TEDx 2014: Living Up to My Middle Name

“Storyteller. Nostalgist. TED talker, too.”

That’s what I changed all of my bios on social media to ever since I had the privilege of speaking at TEDxJerseyCity on Saturday, November 8th, 2014.

Now I think we all know that TED is a big deal, but I didn’t put that into my head until after I got off the stage at PS4 on Bright Street in Downtown Jersey City because I knew I would have panicked. I consider myself so fortunate to have spoken at most of the top film festivals all over the world –– household names like Sundance, SXSW, and TIFF –– but a TEDx talk is a TED talk, and it’s an honor granted to a few people all over the world.

And for the first time in a long time, I had to work for it.

Here's the original outline. Very bare bones.

Here’s the original outline. Very bare bones.

I wanted to dive into what the process of preparing for a TEDx talk was like for me because it was very different than anything else I’ve ever had to prepare for. First of all, I had to audition for the part, and that brought me back to when I used to perform Shakespeare in the parks. I haven’t auditioned for anything since then, and the organizers of TEDxJerseyCity took this part of the process very seriously.

In fact, I almost didn’t make the cut.

When I did my first audition, I was trying not to focus so much on crowdfunding and instead veer that subject I could talk about in my sleep more towards the power of the crowd. My four-minute audition piece was quite honestly a mess. But one of the organizers, Alicia, believed that I had something truly important to say, and so she met up with me at The Warehouse Café and helped me shift the focus of the talk back to what I’m really meant to talk about –– crowdfunding –– and through that, reveal the power of the crowd through personal stories, examples, and a quick lesson on how ordinary people like us have the power to create positive change in the world because money is no longer an obstacle now that we finally have the tools to overcome the problem of lack of funding.

Initial draft of my first audition piece.

Initial draft of my first audition piece.

Freshly armed with that as my focus, and a couple days of hardcore rehearsals, I ended up wowing the judges during the callbacks that I almost didn’t get invited to, and I made it onto the roster along with sixteen other proud Jersey City speakers who would take the stage and talk about a “Brave New World” of their choosing at TEDxJerseyCity 2014.

The other part that was most difficult for me personally was the actual writing of the talk. See, whenever I speak at an event, I never write down what I’m going to say. It’s all very beatnik (I am a poet, after all) –– “straight from the mind to the voice,” as ol’ Jack would say. The only other time I felt I had to write out my talk was during my SXSW Future15 talk about being a face in the crowd of crowdfunding, where I talked about crowdfunding through the lens of the 1957 film A Face in the Crowd, starring Andy Griffith.

The first slide from my SXSW Future15 talk, 2014.

The first slide from my SXSW Future15 talk, 2014.

But I basically did the same thing with the written out version of my TED talk that I did with that SXSW one. I tossed it in the trash and winged it.

The thing about “winging” something is simple: You have to be confident that there’s a wind beneath those wings to hold you up, and that wind is the intention behind what you want to say. How you say it, that’ll always be secondary.

Before we bust into a chorus of Bette Midler’s famous tune, let’s get back to TEDx. Aside from the rough outlines/four-minute audition pieces, I wrote a full outline and a first and second draft of the talk. What I noticed was each time I wrote it, I would add more to it. Always more. Never less. And ultimately when I had a week left and was about to start rehearsing my talk, I let my fiancée Marinell read it.

And she liked it.

Sort of.

“I can’t picture you saying it like this,” Marinell kept on saying, and no matter how many times I reassured her that “the talk that I give on stage will most likely sound nothing like what’s written,” she still wasn’t convinced until I took her to my apartment and performed it for her for the first time. No notes. No cheat sheet. Nothing.

And she loved it.

And this is the last draft, complete with the notes that helped create the final draft.

And this is the last draft, complete with the notes that helped create the final draft.

Did the writing out of the entire talk help me keep the intention behind those words in the forefront of my mind? Sure. But knowing myself the way I do, I should’ve simply sketched out a quick outline onto a couple of napkins and worked off of that. When you know your subject matter, it makes no sense to spend all that time writing it out; just know what you need to say and practice getting it out in the order you need it to be presented, and all will be well.

I spent the next entire week practicing every night after work –– again, something I’m not accustomed to doing. I recorded each rendition of my talk into my iPhone, all the while timing it more old school on an old Breitling stopwatch I permanently borrowed from a high school science class. From my first time of twenty-six minutes to just barely cutting it down to the eighteen-minute TED maximum, the more I practiced, the more I knew what I needed to get across to my audience.

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I was so happy when I snapped this photo for Instagram –– got that talk down to just under seventeen minutes.

