The Responsibility Behind the Word “Mensch”

For the second time in my life, I am humbled beyond words being paid the honor of being called a “mensch,” in Yiddish lexicon, the highest praise a man can get. Not too shabby for a gentile! Similar to my late Aunt Lois calling me a fine man, the ultimate distinction to hers and my mom’s generations. On the flipside, I have been called a narcissist and branded a villain. My first review assignment for Blabbermouth, the community took exception to my only giving Rush’s Clockwork Angels an 8.5 out of 10. It was said I didn’t matter and my death was called for. I laughed at that, though I shouldn’t have.

I take the “mensch” label and my aunt’s appraisal as the standard I hold myself accountable to. Still, I have made a ton of mistakes, I have hurt people, I have done things I’m not proud of. I was given the news of the passing of a friend from way back whom I hurt because I mishandled her affections for me. I am grateful I was able to come to her later in life and make amends with her. I can’t say I will be able to rectify all the turmoil I may have caused that hangs over me, but the point to this entire litany is to take what people say about you both to heart and with a grain of salt. Use all of it as a measure with which to grow.

More often than not, I have done what I felt is right, even at great risk or at consequence. All I can do is be me and to try and keep my compass straight. This is the most challenging period of my entire life and it takes more effort than ever to check down the anger that boils inside of me and as Lenny Kravitz would say, to let love rule.

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Seven Miles in the Laurel Highlands, Pennsylvania

A few years ago, I took a series of solo trips to recharge my head and especially my soul. I visited numerous cities and got together with friends in their home areas, many getting to meet in-person for the first time. All of it was necessary and all of it was exhilarating.

On my way to Pittsburgh for hangs with two different sets of friends over the weekend, I got going early and took a seven-mile jaunt of more than 80 through a pristine mountain trail in the western-central area of Pennsylvania, the Laurel Highlands. It was a beautiful, if sweaty side trip ahead of dinner with my friend and her family at the famous Premanti Brothers in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, followed by a Pirates-Dodgers game that evening.

Here are handful of shots I grabbed from the Laurel Highlands, wondering when I’d ever get back to see more. Turns out they connect to the gorgeous falls and trails at Cuyahoga, which I hiked another time and another trip with the same friend. Funny how it goes, right?

–All Photos by Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Five From the Shelf Friday – 3-17-23

Happy St. Patty’s Day and Sláinte to all you Irish and non, and all those pretending to be. Hail to Clans McDermott and McKnight, who bred with my German-Dutch ancestors and later down the DNA chain got with an Englishman to later put me on this planet. I honor my Irish descendants as much as the rest of my lineage. Earlier in the week I ran a local Celtic Canter 5K with a couple of buddies and we later took down Blacksmith pints (i.e. a Guinness blended with Smithwicks, though make sure you pronounce it correctly as “Smitticks” before you get laughed out of a true Irish pub) at a favorite haunt, O’Lordan’s in Westminster, Maryland, my former hometown. TJ and I will be back there again this weekend with another crew and we look forward to having our bellies warmed and our ears filled with local Celtic music and the camaraderie of longtime friends. Appropriately, I’ll lead off this week’s Five From the Shelf Friday with The Pogues

The Pogues If I Should Fall From Grace With God

Of all the many times I’ve seen Celtic folk-punk band Flogging Molly play (one of the coolest parties onstage anywhere), I wish I’d had a chance to catch their inspiration, The Pogues, play just once. While my favorite Pogues album will always be the rowdy and ribald Red Roses for Me, there’s no arguing these Irish rebels rampaging their London recording studio hit their finest and most impactful stride on If I Should Fall From Grace With God. Far less of a hyperactive pogue mahone (translated from the Gaelic póg mo thóin as “kiss my arse”) by the time slushy-voiced (and back then, slushy everything) Shane McGowan recorded their third platter in 1988 The Pogues had done some soul searching. Thus, at times, If I Should Fall From Grace With God rings of atonement.

