Monday, January 31, 2011

In Which Our Intrepid Heroine Attempts to Keep Foot Out of Mouth

Hoo man. Touchy, touchy subject. I read a lot of erotica for reviews on Erotica Revealed and the Erotica Readers and Writers website and for personal pleasure and have judged a certain contest (which shall remain nameless as I pledged not to tattle), so it's no surprise that I often see themes repeated. Every time I mention in a review how much I hate certain erotica and erotic romance clichés, I get heated responses from people who love that particular set up. For example, redacted to save me from a shitstorm of hate mail.

What I always try to keep in mind as I read a set up that strikes me as all too familiar is Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch's comment that there are only seven stories: Man versus man, Man versus nature, Man versus God, Man versus himself, Man versus society, Man caught in the middle, and Man and woman. Others have argued that there are only three: Man versus Man, Man versus Nature, and Man versus God. However many you think there are, what that comes down to is that there's no truly original story theme. But, and this is a massive junk-in-the-trunk butt, every telling of a story is original. So no matter how many times I see what I think of as an erotica cliché, I have to force myself to get past the eye rolling "oh dear lord, not that old redacted, again" and focus on how the hoary chestnut story is delivered. If the writer is skilled at his/her craft, I can usually forget every other version I've ever read. Many times, the story as a trip, not the destination, is all that matters. After all, when we read a mystery, we expect the mystery to be solved. So knowing how a story will resolve doesn't make it a less worthy read.

Recently, I saw an ad for a Red Riding Hood movie. My first reaction was, "Why retell that story? Everyone knows it already." But on reflection, I decided that was the wrong way to think about it. Maybe the movie maker had such a compelling version that s/he had to share his/her vision. Movies cost a lot of money. Getting a green light means that the pitch had to make it seem like a decent enough bet that the studio would put up the money, so at least in theory this movie version should be interesting.

I'm going to throw out a weird thought here. If we focus on the characters and not on the events of a story, it's possible that no matter how many times it's been told by other writers, it won't read like a cliché. (Experience proves otherwise, but I'm trying to be positive here.) You could probably recite Little Red Riding Hood to me right now, but your version, I would bet, wouldn't be exactly the same as another person's version. Maybe on the surface, Red Riding Hood is always some chick in a red cloak who wanders through the woods to visit her grandmother and inadvisably chats with a stranger along the way, but sometimes, she's a brave and resourceful young girl, a mirror of our better selves to hold up as an example of what we're capable of when we rise to the occasion. Other times, she's a young woman on the verge of discovering her sexuality and the consequences of choices. She may be a seducer of wolves, or huntsmen, or an axe-wielding sociopath who commits matricide. Who knows? There are a few "facts" of the story, but everything else is up to interpretation. There is no one right way to tell that tale. Through exploration of the character of Red, we can take many paths through the woods. All those paths may end up at the same place, but from the first sentence, they are all very different stories.

(Whew. Dodged a few bullets there. If you want to know the stories that make me cringe no matter how artfully presented, send me an email. Just don't get upset if I mention your favorite theme.)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Gorgeous, In Spite of His Really Round Head

by Del Dryden (with title by Charlotte Stein. Quite obviously)

I love this topic, because I can think of so many things that are flawed but orsum. In fact I think that may be descriptive of the entire human condition to a great extent. It may even be the flaws that make things orsum, or at least allow us to appreciate the orsum bits.

But if I have to be specific, I'll pick something near and dear: that flawed but orsum species of man known as the Romance Novel Hero. We read him, some of us write him, all of us secretly wonder if he would be more than a bit insufferable in real life...yet we continue to read and write him, because he is undeniably delicious.

Our Hero is not perfect, because he cannot be. It is his flaws that give him interest. It is his flaws that make him attainable to the (usually equally flawed) heroine. Once she is in love with him, those same flaws may even become endearing, or may reveal themselves to be merely manifestations of some deeper issue or trait. Without flaws, there wouldn't be a novel. Or at least not one we would want to read.

The flawed hero comes in flavors to suit every taste, but there are a few classics. The chocolate, vanilla and strawberry of romance hero flaws, so to speak. The arrogant aristocrat, the cynical rake, the dour misanthrope...we see them over and over in romance novels, and we know that by the end of the book we will see the orsum shine through thanks to the transformative powers of lurve*. The arrogant one will still seem arrogant, but have a special smile for only his wife. The rake will be reformed, the young libertine's oats tidily sowed. The misanthrope will creep just a little out of that shell his mommy issues have constructed around him...all for love of the heroine (or, if you prefer m/m, the co-hero).

By the end of the book, Our Hero will also be secretly donating money to the poor, adopting an orphan, happily siring children despite his previously stated intentions never to breed, or allowing his new bride an anachronistic career. Because deep down he was orsum all along; it just required the heroine to reveal that layer of wonderfulness. His flaws were really just the smokescreen that kept all the other girls (or guys, if you'd rather) away.

Oh, and if you're reading something with a little heat to it, the hero is also orsum because, despite his flaws, he is a Sex God. Possibly only as far as the heroine is concerned, or possibly only after a few unsuccessful attempts...but by the end of the book, if there is sexin', rest assured he will be orsum at it.

I'd like to leave you with this image of one of the forefathers of our flawed but orsum romance novel hero, one of the pantheon, one of the all-time champeens:

Exhibit A.

