Heavy Metal Vomit Christmas Party

Here's a little number I tossed up recently in the Caribbean:

 (recorded with The Back Row Hooligans and re-released as part of the PLAY ME BACKWARDS: A Novel For Young Adults Who Worship the Devil companion EP.)

Christmas with the family, my wife and kids are here
The fire is warm oh what more could I want
but there's something missing, I'm tugging at the strings
of my sweater, which has reindeer on the front
  they're fuzzy in their splendor, but don't bring back the glow
  that christmas with my family brought me all those years ago
     so can we have a heavy metal vomit christmas party please?
     if no one pukes, it doesn't feel like christmas time to me
   You'd better not cry, you'd better not pout I'm getting my dokken tapes back out
    let's get a mosh pit going all around the christmas tree

Every year my cousins would dub each others tapes
as we played them on my grandma's stereo
we'd beat up on my brother, and act like youth gone wild
burning things, and making demons in the snow
   We'd see how hard we could bang our heads against the wall
   I'm bleeding in the shots of me with santa at the mall
      oh can we have a heavy metal vomit christmas party please
      the smell of vodka makes it feel like christmas time to me
      when the grown-up table began to pray, the kids table knocked the night away
     shouting at the devil all around the christmas tree

  I believe we need a heavy metal vomit christmas party please
     I want my kids to know what what feels like christmas time to me
     heedless of the wind and weather, let's all shout "no life til leather!"

     I sold my soul for rock and roll around the christmas tree

Emotive Portraits of Imperial Commander

Here's Imperial Commander, from the Return of the Jedi era of Kenner's Star Wars action figure line.  My friends and I used to call him "The Imperial Stockbroker," and he used his evil skills at middle management, corporate cronyism, teambuilding, and insider trading to serve the Empire.

These same games also usually had Obi-Wan playing a crotchety old man who turned the hose on anyone who tried to get into the Rebel base, and Boba Fett as a kamikaze guy whose rocket pack was not a rocket at all, but a bomb strapped to his back. He would blow himself up at the base, but have just enough muscles left in his butt to crawl back to to his assistant manager, the Imperial Stockbroker.

Looking back, I'm a bit amazed that we had such a good sense of the absurdity and inherent comic possibilities of mid-level management meatballs, and while taking some pics of the new Rebels figures with the old guys, I found that the hang-dog expression on the Imperial Stockbroker's face was a gold mine. Taking shots of him is WAY more fun than taking selfies. So here are some emotive portraits, taken around town in the last couple days, when I've had about three days of continuing tour work, which I've been documenting on my instagram.


Imperial Commander cruises through the galaxy, looking for the heart of Saturday night.

With an Olmec head that has roughly his same expression as him. 

"So, it was like the Death Star of Chicago?" Imperial Commander at the site of the H.H. Holmes "Murder Castle" in Englewood. 

Paris Street, Rainy Day

In an early 19th century painting.

"Yes, m'lord. The Empire must establish an outpost in Canada..."

"He'd look good in a hologram."

Diagon Alley, London. Lots of people trying to scare me with their sorcerer's ways...

Off to the next adventure...

5 Reasons You Should Be Jumping Off a Cliff Every Morning (#3 had me LOL)

Archaeologists and paleontologists debate a lot of points regarding the ways that our ancient ancestors lived, but they’re in a agreement about several things.  They are reasonably sure that the rate of autism was far lower for babies born thousands of years ago, for instance, and skeletal remains indicate that obesity was not the epidemic 12,000 years ago that it is today (ever seen an obese skeleton? Neither have we! “Big bones” are a myth).  

We also know that our ancient ancestors jumped off many more cliffs than we do.

We know what you’re thinking: “Why would they have had to jump off of cliffs?” Well, it’s obvious if you think about it. For one thing, some times jumping off a cliff was the only way to get away from a woolly mammoth. For another, elevators hadn’t been invented yet. Even stairs were in their infancy, and our ancestors were wise enough to know that escalators are actually really problematic. Even when they weren't being chased, the best way for them to get from high ground to sea level, where much of their food was found, was by jumping off a cliff. They lived the benefits of cliff jumping every day, and so can you!