I spent two days this week listening to The Pogues, Flogging Molly, Dropkick Murphys, The Tossers, The Dubliners and The Chieftains, the latter two being far less hectic and more sanitized in traditional Irish music. Today, for St. Patty’s Day, expect some Thin Lizzy in my ears. Thin Lizzy, still the pride of Ireland, being the most criminally underrated rock band in history. Getting back to If I Should Fall From Grace With God, the album marks the peak of The Pogues’ success, largely on the back of a runaway hit, “Fairy Tale of New York.” The song speaks of the disenfranchisement and exploitation of 1800’s Irish leaving their famine-stricken homeland for what seemed like a guarantee of better times on American shores. You can watch Gangs of New York or bend an ear to Shane McGowan and later, Dave King in Flogging Molly, to get a better grasp on why we celebrate St. Patty’s Day, even if the modern age is one hypocritical, all-inclusive excuse to get shitfaced off of Irish carbombs, a Guinness with a shot of Jameson and Bailey’s each dropped into the pint. The same as Cinco de Mayo, where even the richest racist can pretend he is Mejicano for a day with a bottle of Clase Azul Blanco.

Broadening on what The Pogues had established an album prior on Rum Sodomy & The Lash, If I Should Fall From Grace With God stays true to their clap-happy, stomping scripts on the title track, “Sit Down By the Fire” and the deliciously profane “Bottle of Smoke,” all songs you should hear in a true Irish pub, no matter if the date be March 17th or not. Where If I Should Fall From Grace With God becomes a work of art is where The Pogues push their tin-whistling, jig-stepping modes on the somber and quixotic “Lullaby of London,” where accordion, banjo and mandolin tell the solemn story of an Irishman coming home from London, only to take his grievances out of on his own child. “Thousands are Sailing” perks of The Chieftains and Bruce Springsteen with a more rock-driven approach, while the blaring cacophony of brass horns and piano give figurative voice to the bustle on “Metropolis,” this while pushing a swinging Celtic melody into it. You see where The Pogues were going with this; the Irish trying to find a voice in a city doing more to engulf and subjugate them instead of embracing their rich heritage. Be it New York or their homebase of London.

“Fiesta” is an out-of-nowhere whiz-bang trip through a durango-popping cantina where two oppressed cultures meet in communal happiness. Flogging Molly replicated “Fiesta’s” brave tinkering on their far faster “Sentimental Johnny.” Yet the song which should take all Irish and even those far-flung mutts with ancient lineage back on home to river-cutting greener banks is “The Broad Majestic Shannon.” Try not to sigh over your Tullamore Dew…

PrinceSmall Club 1988


It’s common knowledge Prince Rogers Nielsen swung a mighty mean axe and was the definition of multi-instrumentalist. Everyone knows he was a funk, soul, rock and pop brother who hit the pinnacle of his popularity during the 1980s and early Nineties before letting the spirit of independent creativity get the best of him, sales-wise. For the triumph of Purple Rain as a soundtrack and movie, there were the colossal thuds of Under the Cherry Moon and Graffiti Bridge, though each film at least has killer music to brag about. That, and the understated comic larceny committed by Jerome Benton from The Time in those awkward films.

All that being said, I followed Prince all the way to his tragic death, first latching onto him with 1980’s Dirty Mind. I was a mad chump sucker upon first greeting of that humming synth line, a bigger metronome than the actual beat laid down by Dr. Fink. I won’t bore you all trying to cram all the Prince love I can inside this post. His work will pop up on future posts, that’s all but a guarantee. My favorite Prince album is Sign o’ The Times, even more so after getting the 8 CD box set reissue, and props to The Revolution, New Power Generation, 3rd Eye Girl and all the vast personnel serving as his backing band. I will always attest the Sign o’ The Times crew was Prince’s most potent, Sheila E especially as his best drum wrecker. The synchronicity of this Prince band, whew…to coin the man’s song title, still would stand all time.

I had the privilege of seeing Prince twice, for the Musicology and Emancipation tours. The latter with Chaka Khan and Larry Graham of Sly and the Family Stone as his openers. Graham and Khan joined Prince for an encore rendition of “I Feel For You,” Khan’s greatest hit written by Prince. In deference, they performed it in the key slide of the way Prince originally conceived it. Graham would later join the NPG. Anyone who’s seen Prince play live will tell you there’s no experience comparable to it. As an uber Prince fan, I have quite a few bootlegs and radio broadcasts of his concerts and they’re spectacular enough. Yet my fellow uber Prince devotees will agree, it was the man’s after-party shows where his true greatness was set free.

