Friday, February 28, 2014

Friday Night Videos

Flashback to 1985, when the oddly-named group, The Hooters, burst upon the music scene with a string of hits off the pretty darn good album Nervous Night. (Oddly, the title track was not initially included on the vinyl album or CD, but showed up on the cassette as a bonus track. It was subsequently included on later CD pressings.) Everyone remembers the infectious "And We Danced" for good reason, but it's the odd and haunting "All You Zombies" that was the first single off that album, a bizarre choice, since it sounds nothing like the other songs. The video itself is notable for the sheer number of 80s rock video cliches they manage to cram into its 4-plus minute running time. How many can you spot?

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Sam Kinison.

Now Playing: Sheena Easton No Strings
Chicken Ranch Central

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Chicken Ranch anniversary: Miss Edna (1928-2012)

Jayme Lynn Blaschke and Edna Milton Chadwell (aka Miss Edna) at Milton's home February 20, 2009.
On this date in 2012, Edna Milton Chadwell, better known as Miss Edna, passed away at the age of 84 in Phoenix, Arizona, where she'd lived a life of quiet anonymity since the early 1980s.

Her final days were tragic. The previous October (or September--my memory is imprecise) she was involved in a car wreck that left her hospitalized with an array of injuries. From what I understand, her memory was affected, and her brain stopped converting short-term memory into long. In practical terms, it meant somebody could introduce themselves and begin a conversation with her, but five minutes later she'd have no recollection. Over the previous three years I feel I've gotten to know her as much as any person alive today who wasn't related to her. She enthusiastically supported my book project and graciously invited my wife and myself into her home for hours of interviews. It is my everlasting regret that I did not complete the book in time for her to have her own copy.

She never lived the kind of life she'd wanted, but she still carved out a place in Texas history for herself. For that, her memory will endure.

Now Playing: Peter Gabriel Plays Live
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Friday, February 21, 2014

Friday Night Videos

Okay, I never was much a fan of San Kinison but have to admit I found his version of "Wild Thing" amusing, probably because of the video more than any musical merit the song might have. The video itself would be stunningly misogynistic were it not so over-the-top that it passes into self-parody. I mean, really--Jessica Hahn? Ratt? Billy Idol? Guns 'n Roses? I mean, it's just flat-out nuts. Check your good taste at the door.

Tangentially, Sam Kinison's untimely death after being struck head-on by a drunk driver has a fascinating side story to it. As comedian Carl LaBove related on KLBJ's Dudley & Bob show about a decade back, he was traveling in a vehicle behind Kinison and saw the wreck happen. He was the first to reach the wreck, and it appeared Kinison had suffered only minor injuries (in fact, he's sustained fatal internal injuries. According to LaBove, Kinison seemed unaware of his presence, and instead was addressing someone unseen: "I don't want to die. I don't want to die." There was a pause, as if Kinison were listening to something, and he asked, "But why?" In my recollection of the on-air story, LaBove said Kinison then said, "I understand," followed by "Okay. Okay... okay." With the last "okay," Kinison died. It may not sound like all that typed up on this blog, but it was a powerful story, and one of the few times I've heard Dale Dudley and Bob Fonseca rendered mostly speechless.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Firm.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Animals
Chicken Ranch Central

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Babylon 5: Midnight on the Firing Line

I am re-watching the entire Babylon 5 television series along with my teenage daughter. I have not seen a single episode since B5 completed its tumultuous run, and Calista was just a few days old when the final episode aired back in 1998. Does J. Michael Straczynski still have the touch? Come along with us and find out.

In Valen's Name: A Narn sneak attack on the small Centauri agricultural colony of Ragesh 3 touches off a round of serious diplomatic tension aboard Babylon 5. The Narn ambassador, G'Kar, initially feigns ignorance, which infuriates Centauri ambassado Londo once he learns the true identity of the attacking force. The issue is personal for Londo, as he'd pulled strings to get his nephew, Carn, assigned to a prestigious research position on the colony. Also, Londo dreams of the days before the Centauri empire was in decline, and once he receives word from his superiors on Centauri Prime that Ragesh 3 is too small and remote to bother defending, Londo attempts to bluff the Advisory Council and League of Non-Aligned Worlds into taking action where the Centauri Republic would not. G'Kar calls his bluff, informs the council that Ragesh 3 was originally a Narn colony seized by the Centauri during their brutal occupation of Narn, and finally share a transmission of Londo's obviously tortured nephew stating that the colonists invited the Narn to annex them because the Centauri Republic had essentially abandoned the colony and cut off support.

