THE LES DANIELS BLOG TOUR: Location! Location! Location! Les Daniels’ Place as an Icon of New England Horror
Guest Blog by Matt Bechtel of Necon E-Books
Essentially, Les Daniels went to Brown University and never left.
Of course, that’s an oversimplification; Les didn’t spend his entire life on campus, nor in the city of Providence (one of my favorite Les stories regards the circumstances around his trip to London to write a screenplay for Dino De Laurentis, but I’m saving that anecdote for our article on Michael Arruda’s blog). In spirit, however, it’s pretty close. Les definitely found more than just a geographic home on Benefit Street; in fact, it’s arguable that no writer ever embraced and lived the life of the intellectual Bohemian artist the way he did. As such, that influence became a two way street, with Les shaping the New England artistic community as much as it shaped him.
Les’ contributions to the local scene were as varied as his interests and talents. In print, he reviewed books for the Providence Journal and penned a regular film review / pop culture column titled “Mind Rot” in the Providence Eagle (keep in mind, this is years before web sites such as ESPN’s spin-off site “Grantland” would help turn writing about pop culture into a massive industry). On stage, he performed an act that can only be described as a live version of the iconic ‘90’s TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000, purposefully playing bad movies and skewering them with comedic commentary to his audience. Once again, this was years, literally decades, before MST3K became a smash, another example of just how far ahead of the curve Les was creatively.
It was another type of live performance, however, which allowed Les to share one of his other true passions and talents — music. Those who don’t know of Les’ musical background are probably (and understandably) jumping to the wrong conclusion right now; after all, we’ve all been to plenty of conventions where writers have broken into song for various reasons (including the dreaded practice of “filking”), and some of them are, admittedly, fairly talented. However, comparing those singers to Les as a musician is like comparing a talented high school writer to Les as an author. In short, they’re amateurs; Les was a pro. His band, The Double Standard String Band, featured himself on leads and banjo, TV and film star Martin Mull (before he was a famous actor), and bluegrass legend Sam Tidwell. Together, they played at the famous Club 47 in Cambridge; other acts to grace that stage during those years included Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.
Above all else, it’s Les’ ties to New England horror that establish him as a legend in the community. After all, as I mentioned, the man lived most of his adult life on Benefit Street in Providence, literally blocks away from 135 Benefit Street, a.k.a. “The Shunned House” which helped inspire H.P. Lovecraft’s short story of the same name. His contributions to and influence upon the Necon Convention would take pages upon pages to list, but he was Necon’s second Guest of Honor, its seventh roast victim (and the first author to be repeatedly tortured year after year as the “fake victim” until he thought he’d never actually land in the chair himself!), and an inductee into Necon’s Inaugural Hall of Fame Class in 2007. In short, Les was an unquestioned pillar of the community and greatly responsible for weaving the fabric which is New England horror. To this day, attend any NEHW event (or visit their table at a con) and you’ll be embraced, welcomed and encouraged; you can thank Les, amongst a host of others, for fostering that environment for decades. Heck, I’d even go so far as to say if there were a Mount Rushmore of New England Horror Writers, Les’ bust would belong upon it (probably squeezed between Lovecraft and a certain horror author from Maine who’s sold a few books over the years …).
Which brings me to the irony of all ironies regarding Les Daniels, his writing, and New England —when it came to his most famous works (The Don Sebastian Chronicles), the two never met! The only time Don Sebastian traveled to the New World, he found himself south of the border, embroiled in Hernan Cortez’ attack upon Tenochitlan (Book Two: The Silver Skull). As much as Les Daniels shaped the New England artistic scene and as much as it shaped him, he never brought his most iconic character to his beloved locale (in any timeframe). Honestly, can you imagine Faulkner setting his seminal works of fiction in the north, or Joyce setting his in London instead of on the Emerald Isle? This is certainly not a complaint, as I don’t feel The Don Sebastian Chronicles lack in the least from not visiting the shores of New England; it’s just an odd, quirky observation. But then again, maybe that’s a fitting observation about a banjo-playing-pop-culture-film-and-book-reviewing-stand-up-comedian … who, oh yeah, also wrote a little horror fiction, too.
Just a friendly reminder — The Complete Don Sebastian Chronicles are now available as e-books at Necon Ebooks, so please order your copies today! And don't forget to check out the other stops on the tour!