Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Heartbeat and a Guitar: Johnny Cash...

One of the best books I read this past year.

Amazon has a better discreption than I could come up with:
A Heartbeat and a Guitar tells of the collaboration of two
distinct yet connected musicians—iconoclast Johnny Cash and pioneering
folk artist Peter La Farge—and the album they created, Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian.
It also tells of the unique personal, political, and cultural struggles
that informed this album, one that has influenced the likes of Bruce
Springsteen and Bob Dylan.

D’Ambrosio has interviewed dozens of
Cash’s and La Farge’s friends, family, and collaborators, including
surviving members of his band, his producers, and Pete Seeger and Kris
Kristofferson, creating a dramatic picture of both an era of radical
protest and the making of one of the most controversial and enduring
works of political pop art of the 1960s.

I found the book both moving, insightful and as readable as any plot driven pulp adventure novel I have come across in years. If you are a fan of Cash, folk music, or the history of the early 1960s this  book needs to find it's way into your hands.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

FFB: A death in?

My mom--- what can I say? Well on the good side she was/is a voracious reader. I don't tend to like the cozy tea, cats and overly clean murder and Death books that she's always read, but I figured that as she is in a nursing home and really there isn't any room for her to have more stuff, I would give her a FFB entry for Christmas this year.

I started by asking her if there was book from her past that stood out in her mind that others might not know of. Her first answer was Little Women. I politely informed her that Little Women really wasn't a forgotten book and tried to get her to dig a little deeper. The answer she came up with was A Death in Connecticut. She said it was a non fiction book about a murder in Falls Village where her childhood best friend's family lived. She around the south and the east coast, living in North Carolina and Philadelphia before her father, a Southern Baptist Minster, landed a church in Millerton NY. She spent her youth in Millerton, which is right across the border from Falls Village, CT where the book is set.

I then asked her about the book, and she really did not recall much, but did drop big bomb shell was that her very first boyfriend "Buzzy" was involved with the group of people that were suspected in the killing. She said that it was the mother of one of the group that had been killed and the son was suspected. She said that Buzzy had run away from home when they were 'dating' and that of course her parents didn't approve of him. That was as much as I got out of her about the book, so my next step was to start looking for the book on line.

That proved harder than I expected because while there is a book called A Death in Connecticut, there really isn't much information about it. What I did stumble on was a book by Joan Barthel called A death in Canaan which pretty much sounds like the book she was talking about.

From Amazon reviwer: By Robert S. Gartner
On September 28, 1973, 51 year old Barbara Gibbons, the quirky and
eccentric mother of 17 year old Peter Reilly, was murdered in Canaan
(a.k.a. Falls Village), Connecticut. State troopers arrived on the
scene and immediately seized on Peter as the suspect in the killing.
What followed was a three year journey through the Connecticut judicial
system finally ending in his exoneration. In between, however, in a
show of grass roots support, friends and neighbors rallied to his
defense and formed the Peter Reilly Defense fund.

There appears to be a 1978 TV Movie of the story as well. Anyone recall this book or the film? Comments, thoughts?

More FFB over at Patti Abbotts blog HERE

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

2009: A look back at the music from t...

2009: A look back at the music from this year

I don't do top ten lists, not for the year and not for the decade. I used to think that it only mattered what I was into during a given year, and then I realized how limiting that was. I then went around saying that it was what I was still listening to 10 years later that was the real deal-- but really if I liked something for a short period of time, and it gave me joy and then kinda dropped off, is that really a failure? I don't know.

anyway, this is what caught my ear in 2009

Neko Case, what can I say about Neko that I haven't already? She's got that voice and the presence. Her intelligence and passion are evident in her music and she is simply one of the people out there in the culture that makes me happy to be alive. Oh and I want to buy her a cup of tea and pick her brain in the worst way.

Jet Black Berries
I just wrote about these guys and their new album Here, the only thing that I have to add is that I didn't imagine how it would re-energize my Rock and Roll muscles at during these last months of 2009.

Devil Makes Three
It's blue grass with an edge? or something like it. Devil Makes Three just had the energy and drive of punk mixed with a 30s feel and rural music.

The Thermals
I've been a fan of these guys for a couple of years and was glad to not only hear this new album, but to see them live this past year.

These guys are from Flint, MI-- and they carry on the sound and spirit of country music legend Waylon Jennings. I look forward to more from the band.
Classic 30s crooner Powell started and sang in a bunch of those Busby Berkeley musicals, The Gold Diggers of 1933 was the of the films, but later entries like Dames, Footlight Parade and Gold Diggers of 1935 had some of the better music.
There is an intersection of punk and country music that I am drawn too. I think it's that the stories they tell are coming from the same place, a darkness, a Noir mood that screams things are not right and that 'you're fucked'. There is also a confluence of energy, anger, rage, confusion and dark humor that often seeps into the lyrics and music. Miss Derringer is somewhere in that fog of roots-punk-noir and on their Winter Hill record they explore world of 30s gangsters and their crimes.

Black Moth Super Rainbow
Do you remember the 70s low budget creepy TV show In Search Of? If that shows was going to be remade these guys would have to score it. I'm not a big fan of electronic music, but there is something about this band and it's sound that I dig.

Drivin n Cryin
One of my all time favorite bands are back with a great hard rock album filled with hooks and a righteous anger about the state of the working men and women of the USA.