Whilst all this is going on, Security Chief Garibaldi is tracking down the source of some troubling pirate raids on cargo ships destined for Babylon 5. The raiders have displayed weapons far more powerful of late than they have in the past, escalating the threat they pose. He figures out how they are planning their attacks, and Commander Sinclair leads a squadron of Star Furies out to ambush the raiders. This leads to the capture of the raiders' mother ship, which just so happens to have a Narn advisor on board as the raiders have been using new, more powerful weapons purchased from the Narn. The advisor also just happens to have recordings of the transmissions between the Narn fleet and homeworld that exposes the entire invasion of Ragesh 3 as an unprovoked attack. When confronted with the evidence, G'Kar is furious, but Narn backs down and recalls its forces from Ragesh 3.

In the B plot of the episode, newly-arrived Lt. Commander Ivanova spends the episode avoiding newly-arrived telepath Talia Winters. When Winters finally corners Ivanova, Ivanova explains she hates the Psi Corps because her mother was a latent telepath who was forced by the corps to take drugs to suppress her abilities. The drugs caused severe depression, leading to her mother's suicide. Talia is sympathetic, but Ivanova rejects any possibility of friendship.

What Calista Says: In this episode I really liked the replacement 2nd-in-command, Ivanova, and the back story about her mother. The special effects were way better than they were in the pilot. I liked the makeup on Delenn in the pilot more than how it was in this episode. In the pilot it was more dramatic.

What Jayme Says: This is a good, solid episode--a far, far better introduction to Babylon 5 than the clunky pilot. There's a lot going on here, but JMS' writing and Richard Compton's directing keep everything coherent and clear. The Narn/Centauri conflict is front and center here, not soft-pedaled as it was in the pilot. The raiders are kinda throwaway enemies, but they serve their purpose. Ivanova's handful of scenes with Talia pack quite an emotional punch and are the most gripping of anything yet seen on B5. The fact that there is so much tension and conflict going on amongst the regular characters signals that this is a sharp break from the Star Trek mold, where everyone invariably goes in for the group hug before taking on whatever challenge awaits.

That said, "Midnight on the Firing Line" feels very much like a Star Trek episode once the credits roll. Why? Because the main plot--war between Narn and Centauri--is neatly tied up by the end of the episode. Reset to status quo: Nothing really changes from week to week. If I put my mind to it, "Midnight on the Firing Line" is somewhat analogous to Trek's "Errand of Mercy." The Narn are the aggressive Klingon stand-ins, the Centauri are the peaceful Federation types, and Sinclair/Babylon 5 serve as the peacemaking Organians. Granted, it's a loose comparison at best, but consider the fact that when this episode aired, the Star Trek episodic model was pretty much all that existed for televised space opera. Part of Babylon 5's success came from playing off these assumptions of the audience and gradually (and sometimes abruptly) subverting them (something Farscape did effectively as well a few years later), but early on it made the series look like Deep Space 9 with various cosmetic changes.

Still, there are hints of what is to come. Londo's prescient dream of his own death comes off in the episode as a throwaway bit of Shakespearean melodrama. Vorlon Ambassador Kosch's reaction to the Narn/Centauri conflict is downright chilling. Kosh: "They are a dying people. We should let them pass." Sinclair: "Who, the Narn or the Centauri?" Kosh: "Yes." There a whole lot of Checkovian guns hung up on the walls of the station in this episode, but it is to JMS' credit that they are so subtle as to go unnoticed until significantly later in the series.

Now Playing: Stan Getz Stan Getz vol. 10
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, February 14, 2014

Friday Night Videos

The Wife and the girls have been listening a lot of late to a song titled "Radioactive." No matter how many times they play it, I can't help but flash back to the version done by Jimmy Page's post-Zeppelin band, The Firm. Turn me on tonight, indeed.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Cherry Poppin' Daddies.

Now Playing: Stan Getz The Complete Roost Recordings
Chicken Ranch Central

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Chicken Ranch report no. 49: The mystery of Al Bates

In the course of my research into the Chicken Ranch, I've come across information and facts that, while not directly relevant for my book, are interesting nonetheless. The sketch of the Chicken Ranch below, for instance. Apart from a few photographs used in the media, there's probably not another representation of the Chicken Ranch quite as well known. It's a great sketch and has an undeniable appeal--heck, I use an altered version for the masthead on my website and blog!