On the day of the talk itself, I practiced one last time in the morning, and I was pleased to get it down to fifteen minutes. That meant, I now had precious time to infuse into the talk the spontaneity that makes all of my talks all the more memorable. The quick asides and off-the-cuff additions, but most importantly, working with the crowd in the moment to create with them the best talk possible. To give to them the speech they want to hear. And I think I accomplished that with my TED talk.

But man, it was a lot of work!

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It’s been a week since my TEDxJerseyCity talk, and I’ve been thinking of my Dad a bit more lately. It always happens during this time –– he passed away eight years ago on December 16th –– but this time feels a little different. I find myself wishing I could take a minute and tell him all about my talk, and to hear him in that silent whisper of a voice he left this world with say that he’s proud of the man I’ve become.

I know he is, of course. But sometimes you just need to hear it.

But it’s funny –– We all know that “TED” stands for “Technology, Entertainment, and Design,” but it’s also short for “Teddy,” a nickname for “Theodore” and what the “T.” in “John T. Trigonis” stands for.

And it was also my father’s name, too.

My TEDx talk marks a huge milestone for me, and I have no idea where it will take me next. Perhaps nowhere. Perhaps it will afford me further opportunities to talk about the power that crowdfunding gives to mild mannered men and women all around the world. Time will tell, and I want to thank you all ahead of time for helping me get here.

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#TypeOctober: Re-Discovering the Genius of Type O Negative

My good pal Timo Voruensola Tweeted something the other day that made me smile big:

That’s right –– #TypeOctober –– an entire month to listen to and appreciate one of my favorite bands back during my longhaired leather-jacketed days, circa 1993 – 1998. It wasn’t until 1996 that I’d heard of this Goth metal band that had a flair for the dreary, dark, and depressing, and a penchant for All Hallow’s Eve, which is why I’m writing this during my favorite month of the year.

I had just become a senior in high school, and my headbanger friends Brian, Joey, and Tommy were introducing me to some heavier music than the Meat Loaf, Guns N’ Roses, and (gulp!) Debbie Gibson I was listening to for most of my high school years. It was through them I discovered the not-so-soothing sounds of Danzig, Biohazard, and The Misfits.

And Type O Negative.

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Bloody Kisses (1993) was the first album I listened to. Of course, I was drawn in by the two women moaning in some kind of sexual discord in the opening track “Machine Screw” –– y’see, each album features literal “sound tracks” mixed in between the music –– and then I heard frontman Peter Steele’s voice toll its way into the song like a death knell: “Forgive her, for she knows not what she does.”

What a voice! I thought to myself. Deep, powerful, unafraid of the boogiemen and all the things that go bump in the dark because, as far as I was concerned that voice was the dark. By the time I got through the near nine minutes of “Christian Woman” and its three devilishly diverse parts, I was sold. From the gothic opening act, to the soft, guitar-plucked second, and the metal-centric egomaniacal conclusion, I realized that so many folks would simply pass these fellas off as a bunch of metal-heads singing satanic music with no substance to it whatsoever.

But not me. Nope, I could feel the composition beneath the heaviness of their music, and it was no different to me than a symphony by Mozart or an award-winning film score.

Unfortunately, there won’t be any new Type O Negative songs anytime soon. But I am proud to say that during my first trip out to Los Angeles, I got to see them perform live in hospital gowns at The House of Blues while they were on tour with their latest album Life is Killing Me (2003). It was in LA that I also stumbled on a Type O Negative “Brothers in Blood” button at a souvenir shop off Hollywood Boulevard, which I still own to this day, and always will.

So for this month of October, I’ll be listening to a ton of Type O Negative, including albums I’ve never heard, like Life is Killing Me, which I’m really enjoying, to classics like World Coming Down (1999). If any of you would like to join Timo and I this month in listening to The Least Worst Of (I’m not being messed up –– that’s the title of the “Best Of” album they put out in 2000) Type O Negative, here’s a few songs I recommend starting with:

  • “Christian Woman” and “Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare-All) off of Bloody Kisses
  • My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend” from October Rust (1996)
  • The entire World Coming Down, especially “Everyone I Love is Dead,” “Everything Dies,” and “Pyretta Blaze”
  • “I Don’t Wanna Be Me” and the title track off of Life is Killing Me

Enjoy those, and hey, if you wanna go way back with Type O and you’re all good with “Explicit Lyrics,” give “I Know You’re Fucking Someone Else” from The Origin of the Feces (1992). It has got to be the lewdest song I’ve ever heard with more expletives than I can count on two hands, but composition-wise, I place it right up there with “Christian Woman” and Beethoven’s 9th.