Here are five reasons to go jump off a cliff right now: 

1. Vertical Thrust    
The sudden movement of the particles in your body - known as the vertical thrust - that comes from jumping off of a cliff accelerates your atoms, energizing your skin at a tremendous rate. 

2. Endorphins - without the smell!
 The energy burst you get from a cliff jump is incredible - each 10 feet you jump is equal to one cup of coffee, without the afternoon slump. There’s no chemical substitute for releasing endorphins and getting your adrenaline pumping the way jumping off a cliff does. You can get a similar "high" by running, but think of the smell! By the time you’ve run enough to equal the rush of a 20 foot cliff jump, you’d be stinking something fierce.

3. Well, maybe SOME smell...
Did you know that people who were being hanged often evacuated their bowels in the process? It’s true! And it was partly because of the downward jolt, which you can recreate by (you guessed it) jumping off a cliff! A cliff jump dump (known as "C.J.D." on message boards for cliff jump practitioners) is not only deeply cleansing,  but many report that it feels “more natural” than modern toilets, and many report that jumping off a cliff with a baby leads to earlier potty-training, among other benefits. 
Note: this is also why jumping off a cliff naked is usually better than just plain jumping off a cliff. For one thing, you don't mess up your pants. For another, it's probably how our paleo-ancestors did it!

4. Collective Consciousness
Following the crowd (or, as our paleo-ancestors called it, “Running with the Herd” (RHD on the boards)), makes you feel connected. Get into jumping off a cliff every morning, and you’ll find a whole new family of die-hards ready to support you online! Also, the more people get involved in this exciting trend, the more mental energy will collect at popular cliff-jumping spots, leaving positive vibes for everyone.  Standing with your friends and knowing you’ve all just jumped off a cliff makes you feel far closer, far more like “chosen family,” than standing around knowing you’re all on the same social media sites (again, especially if you're all butt naked). Turn off the screens, strip down, and get jumping!

5. Jump Away from Modern Problems!
Autism and obesity are only a couple of the issues that earlier people - people from the age of the cliff jump - didn’t deal with as much as we do. Hardening of the arteries, graying of the hair, liver spots, varicose veins… none of these things have ever been found in fossilized remains or early humans. It may just be because everyone died in their 20s back then, but couldn’t it also be because they all used to jump off a cliff? Forget the skeptics and so-called “experts.” Jumping off a cliff has benefits we're only beginning to understand. 
So, get started! One of the best things about cliff jumping is that you don’t need a lot of fancy equipment - just a cliff and your (preferably nude, see #3) body. Get up a good run, then JUMP at the last second. For added fun, shout out "YAAA hoo hoo hoo hooie," like Goofy, or hold up a sign that says "Uh oh" right before you begin your descent, like Wile E. Coyote. Be warned, the landing at the end can be very painful, but the pain just shows you that it’s working! 

note: this is just because I posted a thing saying I was drinking a cup of coffee out of a bell pepper because the internet told me to, and someone asked if I'd jump off a cliff if the internet told me to. Don't jump off a cliff for real.       (also, I'm not making fun of autism, just the tendency of articles to link autism to gluten, carbs, lack of acai, or whatever it is this week). 

Tracking down a Groucho quote

A friend recently posted a challenge on facebook. He kept running into the following quote attributed to Groucho Marx:

"Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myselfI, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn't arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I'm going to be happy in it."

This was driving him nuts; anyone who knows thing 1 about Groucho Marx would have a hard time imagining Groucho saying anything like this. The man never seemed to be happy a day in his life. It sounds more like AA recovery-speak or something. Yet, the quote shows up, attributed to Marx, on innumerable webpages, books of inspirational quotes, and such-like.
A blotter given to school kids by
The brown trading stamp co
(obviously), reprinted in the
Jersey Journal in 1906

This is just the kind of detective work I like to do - it comes up a lot in the ghostlore research, particularly the upcoming Ghosts of Lincoln book - so I got right on it. The quote seems to have first become commonly attributed to Marx in the late 1990s, thought it did appear in a newspaper in the early 1970s, where it was presented as a philosophy that worked for Groucho. No source was given, though.