The Chicken Ranch, charcoal drawing, Al Bates

This sketch was made by one Al Bates, an artist from the Houston area, and prints of it were available for purchase from "Modern Masterpieces" in the late 1970s--mostly via display ads in Texas Monthly, of which I've scanned in two, below.

Some of those prints show up on Ebay from time to time, which is where I acquired mine. But in the intervening years, Mr. Bates seemingly disappeared. My own online searches for him turned up little--it seems this is the only fine art piece he ever produced. When visiting the Fayette Heritage Museum and Archive, I learned that they have regular inquiries from visitors wanting to know who Al Bates is, and how they might get a copy of this print. The librarians and archivists had no more information on Mr. Bates than I had.

Chicken Ranch artist Al Bates
I'm happy to report the mystery over Mr. Bates is officially solved! That's a photo of Mr. Bates there to the right. I received an email from his daughter, Victoria, not too long ago. She was trying to track down information about her father's artwork online, and came across my website. Essentially, I made myself visible and she found me by default--a scenario that has repeated itself often over the years where the Chicken Ranch is concerned! Happily, Victoria agreed to answer some of my questions about her father and clear up some of the mystery that has grown up around him over the decades.

"Al Bates is a retired commercial illustrator. He holds a BS from Louisiana Tech and a Masters from The Art Center College of Design in Los Angles. After trying out studios in New York, Detroit and Chicago, he eventually settled in Houston, Texas in the early 1960’s serving clients such as Exxon, Gulf, Shell, NASA and many more for over 30 years. He currently spends his time with family, friends, and enjoying his three grandsons."
How's that for an official biography? Victoria informs me that the family does retain all rights to the drawing, and they are willing to discuss reprint rights and other possible uses of it. Victoria may be reached directly via email at RedMighty(at)AOL(dot)com.

Thank you for your interest in my father's artwork of the Chicken Ranch. This is a sketch (charcoal on tracing paper) my father did in 1973. It has been hanging in our home for as long as I can remember. My father is now in his early eighties and as he has gotten older he has been turning more and more of his artwork over to myself and my sister.

He made it using photos he took of the chicken ranch at that time and of old photos of his parents and grandparents. My father was a commercial artist in Houston and this sketch was done as a job some 40 years ago. It was made for advertising his own company he had in the 1970's with a partner. That is also why there are blank spaces in the lower part, it was for type copy they would later insert.

My father recalls that they had 500 of the larger size and a "few thousand" of the smaller version print made. These were given out to family, friends, and business associates, but a good portion were sold at art shows.

There is a second Chicken Ranch painting that was also made at the same time which has never been made public. My father made this one entirely for his own pleasure. This one is about 4'x3', oil on black foam posterboard with a brass frame.

Yes, having a father who is an artist has been quite the colorful adventure!
Can I say "Wow"? Goodness gracious, Victoria has shared a treasure trove here! An unpublished painting by Al Bates? That's simply fantastic--there's a great deal of sly humor there, to be sure. And just look at those vintage reference photos he used for his commercial print--who knew these people from the photo actually existed, and were the artist's relatives? The back story to the artist's creation is something that has always fascinated me, or at least has since I've been working with Don Olson at Texas State, so Mr. Bates is in good company.

Above, right, is the original insert card that accompanied my print that I won on Ebay. It is an interesting read if you have a few minutes to spare. Sadly, I only have the smaller version of the print--I've only seen the large edition appear on Ebay once or twice, and both times the winning bid ran up well out of my price range. But maybe some day... The important thing is that contact information has been established for Mr. Bates and his family. I, for one, would be very happy to see this artwork come back in to circulation in some official, licensed form. I'm sure there are plenty of people around who would appreciate it.

And I'm proud to say that the Al Bates images appearing on my website and blog are used with permission.

Now Playing: Various artists Cool on the Coast
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Monday, February 10, 2014

Babylon 5: The Gathering

Much as I have with Farscape, I've been possessed of a desire to re-watch the entire Babylon 5 television series of late. I have not seen a single episode since that groundbreaking series completed its tumultuous run, and am curious as to how well the epic, 5-year story arc holds up more than a decade later. But to up the ante, I've invited my sarcastic teenage daughter, Calista, to watch it with me. She was just a few days old when the final episode aired back in 1998, so we'll get an unbiased take from a hard-to-please Doctor Who fan who is fairly well-read when it comes to modern YA science fiction. Does J. Michael Straczynski still have the touch? Come along with us and find out.