*also due to the powers of what Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan, in Beyond Heaving Bosoms, refer to as "the magic hoo-hoo". If you haven't read that book, stop what you are doing and go begin reading it instantly. You will not be disappointed.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Practically perfect

As Mike said yesterday, "Flaws are what make us human". And I have to secretly admit, at least in my eyes, flaws are what make us love!

I used to love watching Mary Poppins as a kid (ok, I still wait it now and again - because I love musicals), but what also gave me pause is her Practically Perfect in Every Way bit. Sure, she was fun and had a good time with the kids, but looking at it through adult eyes, how much fun could she have really been for poor Bert?

They have a fight, and she is always right! They do something together, and her's is always done perfectly.

Now that I have started to really explore modern novels, sometimes to the tune of 10-20 a month, I am starting to also find my prefered characters. And guess what? They all have flaws. Sometimes, some very serious ones at that. Normally, their flawed are emotional, pychological, etc.

I am not one for the story-book tale where the rich character sweeps the heroine off of her feet to atone for a mistake, oftentimes made because he flew off of the handle and complete tore into someone he supposedly loves, simply because he couldn't handle admitting to himself that he does love her. Nope, not talking those kinds of flaws.

I am talking tortured heros/heroines. Characters that have truly lived - have been flawed by their lives - and the hell it brings to their current realtionships.

Most recent example - Barrons from the Fever series by K M Moning. I LOVE that guy! Not so much on Mac, but I want me a Barrons! He has a secret, a very big one, they he has to keep. No matter what - and it leads to some serious issues in his relationship, because he kind of lacks good interpersonal skills. Seriously lacks them.

Then there is J R Ward's Brotherhood. They are so perfectly flawed it hurts. And I love then all! Each has their own issues ... and fights falling in love, but when they do, look out!

One book that I am so eagerly waiting on it is about to kill me is Kiss of Snow by Nalini Singh. (Hawke's story for those that know the Psy/Changeling series). He has some SERIOUS issues that will need to be addressed. In fact, all of the characters in that series do - especially the Psy. In their bit for perfection, for something called silent, they created flaws in their own psyche. Oh yeah, I gobble that stuff up!

I love the alpha heros who just have to take charge, but can't because their woman are not pushovers, and they have to learn to control their impulse to protect to the point of locking their woman away. For example, another Nalini Singh series - her Archangel's. In the three core books, the Archangel Raphael love warrier women, is drawn to them, and his beloved is/was a mortal woman who hunted vampires. Serious personality conflicts as he pushed to protect, and she pushed to live her life true to herself.

I say give me the flaws! It makes the love that builds that much sweeter. Especially in real life ... we are able to love, despite the flaws, because there are flaws. Who really wants perfection?

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Flaws are what make us human

Love is what makes us awesome

Here's a tale of two flawed people trying to find a path to awesome


Lost and Found

© Mike Kimera 2011

The first thing most men see is the leg that isn’t there. Some scan the rest of me as if trying to solve an unexpected puzzle. Few make it as far as my face. Almost none make eye contact and those that do are quick to look away.

I was never a crowd-stopping beauty, but I was young enough and pretty enough for men to give me at least a smile.

I took it for granted before the accident. I’m surprised at how much I miss it now.

Tonight I’m sitting on a bar stool, wearing my sexiest frock and I’m still mostly invisible.

My helmet protected my face and the physio I’ve done since the accident has kept me in shape. I’m mostly the woman I always was. Apart from the leg that isn’t there. And the fact that I can’t ride a bike anymore. And that I’ve slept alone for the past six months.

Racing my Suzuki used to be my passion. Nothing matched the thrill of canting my bike over and powering through a curve. I was fearless on the track. I knew I could handle anything a race threw at me.

It turned out that what I couldn’t handle was a quick ride to the shops to pick up some milk. A housewife who could barely see over the steering wheel of her Range Rover, side-swiped me on Camden High Street, crushing my left leg so badly that it had to be amputated below the knee.

I’ve been told many times that it could have been worse; I could have been paralyzed or killed instead of just having a limb trimmed.

I’ve tried to look at it that way, to be grateful for what I have rather than angry about what I’ve lost but I can’t quite get myself there.

In my dreams, I still ride, I still run, I still see desire in the eyes of the men I meet.

My therapist says that I’m grieving for my leg. That this is normal. That it will pass.

My therapist is full of shit.

Amputation is not normal. It will not pass. And it is not my leg I grieve for, it is the life I have lost and which I know I will never get back.

Anyway, I don’t want the grief to pass. Grief gives me a focus for my rage and a reason for my tears.

I refused the prosthetic limb they offered me. Accepting it would have made the amputation real; confirming the permanence of my gimp status.

Before the accident, I used to come to this bar when I wanted to find someone to spend the night with. I met Jonas here. We’d been together for a couple of months when I popped out to get some milk. We were a Saturday-night-fuck kind of couple. I enjoyed the way he danced. He enjoyed the way I looked on his arm. We had fun together in bed. We both knew that we were just passing time together.

Jonas stayed with me until he was sure that I was going to live, then he said he was sorry and left.

He was a nice guy who wanted to have some fun. He wanted me to live but he didn’t want to be tied to a cripple for the rest of his life. I knew exactly how he felt.

