Monday, October 31, 2011

Sky Gamblers Flies For Dogfights

There have been about 70 World War I flight sims on the market at one time or another since Atari released the Red Baron in 1981. Game play has always been all over the map, which is why most of them enjoyed a quick pickup of interest before falling off the radar, usually to more modern aircraft.

But there is one World War I flight sim that could have a longer shelf life. Rise Of Glory: Sky Gamblers invested development in the flight controls to create a realistic flight experience with better maneuverability than any combat flight simulator for the iPad, iPod, or iPhone.

Sky Gamblers wins with a richer, more complex control system.

There are some people who are complaining about the controls, but it is the controls that make for such rewarding game play. Pilots can control the planes with a combination of tilt (three-axis gyro), rudder (on-screen touch), throttle (on-screen touch), and finger motions (special maneuvers).

The primary complaints are related to using the three-axis gyro (tilt) component. Ignore them. The learning curve is quick, and the dual movement controls (three-axis tilt combined with touch variations) are what add a dynamic to aero-stunt flying in combat. If you can master those combinations, finger motions for special maneuvers aren't even needed. The responsiveness is that good.

Sky Gamblers offers up a diversity of vintage flying experiences.

The planes are modeled off of eight different designs (with two versions each). Two of them are based on the most famous from history: Sopwith Camel, which was piloted by Major William Barker; and the Fokker Dr. I, which was the mount of the Red Baron Manfred von Richthofen. With the possible exception of the Sopwith Triplane or Spad XIII, players gravitate to the more famous planes.

The most common exception is the Spad. Without question, the Spad was the most capable fighter toward the latter part of World War I. But much like real lift, there are tradeoffs in the game. The Spad is significantly faster, but feels less maneuverable than the Sopwith Camel or Fokker.

Maneuverability is important, especially while playing against real opponents. At faster speeds, you lose too much of it. (That's not a game fault, it's a flight truism.)

Other planes in the game include the Bleriot, BE2, RE8, PFALZ, and Albatros. All are unlocked by playing the campaign, which is especially important before taking the game online.

Some people don't seem to know this, because it's not uncommon to see players attempting to fly a Bleriot against pilots with the Sopwiths, Fokkers, or Spads. They don't have a chance.

Campaigns, dogfights, customs, and online options. 

The campaign is the best place to start for another reason, with the player piloting a Bleriot with tutorial instructions to understand the basics of the game and get a feel for the flight. Some missions are harder than others (and it took me awhile to understand the 'photo' mission), but playing the campaigns is the best way to understand the flight controls.

Each mission focuses on different elements, ranging from strafing or bombing ground units to dogfights and taking out balloons. While many people like to bypass campaigns and head to online game play, it's very much a mistake in Sky Gamblers.

Likewise, dogfight missions are progressively more challenging in head-to-head fights against aggressive artificial intelligence pilots. The level of difficultly increases with game play against various mixes and matches between the number of enemies and wing men. I've personally found that it's always a good idea to play at least one dogfight mission before joining the online games.

Custom games are also worthwhile for the same reason. It's the best chance to learn some of the online scenarios — free for all, team deathmatch, defend the base, and capture the flag — before playing online. But eventually, online is where you will want to play. Nothing beats the online challenges with up to eight players per game (or on a local WiFi).

When you do play online, expect most gamers to play free for all or capture the flag. This may change as more people pick up the game (almost all games develop loose friendships, alliances, and clans after awhile).

Anyone playing will also find that human opponents are easier than the artificial intelligence for now. As players pick up more tricks (such as not flying away from opponents and using the throttle to enhance maneuverability), it will be very likely to change.

The game does have a ranking system based on kills versus deaths, with kills earning two points and deaths equally one point. The system is fair instead of harsh, giving everyone the opportunity to move up quickly (unless they fly a Bleriot, which is like a knife in a gunfight).

Sky Glamblers was developed by a division of Namco Bandai. 

Sky Gamblers was the creation of Namco North America, Inc. It has dozens of titles, but is possibly best known for the cinematic Ace Combat, which is becoming even more video-realistic this year. It's safe to assume its experience with flight sims and the iPad, iPod, and iPhone platform paid off.

Even better, Namco Bandai seems to have learned its lesson about in-game purchases. Last year, the company launched Ace Combat for the iPhone and iPad, but players complained. I'm glad they did. Requiring people to make in-game purchases has made flight games like Skies of Glory (World War II themed) and F.A.S.T. (modern aircraft), both by SGN, largely unplayable.

Sky Gamblers: Rise Of Glory Takes Flight At 8.3 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Namco Bandai has developed a near-perfect flight game with Sky Gamblers. Hands down, it is the best historic flight combat app available. The only way to make it better is to continue to build out the campaign scenarios and add more features to customize the planes.

Rise Of Glory: Sky Gamblers is available for download in the iTunes App Store. If you are interested in World War I, consider renting (don't buy) The Red Baron, which is short on story but fun for the aerial flying. The better movie is easily The Blue Max. You can also find The Red Fighter Pilot: The Autobiography of the Red Baron by Manfred von Richthofen on Amazon. There is much less is written about Major William Barker, to whom history has been less kind, despite his numerous accomplishments and receipt of the Victoria Cross.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Artificial Madness Brings Connelly Back

When Chris Connelly first announced the upcoming release of Artificial Madness back in May, he promised the album would be a lot harder, acknowledging his former band Ministry in certain ways.

While perhaps equally well known for his role in another Al Jourgensen-backed band, The Revolting Cocks, Connelly's solo career has always seemed mired down in that it was never hard enough compared to his "formative years." But this album proves that his formative years are not behind him.

For years, he has continually progressed as a poet and songwriter, among the most underrated on the alternative scene as he drops in and out of other bands and side projects. In fact, even when his music has taken a turn toward folk, Connelly has always seemed to cover more ground as a musician on his own.

Artificial Madness has everything it needs to become essential.

His upcoming album, Artificial Madness, is no exception. The songs are harder, picking up hints of post-modern rock indicative of a traditional four-piece lineup but with pop and post-punk undertones in his delivery as a singer. As a lyricist and songwriter, he wants bands to ask harder questions. He does.

The album is meticulously crafted, put together and produced by Sanford Parker, who is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after producers for underground music. He was the right fit to work on the album, being able to balance consistency and chaos throughout, much like he did for Yukaza.

It probably didn't hurt that he has always been conformable with Connelly's lineup, having worked with them before. They include guitarist Dallas Thomas (Swan King), bassist Will Lindsay (Nachmystium), and Noah Leger (Tight Phantomz). Together, this band sounds like they've played with Connelly for years.

You can download this track, Classically Wounded, with a quick and simple registration on RCRD. It's old school experimental Connelly, who describes the song as a cautionary tale about a violinist involved in a high-speed chase, ultimately impaled by a violin bow. Yes, their own.

