It's that time of year again! The presents have all been opened. The Swedish meatballs are being digested. Snow is(n't) in the air and on the ground, and I'm ensconced in the ancestral home in Minnesota. It's Christmas! Which means it's time for my annual post to this old blog as part of one of the few traditions I've managed to continue for six years running.
I speak, of course, of the annual tribute to my hero, Serge Gainsbourg!
I imagine many of you didn't quite get the presents you were hoping for this year (and even fewer of you actually got anything of substance from _me_). But no more! All of that is over, because I come to you with a sleigh-full of wonderful treats from the Greatest Gallic, Mr. Serge Gainsbourg himself!
Don't say I never got you anything!
But before we get to the tunes, a bit of reflection on the year that was (and will be for another week) 2011.
Work at Paizo continues to dominate most of my life and thoughts. Our Pathfinder Roleplaying Game continues strong sales, at times this year even eking out Dungeons & Dragons as the best-selling tabletop RPG in hobby stores. All of that success has brought new product lines, new staff, new licenses, and new challenges. I've said it countless times, but every year I think "there's no way I could be busier than I am now," and every year I've been busier than the year before. As they say here in Minnesota: Uff Da!
I'm thankful that 2011 has had me traveling less than in the last two years, as it means I can spend more time at home in Seattle with my girlfriend Danica and our pug Ptolemy. Danica and I traveled to Finland this year as guests of RopeCon, probably the most prestigious "invite" an American game professional can get. Our hosts treated us like royalty, and everyone there was wonderful. They tell me they need to let 10 years go by before they can invite a guest back, but I'm not certain I'm willing to wait that long, and I may have to head back some time on my own dime.
As part of that trip, Danica and I visited St. Petersburg, Russia, marking our first trip beyond the Iron Curtain. We both loved that trip as well, which included visits to the Hermitage art museum as well as side-trips to museums dedicated to torture devices and deformed babies. My kind of town, St. Petersburg!
All the while, my buddy Serge Gainsbourg has been by my side (and in my ears), pounding out the soundtrack of my life with a puff of cigarette smoke and a row of alcoholic beverages. It's true, I pick some strange heroes, but I wouldn't have it any other way.
So as my annual tribute to you, the reader (both of you who still read this blog, anyway), let's get on to the festivities!
First up this year is an early hit of Gainsbourg's that bubbled back to my attention thanks to a really fun scene in the French-language Gainsbourg biopic "Gainsbourg: Un Vie Heroique," which we saw at the Seattle International Film Festival. The song is called "Intoxicated Man," and true to Serge's life story, it's about drinking.
Here's the short scene from the movie, which features a neat duet with another French signer, Boris Vian, who had a hit with a very similar subject matter.
In previous years, I've tried to match my Christmas clips to my mood. Two years ago, when the toll of travel and a hideous work schedule made me feel like I was sliding into my own sort of Gainsbourgian decline, for example, I posted songs from the era of Serge's slide into alcoholism and eventual death. This year, I'm feeling much more confident and having a lot more fun with things, so I've selected a few tracks from what I consider to be Gainsbourg's strongest period, from the late 1950s and 60s.
Up first is one of my favorites, a beautiful little number called "Scenic Railway" complete with its own very early music video.
In France, Gainsbourg is perhaps best known for his clever lyrics and double entendres. My four years of high school French let me catch most of it, but at times all I can manage is knowing that he's on fire vocally, even if I don't fully understand what exactly he's saying. This next track is a perfect example, and it's become one of his most frequently covered songs. It's called "Elaneudanla Teiteia," and it is awesome.
Ok, so I'm going to sneak one in from the 70s. While Serge's masterpiece, the concept album "Histoire de Melody Nelson," dropped in 1971, things started to slide by the end of the 70s. You can tell just by looking at him. Apparently you can't drink like a fish every single day of your adult life without it taking a physical toll. Dammit. So he's starting to look a bit like a wreck in this one, but I still love the song (not least because I understand nearly all the lyrics). In the middle of a long, cold winter in Seattle, I often think about the warm feeling of standing directly in a ray of the Sun, and this song comes thundering up from my subconscious. "Sous Le Soleil Exactement." Enjoy!
Lastly, Gainsbourg achieved a great deal of fame and renown writing material for others, particularly younger women that he leered at like a lecher, if not slept with outright. One famous example is France Gall, for whom he wrote a song that won the Eurovision Song Contest. This isn't that song, but it puts the two of them together again in a fun little 60s ditty about LSD. It's one of my favorites (the song, not the drug). It comes complete with the very Serge Gainsbourg title, "Teenie, Weenie, Boppie," and I absolutely love it.