And although Mr. Steele is gone, he may just end up as a character in my third “Hipster Noir” novel, which I hope will be the ultimate homage to a talent who fell into a winter chill long before his autumn was over.

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This is What a “Hipster Noir” Novel Will Look Like

So I’ve written a novel. So what?

The question that perturbs me day and night is this: Can I actually be writing a novel without being an avid reader of novels?

Well, the answer I’ve come up with is yes.

And so what?

As you’ve recently read, the inspiration for my Muddled Mystery of the Murdered Muse stems from diverse source materials ranging from novels like Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently series and comics like Matt Kindt’s Mind MGMT to classic Hollywood and international films and the music of the 1930s to 1950s –– we’re talking Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians, that sorta big band sound you hear in most film noir pictures.

Don’t get me wrong, though –– I’ve read enough fiction to last me a lifetime between college prep high school English to majoring in two writing degrees, each requiring an onslaught of the written word be conquered before etching the first letters of one’s own onto the pages of a master’s thesis.

But today, I’m unveiling the very first image for Hipster Noir. No, this isn’t a comic book –– for that, be sure to check out Siren’s Calling over on Facebook –– and it’s certainly not a children’s book. It’s simply a book with pictures.

I want The Muddled Mystery to be words and images. Think back to those times you read A. A. Milne’s Winnie-The-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, or Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. A few pages of words go by, and there’s a nice little image by E. H. Shepard and Exupéry to aid in your imagination a bit –– an image that adds a little something extra to the standard storytelling and plot.

And yes, although those are children’s books, technically (you know you still pick up Winnie-The-Pooh from time to time more than J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan), I want to give readers of my Muddled Mystery to enjoy a sense of harkening back to their childhood while reading a very adult supernatural murder mystery, and also get them to see the world of Sebastian Holden how I see it.

“Holden Onto Heartbreak” is Coming Soon

In the next month or so, I plan to release to you all the first short story introduction into the world of Sebastian Holden, P.I. in “Holden Onto Heartbreak,” one of this hipster detective’s earliest adventures. And it will feature a more fleshed-out version of the following image, sketched by my friend and very talented artist Narciso Espiritu, Jr.:

Hipster Noir

Again, this is just a simple sketch from Narciso to get you all excited about what’s to come. The story itself will be a draft that is in need of your feedback, because what’s the point of writing a novel (or series of novels at this point –– I’m nearly done with book two!) if the audience doesn’t care to read it, right?

The bigger question for now is will I need to write my name as “J. T. Trigonis” once all’s said and published…?

 

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What is a Hipster Noir? Inspirations, Part One

When I first started writing my first hipster noir, now called The Muddled Mystery of the Murdered Muse, it began as a bunch of weird character sketches. Some of them were based loosely on folks I know in real life, while others were complete fabrications. And there were a few I pulled in from other ideas I’d initially drafted as screenplays or other kinds of creative writing.

But you may be wondering how this all began.

MindMGMT

Well, aside from being bored during my morning and evening commutes from Jersey City to NYC and back, what initially started me writing what back then was only a character sketch a day is Mind MGMT, a creator-owned comic book series by Matt Kind, published by Dark Horse Comics. The plot centers on a mysterious organization of super spies known as Mind Management and one man’s quest to take it down once and for all while another faction fights to recreate a new, more powerful management. Hand down, Mind MGMT has to be the best read in comics right now.

Something Matt includes in each issue is a character sketch to a new character in an opening and closing segment, one on the flipside of the front cover called “The Second Floor” and the other called “Mind MGMT Case Files” that takes up the last two pages. It’s here where Matt introduce his readers to characters that are now starting to play a more prominent role in the story –– characters like “The Futurist” Duncan Jones, “The Ad Man” Karl Box, and “The Hulk” (not to be confused with Marvel’s green giant). “The Second Floor” also occasionally delves into side stories that help us piece together what Mind Management is all about.

Two Sisters

What I really love about these is how they start to connect to the larger world and story arc of Mind MGMT, creating a more holistic continuity in the universe that Matt seems to be expanding on with each monthly issue. In many ways, this exactly what happened with my character sketches; at one point about ten characters in, I create Sebastian Holden, the hipster detective protagonist of my story, and from that point on, a plot started to take hold of the writing.

I probably haven’t told you all that much about Mind MGMT, Matt Kind’s greatest series since Super Spy and Revolver, but I cannot recommend this series enough, which is available in three hardcover graphic novel editions as the monthly series stories boldly on with a movie on the way.

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As for my hipster noir, I’m still writing them both a little bit every day. Instead of character sketches, the ones I’m writing now are chapters in the second novel while I revise and edit my Muddled Mystery and get it ready for the road ahead.

