That “A-ha!” Moment When You Might Be On the Right Path

This post came about after reading a handful of bloggers projecting dispirate takes on their lives, specific to the topic of being on the right the path with life choices. I found clarity and optimism on one end of the spectrum, gloom and despair on the other. Reading in succession, I wanted to keep one hand open to divvy out high fives and fist bumps, the other hand free to swing around shoulders of the forlorn like Baymax from Big Hero 6 and whisper, “There, there…”

Caveat, though, whenever I do the Baymax bit at home with my future wife, I usually get a playful punch in the arm or elbow in the chest. Such is our shtick. We’re comfy inside our goofball skins. It took us much of our lives to be together following long paths filled with adversity. Between us, we’ve seen and done just about everything, and thus we seized the moment, hand-in-hand, when our paths as longtime friends cleared of its suppressive debris. What opened before us upon re-meeting later in life was a merged, linear road which became so easy to take together. There, there, and beyond…

Plotting one’s life course contains one-half uncertainty and unpredictability, the other half, risk. Life is very much a business model. The more in-tune you are with your personal inventory, the clearer the way becomes toward realizing a revolving bottom line you can live with. This entails material growth, sure. Yet, most of us want to be fiscally secure more than being concerned with emotional security. One often begets the other. Wealth can either make or break a person, but does it always have to entail money? Can the projected investments one makes into their stocks of life have future growth based on the immaterial?

When does your “A-ha!” moment on the curving, jagged, sometimes blockaded thoroughfare hit you: when you feel surrounded by pleasurable things or from pleasure itself? Are you more concerned with the pathways others are taking around you toward the same destination or objective? Running parallel, yet seemingly with a faster track in some cases? Are you a “Keeping Up With the Joneses” type or do you move forward with a confident tread, leaving your mark without a care of how fast it takes you? Always keep in mind, my friends, the journey well supercedes the destination.

Also keep in mind, every life reaches a crossroads at some point. Some more often than others. It’s scary to hit a point where repercussion outweighs thinking on your feet with immediate reaction. Some personalities are full-frontal. Others are cautious. Impetuous or conservative, actions are determined by a culmination of life experiences, relationships, failures and successes, what works systemically in one’s life, heck, even a ceaseless “to-do” list which dictates our immediate thoughts and motions.

Progression keeps us happy in most cases, though for some, stagnancy and indecision is a safe haven. Leader types tend to get through the obstacles on the road quicker than followers, though it might be said the followers act as a buffer through which the leader achieves so readily. Even the leaders hit the forks in the proverbial (and literal) road, though.

So what do you do when the time inevitably comes you are forced to choose a direction to push your life? You can take the time to jot down a pros and cons list, a pragmatic way to take accountability and assessment before choosing your next path forward. You can also retreat, meditate and ground your inhibitions until settling upon which direction entails the least risk. A night out with a hard drink or two and a best friend’s ear is another good method.

I see the upward and onward attitude the motivated portion of our society takes toward achieving overt happiness, as much as I see others self-crippled in depression and anxiety. Would that we all had the secret map leading us out of an overwhelming land of confusion and into our private (or collective, if you’re a people person) nirvana. I say, however, there is an “A-ha!” to be had more than a “There, there” if you have the wherewithal and the guts to pound out your personal path.

In terms of outdoor hiking, we are most secure upon a marked and blazed path. The clearer the footway, the more painted marks on trees we see telling us we’re safely on our way, the more joy we grab from the moment. There’s security in this, much less all aspects of life. If we have the strength, we go longer in miles, knowing someone’s already taken the time to plow the brush and branches out of the way for us. Yet there come those times, especially hiking in the woods, where split and intersected paths occur. Some of us panic, in search of a posted map from the local rangers, if we don’t have a paper map to use and our cell phones are locked away from signal zones. Other personalities shrug their shoulders and see where one trail leads for sheer kicks.

In terms of life, we envy those with the freedom to indulge their “kicks,” and it often heightens our self-awareness. This may mean inspiring us to raise our standards, to do the time, the research and above all, the work, to achieve a similar footholding. The bipolar opposite, external exhibitions of others’ success may prompt jealousy, anger and insecurity. A self-flaggelation of the id. It could even trigger an internal alarm that one’s path has been wrong all along.

We all go through it, folks, peaks and valleys. To stay onward and upward, though, is to realize we’re all human, first and foremost. We all have worth. We all have strengths and weaknesses, but our spirits are the collateral we pony up for the rides of our lifetimes. Rather than focusing on the fast track, rather than letting others dictate our pace, much less our moral fiber in choice making and direction taking, stop for a moment (especially when hitting a crossroad) and inhale. What feels good to you? What offers you the most intrinsic boost to keep plowing on? What, and moreover, who makes you want to fight for them, much less yourself, no matter how rocky the terrain ahead may be?