Working on the assumption that the quote that's being spread around probably isn't an exact quote, I started looking up stray phrases from it, and found a few similar things. Slogans along those lines appeared in ads and lists of inspirational lines from time to time throughout the early 20th century; my favorite was a list of advice from the Brown Trading Stamps co that was apparently given to school children in the early 20th century. #6 is "have all the fun you can today; yesterday is dead and tomorrow has not yet been born. #11 was "using Brown Trading Stamps will make you happy. (#s 3 and 19 had similar advice).

I finally hit paydirt with a 1955 article where commedian Danny Thomas told the story of a 104 year old contestant on Groucho's You Bet Your Life TV show had said a very similar quote when Groucho asked him the secret of a long, happy life  - something to do with "When a man wakes up, he can choose to be happy or unhappy, I choose to be happy."

That being a heck of a clue, I started looking up more things of that nature and found two columns Groucho wrote in the early 1950s in which answered frequently-asked questions. One o them was "who has been your favorite contestant?" In both columns he mentioned several, but both times included Hannus Von Yannah, a 102 year old contestant, who had created a bit of a sensation by saying something of that nature. Here's the 1951 version:

And the 1952 version, with a slightly different version of the quote in question:

Now, this still left open the question of whether all of this really happened, exactly. I couldn't find a thing about Hannus Von Yannah being a real person from  quick search, and it seemed entirely plausible that Groucho just made the thing up.  There was a 102 year old man on an episode of the You Bet Your Life TV show that was easy to find on youtube, but when Groucho asks him the secret of a long life, the man says "I eat whatever I want." And that episode is from 1958, years after the columns.

A bit more poking hit paydirt again: A widely-circulated column by Erich Brandeis in April, 1951 reconted the story of hearing a recent episode of You bet Your Life (the radio version, not the TV show), in which a 102 year old Scandinavian said that he chose to be happy every day. Brandeis then went into a little sermon about why that was such a great philosophy.

All that this left was to find the actual show. Like most old time radio shows, it's easy enough to find most episodes simply by googling. Most are in the public domain and easy to download for free. In this case, since no exact date was given, the name Hannus Von Yannah only led to Groucho's columns, and "102 year old man" only brought up the 1958 TV show, I simply downloaded a bunch of March and April, 1951 episodes and browsed through them.

And there it was: on the March 28, 1951 episode, one of the contestants in the second half of the program said he was 102 years old, born in January, 1851. The first president he remembered was Abraham Lincoln  - "You must be pretty old to remember a Republican president!" said Groucho. He then asked him, "What is the secret of long life, longevity?" The man replied, "I think the secret of longevity is to be happy. Every day a man wakes up, he has the choice whether he will be happy or unhappy. I have chosen to be happy." "That's a wonderful philosophy," said Groucho.  You can download the episode for free here. 

So, there you have it. Like many lists of inspiration quotes, the attribution is shaky, at best. I've learned this the hard way; the Leonard Cohen quotes I worked into a zombie romance satire a few years back get attributed to me by skin care companies who post inspiration quotes on twitter all the time. 

Now, what a skin care company would be doing looking in a zombie book for skin care tips, I'll never know. 

All Over the News!

Well, I was all over the media this past week! That's October in the ghost busting biz. It seemed like every day I was doing a phone interview, taking a meeting, talking with someone who was researching an article, or going to a radio studio for an interview. Here are some highlights:

Pretty Late with Patti Vasquez on WGN had me back to talk about Play Me Backwards and some local ghost stories. I love this show! I come in at about the 37 minute mark. Patti had first hand accounts of the supposedly haunted Hooters at Erie and Wells (a location that always gives me a chance to talk about grave robbing - my favorite thing!)

WBEZ Curious City met up with me twice to record segments for their story on local ghost stories (The Iroqouis Theatre and Resurrection Mary)

And RedEye did a whole spread:

Adam Selzer in the RedEye, Oct 2014

Adam Selzer in the RedEye, Oct 2014 page 2

Pumpkin Root Beer!

