Blogging the New CD: M is for Mercenary Maxims

Eighth in a series of blog posts about the songs on my new CD, Distorted Vision.

So, do you read Schlock Mercenary?

If not, some background: Schlock Mercenary is a space opera webcomic by Howard Tayler about the exploits of a 31st-century band of mercenaries known as “Tagon’s Toughs,” of whom the most dangerous — and arguably the most entertaining — is the nearly indestructible carbosilicate amorph, Sergeant Schlock.*


Sergeant Schlock with a guitar! Howard’s caption: “I suppose this means Schlock knows how to look like he knows how to play the guitar.” I can relate! (2012 image from Howard Tayler’s blog.)

One of the references that the Toughs use in the series is a collection of aphorisms known as the The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries. When I decided that I wanted to write a Schlock Mercenary-based filk song, the maxims seemed like the perfect source material. I enjoyed the challenge of incorporating, sometimes paraphrasing, and arranging different maxims into verses so they could be sung and also still make sense.

Here’s verse one:

The maxims are better far than doctrine
They make more sense and are easier to learn
They’re all about fighting smart instead of harder
And they start with the simplest: Pillage, then burn

You know that any Sergeant who’s in motion
Outranks a Lieutenant who doesn’t know what’s going on
But an ordnance technician moving at a dead run
Should be followed because he outranks everyone

“The Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries”

That first verse has only 3 maxims in it (numbers 1, 2, and 3, to be precise), but in the succeeding verses I fit in 13 more. That’s one reason why the song is called “The Maxims …” and not “The Seventy Maxims …” — because there was no way to fit in any more and keep the song a reasonable length!

Before I recorded the song, I sent the draft lyrics to Howard and his wife Sandra (whom I have known longer since we are both members of the Codex online writing group), and I was pleased that they accepted my tribute in good humor. You can listen to the final version and see if you think it’s a fitting tribute to the webcomic.

I hope you like the song, and Schlock Mercenary itself!

___
*Described on the Wikipedia page as having “no easily definable limbs, organs, or moral compass.” (And, speaking of Wikipedia, some enterprising Wiki editor might want to edit that page to add a reference to a particular tribute song ….)

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Blogging the New CD: L is for a Lake of Beer

Seventh in a series of blog posts about the songs on my new CD, Distorted Vision.

This post will work best if you can read it in an Irish accent … though an English, Scottish, or Aussie accent would work fine as well.

We should probably answer the obvious question: what happened to letters G through K? In this blog series I went straight down the line from A is for Anti-Candidate to F is for a Faded Coat, so why did we jump all the way to L?

I’ll tell you why. First, because the album only has 11 songs on it, so it was unreasonable to think that I might use all 26 letters of the alphabet. Second, while I could have used “G” this time and said it was for a “Great Lake of Beer,” since that’s more of the song’s title, I elected not to.

Sue me.

This song is actually based on a prayer attributed to St. Brigid of Ireland, who lived around A.D. 453-523. You can find several versions of her prayer online, some annotating it as a tenth century prayer, but of course if she really wrote it then it would be a fifth or sixth century prayer. This version starts as follows:

I’d like to give a lake of beer to God.
I’d love the heavenly
Host to be tippling there
For all eternity.


St. Brigid of Kildare, rendered in stained glass at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Macon, GA (1903). Image from Wikimedia Commons.

I took St. Brigid’s prayer, added some words here and there to render it in four rhyming stanzas, and also added this chorus:

I’ll raise my glass in highest honor
Of the man who turned the water into wine
For he taught us how to live a little better
And I’d like to drink with him for all of time

“A Great Lake of Beer (for the King of Kings)”

And because it’s an Irishwoman’s prayer (based, some sources say, on her vision of heaven as having a great lake of beer), I tried to write my best approximation of an Irish tune around it. The only way for you to decide if I was successful, of course, is to listen to it.

I hope you like it!

