scop (noun):

Old English – bard, minstrel, storyteller

Getting our Irish on @ Riley’s Pour House

March 18th, 2018

The music started when Young John Gallagher took the stage before a packed house in Riley’s Outdoor Pavilion. An hour later, The Connolly-Davis Band followed suit before an SRO crowd inside the pub. For the rest of the day, Riley’s delivered a double-track of Irish-trad and Celtic-rock that also featured The Danny McGoo Duo, John Walsh, and The Wild Geese. St. Patrick himself even made an appearance (portrayed by Rich O’Malley), as did a freshly distilled barrel of whiskey, courtesy of Ryan Kanto and the newly opened Quantum Spirits of Carnegie.

Festivities continued through the night, with the music wrapping up after midnight.

Other features included Riley’s new Pour House marker, a bullet-shaped buoy, modeled after the Southpoint Buoy that marks the southern edge of the continental United States. Mounted at the Main Street entrance to Riley’s Gardens, the marker serves to guide the “way to great food, great fun, great memories and a whole lot of craic!” according to pub owner Jim Riley.

Displaying the names of all previous Pour House owners and emblazoned with green shamrocks and a white Celtic cross, the marker pays tribute to the Irish community’s long history in Carnegie and beyond.

I got a chance to check out the marker during one of our breaks. It’s a beauty. At night, it lights up to serve as a beacon for those huddled masses looking for music, craic, and a perfect pint.

Another community highlight for the day centered on the whiskey barrel presented by Quantum Spirits. Taking the stage before our second set, Jim Riley encouraged everyone to to commemorate the day by signing the cask. The last I saw it, it was covered with signatures but still untapped.

The day also marked our first performance with drummer Pace Petrella, who performed as if he’d been with us from the beginning.

As they did at Riley’s two previous Parade Day celebrations, The Wild Geese provided the grand finale, rocking us into the wee hours with their driving arrangements of Irish standards.

I’m ready to do it again. Sláinte!


Young John Gallagher opens at noon before a packed crowd in Riley’s Outdoor Pavilion.

The 21st Century Scop and the new Riley’s marker.

Quantum Spirits of Carnegie presents Riley’s with a signature barrel of whiskey.

The Wild Geese Band bring the night to a close in Riley’s Pavilion.




Connolly-Davis Band:
Ready to Shamrock the House for St. Pat’s

March 14th, 2018

The Connolly-Davis Band is ready to shamrock the house this Saturday.

The place will be Riley’s Pour House, where we’ll be performing alongside The Wild Geese, Young John Gallagher, and the Danny McGoo Duo.  The music starts at Noon and continues nonstop on two stages until St. Patrick’s Day 2018 ends at midnight.

Pittsburgh is famous for its St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, with ranking it the number-one place for March 17 festivities.

Not surprisingly, there’s no shortage of places to catch Irish music music in Pittsburgh. You can read about some of them at CBS Pittsburgh, but for me the place to be is the pub that Sean Collier of Pittsburgh Magazine called “the most authentic Irish bar in or around Pittsburgh” — Riley’s Pout House.

For this show, I’ll once again be joined by bassist Duane Davis, with whom I’ve been performing for going on 20 years, and drummer Pace Petrella.

We’ll open with a two hour show on the pub stage at 1:00, then move outside at 4:00 to open for The Wild Geese Band, who will take the spotlight at 8:00. In all, it looks to be the best St. Pat’s ever.

Come early, stay late, and get ready to shake your shamrock with some of the best people this side of the Blasket Islands.

Hope to see you there! (At Riley’s, not the Blasket Islands.)


The Connolly-Davis Band. Framed! (Left to right) Pace Petrella, The 21st Century Scop, and Duane Davis.

Promotional Banner for St. Patrick’s Day at Riley’s.

The Connolly Davis at Riley’s, July 2017.

Two Hundred Years Ago Today:
First Publication of a Misunderstood Classic

January 1st, 2018

On New Years Day 1818, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein first appeared in a press run of 500 copies. Though published anonymously, readers at the time assumed it was written by her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley.

That incorrect assumption proved to be only the first of many associated with Shelley’s greatly misunderstood novel.

A few years ago, the journal Dissections published “The Grave Misunderstanding,” an essay in which I address one of those  assumptions. Today, in honor of the novel’s bicentennial, I’m reposting that essay here. If it sparks your interest, you might want to check out the novel.

You will be glad you did.

The Grave Misconception:

The Textual Origins of Mary Shelley’s Monster

First published in:

A Journal of Contemporary Horror
University of Brighton
31 March 2013

A few months ago, a monster came to town. It started as a small disturbance south of Jamaica and grew as it headed north, picking up speeds and moisture, and finally developing into a hurricane as it ascended the eastern seaboard of the United States. Along the way, it earned the name Sandy, but that changed when it veered inward and merged with another storm blowing from the west. After that, the monster earned a new name: Frankenstorm.

I spent some quality time with that storm while driving north to The World Fantasy Convention in Toronto, plowing through its driving rain as I followed its path through Pennsylvania and on into Ontario – and all the way I heard people on the radio calling it Frankenstorm. Why? Because it was no longer just one storm. It was a collection of storms, woven together to form one raging entity – sort of like the Frankenstein monster, right?

