Chez Shaffner

Sunday, April 29, 2007

What Passes for High Praise

Yesterday afternoon Keryn and I were hanging around the Old Port in Portland with my sister and brother-in-law, chowing Irish cuisine at Ri-Ra (tasty bangers n’ mash if you’re interested, not appearing on the lunch menu, but apparently available anytime if you ask).

En route to the bathroom I checked gmail on my cell phone and found a rejection letter from an agent. Hold all calls, take a seat, and check out this line from her note: “your writing was good--better than competent.” Whoopee! I exclaimed, hopping into the air and clapping my heels. Better than competent. I’m not joking, at least in terms of my enthusiasm. After all, the letter was personalized (even if she spelled my last name wrong), and after receiving my fair share of “Not for me thanks” notes the last four months, every mote of praise counts. (It helps that an agent on the Left Coast has my full manuscript). So I’ll take it and smile. Better than competent. Awesome.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Calling All Friends

Just finished writing a review for Being There of the Edwin McCain show Keryn and I saw last week at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston. Edwin gave a terrific performance, but I walked away with one of the opening band’s songs stuck in my head: “Calling All Friends” from acoustic rock group Low Stars.

Keryn’s a big fan of ABC’s What About Brian, for which this is the theme song, so she immediately perked up on hearing the first bars. I really liked their sound, and a week later I’m still struggling to chase this ditty from my brain.

Check out Low Stars on MySpace or at their website.

All Time Fastest Ding

I defy any struggling authors out there to beat this world record response time.

Query emailed at 3:24pm to a successful New York literary agent. Rejection received at 3:28pm. Four minutes! I didn’t even get to update my submission tracker before gmail beeped at me. Phew.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Wasting Time Drawing Faces

This link was passed on to me the other day in an online writing workshop. Since then, I've wasted an inordinate quantum of time playing with it. So far I've probably spent half an hour trying to create an image of no avail.

Kind of freaky, but you can browse through the images other people have saved, such as the one above. Thousands of real faces are saved on their servers, along with assorted comments in myriad languages. Some are ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends. “The fat bastard down the street,” says one caption.

Other than novelty and wasting away the hours, what utility does a tool like this serve? Well, earlier today I was playing with it earlier to assemble rough outlines of what a few of my characters might look like… Not trying to render their complete likenesses, or anything, but studying the array of noses, chins, lips, and eyes. Kind of a cool exercise to come up with some prime descriptions.

Another interesting thing I noticed is how subtle changes in a single facial characteristic would completely alter the personality of a mug shot. From friendly to evil with a single mouse-click. Of course we all know how the supple human face can contort from one moment to the next. But have you ever imagined how truly different someone could look if he’d been born with a fuller lower lip? Or larger eyes? Test it out and see for yourself.

I apologize in advance for all the time you’ll lose on this gadget…

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


So, this week it was my turn to be featured over at Kelly Spitzer’s Writer Profile Project. You may not catch the faint whiff of my limelight-aversion on this website or blog, but I swear it’s there, lying beneath almost everything I do. Fortunately, Kelly made the process really easy, and in the process I came to think “hey, maybe I really am a writer!”

Anyway, check out our interview and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Cowboy Mouth at The Middle East

Above: Cowboy Mouth rocking The Middle East, Cambridge, Mass., 1/31/2007 (5 Stars)

This is a piece I wrote a few weeks back, but missed the editorial deadline for Being There Magazine so I thought I may as well share it here...

Every night is Mardi Gras for New Orleans-based rock band Cowboy Mouth, even a frigid January Wednesday in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Hyper-energetic drummer/vocalist Fred LeBlanc forces the crowd to abandon their stresses, forget about the sub-freezing temps, and celebrate the joy of being alive. He accomplishes this not only through lyrics and beats, but by rallying the crowd and demanding that we work to earn his performance. Cowboy Mouth insist upon energy, putting the show on hold until our collective exuberance matches theirs.

Fred opened the set alone at center stage with an a cappella version of “Over the Rainbow” that makes Catherine MacPhee’s American Idol version dull by comparison. The rest of the band joined him for the dramatic transition into the high octane “Light It On Fire.” Noticeably absent from the stage was longtime guitarist Paul Sanchez, who left the band in October 2006 after more than fifteen years. Although Vance DeGeneres (yes, that’s Ellen’s brother, another New Orleans native) proves a solid replacement, Sanchez’s absence from the stage surely affects the band’s song choice. Missing, for example, was Cowboy Mouth standard “Hurricane Party,” typically performed by Sanchez, forcing concert-goers to chew their Tootsie Rolls rather than launch them toward the stage.

Particular highlights included an energetic cover of Bo Diddley’s “I Can Tell” and an extended funk digression midway through “Voodoo Shoppe.” The band played only three tracks from their most recent release, Voodoo Shoppe: the title track, “Joe Strummer”, and “Winds Me Up,” instead choosing to reach back into their back catalogue for inspired versions of “Easy,” “Man On The Run,” “How Do You Tell Someone,” and “Take Me Back to New Orleans.” Lead guitarist John Thomas Griffith, a former resident of Allston, Mass., as Fred made a point of reminding us, took his turn at the microphone, belting “Here I Sit In Prison,” “Winds Me Up,” and “Everybody Loves Jill” (red spoons hurtling past Fred’s ear).

By the time Fred asked the crowd to join the “rock n’ roll orgasm” integrated into traditional closing number “Jenny Says,” we had surely forgotten all our troubles. Minutes later, we faced the wind chill again, but the lingering euphoria from their performance kept us warm.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Shorting Hot Tea Through My Nose

Two random tidbits this fine freezing-ass-cold April morning that made me snort Early Gray through my nose (still steaming, which trebled the pain).

First off, my buddy Veritas99 posted the Alanis Morrisette parody of "My Humps" which is absolutely hilarious.

Second, I got this from The Sports Guy, who got it from one of his readers, who probably got it from somebody else, who got it from somebody else, who got it from a dude at Google with a bank account the size of a small nation's GDP. Anyway...

  • Go to
  • Type in "New York, NY"
  • Choose Directions "From Here"
  • Enter "Paris, France"
  • Check out Step 23

And now, back to work...

Thursday, April 12, 2007

An Intimidating Crowd: Stone Sour @ Avalon

Above, left: The author on a typical night at home; above, right: the typical face in the crowd at the Stone Sour concert on Wednesday night.

This is a story about attending a heavy metal concert.

Allow me to present my credentials: The first audio cassette I selected for myself was Appetite for Destruction. A few years later, my CD collection began with the eponymous debut album from Black Sabbath. High school wrestling practices drew their tenor from Metallica and AC/DC. Saturday nights I watched Riki Rachtman’s Headbanger’s Ball on MTV (my favorites included Type O Negative, Tool, and White Zombie). Finally, my “pump-up” mix featured Nine Inch Nails, Megadeth, Ministry, and Pantera (among others).

Despite this documented predilection for hard rock and metal, I never became much of a headbanger: I’m far too uptight and clean-cut for that. It didn’t help that my high school and college friends preferred wispier fare.

My musical tastes have always been diverse. Even in high school I would swap out the Black Sabbath for Garth Brooks from time to time... (Shh, keep that between us). These days, my iPod has a bizarre assortment of tracks: Beatles, Deftones, Imogen Heap, Tiësto, Morphine, Sublime, Zero 7, Dr. Dre, Gabriel & Dresden, Queens of the Stone Age, Metallica, Jeff Buckley, Daddy Yankee, 50 Cent, Cowboy Mouth, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Audioslave, The Clash... In other words, a hodgepodge of dissimilar sounds.

All this by way of introduction to my rave review of the Jagermeister Concert Series, and its headliner, Slipknot side-project Stone Sour.

Couple months ago I got an email from Dave, alone among my friends an aficionado of heavy metal and/or hard rock. “Stone Sour is coming to Avalon. You interested?”

I hemmed and hawed. “Slipknot side-project” gave me the willies--and a sense that perhaps I wouldn’t fit into the crowd. We’re talking about guys who wear masks on stage. Now picture the fans, especially the rabid ones. But still the notion intrigued me.

“What the hell?” I said. “I’m in.”

Wednesday, April 4th, at the Avalon Ballroom in Boston, I marched into the fray, wearing my uniform (black jeans, black tee-shirt, black boots).

Lizard Man (he of the forked tongue and bone implants where his eyebrows should be) emceed the night’s festivities. From what I witnessed, his emceeing consisted of riffing on oral sex and shooting Jagermeister. I thought he was pretty funny, in his own way, but some of the crowd disagreed. The gigantic man beside me implored the band to take the stage (though he expressed it rather more explicitly).

As we passed the long line awaiting body cavity search, I saw that my suspicions on the crowd were true--to a point. Metal shows are more diverse than one might suspect. You’ve got your host of hard-core metal-heads. And you’ve got the contingent of near-convicts. Then there are teenagers and their reluctant mothers. Then a selection of people lured to the show by the slow tempo of a handful of Stone Sour songs that made their way to the mainstream airwaves--these tracks do not aptly represent the show to come.

Above: Demographic profile of the audience for the Jagermeister Concert Series

By the time we arrived (around 8:15), two opening acts had already played. Fortunately, we arrived in the nick of time to catch Springfield’s favorite sons: thrash metal band Shadows Fall.

