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Born of mud. Made for murder.

On November 8, 2016, a “Man of Stone” savagely attacked a quiet law office in rural New Jersey. Ten people were brutally mutilated and murdered, the killer was never caught, and the legend of the Franz Rock Monster was born.
The Mud Man is a fast-paced thriller laced with horror and dark humor. Inspired by Frankenstein, folklore, and media freak-shows; The Mud Man explores what it means to be human, the transformative power of grief, and the fine lines between fact and fiction, man and monster.
Some fathers will do anything for their daughters…even raise the dead.
The Mud Man is available in both paperback and digital editions exclusively at Amazon.

Modern Concerts Are Big On Spectacle, Short On Feel

Once upon a time, I loved going to rock concerts.

It didn’t matter what the act was. Tickets were cheap in the 1980s: $15-$20; maybe $27.50 for fancy seats.

One week in the mid-80s I saw REO Speedwagon on a Monday night, and KISS that Thursday. I was at an Ozzy Osbourne/Metallica show where the crowd ripped open the seats and tossed seat cushions around the arena until a swirling cloud of cushions hovered over the arena floor. I thought there was a fire when Rage Against the Machine played the Lollapalooza Festival in 1993, but it wasn’t smoke; it was the mosh pit kicking up dry dust in front of the stage. A decade earlier Brian Johnson walked down our aisle with Angus Young on his shoulders during an AC/DC concert at the Brendon Byrne area. It really impressed my girlfriend at the time.

Back in the day, the Brendan Byrne Arena and Giants Stadium were the main concert venues for big touring acts. Both venues are still around but they’ve sold their names for corporate sponsorship; they’re the Izod Center and Metlife Stadium now.

Even though I haven’t been to a big rock concert in over a decade, I was happy to take my 10-year-old daughter and her friend to see One Direction at Metlife Stadium recently. Live music is awesome and I was eager to indoctrinate my daughter into the rock concert experience.

1D For Me

One Direction takes the stage.

Making our way into Metlife Stadium I noticed a trend; it seemed most parents were waiting in the parking lot, tailgating, while their kids went into the concert. Not me. I was there for the music, man! Plus, my daughter’s only 10, I wasn’t going to send her and her friend into Metlife Stadium by themselves.

One Direction played a fine set, though the emphasis seemed to be more on explosions, fireworks, streamers and balloons rather than the music. During the power ballad everybody held up the flashlight app on their cell phones and waved them back and forth. I wondered what happened to all the cigarette lighters, but then I realized that nobody smokes anymore, and lighters are dangerous.

The One Direction concert came off a bit impersonal, but I can’t blame the band. They’re just following a trend that began years ago, back when I was still a regular concertgoer.

Giant video screens have been around at rock concerts since the early ‘80s, and while it’s supposed to make big stadium shows feel cozy, instead they reduce live performance to a TV show. Why watch the little man with the guitar from 200 yards away when you can watch the video screen and get a close-up? Why even go to a live concert at all when you can watch the same video footage from the comfort of your home?

Cell phone flashlights have replaced lighters at modern concerts. Safer but boring.

Before the use of big video screens, bands used stage effects that enhanced the music rather than distract from it. From the mid-‘60s and into the ‘70s rock bands had liquid light shows or psychedelic light shows projected behind them while they played. The swirling, colorful amoeba shapes were eventually replaced by elaborate lighting rigs that synched with the dynamics of the music. The Genesis light show was a selling point for their live performances well into the 1980s.

Lost In Techno Translation

But as technology advanced, an intimacy was lost in the concert going experience. Giant video screens simultaneously brought audiences closer to the performers and reduced them to characters on TV. During the One Direction concert I saw several fans recording the concert with their camera phones, but instead of focusing on the members of the band, they were recording the images on the giant video screens. Why?

One thing that hasn’t changed about modern concerts is the energy created when fans gather together to celebrate the music they enjoy. This is the core essence of the concert experience, the same blueprint as religious gatherings. I saw many Grateful Dead concerts over the years, and the atmosphere was very close to a church mass. There was the same sense of reverence, respect, ritual, and release.