Stay tuned…

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Star Wars: Three “Lost” Episodes

With all the hype(rspace) lately about Star Wars: Episode VII, the inner child in me who once ran around his apartment holding onto the built-in handle of his Millennium Falcon has had his lightsaber reignited, especially by the news a few weeks back that the original cast will be joining the ranks of the Rebellion once more.

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At one point, I stumbled on this article from io9 about some of the best Star Wars Expanded Universe stories every told, and while there were some solid contenders like Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy of novels and Dark Horse Comics’ Dark Empire, but I was a bit surprised that none of the novels by Kevin J. Anderson made the list.

Anderson’s Jedi Academy Trilogy was my re-introduction to the joy of Star Wars, which I sort of left behind during that one time I decided that maybe I should grow up. I picked up the first book because of the cover itself: a crash-landed Millennium Falcon and a female Imperial Admiral, all flanked by the familiar faces of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Leia Organa. Were it not for that evocative cover shining forth in the small confines of Bergenfield Bookstore back in 1994, I’d never have picked up with Bantam paperback; clocking in at a staggering 368 pages with no pictures, it was decidedly more than my sixteen-year old attention span could ever handle.

academy

But it was Star Wars, and this was the novel that launched me back into that galaxy far, far away, that reignited the lightsaber of my mind with a snap-hiss of a newfound excitement for the original (and only) trilogy.

I was able to get through Jedi Search, even though it took quite a while, as I’m a very slow reader, but I enjoyed every chapter. And once I was done, I went out and picked up the second book, Dark Apprentice, and devoured that, as well, and ended it all with the finale, Champions of the Force.

I supposed what I enjoyed most about this particular trilogy of books is the nostalgia factor, as so much of what’s in these books harkens back to the original trilogy. The opening scene pits Han Solo and Chewbacca crash-landing on the planet Kessel, where our one-time scoundrel “made the Kessel run in twelve parsecs.” The Jedi Academy is housed on the planet Yavin IV. Even Darksaber, Anderson’s follow-up novel to these three books, is loaded with references to A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, from the “Banthas plodding single-file” on Tatooine to a rematch between Luke Skywalker and the wampa that lost its arm to his father’s lightsabre.

The cover artwork for Darksaber.

The cover artwork for Darksaber.

 Earlier this month, I went to the weekly book sale at Grace Church in Jersey City, and lo and behold, I saw the entire Jedi Academy Trilogy on the shelves beside classic science-fiction stories, and the Star Wars fan inside of me couldn’t help but smile. I don’t have my copies any longer, because I sold them to a woman from Vancouver who wanted to surprise her son with some Star Wars criteria reading. I certainly place these four books right up there with X-Wing: Rogue Squadron, the Thrawn Trilogy, and the greatness that will ultimately be Star Wars: Episode VII, though little to none of the Expanded Universe will be the same.

 

But these books will be with me, always.

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What are some of your favorite Star Wars books, graphic novels, or other stories, and why?

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Still a GAME BOY at Heart: 25 Years in Eight Games

The other day browsing through my Instagram feed I discovered that April is not only National Poetry Month (I’d known this for decades, of course, being a poet since the age of thirteen), but that this year marks the 25th birthday of one of the most pleasurable aspects of my childhood: The Original Nintendo Game Boy.

 

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In all it’s bulky, black & white compactness, this paradigm of the portable game playing device absorbed hours of my life into mere minutes as I immersed myself in worlds both familiar and foreign, all the while migrating with the sun and stars through the day so I could play until the wee hours of the night.

At my game-playing fighting weight, I must’ve owned around twenty or so of the iconic Game Boy game cartridges, and kept them all in a black vinyl case until I gave it all to an ex-girlfriend when I prematurely decided that it was time to grow up. One of three times I’d told that to myself in my life –– thankfully, the growing up never quite takes.

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I still remember the thrill in my heart when I unwrapped this baby at Christmas time, 1989.

But I did have a few favorites, which I not only played time and time again, but which also inspired me to get creative with telling my own stories.

Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters

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It must have been the Greek or the geek in me (or a little of both, perhaps), or maybe just the fact that I needed to know the origins of the strange Eggplant Wizard in the old Captain N: The Game Master series, that I picked up this version of the original 8-bit Kid Icarus game for the NES, which I never owned.

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 Double Dragon

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I’m a lot less violent now than I guess I was back in the ’90s, but I enjoyed kicking arse as Billy Lee and punching, side-kicking, and knifing my way through the scum-lined city streets, for which this black & white version shadowed a nice little noir aspect to it, especially when the contrast was adjusted just right.