Another year is almost gone, and I've hardly posted anything to LiveJournal in the last twelve months. But the snow is in the air, I am ensconced in the ancestral home in Minnesota, and I'm a sucker for tradition, so today means SERGE GAINSBOURG returns to Lemuria Press!
Before we get to the tunes, here's a bit of a recap on what's been going on with my blog lately.
Ok, that's the short version. The long version is that for whatever reason I've posted here SIXTY-TWO fewer times in 2010 than I did in 2009. Another way of saying that is to note that this is my 11th post so far this year. Fairly pathetic, really.
So what's going on? Why haven't I been posting to Lemuria Press as much as I used to? Let's see the run down:
1) Facebook. The conversational nature of Facebook and the near-real-time give and take with readers makes it a far superior venue for short observations, link sharing, and nearly everything other than in-depth posts than Livejournal. I regularly post several times a day over on Facebook, even while this place dies a little each day. If you haven't already stopped by, check out my "fan" page over on Facebook and join the conversation!
2) I moved in June, and a lot of my life is still in boxes. At long last, my paperback and pulp collection is shelved and sorted, but my scanner is still in mothballs, which means no new paperback scans. No new paperback scans mean no new posts to my other blog over at Paperback Flash (which I crosspost here), which means less posting in general. I hope to rectify this soon.
3) Work, work, work. Paizo's editorial staff (which I manage) is now around 15 people, and we're making more stuff (and re-making new printings after sell-outs) than ever before. That means more work has crept into personal time, which means less blogging. All work and no play makes Erik a dull boy. That said, it does make Erik money, which is a nice substitute for excitement.
So that's the reasoning behind my absence here of late. I hope to do better next year. One thing that I KNOW will happen next year, however, is a Serge Gainsbourg Christmas extravaganza. Speaking of which...
Last year I presented a bunch of Serge's music from his slow descent into alcoholism and mediocrity. Enough of that. This year I'm going to start with a couple of tunes from his early period, jazzy "chanson" tunes that fit within the musical style of French music in the late 1950s and early 60s, but which have a heaping helping of the brilliance that would set Gainsbourg apart in later years.
I start today with one of Gainsbourg's earliest hits, Le Poinconnuer des Lilas, a brilliantly written song about a ticket puncher in the Paris Metro. I chose this clip because it includes English subtitles. A lot of Serge's lyrics are absolutely brilliant, and although the songs that go with them are often extraordinary in their own right, the brilliance of the lyrics are often lost on those who cannot speak French. I myself have only high school French to guide me, so I only catch part of it. Thanks to the maker of this video, you can get a chance to see Serge at the height of his lyrical power. I love this song.
Next we have another tune from the same era, a little ditty called "Chanson de Prevert." The lyrics are haunting and the song carries a hint of sadness just perfect for the deep winter months.
Ok, how about some up-tempo Serge, from a little later in his career? I thought you'd never ask. Here's is my 100% absolute favorite Serge Gainsbourg song on YouTube, a duet with French pop starlet France Gall that won the Eurovision Song Contest. It's a song about a little girl named Annie (Gall) who likes to suck on lollipops. Of course, the song is actually about blowjobs, which Gall didn't realize until some time later. She was allegedly furious, but the joke is on her. Something tells me Europe was in on it. The duet in this video (to say nothing of the weird imagery on the scenery) does a lot to bring up the creepiness factor, which is probably why I love it.
Unfortunately, the douchebag who uploaded this to YouTube disabled embedding, so you'll have to click the link. Trust me, it is absolutely worth it.
Ok, enough about twisted lyrics. Did you know that Gainsbourg was also a talented film score composer capable of laying down an awesome track without a single word? Here's a song from the movie "Cannabis," in which he starred with the love of his life (and later wife), British actress Jane Birkin. It's called "Danger," and it's my unofficial theme song for 2011.
On that tune, Serge collaborated with his all-time greatest music partner, the unparalleled Jean Claude-Vannier. Vannier helped Serge score his opus, Histoire de Melody Nelson, which is where I first came across Gainsbourg. If you've never listened to this 1971 masterpiece, you really owe it to yourself to listen to the whole thing. Thankfully, it's all on YouTube for your listening pleasure. Trust me, everyone you know who really knows about music knows and loves this record. I'm sure I've included the main track below on previous Gainsbourg Christmases, but because I'm such a nice guy, here it is again.
