Friday, July 31, 2009

Friday Night Videos

Haven't had any British reggae bands featured here in a while. Will correct this oversight with Musical Youth's "Pass the Dutchie." It makes no sense, but heck, it's goofy fun. For the longest time I continually confused Musical Youth with Sonic Youth. There was some dissonance there, yeah.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Vapors.

Now Playing: Dave Davies Unfinished Business

Thursday, July 30, 2009

So, the tables are turned, Mr. Bond

I got interviewed today. By a student. About the Chicken Ranch. It was quite a surreal moment, since I've been scouring the interwebs and old academic journals for interviews and articles written by students about the Chicken Ranch decades ago. And now here I am on the opposite end of one. I'm not entirely sure what the thrust of the assignment is--it's for a "Writing for Mass Media" course, but we didn't discuss writing so much as research and motivation. I expect I'll have a few more phone conversations with her before all is said and done.

Were I a sympathetic sort, I'd almost feel sorry for the student. I'm not one to offer self-contained, compact answers. I ramble and veer off into tangents and leap from here to there and back again, sometimes forgetting the original question. I do believe I buried her under a flood of information that was much greater in volume than she was expecting.

Here's hoping I'm the subject of many more interviews before all is said and done.

Now Playing: Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass Lost Treasures


For some utterly unfathomable reason, the Blogger interface has taken to automatically converting my blog titles and labels into Farsi, or Sanskrit or some other non-western alphabet that I don't recognize, much less read. What the hell is up with that? Anyone have a clue?

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Progress and setbacks

Two phone interviews in the bag tonight. One was a do-over from the botched effort Monday. She was a very good sport about it, and tickled that I knew there was a Chicken Ranch restaurant in Dallas on Greenville. We only talked for 15 minutes or so, but with the notes I took from our previous conversation, I have everything I need for that angle.

The second interview, well, it was Dickensian in that best-of-times/worst-of-times way. This was the author of a journal paper on the Chicken Ranch from the early '70s, one that cited extensive interviews (sensing deja vu here?). Unfortunately, all of the interviews, transcripts and accompanying research matter was lost in a house fire in September of last year. My timing is spectacular. I can't even begin to fathom her loss, but that doesn't stop me from bemoaning the lost opportunity. Fortunately, she had spent a great deal of time at the Chicken Ranch herself, and was more than willing to be interviewed about her experiences as an observer. She gave me some good material, and validated some things I'd gotten from other sources. Not a bad "making lemonade" moment. The gaps are slowly filling in, bit by bit.

Now Playing:


The Wife and I watched the fourth-season DVD of the British sitcom "Coupling" finally. Since there were only six episodes, it was a quick watch. And yes, it was nowhere near as funny as the first three seasons. The departure of the actor who played Jeff seems to have thrown the writers off their game. The introduction of Oliver, a character obviously intended to fill the Jeff role yet not be Jeff verbatim was awkward. There was a great deal of "trying too hard" which wasn't evident in earlier episodes. A better course would've been to cast an actor radically different in appearance and personality, and really work to differentiate the two rather than go the dovetail route. Jane was also softened up immensely, and made much more philosophical, which undercuts her gloriously acid-tongued, oblivious persona.

Still, there were worthwhile elements worth watching. The show was still funny, simply not gut-busting hilarious. The final scene was a wonderful way to end the series as well. Worth a look, as long as you know what to expect.

Now Playing: Ray Charles Ultimate Hits Collection

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The all-consuming

Loyal readers may (or may not, as the case may be) have noticed an irregularity and sparsity of blogging from myself of late. This is due to the utter and complete takeover of my every waking moment by the Chicken Ranch project. Didn't see that coming, did you?

Right. So I'm consistently and persistently giving myself bouts of nausea whilst poring through old newspapers on microfilm (you who've done this in the past know of what I speak), tracking down obscure academic journal articles and screaming out in anguish when I discover relevant interviews have long since been destroyed and discarded. Oh, and I'm also beating the bushes for interview subjects and cajoling them to sit down with me for hours at a time for first-hand interviews of my own. Busy doesn't begin to describe it.

