Five From the Shelf Friday – 2/10/23

Music is one of the most important commodities we have in human life. It’s always been a major part of mine, from childhood to graying middle-aged man. I spent 16 years as a music journalist and dabbled in drumming and percussion, though I tanked on the latter efforts. In my time in the scene, I covered metal, punk, Goth and electronic music on the road, interviewing musicians, reviewing new album and video releases and snapping live concert photos. What many people never realized is how eclectic and diverse my music tastes are. I was always proud to connect alternative rock to metal or country to punk, funk music in hip hop and EDM (formerly known as techno) in a review whenever I heard it. I’m so across the board with my passion for music, I’m my own best friend when having a listening session, since I hop genres faster than you can say “Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto” without the synth manipulation.

I’m going to try you all out with a little weekly exercise and see if it resonates. I’m calling it “Five From the Shelf Friday,” where I grab five albums at random from my collection and briefly chat about them. Many will be recordings you’re familiar with, some likely not. Some will be dust-offs of albums I haven’t listened to in forever. My library is vast, though sadly purged down from when I used to hoard my freebie hard copy CDs, vinyl, DVDs and Blu Rays from the record labels and I had a literal labyrinth of shelves to store all of that media. My fiancée, TJ, would never have agreed to marry me if all of it came, lol….

Regardless, I have maintained a library in the thousands, so let’s have a go here and let me know, readers, if you’d like to see this run as a continuous segment of “Roads Lesser Traveled.”

The B-52’s – self-titled

No doubt every wedding, company social event and New Year’s party you’ve ever attended, you’ve been subjected to “Love Shack” by The B-52’s. For me, that song’s grown cringeworthy, along with “Roam” from the band’s later year, commercially successful Cosmic Thing. A far, more palatable stretch to the common ear than what The B-52’s began with on their 1979 self-titled debut. Considered a new wave pioneer, I always agreed with that assessment, but I liken the early B-52’s to The Cramps and Southern Culture On the Skids in kindred spirit. Mostly in the way each band cooks up a chili con carnage ambience behind their core of twang. Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson’s run amok screeches, wails, giggles, ooh-wahs and audile lunacy are tough to digest if you just want to stay neo-groovy in a humdrum love shack that’s lost much of its luster from overplay. “Rock Lobster” is one of the most kickass bits of surf-inspired nuttiness anyone’s ever attempted. As a kid, I actually thought The Munsters had recorded a song when I’d heard “Rock Lobster” the first time. True story. You can’t go wrong with The B-52s oddball but piledriving hike on the Peter Gunn theme with “Planet Claire.” Only Devo one-upped them in that regard.

D’AngeloBrown Sugar

Modern hip hop has lost much of its hipness and its soul, though I do try to dig for diamonds in the new world rap order. My son turned me on to Childish Gambino, 80purppp and the late XXXTentacion. I turned him onto The Jackson Five when he was a child, and I’ve dropped jazz, funk, soul and early hip hop on him over the years. He’s finding his own way in music, and he loves to try me out constantly until one of his jams stick between us. He is finally starting to explore 90s hip hop, which had me steering straight for one of the lost children of classic hip hop, D’Angelo. This dude was a cornrowed, shredded sex symbol back in the day who dropped only a couple albums, but damn, what gems Brown Sugar and Voodoo were. Inspired by Prince (my all-time favorite musician), D’Angelo had a pure knack for blending funk, jazz and hip hop. Strong beats, sometimes with actual drum kits, funky waves and bass that never blew out your subwoofers like today’s rap does. D’Angelo was smoother than silk and deserves a revisit by the hip hop community. Jonz in my bonz, baby…

Hall & OatesUltimate Daryl Hall + John Oates

Rock and soul brothers to the nth power, Hall & Oates were dynamic superstars of their time from the 1970s to late 80s, dropping one megahit after another. Anyone who loves these guys but only want a greatest hits package has had to settle for Best of compilations that were always missing a key hit or two. Not this one. Everything’s on this double album, which unfortunately means it gets stuffed with mediocre filler fluff (wincing at you, “Las Vegas Turnaround” and “Possession Obsession”) and cover tunes you may find yourself skipping over. As a child, I daydreamed to “Sara Smile,” “She’s Gone” and “Rich Girl” when they were on both AM and FM radio. I still feel that magic without the static, listening to them in this format. “Private Eyes” became a 45 platter that stayed in my stylus rotation forever. The beat, man, it’s all about the beat. Even today, I can’t help but back up “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” a few times in a sitting, it’s still that seductive. Same for “Say It Isn’t So” and the blissfully corny “Kiss is On My List.” Daryl Hall, you magnificent bastard, you might have the silkiest chops a white guy ever possessed, and the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve appreciated John Oates’ gnarly backslides.