So now I’m on my third drink of the evening and not one man has talked to me. The bar stools on either side of me have stayed empty although the bar is filling up. I can tell the barman wants me gone; I’m bad for business.

“Can I buy you a drink?”

It’s not the most original line, but it’s the only one I’ve heard all night so I’m already smiling as I turn on my stool to find the source of the voice.

Not bad. A little older than me. Well, maybe a decade older than me. Not handsome but not Quasimodo either. Two things make him seem out of place: he’s wearing bike leathers and he’s looking me in the eye rather than staring at the place where my leg should be.

“Why do you want to buy me a drink?”

That wasn’t my normal reply. I’m not sure where it came from. Or what it means.

Apparently completely unfazed by my departure from the normal mating ritual, he smiles and says, “I don’t. The drink is just an excuse to talk to you.”

It’s my turn to smile. He has a nice voice. He sounds honest and friendly.

“And why do you want to talk to me?”

“Well, I’m alone in London in a bar that was for bikers the last time I was here but has now been colonized by people from another planet.”

“That tells me that you’re lonely, lost and out of touch with modern life. It doesn’t tell me why it’s me you want to talk to.”

He steps closer to me, still keeping eye contact and says, “Three reasons: you look wonderful in that dress, inexplicably you seem to be alone and I’m curious about how you lost your leg?”

It takes me a second to process the last statement.

“You want to know how I lost my leg?”

I can’t believe he asked that. No one asks that. I wait for anger to push through me; for the outrage to start. The best I can manage is surprise.

“Yes. I figure it will tell me more about you than an hour of small talk.”

Incredible. His tone is light and fearless. No trace of embarrassment. He seems genuinely interested.

“So how did you lose your leg?”

“Sheer carelessness.”

My laugh is too loud. It sounds hollow, even to me.

He remains silent, waiting for me to finish.

I break eye-contact and say, “Sorry. It’s just that I hate that phrase. I didn’t lose my leg. A surgeon with a hacksaw took it away from me and I’m never getting it back.”

A tear slides down my cheek. He reaches out and brushes it away.

“You can buy me that drink now if you like.”

He busies himself getting me another glass of wine. He doesn’t order anything for himself.

I take a sip of wine. Still looking away from him I say, “My leg was crushed when a car hit my bike.”

I watch his face to see his reaction.

“What kind of bike was it?”

Caught by surprise I tell him the specs of my Suzuki.

“Very nice,” he says “for a Jap bike. I ride a Ducatti myself.”

I snort and launch a set of disparaging remarks about under-sized Italian bikes that are all flash and no muscle. We talk about bikes for a while. Nothing special, just the usual chatter on which bikes rock and which bikes suck and why. It is the most normal conversation that I’ve had in months.

“Does it hurt?”

The question comes out of nowhere.

“Only when I run”

We both laugh.

He moves his head towards mine. I wonder if he is going to kiss me. Then I wonder if I will let him.

“Can I touch it?”

The words are tender, sensual, seductive.

I don’t trust myself to speak so I give a single nod.

His eyes stay on mine as his cool fingers find the stump of my leg. Gently he traces the scar tissue. Then he rests his palm on the stump slowly works his fingers in a circle.

I search his eyes for a reaction to my crippled flesh. I fear revulsion or pity or twisted excitement. I find nothing but kindness.

The kiss, when it comes, is soft but passionate. Not perfect but pretty good for a first effort.

“My bike is outside,” he says. “I have a spare helmet. Do you want to go for a ride?”

The idea of being on a bike again fills me with joy. I want to be on the bike right now, even in this smart frock. I want to lean into his back and inhale the smell of his leathers. I want to slide into curves. I want to have a life.

“Answer me one question first.”


“What’s your name.”

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sturgeon's Law

“I repeat Sturgeon’s Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crap. Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. are crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crap is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms.” Theodore Sturgeon

Theodore Sturgeon was one of the prominent science fiction writers from the days when pulps ruled the reading roost. Sturgeon’s Law, later reduced to “Ninety percent of everything is crap”, can be applied to pretty much everything. If your were to replace the word science fiction with the word “romance” or “erotica”, you would embody the view point that our critics have of us who write in these genres. I’m not even sure they’d be as generous as to grant us that small ten percent of what we write as actually good. Thing is – you have to know how to read us. As Mike Kimera says what you read is not what we wrote.

My kid was watching a movie on TV called “Dragon Wars”. It was a new Korean fantasy - science fiction movie, a direct descendent of the awful and mindlessly charming horror movies cranked out by Toho Studios in war ruined Japan in the ‘50s and ‘60s. He hated “Dragon Wars”. He thought it was stupid, awful, a waste of time, an insult to his intelligence. All of which was certainly true. Yet I thought he was being unfair. It was fun. I told him “You don’t know how to watch these movies, that’s the problem.” Pauline Kael famously observed, in a variation of Sturgeon’s Law, that “Movies are so rarely great art that if we cannot appreciate great trash we have very little reason to be interested in them.” I would add to that, not only movies, but pretty much everything including stuff I write.