There's a slightly better version here, but the same ass disabled embedding, so I leave it to true experts to seek out by following this link. With a little work, you can piece together the whole TV special "music video" version of the album from that link. It's weird, it's wild, it's perverted beyond imagination, and it was parodied on a Flight of the Conchords episode you probably love. It's available in its purest form on YouTube. Give yourself something for Christmas and check it out.
So until next year, or until the next time I post to Lemuria Press (very likely the same thing), Merry Christmas from me and Serge!
Here I sit at my ancestral abode in the suburbs of Minneapolis without a whole lot to do, churning the hours until the family convenes for the annual Christmas festivities. With a lot of free time and relatively few distractions, I decided to use my time productively, and wrote up a very long recap of the last session of my epic 4-year Call of Cthulhu campaign back at the office in Seattle.
Only I'm not posting it here, because I wrote it for my EN World column, which has had only slightly more life to it in the last year than this place has.
But regular readers of Lemuria Press (assuming there are any of you left!), do not despair! I'll be posting at least a couple more times before I head back to Seattle on Tuesday, including the annual Serge Gainsbourg Christmas extravaganza.
It wouldn't be Christmas around here without a little Serge.
Slowly but surely, my life is coming out of boxes in the new apartment and taking on some semblance of its former meaning and shape. Last weekend I filled up five IKEA "Billy" bookshelves with nonfiction and some gaming books (now down to just one gaming shelf!), but ALL of my fiction (probably about a dozen moving boxes full) remains in boxes awaiting new bookshelves to properly display it.
My girlfriend and I have a houseguest currently occupying the second bedroom/library, so it will be at least another week before I get all that mess sorted out. My home office desk is still in pieces awaiting reconstruction.
Oh! And this weekend is Paizo Con, so nothing will be happening until that's over and done with.
After Paizo Con my schedule is fairly normal. A quick trip up to Victoria with vacationing parents in early July, then off to Indianapolis in August for Gen Con, which will be huge as ever. And it's looking like there may be a September trip to France in the offing for one of their major game conventions, but I don't want to jinx that by talking about it too much before the details are all sorted out.
So, like every year, things get super-stressy from about April through the beginning of September. I've tried to make it different every year, but I've come to accept that this is pretty much the way it will be forever, or at least until I get a different job.
But I like this job, and plan to stick around a while. It'll be 8 years at Paizo on July 1st.
So, anyway, this is all my way of saying I will get back to the blog and more regular posting soon... at least until next April or so! :)
I'm still stuck in publishing/moving my apartment hell in a way that will continue to keep me away from regular posting to this blog or Paperback Flash for the immediate future (my home office desk is not even assembled yet!), but I did manage to carve out some time to write up a new EN World column.
This month's installment, naturally, focuses on my recent move across town in Seattle, and reflects on what that move means for my elephantine RPG collection.
Legendary pulp paperback artist Frank Frazetta died today of complications following a stroke. No other illustrator in the history of book publishing has had such a monumental impact upon the public consciousness and visual design of books. His imitators are legion, but his abilities will never be surpassed.
I've posted often about Frazetta's work here on Paperback Flash (click his name on the tag list below to jump to past posts), and his death today is enough to shock me back into posting here, despite crushing book deadlines of my own at my own little corner of the publishing world.
I only wish I'd uploaded more Frazetta covers to make this retrospective even more impressive. I'm in the process of moving so new scans will have to wait a bit, but for now here's a visual feast of several Frank Frazetta images from my book collection. I've got at least 30 more, but alas they will have to wait until things are a little more settled.
I will be a guest of Seattle's venerable NORWESCON science fiction convention this weekend, and would love to meet you if you will also be there! I've been a panelist for the convention's gaming track for about five years going, and the convention's offerings just get better and better.
This year, my buddy Tim Nightengale used his formidable Rolodex to put together an astonishingly awesome gaming program with participants you're unlikely to find this side of Gen Con. Seriously, Seattle is a major center of RPG and hobby game activity, and I believe representatives from most of the major local companies (WotC, Paizo, Green Ronin, etc.) will be on hand.
Here's my seminar schedule (a bit light this year, which is fine because I should spend most of the weekend writing). I'm really excited about all of these, and hope to see you there!