Note: We watched the 1998 edit for this review, which, while still problematic, is an improvement over the version that originally aired.

In Valen's Name: The Babylon 5 space station, commanded by Jeffrey Sinclair, has been operational for one full year. It is awaiting the arrival of the ambassador of the mysterious, ancient and powerful Vorlon Empire. After a ruinous war with the Minbari that nearly drove the human race to extinction, the Babylon project was conceived as sort of diplomatic meeting point to prevent future conflicts. Babylon stations 1-3 were sabotaged and destroyed during construction. Babylon 4 mysteriously disappeared 24 hours after going operational. Babylon 5 was only completed after the Minbari and Centauri Republic provided assistance. The main alien races represented by ambassadors include the bald, zen-like Minbari, the foppish, crazy-haired Centauri and the antagonistic, reptilian Narn. Other minor species are present in the loosely-affiliated "League of Non-Aligned Worlds." As the Vorlon ambassador, Kosh, arrives, Sinclair is inexplicably delayed in meeting him. When he arrives, Sinclair finds the Vorlon collapsed, the victim of an assassination attempt. Doctor Benjamin Kyle opens Kosh's encounter suit despite Vorlon communications against doing so in an attempt to save the ambassador. Also in defiance of Vorlon demands, human telepath Lita Alexander enters Kosh's mind to find out what happened, and sees Sinclair attack the ambassador with poison. The Vorlons send a fleet of warships to take Sinclair back to their world for interrogation and trial, but Sinclair figures out the assassin was using a "chameleon net" to alter his appearance. They corner the assassin, who is growing more desperate, and discover he is actually a Minbari who utters a cryptic comment to Sinclar--"There is a hole in your mind'--before blowing up a large section of the station and killing himself in the process. The Vorlons monitor the incident and depart, content that Sinclair is innocent.

What Calista Says: The first thing that struck me while I was watching the Babylon 5 pilot was the really sucky special effects. The second thing I noticed was that the Asian lady couldn't act. My favorite character was probably the telepath, and my favorite aliens were the ones who used to be at war with Earth. I really want to know more about them. The aliens with the flowery space ship reminded me a lot of Time Lords for some reason.

What Jayme Says: The Babylon 5 pilot, "The Gathering," isn't awful, but lord it isn't good. The CGI effects are primitive even for 1993, and the narrative is ponderous and slow, seemingly lingering over sets and costume design and prosthetic makeup to show the viewer how much was invested in the production. The acting--particularly by Tamlyn Tomita as second-in-command Laurel Takashima--is stiff and wooden. The assassination plot should've been a taut thriller, but is flaccid and offers little in the way of making viewers care. There are several reasons for these shortcomings, foremost of which is the fact that series creator J. Michael Staczynski (JMS) had never served as a show runner before, and made a lot of mistakes his first time out. The other reason is that several years before, JMS had pitched Babylon 5 to Paramount, which took copious notes and proceeded to incorporate many of the key elements into the new series Star Trek: Deep Space 9. The fact that Minbari were originally conceived of as shape-shifters forced the stop-gap measure of inventing the "chameleon net" technology when DS9 introduced shape-shifters as major characters in the pilot. Not to mention several other integral concepts. Re-tooling the pilot script did not help the production find its footing.

And if I'm going to get down amongst the weeds on this analysis, the Minbari makeup is a bit too latex-heavy in the pilot, and the androgynous look, while an interesting experiment, is somewhat awkward and off-putting. The revisions made for the regular series are a strong improvement. And there's one awkward scene where Minbari Ambassador Delenn gets into it with Narn Ambassador G'Kar, where she subjugates him with a "gravity ring." For real. This gravity ring is one of five color-coded rings Delenn keeps hidden in her quarters, and when I saw this, I immediately thought that J.R.R. Tolkien left out one verse about "Five rings for the Minbari Council in the robe of grey..." The concept is silly, doesn't work and is thankfully never mentioned again.

Vorlons also get short shrift here. Everyone goes around making noise about how ancient, mysterious and powerful the Vorlons are, but they're just a threat on paper that goes away at the end without so much as a peep. Rewatching this sequence having knowledge of what happens in season 4 casts an entirely new light on the peril of the situation. But then again, the same can be said of pretty much everything in the first season.