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Blogging the New CD: F is for a Faded Coat

Sixth in a series of blog posts about the songs on my new CD, Distorted Vision.

If you don’t know who the Browncoats are … well, you will after reading this post.

My brave lad sleeps in his faded coat of brown.
In a lonely grave unknown lies a heart of love renowned.
He sank faint and hungry among the famished brave,
And they laid him sad and lonely within his nameless grave.

“The Faded Coat of Brown”

In the future envisioned in the TV show Firefly and its follow-on movie Serenity, the Union of Allied Planets (“the Alliance”) fought a civil war — and in some ways a war of pacification — against the independence movement that came to be identified with the brown coats its members wore. The captain of Serenity, Malcolm Reynolds, fought with the Independents along with his first mate Zoe, and they both maintain a fierce independent streak throughout the show.


The most famous Browncoat of all, Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion). Image from The Firefly and Serenity Database.

The idea for this song came from outside of Firefly, however, because it’s an adaptation of an 1865 song called “The Faded Coat of Blue” — a song that evokes the anguish of a parent whose son never returned from the Civil War. I don’t recall when I first had the notion of changing every “blue” in the original song to “brown” (which necessitated changing all of the accompanying rhymes) but it seemed as if it would make a fitting tribute. And not only a fitting tribute, but that it could make sense in the context of the Firefly milieu.

One aspect of the future that crept into different episodes of the series is the recollection of “Earth that was” — the past planetary home from which humanity spread out. It seemed to me that some of the music of the distant past might survive, and that some resistance fighter might adopt an old song to reflect the struggles and sacrifices of a new war. And I thought it might not matter that the original song was written about a Union soldier rather than a Rebel, because the sacrifices are similar on both sides.

No more the bugle calls the weary one.
Rest, noble spirit, in thy grave unknown.
I’ll find you and know you when the final trumpet sounds
And a robe of white is given for the faded coat of brown.

“The Faded Coat of Brown”

I hope I maintained the poignancy of the original, even as I adapted it to the fictional universe of Firefly. You can decide for yourself if you listen to “The Faded Coat of Brown”. I hope you like it.

___

One last note: Many Browncoat fan groups around the country sponsor showings of Serenity and other events to raise money for charity. I hope they like the song, too!

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Blogging the New CD: E is for Ender

Fifth in a series of blog posts about the songs on my new CD, Distorted Vision.

E is for Ender — Andrew “Ender” Wiggin — the boy genius turned military commander in Orson Scott Card’s novel Ender’s Game. Faced with the disorientation of zero gravity during Battle School, Ender devised a simple way to orient himself and his troops during the battle “game” — he began thinking of the objective (the gate by which the opposing force would enter the Battle Room) as “down.” Thus, in the Battle Room, “the enemy’s gate is down.”

The enemy lurks in the endless sky
And gave us no choice but to win or die
But justice will not be denied
The enemy’s gate is down, the enemy’s gate is down, down, down

“The Enemy’s Gate is Down”


Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card.

The novel Ender’s Game got me back into reading science fiction after a long hiatus.

When I was a mid-grade captain in the USAF, stationed at Vandenberg AFB, one of the lieutenants in our unit suggested I read Ender’s Game. For several years almost all of my off-duty reading had been either school- or military-related, and I did little pleasure reading despite having been an avid science fiction reader before college.

Reading Ender’s Game, I realized what I had been missing.

I still had other reading to do, but gradually I added more science fiction and fantasy to my off-duty reading. My wife and I began reading some SF&F classics to one another on long trips — Starship Troopers on one trip, for instance, and then when our children were old enough that they would listen we read The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and the Harry Potter novels.

Gradually I also added more Orson Scott Card novels to my shelves. I don’t remember how long it was before I realized that I had first encountered his fiction in Omni magazine, back when I had been one of that magazine’s earliest subscribers.