Top 25 most played Tracks I added to my iTunes in 2009
People Got A Lotta Nerve by Neko Case from Middle Cyclone
This Tornado Loves You by
Neko Case from Middle Cyclone
Just Like Honey by Headless Heroes from The Silence Of Love
AMONG THE SURVIVORS by The Latebirds from SXSW 2009 Showcasing Artists
They Call Me Hopeless Destroyer by Brimstone Howl from SXSW 2009 Showcasing Artists
Hard Times In America by Willie Nile from SXSW 2009 Showcasing Artists
The Plank by The Devil Makes Three from SXSW 2009 Showcasing Artists
Detroit City by Drivin 'n' Cryin from Whatever happened to the Great American Bubble Factory
Welcome to my World by Jet Black Berries from 2009 EP
Gloom Doom Buttercups by Kittens Ablaze from SXSW 2009 Showcasing Artists
Death By Desire by Miss Derringer from Winter Hill
One Horse Down by Baskery from SXSW 2009 Showcasing Artists
Up And Down by The Chesterfield Kings from SXSW 2009 Showcasing Artists
Working Man's Blues by The Devil Makes Three from Do Wrong Right
Polar Nettles by Neko Case from Middle Cyclone
What Stephanie Wants by T.S.O.L from Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Free Downloads
Forever Heavy by Black Moth Super Rainbow from Dandelion Gum
Wrong Hill by The Earps from Here Come The Earps
He's Dead, She's Alive by Iggy Pop from Préliminaires
Angry at the Sun by The Lost Brothers from SXSW 2009 Showcasing Artists
Now We Can See by The Thermals Now from We Can See 7"
White As Diamonds by Alela Diane from SXSW 2009 Showcasing Artists
Honeymoon Hotel by Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler & Chorus from Lullaby Of Broadway: The Best Of Busby Berkeley At Warner Bros. (Disc 1)
Trouble by The Dirt Drifters from SXSW 2009 Showcasing Artists
My Best Friend's Hot by The Dollyrots from SXSW 2009 Showcasing Artists

It's not only the end of the year but the end of the decade, and a lot of media outlets are buzzing with their best of the decade lists. I just wanted to give a nod to a couple of albums that really stayed with me through the 2000s.

Thee Ultra Bimboos- Bimboo Wizard
Why didn't these women make it to the mainstream? maybe because they didn't want to. Four attractive Finnish women who rock, but have enough pop in their sound to appeal to the mainstream audiences. Forget The Donnas, Thee Ultra Bimboos were the real thing, and their final album Bimboo Wizard was easily my favorite from the last decade

Mark Pickerel and His Praying Hands- Snake in the Radio
Former drummer for the Screaming Tress, Pickerel headed into the Alt Country sound, which seems to be the place that all former punk rockers who still have something to say end up sooner or later. Snake in the Radio has a dark undercurrent of Gothic lament. If you like Lee Hazelwood or Johnny Cash, it's an album that you should check out. The follow up Cody's Dream is similar, bu explored more rock, jazz and blues.
Speaking of The Screaming Trees, former singer Mark Lanegan has kept busy with many projects during the decade. Records with Greg Dulli from the Afgan Whigs and Isabella Campbell from Belle & Sebastian have gotten the most press, but it was his album bubble gum that I liked the best. It just show cased his voice and range, the songs ranged from folk/country ballads to strait alt rockers. As with the Screaming Trees final album Dust, Bubble Gum is a forgotten gem of a record from the decade it was released in, and I have high hopes that it's going to continue to find an audience years after hitting the shelves.
The Hellacopters- By the Grace of God & Head Off
Few bands have meant as much to my life in the last decade as The Hellacoptes did. I had the good fortune to become acquainted with a couple of the guys in the band and the Nordic Garage Rock Scene that they helped to build in the late 90s and into the 2000s. As with Thee Ultra Bimboos they managed to get little attention in the USA while inferior bands playing similar music had hits and became underground rock heroes. The 'Copters embodied a spirit of inclusion as they explored the sonic pallet of punk, soul, metal, hard rock, alt rock and carried the banner of Hi Energy around the world. Like so many of the bands that they were inspired by, and often covered in tribute, they are the kind of band that kids a hundred years from now will be discovering. By The Grace of God was their most accessible record, and I got to see them a couple of times when they were touring for it in Sweden and Norway in 2002. Head Off, their final record is a collection of covers of bands that they know, and many of whom played around Sweden with them when they were starting out.

The Forbidden Dimension- A Cool Sound Outta Hell
What can I say, the Forbidden Dimension is one of the bands that really can do no wrong in my book. They put out three albums in the 90s and only one in the 2000s-- but it was worth the wait. Sure it's not the same sound that they had a decade earlier, but lead singer Jaxxxon Phibes and his little audio comic books always work their way under my skin, each in their own time and moment.

For all the bands I have mentioned I have included links where you can find more info. If you are interested in hearing any of their music, I would suggest popping on over to youtube and looking for their videos.

thoughts? comments? bands/artists/ records from 2009 or from the decade that you thought should have gotten more attention?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Jet Black Berries EP (2009)

JBB 2009 EP

“Come Join Our Dance” ,opens Welcome to My World the first new song by The Jet Black Berries released since 1988. That opening line is kind of interesting to me because I know that one of the last songs that they were working on before the JBB’s called it quits in ’88 was called—Come Join Our Dance. The line is not only picking up where the band left off, but also a new invite to their rebirth.

The Rochester New York band is back and ready to push forward on a musical journey that started in 1977 when Gary Trainer and Kevin Patrick started a band called New Math and built a punk scene around a bar called Scorgies. New Math musically started as a punked out Kinks like unit and grew darker and more psychedelic until they collapsed in 1984.

That would be the end of the story, only Gary had started working on a Gram Parson meets William S Burroughs Space Western concept album called Sundown on Venus. The core the last New Math line up reformed and changed their name to Jet Black Berries. Sundown landed on the Pink Dust label and the Return of the Living Dead soundtrack and put out two more albums before calling it a day.

Now they are back, albeit with a new singer and a updated sound. Their new EP, featuring Welcome to My World and new versions of two New Math songs (American Survival and Ominous) has just been released in advance of a new full length due out next spring.

As a fan of their original recording, I was a little hesitant about the EP, but I’ve given it a number of spins and am left wanting more. Welcome to My World is a driving hard edged slightly psychedelic tune. American Survival was a comment on the survival movement of the 1980s, and the greed and fear of the paranoid extreme edge of those who worried about the end of the world.

Ominous is the most changed from the original. The 1980s version was a dark, direct, clear and stark warning that there is something out there. This version is more atmospheric, hazy, and less assured. It takes the fear and unease of the original and makes it more mysterious and otherworldly. On that count it works well, and fits well with the newest version of the JBB sound.

The EP is forerunner to a full length slated for release in the spring. I’ve heard a couple of the other new songs that they are working on and hope that they will continue to mine their old tunes as well as writing new ones. The EP is available as a digital download from iTunes and at local record shops in the Rochester New York area.

Jet Black Berries on Myspace

Thursday, December 10, 2009

FFB: Kids books.