My personal preference is for melodic metal, where the vocalist soars above the tuned-low guitar snarl. Others prefer that the instruments (guitars, bass, drums, vocals) blend together into a wall of noise, with the lyrics barely perceptible as a swirl of growls and shouts. Death metal doesn’t include much of what one would traditionally refer to as singing. From the first thirty seconds of Shadows Fall’s set, they exuded the death metal vibe. A low chugging and throaty growl. Hm. Not my cup of tea.

But, by the end of the second track, I was into it. Far from the illicit mosh pit (Avalon doesn’t permit moshing, in the name of insurance liability), but enjoying the show nonetheless.

Stone Sour came on at close to ten o’clock and played for an hour and change. Except for a brief acoustic set two-third of the way through the show, they played an aggressive selection of tracks from their first two studio albums. Particular highlights included “30-30/150,” which everyone in the crowd seemed to know, and “Made of Scars.”

Among my problems with the heaviest metal is that it becomes difficult to discern talent. Stone Sour, gentler than Slipknot and the group preceding them on stage, still plays hard and fast, but the lead guitar soars and the vocals are allowed to harmonize. After the show, I hurried home to buy the albums from iTunes.

Midway through the performance, Corey Taylor slung a guitar around his shoulders and took a solo spin through Stone Sour’s downbeat fare, including the song that put them on the map—“Bother” from the Spiderman soundtrack. As embellishments, Taylor belted the first few bars of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” (which always conjures in the mind of men my age an image of Helena Christensen in black-and-white…). Then, after the audience matched him lyric for lyric on “Through Glass” from the newest album, Taylor rewarded us with “Sweet Home Alabama.” It was a fun interlude, but by the fourth slow track, the crowd clamored for aggression. “I think you guys were expecting something a little harder,” he said, as the band joined him for part two of their aural onslaught.

It was a helluva show… and not all that frightening after all.

Matsuzaka-San vs. The Near No-No

Last night we had the distinct pleasure of witnessing first-hand, from the grandstands on the third-base line, the Fenway début of Daisuke Matsusaka. From his pitching line (7.0IP, 3ER) and Ichiro’s box score against (0-3), you’d have to say that he delivered the goods. Unfortunately, the man on the hill wearing the other jersey came so close to perfection… It’s tough to beat a one-hitter (though I just looked for a nifty link and found it’s happened more often than I would have thought…) so it’s tough to fault Matsuzaka. Hernández was unbelievable out there. Shivering in the low-40s Boston air around 9:15pm, six outs shy of the no-hitter, I realized it would make for a hell of a story if he finished it. Then J.D. Drew busted a single up the middle and I was oddly depressed. Matsusaka and a no-hitter in the same night? So close…

The Fenway area buzzed with playoff intensity last night. Not only was every seat filled by the first inning last night (a rare feat), but every area bar was packed to capacity with the spillover of fans who wanted to be near the action even if they couldn’t afford the exorbitant scalper-priced tix. An April game with that kind of vibe? Crazy.

We didn’t manage to snag any of the white Karate-Kid headbands, but we got a laminated sheet of Japanese baseball terms. I heard some people shouting them throughout the game…

Inside, the standing ovation lasted from his taking the mound until he recorded the first out of the game, a grounder from Ichiro to Matsusaka, soft toss to Youkilis for the out. Flashbulbs popped twenty per second across the 36,000-strong. It was a wondrous sight--truly, without a sniff of hyperbole--to see those flickering white lights dance through the crowd.

By the fourth inning or so, down a couple runs, fans returned to their normal patterns: waiting in long lines for $7.00 beers, chowing Fenway franks, and rushing the bathrooms between innings.

I can't wait to see what this kid can do. It's Pedro-mania again, with Dice-K's every start earning "must-see TV" status. Ganbare, Matsusaka-san.

Monday, April 02, 2007

And So It Begins...

Royals 7 Red Sox 1

I promise not to blog on baseball too frequently, but I have to express my angst somehow (and I think Keryn would appreciate if I direct MLB angst here)...

Here’s what I have to say: if Gil Meche pitches like that all season long, he’ll win the Cy Young. Maybe that oversize contract wasn’t so far off the mark as we all thought. Actually, I think that our boys made him look better than he really is...

I know it’s only one game, but I hate starting out with an L like that (especially with those Damn Yankees pulling it out). I’ve been avoiding reading Schilling’s blog so far, but after he stunk up the joint tonight, I might have to sneak a peek.

Dice K debuts tomorrow night. Of course I forgot to set the DVR and will be on a plane between Baltimore and Boston when he fires the infamous gyroball on NESN.

Despite today’s results, I remain guardedly optimistic about the season. (KNOCK ON WOOD).