas City.  The trip was based upon the wedding of my brother-in-law and completed by a relaxing visit amongst friends.  There were seldom few moments to rest and I saw much in my travels, including a trip to the estate of The King of Rock 'n Roll, Elvis Presley.

If you really know your Elvis, you're familiar with the "TCB" acronym that followed his larger-than-life aura.  TCB was Elvis' slogan for "Taking Care of Business," and there's no denying the work ethic of the man.  The cat took care of his business, and then some.  Graceland is a testimony to wealth, fame and indulgence (particularly Elvis' car museum and the Lisa Marie jet airliner), but it's more a presentation of living like royalty with a grounded sense of modesty.  After all, Elvis was a renowned philanthropist aside from mega-entertainer.

Depending upon your outlook of life, Graceland is either a mecca or one of the biggest tourist traps you'll ever encounter.  With all due respect to Elvis, I consider Chuck Berry to be the true king of rock 'n roll, but there's no taking away from Elvis' vocal talent, charisma, wherewithal, dedication and above all, confidence as the first prestigious American rocker.  Thus I found Graceland, for all of the cash register ka-chings tolling in the back of my head on the opposite street of the mansion, to be a testament to the American dream.  Elvis is the quintessential rags-to-riches story lead, and thus, he is to be revered and celebrated, even if America at-large no longer stops to pause for his birth and death days as it once it did.  Those are just the times.

After the wedding festivities and long days of preparation, my family and I were drained.  We'd had a quick sojourn into downtown Nashville (that can hold for another post) and had already agreed to hit Graceland since we were in the area.  Now I'd been under the delusion that the distance between Nashville and Memphis was only about an hour-and-a-half tops.  Wrong.  With Elvis and Stray Cats tunes rolling down the long, three hour pike into Memphis, we finally arrived with a very squirmy six-year-old in desperate need of a bathroom.  Considering the boy was so good along our hefty travels, I'm not going to hold it against him.  Getting him attended to and our bellies stuffed at The Rock 'n Roll CafĂ©, I smirked at the adjacent Heartbreak Hotel, which is erected at the end of...you guessed it, Lonely Street.  Tres cool. 

A shuttle takes you across the street into Graceland, and in the meantime, I'd been observing how less stately the surroundings of the thoroughfare was.  Perhaps they were more golden during Elvis' time in life, or perhaps he'd chosen the less-than-regal spot to remain modest.  Either way, Graceland seems to be the only reason to truck down this downgraded portion of Memphis unless you're a local.

Nevertheless, with storm clouds rolling in, we jumped onto the shuttle and began our tour of the mansion.  You get an audio guide for your tour and I would suggest that if you visit, do not follow the group you're with, or you'll miss out on the nuances and subtleties of Elvis' wonderland.  Take your time.  No one inside will rush or pressure you.  Soak it up, absorb.  It's all a throwback to a mix of fifties and seventies architecture and interior modeling, and that'll either impress you or you'll find it a little tacky.  Me, I was engrossed from start-to-finish.

I'm not going to recap every room, but my favorites were the club basement that has three t.v.'s, a stereo, a bar, a wraparound sofa and a zany color structure between navy blue and yellow that's intimidating upon entry, but strangely welcoming once you get used to it.  Then how can anyone not be impressed by the jungle room with its man-made wall fountain?  Elvis reportedly loved the acoustics in that room since there's shag carpet on the floor and ceiling, thus he pulled recording equipment in and laid down many songs in the latter part of his career.

While the horse farm, the garage-converted-into-office and Elvis' vehicles are all quite impressive, what really stole my breath away was the labyrinth of gold records inside of his trophy room, followed by the shrine inside what was once his racquetball court.

I have to say I was feeling a bit emotional stepping into the former racquetball court and hearing on my audio guide that Elvis spent some of his remaining few hours in this life inside the adjacent lounge, playing music.  You step inside the racquetball building to find a pinball machine and incline exercise bench, followed by the comfy lounge area.  Once you put it all into perspective that the workaholic Elvis (who was, as far as I'm concerned, exploited by his manager, Colonel Parker) was spending his last moments doing what he loved, then the enormity of the lifetime achievement awards room that was once the racquetball court just sucker punches you.

