Tuesday, January 31, 2017

John Wetton

Brother Dave sent me an email with this news this morning. Ugh.
John Wetton

John Wetton, bassist and singer for King Crimson and (way more importantly for me) Asia died today at the age of 67 after a battle with colon cancer.

Wetton's death announcement on his own website...

For a 70's and 80's music lover in general, and prog rock fan in particular, the body blows just keep coming. Chris Squire of Yes in 2015. Glen Frey, Keith Emerson and Greg Lake in 2016. Gary Richrath of REO Speedwagon in there somewhere. Now Wetton in 2017.

I can't help but to think what Carl Palmer must be thinking. He lost the "E" and "L" in ELP in 2016. Now he loses the singer/bassist from his other band Asia in 2017. Mortality sucks.

A few good things:
  • An Extraordinary Life - My favorite Asia song from the most recent 3 reunion albums. An extraordinary life indeed. A tribute to hope, optimism and the future.
  • Ride Easy - A forgotten "B" side song from the early 80's that is a favorite of mine.
  • Daylight. Another "B" side from the Alpha album that I like very much (and a fun demo version of Daylight from before the song had lyrics beyond the chorus...)
Farewell to yet another.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Charlie Brown Had It Right

This may be the only post of its kind that I will ever write here.


I consider myself a fairly progressive and open-minded person when it comes to social issues. I am brother to a handicapped man. Father to a handicapped daughter. Friend, acquaintance, or distant acquaintance to a variety of LGBT people. Husband to someone not from around here. Father to a pair of mixed-race daughters.

Wonderful people come in every imaginable variety.

My view of the kind of world I want to live in is one of...
  • Understanding
  • Inclusion
  • Open-mindedness
  • Rationality
  • Harmony
  • Peace
  • Fairness
  • Decency
  • Knowledge
  • Facts
  • Truth
Every day now I wake up and can't help but to see the news.

My reaction is pretty much always the same.

Oh Good Grief.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Appendix N

An often referred to thing in old school role playing game discussions is the fabled "Appendix N". This is the list of "inspirational and educational reading" that Gary Gygax included in the back of the Dungeon Masters Guide, the third and final book of the holy trinity of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. The list included most of the sources from which D&D was cobbled together, oftentimes lifting thoughts and ideas wholesale.
My original 1979 DMG, worn and yellowed

My exposure to the books and authors on this list was relatively sparse back in 1979, when the DMG was published (and purchased). I was somewhat of a fantasy geek back in junior high and high school (yes, before junior high became "middle school"), but apparently my geekdom was minor league at best, everything being relative. Of the things on the list, I could (and still can) claim to have read Tolkien, Robert E Howard (Conan the Barbarian), HP Lovecraft (Cthulhu, supernatural horror), Fritz Leiber (Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser) and Michael Moorcock (Elric of Melnibone). Not on the "Appendix N" list, I had read the first several of the Piers Anthony Xanth series books (of which Amazon says there are now 35!!), as well as the first few of Robert Lynn Asprin and Lynn Abbey's Thieves World series. Maybe a few other things. And that was about it.
Appendix N, with the patina of age...

Thirty years or more having passed since I read most of the books noted above (Tolkien being the exception, as The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings get a re-read every half dozen years or so), so I have begun taking an extended literary stroll down memory lane and revisiting some of these books. I've gotten through the first book and a half of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser... Very entertaining.
Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser

I'm partway through the first Conan book... Very entertaining as well.

...and am partway through one of the new ones I want to read; Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson. The idea of Law and Chaos, the foundation of alignment in D&D (a 3 by 3 grid of lawful/neutral/chaotic and good/neutral/evil), is based on this book and its battle between the forces of Law and the forces of Chaos. I'm only a night's reading into this, so it's too early to tell what my final opinion will be, but it is not an easy read - too much phonetically exaggerated "dialect" that detracts from the story. But that being said, I am reading this for the historical perspective with regards to the foundations of D&D and not so much the quality of the read itself (although, of course, I do hope it turns out to be a good book). More to come on this one.
Three Hearts and Three Lions

Lastly, and I haven't picked these up yet, I want to read some of Jack Vance, specifically The Dying Earth. The system of magic user spell-casting in D&D is so directly lifted from Vance that Gary Gygax asked Vance if he could use the concept in his game, and the resulting way of regulating spell use in fantasy role playing games has become known as "Vancian magic". Basically, magic users memorize spells, and after they cast them, they forget them, and have to memorize them all over again before they can use them again. I think this will be another interesting one to read...

Funny the ebbs and flows of things, and how this particular rekindling of an interest has led me back around to a time that seems so distant it is almost like the shadow of a memory of something that happened to someone else entirely. Up the stairs and to the left to my room. Light blue walls. Hardwood floors and light tan carpet. Bookcases on the outside wall. Little student desk under the window overlooking the back yard. Bed tucked into the corner next to the desk. Homework is done and nothing particular to do. Grab a book. Flop on the bed. Take a journey to somewhere else...

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Greg Lake

As I have noted before, these "it was with great sadness that I read that xyz had died..." posts are becoming all too routine. Talking with brother Dave at his house on Christmas day, he mentioned something about Greg Lake dying, joining Keith Emerson's death earlier in the year, to which my reaction, unaware of this was, "whaaa??"
Greg Lake

Emerson Lake and Palmer was one of my favorite prog rock bands in the late 70's and early 80's (I was kinda young and got on the bus a little late). I loved that kind of music then, and still do now. Greg was a terrific singer, guitarist and bass player.

