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Crusaders of the Heart: Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman, You and I

Yeah, I did it. It was partly an impulse buy at one of three shops worth its weight in gold in Hoboken, New Jersey, and it was partly because of my fond nostalgia for the artist that I picked up his latest album that fateful day early in 2017, though the album had been out since September, 2016.

Nope, I’m not talking about Tom Waits, and I don’t mean Eddie and the boys of Pearl Jam, either.

I’m talking about the most dramatic singer and performer this side of a three-penny opera as reimagined in Baz Lurman lighting and a fast knob-flick turning up of the bass.

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That’s right –– I’m talking about Meat Loaf!

I walked into Tunes that day and picked up some vintage Springsteen for the “Nice Price” of $2.99, and I stepped back after my purchase, thinking to myself “let me see if there’s any old Meat Loaf in the stacks. And there I saw it, its bold yellow cover art screaming “danger, Will Robinson!” with all the power of Sinestro’s ring of Fear, yet at the same time, strangely inviting, like a yolk that’s burst from the egg’s center and frying in the pan because you didn’t over easy it easy enough.

I didn’t buy it then, that’s the worst part. I thought about it all night and it’s $12.99 brand new price tag. I hit up the Google machine for an hour or so before bed, reading articles about Braver Than We Are, and two things hit me: First, all the songs were written by Meat Loaf’s long time collaborator Jim Steinman, who wrote Meat’s greatest hits Bat Out of Hell (1977) and Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell (1993), as well as seven or so of the songs on Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster is Loose (2006), though this third installment swerves severely from the alternating fornications of fast and furious and forlorn and lost that made its predecessors the masterpieces they are. Second, I read about the cover of the album in this article from Ultimate Classic Rock, and Meat Loaf explains in it how the Four Horsemen (Cyclemen?) of the Apocalypse represent the music industry, and it’s up to Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman to battle them and save the music world from total annihilation. At closer examination, and being a super fan of Meat Loaf in my youth, I realized that the motorcycles the Horsemen ride upon were the same hellbound hogs featured on all of the covers of some of his other classic albums he and Jim had worked on together, namely the Bat Out of Hell Trilogy and Meat Loaf’s second album Dead Ringer (1981), which you can read more about from yours truly here, since I think it’s their most underrated collaboration and a fantastical followup to 1977’s Bat Out of Hell.

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And here’s that amazing cover art for Braver Than We Are by Julie Bell.

So, the following day, and after a good night’s rest, I journeyed back to Tunes and swiped my credit card and took Braver Than We Are to my car, unwrapped it, then slipped the CD into my car’s player and listened to the first track, which was supposed to have been included on Bat Out of Hell. Well, my initial thought was it’s a damn good thing that it wasn’t.

“Who Needs the Young” starts out with a blues riff that quickly decides it doesn’t want to be a blues riff, and instead adopts the guise of a 1950s doo-wop bop, invoking sad reveries of crashed muscle cars, flaming vintage leather Schotts, and various scenes in Back to the Future, spilling “Tears on My Pillow” into the sewers littered with the careless blood of youth and empty glass bottles of Coke. And then, like a brokendown American classic that refuses to be run into the ground even after 100,000 miles, the song shifts its gears yet again into something out of a Bertolt Brecht play, dark and stormy rhythms cut to pieces once Meat Loaf’s… voice?! –– enters the fray. Yes, it is Meat Loaf’s voice, but it’s like nothing I’d ever heard before. It’s no secret that musicians who start out singing soprano or tenor end up baritones or bass at best, with scratches on the vinyl of their vocal chords, making everyone sound a bit like old Tom Frost or the later years Leonard Cohen. But I just didn’t expect it from Meat Loaf, whose voice was so recognizable in songs like “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” and “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” and even its debut in the 1975 cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show with the song “Hot Patootie (Whatever Happened to Saturday Night?” and I had read in that same Ultimate Classic Rock article I believe that his voice was different, and according to Steinman, it’s what his voice should’ve been in all their albums.

Don’t get me wrong –– I’m not saying it’s bad, it’s just different. Jarring. Unnerving, even, and by the time “Who Needs the Young” ended, I didn’t know how to feel. I gave the second track a listen –– the eleven-minute-and-change anthem “Going All The Way,” which is a song in six movements, and just when I expected a more classic Meat Loaf sound, there was that same crumpled construction paper voice again, like he’d swallowed one of Jim’s earlier drafts of the song and was only now conjuring it up from his very bowels in the recording studio. Believe me, I know how this sounds. It sounds like I don’t like this album. That I’m upset that I went all the way back to Tunes to pick it up for two bucks on top of a Hamilton. (Three bucks if you count the 99 cents.) That this is my first (and only) music review.

