Sunday, February 10, 2019

February at the Phantom Cabaret!

The worst of the winter chill is (we hope) over, and our minds and bodies are starting to gear up for spring. The days are noticeably longer, there's been a few warm days, so we're ready for it.

Tonight, we're heading off to that little cabaret we have to duck down a dark passageway between two buildings, and emerge in a beautifully appointed space, full of atmospheric lighting and comfortable seats, where the drinks are good and the music even better.

Tonight, we're hearing the Eastern European band Fishtank!

Sorry I've been slow to post again. My computer crashed and it took me a few days to reload Windows and while I was able to save my personal files, I had to reload all my programs. I'm a bit nervous about still working with this thing but I'm in no position to buy a new one, so here I am...

Don't worry, it's onward and upward!

Monday, January 21, 2019

Catching up on recent stuff...

OK, I haven't been a very good correspondent. I'm trying to get caught up now and here's a few things I've read lately....

The second volume of her Henry and Emmy Tibbett series, Down Among the Dead Men is a solid if unremarkable mystery novel. Henry and Emmy are on holiday again, visiting some friends for a sailing vacation in the seaside hamlet of Berrybridge Haven. They get involved with the local weekend sailing community, get to know the locals, and hear a tale of a somewhat mysterious death that happened some time ago. But then there's some tensions, some strangeness, and another murder. Who did it, and why? It all wraps up nicely, if a bit sadly; it's a tale of a somewhat minor crime that snowballed into some bigger ones. It's a pleasant read, with well-drawn characters, a good plot, and a setting that reminded me of some of the waterside towns on the Chesapeake that I've visited. You can always count on Patricia Moyes.

Now THIS is a classic. Cornell Woolrich's The Bride Wore Black is simply amazing. A beautiful woman works her way into the lives of a series of men, and kills them all in various ways. It's sheer noir delerium, one of the great examples of dark pulp noir fiction out there. It inspired a Francois Truffaut film, starring Jeanne Moreau...but if you like the movie, prepare yourself, because the movie makes a substantial change to the story, changing the nature of the crime that started her spree, and a devastating final twist is cut that changed everything. I had read the novel first and found the movie disappointing....but I have friends who saw the movie first and found the book a disappointment, so your actual mileage may vary. I find the book superior and I'm glad I've managed to hang on to it all these years....I first read it as a high-school student back in the 80s, and I was pleasantly surprised to see I still had it when I moved.

Michael Rowe's Wild Fell was simply infuriating for me. Parts of it are excellent, as it describes the narrator's boyhood and experiences that led to him buying an old house on an island on a lake in Canada. It goes fairly leisurely for a while, but I didn't mind, as there were hints of menace in the story and in a prelude about the house...but then in the last chapter everything seems cranked up to 11 and revelations come so rapidly that it's hard to keep track, and it's unclear if we're supposed to take them as literal truth or just lies. It reads as if the author had come to his page limit and had to wrap everything up in a hurry. If it had simply been bad, I could have wiped my hands and walked away, but in this case, Rowe has genuine grace as a stylist...but I felt his plotting needed work. A lot of work.

So, that brings me a few steps closer to being up to date...more to come....

Sunday, January 6, 2019

A New Year in the Phantom Concert Hall!

It's the first weekend of the new year! We've all survived our various holiday plans (more or less) and reflected on how things change as we get could never come fast enough when we were kids, but comes too quickly when we're adults.

Nevertheless, we're now facing both the promise of a new year, and the dread of getting back to our normal lives and work schedules. But, for tonight, we're going to enjoy a new year's concert by the local orchestra...and here's one piece, the "Lola Montes Polka"!

This piece is by Australian composer Albert Denning, and sadly I can't find much about him; he appears to be known solely for this work. Reportedly it was inspired by an alleged incident when Madame Lola Montes was touring Australia and got a bad review from a paper in Ballarat; the story goes that she attacked the editor with a whip. However, Denning's polka was published in 1855, and Mme. Montes didn't appear in Ballarat until 1856.

Still, it's a pleasant work, one of those delightful light classics that get overlooked. Let's sit back and enjoy the show, shall we?

Monday, December 17, 2018


The second Johnny Dixon adventure, The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt, establishes the characters a bit more and introduces some continuing characters and elements.

