First Lines: Explaining Chtulhu to Grandma and Other Stories

Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma and Other Stories is a collection of short stories and flash fiction by Alex Shvartsman, editor of the Unidentified Funny Objects anthologies. It came to me as part of the UFO5 Kickstarter, and having read the titular story online already, I looked forward to diving in.

Like the UFO series, Shvartman’s own collection is filled with humorous stories, ranging from sci-fi space opera to time-travel funny business to fairy tale re-imaginings to more or less straight fantasy and everything in between. The quality is high throughout, and I can’t really give favorites, but the two tales poking fun at religion (“Bedtime Story on Christmas Eve, 1,000,000 AD”, which is an irreverent Christmas tale told to androidy beings in a faraway future is absolutely delightful: Jesus loved presents and parties very much. And so humans gave each other many presents, and somebody named Carol sang holiday hymns in her honor, and everyone was happy.; and “Manna from Heaven”) got a more than light chuckle out of me.

And then there was one story — “You Bet” — which reminded me of a concept that has been running through my head for a long time: Somewhere in the multi-verse there exists a bar where the archetypal, cardboard characters of bad fiction gather to blow off steam. Now that I know this story is out there, I can finally let that go.

Book read
Alex Shvartsman — Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma and Other Stories
First Line
I just made the deal of the year and I couldn’t wait to tell to tell grandma.

Seen Live: Ellen Foley

So we saw Ellen Foley perform live twice in the same weekend. We didn’t quite plan to see the show in Hoogland (a mere 5 kilometers from our home), as we had other plans. No, we were going the next night, to Zoetermeer. But as things happen (they sometimes do) and we were able to obtain some tickets at the very last moment, well, hey ho, let’s go.

Ellen Foley

While both shows were great, it was interesting to see how the setting can influence a show. In Cafe De Noot in Hoogland, there was a low, small stage in the corner of a crowded, hot bar, filled to capacity with nearly 200 people there. In De Boerderij in Zoetermeer, there was a full-size stage in a hall that can hold 750 people, with roughly the same head count. In Hoogland, we could barely see Ellen on stage, and it seemed like the band was too loud for her. In Zoetermeer, we could see her fine, and while the PA was louder, the balance seemed to better. The larger stage also showed how damned good she is. Ellen owns the stage. That casual strutting around and waiting for her cue, she got that down to a T. Also, if she hadn’t mentioned that the Hoogland show was only the second time the band played together, I wouldn’t have know.

The set list — a couple of tracks of both her first (Nightout, 1979) and last (2013’s About Time) albums, along with a bunch of covers — was nearly identical, with only “Sad Song” not making it to Zoetermeer. My personal highlights were “We Belong to the Night”, the Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers cover “Refugee” (although I only really know Melissa Etheridge’s version, that song rocks) and, of course, “Heaven Can Wait”, dedicated to its songwriter, Jim Steinman.

Ellen Foley — Heaven Can Wait (live in Zoetermeer)

Seen live
Ellen Foley at Cafe De Noot, Hoogland on March 18, 2017
Ellen Foley at Cultuurpodium De Boerderij, Zoetermeer on March 19, 2017
Setlist (Spotify playlist)
Stop Right There!” / Worried Woman / What’s a Matter Baby / Stupid Girl (Rolling Stones cover) / Irene Wilde (Ian Hunter cover) / All of My Suffering / Guilty (Randy Newman cover) / We Belong to the Night / Madness / Refugee (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers cover) / Don’t Let Go / Sad Song (not played in Zoetermeer) / If You Can’t Be Good / Sway (Rolling Stones cover) / Boys of Summer (Don Henley cover) / Nothing Compares 2 U (Sinéad O’Connor/Prince cover) // I Found a Love (Wilson Pickett cover) / Heaven Can Wait (Jim Steinman cover) / Should I Stay or Should I Go (The Clash cover)

Seen Live: Bat Out of Hell – The Musical

It’s been, what, a month now since I saw the first two public performances of Jim Steinman’s Bat Out of Hell — The Musical in Manchester, UK, and I’m still struggling to find the right way to sum up my feelings. But now that the official opening night has also come and gone, I should just get to it.

For the TL;DR folks: I stark raving loved it.

When the date of the first show in Manchester was announced, we quickly booked tickets, as there was just no way we were not going to be there. And, oh my gosh, what a night it was. First, we met up with a large, international group of friends for drinks and food. Then we headed over to the theater, where we were sorta-kinda harassed into giving an interview for a promotional video:

The Missus’ text got left on the cutting room floor.

Then, show time.