Well, it’s none of these. See, I got through those two songs and a little bit into the third track, “Speaking in Tongues,” and then I found myself tapping the arrow on my Pioneer car radio twice to get back to the start of track two. And for a week straight, I went all the way with “Going All the Way.” I listened to it over and over again. It helps that the car ride from my apartment in Jersey City Heights to my fiancée’s (yeah, we don’t live together yet) downtown takes close to eleven minutes with a moderate amount of traffic. And the more I heard it –– Jim’s lyrics sung harrowingly through Meat Loaf’s new broken baritone, blessing each strained syllable with newfound melodrama; Ellen Foley and Karla DeVito’s dueling backups causing a ruckus in the heavens; and what seems like a damned choir in the background, particularly during the “Say a Prayer” segment of the song –– I started appreciating the entire composition all the more. It’s very much a piece of musical theater than a single song sung on an album, and as a closet enthusiast and proud owner of both the original Broadway recording and “The Complete Work” of Jekyll & Hyde, I’m no stranger to gothic musicals.

And while this blog post is not a music review, and I won’t be going through every song on the album, mainly because I only got through all ten tracks for the first time as I was writing this piece, I will say that it’s not all gothic, but with four out of ten tracks having featured female vocalists, it does have that big Broadway musical feel throughout the bulk of the disc. And sometimes it works brilliantly, as in “Going All the Way” and especially in the humorously titled “Loving You Is a Dirty Job (But Somebody’s Gotta Do It)” which invokes the kind of fatal attraction and the mixing of amorous chemicals that makes “Paradise By the Dashboard Light” such a 104.3 classic rock song. Other times, like in “Skull Of Your Country” which incorporates the “Turn around, bright eyes” lyric from Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (they are Jim’s lyrics, after all, written in 1969, way back before the iconic go-to karaoke duet number hit the charts in ’83), it does not, since you can’t help but want to start singing “every now and then I fall apart.” But it’s songs like that that show the importance of not taking oneself too seriously. There’s even a fun little part where Jim gets meta, referencing a well-known line from his other Bat-classic “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” that made me laugh out loud when I heard it in the song “Souvenirs,” which was also supposed to have been included on that same seminal late ’70s album.

So why am I going on and on about Meat Loaf’s latest album, you ask? Well, truth be told, I needed a blog post to write for the month of January so I could start 2017 off right. No, not really. Going back to the song “Going All the Way,” I found something interesting. I had been listening to only this song for a for about a week at least, and then a strange thing started happening to me. By movement four (or maybe it’s movement five), once Meat Loaf, Ellen, and Karla get to sing the “Say a Prayer” part of the song, well, I found myself getting a little emotional in the car as I was driving. Once I had learned the lyrics to the song, I would sing them loudly in my Scion as I sped down Palisade and then Newark Avenues. But it got to a point that once “Say a prayer for those who crawl” came out of my speakers, the words would slip right back down my throat and not be given a chance to soar. I was getting choked up. The words were quite literally sticking in my throat, and I couldn’t explain it. So I’d hit pause on my own vocals and let the trio take over. Then I’d try again with a random of “say a prayer for…” lyric. By the time I’d get to who or what the prayer was for, my voice would crack again, and I’d feel that somewhat unfamiliar heaviness you get when you watch a movie with a strong father and son moment in it like Click or Sing or something. (Okay, maybe that’s a bit too specific to me, but you get the idea.)

Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman, back in the day.

Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman, back in the day.

Whatever the reason, it’s bizarre. I mean, the lyrics, they’re quite beautiful (and long! –– If I knew how to anchor text, I’d probably not include one just so you still read the actual lyrics anyway), and here they are:

Say a prayer for those who crawl
Say a prayer for those who run
Say a prayer so all in all
There’s a better life to come

Say a prayer for those alone
Say a prayer for those apart
All the golden boys and girls
The crusaders of the heart

Say a prayer for all the lost
Say a prayer for the unborn
Say a prayer for all the young
It takes a fire to keep them warm

Say a prayer for those obsessed
Say a prayer for those enslaved
Say a prayer to beat the drums
From the cradle to the grave

Say a prayer for all the saints
Say a prayer for all the sins
Let the dancing never end
Let the future now begin

Say a prayer to all the gods
Some are near and some are far
Say a prayer to all the gods
To make us braver than we are

Reading them now, it got me thinking. We all do so much for things that ultimately, in the Grand Scheme of all existence, just don’t matter all that much. We go to work, we commute home; we commit ourselves to things we just don’t want to do; we spread ourselves thin, stress ourselves toward an early flatline for no good reason, because whatever will happen will come to pass with or without our suffering. We battle our own Horsemen day in and day out, and sometimes all it takes to sooth our tortured spirits is a nice home-cooked meal from the one  you love, and whom loves you with all the essence of their being. Or kicking back playing some Space Invaders with your best buds over some craft beers. Sitting –– truly sitting –– still to silence the mind long enough for it to connect to the heart once more.