Excerpted from The Smart Aleck's Guide to Bootleg Soda, our soda syrup recipe book. It's not every textbook company that has its own in-house beverage! Most of them just drink a lot of gin.


One taste of this and we knew: this is why there is a Smart Aleck Staff. So we could make stuff like this. Sure, we’re also good for making fun of historical hats, teaching subtle lessons about info literacy and contextualizing history, but this may be our finest accomplishment.

This quickly became our in-house root beer. It may look like there’s not THAT much root beer in it, but the flavor of the root beer syrup is a stronger than the flavor of the pumpkin spice syrup, really, and, after all, root beer is really just a spice soda to begin with. This is a particularly spicy version of root beer that has just a bit of pumpkin in it, which makes it a fantastic autumn soda to pair with stews. Like “Pineapple Habanero,” this is one flavor that we mention to people just to see their mouths water. And it lives up to the hype!

We made it from mixing two syrup bases together, so there’s a bit of work involved here: One COULD make it all at once, but we haven’t been able to fully replicate the results in one saucepan yet that we get from combining the bases. You can just up the level of cloves and cinnamon in the root beer base and toss in some pumpkin, though, and the results will probably be just fine.  

This is our two-syrup method:

MODIFIED BLONDE ROOT BEER BASE (without the honey or vanilla):
1/4 cup sarsaparilla (or 1/8th cup sarsaparilla and 1/8th cup sassafras roots, if you have some)
2 star anise pods, freshly ground
5 whole cloves
1 teaspoon orange zest
3 small mint leaves
1.5 teaspoons fresh ginger
5 allspice berries
Dash of nutmeg
Dash of fennel
Dash of coriander
1.5 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of freshly squeezed orange juice
2 cups

 As with the colas, you can also try a tiny bit of gum arabic (web link) (for a fuller “mouth feel.”) Or a tiny dash of citric acid. 
Add a couple cups of water - you can use a bit more here than you would in some recipes. The amount of liquid left after straining tends to be lower than you’d think with this one. Some people even put in 4 cups of water to 1/4 cup sarsaparilla.
Simmer all ingredients for 30 minutes, then strain. 

Pumpkin Spice Base:
1 cup water
3 teaspoons canned pumpkin
1.5 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1.5 teaspoons ground cloves

Simmer spices and pumpkin in water for 20 minutes, stirring to make sure the pumpkin is dissolved, and strain. Use whole cloves and cinnamon sticks if you feel like it and want some extra artisan points. Even if you use the ground stuff, though, you’ll want to stir thoroughly and strain it, or you’ll get a chalky syrup in the end.


1 part modified blonde root beer base 
2 parts pumpkin spice base
6 part sugar

Combine one part root beer base with two parts pumpkin spice base (the root beer flavor will still dominate). Mix the combined liquids with sugar (1 part liquid to 2 parts sugar) in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat at once and let cool. Mix one part of the resulting syrup with 4-8 parts carbonated water. 


Reviews for PLAY ME BACKWARDS are trickling in this week, and I couldn't be happier with them!

Cite Something calls it "immensely readable" and says it will have "wide appeal...this one will be easy to move off the shelves." (boy, I hope so!)

YA Books Central says that the book is "hysterical, disgusting, endearing, perfect."

A Staff Recommendation from Mabel's Fables, an indie book shop, calls the book a masterpiece and compares it to the second Meat Puppets album, which, they note, Kurt Loder once called a "cultural trash compactor." I've never been compared to a trash compactor in a five star review before, but I'll take it.

Benni the Blog calls it honest, sincere and funny.

Falling for YA  liked it, as well.

VOYA gave it a 9/10 (which counts as a starred review, according to Simon and Schuster) and called it "hilariously subversive, but also tender and poignant."

Geek In Librarian's Clothing says "I made the mistake of starting this book in the middle of a crowded restaurant at lunch and couldn’t stop laughing out loud- and I tried. Everyone was looking and it was so awful, but still I couldn’t stop."

