Wednesday, August 28, 2013

August Miscellany

Some smaller things...
Le Fanu

  • Today is the 199th birthday of J. Sheridan Le Fanu and the 264th birthday of Goethe, so go read "Carmilla" and "The Erl-King" to honor them. Or listen to an audio version. Or just have a drink. That's what I'm doing.
  • I'm stressed out as hell; I'm hunting for a new lair in Baltimore and my father is having some fairly icky health problems, in the form of a benign brain tumor that's pressing on his motor centers and making him limp, as well as causing occasional seizures. He's on a stack of meds but this seriously blows. And my birthday is Saturday and I have mixed feeling about being 48. But I guess still being alive and kicking is something to celebrate. And if someone knows of a reasonably-priced two-bedroom place with a nice kitchen and near a light rail station in Baltimore, please get in touch.
  • A new genre of podcast has arisen, where hosts go through an author's work story by story and analyze it, and so far it seems focused on weird fiction...or at least as far as I can tell. And I think it's cool. The grandaddy of them is The H. P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast, and in its wake are The Double Shadow (dedicated to the fiction of Clark Ashton Smith) and A Podcast to the Curious (dedicated to M. R. James). Now a brand-new one has arisen, and just in time: the Edgar Allan Poecast. Just one episode so far, where they dissect "Meztengerstein", but it's a corker. I anticipate good stuff from them. And what's next? The Nathaniel Hawthorne Guiltcast? The Robert E. Howard Bicepcast? Fitz-James O'Brien's Podcast Bohemia? If someone decides to kick off a J. Sheridan Le Fanucast without me I'll be peeved.
  • A friend observed my fondness for Japanese ghost stories and taste for J-horror, and asked if I was into manga and anime. And, well, I'm not. I've found most anime to be incomprehensible, and sometimes pretty vile, although I think I've just had the bad luck to be shown some of the more extreme variations. Manga just doesn't appeal to me. If it's your thing, go for it, but it's not mine. My mental image of Japan is more the land of Lafcadio Hearn and Akira Kurosawa than Sailor Moon and  Kekko Kaman or anything else...I know, hardly up to date, but that's the way it is. And I'm not likely to visit any time soon anyway...
  • I have found my dream car: the 1938 Phantom Corsair. Too bad for me only one was ever made. Who wants to build up a team to steal it? (NOTE TO LAW ENFORCEMENT PERSONNEL: Yeah, right. Like I could afford the gas that thing would require. It's mere a silly daydream.)    

Sunday, August 25, 2013

YUREI ATTACK! by Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt

Yurei Attack! The Japanese Ghost Survival Guide is one of a series of books by husband-and-wife team of Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt on Japanese pop culture; notably, there's also Ninja Attack! and Yokai Attack! One senses a theme. I first learned of it when I heard Yoda & Alt interviewed on the podcast "Monster Talk" and hope to get the other two eventually. Being a bit of a ghost person, I want for this one first.

The book opens with a general introduction to yurei, or ghosts of Japan, as opposed to yokai, or monsters. There's an extensive literary, folkloric, and artistic heritage of the uncanny in Japan, and it's really clear that it's the book's purpose to open that up to western viewers whose familiarity may not run much past Ringu and Ju-On and other J-horror films.

There are themed sections to the book. In "Sexy & Scary" there's a series of seductive female phantoms, including some from The Tale of Genji and my beloved Ugetsu Monogatari. These ladies range from the pathetic, like Okiku, the plate-counting phantom, to the infamous Oiwa, the template for Japanese female ghosts.

Oiwa emerging from a lantern.

Up next is "Furious Phantoms," with specters motivated by rage and revenge. Included in this section are Taira No Masakado, a historical figure whose shrine occupies valuable Tokyo real estate but is still honored and feared today. Another is a fictionalized ghost story based on real-life kabuki actor Kohada Koheiji, who died in the 1700s.

