Sunday, December 27, 2015

STP Sunday

I knew of the Stone Temple Pilots as a child. I didn't get into them until I was in college. And get into them I did. What a voice. Loud and angry at times, but vulnerable and sad as well.

I was laying in bed one night in the beginning of December and around 12:30 a.m. I saw people on my twitter timeline talking about Scott Weiland in the past tense. I scrolled back and figured out what had happened. The news had just broken: media outlets had not yet started covering his death. It was just musicians who knew him breaking the news - most notably Dave Navarro.

The sad aspect is that nobody had to speculate on what the cause of death was. Usually when a 48-year-old man leading an active lifestyle drops dead, you pause to wonder. The only thing to really question here was if he was back on heroin, which Weiland had noted he had not touched in several years. The official report stated it was a cocaine overdose.

Every time I hear something about a cocaine overdose, I'm always taken back to a 2010 conversation with a friend who talked about her history of dabbling with the drug in her college days. She very adamantly told me that you couldn't get hooked on it or die from it. I had to explain to her that she was very, very wrong about all of that.

It's always weird to think about how to remember somebody who died of a drug overdose. Do we celebrate their life? Acknowledge their struggle? Scott Weiland was known for being two things: a great artist and a heroin addict.

He spent time in jail over his addiction. That addiction helped break up STP in the early 2000s. Those aren't good. But at the same time, a lot of his amazing songs are written about heroin addiction. "Flys in the vasoline" is a metaphor for being stuck in in those addictions. As he got older and attempted to clean up his life, his music took on a more introspective look detailing his struggles, with lyrics like "This fight could be the last fight" from Velvet Revolver's final studio album.

Shortly after his death, Scott Weiland's ex-wife wrote an open letter to his fans telling people not to glamorize his life, instead to look at what years of drug addiction can do to a family. 
If you're a parent not giving your best effort, all anyone asks is that you try just a little harder and don't give up. Progress, not perfection, is what your children are praying for. Our hope for Scott has died, but there is still hope for others. Let's choose to make this the first time we don't glorify this tragedy with talk of rock and roll and the demons that, by the way, don't have to come with it.
The full letter is posted at Rolling Stone dot com. It goes into uncomfortable detail about Weiland's failings as a partner, parent, and person.

And, honestly, Weiland had become a running joke in the last couple years before his death. If you look at videos of him on YouTube, the comments from the last month are all "RIP Scott" and "what a genius lost too soon" and things of that nature. Scroll farther down to find ones from five months ago and it talks about his awful concert performances and how he's a shell of his former self.

At the top of this post is the original studio recording of "Big Bang Baby," one of my favorite STP songs. It rocks out harder than some of their more popular mellow songs. Below is a recent performance that Weiland's manager had to go into full PR mode for, spinning a story about how he was exhausted and accidentally mixed alcohol with some prescriptions he was taking.

It's a sad way to see a respected artist go out. We want to remember the joyful, full-of-life man at the top, but the reality is the guy below is who we saw more of.

Like he sings above and below, this is what his legacy became: "I wanna cry, but I gotta laugh."

Friday, December 25, 2015

Santa Claus Q&A

Probably like four years ago, I came across a twitter account called @Santa__Claus. It was like Santa had a real twitter account; he talked about things he was doing throughout the year to get ready for Christmas and then on Dec. 24 he would live-tweet going to all of the places and delivering presents. I thought it was cute and funny. So I followed the account. I would see a tweet or two a month and then as Christmas approached there would be a lot more happening. I liked it.

In 2013, I noticed that the account would occasionally push Santa-related items that you could purchase on their web site. I also discovered that Santa had a blog on the site and that people could write a "day in the life" entry and submit it to be posted. They didn't pay for the content, but the way to make it appealing was that you could write it in a way to promote your business or product.

Back then, I was all about getting my podcast off the ground and doing whatever I could to get eyes and ears on that new venture. An idea popped into my head: write up a transcript of an interview with Santa from my podcast.

I would make it cute and cheery, and all that Christmas shit that kids like. But I also tried to throw in a little bit of humor so that other people would enjoy it. Reading it now, I kind of cringe and roll my eyes at how dumb it is. I showed it to two people a couple years ago. One had a small child and the other was just really into Christmas. They both told me they really liked it.