Classically Wounded is first out for promo purposes, but nowhere near as brilliant as Wait For Amateur, a biting satire about modern pop culture using modern theater. Other than the title track, Artificial Madness, it best cuts to the heart of the album. Connelly questions how enamored we've become with technology. He equates always being plugged in as something that comes with a pang of paranoia that we might miss something.

Other highlights include the nonsensical The Modern Swine, the haunting and darkly deliberate poetic reading of The Paraffin Hearts, and the urgency and coldness of both The Subjects and The Goner. Compatibility (the only song he did not write) and Imperfect Star also deserve space on any must have list. Even Cold Blood In Present Company, which is admittedly for those who acquire a taste for his new sound, tackles how tech can misinform to control.

Insanely busy, we're hoping he slows down to produce a video.

Connelly and Relapse Records have yet to release a video in support of the upcoming album. But having run down the tracks a few dozen times, you can expect some people to say that he is back in full form. There is no question he is passionate about the material. All of it is harder but no less spooky than this 2007 clip of Stowaway from Whiplash Boychild.

He did, however, take time out to support Meshell Ndegeocello's upcoming album. He wrote a book, Concrete, Bulletproof, Invisible + Fried: My Life as a Revolting Cock. And his website has several hard-to-find demos, some of which can be downloaded (including one from the Revolting Cocks).

His immediate plans after the album's debut is to host a record release party in Chicago. The date is set for Nov. 18 and Connelly has warned that it will be "the first and last gig of any sort for awhile."

Artificial Madness By Chris Connelly Sticks At 8.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

It's hard to say what kind of coverage the album will get come Nov. 8. If anything, consider it among those rare and essential works because it does return Connelly to his heaviest sound in years. It's better than Shipwreck, arguably among his best work, and certainly his best solo work. Don't mistake anything you've heard from him lately as what you will hear on Artificial Madness.

Currently, Artificial Madness is available for preorder on iTunes. The deluxe issue also has two bonus tracks, British Drug Lords, and a remix of Classically Wounded. Both are worth it. The CD will be out at Barnes & Noble. The standard release can be found on Amazon.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Stranger In A Strange Land Turns 50

In 1961, Robert A. Heinlein received one of the most scathing reviews of his career. It was published by the New York Times.

My selection of this disastrous mishmash of science fiction, laborious humor, dreary social satire and cheap eroticism was a frightful mistake. — Orville Prescott, 1961

It wasn't the first negative review the book would endure, just among the most famous. It might as well have been illustrated with a 1948 photograph of President Truman holding up a newspaper that erroneously screamed his opponent had won. Stranger In A Strange Land would become one of Heinlein's greatest triumphs.

The story of Valentine Michael Smith, an Earthling raised by Martians, is one of the most enduring in science fiction as social commentary. While our Earth hasn't advanced nearly as much as Heinlein might have hoped looking forward, plenty has happened for Earth in the Heinlein world.

It is set a few years ago, near the end of the 20th century. Space travel is simpler. The moon has been colonized. Mankind has endured World War III. But all of these details are merely a backdrop for Smith, with most of the story revolving around his various companions and an unnamed narrator filling in any major events, except one. The arrival of a boy raised by Martians.

The arrival of Valentine Michael Smith, an alien from Mars. 

Almost immediately following his arrival, Smith is met by the first frailty of humankind. Everyone has an agenda, and almost none of those agendas are in the best interest of Smith.

He is a prisoner, initially held in a hospital so he can become accustomed to the atmosphere and gravity of Earth. But then he is held as a precaution when the government decides it would be in their best interest to tap a scripted impostor rather than allow Smith to speak for himself.

These decisions eventually attract the attention and sympathies of nurse Gillian "Jill" Boardman and reporter Ben Caxton. While both have more self-serving interests for meeting Smith on the front end, those reasons dissipate as they become his rescuers, advocates, and friends.

Once Smith is discovered missing, Boardman enlists the help of Jubal Harshaw, a lawyer, doctor, and author who becomes a pivotal protagonist in the story. Although cynical at times, it is through Harshaw that Smith begins to understand the generalized concepts and constructs that make up the human way of life.

While Heinlein's principal interests — religion, politics, economics, and sexuality — are all present, he primarily uses Harshaw as a conversationalist on the importance of rugged individualism over the corruptible establishment. And it is because of these beliefs that Harshaw gains a moral and legal ground that Smith ought to be allowed to live his own life and not necessarily as the device of the government. And later, in a much different way, not a device of organized religion, at least not one that exists today.

The Martian who is remade into an Earthling. 

The transformation of Smith from a naive outsider to a mortal man in control over his own destiny is startling at times. Stranger In A Strange Land is humorous with its biting sarcasm, providing a unique perspective on things we take for granted. But as Smith evolves in his understanding, it can be painful to see his observations twisted into a different kind of corruption.

After tiring of various establishments, Smith does find some solace traveling with a carnival until he eventually decides to start his own religion as a means to mend what disappoints him about humans.

It is as a prophet, possibly using his considerable Martian powers to do it, that he tries to set things right with the best of intentions. Unfortunately, there is still so much he doesn't understand. And this simple fact provides a foreshadow of what is to come. Heinlein decides to test his creation with one of the worst aspects of human nature.

That test isn't the moral of the book. More exactly, Heinlein champions the argument that institutions are both useful and corruptible, capable of great accomplishments and atrocities (often committed while on the same path) in Stranger In A Strange Land.

And there are other ideologies and philosophies that are dissected in comparison too. Most of it is through the wit and wisdom of Harshaw, who some people speculate was a stand in for the author himself.

A bit about the man who wanted to write about a Martian. 

The amount of work, especially given Robert A. Heinlein's late start, startles some people. He wrote 32 novels and almost 60 short stories. He has had 16 collections published and assumed no less than five pseudonyms. He also edited an anthology of other writers and scripted one screenplay of his own work.

While Heinlein was the first to classify himself as a liberal, it is difficult to see how his definition might fit the more prevalent one today. His work was frequently underscored by themes of individualism and self-determination. It was equally important to him that people chose to be empathetic and supportive, but never forced to it.

Originally, Heinlein became a writer to pay the bills after his discharge from the Navy. His life in the military, although stopped short after developing pulmonary tuberculosis, was a great influence in his life, second only to being an amateur astronomtuer raised in the Bible Belt.

Today, he is more of an influencer than someone who was influenced. Stranger In A Strange Land, alone, has been referenced in a near countless bodies of work. References include six songs, ranging from Jefferson Airplane to Iron Maiden; three televisions series; and two books, including Arthur C. Clarke in 3001:The Final Odyssey. Grok, on its own, has been used dozens of times and is included in some dictionaries.

Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein Groks 9.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Few books or people have made such a long-lasting and far-reaching impact. The Heinlein Society continues to pay it forward on behalf of the late author. While I personally have other favorites, Stranger In A Strange Land had one of the most interesting runs of any book in Heinlein's career.

The novel, which would not be published in full until 1991, overcame heavy editing (more than 25 percent of it was cut for space and controversy) and tremendously negative reviews before becoming a counterculture favorite, Hugo award winner, and his best selling book by 1963.

You can find Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein on Amazon or look for the book at Barnes & Noble. Stranger In A Strange Land is also available on iBooks and iTunes carries an unabridged audio version. While Christopher Hurt is a fine narrator, the quality of the recording dates it. Years ago, it was rumored to be in development as a movie, but those plans never came to fruition (supposedly after a script review).

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Jetpacks In The Pit Of The Stomach

Nearly a decade ago, four friends got together in Edinburgh to play their first gig at their primary school. It didn't seem like much at the time. It was just a small scale battle of the bands competition (which they won). Guitarist Michael Palmer has said that they didn't feel like a proper band back then.

It didn't take long for that to change. Three of the band members decided to move to Glasgow (and the fourth to Stirling) and quickly lined up venues that were more suited to their music than Edinburgh. The move made all the difference, even if the band had to share a small space to make it there.

They still might be playing those venues today, but FatCat Records happened to scan the friends of Frightened Rabbit on MySpace. A few emails later, We Were Promised Jetpacks were signed.

Although this story helped propagate that myth that they sound too similar to their label and touring mates, it also got them noticed. In truth, We Were Promised Jackpacks always had a raw edge that set them apart.

In The Pit Of The Stomach polishes up post-punk roots, but thankfully not too much. 

With the new album, there isn't any question whether or not the band has matured and become much more confident. To do it, they traded in some rawness but sound no less urgent. Along the way, they also have discovered a sound that is all their own, which has everything to do with their work at Sundlaugin Studios in Iceland.

With a full three weeks of studio time and a bigger emphasis on attempting to capture the spirit of their live shows, We Were Promised Jetpacks obviously set their sights on producing a meatier, bigger, and more atmospheric record. You can hear it on the first track, Circles And Squares, which sets the tone of the album before it breaks into the smoother, more sublime Medicine.

On a casual pass, some people might think that the first half of the album sounds stronger than the second half. But listen through the entire album, and the lower tracks take on a life of their own. Human Error and Boy In The Backseat have a big cinematic sound, something that wants to play loud even if singer-guitarist Adam Thompson never has to strain his restrained voice to carry.

There is a reason for that. Interestingly enough, We Were Promised Jetpacks did not record live like they did for the debut album. This time, they tracked each individual part, hoping to remove some of the mistakes they made on their debut. It also gave them more time to write the music.

That's not to say the band had a theme in mind. They merely wanted to write songs that were fun. For We Were Promised Jetpacks, fun obviously includes satirical social awareness, poking fun at how people blindly people follow sameness and structure.

A quick rundown of tracks to review before buying the album.

The album works as a collective, but separating out some singles give them more lift. The best of the bunch are Circles And Squares, Act On Impulse, Boys In The Backseat, Human Error, and the bonus track Build Me A Bridge. Unless you love the band, skip Sore Thumb, Picture Of Health (even though the lyrics rock) and Through The Dirt And The Gravel. And while many people like Pear Tree as a fine finale, take it or leave it.

All in all, there is a certain force throughout the album, with tighter arrangements and just enough freedom to keep it from sounding listless. You can thank the studio for some of that.

Isolating and lifting instruments at the right moments, including Thompson's voice, prevents the music from slipping into an indistinguishable assemblage of steady sluggish mush. It might even be a good lesson to learn. They sound best when individual talents are allowed to shine.

We Were Promised Jetpacks Hits In The Pit Of The Stomach At 5.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

This is a great album for Thompson, Palmer, Sean Smith (bass), and Darren Lackie (drums) because it does help the band separate itself from the countless comparisons, giving them a chance to stand on their own. That makes In The Pit Of The Stomach another turning point for this Scottish foursome. A good one.

In The Pit Of The Stomach is available on iTunes. You can find the CD at Barnes & Noble. On Amazon, you can download the In The Pit Of The Stomach (exclusive version), which includes the acoustic Where I Belong instead of Build Me A Bridge.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bookmark The Library Hotel, New York

The concept behind the Library Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, New York City is simple and straightforward. This boutique hotel, fashioned from a landmark brick and terra cotta building originally built in the 1900s, is home to more than 6,000 books in the front lobby and 60 individual rooms, all tied together by the Dewey Decimal System.

And even if you never have time to crack a single cover, the simple heady twist makes for a stay that is somewhat of a cross between upscale and informal. But mostly, it's the homey feel and friendly staff that win people over despite plenty of other reasons to love the hotel.

The Library Hotel makes for a great home base in New York City. 

In the late evenings, the rooftop bar turns into the Bookmarks Lounge, which is constantly ranked in the top 10 rooftop hot spots in Manhattan. Expect to see more white collar and resort attire than rumpled jackets and robed bohemes here, especially on Fridays when offices break for the weekend.

It's probably even more true in the winter, when fewer people will want to enjoy a pricey drink on the outside terrace and cram into the penthouse atrium. It's still nice to know the views are right there on the 14th floor anytime you want them.

Likewise, the Library Hotel is home to the sometimes open-air and always upscale American Bistro, Madison & Vine. The menu for lunch and dinner is surprisingly reasonable, averaging $25 per entree for roasted organic chicken and wild trout for dinner (expect $31 to $50 per person).

It would make a smashing place for breakfast, but the hotel serves a complimentary breakfast in the 2nd Floor Reading Room instead. Still, if you can hold off any hunger on Saturday until 11:30 a.m., Madison & Vine does serve a brunch menu beyond continental fare. It's well worth the wait.

Smaller rooms make for an affordable stay in Manhattan. 

Since I was on my own, I stayed in a petite single. As the smallest room size in the hotel at 200 square feet, it is cozy even for one person. But the Library Hotel makes up for it in comfort, including the warmth of well-stocked bookshelves, each room with a theme. My room was stocked with poetry (the floor's theme was social studies).

Most couples would certainly be more comfortable in a deluxe room, which are still small compared to anything on the West Coast. And anyone traveling with children has to opt for a suite with a pullout sofa. That's not bad. All suites are on a corner with three-way views of Madison Avenue and across to the New York Public Library.

While the smaller rooms do not take advantage of highjack leather chairs to sell the theme, the larger ones do have chairs you can curl up in with a book (assuming you can, in New York City). But there are plenty of places where you can curl up throughout the property. And some people do, in the reading room, writer's den, and poetry garden when it's warm.