Koheiji, in a famous print by Hokusai.
 "Sad Spectres" includes Miyagi, from Ugetsu Monogatari, and who was incorporated into the 1953 film Ugetsu. Another interesting one was Ame-Kai Yurei, or the candy-buying ghost. In this tale, a sad-faced woman shows up at a stand for several nights in a row to purchase a small piece of candy, of the sort normally given to a baby. The shopkeeper eventually follows her when she leaves, to a cemetery, where she vanishes over a recent grave. Digging it up, the shopkeeper and his friends find a mother and child together; either the woman died while pregnant but managed to give birth in the coffin, or they were both ill and while the mother had died the baby had been mistaken for dead and buried with her. And in it were the remains of the candy, along with the living child; obviously she had been sustaining the baby's life with the candy. I recount all this because long ago I read a story that had been told in the North Carolina mountains that was almost identical, except it was a general store being visited by the ghost and she was buying bottles of milk. Hard to know which came first, but it's yet another example of how uncanny folktales from different cultures can be so similar.

The Okiku Doll, another haunted possession in Japanese lore.

"Haunted Places" is a fun chapter because so many of the stories are from historical sources, some not all that long ago. Tabaruzaka, a hill near Kumamoto, has a haunting from a real battle of the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877. Mount Hakkoda is haunted by soldiers who died there during a disastrous training exercise in 1902; they were trapped, unprepared, during a "normal" cold-weather survival mission, that went hideously awry when a history-making blizzard hit the area, with record low temperatures, and out of 210 soldiers, only 11 survived, some as multiple amputees. There's also Japan's famous Suicide Forest (where a staggeringly high number of people go to off themselves), Jomon Tunnel (haunted by those who died during the construction in 1914), and Oiran Buchi (a waterfall where 55 courtesans committed suicide in the 1570s).
The Hakkoda mountains, now a ski resort.
"Dangerous Games" looks into various spooky pastimes, including a form of ouija board, a popular curse, and the hyaku monogatari, a sort of seance game where you and your friends light 100 candles, then sit around at night telling scary stories, and blowing out a candle after each story. When you blow out the last one...well, something scary is supposed to happen, but the stories are very vague as to exactly what. It's supposed to be done in summer, which is the spooky season in Japan. (In the West we tend to associate ghosts with autumn, thanks to Halloween, I guess, and also with winter, because of the long nights. Remember A Christmas Carol?)

Chapter Six, "Close Encounters," has three tales of famous meetings with ghosts, including the famous "Hoichi the Earless" which was recounted in Lafcadio Hearn's Kwaidan and dramatized in the famous film of the same name. There's a tale each about Yuten Shonin, a famous real-life exorcist, and Ono No Takamura, a poet and scholar who is supposed to have visited Hell. The appendices include a selection of ghost-related toys and merchandise, and suggestions for further reading.

Yurei Attack! is fun, spooky reading; Yoda and Alt do a very good job of making this part of Japanese pop culture accessible to Westerners. It's got a ton of illustrations, with a lot of classic Japanese ghost art from great artists, and modern manga drawings from Shinkichi.

This is great stuff, folks. Look it up, find it, and read it. It's available as a physical book and I think also for the Kindle.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

August Afternoon at the Movies!

It's a rainy Sunday afternoon in August, when it's surprisingly cool but you still need air conditioning because it's so damp and clammy outside. After lunching at our favorite restaurant, we proceed down the street to the comfort of that old movie house...

First up is a short from 1900, the first in a supernatural-themed film trilogy. Watch the antics of Uncle Josh, in this film from Edison's production company, in "Uncle Josh's Nightmare".

And then the feature presentation, a fun 1932 mystery drama with a young Ginger Rogers, "The Thirteenth Guest."

Show's over, and we amble down the street for something cold at that little cafe, and take comfort in our little routine...

Sunday, August 11, 2013


A. N. L. Munby (1913-1974) was a man after my own heart. A rare-book dealer and librarian, he also served in WWII and while in a German POW camp wrote a series of low-key ghost stories in the antiquarian tradition of M. R. James. They were collected and published in 1949 (I think the image above is the hardcover) and for many years it was a much sought-after collector's item, accessible only to a few. The lovely people at Ash-Tree Press resurrected it first as a print book, and now it's happily available as an e-book.