I have this paranoia about falling short in this project, producing a book that people say, "It was okay, but it didn't really address X." Everyone knows the general story of the Chicken Ranch thanks to "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," but the play/movie bears as much resemblance to the actual events of 1973 as "Inherit the Wind" does to the original Scopes Monkey Trial. That is, there's a lot of creative license. What's more, with the Chicken Ranch, there's a tremendous amount of folklore and stories about the place that is taken as fact by Texans with little evidence to either prove or disprove said assertions. Try asking Darryl Royal if he took his football team to celebrate at the Chicken Ranch after the Thanksgiving game for close to 20 consecutive years. Try it. I'll wait.

But, by golly, I've made progress. Particularly in the past couple of weeks. The book outline and annotated chapter summary is nearly complete. This is a monumental accomplishment for me, as outlining is not something that comes naturally to me. In this case, there is so much raw information, so many sources, that I simply didn't have a choice. But that's nearly done, and with it, the final, formal, book proposal. This is what I'll be sending to agents to get them to rep me and land a publishing contract for tens of thousands of dollars and solve my financial worries for all time when HBO options said book after a fierce bidding war against Showtime for an ongoing series produced by the same folks that do "Friday Night Lights." That's my plan, and I'm sticking to it.

The one small thing that remains to do is write a sample chapter to include with the proposal. With as sparse a track record as I have--particularly in the realm of historical non-fiction--there's no way around it. Speculative fiction short stories don't equate, and although Voices of Vision gives me some degree of credibility, a collection of reviews isn't quite the same. The sample chapter has been a major concern of mine, because while I have tremendous amounts of research material hoarded, most chapters have significant gaps that need filling in (ie more research) before I can comfortably work on them. Then, last night as I was laying down in bed around 2 a.m. in a futile attempt to get some rest, I had a minor epiphany. I knew which chapter I could write, should write: Chapter 11: Hell To Pay. On reflection, it's the perfect sample chapter, covering the over-the-top events immediately following the closing of the Chicken Ranch which kept the story in the news for another year when otherwise it would've faded into history. The inevitable clash between Sheriff Flournoy and Marvin Zindler is the stuff of legend. I have interview subjects who witnessed it first hand, and helped pick up the pieces afterwards. There are readily available media accounts. There are lawsuits and countersuits. It's generally a well-known story, both through the distorted mirror of the stage play and also through Texas folklore. It doesn't need additional context to work. I get to introduce some new information to the story that isn't necessarily earth-shaking, but still presents a fuller picture of what actually happened. And, to top it off, it's damn funny.

The plan is to hammer out the sample chapter throughout the month of August so that the entire package is ready to be sent out in early September. Allowing for the variances of the U.S. mail and agent negotiations, I expect to be rich by spring.

That's my plan, and I'm sticking to it.

Now Playing: Andean Fusion Sonidos Andios Para el Mundo

Monday, July 27, 2009

A sign! A sign!

This weekend we were visiting relatives, both mine and The Wife's. On the way from one to the other, we passed through La Grange, close enough to the site of the old Chicken Ranch that I could've seen the ruins had trees not blocked the view. I remarked to The Wife that the book project really has taken complete hold of me, since we all I could think as we passed through Fayette County was that I was missing a great opportunity for more research.

Upon arrival at Bastrop, my mother-in-law tells us we're just in time, because "Your movie is playing on TV." Sure enough, there's Burt and Dolly haming it up in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. We watch Charles Durning hoof his way through "The Sidestep" and then enjoy the sublime "Hard Candy Christmas" (even though the women are waaaay over-dressed). The Wife and I both bolt when Dolly delivers her old "I Will Always Love You" chestnut to Burt while standing stock-still. Great song, but it's awful being shoe-horned into this movie.