And it’s that phrase in Jim’s lyrics, “Crusaders of the Heart,” that I think hits me the most, makes the tears want to burst right through my eyes. Not because I’m sad, but because there’s so much love out there. (And a lot of hatred, anger, jealousy, stupidity, and all those other not-so-positive emotions, too, of course –– ’cause without them, we wouldn’t understand or appreciate love, so stop praying for a perfect world already!) Real love. The kind of love we all are crusading after every day in our own unique snowflake sorta ways. The type of love that’s essentially nothing more than a tiny seed from which some greater happiness might sprout and grow, if only we nurture and care for it the Right Way.

Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman, closer to today.

Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf, closer to today.

I’ve written this piece after good day’s work for someone else. This blog post is the start of at least one evening’s blip of happiness. Sending my fiancée our favorite new emoji seemingly out of the blue is another. Going to the Friggin Fabulous open mic night on Tuesday nights and having a Brooklyn Blast double IPA waiting for me at the bar, then reciting some of my spoken word is yet another. Now what about you? What are you doing today or tonight or this coming weekend to make sure your crusade for love comes from the heart? That you’re “going all the way” for? Because, as Jim writes and Meat Loaf sings, “going all the way is just the start.”

And yes, I know this song is really probably just another sex anthem, “a catchy cousin to ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’,” as Jim Farber from EW.com writes, but that’s love, too, and we can all find deeper meaning in just about anything. We simply have to stop, listen, and look around once in a while.

Or we might miss it.

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Thanks for reading my first blog post of 2017, everyone! It’s a bit long, but this year I’m going to be writing 100% the kind of blog posts that I want to write, which I hope will be worth your time reading. If not (or if so), let me know in the comments below.

So… is anyone else listening to the new Meat Loaf album…?

[Crickets.]

 

A Writer’s Manual: How Nintendo’s Booklets Instructed the Writer Inside

When I was a novice sapling of a writer back in the late eighties to mid-nineties, I drew a lot of inspiration from video games. Not from video games per se, as I would play my NES and Super NES consoles as a means of relaxing after a particularly rough day at the blackboard or connecting with my Dad over about 25 or 30 phases of The Original Mario Bros.. No, it was the instruction manuals. I would read these little booklets that came with the game paks cover to cover, marveling at the colorful imagery of The Legend of Zelda or Knights of the Round, a little-known side scrolling Arthurian adventure game for the Super NES from back in 1994. More than the imagery, I was taken by the background stories, character descriptions, and weaponry that was frequently featured in these little rectangular booklets, as it not only opened up the word of their respective games to my young mind, but also opened my mind itself to the possibility of telling stories like these one day.

This is the only instruction manual I still own today.

This is the only instruction manual I still own today.

With that, and thanks to the awesome web resource gamesdatabase.org, here are the five most influential Nintendo instruction manuals that helped me develop as a writer.

ActRaiser (SNES)
The first time I wrote about ActRaiser was as this post about how playing the game taught me about how to be humble and help others. In terms of the actual manual, and aside from the many gorgeously painted illustrations revealing the backstory, the ActRaiser manual came complete with an area map, and to this day I love maps of mystical lands and worlds that don’t exist, but could exist.

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The ActRaiser instruction manual, along with a couple of the others listed below, was a major influence in my writing a five-act play when I was fifteen called Ordeal of Love, which was part one of a trilogy of plays under the auspices of the “Jonathan Gracco Saga,” which by today’s standards would be a G-rated version of Game of Thrones, which would basically just be Dragon’s Lair. Think Shakespeare’s Henry VI, parts I – III, but more enjoyable despite also being written in iambic pentameter –– yes, I had a lot of time on my hands back then!

Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (NES)
From the first moment I saw the image of Count Dracula’s fangs soaking in a glass of water like my Dad used to soak his false teeth in a glass of water he kept in the fridge (TMI?), I was hooked! But this game fascinated me from the start because it was the first multi-player action/adventure side-scroller I’d every encountered, and I loved how the instruction manual dives briefly into each of their backstories. The most interesting one of them was that of Alucard, Dracula’s son, who would go on to become the main playable character in 1997’s Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

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Trevor Belmont, Alucard, and the rest of the cast of characters in the third installment of Konami’s hit vampire hunting action/adventure game would inspire me to write a series of Castlevania fan fictions (I wrote about this once before, so you can read it here), which got me started as a writer.

Final Fantasy II (SNES)
In a nutshell, what drew me to read this manual numerous times was the detail in the story, up until the characters blast off to the moon (whoops! spoiler alert!) I also enjoyed the fact that much of the “illustrations” were simply the 16-bit imagery from the SNES game itself. It was quite different from all of the other instruction manuals I had paged through at the time, except for the Super Star Wars trilogy, which also exclusively used 16-bit graphics as their main illustrations.

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For me, interesting characters make or break a story, more so than a convoluted or ingeniously contrived plot. And as I played Final Fantasy II and read over this manual, it was the characters and their backstories that made me want to play more. And which made me want to create characters like these, too, because what it made me realize, even at that young age, was that my characters were little more than two-dimensional caricatures controlled by a higher power –– this writer’s will and whims –– and not by their own choices and actions.

Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters (Game Boy)
I’m Greek, so of course Kid Icarus was bound to make an appearance in some form or another. I never owned the original NES classic when I was a kid, but for some reason I did make my Dad buy me the Game Boy sequel Of Myths and Monsters. The instruction booklet featured anime-esque illustrations throughout the instruction booklet, some a bit less detailed than others, but what I was more interested in at the time was that people like Pythagoras, described as “…a lively old man who throws equilateral triangles,” were making some appearances. Uh, sold!

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Whether non-fictional like the man who discovered the Pythagorean theorem, or fictional (what is an Eggplant Wizard, anyway?), it was these peculiar characters that would work their way through the gears of my mind, and the fact that many of them were based on Greek mythology, that got me working on poetry about mythology.

Metroid (NES)
If there was one booklet that lives in my Mother Brain in vidid detail, it would be the instruction manual for Metroid. (And the one for Game Boy’s Metroid II: The Return of Samus, too.) Although I must say I do have a pet peeve here; this is one booklet that is probably the most inconsistent of all the manuals I’ve ever read through, art-wise. There can be a very cartoony rendition of our main character on one page, and then, right on the next page, one of the most awesome and iconic depictions of her.

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But by the time we get to the descriptions and depictions of the enemies of Planet SR388, all is forgiven, for these are some of the greatest illustrations of any Nintendo manual around, not to mention some of the most creative, creepy, and downright disturbing baddies I’ve ever seen.

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The characters of Metroid have definitely inspired a few of my own sci-fi stories and characters that I haven’t quite gotten around to putting down into any medium just yet, though I have worked something of it into my comic Siren’s Calling. This is not directly based on Metroid or even science fiction –– as a matter of fact, it’s more connected to Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters with its Classical mythology angle –– but the concept of a strong female protagonist, which is what Samus Aran is in Metroid, and exactly what Lorie Lye is in my graphic novel. More so, I’ve got at least two other stories with strong women leading the charge, which I can’t wait to put my prowess to and write up.

Honorable Mention: The Goonies II (NES)
I’m adding this one other game for a couple reasons. First, for it’s connection to the 1985 Richard Donner classic, but also because even though, like Metroid, I couldn’t even get past the first boss stage of this game, I spent hours reading and rereading all of the cool pictures of weapons included in this particular Konami instruction manual. And it was the first time I learned what a molotov cocktail was. (Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, we may never know!)

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There are many more Nintendo manuals I could site, from Top Secret Episode: Golgo 13 (NES), Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge and Double Dragon (Game Boy) to Super Mario World (SNES) which all aided in sparking ideas about characters, plots, and overall premises of the stories I would ultimately be telling or will tell in the near future. But it was these that really piqued my interest in telling stories.

Why I never thought to become a writer for video games, one may never know.

 

What video game manuals do you remember paging through numerous times, whether marveling at the illustrations and stories or simply learning the gameplay? List them in the comments!

UnM.A.S.K.ed: Following the Condor

Let’s face it, in all of the M.A.S.K. mythology, Thunderhawk may have been the must-have vehicle of the franchise, but it was the little neon green motorcycle-turned-helicopter codenamed Condor that captured the cool factor and would lift many a child into a brave new world where illusion is the ultimate weapon.

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Box pic courtesy of albertpenello.com/mask, the best M.A.S.K. resource out there.

This isn’t the first post about this classic eighties toy line and cartoon (you can read my first one at my Medium page here), and it won’t be my last, since I’m about to start a crusade to get Hasbro and/or IDW Publishing’s attention so they’ll read my book proposal for UnM.A.S.K.ed: The Komplete History of the Mobile Armored Strike Kommand in Toys, Television, and Today. I figured I’d start with a quick piece on one of my personal favorite vehicles: Condor, with its yellow clad rock star pilot and M.A.S.K. agent Brad Turner and his mask, Hocus Pocus.

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Now, for those of you who’ve never had the privilege of experiencing this action-packed cartoon, which ran from 1985 – ’86, it’s a true classic, right up there with TransformersG.I. Joe, and Silverhawks. Okay, probably not Silverhawks, but that’s another of my personal favorites, though it’s a tad too similar to its progenitor and more successful brethren, ThunderCats. Anyhow, M.A.S.K. pitted the titular team, their super-powered masks and mild-mannered vehicles that transformed into weapons against the Vicious Evil Network Of Mayhem, or V.E.N.O.M., for short. Each week the dastardly plots of Miles Mayhem were foiled by Matt Trakker and his highly trained Mobile Armored Strike Kommand. And yes, you guessed it –– the cartoon was a way to market and sell more toys, and it worked like a charm, at least for a time.