Of the many live recordings I have, a few being these legendary after-party gigs, Small Club 1988 remains my favorite. Likewise a radio broadcast performance on the Lovesexy tour captured at Paard van Troje, The Hague, Netherlands, Prince and the gang (still with Sheila E on the kit) freestyle the hell out of their instruments through long marathons of funk, soul and rock. After a 12 minute instrumental session that tees off the set with all due credit hype, they tag a few Prince classics like “D.M.S.R.” and three Sign o’ the Times gems, “Forever In My Life,” “It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night” and “Housequake.” “Housequake” being a trusty main show player, yet they planted it this time as one of the band’s sweatiest renditions. With it being an after-party show, no rules apply, so there are covers everywhere, such as The Temptations’ “Just My Imagination Running Away” with a monster long guitar solo from Prince even The Temps themselves wouldn’t be able to stand up to. “Down Home Blues” and “Cold Sweat” are other playgrounds for Prince to peel the paint to, while the 15:58 slide through The Staple Singers’ charge of positivity, “I’ll Take You There” was one of countless times he covered it live. Mavis Staples being a background fixture of his career.

Deep cut Prince fans will delight in early-on workings of “Still Would Stand All Time” and “Rave Un 2 the Joy Fantastic,” neither tune sounding like their final delivery on album, yet they were mad crazy crowd pleasers well beforehand. Small Club 1988 wraps on a relentless throttle of funk with “It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night,” nearly as frenetic as what’s performed in Sign o’ The Times, the concert movie. Also of note is getting to hear an early-on appearance from Prince’s mainstay vocal sidepiece, Rosie Gaines. As much a dynamo in voice as Prince himself, and she’d be around for quite a while through his “symbol” phase. What you think you know about Prince is one thing. To submit to his late night show is to forget the dawn isn’t far away. Prince rocked and socked his VIPs, and luckily, we’re all VIP.

The FixxUltimate Collection

English new wave band The Fixx is one of those groups endeared to me on multiple levels, first and foremost, inspiring a novel that may have failed, but I will find a way to use the title in a story, especially after receiving frontman Cy Curnin’s direct blessing for usage. I’m talking about “Saved by Zero,” one of my all-time favorite songs. It hit me in 1983 at the exact time a 13-year-old in transition from bullied to recovered and confident needed to hear something in song ringing of empathy. Every time “Saved by Zero” and “Red Skies Tonight” from a year prior came on the radio, I stopped whatever I was doing to give them my full attention. In particular, the former with its empowering lyrics, “Holding onto words that teach me, I’ll conquer space around me,” and of course, the enigmatic chorus, “so maybe I’ll win…saved by zero…” After sharing this anecodte with Cy by email chat, I was thrilled to pieces he backed my request to use the song title. I have the story out again and pared down of what turned it into a turd. The revisions seem to be gelling more. So maybe I’ll win that one…someday…

This Ultimate Collection for The Fixx’s set of funky electro pop is pretty stellar, minus a few throwaway tracks toward the end, but that seems to be the case with many band career retrospectives. What it does have is the megahits “Saved by Zero,” “One Thing Leads to Another,” “Red Skies Tonight” and “Stand or Fall,” all anthems to my generation and especially the latter two, which were sung all over my school, me included. If there’s one song The Fixx did to challenge my pole position spot of “Saved By Zero,” it’s the slap-happy, funk-bombed “Are We Ourselves?” as perfect a song dropped by anyone, especially with a mere two-plus minute running time. It gets in, it makes you shake your ass, then it slips away into the fadeout in such quick fashion you’re begging for another minute longer. Genius writing. Not so much radio darlings before or after the early-to-mid-Eighties, The Fixx still turned out great Euro-theatre cuts housed on Ultimate Collection like “Lost Planes,” “Some People,” “Sunshine in the Shade,” “Less Cities, More Moving People,” “A Letter to Both Sides” and “Secret Separation.” “The Sign of Fire” is the other track grabbed from Reach the Beach, a cassette, along with Shattered Room, I played mercilessly until Beach split apart. I should’ve told Cy about that too.

