Saturday, May 29, 2010

Baroque and Roll

I want you to imagine something.

Imagine a golden warrior angel in mid-flight, swooping down with sword and shield, ready to stab some loathsome beast. This image frozen in tableau above an impossibly-tall fortified Gothic spire. Below that, curvy women lounge about in diaphanous robes and bits of ornamental armour. Lower still, sea monsters from the forgotten deeps writhe and coil. Around the spire gaunt, unnatural monsters that look like like some combination of alligator, panther and dinosaur shrink back in horror and twist their malformed bodies in impossible ways as the angel's terrible radiance sears their eyes and pierces their souls.

Not enough? How's this? A well-muscled manly-man of a hero stands atop a castle tower. Beneath him, all the vile, subterranean minions of hell boil forth from the earth and sea in an effort to devour him. Defending him is a naked mermaid whose purity fills the devils with both fear and unnatural lust to despoil such a perfect beauty. Against the tide of evil, the hero wields a severed hand still spraying fluid from the stump.

Perhaps it's just Friend Kris's recent writings on heavy-metal influenced fantasy over at Glitterdust. Perhaps it's my relatively-recent playthrough of BrĂ¼tal Legend. But these descriptions - at least to me - sound metal. Nothing to do with metal music, necessarily, but everything to do with the metal-fantasy aesthetic. Muscley guys fighting loathsome denizens of the underworld while poorly-dressed women with unrealistic figures look on.

So, what are these shining examples of unironic heavy-metal aesthetic excess? Album covers? Artwork for fantasy games or novels?

None of the above. Would you believe nineteenth century public fountains?

The first one is the fountain on Place Sainte-Catherine in Brussels (Google Image Search fails me here). The second is Brabo Fountain in Antwerp, which the Internet informs me is based on the founding legend of the city, in which Roman soldier Silvius Brabo chops the hand off a giant and throws it into the nearby river (source) - a fact which makes it even more metal.

So why is trashy metal/fantasy art derided as, well, trashy metal/fantasy art, while this stuff gets a pass? The content is about the same, so is it the (slightly) less testosteroned-up aesthetic? Is it just because it's old? Is it due to the connection with their respective associated musical genres? I don't really have an answer, nor any sort of conclusion. I'm certainly not calling for the installation of trashy metal/fantasy art in public places. I'm just intrigued and amused by the connections between some of the 'lowest' and 'highest' arts.

I guess I do have one conclusion: men like art with babes and violence.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Hollow Tooth Diaries: EUST Day Zero

Hollow Tooth Diaries will be cross-posted (that's the lingo, right?) to EUSTblog:

Air travel, as we all know from standup comedy, is terrible. In economy class, they don't give you much food, or legroom, or comfort, or respect. I think I heard someone tell me once about some self-aware comedian who responded to the cliche of comedians hating on air travel by expressing in vehement terms "Yes, let's complain about the food in the metal tube they put you in to fling you at high speeds through the air!" It's a reminder about the age of miracles in which we live. It's a reminder to have some perspective.

The anti-air travel perspective has always mystified me as well. I'd never even thought about complaining about it. It's something that happens to you for a while; you sit still and you read a book or sleep or watch a movie and then you're somewhere else. Even on long flights, I had never had the slightest discomfort

Until this time.

Now, I'd flown to Europe before. That time and this, I neglected to sleep on the plane, as I was landing in the early evening and I could then crash immediately and thereby adapt to the time zone. No more of a challenge than staying up till 5AM with friends, right? Well, something was different. Maybe the frantic packing and final errands the morning before. Maybe the uncomfortable plane ride. (Who puts the seat far enough from the window that you can't rest your head on it?) Maybe panic at leaving my home continent and living out of a suitcase for six months in a post-Soviet republic wracked with unemployment, poverty and political turmoil. Who knows, but I was deposited in Frankfurt with over three hours to wait in a hunger and exhaustion-induced haze.

My departure gate was about as far from my arrival gate as it was possible to be, so I had to stagger through what seemed like the entire Frankfurt airport hauling my probably-oversized carry-on bags. The trip involved creeping around in disused corridors trying to avoid passport controls as long as possible (long story - I was advised that it might have been travelling illegally), and schlepping through a surreal blend of antiseptic corridors, security checkpoints and garish high-end shopping. I finally collapsed at my gate (found only by asking a security guard who was privy to secret knowlege) so early that the flight attendants thought I was running late for the previous plane.

