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The Department of Tangents Podcast

Years ago, playing a sort of improv game with friends in which we all picked super powers based on our personalities, I dubbed myself “Tangent Lad.” I was not a very strong superhero, and I could not defeat a super villain on my own, but I could distract them with Monty Python quotes and football trivia. I have many times since apologized to an interview subject in my capacity as a journalist by saying, “I am either very good or very bad at tangents, depending on how you feel about tangents.”

I had a rough time coming up with the concept and naming this blog/podcast. I knew I wanted to create a place where I could address things I’m passionate about – comedy, music, and horror. Finding a name that communicated all three of those things proved a bit impossible. I bugged my friends, and they all tried to help. To no avail. Then I thought, maybe I’m approaching this from the wrong angle. Maybe my lack of focus should be the focus.

As a journalist, I have written for The Boston Globe since 2000, starting out writing CD reviews and then writing a regular column on comedy for seven and a half years. I still contribute there, and to Kirkus Reviews, and other publications. I’m also a musician, and released my debut full-length album, Blue Skies and Broken Arrows, in March of 2015. And I’ve been publishing short horror fiction for a couple of years.

I like to climb into things I love and see how they operate. That’s what the Department of Tangents is for. I’ll be writing regular features, essays, and news bits about the big three – comedy, music, and horror – and offering clips from people I’ve taped interviews with over the past nearly twenty years of writing. Some of the best parts of the interviews I’ve done have been completely off-point and inappropriate for print. I’ll get to explore more of that here. I’m also hoping to convince some friends to tell me about the things they love that I might not even know about, and pass that along to you.

The DoT podcast might be short or long, depending on where the conversation leads. You cant purposefully create an interesting tangent in conversation – it has to happen naturally. But I can confidently forecast that there will be moments in the individual podcasts where things veer off wonderfully.

The main thing here is love. To write about the things that make I’ve loved forever, and some new things that might stand the test and be around, at least for me, for decades to come. I’ve had to be critical in my writing at times, and it might not all be nonstop roses here, but in the end, what I really want to talk about is the good stuff. That’s why I will regularly write about things I think are “Perfect,” even if someone can demonstrate empirically that they are flawed. Still perfect to me.

Also, fish.

I hope you, dear anonymous surfer person, will come to expect only the highest-quality, free-range, grass-fed tangents. And I hope some of you love the same things I do and find it useful. Or at least a welcome distraction until the others get here.

Dec 31, 2018

This is a special edition of the Department of Tangents Podcast, a look back at the year in horror films with filmmakers, musicians, and writers Michael J. Epstein and Sophia Cacciola, who released their own horror film in 2018 called Clickbait. We talked about the best, the most disappointing, and a few mixed reviews, including bigger releases like Hereditary, A Quiet Place, Halloween, Sorry To Bother You, the Suspiria remake, Annihilation, and Mandy, as well as some indie releases like the Kane Hodder documentary To Hell and Back, the video game-themed Livescream, the generically named Horror Movie: A Low-Budget Nightmare.

We also discussed some larger questions about the genre, whether we’re in a horror boom at the moment, and why there’s still a stigma involved in calling your work “horror.” Mike and Sophia have no qualms with the term, which you already know if you listened to episode five of the podcast when they discussed their Hammer-esque film Blood of the Tribades. They believe the term applies to their latest, Clickbait, which is about a viral video star who is stalked by a killer. But the movie is also a comedy and a satire, with a wonderful through line of commercial parodies for radioactive toaster pastries called Toot Strudels. Epstein mentioned a term he quite likes that is found more often in the European film world – Cinema Fantastique, which implies a kind of wild spectacle. And if you love the idea of Toot Strudels, you can actually buy t-shirts emblazoned with three different flavors on Amazon. Clickbait (2019) - Trailer from Launch Over - Cacciola / Epstein on Vimeo.

A note about this episode, it was supposed to come out several weeks ago, but I was knocked out of commission for most of December with an illness. I’m on the mend now, and new episodes are on the way, but there will be another short break of a couple of weeks before the show picks up again. I want to thank you for your patience, and wish you a happy and healthy New Year. I’ll be back soon with more music, comedy, and horror to inform and delight you, including several episodes I recorded at this year’s NorthEast Comic Con & Collectibles Extravaganza.

This episode's featured track is “Alone” from Whispering Sons, a post-punk outfit from Brussels, Belgium. It’s from their first full-length album, Image, which they recorded after moving to the big city as a group. That accounts in part for the recurring theme of feeling out of step with your surroundings. One of the refrains here is, “They move so slowly when they’re not afraid/And I just keep moving at a different rate/It’s a kind of stillness, I can’t relate.” Juxtapose that with the moving pulse of the bass and drums and the stuttering, glassy-sounding guitar. The press materials mention the music is for fans of The Damned and Joy Division, and that’s applicable. But frontwoman Fenne Kuppens’ glowering low-register vocals remind me a bit of Nick Cave. See what you think.