I sent it to that site and nothing happened. I sent it again and nothing happened again. Then I realized that nothing was really happening with that site. They don't update it anymore and so the posting of Santa-related blogs there is no longer a thing.

So it sat on my computer for a couple years. The last time I had a bunch of stuff like that I turned it into my first book. This was supposed to be in the second book. But that one is literally a year behind schedule. So, I'll just post it here instead.

* * * 

Chris Slater: Okay guys, I’m here with that jolly man himself, Santa Claus. Very excited to have him on the podcast. First question, sir: how did you become Santa Claus? 

Santa Claus: Well, when a man loves a woman… I’m just kidding. It’s a very secretive and closely-guarded process. What I can say for sure is that the Tim Allen movie had it all wrong. You don’t watch the current Santa fall off a roof and then you become him. It’s a rigorous process, not unlike your NASA space men. Not to pat myself on the back, but I will say that only the best get selected to become Santa. 

Chris: Is it a committee? Do they vote on it? 

Santa: Errrrr… Something like that. Let’s just say that some secrets are best kept that way. 

Chris: Sounds good. So the name “Santa Claus” is just like a formality title or something? 

Santa: Yeah. Kind of like when the Catholic Church appoints their new Pope. He assumes a new name and identity. That’s what you do when you assume the position of Santa Claus. And then my wife automatically became “Mrs. Claus,” which she really gets a kick out of. 

Chris: How much work goes into making Christmas happen? 

Santa: It really is a year-round process. Obviously, things get heavier as we get closer to Christmas. But, we basically work from January 1 until December, I get back home sometime early on December 26. 

Chris: How many people are on your crew? 

Santa: It’s a very big crew. We have our main office that myself and my head elf, Larry, work out of. We handle the logistics of everything. The route, what toys are going where, who’s been good and bad, you know. Larry has his team of five people under him who get most of that work done, then they bring it to me and it’s signed off on. Then we have the factory, where a crew of hundreds works on getting all the toys made and sorted out. And we have the reindeer habitat. We have caretakers there all the time. There are tons of small jobs, but we have enough people to do everything. 

Chris: How does this come together? Like, for example, at what point is the route finalized? When are all the toys completed? 

Santa: Well, it varies from year-to-year. We like to have the route finalized by February. As we get closer to December, we have a better idea of the weather and can make changes accordingly. The toys are a non-stop process. The hard stuff gets made earlier in the year - your bikes and ray guns and electronic whatnots - and some of the easier stuff we can hold off on until early autumn. We begin taking the reindeer on brief test runs once a week beginning in September, then up to three a week by the beginning of December. We need to make sure they know what they’re doing. 

Chris: What’s the best aspect of doing all of this? 

Santa: I don’t necessarily see the children opening their presents; that would be the absolute greatest joy. But, simply knowing that I’m helping these children have a happy day is knowledge enough. I don’t want to get into all of this negative stuff, but for a lot of kids Christmas is the best day of the year for them. And I like helping give that to them. 

Chris: The worst? 

Santa: I got bit by a reindeer once; I don’t remember which one. It’s been years ago. That wasn’t fun, for obvious reasons. Sometimes the weather isn’t great. I enjoy the cold, but sometimes it gets too cold. Rain, sleet, hail, it is not fun. All the good outweighs the bad, though. Dealing with a wet beard is the least of my worries. 

Chris: Why do you keep doing it after all these years? 

Santa: Why not? It’s an amazing challenge to try and top myself each year and deliver an even bigger Christmas season than before. 

Chris: Do you take a break at any point in the year? 

Santa: Not really. I take it a little easier in January, obviously. I went to the beach a few years ago, but that turned into a paparazzi nightmare. Nobody wants to see Santa, shirtless on TMZ. 

Chris: How did the advertising relationship with Coca-Cola come about? 

Santa: Those were a few Santas before me. Obviously, we didn’t know then what we know now about how bad the sodas are for you. But, a little Coke here and there never hurt anybody. Coca-Cola, I mean. That sound bite gets out by itself, and I could get in some deep you-know-what. 

Chris: Very true, Santa. We’re talking about the delicious beverage, here. 