Due to exhaustion, general malaise, and shame over my poor German, I didn't get anything to eat in Frankfurt. It didn't help that the food places were far from my gate, overpriced, and didn't have anything I wanted. Also, once past the mall and through security, the Frankfurt airport is about the bleakest building imaginable. One could likely make a crack about German philosophers, given how great the place is for contemplating the futility of joy.

When the flight from Brussels departed, I basically passed out immediately and woke up just in time to miss the drink cart. My water had been confiscated at Frankfurt security.

The Brussels airport was Frankfurt in miniature. Boring bits, mall, arbitrarily long walks. When I managed to make it into daylight my first Belgian experience was a shouting match between my busdriver and a gentleman who'd decided the best place to park his van was in the only exit to the parking lot.

Research plus transit maps plus (decent French skills X helpful transit guy) got me to the hotel, where I met up with other people on the tour. Plan at this stage was to head out and get something to eat. Street food doesn't really exist much in Brussels and the restaurants nearby were all too expensive for my blood, despite having not eaten in, like, a day. Also, then we ran smack into a pride festival, which took some time to navigate. We also got hopelessly lost three or four times. My friends decided to go boozin' and I decided to head back to the hotel, as my hour of airborne unconsciousness hadn't done much to alleviate my fatigue. Of course I got hopelessly, mercilessly, entirely lost again on the way back. I only found my way home by ducking into a Metro station and finding how absurdly not-going-the-right-way I was. Never did find anything to eat.

Unknown Armies has those little magic urban legends in the margins. One of them holds that food is actually a drug and if you can survive the withdrawal, you can do without it forever. A little insensitive to people who have starved to death but still kinda cool. Anyway, that's basically what happened. The next day (The Hollow Tooth Diaries: EUST Day One!), I went out for breakfast not because I was hungry, but because I knew I should be. I didn't need to eat at all! I was free! This was convenient, because nothing is open in Brussels on a Sunday before 10. After getting lost a couple more times, I found an open cafe, just to test myself.

That was the most delicious croissant I have ever tasted.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Welcome, Friends!

... because at least for now, probably only friends will read this. Like, real, physical people who I know. You know who you are.

So what is Bonus Ghost? Bonus Ghost is more than a band - it's a total sonic/cultural experience. Their use of simple and traditional rock stylings mixed with blues and indie highlights is not a result of a lack of imagination, but rather a comprehensive understanding of the cultural and social forces that have combined to create their genre of sound. The sense of their self-awareness is only highlighted by their lyrics which, though seemingly simple, are littered with literary and pop-cultural references. Their albums can often be read as the post-modern odysseys of ordinary people drifting though a world of recycled culture and content to find greater understanding and meaning. They are also wholly ficticious, which means they won't mind if I use their Hauntarchy to blog about nerd crap.

Expect miscellaneous, uncategorized updates as the mood takes me, but here are the semi-regular features I forsee:
The Hollow Tooth Diaries - I am travelling right now and will soon be living in Latvia for several months. This feature will be my travelblog for my adventures in this post-Soviet wonderland. Any embellishments for the sake of exciting content will be suitably blatant. I reserve the rights to make as many Dr. Doom jokes as I want.
Workshop Tomorrow
- Descriptions of my various game system projects, both additions to existing games and new inventions, including but not limited to an as-yet unnamed constructable card game, a cinematic fight scene game tentatively called Kumite! and Big Finish, the totally improvised RPG.
Sourcebook Corner - Character and plot sketches for the stories I would write if I had any faith in my abilities. Also, since I've managed to convince myself that most of them would work better as comics, they'll never see the light of day unless you are a talented artist who is totally willing to draw whatever I say. These include Alpha Faction, slightly campy '50s espionage/action story about the agency that started the Cold War as a distraction from what's really going on; Vth Quadrant, sci-fi-parody-farce; and Chronintel (If you have a better name, let me know), about a time-and-genre-travelling cosmic superspy and his supporting cast of weird sentient beings from across Known History.
The Politics of Make-Believe - Also known as Overthinking It: A Continuing Series, this is where I put my degree to work drastically nerding out over the economic/political/social/philosophical implications of various made-up worlds and concepts. Of all the regular features, this is the one I've developed least, so I would put out a request for suggestions of topics to tackle. I've got vague plans to discuss necromancy and religion in your standard, Blandsville D+D-style setting. After that, I dunno. The geopolitics of the Iron Kingdoms or something.

This is all subject to change. I'm mostly doing this to get in the habit of writing for myself and would welcome comments and suggestions for improvement. Really, I mean it. So, once more, welcome, friends. I hope we can both get something out of this.