I've been compared to Rob Thomas, Stephen Chbosky, Andrew Smith, and Seth Macfarlane in various reviews. One noted that the whole book had her humming a Mountain Goats song, which I sort of hoped would happen. There's one whole chapter composed of the sort of clever similes about love that populate so many Mountain Goats tunes :)

I know of a few more are coming this week, so I'll add to this post as they come.

My Life, Viewed Through a Simpsons Marathon

Note: this post is got a bit out of hand; way longer than I imagined it would be. I thought I'd just write down some stray notes and memories that came to me while I watched the "Every Simpsons Ever" marathon.  It's ended up being a novella-length autobiography through the prism Simpsons memories. I didn't think I'd get so worked up and misty so often. I was Bart's age when the series began, now I've grown up, the world has changed, and The Simpsons has marked the time. I kept breaking into speeches like that one about baseball and America from Field of Dreams.  This is a long ramble. Click the "read more" button at your own risk. 

So they’re showing every episode of The Simpsons, in order, over the next 12 days on FXX. I just spent the summer showing highlights of the series to my eleven year old stepson, and now I’m sitting here, watching episode after episode and getting a bit misty, remembering where I was when I first saw this one and remembering where I was when I first saw them. I’m transported back to my old house in suburban Des Moines, my grandma’s old house, my friends’ old houses…classrooms where we’d talk about the show, break rooms at my first job that had a little TV…. this marathon is like watching my life flashing before my eyes.

One promo clip keeps saying "There's no way you've seen them all." But I have. I haven't re-watched the last 10-15 seasons nearly as much as I have the first 10, but I've been watching religiously since the old days. Sometimes I used to have to go to great lengths to see episodes that got delayed due to football so the VCR set for 7 or 8 (depending on where I was living) didn't get it, but I always managed it in the end.

 Here are some thoughts and memories, to be updated as I go along. It's really just for my own amusement and nostalgia, but I'd love to hear what YOU remember about the old days of these early episodes.


“Bart the Genius.” This was the first episode I saw; I was watching when it first aired. Official pilot, if you don’t count the Christmas special, which I missed. i remember the newspaper TV guide had an article called “The Simpsons breaks all rules, gets prime time shot.” I watched this at my grandparents’ house in Windsor Heights, Iowa. Grandpa laughed a lot, but the next time we were over and the show came on he grumbled and said he didn’t like this show.   It's one of my last memories of him.

I was in third grade. The Bart Craze started right up; my dad tried to give me the “Bart” haircut I wanted in our family room using pinking sheers. It didn’t work.

“There’s No Disgrace Like Home.”  I was in my grandma’s basement for this one, watching on the boxy old TV with a wired remote control thingie....  


August 26, 2014 
from Simon and Schuster

Pre-order links: 

Leon previously appeared as an
eighth grader in How To Get
Suspended and Influence People,
now available in a "Now With
More Swearing" edition.
by Adam Selzer
even the most dedicated slacker is devoted to something...

"Hilariously subversive, but also tender and poignant. 9/10." - VOYA

"Timelessly true to life...diabolically funny...in the tradition of Rob Thomas' Rats Saw God" - Booklist

"Mordantly funny" - Publisher's Weekly

"Refusing to rely on burning passion or overwrought sentiment" - Kirkus


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Soundtrack EP


A committed slacker enlists the help of his best friend (who may or may not be the devil) to get his act together in this novel filled with humor and honesty, ideal for fans of The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Leon Harris isn't exceptional and he isn't popular. He's the kind of guy that peaked in middle school, when once upon a time he was in the "gifted" program and on the fast track to Ivy League glory.

Now, a high school senior, he's a complete slacker who spends his time hanging out in a third-rate ice cream parlor with his best friend, Stan, a guy who (jokingly, Leon thinks) claims to be Satan. Committed to his sloth, Leon panics when he finds out that Anna, the love of his life aka middle school girlfriend, might be moving back to town.

Determined to get his act together, Leon asks Stan for help. Stan gives him a few seemingly random and mysterious assignments. Date a popular girl. Listen to "Moby-Dick," the audiobook. Find the elusive white grape slushee. Join the yearbook committee.

