Category Archives: Music

Movie Review: The Raven

Disclaimer: I’m a total Edgar Allen Poe fangirl. He’s been and influence for much of my writing life. I even have a tattoo of a raven, sitting on a bust of Pallas on my right shoulder. See it and read my post about tattoos here: https://jessicazellman.wordpress.com/2011/10/04/ink-a-needle-in-your-skin-let-the-world-know-where-youve-been/

I was introduced to Poe the same way as many other things. As the second youngest child of six, my older siblings influenced my taste in music, television, movies and yes, books. In this case, an older sister was reading Poe and decided I should know about The Black Cat. Also, “The Bells” and of course, everyone’s favorite, “The Raven.” Later that year, she bought me a leather-bound collected works which has an honored place on my bookshelf to this day. I devoured those tales like a favorite snack. Sherlock Holmes had offered some intrigue and gore, but Poe went much further. I loved him immediately.

I remember frowning at the pendulum at the Franklin Institute because it had no mechanism for starting out high and lowering with each swing. In high school, we saw The Fall of the House of Usher performed at what was I presume, a local theater. Also, An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge and another short piece which I don’t remember, possibly because I so loved the other two and was less familiar with that one. That rare field trip (Thank you, Mrs. Birch.) awoke my passion for theater and just increased my love of Mr. Edgar Allen Poe.

So I was delighted to learn that a movie about my favorite early master of the macabre had been made. I hoped Johnny Depp would play Mr. Poe, but it was John Cusack. Sigh.

The story is worthy of a Poe tale. A murderer is on the loose in Baltimore. The deaths are gruesome (as befits Poe) and inspired by various tales by the author himself. The Pit and the Pendulum was an early favorite of mine and the movie’s depiction did not disappoint. The ticking clock arrived when Poe’s girlfriend was kidnapped and the murder demanded an account in the local paper depicting a fictional solution to Poe’s real problem.

There were twists and turns in the path. Poe’s desperation pushed him close to madness and Cusack played this well. There was one moment where the writer had a chance at being an action movie hero. The police detective shouted “Find him, Poe! GO!” A high speed (on horseback) chase through a fog filled forest ensued. Had it ended there, with Poe shooting the bad guy and finding his beloved easily, I would have walked out in disgust. But it didn’t. There would be a few more turns of the screw.

As is appropriate to any Poe tale, this one did not have a happy ending. Justice may have been done, but the hero did not go riding off into the sunset with the heroine by his side. Nor should he have done. This isn’t fairy tale land after all, this is Poe’s world, where life is grim and hard, and often ends senselessly without reason other than evil does exist. In fact, it is often found in each of us.

“And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.”

One post script, as the credits rolled, Ian Astbury’s voice soared and echoed eerily through the theater. Since he’s one of my favorite singers, I was thrilled. Here’s the song, if you care to give it a listen.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eRyzZJML78

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“Holding Grudges” or “Why I hate the Allman Brothers”

I try not to hold grudges. My philosophy is that if I dislike a person enough to remember whatever incident(s) made me angry, then (s)he is not worth the time and energy it would take to retain that anger.

That being said, I have one exception: The Allman Brothers. And here’s why: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNvWLb1_BBk

I was eight or nine when I finally realized that Paul McCartney, my most beloved musical hero, was singing “Jet” and not “Jes.” I was devastated. So I went in search of a song with my name in it. There was “Jesse” by Carly Simon, but that was obviously about a guy, ditto Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl.” Besides, I was rapidly outgrowing that nickname.

So I sat down near my brother’s record collection and started searching. About halfway through the stack, I found an album with a little blonde kid on the cover. It was “Brothers and Sister” by The Allman Brothers Band. I had never heard of them, but if they wrote a song with my name in it, they would be my new favorite band. (after Paul McCartney and The Beatles of course.) I checked the song list and sure enough, #6 was simply titled “Jessica.” Excellent!  A glimpse at the record showed that it was a long song too. Wonderful. Here was my new theme song. I envisioned it magically playing whenever I entered a room. (It was the early 80’s and I watched entirely too much television, okay?) I wondered what wonderful things this band had written especially for me. I counted out the grooves on the record and set the needle down to play…

My first thought was that it had a good beginning. And then that it had an awfully long beginning, but that happened sometimes. There was an Elton John song (“Burn Down the Mission”) that seemed like it would never get started. Surely these Allman guys would get to the words soon. About a third of the way through the song, when the piano bit started, and I accepted that this was not “my song” at all, just a long ass instrumental. I was too disappointed to bother listening to the final 4 (or is that 40?) minutes. I just lifted the needle and put the record back in its sleeve.

