Remembering Power Ballads

Okay, so we’ll have some fun today.  I’m nothing if not a benevolent, fun-loving guy.

Last night, I was almost asleep when the subject of power ballads popped into my noggin.  I discussed these over the top pop confections with Shawna.  There were some agreements (Def Leppard and Aerosmith both recorded way too many power ballads) and some disagreements (No, Shawna, “Fade to Black” is still not a power ballad).  In the end, however, we mostly looked back fondly on some of those great, silly songs we knew from the eighties and nineties.

So today, I decided to list some of my favorites.

First, some rules.  A proper power ballad must come from a metal or hard rock band, preferably one with a fondness for hairspray.  Also, the ballad must be a love song.  Third, it must sport a fair amount of power.  Extreme’s “More Than Words” and Def Leppard’s “Love Bites” don’t count because they are about as powerful as cold tomato soup. Finally, a power ballad must be wonderfully, deliciously over the top in just about every way.

So here we go…

5.  Poison, “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”
Would have been a country song without CC Deville’s overwrought guitar solos.  The video of live and studio footage really helped, too.
“Just like every cowboy sings a sad, sad song…”

4. Alice Cooper “Burning Our Bed”
Alice gets a little out of control while attempting to rid himself of his sweet, sweet memories of lost love.  Hilarious lyrics throughout!
“But one thing I gotta do is torch those sheets and pillows too…”

3. Def Leppard “Have You Ever Wanted Someone so Bad?”
Pure late 90’s crap, but in a wonderful way.  So over-produced and processed you can almost hear the binary code stringing through the vocals.  Still, I love this experiment in cheese.
“Have you ever wanted someone you just couldn’t haaaaaaave…”

2. Aerosmith “Amazing”
Any band that has a greatest hits collection made up entirely of power ballads had better be near the top of this list.  This one probably isn’t a universal favorite, but it contains all the Aerosmith tropes: Steven Tyler starts scatting for no reason, strings swell over the entire song, and Joe Perry solos for just under two hours!  Hell, the video featured Alicia Silverstone making out on a motorcycle while travelling roughly 1000 miles per hour!  Sure, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” might be a better song, but there ain’t no scatting in it!
“It’s amazing, and I’m saying a prayer for the desperate hearts tonight…”

1. Skid Row “I Remember You”
Come on! If there is another song out there that sums up the power ballad better than this Skid Row Magnum Opus, I don’t know what it is.  I think during middle school and high school I spent at least ten hours slow dancing to this song at various functions.  And it doesn’t get better than the final chorus, when Sebastion Bach’s idea of emotive singing is screaming like he’s getting stabbed by a thousand rabid monkeys.
“I remember yoooooooooooooooouuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!

So, was there anything I missed?

News you can view (and then disregard)

Just some personal and site news for your reading pleasure.

Item One: Made the biggest short story sale of my career on Friday.  As soon as contracts are signed, I’ll fill you all in.  Very excited about this one.

Item Two: The Summer of Proofreading is almost done.  Since April, I’ve proofread a friend’s novel, two novels of my own, and two novellas of my own.  I now just have to enter changes into two manuscripts, and I’m done for a little bit.  Yay!

Item Three: There probably won’t be any more Read This! entries.  I’m six books behind as is, and I can’t think of many more ways to tell you kind folks how awesome certain books are.

Item Four: That said, I will proclaim Jeff Strand’s Pressure the best book I’ve read in the last two years.  Seriously, if you never listen to me again, listen to me now.  You owe it to yourself to read this terrifying story.

Comic-Con Apathy

Two years ago, I went to Comic-Con in San Diego with my friends Randy and Tess.  I had the time of my life as I searched in vain for an artist to help pitch a mini-series.  I got some interesting and encouraging “No thank you’s,” but that was about it.  Mostly, I went to panels and parties and bought sketches and books.  Not a bad way to spend five days.

Last year, I couldn’t make it to Comic-Con, and it was heartbreaking.  I thought it would be the end of my burgeoning (read “imagined”) comic book career.  I’d slip off the radar screen.  The fact that I wasn’t on the screen never occured to me.  The simple little realization that I hadn’t even found an artist for that mini-series pitch eluded me, as well.  Hell, the fact that the only company to show interest in my last pitch had folded around the same time flew right past my head.  I wanted to be there, dammit, and it sucked that I couldn’t go.  Instead, I spent four days glued to the comics sites for news from the con, frustration poking at me the entire time.

Then there was yesterday, the first official day of Comic-Con 2007.  I didn’t even realize it until I got home from work.  In the past two years, I’ve been to World Horror twice, Horrorfind once, and the Northeast Writers’ Conference once.  And you know what?  I got work done.  There’s a sharp difference in being one person out of 200-800 and one person out of 100,000.  Of course I wasn’t on the comic industry radar screen.  I was in line behind a few thousand other guys who’d already managed to trick artists into working up pitches for them.  It’s not a medium where the writing can just speak for itself.  You’re lost without an artist or a name, and I had neither.

