Thomas S. Roche's Blog
August 24, 2014
Wanna know something? When you search “Frank Zappa on Miami Vice,” You Tube starts showing you some weird-ass shit. Here is a young Mr. Zappa on the Steve Allen Show in 1963, playing music on a bicycle. No, not “playing music while riding a bicycle,” but actually playing music on a bicycle. The way Einstürzende Neubauten would later play music on the side of a bridge, etc. Or the way John Cage played music on prepared piano. Zappa’s is weirder.
I should probably warn you that it’s also excruciatingly boring, as the Steve Allen Show tended to be. Watching variety TV from those days is a little like spending time with an assortment of your dullest friends and some interesting ones who have been drugged into a stupor.
Interestingly, both the announcer and Steve pronounce Frank Zappa’s name “Zoppa,” rhymes with “Papa.”
I guess that in 1963, being of Sicilian descent probably meant you got your name mispronounced all the time. (I’m looking at you, Michael Corleone.)
Perhaps this contributed to the title of Zappa’s legendary unreleased four-disc set for Warner Bros, “Läther” (pronounced “leather”). Yeah… or not.
Here is Frank Zappa dealing “weasel dust” on Miami Vice. He looks roughly as high as Henry Hill toward the end of “Goodfellas,” but way less stressed-out. And why should he be stressed out? He’s Frank Zappa.
Herein, Mr. Zappa attempts to settle accounts with “Burnett, a two-bit player trying to get into the weasel dust industry.” Hilarity ensues, and naturally, things end as all Miami Vice scenes should. No, that’s not a spoiler… they ALL end that way, as I recall.
Zappa, by the way, did not do drugs, and did not really approve of them, but strenuously opposed the War on Drugs on political grounds.
From this clip, however, I’d say he must have been a method actor. This guy has definitely been snorting “weasel dust.”
Thanks to Dangerous Minds for conjuring this strange echo from my misspent youth.
August 17, 2014
Please note: Some links in this post are not safe for work.
Hello! I’m Thomas Roche, and you probably know me as a fiction writer. I’m posting here as part of the “blog tour” for Stories of O: Orgasmic Erotica edited by Alex Algren. It came out this month in ebook format from Cleis Press, long one of my favorite publishers to work with — and one of my favorite publishers to read, too. They’ve published more books I’ve loved than I can count. The Cleis catalog is not limited to their stellar erotica and sex guide offerings, but includes many works I have loved in such genres as history, human rights, sex work, memoir, impossibly clever teen detectives, homicidal lesbian terrorism, and more.
Stories of O includes one of my favorite stories I’ve ever written, “Butterfly’s Kiss.” The tale originally appeared in another Cleis Press anthology, Rubber Sex, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel (also known as 2013′s Lust in Latex) and was a finalist for the John Preston Award in Short Fiction from the National Leather Association. I’m extremely proud of it.
There’s kind of a complicated story about this story and how I came to write it. Writing fiction is often about linguistic texture for me. For the opening of “Butterfly’s Kiss,” I indulged in one of those techniques that often gets writers like me called “difficult.” The opening paragraphs are written in second person narration as the reader is led through entry to an underground fetish club:
Over the open doorway, red curtain shrouding the inside, there’s a sign but no words, just a stylized spider… Under that there’s a cat in a derby, always a derby, impeccable, his mug impassive underneath, eyes watching as you approach. His name is Regentine, or more commonly Reg, but don’t call him that unless he introduces himself, which he’s not going to…
Walk up to Reg and say your name, either first and last or scene name. He’ll give you a look like he just scraped you off his shoe. He’ll fish in the pocket of his waistcoat, pull out a reporter’s notebook.
He’ll find your name, because you won’t be there if you’re not on the list.
He’ll check your ID, maybe pat you down, take your double saw, jerk his thumb at the red curtain. At that point you’ll either come to your senses and go home, watch made-for-Skinemax softcore and relax with your thoughts, or you’ll hit the darkness like a lush hitting bottom. If you’ve gotten this far, like I did, you’re going to hit bottom anyway, and the only question is if you’re going to get up again. So walk, my friend, and let me tell you what happens, if you’re me and this is last night, Walpurgisnacht, the day the music died.
Why did I do that? No reason at all. And every reason. It felt right, probably because I was describing an intensely personal experience.