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

I assume that neither of these books are truly forgotten, but at the same time I can't imagine that a lot of well meaning- lefty teachers would be horrified at the thought of children reading these books today. My Side of the Mountain is the story of a young man who saves his money and runs away to live off the land in the mountains. Where the Red Fern Grows follows the story of a young man who saves up to buy a pair of prime 'coon hunting dogs in the Ozarks.

When I think of my favorite books from childhood these two are the first that come to mind. They are books I encountered in elementary school, re-reading them numerous times before I got to Jr High School and started to move towards more adult fiction. I loved the adventure, the spirit and the dedication of the protagonists as they worked, planed, learned and grew. These were stories about boys becoming men, and seeking their place in the world. The stories also dealt with nature, being in the woods, having to depend on yourself and facing the fears of loss, loneliness and the potential of failure.

I hope that kids entering their teens still read these books, and that they still dream of adventure. I was watching the film Anvil: The Story of Anvil the other night (I highly recommend checking it out by the way), and at the end one of the member of Anvil comments that life is: The places you've been, the things you've done and the people that you've met. I think that both of these books capture that idea perfectly.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

FFB: The oral histories of the NYC, LA, and SF punk scenes

when I was a kid back in the bad old days of the late 1970s and early 80s Punk Rock was a force to be feared, demonized and marginalized. TV shows went after punk with everyone from WKRP in Cincinnati to CHIPS exposing the evils of the music, the pre-CSI show Quincy famously had an episode where the cause of death was listed as "Punk Rock". Why? where did all this animosity and hate come from? I know why the older people hated it, but why did the baby boomers feel so threatened? The answers, they ain't blowing in the wind, they partly explored in the three Oral Histories that make up my Friday Forgotten Book(s) for this week.
Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain was the first book of the three to come out and in many ways is the model for the other two. The authors went to the sources, the musicians, the managers, the club owners, the photographers along with friend and family tell in their own words the story of punk from from the Velvet Underground to Iggy and the Stooges to the Ramones. The authors simply take the stories they have been given and shaped a narrative out of it. This is one of the most brilliant elements of all three books multiple points of view and version of events are presented and by in large the journalist stays out of the way.
We Got the Neutron Bomb : The Untold Story of L.A. Punk by Marc Spitz and Brendan Mullen was the next to hit the shelves. The LA punk scene had long been the forgotten little brother scene to what was happening in NYC and London, but ended up giving the world the bands that would carry punk rock from the 70s through the 80s and into the 90s alternative explosion. It was the LA second wave of punk that really spread the gospel of what punk was really about across America and around the world. The constant touring of Black Flag, the DIY ethic and the irony that these bands were living in the back year of the record industry who wouldn't touch them all play into a fascinating narrative about and time and place that many never knew existed and many would like to forget.
Gimme Something Better: The Profound, Progressive, and Occasionally Pointless History of Bay Area Punk from Dead Kennedys to Green Day by Jack Boulware and Silke Tudor is the newest entry for the oral history of punk book shelf. Drawing from the same format as what came before-- well the title says it all. Where the other books are weighted towards the events of 1970s and into the 80s, this one has a lot more to say about the 90's and into the present day. Part of the reason is that after Nirvana and the alternative scene broke wide open punk was embraced by many as the immediate precursor to the sounds that dominated the popular media for a few years. One of those bands was Green Day who have extensive roots in the Bay Area. The book also explores the early days of the scene when bands like The Avengers and the Nuns played at the Sex Pistols final show, and the Dead Kennedy's had yet to fall to Tipper Gore and her PRMC crusade against the evils of Rock Music.

With three books about various scenes out I hope that other will start exploring what was going on in their areas, and look forward to oral histories of: London, Vancouver, Seattle, Minneapolis, Detroit, Chicago, Rochester NY, Boston, and DC. I also hope that someone will do a oral history of; Horrorpunk/deathrock, Cowpunk/ Paisley Underground, Psychobilly and the Garage Rock Revival of the 1980s.

thoughts, comments, favorite punk songs or bands?

(More Friday Forgotten Books over at Patti Abbott's blog)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Nov 2009: Short Story month

Nov 2009: Short Story month

As previously mentioned on this blog, I took a break for reading full length novels to catch up on the stack of short stories collection I have kicking around. I fulfilled my one Hard Case Crime a month by listening to the Audio Book of The Colorado Kid by Stephen King. My one Donald Westlake a month came from reading a bunch of his short stories. I do have to note that I started out strong with the short stories, but faded at the end of the month when I got my hands on a copy of the Gimme Something Better: The Profound, Progressive, and Occasionally Pointless History of Bay Area Punk from Dead Kennedys to Green Day by Jack Boulware and Silke Tudor which I am still making my way though.

So what did I read this month? Here's the list:

From A Loud Humming Sound Came from Above by Johnny Strike

Night Flamers

Other Ports, Other Hells

From Expletive Deleted

Lucky Bastard by Jason Starr

Pearls by Reed Farrel Colman

Spit by Ken Bruen

Find Me by Anthony Neil Smith

From Guns of the West
Lay My Money Down by Bill Crider
Deadlock by James Reasoner
What Gold Does to a Man by Louis L'amour
Gunny by Bill Pronzini

From Riverworld and other stoires by Philip Jose Farmer

The Volcano

Henry Miller Dawn Patrol

Brass & Gold

From The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution by Donald Westlake

The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution

You Put on Some Weight

No Story

The Sincerest Form of Flattery



Just One of those Days

Sweetest Man in the world

From Trouble is what I do by Rob Kantner

My Brothers Wife

Perfect Pitch

The Eye Went By

Sleeping Dogs Lie

The Forever Trip

Dec 2009? back to reading full length novels, I am going to try and hit a couple of Westlake/Stark books, along with at least part of the books that I had slated to be read in 2009 that I haven't gotten to yet-- and some other stuff.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Flash Fiction: Place Marked Malmart

A Place Marked Malmart

Word Count: 831

“You hate women?” Meg Russ-Heart shot Jimi one of her looks

“You hate men?”

“I never see you, out?” Meg not letting it drop.

“No mean’s No, Right?” Jimi leaned.
His mug and her to-go cup moved in their own dance, their owners secured them keeping them from being spilled.