Santa: Little-known fact: they film those scenes with the polar bears for their commercials in the summer. So, it’s like 25 degrees out and the bears have to pretend it’s negative 50. 

Chris: Any plans to shave the beard? 

Santa: Goodness, no. Beards have gotten a lot more cool and acceptable the last few years. I wish I could take credit for it and not those weird hipster kids. The beard is here to stay, just like me. 

Chris: Favorite cookie? 

Santa: Oh, they’re all so good. Sugar. Oatmeal. Chocolate chip. Gingerbread. If you want to leave a cookie for Santa - and an ice-cold Coca-Cola; sorry, they pay me - but, if you want to leave a cookie for Santa, I’m not picky. 

Chris: Any additional comments? 

Santa: Perhaps the most important thing to remember, that I don’t think we harp on enough as a society: be good. Be a good boy, be a good girl. Listen to your parents, be respectful, and always drink an ice-cold Coca-Cola. That last one was a joke, but the others are real. Be good, be nice. The world will be a better place. 

Chris: There you have it, straight from the jolly man himself. If you want to hear from Mr. Claus throughout the year, you can check him out on twitter, he is @santa__claus. That’s two underscores between Santa and Claus. You can find me, I’m @chris_slater. Just one underscore. The podcast goes live at and you can always find more information at Santa, before we go, we have to hear the catch phrase. 

Santa: Haha sure thing. Ho Ho Ho! Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Book Review: The Dark Knight Returns

Mainstream audiences know the name Frank Miller from the movie world. He co-directed the "Sin City" films and produced "300." Before "Sin City" was a movie franchise, it was a graphic novel. That's where Frank Miller got his start; in the comic book industry. One of his best known works is the 1986 classic 4-comic series "The Dark Knight Returns."

One of the cliche terms I can throw out to describe this graphic novel is "gritty." Visually, emotionally, metaphorically, this has a gritty feel to it. A "film noir" essence. "The Dark Knight" is set in the future. Batman is in his 50's and has stopped fighting crime. Commissioner Jim Gordon is approaching 70 and being forced into retirement. 

So, we have a Gotham City that hasn't had a Batman in 10 years. And soon there will no longer be a Jim Gordon. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, as you can expect, a whole lot goes wrong. And it turns out the world still needs Batman to clean up the streets. But, at his advanced age, is he still any good? If some of this sounds loosely like plot points from the Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale movies, it's because a lot of Frank Miller's work helped influence the tone of that trilogy.

I like a good internal struggle; strife. I'm not a fan of needless fight scenes and stuff blowing up for the sake of blowing up. My favorite thing about another great graphic novel, "The Killing Joke" is that the fight scene between Batman and The Joker ends with a conversation between the two. It's more mental than physical. Anybody can throw a punch, but not just anybody can get deep and analyze a situation.

What I especially like about "The Dark Knight Returns" is that a lot of the plot is told through talking heads. Something bad will start to happen, then it will cut away to newscasters talking about it and discussing why the crime rate is going up, what's going on with Gordon's retirement, the rumors of Batman coming back, whether or not he is a hero or villain, etc. We're not following the plot by directly seeing it, we're watching it on the news. It helps the viewer stay somewhat clueless, wondering what's going to happen next.

In real life, there isn't a set hero or villain. Everything is a shade of gray. That's the case in "The Dark Knight Returns." People are initially unsure what side of the law Batman is on. The new commissioner calls for his arrest while others are saying that it's a mistake.

In a somewhat convoluted backstory that isn't fully fleshed out here, but is known by comic fans, superheroes are outlawed but Superman works for the President. The caricature of Ronald Reagan forces Superman to take out this menace to society.

The flashes of gray here are interesting in the fact that America is saying Batman is the bad guy and sending Superman, the good guy, after after him. But, really, there's an underhanded tone to this and the President is using Superman. So, who is the real bad guy?

I love the way it makes you think. Superman is being a faithful employee, even though he disagrees with his actions. Is that right? What is Batman doing that's wrong?

With all of those positives, there were a few issues I had.

My main issue is that a couple of plot points were rushed. The graphic novel was originally four comics, so maybe had this been five or six, maybe more, this wouldn't have been too big of a flaw. The premise in the beginning is "Imagine a world without Batman!" The problem is that he's really only gone for the first few pages. He comes back a little too quickly for my taste. I would have preferred more internal struggle and angst than we wound up getting.