No, it didn’t happen like it does in the story. How could it? Real life is not anywhere near as tidy as fiction, and you never get to write it in second person. But the story grew from a very real experience and very intense experience I once had.
The encounter was indeed with more than one person, and for the record it was considerably more than two. It was also with a piece of bondage equipment I’d never seen before. Known as a vacuum bed, it essentially consisted of a person-sized latex envelope and an airtight frame attached to a vacuum cleaner. A naked person gets in the envelope and all the air is sucked out of it. In the model I used, I breathed through a gag with a tube in it and found myself completely enclosed in latex in a way that feels completely bizarre and thoroughly unforgettable (to me, at least). The gag permitted me to breathe regularly, but it felt a little like breathing with a diving mask, so it took some getting used to. The device in the picture below (from www.Stockroom.com) and at the link (which is NSFW, by the way) does not have the same gag/breathing tube attachment as the model that I used, but it’s functionally very similar.
This thing was seriously amazing. It looked like some device set up to produce a cool photo-op for Marquis magazine or Secret. And, yes, if you’re into latex, naked humans do look pretty cool when turned into, visually speaking, rubber dolls. But this isn’t just a latex-fetishist’s dream. I did originally write the story for Rachel’s Rubber Sex, but the experience from within is far more intense than indulging the obsession with latex or rubber. It’s total encasement, total immobilization. It feels like you’re being crushed from every direction, with a virtually uniform pressure. I would not recommend it for someone prone to claustrophobia.
Photo from Stockroom.com.
While one is thus immobilized, other people in your immediate vicinity have pretty much unlimited access to one’s latex-sheathed body. Fingers feel somewhat different than they would on naked flesh, but not as different as you might think. Sensation generated by physical motion — vibration for instance — seem largely unaltered. Except that you can’t really move. As with many forms of bondage, the lack of the usual somatic feedback (perspective, balance, unimpeded movement) seems to accentuate all other sensations. It was seriously cool, and remains one of the most interesting and intense experiences of my life.
You can purchase a piece of equipment like the one I experienced at JT’s Stockroom and Extreme Restraints (those links are NSFW). Alternately, read my story in Stories of O: Orgasmic Erotica. Or both. The two are not mutually exclusive.
Here’s a bit more about Stories of O:
Think back to the first time you came so hard you cried out. The first time you surrendered fully and spiraled into euphoria, every inch of your body consumed by pleasure. You didn’t care who heard your gasping, open-mouthed cries of passion—all you could focus on was the ecstasy. That’s what you’ll find in this collection—tale after tale of characters lost in the bliss of orgasmic perfection your mind (and especially your body) won’t soon forget.
The other writers in the book are some of those I’ve read for years… Saskia Walker, Kristina Wright, Donna George Storey, Sinclair Sexsmith, and A.D.R. Forte (whom I have not yet read, but I look forward to it).
Also, the book’s only $3.99. Even if you hate my stylistic tics, that’s a serious bargain price for what promises to be some seriously hot power-exchange and fetish erotica.
Related posts in the Story of O Blog tour: Ella Dawson
April 16, 2014
November 23, 2013
I’ve been engaged in a project to spend my spare time watching every film that’s ever been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. And thus I came to 2008′s “The Reader,” one of the most polite Holocaust films I’ve ever seen. If you take a look at this cover image of the DVD, you can pretty much get a feeling for the film. Yeah, it’s really that sparce, indirect, and almost embarrassingly reserved. And that’s the problem — not so much for the film itself, but for what it means in the context of Holocaust and post-Holocaust literature and film, and what that “genre,” if it is one, means.
To paraphrase, some reviewers have asked what might be gained by having yet another post-Holocaust story that asks us to sympathize with a concentration camp guard. Don’t the awful events of the Holocaust grow more remote with each polite, stylish retelling? Don’t such stories merely give modern audiences, European and otherwise, yet another opportunity to feel good about themselves at the expense of any true historical understanding or a meaningful context to the events of the Holocaust? After a certain point, isn’t this just, y’know, kinda just tragedy tourism? Doesn’t its use as entertainment cheapen the human reality — and, perhaps more importantly, diminish the scale?
To these criticisms, I must say…”Well, yeah, probably.”
