Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Tag: italy

Maiden & Priest

The night before our son was born, we were flipping through channels and caught a few minutes of the Iron Maiden documentary/concert film Flight 666. I used to love Maiden back in my metallic youth; in fact, the only thing I might have liked more was Judas Priest. I remember riding the bus to school in junior high swapping tapes with friends and discussing the relative merits of Priest classics British Steel, Screaming for Vengeance and Defenders of the Faith along with Maiden’s Number of the Beast and Piece of Mind. We also liked Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and even though we agreed the Priest could totally kick Jackson’s ass, we decided that Thriller was still pretty awesome in its own spooky right.

Somewhere along the way, I forgot or perhaps outgrew this music. Maybe it was the fact that the trappings of metal grew so cheesy and convoluted and dependent on hair (thanks, Poison and Ratt) that it just became an embarrassment. I moved on to punk and hardcore and never looked back, which is kind of a shame because when I downloaded and listened to Maiden’s “Run to the Hills” and Priest’s “Freewheel Burning,” I couldn’t believe how much I still liked these tunes. My god how these guys rocked, I thought, and then immediately started downloading old favorites from those albums mentioned above.

Amazing how music transports… Suddenly I remember those junior high years and the long bus ride from our little town up the coast from Naples to the DOD high school on the base. Listening to it again, the sheer intesity and power of the playing is something to behold, especially when Judas Priest starts shredding on “Freewheel Burning” or the raw speed of “Exciter” and “Rapid Fire” or Maiden’s manic “Aces High.” Sometimes the bus ride didn’t seem long at all.

I remember the anticipation we all felt for Iron Maiden’s forthcoming Powerslave. Even after it was out, you couldn’t find it at the base PX. Which is why when we took a family trip up to the UK, the main thing I wanted was to get my hands on Powerslave. I lived inside my headphones much of the way back to Naples on the train, Europe racing along outside the windows to the power and intensity of such classics as “Aces High,” “2 Minutes to Midnight,” and my introduction to Coleridge through their epic retelling of his “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Amazing stuff, and I think I was one of the first kids at Naples American High School to have Powerslave, which certainly didn’t hurt my all-important-for-an-8th-grader cool quotient.

Maiden’s lyrics always hooked me. This was a band of readers and history buffs whose interests in science fiction and classic poetry came out in their music. They sounded like nerds who had become cool and that appealed to a kid like me. With Judas Priest, though, the lyrics were almost irrelevant. It was the ax work, the blistering solos and shredding and the operatic glory of Rob Halford’s voice. I thought about Maiden and I felt Priest.

Now, decades later, I find that I still really like this stuff. I’m downloading and relistening, rediscovering these gems from my past. I doubt I’ll venture much further back into metal than these two bands, but I’m not sure I would need to. In my spare moments, I get my rock on and that’s probably the answer to the question of new-parent exhaustion: lots of coffee, some Maiden and a little Priest. And Coltrane too, of course, because the ’61 Vanguard recordings… well that would be a whole other post.

Old Photo Friday

Mt Etna, Sicily, Italy; Early '80's

One of the few things I’ve invented in the blog world is Old Photo Friday. Maybe I invented it, I don’t know. I’ve never seen anyone else do it, but perhaps I only discovered it in the way that Columbus discovered America.

I did Old Photo Friday fairly regularly from June 2006 to June 2007 and then stopped. I guess I got tired of it, but lately I’ve been missing those weekly explorations of old photographs.

With thoughts of Columbus and worlds old and new, I found this shot of Mt. Etna I took with my old Kodak 110 Instamatic. We lived in Italy from 1982 until 1985 and during that time, I visited Sicily twice. Once with my family and once with my Boy Scout troop (395, the best alive). This is from the Boy Scout trip, which I’m guessing was either in ’83 or ’84, in which we went camping on the lower slopes of the volcano.

We took the train down from Naples and crossed the straits to Sicily on the ferry, which was all very exciting, though being inside the train cars in the cavernous hold of the ferry wasn’t my favorite part of the trip.