In modern Asian cinema a movie like “Dragon Wars” and its improbable characters are called “Daikwaiju” meaning “Giant strange animals”, like Godzilla, which is a sub-sub-genre of a sub-genre called “kwaiju”, meaning “strange animals” which is part of the genre “Tokusatsu” which is the whole world of low budget gonzo fantasy cinema involving super heroes like Power Rangers, and Pokemon as well as samurai sorcerers, kung fu zombies and all the rest. This is a distinctly over-the-top Japanese, and lately Chinese way of making movies, with a mythical pantheon of impossible, treacly cute creatures and heroes and memorable dialogue (“Let’s beat ‘em up!”) which are enough to put a westerner off his popcorn but feed an insatiable Asian appretite for fantasy the way romance novels feed that appetite in the west. Tokusatsu movies don’t just insult your intelligence – they give it a big wet kiss with tongues.

I feel a little sorry for Harold Bloom and others like him who are in the business of defining crap and steering the culturally innocent away from it. I’ve tried to read his books, god knows I’ve tried, but the truth is I’d rather being watching “Godzilla vs Mothra” with a bag of Cheetos. We do need high minded snobs, who have their place in the scheme of nature like parasites and biting flies, to occasionally teach us how to go about squeezing the juice from a classic book, but we have to avoid thinking they know what’s good for us better than we do.

In Thomas Harris’ book “Hannibal”, Hannibal the cannibal Lecter is asked sincerely by his good friend Barney, the guard in the asylum for the criminally insane “How do I develop good taste? How do I know what is good?” With an odd humanity, Lecter advises him more or less – start with what you love. Begin by having confidence in your own judgement first. Don’t let anyone tell you in the beginning what is good. Start with what you yourself believe is good, and learn from there. I like that advice so much I passed it on to my boy. Not only is this true in the world of creative work, but its true with people too.

With people and things and ideas, and finally regarding yourself - in the end you just have to love whatever there is there to love. Just as it is.

“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends.”

Aton Ego movie: “Ratatouille”

C. Sanchez-Garcia

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Never Let Go

This topic came to me after reading Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro. And if you read my last post, you'll know half the reason why. Because this book has stayed with me long, long after reading it in some profound and soul shaking way, which definitely tells me that it was orsum.

But I also came away with a real sense of how flawed it was, too. The worldbuilding in the book was not airtight. I could see the cracks, try as I might to avoid them. And yet, inspite of these cracks I loved it anyway.

Which got me thinking: does it really matter? Does it really matter if they wouldn't truly be kept out in the open like that, if the themes of the book ring so deeply through me? If one small thing about a character resonates wholly with me?

I don't think it does, because life is the same. We don't just throw life away, because one small thing is bad. Because of one tiny crack- or maybe even several cracks, all spiralling together and conspiring to bring us down. Would I say that my life is awful, simply because five out of a thousand people took it upon themselves to make me miserable?

I don't think I could, with a clear conscience. And it's the same with art, for me. I've never understood those people who'll give something like Never Let Me Go one star, just because the world didn't quite hold together in it or because the boarding school was a little too twee and British or any number of reasons like that. One star means irredeemable, one star means nothing was right about it.

One star doesn't have characters as rich and detailed as that, between its pages. And similarly, a one star life? Would be starving in the desert. It would be everyone around you dropping dead, the entire world going up in flames. It would be never kissing another person, never loving another person or being loved. A one star life would be the grimmest thing you could ever imagine, and if that doesn't make life five stars well that's okay.

Maybe life is five stars just because it is. You're in it and you're living it and you get to have perfect moments like reading Never Let Me Go for the first time and feeling everything you're supposed to feel, as a human being. And maybe that wondrousness wouldn't be half so wondrous, if you hadn't felt the ground shift beneath your feet. Followed the cracks to some impossible precipice. Wondered if you should give up.

But I never will, because of so many things that are flawed, but orsum. People and places and little unexpected moments. So many, many movies that everyone hates but me, like My Demon Lover and Return To Oz and The Mirror Has Two Faces. Yes, it has Barbra Streisand in it. Yes, it's kind of her vanity project. Yes, I still love it anyway.

Hell, I still love Barbra Streisand anyway. She was Yentl, for Christ's sake! Mandy Patinkin got all confused in his nethers about her! He was nearly naked and all hairy in that movie, and she practically deserves an award, just for that.

She deserves an award for mysteriously making me talk about Yentl, in the middle of a post about being flawed, but orsum. When what I really wanted to say was this:

The two will always go together: flawed and orsum. Imperfect and perfect. And both makes the other one better, because the memory of that flaw should always make us hold tighter to the orsum, and the orsumness should always shield us against the flaw. And I think it does. I think they do.

I think it's okay that I love life, too.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Life, the Universe, and Everything

Like a biology student dialing down a microscope to see parameciums on a slide, I've tried to narrow my focus for this topic from "life, the universe, and everything*," to something more specific. 

Sex is an obvious choice. What's more messy, funny, and embarrassing than sex? And yet, my motto is that there's no such thing as a bad orgasm. Flawed? Oh yes. Orsum? You have to ask?

Writing is flawed. Not just typos and grammar and stuff like that. When a reader reads a story, they assume that's the way the story was meant to be, that it was planned just so, and that the finished product is the only way that story could have turned out. A good writer will make the ending seem inevitable. Even if the reader wishes, for example, that Romeo and Juliet's plan to escape and live happily ever after had worked (I don't.  I hate that story. Good riddance, couldn't have happened to a more worthy couple, etc.) they accept that's the way that it had to happen.  Creation is a messy process though.  From the first word, nothing is inevitable. The writer may have an ending in mind, but there are infinite paths between points A and B, and sometimes, many times, we writers take the wrong path, only to finally stumble on the right one by a series of trial and error. Messy, and inefficient. But when it's finally right, it's orsum.