With a handful of Elvis' seventies jumpsuits in display cases (including that bitchin' tiger suit I remember loving as a kid), the certified award records that rain from the ceiling on down will keep you glued there awhile.  I thought about the day Elvis died in 1977 (the same year Star Wars enchanted me as a kid and changed my life forever) and how the world around me seemed to stop, at least with the adults of our time.  It's comparable to and far more impactful than Michael Jackson's recent passing, though you had to be alive at the time of Elvis' passing to truly get it.  Jackson left this world with controversy behind his name.  While Elvis' death had speculative overtones to it, anyone who saw his rise to popularity will tell you, he represented all the danger elements of rock 'n roll while keeping true and retaining a nice guy image.  He opened the door for his peers and turned American music on its head.  Even better, he remained humble by recording gospel music in his time.

The truly jaded might call Graceland a pit of decadence, but considering all the joy Elvis gave his fans through his music, and to the world with his charitable contributions, the preservation of his legacy is just.  As you tour the mansion and the subsequent exhibits across the way, you'll be surrounded by Elvis tunes.  There's no escaping them.  If you're a fan, it's paradise.  If you're an employee, I'm sure it's purgatory.  If you're not so much a fan, it's still worth the excursion.  I only found offense by the price tag of $30.00 for CD packages, but overall, well-worth the experience.

As we drove back to Nashville under God's super soaker that turned into a four hour soggy retreat, I lingered happily upon our visit to Elvis' homestead.  The Vegas hall containing more of his circus-like costumes made them seem less silly than they appear in old footage of the King in his later days, particularly when you consider how many shows he did in such a short period of time.  They're lordly uniforms indicating a life well-lived and well-pushed to the edge.  Thus I would say Graceland is a mandatory pilgrimage, not only for rock 'n rollers, but also for those who value tangible proof that the common man can make it through perseverance.

All photos (c) Ray Van Horn, Jr.

           Listenin' to:  Gene Vincent - Capitol Collectors Series

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Ray's Latest Reviews at Blabbermouth

Please excuse the interruption in production here at The Crash Pad.  I've just returned from an exhausting but mostly excellent road trip through Nashville, Memphis and Kansas City.  Lots of goodies to come this week!  For now, here's a list of my latest onslaught of reviews for Blabbermouth:

Kyng, Edguy, Earth Crisis, Gojira, Hirax, KXM, Ringworm, Lionize, Grand Magus, Mekong Delta, Nothing, Cage the Gods, Holy Moses, Drawers, Tiger Flowers, Dinner Music for the Gods, Scars Divide, Darkentries, The Unsemble, Andi Deris and the Bad Bankers, Poobah, Viza, Leaf Hound, Riotgod, Jagged Vision, The Intersphere, Godhunter, Barishi, Kosmos, Spewtilator, Shroud of Despondency and Death of Kings.

Listenin' to:  Elvis Presley - Elvis is Back! / Something for Everybody Legacy Edition

Monday, April 14, 2014

Cool Comic o' the Week: Shotgun Wedding

Top Cow Comics is building themselves a hot streak.

Aside from the red-hot sales machine Batman Eternal # 1, which debuted this past week, Top Cow's miniseries from William Harms and Edward Pun, Shotgun Wedding, is April's other smoking gun comic, pun intended.

Like Batman Eternal, Shotgun Wedding is hitting readers in weekly doses, so be prepared to put aside a little extra bread in your comics budget for the month, because thus far through two issues, it's worth the indulgence.

The comics press is billing Shotgun Wedding as a cross between Kill Bill and Mr. and Mrs. Smith.  You might as well throw True Lies into it if you must compare this four-issue mini to Hollywood action blockbusters.  Midway through the issues released so far, Shotgun Wedding most resembles Mr. and Mrs. Smith.   However, William Harms goes an extra step with his blazing plot. 

The story focuses on a pair of assassins, Mike and Chloe, who were once engaged.  Summarizing half of the storyline, Chloe had saved Mike's life in the past after a hit that went wrong in Antalya, Turkey.  Chloe makes a deal with her sicko mark to free Mike from a sure death.   While Harms bops around between past and present modes of his quick-paced story, we know at this point Mike has jilted Chloe at the altar and moved on to a new life and a new love, Denise, whom he is betrothed to.  Obviously, Denise has no clue Mike's a hit man by profession.

Chloe has tracked Mike down and to this point, we know she is out for vengeance against her former lover.  We also know she's a loose cannon, prone to psychopathic behavior beyond the scope of her performance as a black ops specialist.  Mike appears to kill out a sense of duty, while William Harms leads us to believe Chloe gets off on the art of killing. 

Thus the stage is set with Mike and Denise's upcoming wedding for an assumedly brutal dĂ©nouement. 