Johnny is on a trip with Professor Childermass (which becomes an ongoing theme in the novels; the two are almost always going off on some jaunt or another), touring the mansion of late cereal magnate H. Bagwell Glomus, when they're shown the man's office and the clues he left to his hidden will left behind in his office....a chess set, a tavern sign, and a Greek newspaper. Johnny puzzles over this as a hobby, especially after learning there's a substantial reward going out to anyone who finds it. And he's given further reason to find it....his grandmother is taken ill, and it turns out she's got a brain tumor that requires surgery.

To get his mind off things, Johnny sent to a Boy Scout camp near Mount Chocorua (a real place, and it looks impressive), only to find that that Glomus' summer house is nearby....and it matches some of the clues left in his office. With his new friend Fergie, aka Byron Q. Ferguson, he slips out at night to investigate, where they meet one of Glomus' nephews, a rather strange and slightly disturbed young man. After threatening them, he then shows them a secret passage, and tells them a spooky story of a strange magical guardian who haunts the house. And then there's a hideous scream...

This is a fun tale, where Johnny gets in over his head when panic and anxiety take over and he's not able to think clearly. He ends up going off on a half-cocked quest to find the will, running afoul of Glomus' scheming family and the eerie guardian that tries to keep him away. There are a few contrived bits but the magic rituals involved in raising and controlling the guardian are interesting reading, with some fun little details that stick in the imagination. And yes, the title is given full relevance in the course of the story.

A good, solid entry in the Bellairs canon, if not as shuddersome and eerie as some of the others, but worth searching out.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

A December Night at the Phantom Recital Hall

Tonight's concert is something new and different/ we're able to nab good seats because a few of the more staid types turned up their nose at the program. What we have is an evening of modern accordion music!

OK, I recently fount out about a new cycle of works for accordion dedicated to the works of Hans Christian Andersen, and it's rather nice stuff, a breath of fresh air. Especially if you're like me and love accordion music.

So, here's a musical interpretation of "The Little Match Girl."

OK, maybe it's not for everyone, but I like it. And it's different. Important to push your boundaries every once in a while.

So, let's get something to drink, shall we?

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Two Gothic Novels

I've been slow to update, and have a stack of things I've read to review, so let's do some portmanteau blogging...

Rayland Hall, or, The Remarkable Adventures of Orlando Somerville is regarded as someone significant from a scholarly point of view. It's basically a chapbook of about 36 pages that's a plagiarism of a longer work, The Old Manor House by Charlotte Smith, a 1793 work that ran to thirteen hundred pages over four volumes. Some anonymous but enterprising hack chopped it down to novella length, changed some names, and made it a much more streamlined work. Published in 1810, Rayland Hall is technically a Gothic....but only technically so. While academically interesting, Rayland Hall isn't recommended for the casual D&C fan because, honestly, it's lack in Gothic thrills and chills. There are no ghosts or treasures, but instead a cross-class love affair and questions of inheritance. While offering up some critique of the British social order, and offering a glimpse of the country during the American Revolution, it's lacking in other departments. If anything, this can be viewed as a precursor to all those "gothic romance" novels that are long on the romance but short on the Gothic.

The Cavern of Death is more like it. First published as a newspaper serial in 1793/4, it's full of the castles, ghosts, and violence that one normally expects from Gothic fiction. Another anonymous work, it at lest is longer and not a plagiarism, but an original work. Set in a faux-Germanic land similar to the territory shown in Hammer films, it gives us the adventurous Sir Albert hoping to marry his lady-love Constance, and being thwarted by a wicked Baron. But there's also a murder plot, a clutch of assassins, and a trip to the cave of the title, where we encounter a ghost, a skeleton and a bloody sword, that lead to the revelation of dark secrets. While obviously crude and brief, with no room for any real grace in the style, it still manages to be a fast-moving and entertaining read at under 100 pages.

More on the way....

Sunday, November 11, 2018

A November Night in the Phantom Concert Hall

Halloween is over, the cold weather is arriving in earnest, and we've bundled up and ventured out for a concert at that lovely old restored hall downtown.

It's that in-between time...orchestras no longer need to do spooky-music programs and won't have to do any Christmas music for a while, so they can actually be a bit adventurous in the repertoire. One of the highlights of tonight's program is this piece by Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly...

This 1933 piece is based on actual Hungarian folk music, harvested by Kodaly and his friends as they traveled around the country gathering music that had never been written down. (In addition to being a composer, Kodaly was a notable educator and musicologist.) There's something lively about it that gives a little excitement to a cold night, eh?

After the concert, we slip out for a drink and a discussion of what we've been doing lately...and our plans for the holidays approaching....can they be here again so quickly?