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Super Mario Land

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Ever since playing the original Mario Bros with my dad, to elevating to Super Mario Bros., eventually falling in love with Super Mario Bros. 2, and having the Mushroom Kingdom culminate with SNES’s Super Mario World, there’s still a soft spot in my soul for Super Mario Land. It has a charm that the others lack. Perhaps it’s the fact that Mario flies in a plane and dives deep in a submarine and battles an all-new villain –– the evil alien Tatanga –– and rescues a different lovely princess named Daisy. I always wondered what Princess Toadstool thought about that. And where the heck’s Paula in all of this?!

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Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge

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With much better gameplay than the original Castlevania: The Adventure for Game Boy and the ability to whip while climbing up a rope, Belmont’s Revenge was a whip-cracking good time as I battled familiar monsters and a few gruesome new faces in four really interesting realms for Christopher Belmont to wander through before his final bout with Dracula ensues.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan

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By far, this is my all-time favorite Game Boy game. I could play a ton of others, but being an ardent fan of the heroes on the half-shell, owning all of the original action figures and loving the TV series more than any other cartoon series that came before it, I always slipped this cartridge into the back of my Game Boy and played for another hour or two. Even after beating The Shredder and Krang, I would simply restart and do it again, marveling at the graphics as I played each time as if it was the first time.

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Now, there were also a few games that, no matter how much I played them and how hard I tried to master them, I just couldn’t do much to get past a certain level on each one of these. But I still tried, and (most of the time) I still had a blast playing them.

 

RoboCop

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Playing this straight forward side scrolling shoot-‘em-up, and I could never get past the level where it became first person, and Murphy has to save a screaming woman from a thug holding her at gunpoint by positioning the crosshairs and shooting him to save her. Let’s just say it’s a good thing I never become a cop.

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The Final Fantasy Legend

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One of my favorite posters I ever hung up in my room was one for the NES Final Fantasy game. Final Fantasy II for SNES quickly became one of my most played games ever, partly for the role-play factor (the Dungeons & Dragons geek in me), but also for offering an mesmerizing storyline that took a Dark Knight turned Paladin from terrestrial worlds and airships all the way to the moon itself! The Final Fantasy Legend for Game Boy, however, with its much slower pace, nameless characters, and lack of a solid storyline, didn’t make as lasting an impression on me, though I did keep playing it, but would oftentimes get bored by the wandering around and battling lame monsters.

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T2: Terminator 2: Judgment Day

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I never made it past level two in this game, in which players have to rewire the terminator into Schwarzenegger with shades. End of story. Before it ever begins.

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What are some of YOUR favorite (and/or least favorite) Game Boy games? Fill ‘em in the comments below.

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The “Word” in Jersey City Last Wednesday was Crowdfunding for Filmmakers

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Last Wednesday, I presented my seminar on “The Keys to Successful Crowdfunding for Filmmakers” at Word Bookstore in Jersey City, NJ. Here are some photos of the event, which went exceptionally well, according to members of the highly engaged crowd of future film funders:

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And yes, I am this animated!

Special thanks to my lovely fiancée Marinell Montales for snapping these awesome shots during the event. I’d also like to thank Word Bookstores for welcoming my words into their shop and for heping to promote, as well as Inside Jersey City (@iJerseyCity on Twitter), The Jersey City Life (@jerseycitylife), and everyone who RTed and “Shared” this event.

And, of course, I’d like to thank the amazing crowd that attended –– after all, without the crowd, where would I be?

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Robots I Can Recall and the Robo Force I Can’t

I’ll be the first to admit it –– I had an amazing childhood.

Being the baby of the family, my Mom, Dad, and siblings always wanted me to have the best. In fact, some of my fondest childhood memories are of family trips to the Toys R Us in the neighboring town of Union City (or is it North Bergen? –– There’s some weird border issues around those two towns) and picking up the latest Transformers or M.A.S.K. toys.

Other times, I’d go with my Dad to the dollar shop across from the Pathmark in Weehawken where my sister worked part-time as a cashier, and I’d spend some of the hard-earned money I made bagging groceries at the back of her aisle on Saturdays.   Spoiled? Perhaps just a little.