Condor was an inexpensive (around $6 back in 1985) way in to the toy line for most kids, being that the vehicle itself was a sleek motorcycle which quickly converted into a helicopter in three simple motions. As if the eighties neon green paint job didn’t make Condor cool enough, Brad Turner plays the guitar in a rock band when he’s not called to action by Matt and the gang, and he seems to always wear shades. The figure was no different.

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As a seven-year old kid, I remember owning Condor, but somehow I never owned Brad Turner, which is very strange being that Brad comes with the motorcycle! Or perhaps I did own him at one time, and he must have gotten lost somewhere. Apparently it happened a lot to me as a kid –– Here’s a piece I wrote a while back about misplacing my black costume Secret Wars Spider-Man, which I think I’m still scarred from and subconsciously searching for in my dreams.

It’s only fitting then that Condor (complete with Brad Turner) marks the first M.A.S.K. vehicle in what would seem to be my 2.0 collection. See, back when I was around sixteen years old or so, I started this thing called “growing up,” taking interest in music, playing the guitar, hanging out at the corner shop sipping quarter juices with my headbanger friends, and such. So one day kicked all of my favorite toys to the curb except for select ones that had extra special meaning to me, like my original Star Wars action figures. Sadly, my TransformersSilverHawks, He-Man, and yes, most regrettably my massive collection of M.A.S.K. toys were all coffined in their boxes and left for the garbage man or any less fortunate kids who happened to pass by Liberty Place and wanted to lug them to their homes. (I like to think someone did.)

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It doesn’t get any cooler, or more eighties, than Brad Turner.

I’ve carried this weight with me ever since –– like the titular Mariner, who shot and killed an albatross that was flying over his ship in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. (Actually, let’s stick with the eighties theme here: Listen to this interpretation by Iron Maiden instead.)

Now, I mentioned that I “started” growing up because I never really finished. Around that same time, give or take a year or two, Kenner (purchased by Hasbro in 1991) unveiled its Star Wars: The Power of the Force actin figure line, and I began collecting them. All of them! Today, I’m doing something similar, but with what are now classified as vintage toys. I’m hunting down M.A.S.K. vehicles across the Ebay expanse in an attempt to (slowly) piece a new collection. (I’ll keep you posted on the progress; since the writing of this piece about Condor, I’ve acquired my second vehicle –– codenamed Piranha!)

Appropriately, Condor marks my first foray into this revisited world of M.A.S.K. and its very cool and practically cult toy line. And though I still have no recollection of ever owning Brad Turner himself, I’m reveling in this near mint, short mask (early figures came with short masks, later ones with slightly larger ones to prevent kids from choking if swallowed) as a strong start to what will hopefully mimic the grandeur of my original collection that I remember with verve and childlike enthusiasm.

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The don’t make aviators like those anymore!

Until next time, tell me: What was your first M.A.S.K. action figure you remember owning (or your first action figure in general)?

Published: In Print or Online (A Meditation)

I struggle a little everyday with something.

It’s something that in the Grand Scheme of It All isn’t worth struggling with. You might say after reading this “Trig, look to the future, man!” and you’d be 1,000% right! Maybe it’s my five years studying to get a BA in creative writing, plus another two years at Brooklyn College earning my Master’s in writing poetry (’cause you need an MFA to write poetry), but whenever I get something published, it’s still a bigger deal to me when it’s published in print versus online.

Some of my proudest moments in print publication.

Some of my proudest moments in print publication.

Perhaps it’s as if by publishing a poem of mine in a print publication like the dozens I have on my shelves, someone is saying that my work is worth paying money to impress onto a page for sale at brick and mortar Barnes and Nobles across the country. Or maybe it’s that’s some editor sitting behind piles and piles of unsolicited manuscripts has sifted through the sop to discover a bioluminescent fish miles below the surface of Poetry and New Yorker verse which lighted on a treasure chest filled not with doubloons but a single sheet of poetry preserved until that deep-diving editor happened upon it.

But why would that be important? Why should it be important?

I find myself asking this question a lot lately. I recently got word from The Good Men Project that my poem “At Closing Time” is up on their site. And that’s awesome! What’s more awesome is that it’s not the first poem I’ve had published on this site; my classic spoken word piece “Old ’89” and “The Naked Kiss” which I’d written after watching Samuel Fuller’s 1964 classic of the same name, were also published at The Good Men Project. But after having it printed in Iodine Poetry Journal –– my favorite print magazine of poetry –– having “At Closing Time” –– my favorite poem I’ve ever written –– online didn’t feel as much of a big deal as it should have. Same for “Old ’89,” which was first published in Harpur Palate, Volume 8, Issue 1). But I was pretty stoked when “The Naked Kiss” was published online, partially because I never actually submitted that poem to any print publications.