Friday, Noon, Evergreen 2 Build a Better Adventure What makes a good adventure? One that players can't wait to continue; that they spend their off-time thinking about and planning for until they play again? Join our gaming panelists in a discussion of how to design better adventures. Erik Mona (M), Richard Baker, Bruce R. Cordell, James Jacobs
Friday, 4:00 p.m., Evergreen 2 Underwater Ninja Tigers! (or A Friendly Discussion on Monster Design) What makes a truly great monster in a game? Our panelists discuss the best of the best in the gaming menagerie (or the worst of the worst, depending on your perspective), with an emphasis on the monsters themselves and not on any particular game systems statistics, and give their expert advice on how to come up with your own creations. Erik Mona (M), Wolfgang Baur, James Jacobs
Saturday, 1:00 p.m., Evergreen 1 Ask the Gamemasters Has your current campaign reached a dead end? Not sure how to keep your players happy? Have a problem player that you need to deal with? Want to add some house rules to your game, but unsure how to make them work? Come to this panel with questions about your RPG campaign. Erik Mona (M), Jason Bulmahn, Sean K Reynolds
I've been away from the blog for a while working on some Pathfinder RPG projects. While procrastinating from one of those projects recently, I got into a discussion with a science fiction fan about the pulp era married writing duo of C. L. Moore and Henry Kuttner. I've published several works by the two authors in Paizo's Planet Stories fiction line, and a lot of my reading over the last few years has focused on these authors and their contemporaries. I haven't read everything they wrote. I wouldn't consider myself an expert, but I've read dozens of stories and novels by both authors and I've amassed and plan to read about three times that much. I'm getting there.
Anyway, in the course of our conversation, the fan said "I actually liked Moore's solo work better than her work with Kuttner (whom I always saw as a great craftsman but not a great creative force)."
That's certainly the contemporary view of Kuttner. Many critics specifically cite Kuttner as a "craftsman," which (while absolutely true regarding story structure, clever endings, and the "mechanics" of a story) seems to me to suggest that Kuttner was technically good at his job, but not really good. If you know what I mean. I think "craftsman," as a critical label, is as much of a negative as a positive.
Kuttner was definitely a craftsman, and C. L. Moore was definitely in the upper tier of her generation, but I have developed what I think is a more complex appreciation for Kuttner than the standard view by seeking out works he published under his own byline and works prior to his marriage to get a sense of him as a writer outside of Catherine's influence. Additionally, I've favored work that has not been frequently reprinted, such as old 60s Ace novels or pulps from the 40s.
The place to start with Kuttner is the classic horror story "The Graveyard Rats," his first published work. This is a masterpiece, among the most effective horror stories I've ever read. It is really remarkable, and sticks with you a long, long time. I shudder to even think about it.
In her introduction to the Lancer edition of these stories, Moore claimed to have written not a single word of these screwball sci-fi mystery stories. These stories accurately display Kuttner's creativity, clever plot constructions, madcap (often very dark) humor, and tight, entertaining endings.
The thing is, Henry Kuttner wrote for a living. And he wrote a LOT. Whereas virtually everything I've read by C. L. Moore stood out in one way or another, a lot of Hank's stories are pretty clearly first drafts.
Every writer agonizes over his first story, polishing it up perfectly, revising time and again before it is ready to be sent off to some editor. "The Graveyard Rats," is a vivid Lovecraft pastiche so effective that many (including me) think reads as well as the genuine article.
That story, I think, is emblematic of the type of genius Kuttner was capable of when he had the time to fully develop his ideas and polish his style. Much of Kuttner's work, stylistically speaking, is fairly straightforward. But when he gets to Something Wonderful (like a crystal monster fallen from space, or a ribbon of life-giving, time-slowing nebula dust in the mountain valley of a South American tropical rainforest, or metal bus coming alive and squeezing the liquid chunks of its riders out the windows as it warps itself into a perfect sphere), the lush description kicks into overdrive. In some cases, Hank applied that lens to entire stories or short novels, and the results can be really breathtaking.
The best stories I've found by Henry Kuttner so far:
"Home is the Hunter" "The Dark World" "The Valley of Flame" "The Mask of Circe"
The four of those stories are, in my view, as strong as the best works of C. L. Moore, or any of their contemporaries in the pulps of the 1940s. That the world could throw together two writers of such high caliber in the same marriage is almost unbelievable.
And with Leigh Brackett and Edmond Hamilton, it happened twice in the same decade!