My desk is seriously flawed. It's surrounded by stacks of books that teeter on the edge of collapse. Right now, there's Mark Twain's autobiography, a Chinese food take-out menu, the disaster recovery notebook from my day job, James Burke's book The Pinball Effect, the latest issue of Filament magazine, computer cables, a statement from one of my publishers, copies of three calls for submission that I probably won't have time to write for, the enrollment form for the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival, a copy of the Journal of Narrative Theory, a cat, and the 4th volume of the manga Ooku between me and the monitor. The top three items in the stack immediately to my right are promotion postcards from one of my books, the hardcover copy of the young adult novel A Clockwork Angel, and my favorite reference book for writing science fiction: Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to all Creation by Olivia Judson. The rest of the stack is similarly in the non sequitur vein. On top of my computer tower is a cheap statue of Mary appearing to three sheepherder children given to me as a joke from a gay Catholic poet after I threatened to bring him world's tackiest Virgin Mary shell art as a souvenir from Venice. Over the years, the statue has been festooned with Mardi Gras beads and a collection of the plastic baby Jesus dolls from King cakes. A huge crown with a finial like a martini glass covers Mary's head and shoulders. Around the neck of one of the kids is a ring that was a throw from the Muses' Mardi Gras parade that another creative friend sent to me.  It's a weird little shrine. To what, I have no idea.  

As I'm writing this, R makes breakfast for me. He slides the plate onto the one open spot on my desk without comment since he knows that when I'm actually typing it's not the time for chitchat. I use the edge of the fork to cut into the fried egg and bright orange gloop oozes across the plate like lava to be sopped up by a piece of toast. Just the way I like it.  

Which brings me back to this idea, that no matter where I try to focus on the slide with a cross section of my life, it's all greatly flawed while being all kinds of awesome in big or small ways. Life, the Universe, and Everything.  That about sums it up.

*The title of Douglas Adam's third book in the the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which refers to the search for The Answer to life, the universe, and everything. That philosophical question is much like this topic.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Dark Poet

By Lisabet Sarai

I've written of him before, but never of how we met. I hosted a birthday party for my dear friend Carolyn in my two-room grad school apartment. She brought D, her high school buddy. He brought a bottle of Stolichnaya vodka which he left in my freezer. Was that vodka his strategy for getting together again? Or just mine?

D was younger than I was by three or four years, skinny and unkempt, with shaggy black hair and a drooping pirate mustache. Most assuredly flawed. It didn't matter. I wanted him, not just physically but with my whole being. He talked with his hands, brilliantly, weaving complex spirals of philosophy and nonsense. He wrote poetry and sang the blues. I might find him huddled at my kitchen table at 2 AM, with a cigarette butt smoldering in one of my 5-and-10-cent store saucers, reading or scribbling or simply staring off into space. Beside him I felt shallow and earth-bound, with my conventional hours and my academic discipline. My fleshy curves were a stark contrast to his ascetic, wiry frame. My focused goals seemed almost embarrassing next to his bohemian excursions on the path to truth, beauty and freedom.

Making love with D was awesome but not easy. He acted ashamed of his arousal, as though our animal coupling was somehow unworthy - too common, too gross for people with our level of intellectual and spiritual connection. At times I felt that I'd corrupted him, dragged him from his ethereal mental realms into the mud. Yet the actual experience, when he finally relaxed and gave in to his desire, was pleasure pure enough to take me, at least, to another level of consciousness. Transcendent. Awe-inspiring.

I'm sure that part of my attraction to him was chemical. I remember burying my face in his raggedy bathrobe, breathing in his scent and aching with need. That was later, when I drove two thousand miles to spend New Years with him in the tiny Western college town where he was eking out a living as a waiter. I spent a week in his freezing basement room, using the toilet in the hall. We huddled together under his sleeping bag, all lips and fingers and tangled limbs, his mustache tickling my skin, his funky intoxicating smell making me crazy with want. That visit, overall, did not go well. The more we connected in bed, the higher the walls he built outside of it.

Even later still, he came to live with me in Los Angeles, where I had my first real job. By then the flaws had started to smother the awe. I loved him with all my heart, but we were, perhaps, too different. Ambition had no meaning for him. Sex was some kind of sin against the higher self (though I think his discomfort came from sources other than religion). I was probably too old for him. Certainly, we were at different stages in our lives.

It's ironic that he ended up becoming a lawyer, marrying and having four kids. (I'm not in touch with him, but Carolyn keeps me updated.) Meanwhile, I dropped my original career, flew off to live in a foreign country and started to write seriously.

I've used bits and pieces of D in my writing. The character Rick Martell in Ruby's Rules has a strong physical resemblance, though his personality is completely different. Daniel in Truce of Trust shares both physical and psychological traits with D, although unlike D, he has no conflicts about sex or commitment.

I still remember the shock of attraction, that first night at the party. Even through the haze of desire, I could see that he was far from perfect, but I didn't care.

I wrote a poem for him during that last, difficult period that may sum the relationship better than any prose I can offer now.

After the Fall

I've come to believe

if you lose someone

you'll find them

in LA.

They say

there is magic here -

but all I've found

are expensive sprouts

and cheap neon.