Here’s the thing: I look at my aforementioned bookshelf where I keep journals like Iodine Poetry JournalConcho River ReviewThe Chaffin Journal, and the many others (I had to get up for a moment and walk to that shelf to look up the names of them all), and I wonder to myself: Who else has a copy of these wonderful print publications featuring my poems, and the poetry of talented other poets and writers like me? Truth be told, it’s not many. Probably some of the more hardcore poetry aficionados, maybe? Certainly a few Ph.Ded professors who actually still have subscriptions to Poetry Salzburg and Pennsylvania English. When you get a piece published in print, the best you can do to share is snap a pic of the cover or even the piece itself and post it to Instragram, then send folks to where they have to pay $8 to $12 for a copy of the magazine or journal. In today’s world, that’s two too many steps to ask of people.

A great image chosen by The Good Men Project to capture "At Closing Time."

A great image chosen by The Good Men Project to capture “At Closing Time.”

But online? Having something published online opens us writers up to an audience of infinite potential readers. With the click of a share button, I (and you) can send my poem to Twitter, Facebook, heck, even Pinterest if you know how to really use it, and possibly uncover more readers than you ever thought you could –– if the piece is quality enough to stand out from the countless others being shared every day.

I will say, though, that the Activia ad a mere inch below my heartrending closing of “At Closing Time” does spoil the catharsis slightly for me –– hopefully it won’t spoil it for you.

You don’t get that in print, either.

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What do you think about publishing in print versus online?

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Taking a Leap of Faith with “The World’s First True Public Radio” – Anchor

I’m a fan of social media, as most of you know. Lots of you follow my crowdfunding tweets, my inspirational update videos on Facebook. Some of you even repin my pins on Pinterest. (Boy, say that three times fast!)

Recently, I’ve discovered a new app –– Anchor, which is a voice-based platform that allows you to record two-minute “waves” and share them with your following. I first learned about it from this piece that Gary Vaynerchuk posted about it, so I immediately dove into and started listening. It would be a full week of this, and replying to other people’s waves, before I finally recorded my #firstwave.

It’s been about three weeks, and I’ve been having the best time I’ve had in a while with social media because of Anchor. I’m meeting some amazing and inspiring people. I’m replying to a lot of questions of the day, and I’m sharing everything from my own #QotD to advice on crowdfunding (my professional expertise), lines from poems I love, and opinions, breif stories, and things like this:

Most importantly, I’m interacting in a way that I haven’t interacted in a long time on social media. Twitter, Facebook, and even Instagram have all become more about me putting value out to an audience (and believe me, I’m humbled and honored that people have allowed me the privilege of doing this), but I’ve been getting less and less inclined to want to genuinely converse on these platforms. Anchor has proven different for me.

For me, it’s in the voice, really. Even when I simply listen to other wavers waves, I pay more attention. I’ve tried the broadcast apps like Periscope and Meerkat, and I focus too much on how terrible my background looks or the quality of the lighting (I like my rooms dark, my stories darker) when these platforms are supposed to be raw. With Anchor, I can record anytime, anywhere, and the message and meaning carries through my voice alone, which is closest to the medium I love most: Words.

How about you? Are you #makingwaves on Anchor yet? If so, what do you think about it so far? What’s the lure for you?

Hmm… actually, let me ask this a different way, and give you a more refreshing way to reply, so you can try it out firsthand!

Happy Leap Day, everybody!

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Hitting The Writer’s Block (And Breaking Right On Through It)

In all my nearly twenty years as a poet and writer, I’ve never believed in writer’s block.

writers_block

And this isn’t a piece expounding on how I suddenly found myself staring into the blank Microsoft Word document glowing back on my laptop, how my fingers froze, or how some unfelt before fear from the Great Beyond had turned on the faucet and I started sweating profusely.

No, I still don’t believe in writer’s block.

But it believes in me, and it almost hit me nonetheless. Hard.

As many of you probably know, since March of 2013, I’ve been writing a series of mystery novels under the auspices of “Hipster Noir” on the PATH train during my morning and evening commute to work. Three novels later, over 200,000 words, and one proposal to pitch them all to an agent or publisher, I’m still going strong with my fourth novel, The Curious Case of Tomorrow (Or, The Trouble with Time Travel).

But this fourth novel, which is a direct continuation of the third, the way Quantum of Solace is a continuation of Casino Royale, started making me second guess some things. I would still get on the PATH train from Grove Street in Jersey City to the World Trade Center stop on the other side of the Hudson, and my fingers would still go to work with my iPhone music library shuffling between Tom Waits and Gin Wigmore, with an occasional Lykke Li ballad or Pearl Jam anthem cutting in over the seven-minute or so ride.

This time, however, felt different.

I knew that I was really searching blindly for a spark. Now I can’t get too detailed here because I’d have to divulge what my fourth novel is all about, and I haven’t even published any of the first ones yet, but this was the first time over the course of almost thirty-six months that the writing was not yielding anything that I was getting truly excited about, the way the first three novels had done.