There’s not always a perfect path. Sometimes you hit dead ends and you have to regress then regroup before starting on your way once again. Often you’ll need to shed and purge that which has impeded you, be it a fear of failure, a toxic relationship, dead weight you can no longer carry on the incalculable miles it takes to get where you finally feel gratification. For certain, leaps of faith are called upon, and prayers to whomever you believe is your spiritual guide in this life. You will meet on your path people who are your friends and your enemies and those in between. Often those collide, and change over time. The truest of the true will be there when you reach your summit and they’ve done more than pass along a comforting “There, there.” They’ll be saying “A-ha!” right alongside you as the dust of negativity clears and the esplanade to idiosyncratic prosperity looks more conquerable.

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Five Things Friday: Mini-Interview with Author and Journalist Ray Van Horn, Jr.

A totally rad mini interview Willow Croft did with me for her “Five Things Friday” series.

Follow Willow’s blog at

Willow Croft

For this week we’re going “old school” with classic video/arcade games, lightsabers of choice, vinyl record-spinning (backwards, of course)…and orange creamsicles!

Better hurry up and read this interview with Ray Van Horn Jr., because I just heard the ice cream truck!




Willow Croft: If you were stuck with only one arcade game or video/computer game from the 1970s/80s, which would you pick, and why?

Ray Van Horn Jr.: In the ‘70s, video games were still fledgling experiments before the big boom in the 1980s. As a young ‘un, the rage was Pong, as in the electronic ping-pong game with head-to-head, block-shaped “paddles” and a square blip representing a ball. Same concept, get the blip past the other player for a point. Your family was considered an up-and-comer in the social strata if you had one then. My family wasn’t up-and-coming nor poor, and we had a…

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Blessed Be, Grandfather Tree…

TJ and I walk a routine path a couple times a week, but it took us many outings until we spotted this majestic grandfather tree, hanging tough on borrowed time and pushing his exuberance through his weathered, gnarled and termite-chewed facade. In fact, we both agreed the grandfather called to us before I took his picture. We also agreed a third of the way down from the top is the grandfather’s face, peering right at the trail in search of an appreciative eye.

You be the judge, but I can tell you this was taken during sundown and the natural lighting was much lower than is presented in the shot. I used no filters and I made no adjustments. Grandfather’s vibrance shone on his own, rewarding us for taking the time to stop and acknowledge him. Blessed be, Grandfather Tree. A long life well-met.

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Five Favorite Things You May Not Have of Your Own

I’ve been seeing a trend out here amongst scribes communing in the Blogverse, writers discussing their favorite things. I could refer you to the picture above as a prime example of my absolute favorite thing, having a woman like TJ as my best friend in our favorite habitat: on a trail.

I can always cite my son, my family and all of my beautiful friends as the top shelf favorite things in my life. Ditto for a wide and diverse pantheon, largely Egyptian, but represented as well by the Norse, Germanic and Greek sects, altogether constituting an alternate form of spiritualism. All of this combined gives me my verve, my reason to wake up, my ambition to be the best I can be in my job and as a writer.

I think we can all agree our loved ones and spiritual connections make up the top tiers of our welfare and happiness. We also have tangible treasures unique to us, which may sparkle to some, turn away others. Some of us have the ultra-rare privilege of ownership to things most others do not. For this post, I want to share five of my very favorite things you likely don’t have, not that it’s a brag. There’s very little material worth involved, but I do love these simple things which represent me or are fun extensions of me…

My CD copy of Queensryche’s Operation: Mindcrime, an all-time favorite and a writer’s album. Autographed by former vocalist, Geoff Tate, with whom I had dinner and an interview in Washington, DC before a Queensryche show. An unforgettable moment of my music journalism career, Tate and I spoke casually and formally about music and the industry. He gave me pointers then as a fledgling journalist I never forgot.

My trusty Donald Duck coffee mug purchased at Disney World, Florida in 2010. The classic Donald, circa the 1930s and ’40s. I had to have it, along with a can of Mickey’s “Really Swell” Coffee, which was then…really daggone swell! I have a good handful of coffee mugs, but even TJ pulls Donald down for me automatically when fixing me a tea or before I set up my coffeepot. The mug is out of circulation, and I thank myself almost every time I use it for getting it while I had the chance.

“Sir Percy.” My parents obtained me this four-foot aluminum knight in Cape May, NJ. The story I was told of my stepfather hauling him all over the resort is a family treasure in itself. Percy is the middle name of my grandfather, with whom I had a deep bond and who predicted to me at his kitchen table when I was 12 and already burrowed into Stephen King novels, I would become a writer one day. Sir Percy has served as protector of my realm in 7 homes.