Despite the problems, it's hard to overstate the importance of this film. I remember some buzz among the fan communities I was connected with, and while nobody fell in love with it right away, it intrigued folks with its potential and they wanted to see more. Remember, Star Trek was the only game in town for unabashed space-based science fiction, and the ideas in Star Trek had so permeated pop culture that science fiction television had a sort of homogenous default to the Trek model. Babylon 5 attempted to create something distinctly different, and at the time, some Trek fans too offense and viewed it as a threat to their beloved franchise. JMS was attacked on message boards and one person went so far as to email him a virus disguised as a drawing of a Starfury by his child, which corrupted several scripts JMS had on his home computer. There was also a character arc involving Takashima being compromised and possibly corrupted--she covertly aided the assassin, although that isn't readily apparent in the pilot--that went out the window once Tomita was replaced by Claudia Christian on the show, but that's for the best considering how great a character Ivanova became, and how stilted Tomita was in her one appearance. Doctor Kyle didn't make it past the pilot, replaced by Dr. Stephen Franklin, and telepath Lyta disappeared from the series as well, although she would return later on.

The look of Babylon 5 is different from Trek and other SF predecessors, and there's a more complex dynamic at work with the various races present. There are also hints at a complex back story, but at this juncture, there's little to indicate just how rich and distinctive this series will become. As part of the series proper, "The Gathering" is as close to disposable and irrelevant as it gets.

Now Playing: Original Broadway Cast The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public
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Saturday, February 08, 2014

Chicken Ranch report no. 48: SAWG

La Grange Chicken Ranch brass token (fake)Thursday night's presentation at the San Antonio Writers Guild went very well, thank you for asking. Despite the wintry weather and threat of ice, turnout was fantastic. My official topic was to speak on the research that went into my Chicken Ranch history book, and while I fear I spoke more about what I discovered rather than how I discovered it, the audience seemed fully engaged. If I give this particular talk again, I'll have to bring along note cards to keep myself on track. Some of the greatest interest seemed to be in my choice to pursue traditional publication with my Chicken Ranch history (and all the frustrations that entails) whilst simultaneously pursuing the self-publishing route with Ghosts of the Chicken Ranch and the drawbacks of that approach. Publishing is changing, and a good number of people in the audience were discouraged and/or dismayed by some of my experiences. But you know, I'm not sugar-coating any of it. Many publishers these days are more interested in how many Twitter followers you have rather than the quality of your writing. That's a sad truth, but a truth nonetheless.

Some folks shared stories about the Chicken Ranch they'd heard from relatives with me. Others asked how the place got its name (I told them the popular version, then followed up with the less-glamorous truth) and the brass tokens so often seen on eBay (they're fake--all of them). I also touched on the ill-fated Dallas restaurant and the brothel in Nevada that was the target of arsonists, thereby giving rise to the rumor that the La Grange brothel had burned down. I sold some books, passed out a lot of business cards and generally had a great time. A bunch of folks said they really, really wanted to see my history book in print. Hopefully, I'll be able to make a return visit with that very book in the not-too-distant future!

Now Playing: Christopher Franke Babylon 5 vol. 2: Messages from Earth
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, February 07, 2014

Friday Night Videos

Tonight's featured video is "Zoot Suit Riot" by Cherry Poppin' Daddies. No deep meaning here, I just dig the song. Enjoy.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Fred Schneider.

Now Playing: Count Basie The Atomic Mr. Basie
Chicken Ranch Central

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Chicken Ranch report no. 47: San Antonio bound

This is a little late in coming, so for that I apologize. But tonight at 7 p.m. I am the featured speaker at the San Antonio Writers Guild monthly meeting. I will be discussing the role of research in my Chicken Ranch writings, which is a topic worthy of a book in and of itself. As a writer of science fiction and fantasy, research has always played a significant role in my writing, but for a non-fiction topic such as the Chicken Ranch, which is already shrouded by myth, mystery and misinformation to an astounding degree, thorough and exhaustive research was crucial. I drew extensively on my journalism background, and will share how chasing down any one particular lead often opened up several additional avenues of inquiry. It should be a great deal of fun.

Anyone willing to brave the chilly weather is welcome to come out. If you're not already a member of the SAWG, fear not--I suspect they'll be more than happy to sign you up on the spot.

Now Playing: Original Broadway Cast The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
Chicken Ranch Central