Another dynamic to The Fixx’s music is their bass. I always considered (and I’m sure I’m not the only one, including the players themselves) Dan K. Brown The Fixx’s answer to Duran Duran’s John Taylor. At least once every few spins, I’ll focus on just Brown plucking and thwapping away, even if he took a sabbatical from the band between 1994 and 2008 and it’s not him but Alfie Algus, who served 1983 plunking for The Fixx all over Reach the Beach.

State your peace tonight and every night.

Zach Robinson and Leo BirenbergCobra Kai original score

There is zero explanation why Cobra Kai has become the pop culture phenomenon it is. Well, maybe because it’s just the right antidote of mindless fun television used to be before everything got so damned serious. Cobra Kai is brainless, it’s improbable, it’s off-the-chain nuts, but it’s all done with such reverence for its source material, The Karate Kid films, and let’s just give William Zabka and Ralph Macchio all the credit they deserve. They’ve kept in enough shape to pull off much of what they’re doing onscreen outside of the intercut stunt work. Would either one (or a teamed-up duo) be enough to take down a dojo empire for realz, even with former nemeses-turned-bros bolstering their ranks? Hell no, but Jesus, Cobra Kai has been stupid fun from frame one. I love this show and I’m not ashamed of it, especially getting to see nearly all of the returning ensemble who have shown up, and the attention to detail in bridging the 1980s Miyagi-verse to the new blood of the 2020s. And what a fantastic job the youngbloods have done. Without them, Cobra Kai would be a silly retro grudge match over at 90 minutes instead of five going on its final sixth season as the addictive karate soap opera it is.

As crazy good as the show may be, it’s the music casing all that action and random moments of introspection and tenderness elevating its relevance. Yeah, there’s a ton of Eighties rock classics spewing about the series. It brings an old fart like myself right on home. However, are you paying attention to the brilliance of the scoring in these seasons? We’re talking about an outrageous stew of Japanese taiko and koto, metal, punk, hard rock, EDM, orchestral, new wave and bubblegum pop. What Zach Robinson and Leo Birenberg have done, more an extension of instead of a direct homage to Bill Conti’s Karate Kid scores, is to create as hectic and balls-out a chop-sockey microcosm befitting of the martial arts-addicted California Valley. “Awake the Snake” which opens the Season 1 soundtrack states the show’s entire prospectus with its Survivor-esque march and stomp rhythm with guitars, synths, whumping taiko drums and ki-yaaa! shouts in the background. Sounds corny and it certainly is, but you’d also have to be half-dead not to get all charged up by it!

I have all five seasons of Robinson and Birenberg’s Cobra Kai scores, the fifth one autographed, being the utter tool I am. You already know the show’s pumping theme song, “Strike First,” and it’s much better hearing the whole thing here, but where the Cobra Kai world finds it soul in theme comes when orchestrating Daniel Larusso’s wistful remembrance of his old sensei with “Miyagi Memories” as you do getting a sense of Johnny Lawrence’s downtrodden (self-induced, of course) plight of being a has-been middle ager with the sullen rock twang of “Ace Degenerate.” I could pluck a gazillion tracks and there are a gazillion on each season’s scoring, but to believe the hype of the show is to invest in its music. You won’t know what hit you by all the genre swap blindsiding on these scores, the pinnacle of Robinson and Birenberg’s considerable knowledge of music coming to head on the pulsating electronic rawk bash behind “Hallway Hellscape” on the Season 2 score. If you’ve seen the show, you know full well the song implies, and you won’t help yourself but grin with glee at the surf measures thrown into the bruising mix. “Miyagi Metal” on Season 3? As Johnny Lawrence himself would say in an Eagle Fang Shirt, not his former digs, it’s just kickass.


Yep, it’s back to deamau5 this week. If there was anything that could dethrone Depeche Mode from my multiple players last week, it’s this gem, an album Joel Thomas Zimmerman himself has no real love for. A damn shame, because after all his noodling and Nine Inch Nails idolatry on while(1<2), he got back to basics on W:/2016ALBUM/. Even more, he one-upped his game. Most of his fans agree that deadmau5 dropped an entertaining and focused set of bass-bombed dance and trip hop numbers on W:/2016ALBUM/. It got six full plays from me this week, just sayin’.