But last month while I was searching for some images for one of my upcoming blog posts, I stumbled on this poster:

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I was propelled into my past. I remember sitting Indian-style in my playroom (formerly my brother’s bedroom) at the apartment where I grew twenty-six years tall and strong surrounded by cardboard boxes that once held Löenbräu and Carlo Rossi burgundies and instead held my Masters of the Universe, Star Wars, and Secret Wars action figures, and fumbling around with these awkward-looking suction-cupped robots, with accordion-style arms, stickers on their chests, and ridiculous names like “Coptor” and “Vulgar.” My favorite was Hundred the Conqueror because of his evil slotted red eyes and the hidden guns that lay beneath his visor. I never really liked Maxx Steele the Leader simply because he was the one of the lot who just couldn’t hang upside down –– his suction cup was a bit “sucky” compared to all the rest (I had to…)

I don’t quite recall these bots being my favorite toys; they were a bit effeminate, with Hundred the Conqueror, in particular, looking very much like a bustier version of Rosie from The Jetsons; back then, this would’ve been reason enough to steer clear of the toy line –– during a time when boys were not interested in playing with girl toys; that is girl action figures like April O’Neil from the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Playmates toy line or Wonder Woman from the Super Powers figures by Kenner. However, I did own Teela from Mattel’s Masters of the Universe, which was the closest to owning a Princess Leia figure I ever got back in those days.

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Good ol’ Rosie the Robot from The Jetsons, one of my favorite cartoons growing up.

But the interesting thing is this: I can tell you to this day where I got most of my action figures and vehicles, and oftentimes from whom, too, but I can’t, for the life of me, recall where the heck all of these Robo Force protagonists and antagonists came from! I remember clearly my sister Renee buying me the original first generation Optimus Prime Transformers figure and my Uncle Chris getting me the Millennium Falcon one Christmas in the early ’80s; and I can still see my brother and sister-in-law bribing me down the aisle on their wedding day with a brand new Whiplash figure and unwrapping He-Man’s Talon Fighter at another family gathering around 1885. But these Robo Force figures? I can’t even remember the packaging these things came in, and certainly not the family member who bought them for me.

What’s the deal with robots, you ask? Although I’m a fairly rabid science-fiction fan, robots were something that took me a while to fully appreciate. I mean, I only saw The Day the Earth Stood Still last week. To this day, I’ve yet to watch an episode of Battlestar Galactica even though thanks to some good friends on Facebook I realized that a figurine I’d held onto for years was actually from the original TV series. As a matter of fact, the only TV show I ever watched show that featured a robot was Small Wonder. No Six Million Dollar Man. No Bionic Woman. No Star Trek: The Next Generation until I was much older.

But I am intrigued by the idea of robots, cyborgs, androids, and other forms of artificial intelligence, and even more so now than ever before since our own world is inching closer and closer to making these once staples of science-fiction storytelling an everyday reality. Drones are one thing, but other things like Google Glass and Oculus Rift, which allow the Internet to have an up close and personal seat in our psyches to control at the blink of an eye, is simply one step away from putting that Internet inside of us? Borg, anyone? For me, it’s a little too RoboCop for my comfort.

The only robot I had any remote liking to back in my younger days was C-3PO, and I think it was because, besides Transformers and even the GoBots, Threepio was all-too human deep beneath his golden shell. Then you have robots like the nameless one from Lost in Space, Robby from Forbidden Planet, and the Daleks from Doctor Who, which are not humanoid in any way, but intriguing in shape, function, or even its purpose for existence.

Forbidden Planet (1956)

Forbidden Planet (1956)

So it doesn’t surprise me that I really can’t remember where these Robo Force figures from my younger years had come from. But I do remember playing with them on a somewhat regular basis whenever I tired of my SilverHawks flight laps around the apartment and the Ghostbusters adventures during my weekend visits to my brother’s house in Bergenfield.

And just as I don’t remember where I originally got this particular line of toys from, I also don’t remember how they left me, either. It’s as though they appeared when I needed some robotic buddies most, then exited through the gift shop just as mysteriously as they came.

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So remember that figurine I mentioned earlier? This it is: the small figurine that partially spawned this blog post. Thanks to my friends Ian Dangerfield, Geoff Mosher, and Patrick Boyle, we discovered that it’s an original 2-inch Cylon Centurion figure from Mattel’s Cylon Raider vehicle from 1978 –– the very year I was born.

Here's my Cylon Centurion, which has been with me for as long as I can remember.

Here’s my Cylon Centurion, which has been with me for as long as I can remember.

What vintage toy robots did you grow up with, that you either remember fully or vaguely. I’d love to know!

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A Real Dead Ringer for ‘Loaf: A Brief Look at the Second Helping of Meat

Last month, for #ThrowbackThursday (or #FlashbackFriday), I posted an image of the first CD I ever purchased –– Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell, Meat Loaf’s “follow-up” to his debut album Bat Out of Hell from back in 1977. It spurred on some swell conversations on Twitter between myself and a bunch of other Meat Loaf fans. @RealMeatLoaf even  favorited the photo.