And hopefully that will never change. Long live rock-n-roll!

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Originally published in Wayne TODAY, October 2014

Brian Williams saga shows false face of journalism

FEBRUARY 26, 2015    LAST UPDATED: THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2015, 12:31 AM
Media Fall Guy Brian Williams
Media Fall Guy Brian Williams

I learned journalism basics at college in the late 80s.

1) Ask the five “W” questions. Who, what, when, where, and why. Sometimes “how.”

2) Report the facts. Stories have many sides, and the people involved all have a personal agenda. Cut the fluff from the facts and deliver the closest version of “the truth” as possible.

3) Get quotes from involved parties. Quotes may or may not be factual. Quotes are simply one person’s side of the story.

4) Don’t put yourself in the story. A true journalist is invisible, a fly on the wall.

That last rule has become increasingly blurred over the last 30 years, and the latest to forget is “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams.

I feel bad for Williams. For the last decade he delivered the news on NBC in admirable fashion. He read the words on the teleprompter and occasionally colored those words with appropriate emotional flavor. But when Brian Williams goes off-script, troubles begin.

Williams was recently suspended without pay for six months after it was revealed he lied about a war story during the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Further digging showed Williams embellished stories on several occasions, including his coverage of Hurricane Katrina.

Like a geeky high school kid, Brian Williams lied so he could look cool. But in a world where privacy is a farce and fact checking is easy, it’s hard to get away with monkey business or tall tales.

You can’t completely blame Williams for gilding the lily. Coolness was one of the traits imbued upon him by his handlers at NBC, along with sharp suits and white teeth. They encouraged Williams to yuk it up with late night hosts, from Jimmy Fallon to David Letterman.

What’s Brian Williams supposed to talk about on Letterman? He’s got to be as interesting as Anderson Cooper and Matt Lauer! The NBC brass seemed to support Williams’ appearances. Perhaps Williams was being groomed to take over a late-night job himself one day.

But that seems unlikely now. Williams is being called a raconteur, a spinner of yarns, a teller of tales. Being a raconteur is great if you’re putting on a one-man theatre show (or if you’re a newspaper columnist), but if you’re being paid to be a truth-teller, there’s a problem.

At the time of this writing, there’s talk Williams might be fired from NBC. The New York Post claims to have found an important “morals clause” in Williams contract which reads:

“If artist commits any act or becomes involved in any situation, or occurrence, which brings artist into public disrepute, contempt, scandal or ridicule, or which justifiably shocks, insults or offends a significant portion of the community, or if publicity is given to any such conduct, company shall have the right to terminate.”

But the language used points out exactly why Williams shouldn’t be fired. He’s an “artist,” not a reporter or a “journalist.”

The immediacy and intimacy of social media has changed the boundaries of modern journalism. The public-at-large, equipped with trusty smartphones, is an army of “imbedded reporters” (see the rise of CNN’s iReports and the ever-expanding blogosphere) and “real journalists” have become news-readers, color commentators, and “television personalities.”

Journalists — from Katie Couric to Perez Hilton — are a new kind of modern celebrity. (So are rich housewives and duck hunters. What happened to our standards? Didn’t celebrities used to have to be good at something exceptional or impressive?)

The problem really isn’t Brian Williams’ attention-seeking fables, but a media machine and news-consuming public that demands our anchors be dashing adventure–seekers, physically beautiful, intelligent, funny, opinionated, witty, relentless investigators, and good on camera. It’s a lot to ask. Brian Williams did his best to stay afloat in the brackish waters where journalism and entertainment meet, but was sunk by one-to-many big fish stories.

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THE FINAL DAYS OF WALTER MATTHAU

Here’s another weird bit of web satire from 2000. I don’t know why I decided to pick on Walter Matthau. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time.

walter matthau in hospital
The dramatic final days of comic legend Walter Matthau.