Etna was erupting at the time, but it’s a big mountain so we were safe enough, though occasionally we felt a rumble and some of the guys claimed to have seen a small explosion near the summit, but even that didn’t seem like too a big a deal since our school was on the slopes of La Solfatara, a mostly-dormant volcano that frequently spewed foul-smelling clouds of sulfur into the air so the whole area would smell like rotten eggs and farts.

Mt Etna didn’t smell bad, and it was a good place to camp and hike and explore. We were especially interested in the shrines set up along the trails with their votive candles, old photographs of people taken when they were young and piles of Lira, sacrifices, we imagined, so the dead would have some change to buy Cokes in Heaven.

Fresh Hot Meme

Way back in May, when the world was cool and the grass was green, Heather tagged me. At long last, I respond.

Here are the rules:
A) The rules of the game get posted at the beginning.
B) Each player answers the questions about himself or herself.
C) At the end of the post, the player then tags five people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

1) Ten years ago I was…

Just married, getting used to being a homeowner, trying to decide where to hang my newly acquired master’s degree, running a mailroom in downtown Austin, and starting on the first draft of A Place Without a Postcard, which <shameless plug> you should purchase if you haven’t </shameless plug>.

2) Five things on today’s to-do list:

I actually had one for today: pick up replacement ipod at the Apple store, get passports out of safe deposit box, drop off old light fixtures at Habitat for Humanity Re-Store, get mealworms for the wrens and titmice, get a new journal at Book People.

3) Things I’d do if I were a billionaire:

Purchase an island in the south Pacific and build a network of research stations to better understand and harness its unusual magnetic properties.

4) Three bad habits:

Candy, cookies, cake.

5) Five places I’ve lived:

Portsmouth, Rhode Island; Springfield, Virginia; Subic Bay, The Philippines; Naples, Italy, Austin, Texas

6) Six jobs I’ve had in my life:

Teacher, Project Manager, Mailroom Supervisor, Migrant Film Worker, Pizza Cook, Busboy.

I tag nobody specific, but feel free to use this meme if you’re reading it and feeling like listing.

I’m off to London. I’ll put up pictures when I return.

Telling Stories

I’ve heard it repeated quite a bit that we typically remember about 5% of what we hear, which if true really brings home the futility of lecturing to kids.

Then I think back to my first year of teaching. Seventh grade English.

It was after Thanksgiving, because it was after the point in the year when they tell first year teachers that it’s okay to smile. One of my kids was griping about the weight of his textbooks. The giant lit book, the mighty math tome, the science stack, the gargantuan grammar stone. With hunched shoulders and a lifetime of back pain ahead of him, he groaned, “They should outlaw big heavy books.”

I shook my head and told him that big heavy books can be pretty useful. I took his lit book and hefted it as if testing the balance of a sword, feeling its weight in my hand. The class stared at me skeptically and I smiled as I stared at the book. “Let me tell you a story,” I said…

When I was about your age we lived in Italy in a big old house with marble stairs. One night I heard commotion downstairs and crept to the top of the staircase to see what was up. I could hear my parents yelling and a bunch of banging around. Then my mom, hollered up the stairs, ‘We’re being robbed!’

I had no idea what to do, but it wasn’t long before my parents laughed and things settled down. Here’s what happened.

My dad had gone down to get a snack and he saw a man in the house. The man had my mom’s purse or maybe the computer or something and he stared at my dad and my dad stared back at him. Then, my dad reached for the nearest object he could find… a cookbook… and he chunked it at the robber.

At this point I threw the lit book at the wall as hard as I could. It hit with a crack that woke up all the kids who weren’t paying attention.

Then he grabbed another and another and he and my mom threw cookbooks and dictionaries at him until he ran out of the house.

The kids loved the story. Maybe it’s something about the appeal to middle school kids of objects that shouldn’t be thrown flying through the air, but it made them laugh, and the books, now that their potential as weapons had been realized, didn’t seem quite so heavy.