Whatever room you pick, however, still comes with all the services and amenities. There is a complimentary selection of the American Film Institute's top 100, complimentary wine and cheese receptions in the early evening, and club privileges at the New York Sports Club to make up for the lack of a gym on premises.

Manhattan makes everyone up for some exploration. 

While I was there last summer, well before Occupy Wall Street moved in to create its own political-cultural revolution mashup of sorts, there was plenty to see within walking distance of the hotel. It is located near the New York Public Library and Bryant Park, Empire State Building, and Grand Central Station.

The hotel's proximity to Grand Central was one of the initial reasons I considered it. It's only a block away, giving you full access to the city by subway. But you don't need the subway to hit most area attractions (just not the Village Underground).

Most museums are less than a mile from the hotel, including the Museum of Modern Art. Broadway and Rockefeller Center are a mere half-mile away. And there are a few fun places nearby you'll want to tap: the Park Avenue Tavern (with self-serve draft), Slattery's Midtown Pub (depending on who's playing), and the Wharf Bar & Grill. There are some other clubs and ultra lounges in the area too. Just double check the dress codes before you show up in jeans like you're from California.

The Library Hotel In Manhattan Bookmarks At 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.  

Staying at the Library Hotel is a casual contrast to the louder, more vibrant city around it. It's almost as if the hotel is a border town between two opposing cultures, with the more affluent having a slight edge over the free spirits. But I kind of liked that. It gives people who are used to more space — spiraling Los Angeles and hillside Seattle — a breath now and again.

To make plans for New York, search for deals for airfares, discounted hotels, and car rentals on Fare Buzz. Nightly rates vary dramatically depending on where you stay ($200 to $2,000 or more), which is another reason the Library Hotel has always been an enticing choice.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Gallagher's High Flying Birds Soars

Father of the Britpop sound and Oasis refugee Noel Gallagher isn’t interested in stepping out of his comfort zone. Instead, the 44-year-old rocker is looking to make music without the expectation of compromise that a band might need.

Fine with me. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds soars with promise and mostly delivers.

Gallagher has always felt comfortable in the role of lead guitarist, principal songwriter, and occasional (although very able) lead singer. But one can’t help but wonder if he felt cautious and tentative in going it alone, especially because brother Liam beat him to the punch.

Liam Gallagher only found a lukewarm commercial success with Different Gear, Still Speeding by his band Beady Eye, which includes two of his former Oasis bandmates.

Feuding brothers makes for good tabloid fodder. What else? 

Between the feud and the competing solo albums, there is an ever-present speculation that an Oasis reunion may never happen. Hard to say. Noel is up for it, but reminds fans that it is Liam who has categorically stated that it will never happen. The twentieth anniversary of (What’s the Story) Morning Glory will be in 2015 and fans naturally want some shows in honor of this milestone.

Can the brothers work it out for the fans and money, never mind for love? We shall see.

Then agin, if Noel Gallagher was concerned about finally going it alone, he needn’t have been. His first flight with High Flying Birds shows him happy, a bit sad, tentative, and yet rocking at the same time, with his characteristic kick-ass melodies.

As for the band’s name, Gallagher knew it would be called Noel Gallagher’s something, but wasn’t sure what. Then he came across a Jefferson Airplane album with a song called “High Flyin’ Bird” and instantly knew he’d found the right name.

The album is set to debut in the U.S. on Nov. 8, but it’s been out for awhile in the U.K. on Gallagher’s own Sour Mash label, where it has sold more than 120,000 in its first week. Pretty impressive.

These songs are new to listeners, but Gallagher’s been kicking them around for many years. Some sat idle as a few demos and sound checks, even finding their way to the Internet (apparently leaked). It’s not a radical departure from Oasis, but Gallagher probably doesn’t want it to be.

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds lifts off.

The 10 tracks run the gamut from classic rock to horns and choirs. Everybody’s On the Run features telling acoustic guitars and catchy background vocals. The voices of the Crouch End Festival Chorus give the song that added lift.

The melancholy AKA … Broken Arrow is buoyed by Gallagher’s piano and an awesome guitar solo, while Soldier Boys And Jesus Freaks is poppy in a 1960s sort of way. Dream On features, of all things, a trumpet and a New Orleans vibe but manages to sound fresh and very satisfying. If I Had A Gun, previously leaked as a demo on the Internet, is fleshed out in all its glory, with a restless Gallagher singing “If I had a gun, I’d shoot a hole into the sun.”

Helping Gallagher to co-produce the album is collaborator Dave Sardy, who produced the last two Oasis albums. Rounding out the lineup are Jeremy Stacey on drums, Lenny Castro on percussion, and Mike Rowe on keyboards. Joining the band on tour is Russell Pritchard on bass. Great fits. All of them.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds Soars In With A 7.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Gallagher’s in fine form here, and already planning a second solo album, which he has described as a companion to this one. It’s as though he’s stuck a toe in and found out the water’s just fine. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds will be touring the United Kingdom and Ireland in February. They’ll be playing a few key Oasis songs, but no songs that fans closely associate with estranged brother Liam.

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds: Deluxe CD/DVD set comes with 40 minutes of video, including the making of documentary It’s Never Too Late To Be What U Might Have Been, and more. It’s a good choice for long-time fans of Gallagher and gives a glimpse into his careless brilliance.

You can also find the deluxe edition on Barnes & Noble. iTunes will release the self-titled album Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds for digital download on Nov. 8 in the U.S. You can preorder it now. If I Had A Gun ... is already available as a single.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Club Dumas Hits A Milestone

Fifteen years ago, one of Arthuro Perez-Reverte's most revered works was translated into English for the first time. While it wasn't his first book, it was one of his most original and one of the few set in a contemporary time, with only a hint at his passion for the romantic 17th century.

This, of course, comes from the book's namesake, Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers. And anyone who has enjoyed the serial work of Dumas was drawn in when the novel was first published.

Someone has been killed, a wealthy and well-known publisher and bibliophile is found hanged in his pajamas, hands bound in front of him. While suicide cannot be ruled out, there is the question in an old cheap copy of The Vicomte de Bragelonne, with two underlined sentences:

"They have betrayed me, he murmured. "All is known."
"All is known at last," answered Parthos, who knew nothing. 

The Club Dumas is an inventive suspense thriller.

The Club Dumas is an ambitious novel despite its straightforward opening. It is the story of an antiquarian book hunter called in to authenticate a manuscript, the original chapter forty-two of The Three Musketeers, handwritten by Alexandre Dumas.

The manuscript itself, in fact, had supposedly been purchased from the very man who now graced the front pages of every newspaper. But appraising this impossible find is not the only task Lucas Corso has undertaken for an employer.

