Hobbit Rock, Part II

When I took a Renaissance lit class in the early 1990s, our instructor scoffed at least once at Renaissance Fairs. And while “Ren Fests” have experienced their share of derision, my teacher’s issue was more specific than any perceived dorkiness. For the festivals don’t always much distinguish between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, mixing elements of them together in a historically inaccurate mish-mash of time periods, some of it medieval.

But I’ll defend Ren Fests a bit. First, I’ve been to one years ago, and found it very enjoyable. Second, my favorite part of that lit class (besides writing a sonnet about Robot Monster) was learning that Sir Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur was a little early for Renaissance, more like the very end of the Middle Ages. So if that ambiguity of historical eras is good enough for the Arthurian legend and John Boorman’s Excalibur, why, Ren Fests should get a little more respect.

What does this have to do with Hobbit Rock? Our next song is by a band called Renaissance. There is some folk here, some classical, woodwinds mixed with guitars, it’s the seventies, sort of a prog group, but this song is a very good pop song. Here is a longing-for-home sentimentality, very much in line with hobbits and their love of home, and there seemed to be more songs like this back then. What does this have to do with the Renaissance? I don’t know, but it’s a great song and a great performance.

Bonus video:  This is Nightwish’s cover version of Gary Moore’s “Over the Hills and Far Away,” featured in the previous installment of Hobbit Rock.

Hobbit Rock, Part I

What is Hobbit Rock?

I’ve seen a mention of this term online that pigeonholes the Hobbit Rock subgenre as part of the prog era that peaked in the ’70s. Myself, I believe that the term is more far-reaching than that definition, not that I can exactly define it.

Hobbit Rock seems to always have a vaguely Celtic feel, or be in some way similar to folk music of some part of the British Isles. And … that’s it. At least until enough examples can show a more definite pattern.

Anyhow, as part of this not very serious study, this month’s song for the appreciation of Hobbit Rock is Gary Moore’s “Over the Hills and Far Away,” not to be confused with the Led Zeppelin song of the same title. At one time a member of Thin Lizzy, Moore was an accomplished guitarist and no slouch as a vocalist either. And this video shows that he could lip sync to himself pretty well too.

Happy Independence Day

“Star-Spangled Banner” films were a regular fixture of local TV stations, before infomercials gave them an excuse to broadcast 24-7. The ones I see on YouTube seem all recorded from the sign-off at the end of the day, but my strongest memory of them is from one that was played as a morning sign-on.

The video below is a sign-off from New York City, and I’m reasonably sure this is the same video we had in my corner of the Midwest when one of the local stations signed on at 6:00 in the morning on the Saturdays when I was up. The close-in on the flag at the end with that exciting high note (sounded like a pipe organ from a little TV speaker), followed by a whooshing rocket-into-space noise is the part I’ve always remembered.

But wait, there’s more. Notice that the entire video is a series of still photos with zooms and pans and fancy edits. This style is the true essence of the late ’70s and early ’80s, and it was everywhere. I’m continually amazed that anyone associates it so much with Ken Burns documentaries–remember the opening credits of The Rockford Files, Days of Heaven, anything on public television back then?

The Red Right Hand Reprinted & Recommended

Many of my latest (and future) blog posts are about novels I’ve written and am releasing.  But this post is about someone else’s novel. One I fully intend on talking up to everyone I know until I get the eye rolls that let me know I’m going on about it too much. And I need to buy a few copies and give them away. This is a 1945 novel that has drifted out of print for long stretches while, I’m overjoyed to say, it’s back in print on July 7 of this year.

Joel Townsley Rogers’ incredible novel The Red Right Hand opens with the aftermath of a crime. A young couple on a scenic trip have encountered a frightening stranger, the story beginning with the narrator trying to sort out exactly what happened.  This description is no spoiler, for it’s merely how the book opens and I will say no more about the plot or the characters. I truly want to ruin nothing about the experience of this novel for anyone who hasn’t read it.

What I will say is that The Red Right Hand is a feverish, hallucinatory nightmare, dripping with nocturnal atmosphere, recurring dread, and much more. Written by a prolific, master pulp writer, it’s much appreciated by writers and genre enthusiasts, but seems to have never crossed that far into the mainstream. Maybe now is the time for that to change. If you like mystery, crime, or the more psychological brand of horror, you need to read it, preferably on a hot summer night with open windows, a darkened screen door nearby, and all of nature’s unearthly sounds drifting in.

Don’t take my word for it, just trust Donald Westlake: “I believe Joel Townsley Rogers’ The Red Right Hand should be reissued every 5 years forever.”

And a big thanks goes to the great Otto Penzler for reissuing it as part of his American Mystery Classics series.

Whether in softcover, hardcover, or e-book, check out and enjoy the eerie dream-state of The Red Right Hand, one of the most unique and memorable novels ever written.

Neil Peart

The music of Rush is supposed to be a love-it-or-hate-it thing, but somehow I managed to fall in the middle.  Long-term, devoted fans don’t always love their early ‘80s material but I think the Permanent Waves-Moving Pictures-Signals era was magnificent. Alex Lifeson’s guitar had a lovely chorus pedal sound which meshed with the synthesizers that the band was experimenting with, and brought out the best in some of their best songs.

It’s thanks to Neil Peart that I learned something about music.  A couple of high school jazz band friends had whatever the current Rush concert video was at the time, and could not say enough about Peart’s drumming.  One of these guys was a drummer, and the other a serious Rush fan, and I realized that some folks like music not for any song by that artist, but because of the sheer musicianship.

And I hope Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson keep going in some form.

Rest in peace, Neil Peart.

Remembering from 2018 . . .

Some folks no longer with us.

I meant to comment on Harlan Ellison’s passing. A writer who influenced so many people, and probably as much for his never dull, frequently entertaining personality displayed in many public appearances. I was more of a fan in my teen years than when older, but I always enjoyed his comments and just knowing that he was out there.

And, of course, he wrote one of Star Trek‘s greatest episodes:

Also, Steve Ditko. When I was a whippersnapper, I found a torn copy of Doctor Strange Classics in a comic shop, getting it from a reject bunch for something like four-for-a-dollar along with a beat-up Silver Age Tales to Astonish.  Ditko’s surrealist, psychedelic art was mind-boggling, and led me to further joy reading his original Spider-Man stories in Marvel Tales.

Here’s a book-themed (and groovy) look at the weird wonder of the art of Ditko:

And . . . Dolores O’Riordan of the Cranberries. The voice of otherworldly nineties Celtic pop music, and a band that was one of the best things about the nineties:

Rest in peace.