The black and white art by Edward Pun makes Shotgun Wedding nearly as gritty as Sin City minus Frank Miller's stone washing effects that made the latter series more pulp versus noir, which Shotgun Wedding treads close toward without feeling smoky nor overtly sexual.  Still, there's plenty of pulp interplay in this story and there's an escalating sense of twisted tragedy in William Harms' tale that has already claimed lives and suggests further bloodshed yet to fling across the most sensitive areas of his plot. 

Shotgun Wedding stomps like a beast and is nearly within the genius of Ed Brubaker's Fatale, giving Top Cow and Image Comics, by attrition, something else to brag about.

Listenin' to:  Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention - Freak Out!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

You Know What Rick James Would've Said...

"And when I'm feeling low, she comes as no surprise, turns me on with her love, takes me to paradise...now do you love me, Mary Jane?"

K, so maybe Rick James was singing about pot using sex as metaphor.  Semantics.

Definitely not the Spiderman I grew up with, but sometimes you have to give way to progress.

Listenin' to:  The Chieftains with Roger Daltrey and Nanci Griffith:  An Irish Evening:  Live at the Grand Opera House, Belfast

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Ray is the Host of "Comic Books," a New Forum at ReadWave

I have been approached by the editors at ReadWave to open a new forum entitled "Comic Books."  The theme should be self-explanatory, of course.  I'll be posting regular articles promoting current and back issues and things related to the comics medium.  I invite you to join the fun.  Do you have comic art you want to show the world?  Do you have memoirs, nostalgia, critiques, lists or anything you want to discuss about comics that can be laid down within 800 words?  Hit me up.

I've kicked off this forum with "My First Comic Book:  Marvel Team-Up # 72, August, 1978."  Here's a link to the piece at "Comic Books."  Hope ya'll dig and perhaps feel inclined to participate. 



            Listenin' to:  Babatunde Olatunji - Drums of Passion

Monday, April 7, 2014

First Hike of the Year

This was one of the fastest-paced weekends I've had in ages where I caught up with lots of friends and family and dropped on my face by Sunday night.  Friday night I attended the Y&T show at Baltimore Soundstage with friends and then I made some new pals as well, and not just mere "show buddies," it appears.  Dave Meniketti and company are so freakin' tight after 40 years and still have tremendous passion onstage, cheers to those guys.  It was a great night filled with loads of laughs and loud music.

In-between visiting family members throughout the rest of the weekend, I got in the year's first hike with the wife, the kid and our very dear friends who we've sadly neglected due to our insane schedules.  In the morning, I'd taken a quick mini-hike to drop in on a caged (due to injury) bald eagle in our area whom I visit routinely.  Later in the day, we hit a portion of the extensive Gunpowder Trail, which spans an entire county.  Hiking is therapy for me and I was glad to have extra company this time. 

Even though Mother Nature betrayed us again by dumping winds and lower temperatures than originally forecasted, it was at least sunny and snow-less.  We were treated to a pristine view of the river that's normally blocked by heavy vegetation and has yet to grow out due to the long winter.  Here are a few shots for fun.  Enjoy.

Photos (c) Ray Van Horn, Jr.

                       Listenin' to:  Peter Murphy - Cascade

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Most "Blab" Worthy Album of the Prior Month

Having come to the end of another round of reviews for Blabbermouth this past month, out of the twenty completed, I hit a stride of fascinating and wonderful albums, all in a row.  The new Earth Crisis album Salvation of Innocents reclaims their mantle as American hardcore sovereigns and the pro-animal rights icons have a tie-in comic book to boast, Liberator, as well.  You know that strikes my fancy off-the-bat.  Then there's sludge mongers Kyng, who are right there along with Red Fang as the most exciting thing in American metal these days with their latest album, Burn the Serum.  Veteran German prog-thrashers Mekong Delta continue to impress as the years roll on with their latest mind-melting slab, In a Mirror Darkly.

However, the album that devastated me last month was Philadelphia noise punkers Nothing and their astonishing homage to My Bloody Valentine, Guilty of Everything.  A snippet of that review:

"If you think Philadelphia’s NOTHING sounds more than a bit like MY BLOODY VALENTINE, it’s no coincidence.  Founding member Domenic Palermo (vocals/guitars) has quite a sordid story to tell, which includes MY BLOODY VALENTINE’s “Loveless” album as its hypothetical soundtrack.  Prior to forming NOTHING, Palermo haunted the tough streets of Kensington, Philadelphia, at one time running drugs and guns while performing in hardcore acts XO SKELETON and HORROR SHOW.  Eventually crime caught up with Palermo, as he served time in prison on an aggravated assault and attempted murder charge following a knife fight.  Judging by the cathartic brilliance of NOTHING’s debut album “Guilty of Everything,” Palermo found introspection which leads to an emotive last grasp at music upon his re-entry into society.