The dance thumpers on this album are “4ware,” “2448,” “Deus Ex Machina,” “No Problem,” “Strobe” and “Let Go.” The trancy, throbbing numbers are “Whelk Then,” “Snowcone,” “Three Pound Chicken Wing” and “Imaginary Friends.” In between full-plays of the album, I backed the latter four up a number of times, considering the extensive lengths of each. I even dropped “Snowcone” atop a TikTok I made during the week. The shit just swings, man.

If I have any general complaint of deadmau5, it’s the predictability of his arrangements, i.e. a soothing, syncopated intro opening into the song’s primary rhythm which is almost always audile glue, only to repeat and embellish the intro as a breakdown before resuming what we’re invested in. He does this scheme so repeatedly it can be annoying, but in the case of W:/2016ALBUM/, there’s so much joy to it, bounced to close with the spritely “Strobe,” the repetition in craft is more than forgivable.

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Live at Horror Tree: “From Scream Queen to Lady Badass: An Evolution of Women in Horror,” by Ray Van Horn, Jr.

I was flattered to be invited to write a guest piece over at Horror Tree for their series this month spotlighting women in horror.

From the shrieking damsels in distress of the 1950’s B movies of yesteryear to rough ‘n ready women you’d want on your team in a zombie apocalypse, I outline “From Scream Queen to Lady Badass: An Evolution of Women in Horror.”

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Impressions of Yellowstone

I’ve been enjoying a lot of Yellowstone love out there amongst many blogs I’ve visited in the past month. It makes me happy to see so many people having their chance to enjoy this spectacular ecosystem still holding on despite mankind’s intrusion and the constant threat of volcanic engulfment. I went there in 2020 for my 50th birthday and I hope to visit once again with TJ, who has yet to see the vast riches of the American west.

Below is a hefty set of pictures I hope will enlighten and inspire you to see this ecological wonderland for yourself. Just don’t be that idiot, the one who thinks just because a bison or antelope are within reach of the road you have all the time in the world to scooch up to them for a closer shot. Keep inside your car if you see a buffalo roadside. They have the right of way, not you, always keep that golden Yelllowstone rule in mind. I’ll never forget the terrible excuse for a father who took his two young children far into the open prairie close to a grizzly cub wandering about. The mass gathering sticking to roadside were all hollering at this lunatic, while I kept asking everyone in sight to be on the lookout for the cub’s mama. I was panicking for that reason, since there would’ve been no time for the stupid clown to hightail back to safety with his kids should the mother griz emerge, as she soon did. Fortunately, the park rangers were put on alert and got the humans to safety as the cub darted away once his mama found him.

I’ll remember that, plus getting into a little bit of heat of my own with the local constabulary for leaving the rental car far away in my haste to search for the mother bear. Those things, plus the second finest steak I ever had at Bullwinkle’s on the west gate of Yellowstone. As outrageous as them having one of my all-time favorite beers in the world, the Montana-based Moose Drool, on tap. I was even able to get the restaurant to sell me two of their Moose Drool pint glasses for my Pop and I, and driving my family nuts chasing down all the Moose Drool six packs I could bring home to Maryland, since the brewery at Big Sky doesn’t ship that far. Skipping rocks with my son at all the lakes and rapids we could find became a happy reoccurrence since it was one of the few things to engage him away from his all-encompassing cyber world. May he grow up later to revisit and rediscover the riches of an encompassing real world.

Enjoy, my friends…

Yessssss, I know you’ve been waiting for it… Old Faithful…

–All Photos by Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Five From the Shelf Friday – 3/10/23 – Depeche Mode Edition

This week’s Five From the Shelf Friday comes with a theme sparked by an enthusiastic response I wrote at the God Hates Goth blog in response to a Depeche Mode post. The Mode is deeply special to my heart for many reasons, and while I know many of you are already scrolling down to see if Violator made the playlist this week, or Some Great Reward or Speak and Spell, these are the five I rolled with, four being my absolute favorites and in the case of Ultra, one that took time to grow on me but later turned into a heavy rotator. Don’t worry, though, I’m just finishing spinning Delta Machine with Some Great Reward on deck.