And what an unlikely

setting for you

and I to set up

our dubious housekeeping

(such as it is)

amid the flash

of satin stretch pants

and silver Porches.

A bum and a priestess,

A monk and a barmaid,

Two lovers

of words, two seekers

of truth, two wandering

souls half-chance



for holy


I've lost you

so many times;

our roads

are tortuous,


together awhile

then yours will plunge

out of sight

like some winding

overgrown path

into Panther Hollow -

to struggling emerge

here in this city

of slow poisons

and paper maché.

But stay.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Lifetime Love Affair With Rock And Soul Music

By David Greene

They say the brain is the most important sex organ. And that rock and roll is about liberation and sex, not necessarily in that order. So just imagine how the brain can enhance a lifetime love affair with rock and soul music....

My best memories of 7th grade are singing doo-wop with black kids in the empty halls of the adjacent elementary school where we found that magical echo. "Get A Job." "Book of Love." I dug the rhythmic energy and emotional expression, the camaraderie, and the joyful experience of making and hearing the sound of vocal group harmony. This is how and when I fell in love with rock and soul music.

My 13th birthday present was a used, luggable reel-to-reel tape recorder, which I used to tape the radio count-down of the top 40 records of 1958. I had already acquired most of them illicitly from a local record store, before that fateful moment when I got caught in the act.

Rock and roll radio was the soundtrack to my life from my teens through my thirties. Songs like "What'd I Say," "Only the Lonely," and "Be My Baby" are fixtures in my play lists to this day. Nostalgia lurks at the periphery, but it's the intimate encounter with the exceptional musical artistry of these records that evokes the dopamine rush.

When the Beatles exploded on the scene our freshman year, my college roommate taught me to play guitar. We both wrote songs, individually and together, at times in the vein of "Please Please Me" or "She Loves You," at times more garage-like. The next year we started a band. I fronted the group, on rhythm guitar and lead vocals. Here's one surviving artifact from that band, recorded in December 1965 at the college radio station:

[click here to download clip]

Pop music charts always intrigued me. In college I collected end-of-year charts from radio stations all over the country and came across a year-end issue of Cashbox magazine including yearly top tens from 1950-1966. It baffled me that the year's biggest hits were often nowhere near the top of these charts, like "Singing the Blues" in 1956 or "Are You Lonesome Tonight" in 1960. This puzzle launched a brain-worm that has kept me persistently working on how to compare and rank achievements across time periods.

By age 22 my dopamine-laced years of singing, playing, writing, and listening to rock and soul (and jazz and folk) music had developed listening habits and skills that have continued to serve me well over the years. In a different life I might have become a record producer. But in this life, after college, my love affair with rock and soul music entered a more cerebral phase.

Out of curiosity I conducted my own research, collecting weekly data from old Billboard charts in the Philadelphia public library. With my first cassette recorder, in 1969, I pulled an all-nighter to tape the first radio program to cover the whole history of rock and roll. Soon after, I read Charlie Gillett's masterwork on "The Sound of the City."

These activities combined to transform me into an amateur historian of rock and pop music. I began to collect records purposefully. For example, reading that Chuck Berry got his bag of tricks from Louis Jordan and T-Bone Walker, I sought out great collections of their music and fell in love with both of them. This opened up the whole wonderful world of post-WW II rhythm and blues.

I developed the hobby of using my collection to make what came to be known as mix tapes. My earliest projects were 90-minute chronological slices of rock and roll history, like "Best Rhythm and Blues 1948-1957." I incorporated the best songs I had missed growing up as I came upon them, typically on "oldie" compilation albums. Even with a mix like "Best of Muddy Waters" or "Greatest Soul Ballads," my first tendency is to sequence tracks chronologically. I particularly enjoy listening to the evolution of the music as it actually happened.

Compiling mix tapes has been my enduring creative passion: discover, collect, listen, imagine a compilation, perfect the list and its execution, enjoy and share the results. The hobby remains fulfilling because with each project I immerse myself in the relevant music with a coherent focus. I enjoy carving the result to my liking, but I absolutely love the experience of listening with heightened attention.

Attentive listening sensitized me to sound quality. I began to care about finding better-sounding versions of my favorite recordings to use for mix tapes. My vinyl record collection topped out around 1800 albums. From the late 1970s into the 1980s, I recycled many albums for sound quality upgrades.

Then CDs arrived in the mid-1980s. When I realized that reissues on CD, for the most part, provided a step backward in sound quality, I embarked on a seven-year stint as a constructive watchdog music critic under the umbrella "Reissue Issues." Since my bi-monthly columns (in Digital Audio and Rock & Roll Disc) covered just about all pop music from the 1920s to date, record companies sent me an incredible amount of great music on CD. My wife and I remodeled our house just in time to set aside a room and build custom shelves for this largesse.

From the start I have kept a database of my CD collection, which includes assigning each CD one rating for musical quality and another for sound quality. I design lots of custom reports for my own amusement, to help me see the collection from a variety of perspectives. At times a delight, at times a conundrum, my database reports constantly challenge me to reflect on how the albums and artists of one time period compare with another. I also developed a "Pantheon of Rock & Soul Artists," a visual array that carves musical history into vertical time slices from left to right, and ranks artists within each time slice in horizontal tiers of "greatness" (or "irreplaceability") from top to bottom.