When I was stationed in Greenland, for a brief period of time I was part of an online writing group that OSC sponsored on his website. I learned a good bit from the experience, and during that assignment I wrote my first novel. (After many rejections I got an offer on it from a small publisher, but did not proceed with the deal — a story for another day.)

In 2003 I attended OSC’s writing workshop at UNC-Greensboro, where I found out a lot of what I had done wrong in that first novel. Then in 2004 he selected me as one of the students for his Literary Boot Camp, held that year at Southern Virginia University in Buena Vista, Virginia. I learned so much during that week that I still haven’t put into practice, but I have seen some small success with my short fiction since selling my first story in 2007 and making my first “professional” sale in 2010.

So not only because the novel got me back into reading SF&F, but because it rejuvenated my long-comatose dream of writing and publishing my own stories, being able to do a song based on Ender’s Game meant a lot to me. (Where that dream morphed into writing and publishing songs, I’m not sure; I guess I needed another hobby.)

Anyway, in the song I wanted a martial beat to capture the battle feel and I tried to compose words that would reflect the difficulties of fighting an implacable enemy in order to protect those we hold dear.

There are times when you fight, win however you can
The price you pay is your soul … piece by piece by piece
It’s a pittance to offer, for your fellow man
To guard those we love and treasure while they peacefully sleep

And in the final chorus, I change the focus from the determination we must have to face the enemy to the price we pay in doing so.

The price of freedom is always high
We pay it when we kill, and we’ll pay it if we die
But we pay it for the futures of those we left behind
The enemy’s gate is down, the enemy’s gate is down, down, down

If I’d been more forward-thinking, I would have written and released the song to coincide with the release of the movie. But my sense of timing has never been that good.

Anyway, whether you’ve read Ender’s Game (or seen the movie) or not, and even if you can’t relate to the feelings expressed in the song, I hope you like “The Enemy’s Gate is Down”!


___

One final note: Both the first chorus and the second chorus include subtle, if not downright obscure, homages to renowned science fiction authors. Can you pick them out?

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Blogging the New CD: C is for Christ’s Hard Sayings

Third in a series of blog posts about the songs on my new CD, Distorted Vision.

Some people reading this may be averse to anything that even hints at Christianity, its tenets or its practices. That’s okay. But even people who do not follow Christ can often recognize and sometimes appreciate things he said.

Consider “Turn the other cheek,” for instance. Many people might recognize that sentiment without knowing that Jesus said it, or without knowing how subversive it was at the time.* Like many of the things that Jesus taught, however, it’s easier to say than it is to put into practice. To apply it to a recent situation in science fiction and fantasy fandom, had more people been able to turn the other cheek the great Hugo Award Fracas of 2015 might have resulted in fewer hurt feelings and fewer damaged friendships.

The truth is that Jesus said some things that are difficult to understand and difficult to embody. As a result, the practice of Christianity is sometimes hard to accomplish.

Follow me, and learn to fish for human souls
Follow me, leave your family and your home
Follow me, I don’t bring peace, I bring a sword
Follow me, and let the dead bury their own

“We Want the Easy Road”

Some of those things are hard to figure out, and some are hard to do, on top of the basic problem of dealing with doubt and uncertainty day by day, and of trying to make the most of whatever measure of faith we may have. This song, then, is primarily about dealing with the difficult things that Jesus said, the things he said that fly in the face of the way we think the world works or should work, and above all else the one thing he said that can confound us whether we ignore it or we try to obey it. And that was simply, “Follow me.”

What are we to make of the things he said? At times during the song you get some of my reactions:

  • “It sounds so good, you knew it would, all the pleasant things you said”
  • “It sounds so odd, these words from God, so we ignore the hard things you said”
  • “It sounds absurd, these things we heard — all those crazy things you said”
  • “We close our ears, don’t want to hear, are we sure that’s what you said?”