He is also searching for an equally improbable find: The Book of the Nine Doors to the Kingdom of Darkness. The book itself is made up for the story, and published by a character named Aristide Torchia, who was burned at the stake in 1667. But some say Torchia is based loosely on the famed Giordano Bruno, who published several controversial books and was burned at the stake in 1600.

It is such loose ties to historical fact that makes The Club Dumas all the more intriguing, assuming someone wants to look beyond the book. And some people do, because Perez-Reverte does't tie up every loose end nicely. He leaves them dangling.

Some of what he does include, however, might be enough to convince anyone that there may very well be links between a secret society of antiquarians, the occult, and ninetieth-centurary pop fiction. You may even feel like there may be men who are pursuing an ancient tomb said to be able to summon the devil, today. Or maybe not.

The magic of discovering it is mostly made worthwhile through the eyes of a well-developed and likable skeptic. Corso doesn't believe in the connections he stumbles across until he feels that he has no choice but to accept them.

All the while, as he races to uncover the mysteries that link Dumas and Torchia together, other book collectors are being murdered too. And, at times, it is difficult to discern which plot thread causes their murders.

The Club Dumas as an early entrant to intellectual mystery genre.

It is an interesting side note to mention that The Club Dumas predates The Da Vinci Code, which has now become the bar for the modern intellectual mystery genre. Keep that in mind while reading this book because while many people try to compare them, they are not comparable.

The Club Dumas is filled with many more red herrings, dead ends, and a propensity to sweep dirt toward literary purists, even if Perez-Reverte's writing is inconsistent in the telling. He tends to shift back and forth between a literary work and a detective novel, which is due in part to the translation.

More importantly, this novel was an early entrant into the category, even if that term is probably not the best descriptor for it. It doesn't have the same detailed historical depth as those that fill the category today. However, it is still entertaining and there are researchable tidbit scattered throughout.

There is something else too. The Club Dumas will be enjoyable to some simply because so many underrate it. Those who hate it, for example, point to the anti-climatic end, the lack of historical depth (as mentioned), and the irritating moment they learn the author is a trickster. But those who do appreciate it regardless, recognize that there is some craft in the dupery, enough so that they may laugh at themselves for connecting dots that don't connect. And maybe that is the point.

Like Lucas Corso, Arturo Perez-Reverte was an obsessive investigator.

Few, if any,  have drawn the conclusion that The Club Dumas is as much as about a man who becomes obsessed with the unraveling plot before him as any other definition. And in that regard, protagonist Lucas Corso shares a similarity with Perez-Reverte beside being known for for their abrasive personas.

Perez-Reverte was a war correspondent for more than 20 years, which comes with its own appetite for chasing down leads, uncovering conspiracies, and connecting dots whenever they would appear. But like any veteran investigator eventually learns, not all theories, investigations, and observations lead somewhere. Sometimes they do, but an equal number are illusions that they themselves create.

For a more literal version of the book, there is always the cult film that is very, very loosely based on it. The Ninth Gate, directed by Roman Polanski, takes a much less heady approach to the storyline. He turns it into a menacing, slow-paced mystery thriller with the atmosphere of a horror flick. It's also one of Johnny Deep's most under appreciated roles.

The Club Dumas Summons Up A 6.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

If you want to read the book, don't break ground with the film. Although the film warrants a separate review, people who see it will be even more confused by the novel. The reason is simple. The film creates links that were written in and never intended in the novel, while ignoring others outright.

The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte is available at Barnes & Noble. You can also find The Club Dumas on Amazon. It is not available on iBooks, but there is an audio version on iTunes read by David Warner. Warner is good pick for the read, lending to the atmosphere of the story without muddling it up with too much accent. It's a great match in that the reading adds consistency to the story.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Japanther Eats Beets, Limes And Rice

Did you ever wonder if there will be any more truly great punk bands? I don't really know, but one of the best and busiest lives in Brooklyn.

They're just like the honey badger. They don't care. They do what they want.

With eight full lengths under their belt over the last decade, Ian Vanek and Matt Reilly continue to delight with their anti-pop art noise in ways that make most people shudder, shake their heads, and scream. Beets, Limes and Rice plays just like that. You pick the column you belong in best.

Never mind much of the album was written with a dark cloud still hanging over their heads after the loss of their longtime friend Beau Velaso, former member of Death Set, two years ago. Japanther did Velaso proud, dropping a reference in Yellow Lighter but never allowing themselves to wallow. (Neither did Death Set on the brilliant Michel Poiccard.)

"It can be particularly difficult when you're sad to write about what you want to write about without making your music sound sad and fucking boring," Vanek told Exclaim! "It's definitely still a fun record about being a young person in the world, [one] that's not afraid to die and not afraid to live."

This is the kind of vision that truly makes them one of the best self-described girl bands emulating a boy band emulating an animated girl band in the world. And Beets, Limes and Rice is one of the best albums ever written about catharsis and love, just like Vanek and Reilly promised. You get that off the very first track, First Of All.

It's not about you. It's all about them. And Velaso. 

For a decade, it always has been about them and letting people have a good time. By calling themselves an art project right out of Pratt Institute in Brooklyn where they met, they've always managed to give themselves more freedom than most bands. It works.

People even love to interview them because only a few facts never change. Their inventive visual performances are alway fresh too. They played one gig for 84 hours straight. They did another with synchronized swimmers. And puppets, animation, graffiti, and mutant ninja turtles always make great standbys. Here's a taste from an old vid while everybody waits for something new to share around.

Off the new album, open with First Of All and then cut to Porcupine. It's a heartfelt lament drawn out of a bittersweet memory of someone left behind and missing out. Ding Dong Alujah is a crashing reminder to feel good and have a good time no matter what. And Bloody Mess hangs onto something unhealthy. 

All 14 songs zip skip across Beets, Limes and Rice in the usual frantic pace that put Japanther on the radar. Other must-have tracks include Lil Taste, Yellow Lighter, Come Back Home and the even-handed instrumental I'm Not Really Sorry. That's not to say that splitting the album is in order.

More cleverness in their crispness and fuzzy buzz comes out with every pass. And even if Beets, Limes and Rice delivers more consistency than possibly any other album, Japanther still slips in some unexpected hooks and noises inside this semi-somber, might-as-well-have-a-good-time beast. 

Beets, Limes and Rice By Japanther Is Delicious At 8.0 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Japanther retains all its goodness with unexpected twists and combinations that you know you won't like and then keep going back for seconds. Nobody else could hope to produce such unconscious absurdity and deeply meaningful music. Listen closely, and you might even find this is their most emotional album to date. The sound is bigger, for sure. 