I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all heard the classic songs from the original Bat album –– the evocative seventies sex, love, and rock-and-roll anthem “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”; the melancholy “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”; and, of course, the title track that pits us in the pangs of a one-night stand gone awry.

Then, with the release of Back Into Hell in 1993, the motorcycles revved, the electric axes wailed through a familiar fog yet into an all new ‘90s sensibility with the unforgettable “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” –– and it always baffled me how I seemed to be the only person who understood what it was that Meat and writer/producer Jim Steinman “wouldn’t do” for love.

Once I got through with these two albums, I embarked on a quest to discover what other Meat Loaf albums were in existence. It wasn’t as easy as it is today to discover and even listen to Meat’s entire repertoire with just a few taps of your fingers on a keyboard. Back then I actually had to go from music store to record shop, from Sam Goody and Nobody Beats the Wiz to Bleecker Street Records discover new music on vinyl, CD, or cassette.

And it was on one such trip that I discovered Meat Loaf’s sophomore album, Dead Ringer, released back in 198. One thing that always immediately struck my fancy with Meat Loaf albums were the covers, and this one by noted horror artist Bernie Wrightson was no different –– a macho Fabio kind of cat riding through an ocean and accosted by nymphs or sirens, and the word “Meat Loaf” emblazoned on the sails and carrying the songs through the waters and into our ears. It’s easily one of my favorite covers of all time, one that captures the entire essence of the 1980s era of music, and also resounds with dark allusions to Homer’s Odyssey.

Meat Loaf Dead Ringer

A great album cover is par for the course of a Meat Loaf hit.

Now I didn’t know it back when I first listened to Dead Ringer that it truly was an album of comparable quality to Bat Out of Hell. With lyrics yet again by Steinman, who wrote both Bats in their entirety, and Meat Loaf’s signature sound and flare for the dramatic, I played side A of my cassette tape numerous times before popping it out of the deck, turning it over, and playing side B, which ran through the tape with just as much vigor and heartbreaking guitarmanship as the previous side.

It’s probably been a good seven years since I’ve listened to Dead Ringer, so I recently dug it up on Spotify, and I was instantly reminded of just how solid an album it is. But I also really listened to the lyrics of each song –– I mean really listened to them, with a mind full of different experiences and a more refined sense of  and how beautifully messed up they were, more so than even the most sultry lyric in “Paradise.”

My top four Dead Ringer favorites are “dead ringers” enough of this:

“I’m Gonna Love Her for Both of Us”

As if the title alone doesn’t say enough (or too much), the lyrics themselves go a step further:

And I’ve been closer to you now than any other boy
And you know that what I’m saying is true
You’re gonna break her up and tear her down and fade her away
And then there’s no telling what I’m gonna do

So basically, a guy tells his buddy he’s fed up on how he’s treating his girl. Now, if that isn’t enough, the chorus get’s even more intense:

But if you give me your girl and then you give me your trust
And if you give me till the end of the night
I’m gonna love her for both of us

You turned her into a ghost but she’ll be burning when the night is done

“More Than You Deserve”

This whole song burns with empathy for the main character, who loves a girl, but this girl “makes love” to his best friend. Things escalate to epic proportions when this guy sees her making love “to a group of [his] best friends,” but it also throws it in their faces, too: our narrator ultimately comes out on top, so to speak, when he finds the courage it takes to “look them right in the eyes” and say:

Won’t you take some more it’s what you came for
And don’t mind me I won’t throw you no curse
Go on and have yourself a ball with my good women
Won’t you take some more boys it’s more than you deserve

“I’ll Kill You If You Don’t Come Back”

My favorite lyric in this song happens at the bridge, where the music slows down, becomes a ballad, in which Meat Loaf “blesses” all the different types of high school girls, and out of all of them, there’s just “one girl [he'll] never forget.” (It starts at the 4:02 mark in the above video, though much of it’s power comes from listening to the entire song.)

“Read ‘Em and Weep”

The most heartbreakingly beautiful ballad since “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad,” and we’ve all been here before, but Jim’s lyrics, coupled with Meat Loaf’s painfully honest rendering of these lyrics make this song a heartache and a half, putting into words the fact that some feelings just can’t be put into words:

If I could only find the words then I would write it all down
If I could only find a voice I would speak
Oh it’s there in my eyes, oh can’t you see me tonight
C’mon and look at me and read ‘em and weep

F-A25A2T

It’s funny –– when I was younger, I remember listening to the lyrics of “Bat Out of Hell” and envisioning an epic scene about a motorcycle jacket-clad hero who rides his bike, crashes and is “dying at the bottom of a pit in the blazing sun,” and all that. And perhaps that’s really what the imagery Steinman and Meat Loaf want us to envision. But why was he trying to escape “like a bat out of hell,” hmm? Same reason the guy and gal in “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” go back and forth in the sexual scoring metaphor of a baseball game: guy wants girl; girl wants guy to promise forever else guy won’t get girl’s “forever”; so guy either says “I do” and tries for the hit and run. Wash, rinse, and repeat.