Sometimes it scares me to think about what little is actually gained by modern, non-culpable viewers and readers who experience artwork about the Holocaust. I did not have a damn thing to do with the Holocaust (not having been born yet). Nor did anyone in my family, being on the other side of history (that is, my many grandparents and great-uncles were serving in the U.S. military or working on the home front at the time). Nonetheless, genocides of all sort, and the Holocaust in particular, compel me intensely. Yeah, maybe it’s tragedy tourism. But it is what it is.
Sadly, “The Reader” does not compel me the way that more visceral and first-person Holocaust or post-Holocaust stories have. Even “The Night Porter,” for example, at least confronts its audience with a fetishistic and morbid obsession with death, played out with a compellingly and almost irresistibly repulsive eroticism that bears eerie comparison to the coming-of-age eroticism in “The Reader.” “The Night Porter” mines the Holocaust for its most compelling fetishistic roots…with questionable morals, at least, but isn’t that the point? In “The Reader,” on the other hand, the erotic elements amount to a fetishistic treatment of innocence, wrapped in a kind of barely-pushing-the-envelope eroticism that is really a big steaming helping of polite sensuality made palatable by a British fetishization of German emotional distance. Why is it that two sketchily similar concentration camp stories in film, forty years apart, reflect such concrete but different sexual obsessions — but sexual obsessions nonetheless?
Fuck if I know. All I can say is that I think little is gained from ever-more-stylish tellings of “redemption” in the wake of the Holocaust.
But, with all that said, “The Reader” remains a good film, if not a great one. I wouldn’t call it ballsy. And I certainly wouldn’t want to fight for its “importance” as part of Holocaust literature committed to film. In that context, unfortunately, I find it slightly embarrassing for its shallow treatment of the subject.
But as a tearjerker, “The Reader” works, so…I think I’ll cut it some slack for now and rate it a four out of five.
November 14, 2013
I found this film quite enjoyable — much more so than the first Thor movie. The huge advantage this one has over that one is that in “The Dark World,” stuff happens and things occur. That’s a big plus for me when watching a movie.
The first “Thor” looked good and was reasonably dramatic, but was thoroughly plotless. I didn’t dislike it, but mostly because there was nothing to dislike. I had no strong feelings about it whatsoever, I find.
There’s plenty more to dislike in The Dark World. For instance, there are the images that could have come out of the second “Star Wars” trilogy. Then there are the images that could have come out of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. There are plenty of both of them. There is very little, to me, stupider than Norse gods zipping around in space boats pursued by TIE fighters with super-laser-gatlings. It does tend to raise the question, “If everyone has space-gatlings, why are they swinging all those swords around?”
The answer, of course, is “Because it looks cool,” except it doesn’t look that cool; it looks derivative of other franchises. There were moments when I felt like I coulda been watching one of those damned “Transformers” films or dumbass “Pacific Rim” or even the vomit-inducing “Battleship.” “The Dark World” looks better than any of those three franchises, and basically better than the second “Star Wars” trilogy; I just wish it didn’t look so derivative. But, y’know, if I wanted originality, why would I be going to see a Marvel film? It’s not like they, you know, practically invented the superhero genre or anything.
As you can tell, much as I enjoyed it, I am less than enthusiastic about trumpeting it as glorious visual storytelling. What bugs me the most is that I’m horrified to discover that the mythic elements in Marvel’s films seem to be becoming stupider and stupider. Is it that the most complicated elements are true to the comic book mythology, so us mopes who haven’t read Marvel for the last 30 years are just kinda left in the dark, and Marvel’s all, sorta, you know, “Fuck you?” Or are these the inventions of hired guns who entered the game with the film franchises? I could probably find out by reading the Wikipedia entries, but, y’know, I think I’ll go read “Darkness at Noon” or something, instead. I like Easter eggs as much as the next guy, and I’m all about fan service. But films should basically explain themselves, more or less, to those of us who frankly my dear don’t give a damn.
I do like the whole war-of-the-gods thing, which is given its most credible treatment (I think maybe EVER, in film form) here. Unfortunately, derivative plot elements and unexplained weirdness kept de-suspending my disbelief. F’rinstance, I don’t get why Thor needs to hop on a Space Barge and suddenly be a “good pilot”, as implied (sort of) in dialogue by the fact that he can fly WITH HIS HAMMER…but why does that make him the natural pilot of a space barge, because frickin’ Annakin Skywalker was? I’ll remember that the next time I get behind the wheel of a Sherman tank. Hell, I can drive my Hyundai, right? Am I right?