It probably doesn’t help that I’ve become pretty bored with comics over the last year.  I’ve purchased maybe ten single issues in the last twelve months.  There’s just very little I’m jazzed about, and what I do enjoy comes out sporadically at best.

So yeah, I’m not at Comic-Con this year, and I’m cool with that.  Instead, I’ll be doing the work, slogging on rewrites and submissions and seeing if I can give this career a solid kick in the ass.

Necon Thank You’s

Well, with a couple days recovery time between myself and the Northeast Writers’ Conference, I’m ready to talk again.  They’ve got this whole “What happens at Necon stays at Necon” thing, but I suspect it’s an idle threat.  Just in case, I will limit my talking to a series of heartfelt thank you’s.

Thanks to Dan Fox for picking me up at the airport and teaching me the beer opening trick.

Thanks to Paul Puglisi for the apple brandy and for talking me up at his panel.

Thanks to Cassi for the high-test coffee.

Thanks to Kelli Dunlap for support, editing my drunk speech on the fly, and continuously inviting me over for coffee.  Couldn’t have done it without ya.

Thanks to Dave Thomas and the three Jo(e)’s for giving me folks to pal around with, though Big Joe needs to let other people carry stuff now and then.

Thanks to Nate and Nicole Kenyon for being far too cute once again.  It gives this cynic something to rail against.

Thanks to Monica Kuebler for listen to a drunken pitch that took five minutes somewhere around three in the morning.

Thanks to Wrath for looking colder than me.

Thanks to Jeff Strand for the laughs.

Thanks to Bob Booth for the ride to the airport, and to Weston and Yvonne for the offer.

And an extra thanks to Weston Ochse for swooping out of the dark to save the day like the sleeveless Batman he is.

Thanks to Kelly Laymon for sobering up the entire con for a few hours.

Thanks to Jim Moore for paralyzing me with his elbows and giant man hands.

Thanks to Chris Golden for putting me on a panel and in the program book.  Above and beyond, man!

Thanks to Sarah Langan for explaining environmental medicine to me.

Continued thanks to Keene for advice, friendship, racing me at lunch and dinner, and for laughing at all my jokes (I remain unconvinced they were that funny).

And an extra special thanks to Dan Booth, the Booth family, and the rest of the Necon board.  You guys go above the call of duty in every way, and you’ve created the best con out there.  Thank you so much.

And Back

I have returned from Providence, RI and Necon.  The weekend was a blast, even if the trip home nearly killed it (more on that later).  Now, I’m going to curl into a ball and die.

Top 5 Side 1 Track 1 Songs

Mike Oliveri, that bastard, has tagged me.  Now I have to list for you, the adoring public, my top 5 side 1, track 1 songs.  You’ll all just have to pretend for a minute we still live in a world where cassettes and vinyl are viable musical media.

So, here we go!

“Rockin’ Stroll” – The Lemonheads, It’s a Shame About Ray

“Crime Scene, Part One” – The Afghan Whigs, Black Love

“Bad as They Seem” – Hayden, Everything I Long For

“Travel by Telephone” – Rival Schools, United by Fate

“Holiday” – The Get Up Kids, Something to Write Home About

Now, I have to pick other people to tag.  Hmmm.

Kelli Dunlap
Lee Thomas
Chris Golden
Shawna Blount
Randy Lander


The search for Austin’s best burger, Round One

It was a noble quest.  When I started back on June 2nd, I jumped in with both feet.  Now, almost seven weeks later, I report back with the first of my findings.  What follows is a list, in taste-order, of the burgers I’ve tried so far.  Will one of them be the best burger in Austin?  Time will tell.

1. Top Notch
7525 Burnet Rd
Cooked over charcoal and made to order, Top Notch is going to be a tough burger to beat.  Their menu is simple, yet large, and the burgers are mouth watering, like something offf the backyard grill.  Probably the most affordable burger on this list, too, with a cheeseburger clocking in at $2.99

2. Dan’s Hamburgers
5602 N Lamar Rd
If Top Notch is your backyard, then Dan’s is the diner on the corner.  With a heaping helping of greasy spoon charm, this place sells their burgers in three sizes.  Their bacon, which costs you a few cents extra, is the best I’ve encountered.

3. P. Terry’s Burger Stand
Corner of Barton Springs and Lamar
A wonderful walk-up with a menu of only a few items, this place does burgers and fries in the In and Out Burger tradition: everything made fresh and by hand, every day.  No frozen patties or pre-cut fries here, and it shows in the taste!