My original 1978 Han Solo blaster from Kenner. No, it’s not the one from my childhood. No, it doesn’t have the packaging. No, it doesn’t work, as in making the high-pitched laser screech. I don’t care. I love it. I’ve had to reassemble it a few times, but as a kid, when we all played Star Wars, most boys would offer to take on a Gundark for the right to be Luke. Usually that was settled rock-scissors-paper elimination style. Not me. Solo. ’nuff said.

Reading in bed with TJ. The end of the day, the kiddo in bed for the night. The day’s worries and trials settled for the time being. Just us and a pair of books. Sometimes we end up stopping to have a family strategy session. More often than not, TJ beats me staying awake. Still, it’s our most favorite nightly ritual as a couple.

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.

The Saturday Night Gospel of Headbangers Ball

Years ago while I was writing in the music industry, I had the opportunity to pitch a resurrection plan to an MTV executive I’d grown chummy with from visits on assignment to New York City. Said player in the tale will remain anonymous. We’d shared a passion for the network’s weekly devotions offered in the name of heavy metal music, Headbangers Ball. Prior to this, I’d had the chance to talk to VH-1 and metal journalist legend, Eddie Trunk for a few minutes and I’d scored an all-time favorite interview with original MTV veejay, Nina Blackwood. It was a high time of my writing life, when my home office was nearly half the basement in a rancher, and all the free, promotional media I was sent for review consideration surrounded me in a literal labyrinth.

Ray Van Horn, Jr., circa 2014

Welp, after two runs of the beloved Headbangers Ball (the much heavier reincarnation spanning through the early 2000s), the proposal I’d come up with was nixed and sent into the ether with other woebegone MTV segments from pre-reality show yesteryear: Remote Control, Liquid Television, Yo! MTV Raps and 120 Minutes. I think about this presumed yes from time-to-time, and realize I might’ve been huckstered into submitting a blind faith prospectus to a lost cause.

Last week, I finished the final draft to a new novel in the hands of a prospective literary agent, a retro partial autobiography centering on my teen years, in which metal music was figurative. I mention Headbangers Ball a couple times, set during the original show’s run beginning April of 1987.

My novel’s core protagonists observe the same weekly ritual old school heavy metal addicts did back then. Saturdays at midnight, MTV. Be there or be a poser. Adjust all weekend plans to accommodate. Clear the parents from the room with the biggest and loudest television. Pop a beer if you were of age. Sneak it after said parents went to bed if you weren’t.

Headbangers Ball (or simply, “The Ball” to metalheads of all generations) was not merely a two-hour show devoted to heavy music. It was a secular religion. Jerry Falwell and his money-grubbing televangelists had their say on the tube six hours later on Sunday mornings. At the strike of twelve, however, cathodes were controlled by counterculture music for outcasts. Or so it was in the beginning…

You could say the great debate to Headbangers Ball in the late Eighties was whether it would ever have a proper VJ to field the band interviews and transition the showcased heavy metal videos. So many fans of the day screamed bloody murder at the show’s questionable-fit first hosts, Asher “Smash” Benrubi, Kevin Seal and Adam Curry. O.G.V.J. fashionista “Downtown” Julie Brown gave it her best, wubba wubba wubba, but it wasn’t until L.A. rock scenester Riki Rachtman made the show his for five years. This, despite being notoriously hazed by bands on the set while learning the ropes and being roasted by viewers as metal music changed and then evaporated in the U.S. for a while.

The show had become such a Ball of confusion MTV had visible trouble differentiating Black Sabbath from Blind Melon, Faster Pussycat from Four Non-Blondes. As if the Bon Jovi, Poison and Warrant clones hadn’t done enough damage to the show and to the scene itself. Guns n’ Roses became the darlings of The Ball, so much to the point I cringe and sweep away “Welcome to the Jungle,” “Paradise City” and “Sweet Child ‘o Mine” anytime they manifest. None of it can hold a candle to Appetite for Destruction deep cuts, “It’s So Easy,” “My Michelle” or “Think About You,” and I’ve embraced my minority opinion.

Like my peers of the day, I can bitch how watered down the halcyon Headbangers Ball became. I can also advocate MTV for giving multicultural bands like Living Colour, Bad Brains, Death Angel, Loudness, E-Z-O and Suicidal Tendencies a lot of love. Still, a reliable succession of video clips by industry icons Iron Maiden, Krokus, W.A.S.P., Judas Priest, Megadeth, Warlock, Queensryche, Overkill, Anvil, Metal Church, Anthrax, Twisted Sister, Motorhead, Scorpions, Dokken, Heathen, Ratt, Madam X, Nuclear Assault and Testament soon turned into a commercial rock marathon. Defenders of the faith had to seek their true metal fix through a haze of Aqua Net and tight-bottomed female models, at times blocking the views of shredding arpeggios and tom rolls. Sex sells, it’s not just a business truism. Whitesnake rocked much of the time, but Tawny Kitaen, ’nuff said…

Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me” (my most hated song in the rock universe) and the stripper-worshipping Motley Crue prompted corporate record labels to sign limp-noodled, synth-driven hair rock which pushed the acts we were screaming for toward the back end of the two hour program. It’s no wonder Nirvana and Soundgarden became what they were; once Headbangers Ball lost its soul, the metal devout had to wait until the final 20 minutes of the show to see videos by genuine heavies like Prong, Sepultura, Ministry, Kreator, Saxon, Annihilator, Exodus, King Diamond, even goofballs like Killer Dwarfs, Dangerous Toys, Butthole Surfers and Scatterbrain.