“Yes,” her reply automatic.

“But if you say yes the first time, you’re—“Jimi knew the argument well “easy,”

“It’s a woman’s prerogative,” Meg leaned in

“No means no, but you aren’t going to say yes the first time. You can’t win. It’s a game, I’m not playing,” Jimi blinked first and sat back.

Meg followed and played with the ends of her crimson hair. She took a sip of coffee, around them the coffee shop buzzed. People in and out, talking, working on laptops. College kids, professionals, baby boomers trying to look young and hip.

“You find her?” back to the business at hand.

“Yeah, I did, you owe me big.” Jimi took the folder from his messenger bag. “I had to enter a fuckin’ Malmart to see her. And it wasn’t one of those Hicksville-please- sterilize me Malmarts. No, no, it was upscale, a Shop Malmart because it’s the American Thing To Do one.” Jimi handed the folder across to her.

“What happened?” Meg opened the folder.

“Her Mom and Dad freaked out cause she was seeing some guy who wasn’t-- of the faith.”

“You mean he was---“ Meg, thinking of Gwen, tall long legged, blonde Dutch girl, a westsider.

“Worse, atheist, a local one. Arrogant about it. They were appalled, that’s not who they sent their little girl into the world for,” Jimi took a slug of his lemon ginger tea.

“They didn’t send her out to take her clothes off on the internet either,” Meg whispered. Meg had Jimi on retainer for a lot of things, making sure that girls who pulled a vanishing act were not snatched by a customer was one of them.

Meg ran Skiff Yee Media, an Internet company specializing in fantasy image fulfillment. Models dressed and undressed as your favorite: film, TV or other median character.

“Ok, Mom and Dad whisked her away, she’s 19.” Meg put the file in her bag.

“Yeah, they also have the money, she has younger sisters. If she ran off what do you think would happen to them?” Meg nodded, Gwen had said as much and more in the note contained in the folder.

“Tell me about your trip to Malmart?” Meg

‘Like I said they raptured her back home, deep-sixed the sinner BF. Mom wouldn’t let her out of her sight, no; phone, mail, Internet. I had to wait for two days for them to leave the house. Mom takes her shopping. A little retail reprogramming, who knows, maybe the hippie had her talking about buying local, supporting local business.” Jimi paused for another hit of the tea,

“I follow them into the Malmart; it’s a zoo, upper middle class riff-raff with too much money and not enough junk. Gwen managed to get a couple of aisles ahead of mom and I catch up to her.” Meg nodded

“She recognized me from the office, I told you letting me come and hang would pay off” Meg nodded, she already knew, Jimi was allowed past the reception for various reasons.

“She tells me what happened, I let her scribble you that note. That’s when the Mom shows.” Jimi started to smile.

“And,” Meg started looking worried. Girls like Gwen weren’t just employees they were her little sisters. Gwen had been part of the team; she’d been part of the inner circle.

“Mom starts yelling and then hits me with her purse, one of those whada you call ‘em, A Cooch bag?” Meg couldn’t help but smile.

“Damn thing burst spilling all of her unmentionables. That’s when the claws came out” Jimi pushed up the sleeves of his well-worn black leather. Under the cuffs Meg could see the deep scabbing scratches.

“Anyway, Mom slugs, the junior’s manager breaks it up. Gwen’s screaming. What a scene,” Jimi killed the rest of the tea his cuffs settle back into position.

“And then,” Meg leaned forward.

Jimi fished a couple of papers out of his jacket.

“MSP came and trespassed her. She was all kinds of red sitting in the back of that squad. I let her stew, talked to Gwen. Moms lucky I didn’t press charges. I figured one trip to the west side is enough for the year.” Meg gathered her purse trying to hide her smile took a last look at her coffee and pushed it to the middle of the table.

“One of my best girl’s gone, poor kid.” She stood.

“Someday,” Jimi looked up at her; she slugged him in the arm then bent in for a peck just below his right ear.

“Yes,” she whispered and headed for the door, no looking back.

Jimi watched her leave and killed the last of her coffee.

This Flash Fiction was in response to Patti Abbott's challenge to write a story based on the web site the People of Walmart. Jimi Osterlung and Megan Russ-Hart are a pair of characters that I have been thinking about for a while. Jimi is an Ann Arbor based PI who pays the bills doing background checks for headhunters on the east and west coast. Checking out U of M students for them and their prospective employers. He also catches the occasional background check job for the boyfriends and girlfriends of the elite who attend the U, on their parent’s behalf of course. There is also the occasional wandering son or daughter job. Megan is his only local employer; she keeps him on board for additional security and odd jobs, along with the background checks for employees. I figure that I have a couple of novels worth of stories about them floating around in my head and don’t want to say much else until I get more written about them.

Thoughts? Comments?

Friday, November 27, 2009

FFB: Lemons Never Lie by Richard Stark

Lemons Never Lie by Richard Stark

Richard Stark isn't a forgotten author, and since Hard Case Crime reissued this book it isn't one that's hard to get your hands on either. It is the first Westlake/Stark book that I ever read, and it's a hell of a ride. I did write a review of it back in the summer of 2008 when I started to use this blog to write about books, movies and music. having read many more Westlake/ Stark books I am still fascinated at the hold this book has on me. IT just had the right mix of adventure, crime, planing and revenge to touch me in that right place.

From Hard Case Crime
When he’s not carrying out heists with his friend Parker, Alan Grofield runs a small theater in Indiana. But putting on shows costs money and jobs have been thin lately—which is why Grofield agreed to fly to Las Vegas to hear Andrew Myers’ plan to knock over a brewery in upstate New York.

Unfortunately, Myers’ plan is insane—so Grofield walks out on him. But Myers isn’t a man you walk out on, and his retribution culminates in an act of unforgivable brutality.

That’s when Grofield decides to show him what a disciple of Parker is capable of..

Others who have written about Grofield for Friday Forgotten Books have commented that he comes off like a heel, and a it of a jerk. Having only read Butcher’s Moon and The Hot Rock featuring Grofield I don't know how he comes off in other Stark books, but in this one he seems like a guy who loves his work and his wife, has a bit more wit and humor than Parker and is the kinda guy you might want to have enough beers with that he'll tell you some stories. I recently picked up reprints of the four Grofield books from Foul Play Press, and am looking forward to reading them.