4. The Frisco Shop
5819 Burnet Rd
When you’ve been around for fifty years and sport a staff that’s been there forty, you better put out a damn good burger.  Luckily, the Frisco does not disappoint.  They offer the classic Frisco Burger and the Deep South.  I tried the Deep South and was mighty impressed.  Probably the classiest feel of the places I’ve tried so far, and the prices won’t break your budget.

5. Phil’s Icehouse
5620 Burnet Rd
This place doesn’t have a lot of years behind it, but they have a great menu and a fair amount of skill.  The Brentwood, their bacon cheeseburger, is the biggest sandwich I’ve had in a long time, and it’s damn tasty, too.  I didn’t particulalry care for the sweet potato fries, but that’s a minor complaint.  I’d recommend this place in a heartbeat.

6. The Boulevard Bar and Grill
3616 Far West Blvd, Suite 116
It pains me that I can’t recommend this place.  In fact, I can only warn you against it.  This little hole in the wall used to sport my favorite burger in town, but now only features slow service and bland food.  The sweet buns your sandwich somes on are still very nice, but everything else pales in comparison.  Oh, and you can smell the bathrooms from anywhere in the restaurant, too.  A damn shame.  Avoid.

Appearing this weekend

I’ll be attending the Northeast Writers’ Conference (or Necon) this weekend.  Should be a blast.  I’ve been looking forward to making this con for a solid year, and the time is now upon us.

And what’s this?  I’m appearing on a panel on Friday,

4:00 p.m.   THE SOUND THE KNIFE MAKES AS IT ENTERS THE THROAT — Extreme horror are us, at least sometimes.  Sephera Giron (moderator), Brian Keene, Gerard Houarner, Wrath James White, James A. Moore, Nate Southard.

Read This!: First Blood

First Blood
By David Morrell

Anybody who grew up in or around the eighties probably knows this movie.  John Rambo, haunted Vietnam vet, is picked on by small town cops until he strikes back.  He’s the ultimate underdog, in a way.  He’s turtured and misunderstood.  His bodycount is quite low, and most of the deaths he causes are second hand, like creating a car accident.

Yeah, this is a different Rambo.

Morrell states in his intro he wanted to bring the Vietnam War home to America.  I don’t know how close he got, but he really did create an exhaustive exercise in jangling nerves and brutality.  This Rambo doesn’t get to sit in a cave and growl “They drew first blood,” over a walkie talkie in this story.  He’s too busy gutting cops like fish and taking out men with bullets through the face.  He’s still haunted, but he’s really let the darkness get the better of him.

Small town sheriff Teasle is a far more complex character than in the film.  He constantly straddles the line between trying to do what’s right and refusing to back down.  He may not be likable, but he evokes sympathy.

And the action…  This is one of the most visceral and thrilling books I’ve ever read.  There’s a reason it spawned a series of action films.  Too bad the films barely scratched the surface of these characters.

Recommendation: Very Strong.

A Special Magic

“Nothing lasts forever,
That’s the way it’s gotta be.
There’s a great black wave in the middle of the sea.”

The Arcade Fire, “Black Wave/Bad Vibrations”

I spent the last weekend, Friday through Monday morning, in the cluster of small Indiana towns that make up where I came from. I went to spend time reconnecting with my brothers and to see a boat race that used to be the most important day of my year. I saw old friends and fell in love with those friendships all over again. My family and friends really made me feel like I was home. I made sure to give each of my friends a strong hug as we said goodbye on the upper deck of the Grand Victoria Casino in Rising Sun, Indiana on Saturday night, then I walked at the back of the pack so they wouldn’t see me wipe away tears. I did the same thing as I hugged my family members goodbye over the following days.
Because, as special as all those folks are to me, everything else wore me down.

My hometown-that I originally loved, then decided to run away from-isn’t there anymore. There are a few withering cells left: the Gold Star Chili and the Skyline Chili. One of the used car lots is still there, and the Tandy’s IGA is still standing, but the spreading cancer of “progress” is all over the place. I found a strip mall almost a half-mile long where a beautiful hillside home used to be. Maybe another dozen dotted Highway 50 between Aurora and Lawrenceburg. I couldn’t see my high school from the road because the new middle and elementary schools block the view. Rising Sun, a tiny river town, now has a fire station bigger than Austin’s.

The people are still there, though. They still seem suspicious and a little sad, kind of like people everywhere. I won’t lie and say it didn’t hurt when I received more than a few of those “You’re not from around here, are you?” looks, because maybe I never was. Maybe I spent twenty-two years faking it.

Then again, maybe I do belong there. Maybe that’s why my friends just happened to be in town on Saturday. Maybe that’s why Randall drove all the way from Florence to Rising Sun late at night to hang out with us for a few hours.

Or maybe it’s something else. Maybe there’s a magic family members and friends share, something that reaches through the years and just feels right.

And maybe that’s enough. I hope so.