On the way home, The Wife turns on the radio and ZZ Top's "La Grange" is playing. When we get home, we find that The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is airing again. I missed the Watchdog report, but did catch "The Aggie Song," which never fails to crack me up. The Wife looked at me and said, "It's a sign."

Well, yeah. We can be fairly confident now that the pop culture gods of blues-rock and goofy music musicals want this book written. Beyond that, I'm not willing to venture.

Now Playing: Johann Sebastian Bach Romantic Moments vol. 8

Friday, July 24, 2009

Friday Night Videos

The Vapors, with "Turning Japanese." When they got to the U.S., they were asked if the rumor that the song is really about masturbation was true. It wasn't, but they immediately recognized the marketing potential of controversy and did nothing to put the rumor to rest. Utter brilliance. Utter nonsense as well, but how do you argue with genius?

Previously on Friday Night Videos... David Bowie and Queen.

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Missions Unknown!

The lovely and talented John Picacio has conducted an interview with yours truly, and the resulting morass of random thoughts, odd tangents and non-sequiturs is now live for the world to see over at Missions Unknown. There are goofy pictures of me accompanying the write-up, so everybody can point and laugh.

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missions unknown, john picacio

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Crushing blow

Well, it's not that bad, but it feels like the end of the world to me right at this moment. I'll get over it, but damn.

I found an article on the Chicken Ranch. A great article. In a historical journal, very well-written and thoroughly researched, documented with footnotes and everything else a researcher like myself could ask for. A significant portion of the article referenced interviews conducted with local folks in La Grange in the late 1970s, interviews which--judging from the fleeting references in the article--fill in significant gaps in my own research. Sure, a bunch of the interviews are anonymous, but even so, they're valuable as such. So I track down the author and fire off an email, asking how I can get access to the tapes and/or transcripts.

The response is apologetic, but tells me that since the majority of the interviews were anonymous, nobody saw any value in them and they were subsequently thrown away.

Can somebody tell me how, for the love of Pete, you can footnote something to a specific source, then destroy that said source so it can't be referenced? From my vantage point, there's precious little difference between that and simply making stuff up.

Egads, I think I'm going to throw up.

Now Playing: Rush Chronicles

Monday, July 20, 2009

Space: Still the Final Frontier

Today is the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing. Armstrong and Aldrin landed the Eagle on the Sea of Tranquility as Collins orbited above, and history was made. You know this already. The intrawebs are geeking out on Apollo nostalgia and is seems that ever television network and cable channel is trying to out-moon the others with their programming. I see this as a good thing.

I've never lived in a world where humans hadn't set foot on the moon. The Wife was entirely too gleeful in point out this morning that my 40th is fast approaching as well. So be it. My childhood dreams of becoming an astronaut fell by the wayside during my high school years once I was about to understand the practical improbability of such a career path (astronauts have to be good at math, for starters, and I'm double-plus-ungood when it comes to numbers) so I've contented myself with being an active fan of the space program and sometime science fiction author. I probably could've done better, but all in all it's not a bad deal.

Oh, happy 33rd anniversary of the Viking 1 Mars landing.

I met Buzz Aldrin once. Early in our marriage, The Wife and I spent a weekend in Galveston and stopped off at the recently-opened "Space Center Houston" on the way. In the gift shop, quite unexpectedly, we came across Aldrin signing copies of his new SF book, Encounter with Tiber. I had several non-fiction books by Aldrin at home, and was kicking myself for not bringing them. But I bought Tiber and had him sign it, simply so The Wife could take my picture with him. I have to admit that I've never gotten very excited with the various authors, actors and other celebrities I've met in my life, but I was in full-on geek-out mode with Aldrin. Astronauts do that to me.

I live in the same town as former Apollo astronaut Charlie Duke. I've driven by his house many times. Were he a writer, I'd have stopped to introduce myself long ago. As it is, I'm far too intimidated. I've never met the man. I hope to, someday, but I don't think I'll ever be able to do it on my own. Rock stars, indeed.