Actually, no.

Not if we’re talking about the creature as presented in Mary Shelley’s novel. That creature, as a close investigation of the text will show, is not a combination of parts. It is an organic whole created through a mysterious process that is never fully explained in Victor Frankenstein’s story. And yet, the misconception – that Victor robbed graves for parts that he stitched into a gigantic patchwork man – seems to have taken on a life of its own.

Consider, for example, the back-cover synopsis of the Oxford World’s Classics edition of Frankenstein, or a Modern Prometheus, which refers to the novel as “a story about a student of natural philosophy who learns the secret of imparting life to a creature constructed from bones he has collected from charnel houses.” Unfortunately, such misconceptions seem to be everywhere. Indeed, some esteemed readers and critics seem to be under a similar impression, which means that it might be time to return to the text and take note of the true nature of Shelley’s monster.

The roots of the grave misconception lie in Victor Frankenstein’s early accounts of the monster’s creation. Relating his story to Walton, he explains how he “was led to examine the cause and progress of [. . .] decay and forced to spend days and nights in vaults and charnel-houses” (pp. 51-52).

Clearly, he does spend time among the dead, but his primary reason for being there is to examine the process of decomposition, the inevitable decay of living matter that he wants to reverse. To cure death, he must first understand it.

Nowhere does he indicate that he hopes to assemble various pieces of decaying matter into a living creature. Even when he admits to taking some bone with him, it is so that he can continue his observations back at his workshop, not because he plans to assemble them into a creation. As he puts it: “I collected bones from charnel-houses and disturbed, with profane fingers, the tremendous secrets of the human frame” (pp. 54-55). Note the actions. He is probing and examining, not assembling, and we should keep these actions in mind when he later claims that “the dissecting room and slaughter-house furnished many of my materials” (p. 55). Materials for study, not assembly.

The most compelling indication that Frankenstein is not assembling his creation from scavenged materials comes after he has spent some time studying his collected pieces. It is here that he reaches the conclusion that “as the minuteness of the parts formed a great hindrance to my speed, I resolved, contrary to my first intention, to make the being of gigantic stature, that is to say, about eight feet in height, and proportionably large” (pp. 53-54). Thus, since human-size parts are too small to work with, he must “make” something larger, and although the means of this making is never revealed, the text suggests that whatever he is doing, it is not creating a patchwork man.

One must also wonder why Frankenstein would bother building his monster out of pieces in the first place. Why do all that stitching when he could simply animate an already intact corpse? Logic, as well as the text, suggests he is up to something else.

It is also worth considering the novel’s subtitle: A Modern Prometheus. The Prometheus here is not so much the pyrphoros who stole fire from the heavens, although that would seem to be the case from watching the antics of Henry Frankenstein in James Whale’s Frankenstein(1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935) [right]. Henry might use kites to steal lightning, but Victor does no such thing. Despite an early scene in the novel where he learns about the power of nature by pondering a lightning-struck tree, it is arguably the case that Victor does not employ any electricity in his creation process. The single use of the word “spark” (p. 57) in the novel’s creation scene is metaphorical, and his work on the mate later in the book includes no mention of electricity at all.

Instead, Victor is more of a plasticator, a shaper of lifeless (as opposed to dead) materials, a natural philosopher who “tortured the living animal to animate the lifeless clay” (p. 54).

Finally, we should note that the first visual representations of Frankenstein’s monster show an organically formed creature. Consider, for example, the monster as performed by T. P. Cooke in the 1823 stage play Presumption, or the Fate of Frankenstein [pictured at left], or Theodor Von Holst’s frontispiece illustration for the novel’s 1831 edition [pictured below].

In both representations, the monster appears much as described in Shelley’s text: “His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness” (p. 57).

Nowhere in any of these images do we detect signs of scarring or stitching. The creature is a single, organic entity, with an outsized physique and intellect far exceeding that of a natural man. As such, I think Victor Frankenstein’s original creation poses a much more frightening adversary than the one most people think of when they hear the name Frankenstein. Moreover, I feel we do a disservice to the complexity of the source material when we accept the misinterpreted vision that is accepted as common knowledge today.

As for Frankenstorm, its makeup also seems to be based on a misconception. It wasn’t really a collection of isolated storms that stitched themselves together and became a monster, but a single entity, an organic whole spawned not by isolated weather patterns, but by the current state of global warming that some people still deny.

But that’s the topic of another essay.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft (1818) Frankenstein, or, the Modern Prometheus, ed. Joseph, M.K. (Oxford: Oxford UP), 1998.

A Place at the Table with
Lawrence M. Schoen & “Eating Authors”

December 18th, 2017

One of the more interesting blog themes to come down the pike in recent years is Lawrence M. Schoen’s Eating Authors, which features some of the biggest names in fantasy and sf reminiscing about memorable meals.

Since launching the blog in 2011, Schoen has featured hundreds of stories by the likes of Gregory Benford, Brenda Clough, Joe HaldemanCat Rambo, and many more. And this week I get to join the feast with a story of my own that takes place half a world away, behind a barrier they used to call the iron curtain. It centers on a meal of cold meats, chilled vodka, and cool music.

Got a few minutes? Pull up a chair and click here. I’ll meet you on the other side.