As each task brings Leon one step away from slacker city and one step closer to Anna, he starts to wonder if maybe he shouldn't have promised Stan his soul after all...

Also: there's plenty of sex and swearing in it, and no hidden religious messages, so don't worry, kids.

On "Palisades Park" by Counting Crows

Story songs don’t have to tell coherent stories - in fact, perhaps it’s better if they don’t. I can’t really be sure what all goes on in “Hold On” by Tom Waits, or “Changing of the Guards” by Bob Dylan, but maybe that’s why I keep playing them over and over. Maybe with every listen I get more clues to figuring out what exactly is going on, or maybe the story is vague enough that there are a lot of stories in there. Sometimes a mystery you haven’t solved is the most compelling; you don’t usually read a mystery novel again once you know how it ends.

Adam Duritz of Counting Crows can tell coherent stories when he wants to - take “Another Horsedreamer’s Blues,” where you get a pretty good idea of everything that’s going on - but is also a master at vague songs, like the 2008 gem “Cowboys” or the classic “Round Here.” You could write about a hundred short stories based on “Round Here” and get a different story every time, and all of them could be good.

I think Duritz picked this up from Springsteen. It was his rendition of “Thunder Road” in 2000 that led me to start looking deeper into Springsteen, and a couple of years later, when I heard “Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” for the first time, I felt like I was hearing the primordial ooze out of which Counting Crows were formed. It’s got pianos, accordions, large bodies of water, a carnival, angels (in the live version) and the expert juxtaposition of Americana imagery and primal emotional concerns that populate so many of the best Counting Crows songs.

Elsewhere on that particular Springsteen album is the epic “New York City Serenade,” which is perhaps the most obvious template for the newest Counting Crows songs, “Palisades Park” (now streaming and available for free download) a multi part song that opens with a piano, pinball machine and trumpet instrumental, turns into a rousing rock song, then turns to an artsier, free-verse coda over its nine minute run-time. You could probably do a whole essay comparing it to “New York City Serenade,” which is built on a similar structure with some similar lyrical themes, but here’s the thing: “Palisades Park” rocks a bit harder. They may only get to the chorus twice in eight minutes, but there’s nothing in “NYC Serenade” that’s quite as rousing to me as when Duritz singing about carrying that spark from Palisades Park down into the cliffs and down into the dark.  

The song tells a story. After several listens I’m not sure sure exactly what that story IS, and the excellent video may or may not help, but it’s something to do with nostalgia, and hanging onto the sparks of things that inspired us once before. Maybe it’s about chasing your dreams (at least the good ones). Or fighting for a version of nostalgia that leaves out all the bad dreams and trying to get your old friends back. There are recurring characters (possibly a transgender theme). I don’t really know. But maybe it’s BECAUSE I don’t exactly know that I’m going to keep coming back to it. Or maybe it's just that the chorus works like gangbusters. It makes me want to carry that spark from Palisades Park and get further than I ever made it before.

I’ve been a Counting Crows fan since 1994. I had a strange, transcendental experience at the age of 14 riding my bike on a gray day with “Sullivan Street” stuck in my head (a friend talks about how "Darkness on the Edge of Town" made him suddenly see what sort of person he wanted to be, and that bike ride and "Sullivan Street" did it for me - suddenly everything was clear). Recovering the Satellites, their next album, was, for me, that record everyone gets at sixteen where every song seems to be about YOU (except for “Mercury,” which was about the girl I took two their concerts in 1997, still two of my favorite concerts ever, even though we spent the whole time fighting). Over the years they’ve taken some lumps, with most of the music world lumping them in with Dave Matthews-type prep rock instead of thinking of them as being more like “if Springsteen were backed by The Band.” Maybe it’s partly a result of only releasing one album of originals in the last twelve years. Either way, I’m glad they’re back, and I can’t wait for the rest of the album, Somewhere Under Wonderland, which is out in September (just a few days after my new book. Just sayin'). If the book is a flop in the stores and I end up in a bad place mentally, at least I'll have a good album to see me through it.

Adam's New Book: Sept 2013