And as the good things he said transition to odd things, to things that sound absurd, and to things that we may not want to hear, I conclude that quite often we want the easy road rather than the straight and narrow, the wine and the bread of communion rather than the sweat and sacrifice of service.

A loaf of bread...
“We want the easy road, the wine, the bread.” (Image: “A loaf of bread…” by James Lee, from Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Whether you are a believer or not, whether you have ever even thought much about who Jesus was or what he did, I hope you can find something to ponder in “We Want the Easy Road”. And if you like it, go ahead and share it with others who might like it, too.

___
*If you want to know more about how turning the other cheek or going the extra mile would have been subversive acts, drop me a line.

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Blogging the New CD: B is for Baen

Second in a series of blog posts about the songs on my new CD, Distorted Vision.

Shortly after I finished up my first album I started writing a tribute song about Baen Books. I’ve been quite pleased to work as a Contributing Editor for Baen for many years now, and I’m equally pleased to include this song on my new album.

We’ve got Weber, Drake, and Ringo, and Correia and Bujold
Some of the finest stories that you’ve ever been told
Lackey, Flint and Kratman, Spencer and Van Name — look for the
Dragon and the rocket ship, on the books we call Baen

“The Books we Call Baen”

One of the tricky things about this song is that I used an existing tune, and one that Firefly fans in particular will recognize: “The Hero of Canton.” Since “Baen” is pronounced “bane,” it seemed natural to adapt the phrase “the man they call Jayne” into “the books we call Baen.”

The difficulty came when I started trying to fit the names of various authors into the chorus. If perhaps you don’t recognize all the authors’ names in the chorus, they’re David Weber, David Drake, John Ringo, Larry Correia, Lois McMaster Bujold, Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint, Tom Kratman, Wen Spencer, and Mark Van Name. It was a fun challenge, though, and I like the way it turned out!

Also, if you’re not sure what I mean by “the dragon and the rocket ship,” take a close look at the Baen logo:

In the negative space of the plume of that launching spaceship, you’ll see the profile of a dragon. Thus the logo itself captures both the science fiction and fantasy sides of the publishing house.

Using an existing tune caused me some additional problems. Since I hadn’t written a parody of the original song, I needed to get permission to record the new song, and that proved to be quite the adventure. “The Hero of Canton” was written by Firefly producer Ben Edlund, and I tried several different avenues of trying to get in touch with him — trying to send a message via the man who played Jayne, Adam Baldwin, for instance, and asking Sean Maher (who played Simon Tam) when I saw him at MystiCon in Roanoke. I began to despair of success, but in May I finally achieved a breakthrough in contact. Even though Mr. Edlund said he wasn’t completely sure he could grant me the right to record it, he gave his blessing to the effort — and that was enough for me.

My first version of the song included an extended ending chorus with the names of additional authors, but between the time I wrote it and the time I was recording the song we added several new authors to the Baen family — and since some of them were friends of mine, I didn’t want to leave them out! So began a quick rewrite of that extended chorus in order to shoehorn more names in.

I know I still left out some authors — I hate to think how long the song would be if I tried to include every author in our catalog — but the final chorus now mentions Chuck Gannon, Dave Freer, Michael Z. Williamson, Frank Chadwick, Ben Bova, Sarah Hoyt, Ryk Spoor, Tony Daniel, Sharon Lee, Steve Miller, Jody Lynn Nye, David B. Coe, Steve White, Brad Torgersen, Catherine Asaro, Timothy Zahn, Travis Taylor, Elizabeth Moon, Robert Buettner, Mike Resnick, Eric James Stone, Steve Stirling, John Lambshead, Les Johnson, Anne McCaffrey, Jerry Pournelle, Andre Norton, Larry Niven, Harry Turtledove, and Robert A. Heinlein. And even though I mostly only mention their last names, that’s still a lot of syllables to put together!

As you might imagine, there are a few “in jokes” in the song, but even if you have no idea who Joe Buckley is or what an eARC is, I hope you’ll smile and sing along to “The Books We Call Baen”!