Following the tragic loss of Andy Fletcher, Depeche Mode is pared down to its primary voices, the immaculate archangel, Martin Gore and the man wearing his chastisements like an honor badge through his wrenching tones, David Gahan. The Mode has a new album coming in a couple weeks, Memento Mori, and I’m geeking already. A bittersweet listening experience awaits us all, if you’re a fan.

Songs of Faith and Devotion

My favorite Depeche Mode album, it has the richest layers with Martin Gore’s guitars which begin to take more of a prominent stance. Everything about this album is a reflection of sex, drug abuse, self-loathing and seduction, all leading to a state of redemption and a grasp for spiritual enlightenment by the album’s end with “Higher Love.” You know most of it is David Gahan soul searching and his in-and-out bouts against addiction. “I Feel You” is one of the slinkiest, sexiest songs the Mode ever dropped and they’ve dropped a ton. Not to be outdone, but outdone nonetheless by the sultry, heavy petting session of “In Your Room,” my absolute favorite Mode song. “Walking In My Shoes” is an alternative rock anthem to stand all time, while “Condemnation,” “Mercy in You” and “Get Right With Me” drips of a southern American church gospel session dropped into a Manchester, England recording studio. “One Caress,” Jesus wept, pun intended. It’s one of Martin Gore’s finest shining moments, and the man never fails. Gore against a slashing chamber fugue ensemble. We’re all blessed.

Black Celebration

A Goth’s tenebrous paradise, especially when paired with Jesus and Mary Chain, The Mission or Lords of the New Church. Or The Cure’s Pornography, which I have done many times in a listening session. Black Celebration is one of Depeche Mode’s crowning achievements, even with its dank clatters and moody textures. It’s still rich in body like the title track, “Fly On the Windscreen,” “It Doesn’t Matter Two” and “New Dress.” There is still a lot of upbeat swinging vogue to Black Celebration on “Here is the House” and the carousel swish mocking the Goth scene on “Dressed in Black.” “Stripped” is the album’s calling card, of course. To most people, it presumes to have a sexual connotation, but the band themselves indicate “Stripped” talks about the dumbing down of culture via technology. This edict coming all the way back in 1986.

Music for the Masses

For most fans, this is the holy grail Depeche Mode album, while the casual fan is all about Violator. Both incredible albums marking the pinnacle of the Mode’s success. I came to them through this album and the girl I dated who introduced me to it. I have sweet, fond memories of lovemaking with her and a subsequent girlfriend, the latter being the Gothiest of Goths. It’s not only “Strangelove,” just about any longtime Mode fan’s favorite number. “Never Let Me Down Again” is the stomping, anthemic whisk into an electronic nirvana, replicated on the flipside (vinyl or cassette-speaking) with “Behind the Wheel.” “The Things You Said” is so dreamy I can picture the ecstasy that summoned its creation, and the ecstasy coming my way later in the album via “Little 15” and especially in holdout for the breathy accompaniment behind “I Want You Now.” When I listen to these songs over and over again, I remember I shed more than my clothes then. I shed an entire identity, transitioning from metalhead to alternative rocker. I even shaved the back of my head and grew a tussled tuft on the front, trying to replicate Martin Gore. Sigh…good times…

Songs of the Universe

Of all the post-Alan Wilder albums, I think Sounds of the Universe is the masterpiece of them all, though Playing the Angel, Spirit and Delta Machine are all stocked with greatness. You can hear the confidence pushing out as a trio on Universe, which took Depeche Mode some stumblebumming on Ultra and Exciter to reach this level. The emotions are wrought right out the gate with “In Chains,” wailing out the album’s prospectus. There was no tinkering around this time. Depeche Mode went for broke as if it would be their final hour and this album just smokes. “Fragile Tension” pumps with absolute desire with Martin Gore downpicking his sorrowful guitar strikes and yet the song’s ambition to capture an erotic moment of seduction yells of both frustration and hopefulness. The same desperation all but sobbing through the gorgeous “Come Back.” “Hole to Feed,” “Wrong” and “Peace” are all so skilled and, well, damn, I could spend this post breaking down the brilliance of Sounds of the Universe track by track if I wanted.