To this day, when “Jessica” comes on the radio, I turn it off. Many years later, “Mambo No. 5” was released and amongst all the rest is “A little bit of Jessica, here I am…” but it was too late. By 1999, I didn’t care anymore. The child who thought she could have a theme song was gone, replaced by a slightly cynical adult.

Okay, that’s not entirely true, since I have considered “Paperback Writer” my theme for many years. It’s my ringtone on my husband’s phone too. I’ll take a song that describes who I am over music with my name (common name that it is) attached to it any day. Also, it was written by Sir Paul, who is still my favorite musician. Even if he does sing “Jet” when he should be singing “Jes.”

Oh yeah, and screw you, Allman Brothers. Ha.

Krieger is god

I first saw The Doors perform live in April of 2003. Yeah, I know, Jim Morrison died in 1971. I was born a few years later, so it’s not like I could have seen the Lizard King himself. This was as close as I could get. They, meaning Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek, two of the original four, called themselves the Doors of the 21st Century, with Ty Dennis and Angelo Barbara from Robby’s band playing drums and bass respectively, and Ian Astbury doing the vocals.

I went in with no expectations. I mostly wanted to see Robby and to hear these songs, which I had loved my entire life, played live.  Our seats were front row center of the balcony at the Tower Theater over in Upper Darby. It’s a small venue, so we weren’t far from the stage and had an unobstructed view. They were late, and the crowd in true Philly fashion started the chant of “We want the Doors!” We had been sitting there so long, I had almost forgotten who we had come to see. Finally, a picture of Jim appeared on a screen and “O Fortuna” blasted out of the speakers. Seriously, the crescendo of that opera makes for the best intro ever! Just as the cymbals crashed and horns blared, came the words “Ladies and gentlemen! From Los Angeles, California, it’s the Doors!” Pandemonium.

That performance blew me away. Ian had all the magic I imagined Jim having. Gene, having seen Jim in the 60’s, actually said that Ian was better, being sober and all. We saw them many times after that, traveling to New York, Montreal, California and even London for the shows. Most times we were in the first or second row and just a few feet away from Robby and his guitar. Wow.

A few things have changed over the past couple of years. Ian Astbury returned to his band, The Cult. Since I am a huge Cult fan, this pleases me, even though I miss him with the Doors. Ray and Robby can’t call their band any version of “The Doors” as a band name anymore thanks to a law suit from John Densmore, the original drummer. My opinion of him is best left unsaid. So now they are just “Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek of The Doors.” Densmore and his lawyers can’t take that away from them. They have a new singer, Mili Matijevic, who has a hell of a voice and a lot of charisma, if not the magic of Ian Astbury.

Saw them last night in Atlantic City, and it was a hell of a show. Best of all, I got to stand just a few feet away from Robby while he played. At one point, he and Ray were talking, and Robby’s fingers still moved absently over the strings. I guess it’s just that natural for him. Robby plays with a pick, without a pick, fingertips the strings (he did that long before Eddie VanHalen, thank you very much) and makes the fluid strumming of flamenco style seem effortless. I never get tired of watching him. He’s just that good. Together, he and Ray create a musical atmosphere and carry the audience along for the ride. After all these years, the power never fades. It’s still a “dance on fire” and an experience that I wouldn’t give up for anything.

Too Sober for Bourbon St.

I don’t drink much. I’ve been drunk a grand total of once in my life. It wasn’t pleasant, so I don’t feel like repeating the experience. So what would I be doing on the famous Bourbon St. in New Orleans?

 We had to go to Jefferson Parrish, Louisiana for the worst of family emergencies, but were determined to appreciate a bit of the scenery despite the sadness each day brought. Certainly, the Big Easy is a good place to forget your troubles. So we tried some local cuisine, and wandered the streets. One restaurant had a guy playing a trumpet out a window to attract patrons. Street musicians, sometimes entire bands, were common, and most of them were very good. You can hear Bourbon Street from about two blocks away. The street is lined with bars and strip clubs and a few souvenir shops thrown in for good measure. Every bar blares music out open windows and doors, to the point where you can barely differentiate one song from the next. During the day, it’s chaotic. At night, it’s like one giant party stretching well over 10 blocks. Every night is Mardi Gras.