"The Dark Knight" introduces a new Robin as the sidekick. Long-time fans know that there have been a few. The original grew up and became Nightwing. The second one was killed by The Joker. The third one had the longest sustained career in the comic book universe.

In this version, a 13-year-old girl named Carrie Kelley becomes Robin. She is saved by Batman and becomes infatuated with the superhero world. This causes her to dress like Robin and follow Batman around, eventually saving him during a confrontation.

So, some girl who is barely a teenager shows up and wants to be your sidekick... You should take more time to think that over before just allowing her to fight crime alongside you. I mean, I like the dynamic that they have. A few times, he tells her not to do something, and of course Kelley does it. Only, it works out and Batman is impressed. But we got to that point too quickly.

Another issues with "The Dark Knight" is that two classic Batman villains - Two-Face and The Joker - are introduced and eliminated so quickly, it's almost like they're filler. Granted, Two-Face does help move along the plot in a substantial way. The Joker, not so much. It's more like they needed a bad guy in the middle somewhere to do some stuff. At the time, The Joker wasn't the revered character that people hold up to mythical imagery today; he's now treated with much more respect and importance by writers. But, he's just sort of a throw-away antagonist here.

"The Dark Knight" came with a lot of hype. So many critics and reviews call it the greatest Batman story every written. I don't know if that's the case. It is one of the more interesting premises. I like the idea of the dystopian future that Batman tries to fix. Those pacing issues really mess with my enjoyment, though.

It is a really good piece of work. If you like great storytelling and imagery, check it out. There's a sequel, "The Dark Knight Strikes Again," released in 2001 and "The Dark Knight III: The Master Race," which is actually coming out right now as a series of comic books to later be packaged as a graphic novel.

Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week

This week's Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week is a bonus, double edition. At the top is Norm Macdonald as a guest on Marc Maron's "WTF" podcast. Maron is a great interviewer who can always get some good stuff out of his guests. He was in the news over the summer for interviewing Barack Obama and the President caught a lot of flack for using the "n-word" when discussing race relations.

Norm talks about his comedy style, his infamous "anti-roast" of Bob Saget, some Saturday Night Live stuff, and he also gets into his gambling addiction. It's a nice chat.

Below is Maron's appearance on Norm Macdonald's video podcast. They talk about times that they bombed on stage, deconstructing the art of doing a podcast, and they tell stupid jokes - Norm intentionally writes bad jokes for them to try and make funny.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

My trip to Princeton

I went back to Princeton for the first time this weekend after moving to Luray in early November. It was a good time. There were exciting moments, a few dull moments, but all of that is to be expected.

I had a short list of around 10 people that I actually really wanted to see and spend time with. I spent substantial time with four, briefly saw two others and there were a couple that I didn't get a chance to see.

I'm not sure how often I'm going to be coming in. A four-hour drive isn't really something I want to be doing a lot of. But, we'll see what happens.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

What Dr. Parker taught me about The Killers

In the fall of 2005, I was a sophomore at Concord University. Still fairly naive, not yet so jaded. I didn't even drink alcohol at the time. I don't remember what class it was, but I was in one of the basic 100-level classes in the Communication Arts program at Concord. It was with my favorite professor of all time, Dr. James Parker.

A profile on Dr. Parker was my first assignment for The Concordian, Concord's student newspaper. He was also new to the university in the Fall semester of 2004, just like me. The next week, I did a similar profile on Dr. Matchen, a geology professor. The third week saw a piece on Dr. Crick, a biology(?) professor. That third one was so bad that they stopped having me do those articles.

Anyway... What I remember from this 2005 class with Dr. Parker:

I dropped the class after a few weeks, the first of many mistakes I made while in college. That was the semester I tried to take 19 hours. I've noticed that 13 hours was really about all of the course load I could handle. Yes, I know how pathetic that is. I've never once professed to be a good student.

Dr. Parker had two specialties: television camera work, like lighting and whatnot and he also was a bit of a radio historian; he could talk a lot about the history of the medium. He also brought in his extensive vinyl collection one day. This was back before hipsters, because we all made fun of him for listening to records.