Good night, funny man

Beloved comedic actor Walter Matthau, star of blockbuster films The Odd Couple, The Sunshine Boys, and Grumpy Old Men, kept his humor until the end, according to those close to him during his final days.

According to Hollywood Home Health Care Nurse Mary Goodhead, who cared for the ailing actor before his death last month, Matthau was in good spirits, laughing and cracking jokes right until the moment of his death.

“On Friday afternoon he was having trouble breathing, and said he had a headache. I offered him a cigarette, and he said, ‘Are you trying to kill me?’ He was always saying funny things like that,” Goodhead said.

“Later that night, I had some friends over. We were having after dinner drinks when Mr. Matthau came out of the bedroom. He said he felt sick. He headed toward the bathroom, but he fell down after a few steps—really hit the ground hard, landing on his face. We all started cracking up. Then he vomited, a big puddle of yellow bile, and that really got us rolling. My boyfriend Butch laughed so hard he took a shit right on the living room couch,” Goodhead explained.

“Mr. Matthau laid there for a really long time. It was so hilarious. Then he started moaning, ‘I’m in pain. It hurts, it hurts. Please help me.’ I gave him a couple Nembutal, and a can of beer. He couldn’t hold the can, so I poured the beer down his throat. He started choking, so I smacked him on the back a couple of times. His false teeth fell out, and landed in his lap. We all started laughing again. Walter said, ‘Please, God, I want to die.’ We were roaring. It was so cute.”

Comic Genius Kept ‘Em Laughing Until the End

The 79-year-old Matthau was still knockin’ em dead the day he died.

“He was still lying in the hall the next morning. We were all pretty hung over. Around noon, Butch and I picked him up and carried him into bed. His breathing was really shallow and raspy. He asked Butch if he was Jack Lemon, and Butch and I got a good chuckle out of it. He also said he saw George Burns sitting in the corner of the room, holding a pitchfork. It was a great line. He was so on!

“Butch asked Walt if he could borrow a few dollars to buy beer. He took Walt’s wallet from the dresser and started taking money out. Walter called him a ‘Cocksucking thief,’ and I just about pissed my pants! That man was a comic genius.

“Walt did another great pratfall out of the bed. Butch picked him up by the neck, and put him back. Then Walt started crying, real soft and quiet. It was brilliant, like an Andy Kaufman skit.”

The perennial comic dozed for a while that afternoon, but he was back for his final performance around 4 p.m.

“He started moaning, asking for his family, and Butch told him to be quiet. He started squirming around on the bed, waving his arms about aimlessly. I think he was doing a Frankenstein impression. It was funny as hell. Butch poured a shot of Tequila in his mouth, and Walt puked it all over the floor. He started flopping around on the bed, making all these funny noises. He sounded like a seal at the circus, and we were cracking up.

Last Rites

“Then he let out a huge fart, and flipped onto the floor. We must have laughed for five minutes straight! It wasn’t until Butch went to pick Mr. Matthau up and put him back in bed that we realized he hadn’t just farted…he had shit himself! Butch had it all over his arms, and I was laughing so hard that I shit, pissed, puked and started menstruating. Butch put Walt back in bed and, just as a joke, wiped his shit-covered arms clean on the front of Walt’s shirt. Walter was the perfect straight man—he never said a word!” Goodhead chuckled.

“After that, Butch and I took a shower, had sex, played a chess tournament, ate dinner, and watched a movie. When I checked on Mr. Matthau later that night, he was dead. He was lying on the floor about halfway across the room. He appeared to be crawling toward the window. It was so sad to see him go. He was such a kind, sweet, generous gentleman, one of America’s finest actors,” Goodhead said. “At least the end was peaceful for him.”

A Matthau family spokesperson said the family was sorry it could not raise the ransom money needed to free Matthau before his death, but that “frankly, he was sort of a dick.”

When asked to comment, Jack Lemon said, “What the fuck?”

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iPod, therefore, I am

My ear buds were dying.