With material tracing back to Steinman’s 1969 infamous The Dream Engine, Bat – The Musical is almost 50 years in the making. The story is your basic Romeo & Juliet: Boy likes Girl; Girl likes Boy; Parents don’t approve; it’s complicated. But with layers and meaning and grit and feels. Oh. My. God. The feels. During the entire show I had feels like you wouldn’t believe.

The main reason for the feels is, of course, the music. A bunch of my favorite Steinman tunes showed up, including a take on “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” that is SO. MUCH. FUN. that even I did not mind hearing that song I don’t ever need to hear again again, a duet version of “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” that might be the definite take on the song, an intimate take on “Making Love Out of Nothing at All” (that has since been cut), a full length “Bat Out of Hell” that had the entire crowd on its feet for an end of act one standing ovation, a gut wrenching take on “Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are”, ‘new’ songs “I’m Not Allowed to Love” and “What Part of My Body Hurts the Most” (what a delight to finally hear those songs in a proper setting) and the final stretch of “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” into “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)”. It was all classics, all the time.

As a very close second reason for the almighty feels, I have to mention the cast. They were all so freaking on, that you gotta see it to believe it. Andrew Polec in the lead as Strat has all the makings of a rock star. Christina Bennington is delightful as Raven. Sharon Sexton and Rob Fowler (the parents, Sloane and Falco) go together like two things that go together really well. Their “Paradise” and “What Part of My Body Hurt the Most” are two of the highlights of the show. Danielle Steers (Zahara) has a hell of a voice, taking her songs to places where they haven’t gone before. If Jim would revive Pandora’s Box, she should be in there. The entire cast is incredible.

And then you have the stage design, which is grandiose, and the sound design (lots of sound effects left and right) and the band and the dancing… well, actually, I’m not too sure what I think of the dancing, but there’s a lot of it and I suppose it works.

Bat Out of Hell — The Musical has received five star reviews almost across the board, and, really, must been seen to be believed. If you can make it to Manchester (until the end of April), London (June and July), Toronto (opening in October) or wherever else it stops after that, I would advise you to make the effort. It is not to be missed.

Luckily, for us, we got to see a second show as well, the very next night. Sitting all the way in the back we had a somewhat restricted view of the second storey of Falco Tower, but the projections made sure we didn’t miss much. On our flight back, we met a production sound designer who told us that the set was designed for the London Coliseum, which is much more open than the Manchester Opera House, so it shouldn’t be an issue there. An European tour after the US stops was also mentioned, but that would be 2018 at the earliest.

After the second show, we hung about the stage door for a bit, where we managed to meet quite a few members of the cast, who were kind enough to sign a poster (or two) and pose for a picture. Mr Steve Rinkoff, consultant to Mr Steinman, was also in town, and recognized me from Budapest, and we chatted a bit. Nice people, good times.

Again, I cannot understate the awesomeness that is Jim Steinman’s Bat Out of Hell — The Musical. I’d go see it again (and again and again) in a heartbeat, but you know, life and stuff. If you got a chance, go.

Seen live
Jim Steinman’s “Bat Out of Hell – The Musical” on February 17 (world premiere/first public performance) and 18, 2017 at the Opera House, Manchester, UK

First Lines: Faithful

As a non-fiction entry in his oeuvre, Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season doesn’t count towards the completion of number 66 on my list (Read all novels written by Stephen King). Even so, as part of the collection, I had to read it eventually.

For someone who knows just the basics of baseball — hit the ball, pass all three bases, reach the home plate to score, holy cow, I think he’s gonna make it!, three strikes and you’re out, three outs and you’re done — I found Faithful to be a tough cookie. Basically, a dairy of two Boston Red Sox fans just too much private fascination for me to really enjoy. Especially as I’m totally not invested in the subject and there’s a lot of baseball jargon that goes unexplained: what the heck is a sac fly? a grounder? being K’d out? Finally: already knowing that the Sox will win the World Series, breaking their 86 year drought, doesn’t really help the suspense.

Unless you’re a total Stephen King or baseball/Red Sox nut, you shouldn’t feel bad about skipping this one.

Book Read
Steward O’Nan & Stephen King — Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season
First line
It wasn’t always like this.

First Lines: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children isn’t going to end up on my list of favorite books this year. While the actual writing is perfectly alright, the story might as well have been called “Harry Potter and the Charles Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters” for all it’s “been there, done that, and the previous t-shirt fit me better anyway.” It just reeks of “We want to make a multi-million dollar franchise out of this, so here is part one where we lay the groundwork.”

Nah, can’t get too excited ‘bout this one.

Book read
Ransom Riggs — Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
First line
I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen.