Photos by Ray Van Horn, Jr.
The Espresso Machine Hates Me, a Poem From My Open Mike Days
A road lesser traveled these days if there ever was one, the open mic poetry venue. A rarity outside of Soho, Manhattan, some of my favorite times as a writer was becoming a part of local poetry series hosted by area coffeehouses in Frederick and Westminster, Maryland and other surrounding burgs. I was blessed to be a featured reader of a handful of times, but the biggest kick was making such beautiful friends in art. Friday nights especially closing down a bookstore/coffee shop with our words and music, then closing down a local brewery afterwards every week…creating art on the spot with a rowdy company of weekend alcoholics…the brewery nearly threw us out a few times, but they welcomed us back the following week anyway. Some of the finest times I’ve ever known.
Anyone reading in a coffeehouse might be able to relate to one of my heavy hitter pieces circa 2008…
The Espresso Machine Hates Me
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
there’s a reason I talk fast a lot
and it’s not just because my kid carries on during his nite nite story
sadly, I’m asked to repeat myself when fielding business calls
my saving grace is brokers talk faster than me
it’s that goddamn espresso machine, man
the one that goes
every time it’s my turn on the mike
like a balcony critic on stage level
once I open my mouth
it used to be funny
we’ve all paid our dues
that’s the life of a coffeehouse poet
but I’m starting to take it personal
I nod to my audience,
blather an intro from the hip,
then the minute I start a stanza
yes, it feeds my habit
and I’m not referring to a caramel macchiato kick
though I’ve been known to scoop and sling
when the whipped cream’s too thick
so I can score a direct hit of the liquid speed
without the goddamn espresso machine
I have nowhere to read my toils
and therein lies the rub
like a don knows faithful tribute keeps his neighborhood in line
or a greedy club owner puts bands on for a fee
the inconsiderate, goddamn espresso machine
has me by the balls
pay to play
thank you, goddamn espresso machine
for giving me a public forum to hijack ears each week
hiss at my work all you like
for you and I will suffer in-arms come June
when iced coffee becomes the rage
Wordless Wednesday – Legend R.I.P.
Discovering a Gem in a Former Back Yard – Marshy Point Park and Nature Center, Bowley’s Quarters, Maryland
So, as alluded to yesterday, TJ and I were craving an overdue hike and while visiting her daughter, we were given the recommendation to check out Marshy Point Nature Center. It turned out Marshy Point is planted between the Essex and Bowley’s Quarters/Oliver Beach regions where I once lived as a child. It’s also where my grandparents resided for much of their lives and where both my mom and stepfather grew up.
It was a kick just to go back into the area I’d been a deep part of in my own right, still today a culture clash of old school Post World II Americana, modest Cape Cods and ranchers still standing with fresh coats of paint, in defiance of four-to-five-bedroom Craftsman, Victorians and Tudors dwarfing them. I was delighted to see much of the area looked and felt the same, given I hadn’t been down those roads in decades. The post office that’s been there since the dawn of time is there and in full swing, a beautiful oddity against a hard-fought push into the contemporary.
Oliver Beach is from which my family roots on my mother’s side stem and I was astonished to see my grandparents’ modest Cape Cod, in which we’d squished up to 17 people at a time for a gathering, now expanded, bricked over and fenced into a mini estate I am still marveling at this morning. A beautiful makeover, as had happened to many of the homes in a private beach burg I’d spent a considerable part of my younger life walking all over, though swimming in the Middle River flanking the neighborhood had become prohibited in light of toxicity to the water. I miss that, actually.
I felt like a complete stranger driving through Oliver Beach, gaining stares and a couple of stink faces from people who wouldn’t know I’d spent nearly a quarter of my life there as a regular. Moreover, I less the interloper given all the stories I had collected from the people of the Fabulous Fifties who’d built the community into what it’s become. Blue collar waterfront crabber folk evolving into a patriotic red territory unabashedly touting its money with mega horsepower on their outboard motors, boating for pleasure instead of sustenance. Even the Oliver Beach Inn, a former dive my grandfather liked to drink at, had become an unexpected upscale pub house, even while maintaining its original shack-style framing.
It was with all this nostalgia and glee of seeing a holdover respect for the country vibe the area still possesses, blowing a proverbial raspberry from the outskirts of Baltimore’s industrializing (there is still an operating drive-in movie theater, Bengie’s, which both myself and my parents haunted for much of our lives) which gave me hope when TJ and I swung into Marshy Point Park and Nature Center. It being a channel into the grand expanse of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, Marshy Point is the best of both worlds with its forestation and open water for fishing and kayaking.
As far as Marshy Point being a road lesser traveled, that’s only relative to whatever trail you can grab away from the central attractions which lures a lot of families and elderly day trippers. The nature center itself was booming with activity and children being taught about local vegetation by the on-site rangers. Surrounding them were birds of prey pens, which TJ and I found a gorgeous snow owl no doubt “over it” being on display for visitors. There is even an old boat that I know by local crabbers and fishermen of the past, was retired from pragmatic use and morphed into a small playground which amused the 2-6 age bracket.
Opening in 2000, Marshy Point has become a hub for earth science and conservation and especially a hot spot for osprey sightings. Its connector bridge on the 0.6 mile Katie and Wil’s Trail offers a splendid view of the tributary and the circumventing reeds. When I showed my pictures to my mother yesterday, she immediately laughed and went into reminiscence mode. She and her friends had long blazed these paths and trails before us through the 1950s and Sixties and she said the original bridge had been far more treacherous to navigate in her day. She gave me her promise to share all the stories she has of the park region before it became this investment of love by the Weiskittel and Zielinski families. One of the trails is named for the former.
Our mission was to find the least traveled of Marshy Point Park’s ten trails, keeping in mind a few are short connectors to the longer ones. The longest trail onsite is the 1.5 mile Greenway Trail, which we took on, along with a few others.
While we sighed over the floral fragrances and blossoming ferns on the White Tail and Weiskittel Trails, we groaned by the “overlook” baited on the Weiskittel, as it was nothing more than a lead to a local road. Regardless, we positively geeked to spot a patch crow’s feet on the White Tail Trail you’d miss if you’re not scouting the ground for anything of interest. We were also visited by three frogs, which was ironic for TJ, who’d narrowly avoided hitting three frogs in her car the day before. In the esoteric community, there in the principle of the power of three. As a totem animal, the frog is a proponent of letting your voice and spirit be heard as emphatically as possible.
After getting a taste of the bridge and water inlet, we swung back onto Dundee-Saltpeter Trail which skirts onto the Greenway Trail, and here, is what we decided, was Marshy Point’s road lesser traveled. Though the Boy Scouts have markers from footbridge erections in a couple spots, much of the wooden walkway splicing through a prominent section of the Greenway was gulped by overgrown forestation, as much as the reeds overpower the planks taking you out to a muddy view of the water back at the White Tail Trail. Greenway does dump into a residential area near the park before getting back into the conservation, and it was even less blazed than the wooded section.
Normally I would conquer an entire park in a day, especially since Marshy Point’s trails are flat. Warm caveat to those who prefer less stress on the knees or need to build up their cardio for more rugged terrain. Much tamer than Palmerton, Pennsylvania, where I’ve done two ferocious Spartan Trail 10Ks up and down the ski resort’s mountain slopes.
Aside from me getting squishy in the swampy parts and TJ doing her best to capture me doing Spiderman leaps off tree stumps to no avail, we decided to leave the rest of the park unexplored for a return visit. I look forward to that, but nowhere near as much as hearing Mom and Pop’s stories of the same ecosystem from fifty-plus years ago.
Watch yourself out there, TJ…
–Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Back in Our Element
TJ and I have been champin’ at the bit to get through the move and weekends gobbled up by responsibilities and obligations to get out there doing what we love most…hiking and finding roads lesser traveled to share with you.
Where did we end up this time? Stay tuned, friends. The answer will be revealed next post, but let these shots serve as a teaser…
–Ray Van Horn, Jr.
For the Love of Voivod
Voivod, May 13, 2023 Photo by Ray Van Horn, Jr.
You may recall the name Voivod from one of my Five From the Shelf editions here at Roads Lesser Traveled a few months back. I have many all-time favorite musicians and bands from all genres, but if there’s one band I feel like they’ve been a part of my DNA since discovering them in 1987 with the mind-blowing progressive thrashterpiece, Killing Technology, it’s these guys.
A lot has happened to the French-Canadian metal legends throughout 40 years of their Morgoth Tales, as the band is touting their current live run, which I was more than pleased to catch last Saturday at Baltimore Soundstage. In-and-out personnel changes, the tragic death of guitar wizard Denis “Piggy” D’Amour, a near crack at breaking into the mainstream with a masterful cover of Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine.” Nearly dead twice, revived both instances.
This is a band whose technicality demands the highest pedigree, so much Voivod once hosted a tour for their exceptional Nothingface album in which they were supported by future titans of heavy music, Faith No More and Soundgarden. I was in attendance to that outrageous show in 1990 at The Bayou in Washington, D.C. and most people who were there agree; it was one of the all-time greatest live spectacles ever assembled and still Voivod won the day. I’ll never forget standing beneath former bassist Jean-Yves “Blacky” Theriault and feeling the pummel of his vibratum, his own innovated “blower bass” sound almost no one can match. Blacky’s otherworldly bass pitches added to the rich, cybernetic tones Voivod carried through their music after evolving from straight-on thrash-punkers to, in my opinion, the most daring sci-fi-based, sociopolitical prog metal units the metal genre’s ever known.
I could gush about the playing prowess of Voivod all day and all night, but what’s more important to me is to convey how deep a bond I feel with the band over the course of 36 of their 40 years. This is a band I was so enamored with I wrote a review of Nothingface along with a companion op-ed segment for a column I wrote in my college newspaper, Spectrum called “Musically Speaking.” I declared, with my balls swinging, with full certainty that Voivod, circa 1989, was the “Band of the Future.” I’d already been playing Killing Technology and its successor, Dimension Hatross, on repeat more than any other metal album, save for anything by Iron Maiden and Megadeth’s Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?
Nothingface was such a game-changer of its time, its roundabout time signature changes forever molded the heavy metal genre. The fact Michel “Away” Langevin could roll twice the amount of fills beyond the familiar thrash patterns, the way vocalist Denis “Snake” Belanger conveyed his windy namesake through spellbinding lines followed, note-for-note by Piggy and Blacky, yeahhhhhh. They were the Band of the Future.
I got it in my head back then to mail a copy of my Voivod articles to their label, Mechanic Records, a subsidiary back then of MCA. You can’t imagine what a 19-year-old going on 20 felt like, receiving a care package from the label a month later, filled with band promotional photos like the one above, a stack of Voivod stickers filled with Away’s wonderfully lunatic drawings, a Nothingface poster which hung on my bedroom wall until I moved out of my parents’ house and a CD copy of the album. This considering CDs were still emerging in the market. Though I already owned Nothingface on cassette tape and vinyl, the CD cemented my fate. It was that promo CD which compelled me to buy a new stereo with CD player and yes, I rebuilt my collection from cassettes to compact discs, holding on to my vinyl for much of my life until recent downsizing. To this day, though, I still have my Voivod CDs through their current album, Synchro Anarchy. I’m so much an uber fan I went and got Nothingface and the band’s follow-up album, Angel Rat, on Japanese pressings.
After the Nothingface goodie box from those kind folks at Mechanic, I started doing the same thing with other bands I reviewed for “Musically Speaking.” Caroline Records sent me a glossy pic of the Bad Brains after I sent them my write-up of Quickness. Word got around in the underground in a hurry this post-teen college kid was writing up metal and punk acts and soon I started getting unsolicited demo tapes sent to me and more of those care packages. What a rush.
Though “Musically Speaking” only lasted a couple years while I became the Assistant Editor of Spectrum before graduating to the second of my two colleges, my fate as a music journalist was sealed. Later in life, I began writing full force in the music industry while working a full-time job. Those stories can hold for another day, but you can imagine the pain I felt when I had to report on the passing of Voivod’s Piggy. Bad enough Snake had left the band for a spell to deal with personal issues, along with Blacky’s first departure between the Angel Rat and The Outer Limits albums. Eric “E-Force” Forrest took both Snake and Blacky’s positions when Voivod went as a trio as bombastic as their early years on Phobos and Negatron, albums only the true diehards know. Even I had to sit in wonderment what had gone wrong with “The Band of the Future.” This before Piggy’s tragic death, which had even me believing The Iron Gang, Voivod’s dubbed fan flock, would have nothing else to cheer for.
Interview with Denis “Snake” Belanger, Voivod, by Ray Van Horn, Jr. Pit magazine
The name Voivod may not be familiar to you, but no doubt the name Jason Newsted, former Metallica bassist (also of Flotsam and Jetsam fame) strikes a chord. For a short spell, Newsted, who gained the in-house band brand “Jasonic,” since all Voivodians have prerequisite nicknames, brought Voivod back to life. The bass position in Voivod has been in such a flux over the years (they’ve even had four session bassists), Newsted’s arrival following the rocksteady pumps of Metallica’s Load albums had a similar effect on Voivod’s straightforward self-titled and Katorz albums. Snake had also returned to the fold as the latter album came post-mortem from guitar parts Piggy reportedly recorded prior to his death for his bandmates to build around.
It was during the Katorz promotional cycle when I was offered an interview with Snake for Pit magazine. All the royalty of heavy metal I’d interviewed prior to, I felt my heart leap with joy getting on the phone with Denis Belanger to recount his path back into Voivod and to keep Piggy’s memory alive in word. It was one of my proudest articles. A year later, I would interview Away in split time promotion of Voivod and his former side project, Kosmos. As one of the most rapid-fire and precise drummers on the scene, I was quietly geeking, the same way I did with Dave Lombardo, still with Slayer at the time. My own drumming aspirations were riding high, though I went nowhere in my percussion pursuits.
Voivod, May 13, 2023 Photo by Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Which leads us to the now. Following the death of Denis “Piggy” D’Amour, Voivod selected Dan “Chewy” Mongrain to play a handful of tribute shows. I was following Mongrain’s other band, Martyr, at the time, and made comment in my review of his work that he had likening to Piggy in his playing without ripping the latter off. Sure enough, Chewy became so meticulous in his replications of Piggy’s parts, he, and his mountain of hair, was hired into the band permanently. Even better, Jean-Yves “Blacky” Theriault reclaimed his spot on bass as the revivified Voivod dropped their impressive comeback album, Target Earth.
Dan “Chewy” Mongrain, Voivod, May 13, 2023 Photo by Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Unfortunately, reported disagreements between Away and Blacky tore the two apart and Blacky once again departed Voivod. These days, Blacky has been focusing on his own music in partnership with Monica Emond as Coeur Atomique and Twin Adventures-Renaissance Synthetique. Voivod themselves carried on with current bassist, Dominic “Rocky” Laroche to drop an unexpected latter-day masterpiece in The Wake while soldiering into the future. Like their own song edicts, the unknown knows…
Over the past few years, I have developed a long-distance friendship with Blacky and we have ramped up our correspondence of late. I can say he and Monica seem happy in the DIY life they have built for themselves and it’s been surreal the two of us sharing our life details between each other. Of the friends I’ve made in the music business, my still-developing buddyship with Blacky is one of the most meaningful. It’s a goal we have to travel up to Quebec to hang with the man himself and Monica. It’s a profound thing, this love affair I have with Voivod and where’s it’s taken me.
Meanwhile, the current inception of Voivod tore Baltimore Soundstage apart last weekend and Blacky told me he wishes his former bandmates all the best and says he is happy for them. The set I saw was mostly deep cut tracks the most devout Voivod fan would know like “Obsolete Beings,” “Rebel Robot,” “Rise”, “Macrosolutions to Megaproblems,” “Pre-Ignition,” “Holographic Thinking” and “Fix My Heart,” ending by way of curtain call with the band’s signature thrash salute with their own namesake, “Voivod.”
I stood beneath Snake and Chewy relative stage right and just had a blast watching them act like kids onstage but dropping it on the dime when it was time to be serious. It felt awkward taking the live photos you see here from a cell phone behind the barrier instead of with a professional camera on the inside of the photo pit like I did for 16 years. Not too shabby what I got, though. At 53, I found myself headbanging quite often like I did in my teens, shimmying and dancing, pogoing and singing along with Snake every time he dropped down in front of us. Right after the completion of a two-week move, this old dog was ecstatic for such stamina.
Even as I write this, I still marvel at Away’s rhythmic bashing and couldn’t believe the band could drop the title cut from “Killing Technology” only a click slower than the original recording. As Voivod themselves sing, we carry on…
All live Voivod photos, May 13, 2023 by Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Next Chapter Begins Now…
So I’ve been a bit incognito of late as we have completed our move and life now reboots in new digs. Downsized, but with a far more controlled environment. While everything’s still brand new, thus far, everyone, including our kitties, has felt a sense of calm we haven’t enjoyed in more than a year.
Being broken into three times and robbed was at the forefront of our decision to relocate. That, plus a four-level townhouse nobody really felt at home in with its awkward spacing and climate control issues. Really, the only thing I will miss is my office and direct access to trails TJ and I hiked and I trained for Spartan and DEKA events on. I now share an office with my bride-to-be and we’ve made it work. Our mutual creative space will flourish with our combined energies and auras, so mote it be.
Sometimes you do what’s not only best, but what’s right, the primary reason being for my son who needed a safer community with which to grow. With luck and persistence, we hope to see him reach his goals as much as our own. As my Mom, a diehard Baltimore Ravens fan, has always said, sometimes you’ve gotta step back and punt.
So punt we have, and both TJ and I are ready to resume our writing and creative missions to reclaim what has been lost through a year of turbulence. Our sparks have been restoked and I was invited to submit stories at two magazines. Fingers crossed for good fortune on those submissions, while TJ plows forward with an oracle card deck as companion to her book, The Healthy Witch.
Our view outside has been rather spectacular, considering TJ gave me a telescope last Christmas. Fact, I will be putting it to great use in the upcoming months. If you look close enough below, you can see Venus and part of the Little Dipper constellation. We sighed in unison last night beneath the stars, sipping on Jameson in celebration from a bottle I held until our move was completed. We ground out our move and set up the new place in two weeks, the finest display of our partnership. Sometimes the best sips are those hardest earned.
Thank you all for your support of this blog. I will be seeing you all at your hubs once again…
–Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Best Writing Meme I’ve Seen in Ages…
With Country, Punk, Doom, Grind Metal and Cattlecore Royalty, Hank Williams, III (aka Hank III) and His Sidearm Guitar Ace, David McElfresh
One of my favorite nights in the music industry ever was actually a night off instead of a work. Yep yep, that time in 2011 hanging with Hank Williams, III, best known to his fans as Hank III.
I had a buddy at the time, guitarist David McElfresh, who was playing in Hank’s band and who also has a terrific band of own which I gave a lot of press love to, Moonbow. Referred to as “Davey” from backstage, McElfresh and I had a good rapport to the point he’d invited me down to Hank III’s gig on the guest list. Davey took good care of me all night.
Let me tell you, Hank Williams, III puts on a marathon show rolling, kicking and screaming for more than four hours that night and he splits the sets by genre. The longest set, the first one, is naturally pure country as his grandfather, Hank the Elder, as I call him, would’ve rolled with back in the day. Hank III has long made it a crusade to see his grandfather reinstated in the Grand Ole Opry and he had no problem mincing words about the fact in his country set. Rebel yells and PBR were flowing during that portion, but Hank III also had no problem letting go half of his audience which wouldn’t know Superjoint Ritual from a beach spliff party with a caveat the remaining segments of the gig were anything but country. He politely gave those who didn’t apply a friendly warning to roll out, lest their eardrums take a savage beating.
As expected, less than half of the urban cowboys in Baltimore took off, leaving the venue to be peeled apart by Hank III, McElfresh and his team of hellraisers, slamming through a punk set of Hank’s own music and his grind-punk affiliates, Assjack. Afterwards, the final two sets delved into blasting roars of doom and grind metal culled from Hank III’s side projects, 3 Bar Ranch and Attention Deficit Domination. The final set being played as trio with all wearing bandanas as bandit mask facial coverings. Just wild, from start to finish.
It was after the show where I hung out on the band’s touring bus with David McElfresh and the rest of the group, and I was deeply impressed watching Hank III work an endless line of fans who’d migrated to the bus in hopes of meeting the lineage of country music royalty. He shook hands, gave out autographs and took selfies with every single person while I shared beers with the band. Afterwards, I had a few minutes to hang with Hank III and David McElfresh and the dude is legit. We talked more about his grandfather than his father, a legend of country deep fans call Bo Cephus. No surprise if you’re familiar with the family business. Hank III is as tall as he looks, as both McElfresh and myself were dwarfed in the shot above, tossing not an expectant metal-styled horns-up, but a three-finger salute to a man with sheer wherewithal and his rowdy-ass music. Boom.
–Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Dismantled Office…On to the New…
Back from the gym, The Mission’s Goth rock classic, God’s Own Medicine chiming in my ears, a pocketful of minutes all to myself in story revision mode. Winding down to the move inside a dismantled office, looking forward to sharing one in our next digs. It helps when you’re marrying a fellow writer. Kitties meowing outside the closed door. C’mon, guys, I love you but I’m on a mission of my own.