Beets, Limes and Rice by Japanther is on iTunes. Beets, Limes and Rice is also on Amazon. For more on Japanther, dig up the DVD that features a psychedelic trip through the puppet universe of Dan Graham: Japanther: Don't Trust Anyone Over 30. All of it is supposed to be based on a late 1960s teen flick. It's cool, like everything these guys do.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Incendies Is Fiercely Unforgettable

Not enough praise can be bestowed on Denis Villeneuve's independent film adaption of Scorched, a play by Wajdi Mouawad. It is by far his finest film, realistically and emotionally vivid against the stark backdrop of the past and present in the Middle East.

Although the film opens with a twin brother and sister being told that their dead father is alive and that they have another brother, much of the story splits between their mother, Nawal Marwan (Lubna Azabal), and the daughter, Jeanne Marwan (Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin). The mother's experience plays out during the Lebanese civil war; the daughter's journey takes place today as she traces a family history that neither she nor her brother ever knew existed.

The son, Simon Marwan (Maim Gaudette), re-enters toward the latter half of the film, but only after his sister urges him to join her in fulfilling the last wishes of their deceased mother. He does eventually meet her in the Middle East, along with the Notary Level (Remy Griad), but only after Jeanne finds evidence that they do have a brother and that their father is very likely alive.

Incendies remains apolitical to tell a more poignant story of family. 

As a fictional work, Incendies never overtly focuses in on its historic origin. However, it is largely understood that the broader context is the Lebanese civil war, which stretched from 1975 to 1990. During this 15-year period, it is estimated that approximately 200,000 civilians were killed, largely over opposing beliefs. More than one million people are still displaced because of the conflict.

The true pain endured by the people comes to pass during one of many penetrating and chilling scenes. After one of the factions opens fire on a civilian bus, the three survivors — a young girl, her mother, and Nawal — are unsure of what to do until the armed men begin to douse the bus in gasoline.

Just before the first flames begin to spread and erase any evidence, Nawal reveals herself to be a Christian. She is granted safe passage, but not before she empathetically tries to claim the young girl as her own daughter.

In this atmospheric tale that frequently challenges kinship and ideology, it is neither the first nor the last time that family and philosophical bonds are tested, strained, and undermined. What begins as a forbidden love affair for Nawal quickly loads up as a burden she has had to bear until her death.

Therein also lies the incongruity between the timid and scattered mother that her children have come to know and the past she chose to leave behind. However, in giving them the tools to uncover the truth, she leaves them with something that will forever haunt all of their lives. For all three of her children, everything they had come to know as the truth will have to be rewritten.

About the storytellers: Denis Villeneuve and Wajdi Mouawad.

Denis Villeneuve is a Canadian film director and writer who began a successful career early by winning a youth film competition in 1990. He has gone on to win best director and best picture for three films in Canada, with Incendies being the latest film to be so honored.

Regardless of his numerous wins, Villeneuve was so surprised to be nominated for an Oscar for Incendies that he could not sleep after learning it had been nominated. He decided to make the film after seeing the play by Wajdi Mouawad in 2004. Taken in by its dark beauty, he pitched the film for funding.

In retrospect, he said that he wished he knew more about the Arabic culture before he started filming. However, he did learn a significant amount while shooting some of it in Jordan. He also had an excellent guide within the pages of the original play.

While Mouawad is also a Canadian writer, actor, and director, he was born in Lebanon in 1968. He also lived briefly in France before moving to Quebec. In his play, Mouawad does an outstanding job reviving the art of a theatrical tragedy but with the dressing of recent history. The film accomplishes much of the same, but with the added elements of slow burn suspense.

Incendies Ignites An 8.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Although the Academy Awards awarded an Oscar to In A Better World, Incendies is still a fierce reminder that the film field is rapidly changing and evolving. There are an increasing number of foreign films that are easily on par with or surpass the quality of anything made in Hollywood.

More of the world seems to know it too. Villeneuve was recently named one of the top ten filmmakers to watch. Go ahead and add the three principal actors to your personal watch list too: Azabal is riveting; Desormeaux-Poulin is enduring; and Gaudette is believable. You won't remember seeing subtitles.

Incendies is available from iTunes. Incendies (two-disc blu-ray/DVD combo) is available on Amazon. Barnes & Noble also carries the combo. It is the kind of film you will want to watch again because its punch is in human behavior more than a mystery unable to withstand a spoiler.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Acustalapse Is An Indie Artist Pick

Unless you live in Los Angeles, there is a good chance you've never heard of Acustalapse. And even if you do live there, you may have not have heard of them unless you've eaten at the iconic Jake's Cafe and Billiard Hall in Pasadena or The Park Bar and Grill in Burbank, two of three places where they headline as a resident band.

No matter. Everything is changing for these indie alt rockers from Glendale. They finished fourth out of about 40 bands at Howl At The Moon Hollywood (battle of the bands); the only indie alternative band to break into the finals against cover and metal bands.

They were invited to play Las Vegas at the new Vegas Rock N Roll Cantina (Oct. 29), shortly after having to pass on invites to ZombieFest in Las Vegas and Burning Man in the Black Rock Desert. They've been approached by several small indie labels (but haven't signed) and are chronic chart climbers on Internet indie stations. And they own the most downloaded song on an indie underground compilation, even if the outcome has been bittersweet.

"They [Quickstar Productions] found us on MySpace and we sent them the final mix of the garage recording for Rid Kid," says frontman Robert Andersen (singer/guitarist). "But we don't promote the iTunes version of the song since we re-recorded it professionally and because Quickstar claims to be going out of business and unable to release royalties."

The compilation bust was one of several raw deals the band has endured. Another was restarting the band when a fourth member dropped out. And somewhere between the bust up of Relapse and its reformation as Acustalapse, bass player Adrianna Parnagian was diagnosed with lupus.

But these hard luck lessons are taking a turn for the best. The band's resolve has never been stronger. And Parnagian is the first to admit that the life-threatening but treatable illness helped change her life.

"It changed my priorities, with following my dreams becoming the most important thing," says Parnagian. "In finding a balance so I could heal and live my life, I kept playing music, writing, and creating art. Throughout all of this, Robert and I always created and combined music, constantly co-writing music to capture the experience."

Nowadays, it is easily arguable that Acustalapse is stronger as a three piece with Andersen's sister, Kristen, on drums. Together, the three of them have made a connection deeper than many bands, spurred on by the drive to never give up. All of them are doing what they want to do.

"Everything is different. We write different. Think different. Feel different," says Kristen Andersen. "But we still have the same ambitions, hopes, dreams, and know that we are building toward something self-fulfilling and worthwhile because we work on it together as a band."

There aren't many bands that can claim to be tighter. Robert started playing at guitar at 15 and writing music at 16. Soon after, at age 12, his sister wanted to add a beat to her brother's songs, using nothing but pots and pans. Four years later, her father gave her a drum set for Christmas.

Although not related, Parnagian might as well be. As a lifelong creative with her hands in music, writing, and art, she learned guitar at 16, switching out for bass at 20. Six months later, based partly on Parnagian and Kristen's mutual interest in art since they were teens, she was recruited as bass player.