Nonetheless, I kept going. I kept writing every morning and evening, just like I’d done for nearly three years. The only difference was that instead of having my characters, story, and all its plot twists, McGuffins and organically sprout from within, I was actively searching for that spark, yet never thinking to admit that I may have finally found what no writer has ever actively searched for:

The Writer’s Block. And yes, I capitalize it like a proper noun ‘cause it deserves a proper level of respect. Anything that pushes us to become better writers does.

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The way I see it, we are the ones who create the Writer’s Block, by pouring out so much of who we are and what we are in our writing. At one point, we run out of things to write. But as Tom Waits sings, “you build it up, you wreck it down…” in a song appropriately titled “Hold On,” that’s exactly I did. I gave it form, shaped the shapeless into something that, in time, and once I found its weakness, I could hope to break right through.

Back to my Curious Case of Tomorrow. Amid my searching within not one, but two separate timelines that this new novel has split into; after figuring out that what I was writing this time around was no longer a mystery novel, but a science-fiction spaghetti western (if there’s even such a thing); when I finally surprised myself one day riding that iron horse through those morning and evening tunnels humming with the electricity of possibility, I knew I had finally blasted right through that ‘Block.

I had found my voice. Again.

Then I realized that it wasn’t the first time this ever happened, but it was the first time I became aware of it’s happening. And I dealt with it.

The Writer’s Block isn’t a stumbling block, it’s an uncarved block. It doesn’t necessarily have to stop your creativity. It’s not the blank page we stare blankly at, but the page that stares at us and pushes us to shut up our minds and write anything, which proves to be the most frightening thing for us writers –– to write without purpose. Without saying anything.

Writing for the sake of writing. Of calling ourselves writers.

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The Uncarved Block, or Pu, as Taoist abstract art.

But at least we’re writing, and in doing so, we’re showing that ‘Block whose boss.

Not enough of us do this. We hit the ‘Block and we wait for the right words. We complain about it on Facebook. We may go out with our friends to forget about that blank stare for a few hours. And each of these may actually work (or seem to work) to get you back on track.

But to find the right words, you’ve got to write down the words. It’s the Taoist principle of Pu –– the Uncarved Block. Though this particular tenet tells us we should let the world carve us into what it wants. From a writerly perspective, we simply need to start with a vague idea and the raw materials of what needs to be said and then hack out the words that don’t add to it. This way, all we’re left with are the ones that do work, and which will resonate and be remembered long after they’re read.

They’ll also be the ones that will remind us why we started writing in the first place.

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Calling All Trigonauts! (‘Cause “Trigonaut” Sounds Cooler Than “Intern”)

The time has come for expansion, and I cannot do it alone!

As many of you probably know, I’ve been putting out crowdfunding advice for filmmakers and various other content creators and storymakers for over five years. Ever since I successfully crowdfunded my short film Cerise, I’ve been mentoring crowdfunding filmmakers and content creators in the fine art of online fundraising through Twitter, via my book Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, and exclusively for Indiegogo. But there’s so much more I want to do, mostly by way of content creation and various new ways of distributing that content and knowledge (Meerkat and Periscope, anyone?), so I’m looking for a Trigonaut –– an fellow explorer –– to work with me, to learn about and explore the chartered and unchartered realms of crowdfunding for independent film, and to help create more top quality content so that we, together, can keep the “indie” in independent film and make sure that creators are crowdfunding using only the best tools, advice and insights available.

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So here’s what I’m looking for, specifically:

QUALIFICATIONS / “A PARTICULAR SET OF SKILLS”
– Writing and editing (basic grammar and usage skills)
– Strong interest in crowdfunding, particularly for film (or creative projects)
– Graphic design (skills in Adobe Creative Suite, mainly Photoshop and InDesign)
– Editing content for social media that’s on-brand
– Organizational abilities
– Creativity and wit
– Speed (ability to execute tasks quickly)

REC’D (BUT NOT REQ’D)
– Owns a DSLR (or similar camera) and microphone
– Video editing skills (proficiency in either Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere)
– A moderate knowledge of digital advertising (Google AdWords, Facebook Ads / “dark posts”, etc.)
– Listens to The #AskGaryVee Show religiously

JOB DESCRIPTION / “TO BOLDLY GO WHERE NO [TRIGONAUT] HAS GONE BEFORE”
– Outreach (to film festivals for speaking gigs, blogs / movie websites, etc.)
– Writing content for Medium (will be credited as guest writer under my personal culture / branding
– Content creation (if we go the Gary Vee route; TBD)
– Filming any local events, speaking gigs
– Research on the crowdfunding space in general, but specifically crowdfunding for indie film / web / video content
– Discover and attend events, Meet-Ups, Tweetups, etc. pertaining to film and / or crowdfunding

DAYS / HOURS
– 2 -3 hours a day,
– Three days per week (preferably Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, to start, but I’m totally flexible here

COMPENSATION / “WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?!”
– Crowdfunding (for filmmaking) knowledge and insights from a noted expert and practitioner in the field
– Travel to and from events (subway / Lyft)
– Lunch once a week, during our weekly meetings, preferably on Mondays
– Drinks (at events, and just in general –– there’s always something to celebrate)
– Depending on performance, we can talk…

WHAT YOU’LL LEARN
– What it takes to be a proper crowdfunding consultant and / or manager
– How to utilize various forms of social media (FB / Twitter, plus Instagram & Periscope, perhaps) for crowdfunding
– How to build, broaden, and make “Beliebers” out of your community (really, how to turn your networks into actual relationships)

Now, if by reading this you feel like you’re standing in front of a mirror, then I want to hear from you sooner rather than later, so reach out to me at jtrigonis@gmail.com and let’s get ready to explore the ever-changing landscape of the crowdfunding filmmakers together.