SepulturaChaos A.D.

I’ve interviewed Max Cavalera a few times and he is one the kindest people I’ve ever met. I’ve also interviewed his brother, Iggor as well as Andreas Kisser and Derrick Green from Sepultura, one of the most important metal bands ever assembled. Sadly, the Cavaleras have long since departed, while Sepultura continues to make innovative metal music. I’ve also had the pleasure of hanging on the tour bus for a long spell with Max’s wife, Gloria Cavalera, one of the most brilliant business minds out there. Chaos A.D. was a flip to the script for Sepultura when it came out in 1993. Sepultura being one of the fastest thrash bands around when they started, Chaos A.D. bravely slowed things down with a few thrashers in the mix, instead focusing on grooves, slams, riffs and fusing into the bombastic mix tribal percussion. This inspirational clubbing march motif ushering the game-changing Roots album thereafter. For all the changes, I maintain Chaos A.D. is Sepultura’s heaviest album and it’s inarguably one of the crown jewels of the genre. It remains a scathing indictment against political corruption, social injustice and its combat against racism still haunts true 30 years later. I play Chaos A.D. a hell of a lot and I still get fired up by the title track and “Territory.” Ah, hell, I lose my shit with the entire album. Iggor’s pounding rhythms and blasting tom-snare rolls are incomparable.

Junkie XL Mad Max: Fury Road soundtrack

I’ll make this short and sweet. I am a junkie (pun intended) for film scores and soundtracks. They fuel my writing. Tom Holkenborg, aka Junkie XL, has a major place in my heart with his scores for Godzilla vs. Kong and Mad Max: Fury Road. The latter film being praised by critics as one of the greatest action films of all-time, I agree a hundred percent. Junkie XL’s score is one of the major elements why Fury Road is a modern masterpiece. The collapsing drums and ripping guitars of “Blood Bag” sends me into pure ecstasy. If I had a workout playlist, it would start with this.

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Please Forgive The Vulgarity, But Some Things Are Worth Sharing…

Apologies to anyone I may offend with this post, however, the intent behind the message is so valuable I’ve shared it with many including my social media feeds and even my son, who has been working his way through a personal struggle. Now and then it’s okay for him to see his dad stoop a little lowbrow in the interest of lifting his spirits. I believe it’s had a hand in boosting his attitude and demeanor around here. It’s gotten that serious, and I cheer for his slow recovery.

I have also flashed this meme before my eyes and drilled it into my head repeatedly going through my own trials which have likewise dragged me down. It rekindles my drive and will to fight against all obstacles and negative dimensions to my life. The rest sorts itself out accordingly.

Remember who the eff you are, my friends, and go get it…

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Five Cent Coffee at Wall Drug, South Dakota

Inflation is an American indisposition these days, it’s no secret. There used to be a joke in these parts, and it’s died off after a couple of generations: “You can’t buy anything for a dollar anymore, save for a cup of coffee.”

Laugh if you like, I’m doing that very thing while writing this post. Starbucks has always been astronomically overpriced and yet java hounds if are hooked on their brews, ditto for the sugar addicted. A simple Grande size (which anyone knows “Grande” is the biggest misnomer in our nation’s entire commerce) cup of Pike Place Roast coffee will drop you for $2.19. That’s just an ordinary cup of coffee to those who need fancy lattes or double shot espressos. Hit any small-time gourmet or boutique coffee shop out there, the song (and pricing) remains the same. I’m a coffee connoisseur and trained by the best, my pot-a-day drinking stepfather who once had to drink coffee in Vietnam with hot water run through a jeep radiator. He taught me the difference between sludge and true Kona Hawaiian blend, the latter being the finest coffee around.

Positioned maybe a hundred springs from a jackelope out of the famous Badlands in Wall, South Dakota is the equally renowned Wall Drug Store, or simply, Wall Drug. Dropped right off the wide-open Route 90, if you miss Wall Drug, that’s your fault entirely. There are an easy hundred billboards planted along the interstate, similar to South of the Border signs scrolling down the east coast slide of Interstate 95. Wall Drug’s cutesy and often hilarious signs are a way to escape the monotony of the rolling plains until you hit the more scenic slopes and gulleys leading into Rapid City.

The genius of Ted and Dorothy Husted in putting together an American treasure, or to some people, a tourist trap, is a story in economics that should be taught at the university level. Yet the simplicity and flat-out ballsiness to pimp your drug store, the only of its kind for countless miles back in the Great Depression era to offer “Free Water” for a stopover…you can still see those giddy signs and shake your head at them. Naivete? Absolutely not. Wall Drug has you hooked, each billboard whooshing by at 80 miles an hour. At top speed, you’re gonna see every one of them, and you’re gonna stop, I promise.