___

Reminder: I’m playing a concert as part of the Dragon Con Filk Track, this Sunday the 6th of September at 4 p.m. in the Hyatt Regency’s Baker Room. Come out and see me!

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Blogging the New CD: A is for Anti-Candidate

First in a series of blog posts about the songs on my new CD, Distorted Vision.

Since I’m currently a candidate for a real political office — the District “D” seat on the Cary (NC) Town Council — it seemed appropriate to start this series of posts by focusing on a political song. A disclaimer is in order, first: Nothing in this blog post should be construed as having anything to do with the office I am seeking, or with my actual campaign.

This is about the Anti-Campaign.

I’ve been unknown, and rarely sung, I’m an Anti-Candidate
And I’d serve in any office, in any district or any state
But I have a little problem, it’s an introvert’s disgrace
I’d rather rely on social media than to meet you face to face

“The Anti-Candidate Song”

I started the Anti-Campaign during the 2008 election cycle because the idea tickled me: I made myself available as a convenient write-in vote for any office, anywhere. It became a running gag, and now even has its own bumper sticker!


Bumper stickers are $2 each plus shipping and handling. Buy yours on my Bandcamp page.

And every campaign needs a theme song, right? Well, in this case the campaign has two.

The first Anti-Campaign theme song was “I Think I’ll Run for Congress”, which was on my 2013 album Truths and Lies and Make-Believe. “The Anti-Candidate Song” is something of a sequel, and like “I Think I’ll Run for Congress” it pokes fun at politics and politicians.

“The Anti-Candidate Song” plays off two characteristics that the first song attributed to the candidate singing it: arrogance and megalomania. In the first song, I sing that politics

… fits my arrogant, megalomaniacal personality

and in this song I sing

I may be arrogant and megalomaniacal but it’s just because I’m great

I leave it as an exercise to you to decide how much of that is true, and how much is the kind of convenient falsehood which career politicians seem to spin so easily. (And, if you will, how much of the Anti-Campaign as a whole infuses my real campaign.) But I will point out that if you look closely at the bumper sticker in the image above, you’ll see it says, “Arrogant & Megalomaniacal: What could go wrong?”

In the end, even if you can’t quite be sure whether I’m being serious or silly, I hope you find something to smile about when you listen to “The Anti-Candidate Song”!


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Reminder: I’m playing a concert as part of the Dragon Con Filk Track, on Sunday the 6th of September at 4 p.m. in the Hyatt Regency’s Baker Room. Come out and see me!

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Next Weekend: Dragon Con! Here’s My Concert & Event Schedule

It’s almost Labor Day weekend, and that means I’ll be heading to Atlanta for another Dragon Con! I look forward to a nice, quiet, relaxing time … with about 60 or 70 thousand of my closest friends!

Actually, since Dragon Con is (so far as I know) the largest general science fiction and fantasy convention in the Southeast, I’m sure it will be its typical exciting, exhausting but ultimately rewarding time. I’m particularly grateful to my friend Alethea Kontis and the folks on the Dragon Con Filk Track who have invited me to perform at various times through the weekend.

Here’s how the convention is shaping up for me:

Friday:

  • 2:30 p.m. — Meet, Greet, Filk — Baker Room, Hyatt (tentative)
  • 5:30 p.m. — Filk & Cookies — Baker Room, Hyatt (tentative)
  • 7:00 p.m. — Princess Alethea’s Traveling Sideshow with Alethea Kontis, Leanna Renee Hieber, Lisa Mantchev, Delilah S. Dawson, Zac Brewer, and David B. Coe (D.B. Jackson) — A707, Marriott
  • 11:30 p.m. — Open Filking — Baker Room, Hyatt

On Saturday, I should get to be a “fan” for part of the time — go to concerts or panels or the Art Show — and maybe even watch some football when I’m not in the Dealer’s Room (where our Baen Books authors will be signing at the Missing Volume bookstore); and if possible I’ll make an appearance at:

  • 2:30 p.m. — InstaFilk — Baker Room, Hyatt (tentative)
  • 11:30 p.m. — Open Filking — Baker Room, Hyatt

Sunday is my busiest day:

  • 1:00 p.m. — Baen Books Traveling Road Show and Prize Patrol! — art, previews, and free books! — Regency Ballroom V, Hyatt
  • 4:00 p.m. — Solo Concert! — Baker Room, Hyatt
  • 5:30 p.m. — Match Game, a fannish version of the TV game show, with Van Allen Plexico, Melinda M. Snodgrass, and Teresa Patterson — Embassy Ballroom A-B, Hyatt
  • 11:30 p.m. — Open Filking — Baker Room, Hyatt

That’s right: as soon as the Baen Road Show is over, I’ll be giving a concert featuring music from my new CD, Distorted Vision, as well as favorites from Truths and Lies and Make-Believe — and more! I plan to have CDs with me wherever I go, as well as “Anti-Candidate,” “Another Romulan Ale” and “Tauntauns to Glory” bumper stickers, so flag me down if you want one!

If you’re going, I hope we’ll get a chance to chat. If you’re not going, or if we simply don’t find each other, you can always sign up for my newsletter to get the latest info on my different projects.

Have fun storming the convention!

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Release Day! DISTORTED VISION is Now Available!

Almost 2 years to the day since I released Truths and Lies and Make-Believe, here comes my second musical collection, Distorted Vision.


(Album cover photography and design by Christopher Rinehart. Click to go to the Bandcamp page, to listen to or purchase the album.)

Like its predecessor, Distorted Vision is another collection of songs mostly inspired by or referencing science fiction and fantasy, as well as songs about the marvels and misfortunes of life itself. I consider it to be a second helping of “truths and lies and make-believe.”

Where T&L&MB had ten all-original tunes, this new album has eleven songs, including two which use existing tunes. I intend to write a series of posts examining each song on its own, but here’s the running order with a few basic notes:

All the above links go to Bandcamp, which is the only place the album is available at this time. At Bandcamp you can listen to the songs, purchase a download of individual songs or the whole album, and order a physical CD for me to send to you (and, yes, I ship them myself).* I will make the album available on CD Baby soon, and from there it will be available on Amazon and other outlets — and the songs themselves will be available for streaming.

If you never listened to Truths and Lies and Make-Believe,** but you’ve heard me play guitar and are a little leery of how these songs might sound, let me assure you that just like the first album I did not actually play any of the instruments on this one. My friend Mark Minervino was once again the studio musician par excellence, and also engineered and mixed the songs, and my friend Brian Ceccarelli of Talus Music mastered the CD so the sound quality would be uniform. I couldn’t have done this album, or the last one, without them!

So if this sort of thing interests you, or if you’re just curious, or even if you just want to humor me, I hope you’ll give it a listen — and that maybe you’ll find something you like enough to buy! And if you know someone else who might appreciate it, by all means send them a link to the album or to this blog post.

Thanks, I hope you like what you hear, and let me know what you think!

___
*Note that physical CDs won’t ship until close to the end of the month. Sorry!
**Really? It’s been out for 2 years, and you haven’t listened to it yet?

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Cover Reveal: DISTORTED VISION

The new CD is almost ready! So, offered for your consideration, here’s the front cover:


(Click for larger version.)

And here’s the back cover:


(Click for larger version.)

The photography and cover design are by my son, Christopher Rinehart.

The album was recorded at Stormghost Studio, Cary, NC, and MKM Studios, Scarborough, ME; engineered and mixed by Mark Minervino at MKM Studios, Scarborough, ME; and mastered by Brian Ceccarelli at Talus Music, Apex, NC.

I’ll be releasing the electronic album later this week, and physical CDs will be available shortly thereafter.

Stay tuned!

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