I was midway through my morning commute when the left speaker cut out. I jiggled the wire and it came back for a few minutes, but by the time I got to work I was down to one channel again. I’d have to pick up a new pair on my lunch break. Going without my iPod for the commute home was not an option.

Safe inside her sound bubble.

I’m a Johnny Come Really Lately when it comes to digital music. I didn’t own an iPod until last year, but now that I have one I’m addicted to it. In fact, I’d say my iPod has not only reawakened my musical spirit, it has quietly changed my life in some rather profound ways.

The Tune-less Years

I’ve always been a music lover (as well as a knock-around musician) but somewhere around the turn of the millennium the music all but stopped for me. My band had dissolved, and life tossed other priorities my way—a home renovation, a marriage, and then kids. Once kids were on the scene, my main source of musical entertainment was Baby Einstein and Sesame Street. If we wanted to rock hard we’d put on The Wiggles live album or Wake Up Jeff.

Yeah, I had a cabinet filled with hundreds of CDs but when was I going to listen to them? In the middle of night when the kids were asleep? During the ten-minute ride from my house to the bus stop?

I resisted the iPod craze for a long time. I’d never been a “Walkman guy,” either the cassette tape or CD versions, and the whole iPod/MP3 player thing just seemed like an extension of that. Lack of space finally nudged me into the digital age; I needed to clear out my CD cabinet to make room for computer equipment. So I started the long process of importing my CD collection into iTunes and I picked up a used iPod shuffle on eBay.

Love at First Listen

I was immediately hooked. For starters I could load 17 hours of music onto a device the size of a matchbook. And the sound was awesome. Nothing beats listening to music on headphones, which block out all ambient sound and allow you to hear every nuance of the music. I’m sure music purists will disagree, but a good pair of “ear buds” put music inside your head in a way that standard headphones never can (especially not those cheesy, foam-eared, Walkman-style headphones.) When was the last time I listened to music on headphones? In college? High school?

I didn’t realize how much I missed listening to music – not watching music videos, but listening to music— until I got an iPod. It was like a cool drink on a hot summer day. It was more than merely refreshing. It was like getting something back that was crucial to my well being, like a vitamin that had been missing from my diet.

My iPod quickly transformed my dreary New York City commute into an almost enjoyable experience. If it’s a rainy day and the subway platforms are dank and crowded you’re going to need some Metallica or Tool to make it through. Nothing beats checking out the celestial paintings on the ceiling of Grand Central Terminal while listening to Radiohead. The other day James Taylor accompanied me on my morning bus ride. Hey, it’s good to know that I’ve got a friend.

made for ipod
I was made for iPoding you, baby. You were made for iPoding me.

I’ve upgraded to a bigger iPod and now I’ve got my entire music collection on there. Rock, jazz, classical – there’s something for any mood. And that’s the beauty of the iPod – it allows you to select a soundtrack for the movie that’s your life. It used to stress me out moving with a herd through buses and subways and crowded city streets. But it’s kind of fun now that I’m in my own private “sound bubble.” Music has a way of transporting you to different times and places and my iPod allows me to be in Times Square, present day, and Europe ’72 with the Grateful Dead simultaneously. Groovy, man.

Healing Harmonies

I find myself walking more since I got my iPod, and in the last six months I’ve dropped 30 pounds and saved a couple of bucks on subway fare. And I’ve started writing and recording music again for the first time in years. It’s like a reawakening of my music appreciation has stirred my creative juices as well.  Thanks, iPod!

Of course, the isolating effect of the iPod is also its greatest drawback. People already have a hard enough time connecting with one another in modern society; we don’t need another gadget that further detaches us. And, yes, you shouldn’t wear one while driving, or in class, and you shouldn’t play it too loud, blah, blah, blah. Anything can be abused. But if you’ve ever sat next to a crying baby at an airport or next to a loud-mouthed cell phone user on a bus, then you already know that a digital music player can transform an otherwise unpleasant or mundane experience into something quite magical.

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reprinted from WAYNE Today, September 2008