Seriously, if see the above sign and you love coffee or you’re driving a long haul with need of a spark to carry on into Wyoming, how could you possibly resist the novelty (and practicality) of a cup of coffee costing you a mere nickel?

It’s no joke, you can get a cup of coffee at Wall Drug for five cents. A silver, smooth-edged Jefferson. It’s brilliant marketing. Free water, nickel coffee. Once you swing into Wall Drug, they have you, and you likely won’t leave for a while, especially not without something else. Food, toys, Badlands souvenirs, western wear, boots, and yes, there is still an actual pharmacy. There’s a whole lot more at Wall Drug to do than just buy things, especially if you have young children. It becomes an investment of time stop, so plan accordingly. Yes, it sounds preposterous, but yes, you will hang at Wall Drug for more than a spell. It’s no fair to you if I spoil things, but do be on the lookout for animatronics, dinosaurs, and saloon-styled decorations, if not actual saloon-styled imbibing.

Okay, bean freaks, so you want to know how Wall Drug’s five cent coffee tastes? Well, my friends, you be the judge. If you’re expecting Peets, Dunkin, Starbucks, Krispy Kreme or even Kung Fu Tea, abandon all hope. Five cents gets you a ceramic cup like you might have had at an old Woolworth’s Five and Dime planted at their cafe counter, and the taste is about the same. You gotta do it just to say you did it.

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.

As Always, It’s in the Name: Red Ass Rhubarb Wine from Prairie Berry Winery, Hill City, South Dakota

A few summers ago, I celebrated my 50th birthday on a blowout trip out west, hitting prime targets such as Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone, Glacier National Park, the Grand Tetons and Rapid City, South Dakota. The latter came inclusive of Mt. Rushmore, Deadwood, the amusing tourist trap, Wall Drug (you’ll see their most wonderfully corny billboards for hundreds of miles) and the spectacular Badlands.

After hitting all the local highlights in Rapid City, I not only took a four-mile run on one of the local trails through a beautiful mist in the Black Hills, I also spun around the way flat Rapid City, coming home with a huge haul of Red Sonja, X-Men, Cerebus and other comic books from The Storyteller.

I then drove back into the Black Hills to check out a couple of breweries I’d spotted, Firehouse Brewing Co. and the bodacious Sick ‘n Twisted Brewery, where the owner’s dog kept me company on a couch while I pulled down a pair of dark and amber ales. All that time with some mighty fine hops, I had on my mind, Prairie Berry Winery. Having nearly pissed myself spotting their roadside placard, I simply had to bring home a bottle of their Red Ass rhubarb wine. Unless you don’t like wine or you don’t imbibe at all, how could you not?

The Prairie Berry estate, as you can see above, is dropped into a rustic mountain splendor. Sadly, I only went in long enough to fetch two bottles of Bad Ass, as I had just gotten an emergency ping on my cell phone about a tornado warning within miles of our hotel. Suffice it to say, I bolted back as fast as I dared, getting back just in time to catch these pictures of a super cell whirling with reach of us. The storms out west pack as much of a punch as their commercial trade…

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.

My Vote for Best Liquor Store Name Ever, The Bunghole, in Salem, Massachussetts

Last year, TJ and I made a trip up to Salem, Massachusetts, one filled with a wondrous blend of magick, solemnity, holiness, frivolity, historical reverence and spirits of multiple connotations–read into that as you will. TJ was able to promote her books, The Healthy Witch and Four Little Witches to many of the esoteric shops and we had the most amusing and corny ghost tour with a skeleton-clad host reminding me of Svengoolie.

We had the best food from our hosts at the Amelia Payson Bed and Breakfast, the most spectacular lobster at Sea Level. The Tavern at the Witch Mall became an immediate favorite, planted next to the fountain memorial on Essex Street, the primary shopping hub for Wiccans, Heathens, Neo-Pagans and magick folk alike. Omen and the historical Crow Haven Corner are mandatory if you follow the path. The drinks, grub and service were so top notch at The Tavern we took a return visit. The Witches’ Brew at Nathaniel’s is highly recommended.

You can read my post here about our adventure through the House of Seven Gables on Derby Street, where we also grabbed superb tea and coffee from Wolf Next Door and a sugar blast from the site of what is reported to be the first American chocolatier, The Chocolate Pantry.

Also on Derby Street, my friends, if you feel inclined to grab some takeout spirits, The Bunghole. The name says it all, and I laughed myself all the way back to the harbor upon spotting it. Cheers, witches and non…

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.