Over time, I’ve come to view Ultra as the little Mode album that could. This came after the insane success of Violator and it marks a new beginning with the departure of Alan Wilder. It sounds dark, gloomy and confused and it resounds of loss which the band experienced. With David Gahan tumbling down the ether of addiction at the same time, Martin Gore literally had to pull a rescue operation to get Ultra made. I’ve come to see the gallantry of his efforts here. Less rich in texture, it still has volume and edginess on its signature cuts, “Barrel of a Gun” and “It’s No Good” with a sparseness opening up for a different swim through “The Love Thieves,” “Home” and “Useless.” For me, Ultra’s true moment of glory comes on the luxuriant “Freestate.” If David Gahan was bombed while recording this one, you’d never know it. He masterfully pleads through the song’s snaky rhythm, punching back beat and Martin Gore’s beautiful slide guitars. It’s a signal of what came from “Personal Jesus” and Songs of Faith Devotion and would re-emerge on Delta Machine. The guitars on “Freestate” alone puts it in my top five Mode songs.

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Team Coke or Team Pepsi? The Cola Wars Rage On, But Baby, I Don’t Care.

I don’t drink soda too often these days, considering I once a bad habit of pounding Vanilla Coke, Cherry Coke and various colas more than a decade ago before I transformed myself through fitness and I ditched soda. I still hit ginger ale and seltzer and on the rare occasion, a birch beer or a raspberry Coke from one of those hundred flavor machines you see in certain fast-food joints. Yeah, I’d consider myself Team Coke if I still bothered with it, albeit Dr. Pepper, which has been owned by both of the major soda conglomerates, beats Coke and Pepsi hands-down.

When I was a teenager in the Eighties, the timeless Coke vs. Pepsi battle raged at its apex. You’ll remember the “Take the Pepsi Challenge,” which actually started in 1975 and you can still catch in-store marketing street teams offering it now and then. I took it at the grocery store I worked at, still with maturing taste buds ravaged by Mountain Dew and a local soda manufacturer, Colt Cola. Prior to that in my younger years, I was ape for RC Cola, Frostie Root Beer, 7-Up and Suburban Almond Smash. Funny to think how much of that sugary carbonated crap I subjected my body to all those years.

My result in the Pepsi Challenge? You guessed it. I chose Coke, albeit I fingered it as the Pepsi. Cue the tuba and brass tones marking you a loser on The Price is Right. Bum bum ba bummm….wahhhhhhhhhhh…. Other than Cherry Pepsi, I’ve just never really been a fan of the brand, even though my dad and my grandmother on his side loved the hell out of Pepsi, thus I had more than a lion’s share of it. I love sweetness in taste which I’ve had to tame down in my later years, but Pepsi was just too syrupy for me. To each their own, you know? I mean, my aunt loved the Coke-backed diet soda that makes some people who remember it cringe: Tab. I didn’t hate it, actually, and I’m calling shade on you Coca-Cola, the Coke Zero product is just Tab rebranded. Hmm? Hah? Come on, man…

In 1985, Coke was losing sales ground to Pepsi, thus they committed the cardinal sin of introducing “New Coke.” If you were born before the early Eighties, you know damn well what I’m talking about. “New Coke” was what, my friends? Say it with me: PEPSI!!! This hypocrisy flated by Coke’s old jingle, “Just for the taste of it” for their diet brand. Talk about calling shade, a facepalm-worthy bit of commercial huckstering only a fill-in deed to the Brooklyn Bridge outdoes for the b.s. factor. Truly a road best left lesser traveled, except in the establishing scenes of a Stranger Things episode.

TJ found a hilarious meme last night which prompted this silly post today. The second below is a variant of what she showed me and we had a nice little rip over it. Neither of us drink soda too often these days. We’re more about teas, vitamin waters, juices and filtered water. I’m also keen on fruit shakes and almond milk. Then there’s my love of coffee, which gets exploited anytime we eat at First Watch. Alcohol, we love our wine, and I have my share of beer and bourbon, though the older I get, the more I find the need to scale back.

To take a taste of Coke or Pepsi these days makes both of our tongues cringe at first, and our stomachs rebel within minutes after finishing. Still, funny is funny as are the burps we generate amongst ourselves if we find nothing else to drink but a soda.

So for fun, where do you all fall in line, if it all, Team Coke or Team Pepsi?

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.