While working within this historical perspective, I've continued to keep up with current music through my annual (since 1982) project to compile the Best Tracks of each year. I start early in December revisiting the best of what I've collected myself, while also researching critics' end-of-the-year lists to expand my horizons. I spend hours and hours listening to both familiar and new (to me) music, winnowing dozens of songs down to those that best capture the Year in Music and fit on one CD. I've always really enjoyed this process, but never as much as since iTunes software came to serve as the perfect environment for doing it. Burning the CD is almost an afterthought.

For me, one effect of doing this annual project is an ongoing reassessment of how current music stacks up against music of the past. The result of this ongoing reassessment is - IMHO - a stark contrast between the long history of great music emanating from top tier artists of the 1950s through the 1980s and the almost complete disappearance of that same level of excellence in the last two decades.

Cards on the table: Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, James Brown, and JImi Hendrix are my top five rock and soul artists of all-time. Some other vintage top tier artists are Chuck Berry, Otis Redding, Ray Charles, Bob Marley, and Led Zeppelin. Four artists from the 1977-1990 period rank in the top tier: Bruce Springsteen, U2, Prince, and The Clash. Second tier artists from 1977-1990 are Public Enemy, Elvis Costello, and Talking Heads.

From the latest time period, 1991-2010, Radiohead, R.E.M., Lucinda Williams, Jack White, Kanye West, and Arcade Fire are my top artists. I really enjoy their music; I think Arcade Fire and Kanye West made the best pop albums of 2010. But, in my book, none of the 1991-2010 artists meets the standard of excellence set by the top tier artists, and only Radiohead makes tier two.

The latest phase of my rock and soul love affair is motivated by the desire to transform my music activities from solitary pursuits into social ones.

Until the pop music ground started shifting so dramatically during the 1980s, I felt unbridled passion for the music, strong historical continuity, and a sense of solidarity with a community of fellow rock and soul music lovers. As time passed, all three sources of nourishment began to diminish. The music (videos) came from different places, connections with the past were tenuous, and audiences were fragmenting.

The solitary intellectual in me strives to make sense of the host of changes in business practices, technology, politics, and culture that collectively ended the Rock and Soul era and ushered in a whole new paradigm of music distribution and consumption. But what I really crave are conversations with fellow travelers about their experiences on the same road.

When I seriously began to imagine how to make that happen the idea of an interactive website became irresistible. I've been working on a shoestring budget for a couple of years now and can begin to see light at the end of the tunnel. By September I expect to launch Rock 'n Soul Alley, where, as Alley "Gator," I will host blog-driven conversations on music (songs, albums, artists) and music listening and collecting, past and present. Registered visitors (Alley "Cats") can create their own Profile and post comments as well as their own lists of songs, albums, and artists.

The site will also feature materials to help provoke conversations that I haven't seen anywhere else, including an interactive version of my CD database, the Pantheon of Rock & Soul Artists, and, closest to my heart, The Rock & Soul Timeline, an interactive list of over 2200 songs from the last six decades in chronological order. The Timeline will include facts about each song, commentary on many of them, and, if possible, pairs of sound samples of a selected few, to illustrate such things as how cover versions sound different from the originals.

My hope is that Rock 'n Soul Alley will come to support an online community where rock and soul lovers share their knowledge and enthusiasm with each other, and that this community will serve to celebrate and preserve rock and soul music as a living, breathing part of our culture, not just another relic of a bygone era.

If you'd like me to notify you at launch time, please send your email address to Gator (at)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Rock Magic

In my twenties, when I was still trying to figure out what I wanted and what I was able to get, I joined the ranks of sharp-suited bright young things climbing the corporate ladder. I was good at what I did and made rapid progress. Yet every promotion made me feel more and more like a fake. My suit was a costume, almost a disguise.

The real me emerged when I put on my leathers and helmet at the end of the day, threw my leg over my bike, kick-started the engine and wove through the all those boring cars until I found a stretch of road where I could open up the throttle and scream at the top of my voice.

That feeling of power and freedom and truth is what Rock means to me.

Rock is a fist that smashes through my intellect, closes around my heart and drags me to new places.

Even now, it enables me to shed my corporate camouflage and enter a parallel universe where I'm a working class hero with a flair for words and a passion for living dangerously in the here and now.

I grew up on stadium bands like Led Zeppelin, Rainbow and Deep Purple, moved on to Bon Jovi, Meatloaf, and Whitesnake and now follow Nickleback, Linkin Park, Green Day and Evanescence.

My most intense experience of Rock was my first big stadium gig back in the 80's. Meatloaf was playing and I needed to hear “Bat Out Of Hell” live. I went by bike of course. The woman who would become my wife and was already my centre of gravity, rode pillion. She looked wonderful. Her long blonde hair flew out irrepressibly from beneath her helmet. The biker jacket emphasised the narrowness of her waist and the fullness of her hips. When she swung up behind me, legs spread, arms around my waist, I felt so alive that it my body seemed too small a space to contain all that joyous hunger.

At first we were just one bike in a river of cars. Then other bikes merged into the traffic and wordlessly we became a group. The group grew into a horde as we reached the stadium. We were legion and we were strong.

Meatloaf performed Rock magic that night. He pulled in the energy from all our nameless yearnings, amplified it and sent it crashing back over us in a tsunami of sound that transformed us into a single organism moving to a beat stronger and more urgent than our own hearts.

