What is this content stuff and why should I care?
Opinion Piece: Little Fears
I have a three-year-old son. Here is a list of things he is afraid of:
Peppa Pig’s dad
A hobby horse that neighs
A neighbour’s cat named Jasper
The Frozen soundtrack
The toilet door being closed
Mr McGregor from Peter Rabbit
The magic powers of his glitter-filled $2 Shop wand
Me when I pretend to be a zombie and eat his brains (without vomiting them back into his head)
They’re not all debilitating fears. Some of them are kind of funny. But they do have a habit of permeating everything. They rear their heads at odd times, closing down a game with cousins, or sending him hurtling down a hallway to hold onto you for dear life. Or scrabbling around for the remote control because the dramatic arc of Peppa’s dad getting stuck on a high diving board is just too much. A plan can be waylaid, and we can end up spending an evening indoors rather than trick-or-treating among the ghosts and zombies. Sometimes older kids are puzzled, or sometimes they brandish the Frozen album cover like a flaming torch, sending him running from the playroom.
In Star Wars (which he is afraid of), Obi-Wan Kenobi explains the force as “an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together." For little kids, fear is the force. It surrounds them, it penetrates them, it binds their little galaxies together.
This shouldn’t surprise us. We’re the ones who bring fear into their lives. We sing about Santa watching them while they’re sleeping, then pull it out as a bargaining chip when they’re being naughty anywhere near December (I’m not proud of this). We plant the idea of a glitter-filled wand being magical, then scoff when the magic gets out of our control and starts creating monsters.
That’s without even talking about the books that we read them. Maurice Sendak is a strange, childless man who was haunted by numerous family members being killed in the Holocaust. Yet we turn his story of an abusive child set adrift on a sea of Wild Things loose on them. We’re happy to send them off to bed with thoughts of a creature with knobbly knees, turned out toes and a poisonous wart at the end of his nose who is trying his darndest to eat the protagonist. Or we sit them in front of Disney movies because it’s ok to give them the classics without thinking about Bambi’s mother shot dead in the opening frames. Or Simba’s dad torn apart by jackals. Then we sing them nursery rhymes in which broken eggs can’t be put back together again, babies fall out of precarious treetop cradles.
So why do we scare the ones we love? Maybe without thinking about it, we introduce little fears to our children to prepare them for the big ones. Just as we feed them peanuts in small doses with a clear run to the hospital, we also dish out fear in little parcels. The stories and songs and fairytales and dead Disney parents are a kind of accidental therapy. So we shouldn’t be surprised if the tiny fears we’ve introduced get big and stop the playdate or makes us choose a less distressing episode of Peppa Pig. They’re just making sense of the world we’ve introduced.
But even though it might be accidental therapy, at least for now, it seems to work. And I hope it keeps working for as long as possible. So those tiny fears keep acting as safety valves. So they don’t end up like us, awake at 5am, fretting career moves, worrying about age, death, parents, money. I’m happy that for now, my son is wracked with tiny, fast-fading fears. He sleeps soundly, gently snoring in my ear, while I lie there awake, terrorized by the big things.
Originally appeared in Lunch Lady, Issue 3.
Performance Appraisal, Walter Birchall
Thanks for your first 6 weeks with us. This is something we do with everyone new, so take a seat and let’s get started. Don’t worry about the clip-board, it’s just a few notes I’ve been jotting down over the journey. Helps me keep these meetings focused.
Firstly, your attitude has been mentioned from time to time. Visitors in particular find you charming and ready with a smile. That’s great. That’s what we strive for here and that’s why we’re fast approaching the number 3 family in the tri-state area. But it’s not enough to think of visitors. We’re important too. And frankly, we’re not seeing a lot of this sunny disposition. Oh sure, there’s a smile here and there but it’s more often than not followed by some…unpleasantness. This is something we can work on. But hey, that’s why I’m here. Are you with me Walt? Walt? That’s a ceiling fan. Look at me. Ok.
We also should talk about, how do we put this…timelines. Now where you came from, it’s quite likely you did things differently. That’s ok. In a lot of ways we like that. But if we’re going to put some time into your training, we need you to at least make an attempt to work to our timings. 3 am is not the time to be giggling at the squeaky horse. I like your work with the horse. I do. It’s why we brought you on board. But there is a time and a place. Ok. Ok don’t cry. This is positive.
I know you won’t be surprised to know there are certain…expectations that certain stakeholders have. Important stakeholders. Kathy for instance – you remember Kathy, right? Wealthy, childless Kathy? Anyway, she wrote ‘If you’re half as gorgeous as your mommy, you’re going to be a heartbreaker’. Well, I know it was an optimistic goal, but I have to be honest with you. You’re not there yet. There’s the blotchiness. There’s that discoloration above your right eye. There’s the crust of vomit on your chin.