My biggest problem with the mythology is that the “Aether” stuff is kinda stupid; it’s basically a snotball of WhatTheFuckium, with no background or explanation given for what its particular alloy of WTFium does. But I found it true enough to the rest of the random elements of the mythology that I found myself deficient in GiveAFuckium, so that was okay.
A big plus in the Thor franchise as opposed to some other Marvel franchises is that the acting is pretty good. I like Hemsworth as Thor and Hiddleston as Loki and Portman as Jane Foster. I even liked Anthony “Lately-I-usually-phone-in-a-Hannibal-Lector-impersonation-and-they-pay-me” Hopkins as Odin and I loved Renee Russo as Frigga. Kat Deming is adorable as “the intern,” and even Chris O’Dowd’s throwaway role as a comic foil gives us as an audience a chance to see some human interaction. That sort of thing breathes life into what could otherwise be a leaden assault on the apocalypse, and it makes it a good (if derivative) film.
So, all in all, “Thor: The Dark World” is a likeable enough. It allowed me to spend a couple of hours in an escapist Wonderland, whoop-de-friggin’-do. Meanwhile, society’s decline into derivative and puerile nonsense continues apace. Welcome to the apocalypse!
November 5, 2013
I love Jeremy Bernstein’s Plutonium: A History of the World’s Most Dangerous Element. I found it both a) more accessible and b) more scientifically sound than Tom Zoellner’s (also pretty good) Uranium. Zoellner is not a scientist; Bernstein is…and it shows.
Unlike Zoellner’s book, Plutonium focuses more on the science than the politics, though the politics of plutonium and uranium are covered — to my reading, with far more depth and insight than Zoellner’s book, which reads more like a combination travelogue/pop-politics “current affairs” kind of book. I feel like Bernstein hit every point with far more incisiveness than Zoellner, although I did also enjoy Zoellner’s book.
The result is an eerily beautiful book, and an example of how a complicated scientific topic can be covered well in a short and very readable format.
The “49″ on the cover, incidentally, derives from a code name used during wartime for Plutonium, which is element 94 in the periodic table. They reversed the numerals in order to keep it secret. This book is packed with those kind of newsy tidbits, in a format that makes them all add up to a great story full of fascinating insights into both fundamental science and the political world.
I do recommend skipping the chapter on chemistry if you don’t have a background in the topic; the author suggests you do just that, and it won’t really hurt your understanding of the rest of the book.
November 4, 2013
The search for extraterrestrial life (as reference in this Huffington Post article) is heavily weighted, nowadays, toward the search for a “habitable zone” around other suns. But there are arguments for the possibility that life could develop in environments well outside that.
If we were to discover life, even microbes, in the seas of Europa or within Jupiter’s atmosphere, it would really expand the search for life. My understanding is that everyone looking for habitable planets is now looking only in the “sweet spot” (sort of Venus-to-Mars-ish orbit, depending a lot on star type).
One of the big unanswered questions as I see it is how common magnetic fields are. Without one around Earth, life might have arisen but probably wouldn’t have survived…or might have taken even stranger forms than it did.
SPOILER ALERT: STUFF MENTIONED BELOW WILL SPOIL THE FILM EUROPA REPORT FOR YOU (ALTHOUGH IF YOU ASK ME YOU SHOULDN’T GIVE A DAMN). IT MAY ALSO SPOIL 2010: ODYSSEY TWO.
Carl Sagan collaborated on an awesome extrapolation of what kind of life might exist in a Jovian atmosphere (as “speculative nonfiction”) in his PBS TV series and its accompanying book, Cosmos. You can see what he proposed in this clip:
Arthur C. Clarke also included a pretty cool large-and-complex Europa-dwelling tentacle organism in 2010: Odyssey Two, which Europa Report basically lifted.
The Clarke version is the culmination to an amazingly tense sequence involving a Chinese spaceship whose crew might be doomed…or might not. The story element turns quickly and horrifically to violence. It’s one of my favorite sequences in all of Clarke’s work.