Years later, I taught at a high school in the same district. I had many of those same kids in my 11th grade English class. The first day of school, after reviewing the syllabus and talking about expectations, I asked if there were any questions.

A hand went up.

“Yes,” I asked.

The girl grinned. “Mr. B, will you tell us the story about how your parents chased the robber out of your house by throwing books at him.”

The kids who had been in that class perked up and nodded assent. One boy asked, “And will you throw a book?”

Fortunately, I was to find out that that wasn’t all they learned back in 7th grade, but I realized then that when we tell stories, the people we’re talking to will remember a whole lot more than 5% of what we say.

The Fall of the Roman Empire

The title kind of gives it away, but Michael Grant’s The Fall of the Roman Empire was still interesting for me and at 235 pages a hell of a lot shorter than Gibbons’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I guess the decline makes up for the difference in page count.

I bought this one at Half Price Books many years ago, when I was first teaching Caesar and wanted to refresh my memory of all things Roman. Except for the three years in Naples when school trips took us regularly to Pompeii and various other relics of Rome, I haven’t really given the Romans much thought.

Interestingly, Grant’s book made me think less about the Romans and more about the fall of empire in general. What really interested me was Grant’s examination not so much of the outside forces – barbarians, huns and Germans – that destroyed the Western Roman Empire, but the internal forces that brought it down.

The unwillingness of most Romans to serve in the army, the ever-widening gap between rich and poor, many of whom found themselves crushed under unpayable debts, the squeezing of the middle class, mistrust of the emperor, racial tensions and animosity towards immigrants, increasing numbers of people dropping out of society, increasing demands for theological conformity, and an amazing sense of complacency (we’re Rome, we’re number 1) all combined to leave a great society devided against itself and easy pickings for the enterprising barbarians.

Worst of all, much of this sounded familiar. Way too familiar. 

Eight Is Enough to Fill Our Lives with Meme

George has memed me.

The Rules:

  1. I have to post these rules before I give you the facts.
  2. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
  3. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
  4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names. (You’re not the boss of me!)
  5. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

The Eight Facts:

  1. Five years ago, I painted the entire interior of our old house (including trim) and even hung crown moulding. I’m painting the interior of the new house now. It hurts more this time.
  2. I’m 113 pages into my next novel. It’s been called Right of Way and also A Short Time to Be There. I plan to have it finished by early July. It feels about a third of the way done.
  3. I was born in Newport, Rhode Island. I did my first three years of high school there. Despite that, I really don’t care much for lobster. Of course, I don’t like cockroaches either. But I do like crabs despite the fact that I don’t like spiders. Go figure.
  4. I’m not psychic, but one night in May 1995, I was listening to a Dead Hour and I knew Jerry Garcia wasn’t going to be around much longer. I convinced my girlfriend (now my wife) and two friends (who chickened out) to drive from Austin to Washington, DC to see the Dead at RFK Stadium that June. We went. It was awesome. Jerry died two months later.
  5. I have a bachelor’s degree in film production and an MA in screenwriting. Despite that, I rarely watch movies anymore. Maybe it’s because for the life of me I can’t figure out why anyone still makes movies now that Lord of the Rings has been made. Perfection was achieved. Let’s move on.
  6. The first rock concert I ever saw was a Cheap Trick show in Naples, Italy. I had no idea who they were, and I still don’t.
  7. For the past three weeks U2’s Unforgettable Fire has been in my car. I’ve had it for years, I’ve always liked it, but for some reason all of a sudden, it’s all I want to listen to. Over and over again. I’ll do that until it gets old again.
  8. My favorite snack is a tortilla with cheese melted on it (in the microwave) with some Vietnamese Túóng Ót Sriracha sauce (red sauce with a rooster on the bottle) slathered all over it. Side of peanuts and a glass of cold water.

The Eight Victims:

  1. Heather
  2. Jessica
  3. Iowa Greyhound
  4. Ironicus
  5. Panthergirl
  6. Mark
  7. Danigirl 
  8. Anyone who reads this post


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