 I got a frozen daiquiri from a bar called Jester’s in a plastic cup as long as my forearm. They gave up some jester beads with the drink, which I was happy to add to my growing collection. No, I did not lift my shirt for the beads. On every side, people crowded overhead balconies and tossed beads to those of us below. Gene kept getting hit in the head with them. I guess I was the original target, though I didn’t actually see anyone throw them to me. Not being proud, I picked up several off the ground. Why not? I ended up with quite a collection that way.

As for my Jester Daiquiri, it never seemed to get any lower. Must have been the slushy ice melting. Either that, or I really am a lightweight. One thing I can say is that everyone was very friendly and nice. With all those people crowding the streets, there was plenty of bumping around, but also plenty of shoulder patting and congeniality. I can’t imagine that happening in New York. It reminded me a little of New Year’s in London. The whole city seemed happy and ready to party. Wow.

The crowd was more eclectic than I expected. It was made up mostly of 20 – 25 year old party animals dressed the way you would expect, but plenty of older people around retirement age wandered the streets too. Several bookish looking young women wove through the crowd, and a few Asian tourists photographed their kids surrounded by all the lights and mayhem. In the middle of it all, an evangelist group held large crosses and handed out pamphlets to the drunken carousers. That reminded me of a group of republicans who came to a Michael Moore speech back in 2004. Some people are confident enough to go anywhere.

And what about me? I’m not the noisy, partying type. I don’t expect, nor require attention from strangers. (Except of course when it comes to reading my books – and maybe my blog?) When I start to get too buzzed, I switch to Coke or Pepsi and look for food. I love live music, but like to actually be able to sit and listen to it, as opposed to barely being able to distinguish it from the general cacophony of the area. The heat and humidity was unbelievable, and I just wanted to get back to the hotel and wash off the city grime.

So, Bourbon St. is not for me. It was interesting to see and experience, but once was probably enough. We did party all that night, as appropriate for our last night in New Orleans. Ended up in the hotel bar, singing “Hey Jude” and “Piano Man” until the sun rose. Staggered up to the room and eventually onto the plane back to Philadelphia. As much as I gripe about New Jersey, I was happy to come back. Cliché or not, there’s no place like home.

Celebration

(originally posted around 4/11/10)

How to celebrate a major advancement towards a lifetime goal:

 I woke on Saturday morning, fed the bird, prepared my hot chocolate soy drink and picked up my blackberry to check for e-mails. Amongst them was an e-mail from the small but well connected press I submitted to a week and a half ago. Yeah, that’s right, a week and a half.

 At first, I thought they were rejecting me. That’s what a quick response like this usually means. But no, there was a contract attached. Wow. I printed out the contract and my husband and I both read it. It was straightforward and concise. So… how to celebrate?

  • 1.  Send text to Writer Nephew who doesn’t get up before noon and won’t see it for 3 hours anyway.
  • 2.  Post new status on Facebook. Smile at a friend’s immediate positive response.
  • 3. Send e-mail to sister who is not on Facebook.
  • 4. Listen to what has been my theme song since I was a kid, the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer” and post the video on Facebook.
  • 5.  Go outside and do some yard work.  

Yeah, I know. #5 makes no sense. I think I was in shock. A lot was going through my head at that point. Ripping out some dandelions seemed like a good way to expend nervous energy.  

 Around 1:00, I decided I needed to eat something. Just as I came inside, I heard “Misty Mountain Hop” which is Writer Nephew’s ring tone. Lots of enthusiasm greeted me. It occurred to me that Writer Nephew and his college buddies were more excited than I was. Yeah, it had to be shock. But while I was speaking with him, a smile took up residence on my face and did not leave. Hung up, and seconds later took a call from my sister – the one who is not on Facebook. Okay, now I was getting excited. So, back to celebrating…

  • 6. Shower off garden dirt using favorite LUSH soap. i.e. Rockstar.
  • 7. Pull out my “Writer” ringer shirt and put it on. Grin because I finally feel like I deserve the title.
  • 8. E-mail other sister who obviously had not been on Facebook yet, also a friend who is not on social networks and will be thrilled to hear the news
  • 9. Go out for celebratory dinner. Eat yummy Italian food.
  • 10. Go to the movies. 

Yeah, #10 is a little odd too, but my protagonist, Katrina is (like me) a huge Doors fan, and When You’re Strange, A movie about The Doors came out in limited release on Friday. I’ve wanted to see this film since it was first mentioned on a friend’s site. (www.idafan.com) The timing, working in with my celebration, could not be better. I loved the film. Katrina would have too.

So that’s how I celebrated getting a book contract. How will I celebrate the actual publishing of my novel? With another tattoo, of course. 🙂