Parker talked about the history of radio and where the position of DJ was going. He talked about how all of the smaller companies were getting consolidated and the radio industry was going to only be run by a few large corporations at one point. It brought to mind the Tom Petty song "The Last DJ," a 2003 track that's about exactly that.

Parker casually mentioned that one trend he foresaw happening was for a wider array of radio personalities being syndicated around, but not being showcased that way; rather, being presented as people from local stations.

For years, I listened to my local classic rock station and never gave what Parker said another thought. In 2010, I was driving to Morgantown. My iPod died and I was forced to listen to the radio. I began scanning station and came across some music I liked. I listened to the next couple songs, then I was shocked at what I heard next: my DJ was on this other station! She was talking about this station like she worked there. That's when I realized Dr. Parker's prediction had come true.

To address the video at the top...

The class was learning about a director's job and what they were responsible for doing. He was talking about the differences between directing for television and movies. Parker brought up music videos, adding that it wasn't like a television show where you watch it once and go on to the next episode in the series. The point of a music video was to be watched multiple times so that the song gets in your head, leading you to buy a CD or ticket or merchandise.

One of the popular songs in the fall of 2005 was "All These Things That I've Done," by The Killers. The music video tells a story of two rival gangs, presumably in the Mexico or Texas area. One is all male and the other is female.

Dr. Parker's words hit me because that video is presented out of sequence. Before each segment, a woman holds a numbered card. There are eight sequences, numbered 0, 4, 1, 3, 6, 5, 2, and 7. In the proper order, it tells a somewhat clear story. But the video shows it out of order, necessitating several views in order to understand it.

I didn't bring this up with Dr. Parker for two reasons. The first was because I figured he hated that kind of music. The second was because I didn't own the album for him to listen to it and while YouTube existed in 2005, it was definitely in its infancy and I didn't know much about it.

Random trivia: the first thing I ever watched on YouTube was a clip from Conan O'Brien's NBC show where he would randomly pull a lever and a "Walker, Texas Ranger" clip would play.

So there we have it. A collection of things I remembered from a 2005 class at Concord University that I didn't even finish. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Articles I've written: Luray, VA edition

Being a presence in the digital landscape isn't a huge priority for my employer, the Page News and Courier. As such, they don't have a Facebook or Twitter and it appears that only the front-page articles get posted online.

Here's what's available of my stuff online. This is what I do instead of holding hands with girls or having friends.

Luray no longer employing a town attorney

Airport Road renovations begin next spring

Luray Planning Commission to review rezoning request, plans for affordable housing

Firefighters still investigating Shenandoah blaze

Check it out. Enjoy.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Is it a good idea to crowdfund local businesses?

I was perusing Facebook the other day and came across something that struck me as odd. It was a "Go Fund Me" page dedicated to the locally-owned coffee shop in Princeton, Local Mo'Joe. Get it? The name is a pun.

GoFundMe is a crowd-funding site, similar to Kickstarter. If you want to raise money for an event or something, you create a page and solicit donations. The first time I was ever aware of this was in 2012 when an athlete I follow financed a documentary through Kickstarter. More famously, the "Veronica Mars" movie was made because of fans donating.

I toyed around with the idea of using Kickstarter to help fund the first issue of the magazine I was trying to get off the ground way back when. You can scour my blog archives for updates on how that started, gained momentum, then ultimately failed. It didn't get to the point of asking for financing yet, but I got to the point of assembling a small staff, planning out the first two issues, having preliminary contract discussions with a printing company, and so forth. I still receive a weekly newsletter from Kickstarter for creating an account.

Local Mo' Joe is a coffee shop in Mercer Street in Princeton, WV. It opened sometime around the summer of 2015. The coffee shop is part of something called the "Princeton Renaissance Project," a revitalization effort for the area, specifically Mercer Street. That area has long been plagued with drugs and prostitutes and other unsavory characters. I spoke with Lori McKinney, one of the architects behind the Renaissance Project on episode 10 of my podcast back in the early part of 2014 when things were still in the early stages. We had loose plans to have another interview later that summer but it fell through. The podcast has been on a temporary hiatus for a while now.