The show queefed from a gaseous AOR virus more concerned with fueling the great party than the rock itself, and it wasn’t only grunge which bumped off Headbangers Ball and metal music for a spell. Its primary audience grew up and went to college or their future adult lives, many falling away from the scene until a nostalgic pining for love of grit brought them all back for a second run “death to false metal” crusade. With it came the short-lived metal-only channel, MTV X, then Jamey Jasta of the blistering Hatebreed, whose run as host of the revivified Headbangers Ball more than atoned for its poofy-haired sins. Sadly, Jasta and his successor, Jose Mangin, would be swept away with the monster, neo-inception of The Ball to a point of seeming finality. It was nice seeing modern underground metal icons like Enslaved, Fear Factory, Mastodon, Deftones, Between the Buried and Me, Static-X, Ishahn, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Unearth, All That Remains, Behemoth, Devildriver, Amorphis, Belphegor, High On Fire, Cradle of Filth, H.I.M., Keep of Kalessin, Norma Jean, Atreyu and their many likenesses have a near-mainstream habitat to make their cases for metal immortality.

Instead of grumbling about the show’s mistreatment over the years, I’d rather reflect on what it meant to me, personally. Maybe it rings true with others who were there. I can’t understate how important it was for me to be home at midnight every Saturday. I could be off in my estimation, but I believe I missed Headbangers Ball only thrice from 1987 through 1990, those being due to vacations away from home.

I was 17 in ’87 and conveniently my curfew was midnight. I was dating and working in a grocery store, hanging with friends well into the late hours. No matter what the activity, I had to be home for The Ball. I made sure my girlfriend was dropped off by 11:30 p.m., which kept me in good graces with her religious, conservative family, considering their daughter was then in love with a hairball. Any parties I was invited to, the same deal. I was out by 11:30, and only in one instance when everyone was lit up including my ride, I managed to talk my way into putting Headbangers Ball on the house t.v. to many people’s chagrin. A horns-up moment if there ever was one.

Movies, I usually went to on Friday nights with friends or my girlfriend. If it had to be a Saturday, I would go no later than a 9:00 or 9:30 p.m. showing. I was that obsessed with Headbangers Ball. I couldn’t get enough of hearing the samples of S.O.D.’s thrash cuts behind the title screens and commercial breaks before those changed to Prong. I taped the song videos, six VHS tapes worth. I was so OCD I wrote down each clip I’d recorded in a notebook so I wouldn’t have repeats. I’d watch them again during the weeknights I was off from work and summer days.

Stupidly, I did not record the interviews, which most people look at me like Wile E. Coyote with his jaw slamming to the ground after the Roadrunner tears away from him at hyperspeed when I confess to this. Yeah, Ray Van Horn, Jr., who would go on to interview many of the bands who appeared on Headbangers Ball, hadn’t taped one single show interview. When I think of how laced out Guns n’ Roses were on their debut appearance on The Ball, and how badly Dave Mustaine of Megadeth dicked wtih Riki Rachtman, I feel foolish. It was prime music television, a lost art.

I would make no bones in verbally pushing my folks out of the living room to surrender the t.v. to me for Headbangers Ball. As a father myself, I now shake my head and laugh at this memory of being such a royal pain to my parents. They would make a sport of it, waiting all the way until 11:59 p.m. before heading off to bed. It was so snarky and I would begin to shake with anticipation until that remote was in my hands and I heard S.O.D.’s “Milano Mosh” spool the show to life.

I can remember what joy it was to see MTV give more extreme bands like Slayer some play, then Morbid Angel, Coroner, Mercyful Fate, Dark Angel, Cryptic Slaughter, Destruction, Carcass, bands you had to really know the scene to appreciate. I also recall the day of abhorration when Celtic Frost’s “Cherry Orchards” premiered. Any dedicated metal fan was there and none of us will forget the abject terror of the moment. White Lion’s “Wait” was preferential. Well, maybe I’m getting carried away.

Up through high school graduation and my 18th birthday, I had many occasions where I would come home to catch Headbangers Ball and then go back out to meet my friends until 4:00 a.m. Everything changed in college, but I was still there, holding the torch and praying for a Voivod video that only seldom came.

Salad days, man…

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.