One other thing I couldn’t help notice about Bat Out of Hell and Dead Ringer is that they both follow essentially the exact same track format. The heavy growling opener (“Bat Out of Hell”/“Peel Out”); the sultry siren song (“You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth”/“I’m Gonna Love Her For Both of Us”); the soft-spoken ballad (“Heaven Can Wait”/“More Than You Deserve”); then we kickstart back to a bit of fast-paced action (“All Revved Up with No Place to Go”/“I’ll Kill You If You Don’t Come Back”) before going all rock ballad again (“Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”/“Read ‘Em and Weep”); and disregarding “Nocturnal Pleasure” as an intro to “Dead Ringer for Love” the way the whole “On a Hot Summer Night” bit introduces us to “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth”, there’s the duet (“Paradise By the Dashboard Light”/”Dead Ringer for Love”); and finally, we end with a heartfelt, thoughtful closer (“For Crying Out Loud, You Know I Love You”/“Everything is Permitted”).

Hey, if it ain’t broke, then it might just be a dead ringer for success.

Meat Loaf 2

And for those of you who aren’t aware, Meat Loaf is still churning out the rock & roll tunes, and he’s also not holding back on the crazy lyrics. Here’s one of my favorites off one of his more recent studio albums from a song called “California Isn’t Big Enough”:

I can barely fit my dick in my pants
Come and lend me your hand
With my
Forthcoming release
Because
California isn’t big enough for me

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So what’s your favorite crazy Meat Loaf (or any) song lyric? Fill ‘em up in the comments section, folks!

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What Exactly Is a “Hipster Noir,” You Ask?

Well, I’m happy to report that I’m finally able to tell you all what exactly a “hipster noir” is, now that I’ve finished the brief synopsis of my very first supernatural, metaphysical mystery novel.

What started out as a series of comic character sketches back in May of 2013 during my morning commute to work somehow took form and became my very first 60,000-word novel by January of 2014. I had been calling it Hipster Noir, mainly because my main character, a private eye named Sebastian Holden, was inspired by a noired-up fellow I saw while waiting for a table at Otto in NYC. He was dressed like an old school detective, complete with trench coat and matching hat. The only thing that struck me as off-kilter was his great bushy beard, straight out of a day trip to Williamsburg (or, these days, Jersey City).

If Fred McMurray here had a grizzly beard, he'd be a dead ringer for Sebastian Holden, P.I..

If m’man Fred McMurray here had a grizzly beard, he’d be a dead ringer for Sebastian Holden, P.I..

After a bit of crowdsourcing for a more proper subtitle for the actual story being told, I settled on a title that I think captures the mood, tone and quirky flare of Hipster Noir –– The Muddled Mystery of the Murdered Muse. Special thanks to my Twitter pals @ABOVEtheLine, @fuegopazzo, and @peacepumpkinpic for some amazing suggestions and brainstormings on Twitter.

And now, here’s the official “Story in Brief” lifted from the proposal I’ve been putting together:

Blending nuances of noir with geek subculture in a supernatural, metaphysical mystery, Hipster Noir introduces us to the queerest holistic detective since Dirk Gently –– Sebastian Holden, P.I., a Jersey City hipster whose host of fine-honed skills helps him crack even the most cryptic of cases, like “The Muddled Mystery of the Murdered Muse.” When muse for hire Annie Hathaway is murdered, the fuzz quickly pins the rap on her spoken word-spouting boyfriend in Williamsburg. But Sebastian’s trusty gut instinct tells him there’s more to this mystery than meets even his third eye, and he thrusts himself head-first into a bizarre Universe teeming with vampire cabals, orange-blooded androids from tomorrow, and a haunted beach house that holds a dark secret, which just might be the key to solving Sebastian’s most perplexing case yet.

With a sundry cast of unconventional champions and supernatural scoundrels that includes a suicidal vampire, a world-jumping monkey-spanker, Death, and The Devil himself, plus boatloads of Bogartian banter and enough esoteric references to superheroes, indie flicks, and Castlevania to sink your battleship, The Muddled Mystery of the Murdered Muse will prove a hell of a whodunit that will scramble minds, steal hearts, and leave its readers eagerly anticipating further misadventures of the strangest P.I. this or any Universe has probably never heard of.

What do you think? Sound like something you’d be interested in reading?

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