Oh, and a neat hat and soul patch to match are not requirements 🙂

Looking forward to hearing from you all soon!

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A Ferris Bueller Kind of Day Off

Yesterday, I sprained (or twisted, or something) my ankle for the first time ever.

See, I’ve never been all that much of a sporty kid. I suffered my way through gym classes for as long as I can remember. When football day rolled around, I wanted to feign a fever. I had mastered the layup in basketball, but no one would ever give me the ball ’cause I’d ultimately end up dropping it. I was one of the few kids who actually liked stretching, and when health class rolled around, I was ready to learn anything the nurse taught ‘cause it was one less game of hockey I had to make it through for the year.

Climbing the rope was the worst, though. I remember one time I after three years of failing this part of the final, I built up the courage and the upper body strength needed to climb the rope all the way to the top of the gym, but upon getting there, I completely froze. My fellow students were calling up to me, “just climb down the same way you climbed up.”

I slid my way down, burning my hands in the process, but I didn’t feel it because I was just so happy my feet were touching solid ground once more.

By the time I was a senior at Weehawken High, the gym teachers –– Mr. McNish and Mrs. Campenella –– had gotten to know me well enough to understand that I wasn’t a sports kid. So they let me do whatever I wanted, and throughout my junior and senior years, I played some really awesome rounds of hackysack and handball.

Anyhow, this isn’t a piece about the horrors of a high school gym class.

Today, while I was painstakingly limping my way from the Midtown Comics on Fulton Street to the World Trade Center where I catch my PATH train home, I naturally was moving at a much, much slower pace than my usual sprint to just about anywhere at any given time of the day. And as people passed my hobbling body by, for some reason I was reminded of that one iconic line in the classic John Hughes comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

“Life moves pretty fast,” Ferris Bueller, played by a young Matthew Broderick, says in a monologue at the beginning of the few, as well as a few times throughout. “If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Ferris Bueller

Thirty years later, this seemingly simple statement has become more true than ever before. I don’t wanna speak for the rest of you, but we take things for granted. Internet access. Accessibility to news as it happens. Apps for just about any- and everything you can think of. It’s all wonderful, of course, but we allow ourselves to get so sucked into these things, this world and the many things that happen in it, that we lose sight of truly important things. Let’s face it, the human brain is not equipped to keep up with the speed at which our world moves. But we certainly try. We hustle. And we do keep up as best we can, all the while knowing that there’s always a bigger fish –– there’s always someone who’s one step ahead of us. Working a little bit harder.

But at what cost?

Yesterday, I wanted to put in my eight hours of the work I love, mentoring and managing Indiegogo campaigns, then play a swell game of volleyball with my co-workers (yes, that’s how I sprained my ankle –– non-sporty John T. Trigonis serving it up with the best of ‘em!) then head to Midtown Comics to get my stash of indie comics before heading on back to Jersey City to sit for a while and revise a chapter or two for my second edition of Crowdfunding for Filmmakers before getting a little more writing in on my various other creative projects.

Spraining my ankle slowed down my journey home almost unbearably, at least at the beginning. Sure, I made a point to get to Midtown Comics –– it’s the one leisure activity I allow myself –– but man, was I in pain. And then, after leaving that store, my steps started slowing down, and the Freedom Tower started to look like a dream, and I started thinking to myself Man, will I ever get there at this rate?!

“Life moves pretty fast,” indeed, Mr. Bueller (Bueller? Bueller?) But it doesn’t have to. Not all the time, at least.

That’s something I forget about too easily at times, and sometimes it takes a sprained ankle for the Universe to show you that you really need to start seeing the world through the eyes of a child once again, so you can fully realize that sometimes, some things can wait.

Why am I writing a blog about spraining my ankle and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? ‘Cause it’s not about spraining my ankle. And it’s not about Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, either. It’s about remembering to take the time to slow down and breathe. To make the time to do the things you love to do. For me, I haven’t written a blog post for myself since around February, and though I’ve been writing about many, many other things, I was moving too fast to realize that none of it was really for me.

So this is a reminder to all of us who get caught up in the world to stop and look around once in a while, and make sure that “once in a while” is more often than not.

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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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.

MindMGMT10rev

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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