In addition to his work with ELP, I will also remember his short stint with Asia. When John Wetton left the band in 1983 (partway through the Asia in Asia documentary/concert film), Greg stepped in and took over the bass and vocal work on the (at that time rare) full length live concert broadcast on MTV (Asia live at the Budokan), joining ELP band mate Carl Palmer. He did a nice job with only 10 days to prepare (although you can see him reading a teleprompter for the lyrics).

A few morsels:
  • Lucky Man (1974) - Greg at his peak. It's also hilarious to watch him chewing gum all the way through the song. Anytime there is a second to spare, he takes a few chomps. Seems hard enough to play guitar and sing without worrying about choking on your gum, but hey...
  • Lucky Man in 2013 on the Moody Blues Cruise. Voices deepen with age, but not tremendously different...
  • Still You Turn Me On (1974) - Great song. This one has another thing I will always remember about Greg - the need to force a rhyme no matter how dumb. In this case, we get the best/worst of all time - "...sadder...madder...someone get me a ladder." Oh my...
  • Hoedown (1973) - More about Keith Emerson here, but ELP at their best.
  • Welcome Back my Friends (London 2010) - Still OK on their 40th anniversary reunion tour.
  • Welcome Back my Friends (Montreal 1977) - ELP at the peak. Faster and more frantic. And thinner... Greg on guitar this time instead of bass.
Greg Lake may not have been the household name that Prince or David Bowie or others who passed this year might have been, but his death makes me nostalgic, and his passing is far more personal to me. Another piece of childhood gone...

Christmas Goodness

The holidays may well be mainly about spending time with family and friends, but no matter how old you get, you can still appreciate a few nice Christmas gifts, and the family treated me well again this year.

We are fortunate that gifts are about wants and not needs, and the following will certainly bear that out. All nice to have; none particularly necessary.

First is a pair of 25mm European village buildings from Miniature Building Authority. I have as many of these as I realistically need, but adding one or two interesting ones every now and then is a treat. "Postern gate II" is on the left, and "Alleygate #1" is on the right. Both are different enough from the townhouse and castle pieces that I already have to make them very nice additions to the collection.
Miniature Building Authority buildings (25mm)

Next are a trio of books on widely varied subjects: an 1862-63 scenario book for the Regimental Fire and Fury miniatures ruleset, and a pair of classic books on lost treasures of the southwest by J. Frank Dobie, Coronado's Children (1930) and Apache Gold and Yaqui Silver (1939?), covering some of the most famous legends and tales of the region.
Some Fun Reading

Lastly, there is a trio of books on musical subjects from brother Dave and his family: Springsteen's autobiography, a book on Yes, and a book on Emerson, Lake and Palmer. The ELP book is especially timely in that I saw the Carl Palmer Band last summer performing ELP music, in the same year that Keith Emerson died earlier in the year and Greg Lake died at the very end. As has been well documented elsewhere, it is hard to believe the number of musicians we lost in 2016. Included on that list are some very high profile ones that didn't mean all that much to me (David Bowie and Prince), and some other names that did (Keith Emerson, Greg Lake and of course Glenn Frey of the Eagles).
Music books

Thanks to all for the wonderful gifts and the hours of reading enjoyment they will certainly give me.

Monday, January 2, 2017

In Search of Lost Treasure

I've always had a fascination with the strange and mysterious. Tales of lost treasures enthralled me as a boy (and beyond). Perhaps that is why I majored in archaeology in college, and it is no great surprise that a particular show caught my eye.

I've become addicted to The Curse of Oak Island on the History Channel, which is an admittedly overly dramatized docu-drama about a few guys throwing tremendous amounts of money into the search for whatever is hidden on Oak Island (Nova Scotia). I won't attempt to detail the history of this treasure hunt (click the link above), but it began in 1795 and has captivated people ever since. All sorts of odd things have been found on the island, and theories of what is buried there (which assumes that anything is buried there of course) range from the lost Templar treasures including the Holy Grail, Spanish conquistador treasure, pirate booty, and the lost manuscripts of Shakespeare (along with the theory that they were written by Francis Bacon).

Wanting a little more history and background than the show provides, I picked up The Secret Treasure of Oak Island and another related book or two. This is the first one I have gotten through, and it is exactly what I was looking for. It's an easy read, and it is fun to think about all the weirdness related to this island and what it might mean. And maybe it means nothing at all. But it is entertaining. I would heartily recommend both the show and the book.
The Oak Island Mystery

If you are going to read stories about treasure hunting, then one thing will surely lead to another. I know that there are a multitude of tales and legends about lost Spanish mines and native american treasures in the southwestern United States, so I browsed the ratings of some books on the subject and picked up Four Days From Fort Wingate by Richard French.
Lost Treasures of the Southwest

I'm happy to say that this was another very fun read. It is the story of what have become known as the Lost Adams Diggings, located somewhere in eastern Arizona or western New Mexico. This is another treasure hunt that has fascinated a great many people over a very long time (click the link for a good summary). The 259 pages flew by very quickly, and were a nice recounting of the legend, the various interpretations of the clues, and the searches of various individuals over the years. It is rounded out by a summary of the author's own investigations, explorations and conclusions. Like the Oak Island mystery, it may be real, partly real, or completely legend, but it is an entertaining read.

With these two books under my belt and another one or two on the nightstand, there was always Christmas coming soon and people looking for gift ideas, but that is a story for another post.