Read A Sample Chapter
more on the Grofield books HERE

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Essay Challenge:favorite TV- Homicide: Life on the Streets

Essay Challenge: My Favorite TV Show

NBC: 1993 to 1999, plus a 2000 TV-movie that served as a de facto series finale

I was a follower of Homicide from the start. I have memories of seeing the very first episode, most likely the night that it premiered after the Super bowl. I had been a cop show fan for years, digging on the action, adventure and the righteous adrenaline of the big 80s glitzy TV Po-lease shows. It was great to see people with style and souls of steel take down the scum of the earth and put them out of the game, or at least that's what I think when I look back. In reality the cop shows that I watched; 21 Jump Street, Crime Story and Hill Street Blues were far from that dream of crime vanquished in the course of 45 minutes. They had heart, grit and a weight to them and in many ways set the stage for what I think of as the best show network TV has ever gambled on Homicide: Life on the Streets (H:LOTS)

From the word go Homicide was unlike anything that I had ever seen or anything that had come before. Based on the book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, by Baltimore Sun Reporter David Simon, the show was a tough sell to a public that was accustomed to hour long soaps featuring cops, neatly wrapped up stories, lots of car chases and shooting. Homicide down played the violence, sex, and chaos of what had come before, and dealt with the aftermath of those events. The show played up the grind, and the paperwork. It played up the dull moments, the humor and the horror of being a Murder Police. Working with people that you liked, that you didn't like, that you had to find a way to get along with.

The talent involved was heavy weight for TV standards at the time. This was at the start of the era when film makers started to see that their opportunities for interesting work had shifted from feature films to TV. Director Berry Levenson, and his crew brought in a ensemble cast of mostly unknown actors, but managed to attract high profile guest stars. They filmed in Baltimore and never hid the drab, depressing and often decaying city and the dull work of policing it. This was TV cop deglamorized.

I have viewed the series roughly three times, not every episode, but the bulk of it over the years. First when it aired, second when each of the seasons were released on DVD and finally in the years since the release of the last season on DVD. I have watched each time with an eye to what I missed the first time around, picking up little things, and themes. One thing I can say for the show is that it's both memorable and rewatchable in a way that many shows are not.

The most surprising thing to me is how much I recalled from the episodes from my first viewing. They resonated with me and were just that well written acted and produced. Their impacts precise and focused. From the funny, to the heart breaking to the bleak, the show was so well crafted that a little moment; The meeting of the mothers of a teenage shooter and his teenage victim meeting in
the waiting room and becoming friendly in Every mothers Son-- and I am tempted to anoint that episode as the greatest hour of TV ever about criminals and victims, if there weren't so many H:LOTS episodes that fit that bill-- resonates with the promise of connection and friendship, even as we know the tragic tie between them. It's only later that we see what we would all love to come to pass between these two women as a positive step, fall apart as reality steps in.

I knew on some level that H:LOTS was always not as much about the shooting, stabbing and killing as it was about how the job affects those who do it. It was about people who wander into chaos and have to pull some sort of order out of that tornado of destruction. The Homicide Detective has a job to do, in the middle of the intrusion of a new reality in the lives of people, and that fact makes the job not only harder, but all that much more draining. The reality is that men and women of the Homicide Unit live in a place where they have to work and dig and denigrate the loss of a life to see that justice is served if that life was taken from its owner. For too long TV made it look like fun, or exciting, it was H:LOTS that really brought even a little of the reality to light.

In hindsight I believe that the show really is about the journey of and the loss of faith and innocence of Detective Tim Bayliss. He starts the first episode as the new guy arriving in the unit. He's come off a plumb assignment on the mayor’s protective detail-- a favored son of the department brass. He's partnered with Frank Pembleton, the hot shot brainy loner of the unit. Frank is a master of the job, he's the smartest person in the unit, and he is also the most cold. He deals in facts, he keeps his distance from the human aspect of the job and the work. Tim on the other hand hasn't figured it all out. He's naive and some times far too human, he worried too much about the why of the crime, when a smart murder police would just move on to the next case.

Kyle Secor as Bayliss is one of only three of the squad that stuck around for all 7 seasons of the show, and is given the time and opportunity to not only grow but to descend, to have his view of himself questioned. He comes into the world of Homicide with a strong idea of who he is and what he is, only to have everything questioned. His sexuality, his capacity for good, and the darkness lurking in his soul. His childhood traumas are exposed his foibles and failures shown, in one episode-- The Documentary, he is shown at home drinking and entering his rest room with a porno magazine. He asks the film maker why he would include that scene, and in what might be the most revealing comment in the whole series the documentary maker answers "you're the hero of the piece, I had to show you honestly warts and all".

From a story telling point of view HLOTS was also willing to be innovative. Episodes focusing on not only the police but; the criminals, the victims, communities, organizations, and on long clod cases were all a part of the fabric of the show and often times the more memorable than other episodes. The willingness to bring in outside directors, Whit Stilman and Barbra Kopel, to think outside of the box was unlike anything that came before. The innovation extended to the hand held style of the show. It wasn't slick or glitzy; it was personal, flawed and occasionally disjointed-- kinda like life.

I also have to note the use of music in the show. A early standout and heart breaking scene where 'Hurt' by Nine Inch Nails plays as one of the members of the unit arrives home to find his wife has left with everything, the kids, the furniture, everything. Another montage of the unit rolling out on multiple and various murder scenes while a regga/blues tune blasts over a montage of fresh killings telling the story of the murders and mayhem. There were also the early multiple references to the Seattle Grunge scene, as suspects and victims are named after members of: Nirvana, Alice in Chains, and Pearl Jam. In Season 6 new Detective Laura Ballard arrives from Seattle and when asked why she left her response is "Grunge Died!"

When Patti Abbot proposed this project she said that often the essays in the book the idea came from turned out to be more about the writer than about the show. I thought about this as I was writing this essay, I think about what I have just written says about me, and how much of that do I really want out there. There is a darkness in me, I have had people comment on it before, and there is a wall around me that I use to keep that darkness partly hidden and in check. Maybe HLOTS was really about just that, the darkness and how we do or don't keep it in check. As a writer that is what I find my stories are so often about, control, safety, chaos, protection, reaction, LIFE.