While “Guilty of Everything” is hardly a metal album from the metal-minded Relapse Records, it is a stunning, American punk-minded interpretation of MY BLOODY VALENTINE.  “Guilty of Everything” is a stark, ether-filled shoegazing experience based on genuine feelings and angst, the way emo should have been following RITES OF SPRING eons ago.  What Domenic Palermo and his NOTHING tribe have accomplished on “Guilty of Everything” is delivering a soul-scarred sound of penance.  It’s elegant even with its frequent slow processes and distortion yowls; even more so, because NOTHING reaches out to a desperate audience, mutually in need of empathy and acceptance. 

Sin comes to bathe in the font of NOTHING’s sonic fineries and their breathy, collapsing vocal swells.  While much of this album carries a beleaguered feeling of remorse, the contrasting upbeat title track wraps the album with a full sense of closure.  As “Guilty of Everything” opens with the frail and soul-torn murmurs of “Hymn to the Pillory,” the distortion plugs grow denser on the sullen yet melodic “Dig.”  With each successive bar of “Dig,” the heavy drags are brought to a climax with heaped-on guitar parts that add to its evocative allure."
Stay tuned for the full review in due time at Blabbermouth. 

                 Listenin' to:  Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Cool Comic o' the Week: Captain America # 303

In honor of Captain America:  The Winter Soldier, which just hit theaters yesterday, I was riffling through my back issues of Cap and settled on issue # 303 from March, 1985.  Ah, to be 15 again, when I got this book at a local comic shop that was then the size of a warehouse and at one time, a local institution, Geppi's Comics. 

But I digress.  In this story, Cap and the third "Bucky," (Jack Monroe) who has long been running around at this point in the series as Steve Rogers' former alter-identity, Nomad (you got all that, folks?) are trailing after a trio of multicultural mercs (Batroc the Leaper, Machete and Zaran) who have stolen Captain America's shield and have sold it to a megalomaniac at a ballistics and metallurgy manufacturer, Stane, International.  The eighties were a flourishing period for megalomaniacs, mind you.  As impervious as Captain America's shield is, it's no surprise Stane, International turned to guns-for-hire to swipe the prized shield in order to copy its impenetrable alloy.

Nomad, trying to prove his worth as not just another sidekick, splits up from Cap to cover more ground in search of the shield.  Consider this mostly subplot.  Steve Rogers' trail leads to a very drunk Batroc, who begins shooting his mouth off to his comrades that he can beat Captain America and that he is the superior of all the three heavies.  Zaran and Machete challenge Batroc to a bet and here we have the story's cool twist.  After mopping up Batroc a few rounds in front Machete and Zaran, who are laughing their fool heads off, Cap gets the idea to give Batroc one good shot on him in exchange for information leading to his shield. 

Making good on his promise once Batroc spills it, Cap takes a pretty hard flying kick from Batroc to square up their deal.  Right after Machete and Zaran believe to have lost their wager with Batroc, Cap is back on his feet and he knocks Batroc cold.  The bad guy triad quickly disseminates as Machete and Zaran collect their winnings off of the unconscious Batroc before hightailing it with the story break coming as Cap vows to get his shield back.

Today, comic books are, by and large, so bloody serious.  It's just the times we live in and the stories call for deeper sophistication, so the books adjust accordingly.  However, a simplistic and frankly, hilarious, self-contained tale (still as part of an unwinding master plot) such as "Double Dare" in Captain America # 303 hits the spot like morning jove.  Writer Michael Carlin obviously had a great time on his stint with Cap and I can only imagine what he might think of the pair of new Captain America films, considering the two pathetic attempts to film Cap in the eighties are as forgettable as the Dolph Lundgren Punisher film from 1989.

I began reading comic books in the mid-seventies and a decade later, this is the kind of caped culinary savoir faire I was weaned on.  The writing in comics today is so off-the-chart, but "Double Dare" puts me smack into my teenaged bedroom, with echoes of Iron Maiden in my ears as I first read this issue and subsequently, one of the many Conan the Barbarian pulp novels I devoured like Cheetos and birch beer.  Glory days, I tell ya...

Note:  Stand by for an announcement later in the upcoming week regarding my new appointment at ReadWave as host of a comic book-themed section...  

   Listenin' to:  Roger Waters - The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking

Friday, April 4, 2014

Comic Book Reading Spot of the Week

Finally, a break in this damned weather.  Shorts time!  I should be keeping a better eye on Hulk around my stash, though.

                     Listenin' to:  Meat Beat Manifesto - 99%