On the other hand, I thought Europa Report was bollocks. I felt like the film went wrong from teh first few frames, and it never recovered my confidence. The entire film felt confused, and yet it never turned the “found footage” format into an asset the way it could have with, I believe, far less effort than was expended. I never felt like I was REALLY watching found footage, and I certainly never felt like I was watching the “report” the film tries to frame itself as.
Such a report, prepared by the company that launched the expedition, would not have pursued the goal of “creating tension.” Let’s face it, it woulda started with the most important information, which I think in any century and on any planet would be “HOLY FUCKIN’ SHIT!!!! THERE ARE MOTHERFUCKIN’ TENTACLE FUCKIN’ MONSTERS ON MOTHERFUCKIN’ EUROPA!!!!”
If I was, you know, a stockholder in that damned company, I’d be all, “Why the hell did you make me wait ninety minutes before you told me my company just discovered alien life? Go get the buggywhip!!”
Which could have worked, just fine, but it would have required the screenplay not to be a slow-build to an agonizingly predictable Blair Witch “reveal” lifted from one chapter of a 1980s science fiction novel that most Clarke fans don’t even consider one of his major works.
In Clarke’s novel, the FACT of life on Europa becomes extremely important, as the reason for the “space babymakers” to convert Jupiter into a second sun. But the form of it is kind of a horror-show throwaway, while being supported by real (and convincing) science. With Europa Report, the weight of the story rested on the “Surprise!” moment in which we discover there are tentacle monsters in the seas of Europa. Sadly, that’s something exobiology nerds have been speculating on for twenty or thirty years. It’s gotten to be an exobiology cliche. I find it hard to believe that anyone who watched the Discovery Channel for any significant amount of time in the last 20 years would be surprised to discover there are tentacle monsters in the seas of Europa. (In a film, that is. If it happened in reality I would crap my pants, same as everybody.)
I would forgive Europa Report all of that, if the film had succeeded in building tension for me. I’ve never been so bored, or so tormented by awkward and forced dialogue that is actually never quite dialogue, just incoherent pieces of monologue that never met an exploration of “tell don’t show” they don’t like. I can only hope the team’s next film is Screenwriting Class Report, while the crew escapes Europa’s monsters and is sent back to Earth to make its own sequel, Acting Class Report.
These films can air in a drive-in triple-feature with the more-accurate follow-up to Gravity: Orbital Mechanics.
Image from SFGate.com.
Okay, I’m tired of Lou Reed being dead. I’m ready for it to be over. I’d like him to be back on Long Island, recording some godawful quadruple album I’ll never understand, some psychotic shit with feedback and screaming children, where Lou rhymes “in” with “in” seven times in a row and then inexplicably rhymes “in” with “when” which I wish to God Delmore Schwartz had beaten out of him in 1962, and then he randomly quotes Than Nich Hanh and you think he’s talking about either sobriety or tai chi but it might actually be about shooting heroin, and either way you’re totally not sure WTF milkshakes have to do with any of this, but the liner notes are no help at all since their even weirder than the lyrics and you can’t read the part where he’s drawn a whole bunch of stick-and-ball diagrams that might be part of an amphetamine molecule or might be rocket fuel, and you play it for your friends and they just stare at you except the one guy who’s high off his ass who won’t stop talking about The 120 Days of Sodom.
I’m sure we’ve all felt that way in the last few days.
Surely, Lou will release just such an album, the same way he kept re-releasing old Velvets songs after that band’s demise.
Until that day comes, here: It’s produced by Bob Ezrin. It’s good for you.
November 3, 2013
Bildung von aeiou.at
The German speakers among you will be sad to know that Rindfleischetikettierungsueberwachungsaufgabenuebertragungsgesetz ist no longer a word, and hasn’t been for five months. Worse news is that Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitänskajütenschlüssel, the 58-letter word for the key to the cabin of the captain of a steamboat belonging to a specific Danube River shipping company, did not gain an extra “f” in the German spelling reform of 1996, when Schifffahrt (shipping) gained its extra “f”, because the company existed before the reform…otherwise it would be 59 letters. Nor did the related “Donaudampfschiffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft,” meaning the association for subordinate officers in the head office of the same shipping company, which holds steady at 79 letters.
The good news is that German speakers can smush any number of words together to create ever longer compound words, theoretically with no upward limit. This provides good sport for language nerds. It’s good to have something to look forward to.