If you would like to check out H:LOTS the whole series is out there on DVD. Here is a short list of Episodes that I recommend checking out:

"Gone for Goode"

"Three Men and Adena"

Night of the Dead Living"

A Many Splendored Thing"

Every Mother's Son"

The Gas Man"

A Doll's Eyes"


Hate Crimes"

Thrill Of The Kill"

Prison Riot"

The Heart Of Saturday Night"

The Documentary"

Finnegan's Wake"

Memorable Quotes and HERE

More H:LOTS on the web HERE

Thursday, November 19, 2009

FFB- Donald Westlake short stories.

FFB: The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution by Donald E. Westlake
Rolling along with my Short Story Month, I have been reading The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution by Donald Westlake. It contains the expected assortment of Westlake crime stories. I have read about half of them, and can recommend not only the title story, but all of the others I've read. I don't know what I can say about Westlake that hasn't been said, he knew how to tell a story (or not see No Story in this collection). The title story is one of the best. A put upon husband is ready to get rid of his wife, who over spends his money. He takes care of her only to be interrupted by door to door sales, phone sales and sales people with appointments. It's an indictment of the consumer society, wrapped in a story that wouldn't have been out of place in one of those twilight zone like shows that floated around prime time TV in the 1980s.

Any way, if you want to get a taste of Westlake this should fit the bill.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

FFB- Trouble is What I Do by Rob Kantner

FFB- Trouble is What I Do by Rob Kantner
In to the early 90s I was a faithful reader of The Ben Perkins mysteries written by Rob Kantner. It was the fact that Perkins was a Detroit metro area based PI that first got my attention, it was the mostly medium boiled tone of the books that kept me reading. Kantner was right there in that space between the cozies and the Stark. Kantner stopped writing mysteries somewhere along the way, and I slowed way down reading them for a couple of years.

When I got back into reading Crime Fiction Kantner was an author that I wanted to catch up with but alas there weren't any new books for me to pick up. Ok, I figured it would be worth while to take a look at the ones that I had read in my late teens and early twenties, only I parted with them somewhere along the way-- so I checked the library, and that where I came across Trouble is What I do!

The book is a collection of short stories featuring Ben Perkins and parts of his cast of characters. I've read about half the stories, and they tend to hold up pretty well. "The Eye Went By" and "The Forever Trip" are two of my favorites so far. I like that Perkins is a filled out character, I like the feel of place that the stories have. I grew up not only in the time that most of these are set, but in the far edge of the physical setting. Safe and sound (for the most part) in Ann Arbor, while the murder cities of Detroit lay to the east and Flint (which was the murder capital of the country until DC took over) to the north-- filling our local news with chaos, death and despair. It's through this world that Perkins rides and tries to set things right.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Friday Forgotten Books: Short Story E...

Lucky Bastard by Jason Starr from the anthology Expletive Deleted

Jason Starr's Lucky Bastard has the feel of a Donald Westlake short and the twist ending of a Twilight Zone Episode. Jerry is a 54 year old shlub drinking away in a bar, when the most amazing looking woman he has ever seen slides next to him and lays a sob story on him. Faster than you can blink they are in a hotel room and then--- well that would be telling. The story carries a hint of comedy, a shot of hard boiled looserdom, and enough of a punch to carry the whole thing along. It's a fast read, but well worth the time.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Reading list-- Oct 2009

Reading list-- Oct 2009

The Sucker by
Orrie Hitt
50's/60s paperback stuff. This one about a heel who gets Suckered while making a play for a wad of cash

Darling, It's Death by Richard S
Tarot Card Book Mark: The Divine Child
Shell Scott in Mexico. Fun, lightweight time killer

Anarchaos by Donald E Westlake
Tarot Card Book Mark: The Snake
Donald Westlake Book for the Month!
Westlake goes Sci Fi. A guy much like Parker heads out to find out what happened to his brother. If you like the Stark books this one might do it for you.

Honey in his Mouth by Lester Dent
Tarot Card Book Mark: The Monkey
Hard Case Crime Book of the Month
Lester Dent created and wrote Doc Savage back in the pulp era. This is not a Doc Savage book, but the story of a small time con man who ends up in over his head. It starts off with one of the best car chase scenes I have ever read, and has a nice and twisted ending.

Shoedog by George Pelaconos
Tarot Card Book Mark:Blue
2009 Will Read List book!
Solid Pelaconos-- Drifter finds himself in the middle of a heist job and at the end of the line. Lots of details about music, clothes, cars and booze, and the lives of those who have fallen off the path. This one might be my favorite of his books, at least it is up there with King Suckerman.

The Red Hot Typewriter: The Life and Times of John D. MacDonald by Hugh Merrill
Tarot Card Book Mark:The Anima
A biography of John D. Very readable and gave me some insight to who and what he was. I am looking forward to reading at least one of his books each month during 2010

Baby Shark's Jugglers at the Border by Robert Fate
Tarot Card Book Mark: The Balloon
If you are not reading the Baby Shark series and a fan of Hard Boiled crime, get in your car drive to the store (or the library) and pick up at least the first in the series. This 4th installment was a perfect driving novel with a great 1950s Texas feel. I always think of Baby Shark as being Adrianne Palicki from Friday Night Lights, she'd be perfect for a Baby Shark film.

November 2009: I'm declaring November Short Story Month. I have all kinds of collections and anthologies kicking around and so I will mainly dipping into that well for my fix during Nov.