And now for an overview. "Herodes Redivivus" is a fairly forward-thinking story, of a boy whose taste for old books almost delivers him into the hands of a Satanist and presumed pedophile, with some possible deliverance from beyond. "The Inscription" is a nicely spooky tale of a haunting driven by old sorceries. And then there's the title story, a gentle tale of a haunted church and its clerical phantom who has a unique manifestation.

"The Topley Place Sale" is a nicely morbid tale of an estate sale and a ghost that takes exception to the belongings being scattered to the wind. In "The Tudor Chimney" proposed renovations to an old house unleash a phantom. Playing "A Christmas Game" leads to horrifying results as vengeance takes a hand. "The White Sack" takes us to a trek in the mountains that almost leads to death at the hands of a malignant and unknowable local fiend.

"The Four-Poster" has an old bed with a vengeful haunting...not as fiendish as that legendary bad movie, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats, but bad enough, and with a surprising cause. "The Negro's Head" is a rather surprising tale of wry reflections on race relations and their repercussions. "The Tregannet Book of Hours" is a fun tale of a book that gives hints of a dire haunting in the past. "An Encounter in the Mist" is along the lines of "The White Sack," in which a traveler almost meets doom at the hands of a malignant specter.

"The Lectern" is a tale of spectral revenge, and "Number Seventy-Nine" has evil surrounding an old book. The final story, "The Devil's Autograph", is about the rarest collectible of them all.

 I've downloaded a handful of Ash-Tree Press ebooks, and I'm most impressed with them so far. There's good introductions and biographical material, and they do a great job of bringing obscure ghost fiction to light. And Munby's tales are a joy. The usual ghosts and chills are there, although not as vivid as some authors' work, like James or the Benson boys. Munby is low-key and especially in the first story it's easy to miss the supernatural content. In a number of tales the haunting is not a present menace, but something to be read about in the past. But they're full of the usual antiquarian stuff...old books, old houses, old churches, as well as some excursions into the wild. But he's also a bit more liberal that some; "The Negro's Head" especially gives thanks that the author is in more enlightened times, but also some of that in "A Christmas Game" as well. There is a fondness for the old and for tradition, especially with "The Topley Place Sale" which is almost funny in its depiction of a ghost who doesn't want to see the family antiques sold off, but there's also an acceptance of renovation, like in "The Tudor Chimney" in which respectful renovation is the key to ending the haunting, and even in tales like "The Inscription" it's the best thing for all involved that the haunted building be razed. Something like that would give M. R. James twitches; he abhorred the thought of renovating. But Munby was a bit more forward-thinking than the usual antiquarian storyteller.

Get this and read it, folks. This is a joy.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Dust & Corruption Calendar for August 2013

Ever since July's hellish heat wave broke, the summer has been relaxed and easy, with a number of surprisingly cool and agreeable days. I took a walk around the parking lot at work yesterday and was surprised at how much it felt like September. Perhaps, hope against hope, we're going to have an early and cool fall?

I'm also starting to apartment-hunt in earnest, looking for an affordable and nice place in Baltimore where I can have a separate room for all my books. Wish me luck. If all goes well, I'll be celebrating Halloween with Edgar Allan Poe.

As always, the Observatory in Brooklyn, NY, has a schedule of fascinating talks and workshops.

And Atlas Obscura always lists interesting things in different cities.

In Frederick, MD, the National Museum of Civil War Medicine has a series of free lectures every Thursday evening during the summer; if you're into history or medicine or both, look into it.

Saturdays: Speakeasy Saturdays continue at The Big Hunt; shows start at 9:00, and every Saturday is something different.

8/7 - Beauty + Brains/Burlesque + Variety. Burlesque, sideshow, and comedy. The Raven Lounge, 1718 Sansom St, Philadelphia, PA. Doors 8:30, show 9:30. Tix $10.