Local Mo'Joe is a nice enough place. My first issue is the name. I think it's a ridiculous pun. Get it? Mo' Joe, More Coffee! And it's local. Local More Coffee. I can imagine the brainstorming session: "Let's make up a name that is cheesy and gets stuck in their head, but it needs to also make them think of Austin Powers."

I went several times when they first opened. Aside from the heavy, creaking door with the loud wind chime on it, it's a nice atmosphere inside. I took a few pictures of various times I was there. The first is the menu on a giant chalkboard. The second and third are of me in various states of being disheveled, with some of the ambiance of the place in the background. 

So, yeah, a nice little place. Lots of local artwork and a mix of big tables, small tables, single chairs. It's a place you can realistically go by yourself, you and a friend, or bring a group.

But, the important part: the quality of the products. Right when I moved was when More Joe started expanding their menu, so I haven't had any of the sandwiches. I saw several of their salads and they looked really good. I had a few pastries. How were they: [insert thumbs up emoji].

The chai tea latte? Meh. The smoothies... Oh Em Gee they are good. And they had something called "Monkey Nuts" that was banana and peanut butter and whatnot in it. It was good but I felt awkward asking for it.

The value? Ehhhhhh... Stuff there is a little pricey. I get that it's local and you want to pay a little bit more to enjoy those products. Is the fact that it's local really enough to get people to not buy coffee drinks from a Starbucks or McDonalds? 

The answer to that is "apparently not." On October 13, this GoFundMe page was created. Here's what they have to say on that page:

"The cost of starting a business seems to never end. And in trying to provide the customer with the highest quality of made-to-order foods and drinks, the price grows. We at Mo'Joe are facing additional costs in expanding the menu, creating new jobs, and paying the tax man."

They expand upon those costs in a later paragraph:

"Your donation would go toward securing local jobs, covering operational costs, expanding our ever-evolving menu, and paying to host live music performances."

What it sounds like to me is that the ownership of Local Mo'Joe is having issues covering those costs. Those costs include hiring people, paying the employees as well as the company's bills, food for the menu, and hiring live musicians.

Of all of those, only the live musicians are non-essential costs. To be a coffee shop, they need employees, ingredients, and a place to house those ingredients. That's what this GoFundMe is asking the community to help take care of.

Since October, they have secured $340 through five donations. They have set a super-unrealistic goal of $11,000. 

I feel like the $340 in donations from the community is $340 too much. A business should stay open by offering its services. If coffee and sandwiches can't keep Local Mo'Joe in business, then they need to sell something else or go out of business. It's ridiculous to ask for handouts from the community. 

Is this page going to solve their problems? Considering that it's been active for almost two months and has received only five donations, and also the fact that the largest donation comes from somebody who has the same last name as the lady who created the page, I'm going to say that this won't solve their money issues.

Will the Local Mo'Joe survive? Historically, looking at businesses on Mercer Street, no it won't. Would I like to see it survive? Yeah. Will I support this business? If I'm in town and want something to drink and a place to sit down, then yes I will. Will I go above and beyond and donate money to pay their bills? No. And nobody else should either.

If you want to donate $$$ to Local Mo'Joe, here is the link:

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week

This week's "Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week" is ripped straight from today's headlines!

Oscar Pistorius first gained fame for being the first runner to compete in the Olympic games despite the fact that he had no legs. Dubbed the "Blade Runner" for the prosthetic legs he would wear during his races, Pistorius was an inspiration to people around the world.

On Valentine's Day in 2013, one of two things happened, depending on whose story you believe. According to Pistorius, he believed his South African house was being broken into, he got out of bed, grabbed his gun, and fired at the bathroom door which is where he heard the commotion. The person behind the door was the girlfriend of Pistorius and she died from the wounds. He claims it was an accident in a moment of terror. The prosecution contends that it was done on purpose after an argument.

Originally, he was charged with accidentally killing her. Spent a little time in jail and was on house arrest. The ruling was overturned and he was now found guilty of murder. USA Today has all the details over at their site. 

In this clip from Conan O'Brien's TBS show last summer, Norm and the gang talk about Pistorius. Norm contends that the murder doesn't trouble him, but the fact that Pistorius is a cheater for running in those races with prosthetic legs. We get a few jokes out of it, then Norm hilariously turns around the original point and makes Conan and Andy Richter look like idiots.