I dance about as well and as easily as an elephant on roller-skates but my wife's body seems made to express music. As I watched her move beside me that night I knew I would never see anything that I wanted more.

A while back, I decided to try and capture some of that Rock magic in a story. I wrote “Brave Enough To Cry”, about a rock singer who falls for a country and western star.

Of course stories never go quite the way you expect and what came out was filled with as much sadness as joy but I think Rock is like that, it lets us see the truth about ourselves and sometimes that is too much to bear.

Perhaps the most challenging thing about writing the story was that I had to come up with the lyrics for his songs. This was something I'd never done before and it left me with a great respect for those who do this well.

Below I've included the start of the story with first song.

Excerpt from “Brave Enough To Cry” by Mike Kimera

All the stations are playing Jonathan’s songs today. MTV play his three best videos once an hour back-to-back and then flip between a rockumentary of the “Lubed and Loaded” tour and a making-of-the-video for his single, “Now I know why Viagra is blue”.

I’m at the can’t stage: can’t sleep, can’t cry any more, can’t stop thinking about him, can’t forgive him for dying.

What the fuck am I supposed to do now?

Grieve and move on, that’s what my mother would say. She has always moved on easily. She never told me that grieving could be so hard. I’m locked behind a wall of glass, deafened by echoes of my pain and loss.

Then the song comes on. The only one we ever wrote together. The one everyone thinks is about how we met, but is really about how we would have liked to have met.

I told Jonathan that he’d never sell the song unless he changed the title and half of the lyrics. “You can’t expect MTV to play a song called, ‘She dresses pure country, but she fucks like rock n roll’” I said.

He just raised an eyebrow and said, in his best British officer-class voice, “Who could possibly object to a song with the word ‘Pure’ in the title?”

It took me months before I realized that I was the one being naive. The song went to Number 1 in the UK the week that the BBC banned it and became so popular in the US that MTV played it under the title “Pure Country” and dubbed over the bits it couldn’t stomach.

I turn up the sound and give my full attention to the TV. There we are, young and beautiful in the way that only a skilled camera man and a lighting crew can make you. The sight of Jonathan, lean and dangerously handsome, takes my breath away. He’s the leather-clad bad boy and I’m the cowgirl of your dreams. There’s no way to tell that he went to Sandhurst or that I grew up in NYC. The attraction between us is so obvious and so physical that the words of the song seem mild in comparison.

Jonathan has, damn – I will NOT cry – Jonathan had a singing voice as distinctive as Springsteen’s or Cobain’s: not good, not trained, but potent and unique and impossible to forget. When he sang, that my-family-have-served-in-the-Guards-for-generations voice disappeared and someone proudly humble, soulfully aggressive and irresistibly sexual emerged. Add in the icy blue eyes, the thick dark hair and the beautifully asymmetrical face and you have yourself an icon.

I pull my knees up under my chin, close my eyes and lose myself in his voice and our lyrics.

I was drinkin in a roadhouse
Saw her dancin ‘cross the floor
My eyes just couldn’t leave her
She made my skin feel raw

With a smile on her lips
and a swayin of her hips

She was dressed pure country
But I knew she’d fuck like rock ‘n roll
Yeah she was dressed pure country
But I wanted to fuck like rock ‘n roll

The nearest Jonathan had ever been to a roadhouse was watching Patrick Swayze movies but when he sang the words, you believed in him. That was the thing, I always believed in him, even when I knew I shouldn’t.

My foot got to tappin
My heart picked up the beat
I knew she was the woman
That God sent me to meet.

Had a smile on my lips
And my eyes on her hips

She was dressed pure country
But I hoped she’d fuck like rock ‘n roll
Yeah she was dressed pure country
But I needed to fuck like rock ‘n roll

Jonathan was an atheist but he couldn’t resist roping God in on his side. “God is on the side of the big battalions” he’d say, imitating his father. Then he’d grin and say, in a phony cockney accent, “Wanna see me battalion, pretty lady?” I smile at the thought of him and choose to ignore the tear that is rolling down my cheek

So I took her in my arms
‘n span her ‘cross the floor
She blushed when I touched her
But I could see she wanted more

From the smile on her lips
And my hands on her hips

The blushing bit is true. Jonathan could light me up just by brushing his thumb along my forearm. When he kissed me, standing behind me, pulling my shoulders back against his chest, lowering his mouth onto my neck, I understood what it meant to be consumed by lust.

I said, you look pure country
She said, I fuck like rock n roll
So I undressed pure country
And we fucked like rock n roll
Yeah we fucked like rock n roll

I’ve been asked so many times, usually by fat men with cameras in their pudgy hands, “What does it mean, Carol – to fuck like rock n roll?” It used to annoy me. It never bothered Jonathan, he’d just smile at the guy, lean over close as if about to share a secret, and say quietly, “Ask your wife to explain it to you.”

No one ever had to explain it to us. When we were together, sex was the backbeat of our lives, constantly present in every glance, every fleeting touch. When we were alone together, the guitar riffs would start and my blood would sing, clothes would be flung off, limbs would tangle and then he’d be in me or I’d be on him and it was like jamming: picking up a song you knew and seeing where the two of you could take it that it hadn’t been before. You both play and you both listen and you both look in each others eyes and you need to smile so bad that you can’t help but pump up the volume.

If you want to read the rest, go here.