And Bill – you remember Bill, right? Famously generous around birthday and graduation time? He wrote, ‘We know you are going to grow into a fine young man’. Now I’m not saying you won’t. All I’m saying is that after 6 weeks, we’re seeing scant evidence of it. And I’m not sure if you know how our funding structure works here, Walt. I know it’s not your department. But let’s just say that since the unfortunate incident at the track, we haven’t got a lot of what we’d call ‘cash flow’, or, you know, ‘money’. So stakeholders are as important to you as they are to me. Possibly more so, as we head into flu season.
I’ve also had feedback from ‘Aunt’ Jean Freidberg that you excreted onto her through your diaper and grow-suit. We’ve all wanted to do it, but the fact is, our margins are wafer thin. We can’t get away with that kind of thing. So we’ll work on rectifying that. I think if we put in the work and apply the right principles, we can get you shitting vaguely away from people by the March quarter. If that feels too fast, you tell me.
Having said all that, I have some good newsfor you. We’ve decided to keep you on. We see some potential. There’s a certain glint in the eye that sets you apart as very ‘us’. Something we can work with. Mould. Also, we’re legally obliged to keep you. You see? That’s better. That’s the smile we like to…oh. Right.
Originally appeared in Sleepers Almanac Volume 8
The Axe, Smith Journal Vol 9.
With its iconic shape and nasty tone, the BC Rich Warlock made a perfect partner to thrashy hair metal.
Exactly three minutes and fifty-three seconds into the video for Motley Crüe’s 1984 single “Looks That Kill”, the shape of the rock guitar changed forever. Or at least, for the next decade.
That crash zoom onto Mick Mars’s lead break introduced the world at large to the BC Rich Warlock – a jagged, asymmetrical monster first produced in 1981. It looked at home in that post-apocalyptic video, among the caged women, pentagrams, studded leather and flames. Finally, a guitar that matched the sound, aggression and hair of the new brand of metal. The angles, the sound and even the name of the Warlock were timed perfectly to match the rise of the Crüe and their spandex-clad ilk.
Bernardo Chavez Rico was an unlikely champion of the fast, trashy and catchy brand of rock that became known as hair metal. An accomplished Flamenco player, Rico went into the guitar business with his father in the mid ’50s. Bernardo’s Guitar Shop in East Los Angeles quickly became a hangout for flamenco and classical players who would fire riffs back and forth. Initially they imported nylon string acoustic guitar parts from Paracho, Mexico and assembled them in the store. Their popularity spread among the folk scene in the ’60s, with players like Barry “Eve of Destruction” McGuire getting work done on steel string acoustics. In 1968, Rico moved into solid body electric guitars.
Before the Warlock, Rico was already experimenting with new shapes. His Mockingbird and Bich models were known for their wild cutaways, sweeping curves and unexplained pointy bits. But the Warlock took it to the next level.
According to BC Rich Production Manager Tim Keyes, “(Rico) was looking at a Bich model sitting in his office and started sketching a new design on a piece of paper. He always wanted to use a French curve in designing a guitar. He took the Bich shape and straightened out many of the lines to make it more menacing.” The Warlock was born.[NS1] And it had a purpose. To Keyes, “Heavy metal music was just starting to creep into the U.S. scene and he was trying to move into that market.” It worked.
Mars and bassist Nikki Sixx of Motley Crüe weren’t the only players to adopt the new shape. For a glorious period in the ’80s, the Warlock was the guitar. Bobby Dahl of Poison used a lurid green Warlock bass in the video for “Talk Dirty To Me”. Kiss’s Paul Stanley updated his look in the ’80s by dropping the makeup and picking up a mirrorball-topped Warlock. Lita Ford, formerly of snotty girl group The Runaways launched her solo career with big hair, spandex and a Warlock. And an unknown kid named Saul Hudson used one too, as late as 1986, when his band covered Aerosmith’s “Mama Kin”, replete with Warlock solo. You might know Hudson better by his stage name, Slash.
But just as it rose, the Warlock declined. By the turn of the decade, hair metal acts ditched the lipstick and were turning out “serious” rock with serious videos and serious guitars. Even the Crüe got all demure. Mick Mars can be seen playing acoustic and slide guitar in the video for 1989s “Without You”. The adventurous guitar shapes and eye-popping colours of the ’80s were gone, replaced by a thirst for classic shapes like Fender Stratocasters and Telecasters. And when Kurt Cobain hacked out the opening chords to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on a 1969 Fender Mustang, it was over for the Warlock. The ensuing decades have seen it move out of the mainstream and into the hands of heavier bands like Slayer and Slipknot, or used ironically by bands like Tenacious D. But the Warlock remains a reminder of a time of spandex, hairspray and shredding.
Originally appeared in Smith Journal Vol. 9
Duke Batavia: Wide Wide World
Song written by Ben Birchall and performed by Duke Batavia. Video by Ben Birchall & Shane Dawson.