Happy 40th.

Now Playing: Sheryl Crow C'mon C'mon

Friday, July 17, 2009

Friday Night Videos

How about some Bowie and Queen? The video's a bit odd, but you can't top "Under Pressure." Fantastic tune.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Lindsay Buckingham.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Friday Night Videos

A little last minute with this week's installment of Friday Night Videos, but considering the fact we just rolled back into town earlier today from this year's "The Blaschkes Do The Griswolds" vacation road trip event, I think I'm doing pretty good. Nothing quite as spectacularly quixotic as the cruise down to the Yucatan last year, or the insane road trip to St. Louis the year before that. Just a tour of the Texas coast this time around, culminating with us poking through the rubble of what's left of Galveston (the Balinese is gone with nary a trace, the Flagship hotel is tottering on its last legs, but the good news is that Shrimp & Stuff is back in business! Yum!). Anyhoo, in light of the whole vacation thing, I can't think of a video selection more apropos than Lindsay Buckingham's "Holiday Road." Enjoy.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Johnny Paycheck.

Now Playing: Original Broadway Cast Monty Python's Spamalot

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Secret Diary of a Call Girl: Season 2

The Wife and I watched the first disc of Secret Diary of a Call Girl: Season 2 last night. I have to say I was underwhelmed. Gone was the carefree, sexy sass of the first season. Instead, the producers seemed to think Belle needed to be "humanized," which translates into much melodramatic angst and bemoaning the fact she can't have a romantic relationship while maintaining her call girl career. Which is utter B.S. as anyone who ever read Belle De Jour's blog or her subsequent book can attest. It's like the producers decided that they were contractually obligated to veer 180 degrees from the source material or something. They even gave Belle a wacky, novice prostitute sidekick who stirs up all sorts of trouble each episode. It's hard to watch, actually. It's as if the Brits realized they had a quirky, unique show on their hands and panicked, importing a load of Hollywood cliches in an attempt to mainstream the series.

Honestly, Billie Piper's endearing portrayal of Belle (when she's not being guilt-ridden and angsty) is the only thing keeping my attention. Except that even Piper is problematic. Not to be a complainer, but both myself and The Wife noticed immediately that she'd put on a few pounds during the off-season. Which isn't bad unto itself, since she's still attractive. But the producers are going out of their way to hide it in true Hollywood fashion by dressing her in baggy shirts and unflattering outfits at every turn. And they're using body doubles--lots and lots of body doubles, in painfully obvious ways every time even a little bit of skin is called for in the script. It's amateur night, and they're serving fist of ham.

I'll stick with it for now, but this first disc is a decided letdown from the fun of season 1.

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Friday, July 03, 2009

Friday Night Videos: Sarah Palin edition

Self-explanatory. :-)

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Dave Brubeck Quartet.

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Nothing to Hide

Okay, this must be a whole ad campaign from Air New Zealand, because I just found this "Nothing to Hide" video which is more inventive and makes good use of their body painted crew:

I love this. Makes me want to fly down to Wellington or Auckland...

Now Playing: Various Classical Masterpieces vol. 2

The Bare Essentials of Safety

Being a fan of body paint, and to a lesser degree New Zealand, I'm more than a little amused by this safety video produced by Air New Zealand which features crew members going through the step-by-step of flight safety procedures wearing nothing but painted-on uniforms:

Sadly, the video never shows a full-body shot (which is kind of the whole purpose of body paint, no? To present the illusion of being covered without actually being so?). I suppose the whole concept of the video was risque enough as it was for general consumption, but still, I dearly hope they took a good amount of professional, promotional photographs of the made-up crew. Considering the time involved in applying the paint to this degree (and I wonder if Joanne Gair may have been involved?) and the quality of the work, it'd be a shame if the only real records of them are from the shoulders up.

Now Playing: Various Classical Masterpieces vol. 2