Also that night is Sizzling Summer Nights! Burlesque, fire performance, and variety, with my friend Crystal Swarovski. Bossy Grrrl's Pin Up Joint, 2598 N Night St, Columbus, OH. Doors 8, show 9, tix $5.

8/9 - Once Upon a Tease! Disney-themed burlesque with the best of Virginia talent.  Gallery 5, 200 W Marshall St, Richmond, VA. Doors 8, show 9; tix $10 advance and $15 at the door.

Also that night is Lady Rockwell Presents: Swingin' Burlesque Babes with Mark Whiskey & the Sours. A night of live swing music and burlesque performances, including my pal Shortstaxx. Club Orpheus, 1003 E Pratt St, Baltimore, MD. Doors 8:30, show 9:30, $15.

8/10 - Boudoir Betties! Baltimore's own Gilded Lily Burlesque troupe presents a tribute to all that is classy and sexy, with an array of talent from Baltimore, Knoxville, and St. Louis. The Windup Space, 12 W. North Ave, Baltimore, MD. Show 9pm, tix $15.

8/16 - Clash of the Tit-tans! Valentine Candy Burlesque's latest production of mythical proportions! With Candy del Rio, Reverend Valentine, Gigi Holliday, Alyssum Pohl, Deanna Danger, and more, hosted by Hot Todd Lincoln. The Black Cat, 1811 14th St NW, Washington, DC. Two shows; one at 9pm (doors 8:45) and the next at 11pm (doors 10:45). Tix $12 adv, $15 at the door, available here.

Also that night is Rasputin's Room! Presented by Lil' Steph, this is an "All-Classic Burlesque Show" that will feature my friend Miss Joule, who is always a class act. Ruba-Club Studios, 416 Green St, Philadelphia, PA. Doors 9pm, show 10pm, tix $10.

8/17 - A Night of Wonders! The Cheeky Monkey Sideshow (which features my pals Swami YoMahmi and Mab Just Mab) will be joining musical stars Frenchy & the Punk AND Eli August & the Abandoned Buildings. Should be quite a show. The Bier Baron, 1523 22nd St NW, Washington, DC. Doors 8:30, show 9:30, tix $12.

8/24 - Surrealesque. A tribute to the surreal and the erotic, with a top-drawer array of talent: Peekaboo Pointe, Tyler Fyre & Thrillkill Jill, Dr. Lucky, Maria Bella, Kay Sera, Gigi Holliday, and Sophia Sunday. The Creative Alliance, 3134 Eastern Ave, Baltimore, MD. Show at 8pm; tix $20 and available here.

8/27 - Science Cafe! The National Museum of Health & Medicine presents a talk, "About Face! Reconstructive Plastic Surgery in World War 1" which may appeal to some myself. Silver Spring Civic Center, Fenton Room, 1 Veterans Place, Silver Spring, MD. Free.

8/31 My birthday.

Also that night...Pastius Revelio! A Burlesque Tribute to Harry Potter, with Paco Fish, Swami YoMahmi, Reverend Valentine, Nelson Lugo, Lola Rose, Gigi Holliday and Cherie Sweetbottom. The Bier Baron, Washington, DC. Doors 8:30, show 10:30; tix $10 adv and $12 at the door.

That's all I've been able to find...if you know of something, speak up!

Monday, August 5, 2013

August at the Phantom Concert Hall

And once again we're in our bohemian best at the concert hall. It's a cool evening, and we've already arranged for dinner later, and tonight is a special treat. A rare performance of Prokofiev's Third Symphony!

Almost sounds like something by Bernard Herrmann, doesn't it? Prokofiev is famous for things like "Peter and the Wolf" but there's a rarely performed repertoire of his works that spectral and sometimes horrific. Symphony No. 3 borrows some themes from an opera he composed, "The Fiery Angel," which I'm told is full of witchcraft and demonic possession. I can believe it; this piece is utterly diabolical. Prokofiev himself seems to have been most fascinated by mysticism and the occult, and it shows.

Sorry I'm a bit late with this; I'm apartment-hunting in earnest so that's taking up a bit of my time.