Note: Tarot Card Book Marks? I have a really lame deck of Tarot cards that I pulled off a free cart at the Friends of the Ann Arbor District Library sale a couple of months back, and I started using them as book marks for giggles mostly. I just pull a card at random from the deck, make note of it, and when I am done it goes in the discard pile. Sometimes the card ends up to have a relation to the book in questions, sometimes not.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Friday Forgotten Books- Darkly The Thunder by William W Johnsonte

William W Johnstone was a writer of mainly paperbacks in the horror, action adventure and western genres. He is best know for his series Out of the Ashes, a political after the bomb series that like much of his work dealt with two great themes: The battle between good and Evil and what I like to call the Baby Boomer Culture War . These conflicts play out in a series of stories that involve people who are flawed, and know it, doing their best to do the Right thing and save the day even when the cost is great. At least with all of Johnstone's books that I read (which was everything I could get my hands on until about 1996) all of these conflicts would play out with the "good Guys' nominally winning the battle, and the 'Bad Guys' slinking off to fight another day.1

I started out to write a double post about the first of the Out of the Ashes books and the first of Jerry Ahern's Survivalist series, and in doing a little research discovered that Mr. Johnstone had in fact passed away in 2004. I was unaware of this, largely due to the fact that as a reader I had moved on from his work in the late 1990s. There was a point in my life when Johnstone was not only my favorite writer, but one that I felt was highly under rated, and mostly due to the fact that his political leanings were further to the right that most, and that he was discriminated against for the reason.

The news of his passing and the fact that it had been kept from his readers was a little jarring to me, until I realized that his name had become a house brand and the powers that be saw the need to keep the cash flowing in. Johnstone appealed to a segment of readers who had long ago been disenfranchised from a lot of other writers and a lot of main stream fiction because of a perceived (and often times real) leftist bent.

Ok, On with the show, I'd hate to think that I just spent two paragraphs justifying my selection for this week, a little horror novel called Darkly, The Thunder

(that very 1990 cover looks fairly silly in hindsight)
THE ROOT OF EVIL The ominous rumblings of thunder - dark thunder, was how retired head of police Al Watt thought of it - had started thirty years before on the night that Sand was killed. A good man, that Sand, and when he died, the forces of darkness had taken root in Willowdale, Colorado. Now the isolated little town, nestled in the Rockies, was about to give birth to an evil beyond comprehension, beyond imagining..a reign of terror so insatiable that Al Watt could do
nothing to stop it.

I sold a lot of my William W Johnstone books long ago (and as a lot of them were out of print I think I accutally made money on a lot of them), however I did hold on to a couple. Out of the Ashes, The Rockabilly books and my copy of Darkly the Thunder. Loosely connected with Johnstone's Horror books (the so called Satan Influenced series) the book deals with a evil that has re-emerged from the past, an old wrong is brought to light and all kinds of things go bad.

This was a book that really spoke to me when I was a 17 year old outside living in a complex world where there wasn't any real black and white. Johnstone's books spoke to the outsider and misfit in me. There was something in his writing that was accessible, fun, and had a drive that I couldn't put down. It was an escape from the world which I lived in and was desperate to escape from. On element of Johnstone's books that I think get's overlooked is the role of the outsider. He clearly has a right leaning point of view, but at the same time he's not comfortable with the political right as a group and mistrusts them more in many ways than the left. This leaves his protagonists on the outside of the culture, mostly looking to live quiet lives where they are just left alone.

Johnstone was also a primary force in my really looking at writing as being more than just what I was being force fed in school. He wrote about things he cared about, he entertained and he somehow made a living at it. At the end of his career he turned to writing Westerns, and to the end (and apparently past the end) was turning them out a couple a year. There was also a romance novel that I suspect mirrored his real life. I bet

I have been sitting on this post since last July, wondering if I really should write about someone who I can only imagine will not appeal to the group of readers and writer who follow the Friday forgotten posts. However, here is it.


1 The Baby Boomer Culture War is simply the vicious and unending split between the Right Wing and Left Wing members of the baby boomer generation. As a cohort they seem unable and unwilling to let go of the events of the late 1960s and move on. This culture is still wrangling about Vietnam, The ERA, Gay Rights, Abortion, Gun Control and so called Family Values. The level of dysfunction is such that name calling, open hatred and dogmatic identity politics are the order of the day.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Short Story Month-- Nov 2009

Short Story Month-- Nov 2009

I have noted the number of anthologies that are collecting dust in my place as of late. I deal with this issue I have decided that November 2009 is going to be Short Story Month.

I plan to read exclusively short stories. All of my Friday Forgotten Book entries will be about short story collections. My reading challenges for this year included reading one Donald Westlake book and one Hard Case Crime book a month. I have a collection of Westlake stories to satisfy the first of the challenges. For the Hard Case Crime challenge I had to think outside the box, and have settled on listening to the Audio Book of The Colorado Kid by Stephen King. It's reputed to be one of the weakest of the HCC books, and it is short. I figure until Hard Case gets around to putting out an anthology the audio book is going to be the way to go.

I will also be working on a Flash Fiction story for the latest challenge over at Patti Abbott's blog. Info Here.

If you look at my Shelfari widget at the top of the blog you will see an increase in the number of books. As I crack open each new collection, I will add it to the shelf, and it will stay until I have read all of the stories in the collection.

That's the plan.

Thoughts, Comments, anyone?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Night of the --- 3 DVDs for your Scar...

Night of the --- 3 DVDs for your Scary Holiday

I am happy to say that 3 of the top 3 films that I most wanted on DVD are now available. All 3 are fun, sometimes scary, Sci Fi/ horror filcks from the 1980s-- ok the most recent one came out in 1990, but that's close enough.

Night of the Comet (1984)
IMDB Wikipedia Fan Site
The earth passes through the tail of a comet turning most of the world population into dust. Everyone else is either turning into a Zombie due to an exposure or fine (because they were in a sealed environment). Our two survivors, a pair of valley girl sister, go shopping of course. The film is pure 80s B flick fun, valley girls with Mac 10's, no so smart scientists, Killer Stock boys and a truck driving Cowboy. It's pretty medium on the gore and scare level with a few nice moment so each. Over all well worth spending an evening or afternoon with. 

Night of the Creeps (1986)
IMBD Wikipedia
I didn't want to watch this action, horror, comedy flick the first time around. Now it is one of my favorite films of all times. It's got it all, space slugs, a 50s style police detective who's more hard boiled and Spade, Marlowe, or even Parker. It is a bit dated (as is Night of the Comet) but that never detracts from the fact that it is fun, quotable, and perfect for a party.

Hardware (1990)
IMBD Wikipedia
I remember seeing this one in the theater by myself. There wasn't another soul in the room and I watched as a man made monster crawled across a landscape of destruction to Kill. It has the look of a rundown Blade Runner  with the monster loose in the house plot of Alien (not to mention The Old Dark House)  Of the three this is the best, scariest and in some ways it is the funniest.