Anticipate an upcoming 3-track EP from Acustalapse soon. 

Nowhere is the tightness more obvious than in the work. They write their music eclectically, with Robert Andersen or Parnagian working alone, blending and bending their poems and riffs together as co-writers, or as a trio during impromptu jam sessions. The fluidity of it all is inspired.

Just don't let the fan-made video pick throw you. There are some punk and grunge undertones tucked inside most of their indie alt rockers. Robert Andersen can easily snarl and growl with the best of them, stretching his voice to match the angst and then rolling it back just enough to convey that nothing much is ever insurmountable.
The self-released three-track self-titled EP will feature of some live session favorites: Rid Kid, Scatterbrain, and Into The Blue. While all of them are already streaming at MySpace, SoundCloud, and Reverbnation, the release of an EP could help them break new ground on iTunes and Amazon or perhaps entice a mid-size or larger label to sign them.

"I always felt that Adrianna and Robert reached new heights with this song. Robert's vocals and solo and Adrianna's entire bass lick show their passion and the soul of our music," says Kristen. "This song shows how we can come together as three individuals and unite as a band."

All three of the tracks on the upcoming EP are easily worth the download. Any of their songs are for that matter. Add to all that their willingness to work with and promote other artists for mutual success in what has become an ocean of indie releases, and there seems to be little doubt that they will push through the blue, if anybody does.

As An Indie Pick, Acustalapse Belts Out 8.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

There is plenty to like about Acustalapse as an indie band on the rise. While their style clearly sounds more at home alongside the best garage rock from another era, the lyrics are fresh cut on relevance, like writing songs that are worn but pay homage to all those kids on Ritalin. And then they lay it all down against heavy bass lines, guitar crunches, and addictive drum beats.

They are unabashed, unafraid, and still under covered. Robert Andersen is especially adept in his delivery. He doesn't hold back, not in his solo songwriting on tracks like Scatterbrain or in singing. When he sings it, he means it. But when he feels it, he doesn't need to take the lead. Perfect.

You can find the original garage recording of Rid Kid on iTunes. But given the band's experience with the producers of the compilation, purchasing Acustalapse songs off Reverbnation might be the better bet. Or, purchase them from the new EP recently released on iTunes. You can also find the EP on Amazon. Downloading any other song will support the band, but they will need every download of Rid Kid, Scatterbrain, and Into The Blue to count.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fall Jackets With A Retro 1950s Flair

It was shortly after World War II that women's fashion in the United States started to change dramatically. More women started wearing pants and iconic ladies like Jacqueline Kennedy and Audrey Hepburn were often among the first to set fashion treads.

It's no secret why this happened. Jackie O and Hepburn were masterful at managing that fine balance between classic and independent. Hepburn especially earned longevity by always picking fashions with clean lines and bold accessories, something Jackie had a preference toward too.

Both women preferred a more minimalist look, accentuating their inner beauty as much of their outer beauty. It's a good lesson for picking fashion. If people are too busy noticing the clothes, they might not notice the person wearing them.

Fossil adds two vintage jackets with a 1950s hook. 

Fossil has long been regarded as one of the better designers for vintage looks. Their newest addition is the 1950s inspired Kara leather jacket, which isn't very far off from the 1950s biker jackets that helped usher in the 1960s.

What's different is that the color, commonly black for women bikers, has been traded in for a more sophisticated dark brown. The zipper has been replaced by buttons. The cut is fitted, creating a more classic feel. And the front pleats are riveted, with the hardware always more modern than what was manufactured in the 1950s.

The inside lining is different too, of course. Fossil opted for a smooth texture made with 97 percent polyester and 3 percent spandex. It cuts at the waist, with buttons to help pull the jacket in.

For a more sophisticated look, Fossil also add the Audrey trench coat, named after Hepburn herself. While the coat is a classic double-breasted design, Fossil has cut it short to fall at the hips (as opposed to the knee), and added a waist tie to help retain more shape.

It is anybody's guess whether Hepburn would have been more likely to wear a canvas or wool trench coat (or black like she wore in Seine), but there is no question that she frequently topped her more masculine ensembles with a trench. The reason the look worked so well for her was because of her often beatnik and bohemian approach to fashion.

Sundance modernizes the look once made famous by Jackie O.

Although Jackie O was often fond of trench coats too, she is perhaps even better known for sporting peacoats. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, it was even more commonly called a Jackie O coat.

At Sundance, the designers have traded in the wool that was indicative of a stylish sailor's staple and created something even more memorable. The weathered leather peacoat turns back the pages but retains a more modern, almost Western flavored styling.

It also cuts below the waist near the hips. What makes the look appealing is that the distressed leather is considerably softer. It is both more casual and formal all at once — a nice modern take on the classic design.

A quick nod to a man who often inspired both fashion icons.

While Jackie O and Hepburn were adept at creating their own ensembles, Hubert de Givenchy worked with both of them. It was often his designs, inspired by being ahead of his time in foreseeing a relaxed chic look, that helped solidify the balance between feminine and masculine.

Along with Hepburn and Jackie O, he helped set trends with the likes of Lauren Bacall, Greta Garbo, and Elizabeth Tailor. Interestingly enough, his designs often worked both ways. While he created the fashions that helped them become fashion icons, they inspired him much like any muse.

Givenchy retired in 1995, but his brand lives on. This year, Givenchy has launched two dramatically bold designs very different from its history. The haute couture designs are feminine, sheer, and see-through. The ready-to-wear line is boxy, masculine, and modernistic.

Retro Leather Jackets By Fossil Button Up At 6.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Leather jackets can be among the hardest fits to find. And other than some of the newer designs being created by increasingly cool Italian designer Le Sentier, slated for a future review, picking up at least one timeless classic is always the better bet. You'll own it for years.

The Kara leather jacket ($358) and Audrey trench coat ($358) are available from Fossil direct. The alternative pick, the weathered leather peacoat ($548), is from Sundance. All three designs capture the spirit of classic styles with just enough modernized accents to keep the looks alive.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Brian "Head" Welch Steps Ahead Again

It might have been six years since Brian "Head" Welch left the band, but most people still associate his name with Korn, the first nu metal band rightly credited with helping shape the metalcore scene.

That might change early next year. Since Welch broke with Driven Music Group in March, he has been working tirelessly in the studio with producer Jasen Rauch, formally RED. And Welch's band Head — with members Dan Johnson (drums), Michael Valentine (bass), and J.R. Bareis (guitar) — put out the first single from their upcoming EP a few weeks ago.

As a foreshadow of things to come, Paralyzed is solid as a standalone. While the lyrics are consistent with Welch's personal struggle, the arrangement suggests that he has finally settled into a direction. It's still restrained by metalcore standards, but Welch hits upon a harder sound that is superior to his experimental debut album, especially in its primary riff.

