"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Farewell to my Phantom

Back in high school, in the early 90s, I joined a fan club. The fan club was for an actor named Kevin Gray. He played the title role in The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway and then on tour. I twice saw him perform the role at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC.

Kevin was the youngest actor to play the Phantom at the time. There was a darkness to his vocal style, punctuated by a wide range of inflections. He painted with his voice, shifting in and out of lilting head voice and thick operatic tones. Kevin's wasn't the prettiest or most pleasing of tones, partially because of his firm commitment to acting the music. His performance was unforgettable.

Months after Kevin and the show left town, I was volunteering for the Washington Opera at the Kennedy Center. I noticed a flyer for the Kevin Gray Fan Club on a basement bulletin board. I joined on a whim. This was back before high-speed Internet and ubiquitous social networking platforms. The fan club relied on a print newsletter. If you wanted to correspond with other members, you added your name, phone number, and mailing address to the last page of the newsletter. The system worked quite well. It resulted in my acquiring several pen pals, the occasional out-of-the-blue phone call from a fellow fan looking to chat, and even a couple of in-person meetings, including a post-show visit with Kevin's fiancée Dodie Pettit.

Truthfully, Kevin was not my all-time favorite actor or singer. But oh was he a fun performer to follow. Like his distinctive vocal approach, Kevin attacked life and his career with a signature passion. I never met him in person, but I did get a personal letter from him once, along with several autographs over the years. He was worthy of his fans. We were a community building off each other's enthusiasm. Participating in the Kevin Gray Fan Club filled a surprisingly deep need.

As I sometimes do, late last week I hopped on imdb.com and surfed names of actors I'd seen in the past. Kind of a do-it-yourself Where Are They Now segment. I looked up Kevin and immediately noticed there was a date listed for his death. He died of heart failure back in February. He was 54.

I won't speak for others, but for this childe mourning has always had a selfish component. The tears that began welling in my eyes as I sat in my apartment listening to the Music of the Night were sparked in part by taking stock of my life journey. Still, the mourning brought into focus how Kevin, and the kindred spirits he connected me to, helped cultivate my creative self during those precarious late teens. I think of that motto Kevin often added to the fan club newsletter. It's something to aspire to in our lives:

"Believe in the magic and soar!"

Friday, June 21, 2013

Passing Through 'Joyland'

JoylandJoyland by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There is something perfunctory about Joyland. Even the Author's Note feels perfunctory, with Stephen King's preemptive rebuttal of carnival know-it-alls and his hasty show of gratitude for the editor, "Thanks, man." The tropical storm that whips up on the story's climactic evening feels perfunctory. None of this is crappy. I enjoyed Joyland at least as much as my annual, which is to say perfunctory, visits to the county fair.

King takes pleasure in exploring the lingo of carnival employees. Yet the cotton candy quality of the dialect is diluted by the need to provide on the spot translations. Perhaps less translation might have left me disoriented in just the right suspense-inducing way. Instead, like so many other elements of Joyland, I felt myself stuck at arm's length from a landscape that I wished would immerse me.

I enjoyed the layout, which bypassed a conventional chapter setup. Instead, Joyland is divided into discreet sections of narrative with a couple of line breaks and a thematically resonant heart icon. In the age of eBooks, presentation feels increasingly important to me when considering the purchase of hard copies. Glen Orbik's painting on the cover sets a wonderfully pulpy tone--a tone that King's story sometimes falls short of achieving.

I can't put it all on King. Certainly my reading was a bit perfunctory at times. Let's be honest, I suspect a lot of us King fans are just passing time until his sequel to The Shining is released this fall. What is more, I genuinely connected with the 21-year-old protagonist's pining. Oh did I pine over girls back then. And I know what it's like to hang up a phone and realize the gal on the other end has lost any special feelings she ever had for me. What a guy wouldn't give for a good murder mystery to divert him away from that heartache. King absolutely nails this aspect of the plot.

So I took a weekend trip to a little carnival Stephen King threw together. Not the funnest weekend I've had with him. Not by a long shot. Heck, I figured out the killer a good 30 to 50 pages before the reveal. I don't generally accomplish that. Still, King got me to try out an offering from Titan Books' Hard Case Crimes. I probably wouldn't have checked them out otherwise. And now I'd be willing to try them again.

Truth be told, when I pick up a straight-to-paperback yarn like this one, all I am really looking for is a nostalgia fix. I'm hunting for an excuse to revisit that young love and virginal heartache--the kind I felt during a fleeting time of life when a creaky old carnival could mesmerize me. Thanks for a ride on the Ferris wheel, King.

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Saturday, June 15, 2013

How I Miss the Rocky Mountains

Busy weekend of prepping and submitting three poems for rejection publication. Last night I took a break long enough to watching the following wonderful tour of Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. This video is from climber and blogger Alan Arnette. Arnette summited Mount Everest a couple of years back. He dedicates his climbing adventures to raising awareness and funds for Alzheimer's Disease.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Adobe CS5 User Needs Control

Below is a photo I've been meaning to take for a couple of months. Being a professional user of Adobe Creative Suite software, especially Photoshop CS5, has taken its toll on my keyboard...on one key in particular as you can see.