Thoughts, Comments, DVD Recommendations?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

FFB- Plunder of the Sun By David Dodge

Another week and I haven't completely shaken the stuffy head cold that has been haunting me this week. So I am going to reprint another of my pre-FFB review. This one is the not so forgotten Plunder of the Sun, which was republished by Hard Case Crime. Enjoy- EP.

Plunder of the Sun
By David Dodge
A Hard Case Crime Novel
Originally published 1949

Plunder of the Sun is the first of the Hard Case Crime books that I have read that don’t fall into the category of Noir and Crime Fiction as we tend to think of it today. It has crime elements in it to be sure, but it’s much more in the vein of the paperback adventure pulp novels of the ‘30’s and 40’s. It’s a simple tale of artifact smuggling, a treasure hunt, and of course lots of double crossing, uneasy alliances and historical mystery. The story is set in Chile and Peru, and centers on a lost Incan legend and treasure. The book is most definitely a product of it’s time in that it’s not in depth on the archeology angle as a Clive Cussler story, which really is the heir to books like this one, but it moves along quickly, it’s very readable and it’s a nice peek into a genre that really hasn’t vanished but morphed into…. Well the Cussler type of books…. This is also one of the better examples of the kind of story that Indiana Jones was (and is) riffing on and inspired by…. all and all, a nice change of pace that’s not to far off the beaten track for Hard Case Crime.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

FFB: I wanna be your Joey Ramone by Stephanie Kuehnert

In a act of semi laziness and semi writers block my Friday's Forgotten Book this week, is a re-post of a review I did in my pre-FFB days. This one is a little over a year old, but I still think this book deserved more of an audience. I think part of the problem is that it was marketed as a young adult novel, but as I state in my review I think it might be of more interest to women who grew up during the era that the book covers. I don't know, anyway, it's worth checking out and is currently out in paper back.- EP

I wanna be your Joey Ramone by Stephanie Kuehnert

He walked into the party looking just like he had in the past
He came up to me and he didn’t even have to ask
I tried to say something he said “Girl shut your mouth,
They’re playing Papa Was A Rolling Stone”
Last night I was dancing with Joey Ramone
-Amy Rigby

I wanna be your Joey Ramone is the story of a young woman, Emily Black, who’s mother has fled her and her father to ‘Follow the music’ and Em’s quest to find her mother. The music in this instance is Punk Rock and all of its ascendants, stages and variations. As she grows Em keeps in mind that it’s the music that her mother set out to seek, and so Em designs to create the music and lead her mother home. All of this is told in stages, paralleling the lives of Em and her mother, punkspotting the points and places that punk flared up in America in the 80’s, 90’s and into the present decade.

The story is also the tale of what I know that many young women growing up in the 80’s and 90’s faced in small town America, as ‘old fashion’ values (read the social norms of the 40’s, 50’s and early 60’s) battled with the first generation of women growing up in a post feminist world. Honestly this is the part of the book that rings the most true, as I have known and even dated several women who grew up in small town Wisconsin in this era, and they all had stories that mirrored the central trauma that both Emily and her mother experience though the course of this book. The theme of growing up in a post 77 punk world, lost parents, changing social norms, social dislocation and expectations and the post feminist landscape in America seems to be a more and more common theme in film and lit in the last decade, with Gypsy 67, Girl, Juno, Hairstyles of the Damned, Blankets, The Waiting Place and now I wanna be your Joey Ramone just being some examples of what Generation X is looking back on as it’s youth and development.

The one complaint I have about this book is that there wasn’t enough about the punk rock that Em’s mother set’s out to find. Sure a few band names are dropped and a few scene’s pointed to, but there is never a real look at the reason why punk, the music, energy or connection that is created between people and that music is such a powerful draw. We are past the point where punk is thought of a simply violent anti-social behavior in America, and it’s time to only talk about why it’s still here but provide young people with a solid roadmap to follow the music, and this book had the perfect place to really start presenting that map to especially young women, and I just don’t feel like it did.

Over all this was a fine book, and I hope that not only young people embrace it, but that older ones who lived though the times depicted do as well.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Whip It! (2009)

Whip It!(2009)

I was excited to see the new film Whip It for a number of reasons. First and foremost it was shot locally, and featured a number of the Detroit Derby Girls. I’ve been a loyal fan of the local Roller Derby organization for the last year and a half, and was glad to see our local girls get to be part of what I kinda hope is going to be the first film about the current Derby Landscape.

(that's Detroit Derby Girls Killbox and Racer McChaser on the right side of this image)

The film starts the always watchable Ellen Page (who everyone knows from Juno, but you really need to see Hard candy to get her range) and she delivered great, young, youthful non-manic-indie-pixie performance that anchors the film. Page plays a small town Texas high school student who competes in the local beauty pageants at the behest of her mother—only it is really not her thing. One day she sees a flyer for Roller Derby and sets out with her friend to take in a bout. She of course is inspired to try out and becomes the rookie phenom of the Hurl Scouts. Working from the screen play by written by Shauna Cross and based on Cross' novel Derby Girl first time director Drew Barrymore gives us a coming of age story,a first romance story, a sports movie, and a dealing with your parents movie all in one. Some of it is more successful than others.

What I liked: The performances were mostly first rate. Page is charming, and enduring and note perfect as the every girl. Marcia Gay Harden and Daniel Stern are first rate as her parents, one of the lesser known Wilson brothers as the coach Razor is great a comic coach. Zoё Bell (Zena) and Juliette Lewis (The Running Kind) are maybe the only of the actresses who could hold their own in a real bout. Kristen Wiig really gives the best and most illuminating performance of the film, with her wholly believable portrayal of a single mom, who acts as an older sister to Ellen Page when she needs it the most.

There are a few things about the film that weren't so great. The romantic subplot could have been left out, but the swimming pool scene was well executed. If that subplot had been jettisoned then the mother daughter stuff could have been explored in more depth and also the family dynamatic of the derby team could have had more screen time. The derby scenes while well shot, and this was my local Derby Girls got their screen time and to show their stuff. They were exciting and fun, and put the watcher right on the track.

Over all it is a solid film, and well worth checking out. I hope that at least it get's more people out to check out their local Roller Girls.