Paralyzed recaptures crushing riffs, a faster pace, and heavier goodness.

One of the challenges some had with the debut album Save Me From Myself was that Welch tried too hard to prove he was different. Sure, there were some solid tracks on the first album and it had some meaningful lyrical moments. But at the same time, Welch didn't seem as comfortable or confident with the direction as he could have been.

Paralyzed, on the other hand, brings out more of Welch's potential as a solo musician/vocalist. It's almost as if he has learned that you do not have to have a hard break with the past to move forward. The past will always be part of you. You only have to make moving forward carry more weight.

Paralyzed clearly carries more weight. Most people can relate to the music in whatever context they choose. Everyone feels paralyzed at times, and can only hope that those closest won't abandon them.

At the time we first published, the video for the new single was still due to be released soon. The concept for the video isn't so new: It serves up a familiar and very literal meaning: empty warehouses and straightjackets.

The song itself is being billed as his most dynamic single since Korn. There is some truth to that. In fact, comparing it to the last single put out by his former band, it's obvious who is on the better track.

"Life is a crazy roller coaster ride, man. The ups and downs we ago through are enough to drive us insane if we let them." — Brian "Head" Welch

Who knows? This song might be the benchmark for a banner year where Head and Korn can stop talking about each other. After all, it has become monotonous to read the same question over and over.

To sum up that answer: While Welch will not rule anything out (as in forever), he has repeatedly said that he is not looking to reunite with the band. And why would he? Paralyzed may carry simple lyrics, but Welch has found a way to deliver them with full effect. Head is moving ahead, not paralyzed.

Paralyzed by Brian "Head" Welch Gets Unstuck At 6.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

For someone like Welch, Paralyzed may come across as neutral. It's better than that, especially if the forthcoming EP can take advantage of a harder sound on both sides of the spectrum. Welch deserves to be watched because he is clearly on sturdier ground since splitting with his label. This single was released through Headdog Music.

You can download Paralyzed from Head on iTunes. Paralyzed - single can also be downloaded on Amazon. Welch and Head are touring this month with RED, Echoes The Fall, and Icon For Hire. His daughter will also be joining him on tour for the first time. Look closely on iTunes. She may have even reviewed the single. That's cool.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Harley Race Is The King Of The Ring

In the 1950s, professional wrestling was not glamorous. Wrestlers worked hard. They spent most of their time on the road. They did not get compensated very well.

There was no merchandising, pay-per-view Wrestlemania, or sold-out arenas. There was just wrestlers in the ring.

This was also the era when a teenaged Harley Race entered the ring. He was, at age 15, a big strapping lad who dreamed of a life beyond working as a farmhand in Missouri. He had already been kicked out of school for hitting the principal who tried to break up a fight between Race and another student. It was 1959.

Harley Leland Race had no need for fabricated moniker. He was real. 

Yes, Harley Leland Race is his real name. Even as a teen, it was the name that people remembered as he met and impressed a few key people in the wrestling world. It didn't take long before he picked up the occasional match.

He found other odd jobs too. One of them was being charged with driving another wrestler, Happy Humphrey, to and from various venues. The car was custom. Humphrey weighed over 800 pounds.

His fondness for Humphrey, other humorous stories and personal recollections make King of the Ring—The Harley Race Story everything that it is. It's human and engaging, a success story without the promise of a celebrity-sized payout.

That is not to say Race didn't achieve star status. Inside the ring, he became known as Handsome Harley Race. It was there that he spent the better part of four decades clawing his way from reliable babyface to legendary “heel” and beloved champion. He also also served as a promoter, manager, league owner, and mentor along the way.

Few can dispute that the man is truly worthy of being called King of the Ring. It’s a title well-earned, not just for Race’s longevity, but also for his disciplined work ethic and innovative style in the ring. Everything Race did rightfully earned him a place in wrestling history.

King Of The Ring is exceptionally detailed but never longwinded. 

Race tells his story in his own words, with some assistance from writer Gerry Tritz. Race's style is conversational, much like it would be if you sat down with the man to have a few beers and listen to a few yarns.

He painfully describes the car accident that claimed the life of his first wife, Vivian. It nearly cost Race a leg. He shares everything: earning his stripes in the ring; the birth of son Justin; divorcing from second wife Sandra Jones; clinching the National Wrestling Association championship belt eight times; and his acrimonious divorce from his fourth wife (whom he never mentions by name). Toward the end, all of it nearly bankrupted him and sent him into a depression.

While Race goes a bit too easy on most of his personal life, he lights up when he mentions meeting and marrying B.J., his fourth wife. Overall, it solidifies the impression that he is a private man who would much prefer to share secrets from the ring. He prefers talking about his team partnership with Larry “The Axe” Hennig, and friendships (and matches) with everyone from the Funk family (Dory, Sr.; Dory, Jr. and Terry) and Dusty Rhodes to Andre the Giant, Ric Flair and the British Bulldogs.

The most intriguing aspect of the book is Race’s perspective on the growing threat to the NWA by Vince McMahon Jr. and his fledgling WWE in the 1980s. Race cautioned the loosely connected NWA promoters that they needed to work together. Instead, they looked out for their own best interests, giving McMahon the opportunity to swoop in and edge them out of their own territories.

Race stayed loyal to the NWA to the end, a hallmark of his personality. But eventually, the writing was on the wall and even he had to join the WWE, even knowing he would lose the money he'd invested in the NWA. It was under McMahon that Race was crowned "King of the Ring," a way to recognize Race without giving making him WWE champion (since there already was one).

He might have worked the squared circle for many more years but another car accident ended the King’s pro wrestling career. After, he continued to play a role in pro wrestling as the manager of Lex Luger and Vader. Eventually he opened the Harley Race Wrestling Academy in Eldon, Missouri, which has trained the offspring of many famous wrestlers: Reid Flair (Ric Flair’s son), Joe Hennig (grandson of Larry Hennig) and Ricky Steamboat, Jr. (son of Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat).

King Of The Ring —The Harley Race Story Slams A 6.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Race is one of only a handful of pro wrestlers to ever be inducted in the WWE Hall of Fame, WCE Hall of Fame, and Professional Wrestlers Hall of Fame. He does a fine job with the book despite many fans (myself included) wishing it would have been longer (a mere 180s pages, with photos).

His academy is still in full swing and recently moved to a new and bigger location to accommodate its growing roster of students. Race's latest endeavors are updated on his website.

King of the Ring-- The Harley Race Story is available on Amazon. The book has sold out at Barnes & Noble. On Amazon, however, you can also find The Professional Wrestlers' Instructional and Workout Guide, which he co-authored with Ricky Steamboat, Les Thatcher, Jim Ross, and Alex Marvez.