Saturday, August 29, 2009

Blood is a Rover

I've been working my way though the latest Jame Ellroy Blood is a Rover. It's long, it's complex, and it's puzzling, all things that I like in a novel. I also like his style, the stripped down language, the crazy titled unfair world. It's filled with damaged people driven by guilt, fear, hunger and primal needs to scream at a chaotic world. I love that his writing makes me think in the same patter and that I can hear the voice of the charceters in my head, the only other writer who has done that in the last couple of years is Megan Abbot (who's latest is hovering around the top of my TBR pile).

In a lot of ways I am taking my time and savoring the book, it's been eight years since his last and I fear that it will be at least another five before we see fiction from him again. Sure I wish that he would come up with a Hard Case Crime style 200 pager, but I don't know how likely that is.

Anyway, one of the reading commitments I have made this year is to read at least one Donald Westlake novel each month, and as I watch the  days of august fall away I am finding my time cut short for the month, and have decided to take a break from Rover and read The Mourner by Richard Stark (a Westlake A.K.A. for those not in the know).

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Friday Forgotten Film: Dudes (1987)

Dudes (1987)
"They Were Looking for the American Dream, They found the American Nightmare"

Here is the pitch,three young adults are heading west to LA from NYC, they are looking for a new life. Somewhere in the middle of Arizona they are attached by a gang, one of them is killed, and it is up to the other two to avenge their friend. Along the way they find out who and what they are, and are forced to grow up.

Now from that pitch you could have almost any kind of film. A Western, a Hard Boiled Noir, a coming of age tale, a thriller or a horror film. When I first saw the ad for this movie in a video catalog in 1988, I was sure that it was going to be a horror film-- something along the lines of The Zero Boys or The Hills Have Eyes. The poster was an ominously dark and garishly colored affair, two young men, a pink land yacht and a dark desert behind them-- I had to rent it, and I did.
What kind of film did it turn out to be? get this, a Punk Rock Western! yep, that's right a genre blend of crime, Punksploitation and the Western . John Cryer (Duckie from Pretty in Pink), Daniel Roebuck (Rivers Edge and US Marshals) and Flea (from The Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Back to the Future) are three punks in mid 80s NYC, they lives are going nowhere, they go to shows, work dead end jobs, drink and have minor adventures in the pre Gulliani blight of NYC. With nothing to loose they head west looking for the promised land of California. Along the way they pass though desert landscapes, help a Elvis impersonator with his stuck car and talk about their future in the land of sunshine. On their last night before reaching California they camp under a massive stone, only to be bushed whacked and one of them get's killed. It is from this point what might have been a film about NYC Punks finding their place in the LA Punk world turns into a revenge story with elements of the typical fish out of water story. They find that they appearance hampers their ability to follow their friends killers, and have to deal with being outsiders in a part of the country that was hostile to them.

I'm not going to make the case that this is a great film, it has it's moments. There is great scenery and a soundtrack that is almost perfect in relation to the film. Dudes might have played for a weekend in the theaters, but once I saw it for the first time, it was mine. It was everything that I was looking for in a film, it was about outsiders who took control of their lives, who stood up for themselves, and found purpose. It had adventure, crazy dreams, surreal shoot outs and just a little bit of romance. There is something also to be said about the connection between the myth of the American west, American Punk rock and the world of indie film making, all of them have the element of Do It Yourselfness, do what you have to do, and forge ahead as best you can in common. In a time when so many people seem to be sitting around crying that the jobs that have always been there are gone, and that the middle class life they felt they were promised has vanished a film like Dudes, with a message of finding your path and going for it might just be what the doctor ordered.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Don't You Forget about Me.

Don't You Forget about Me.

It's been a weird month for notable deaths, and I wanted to take just a moment to comment on a couple of them.

First John Hughes. I grew up in the 80s, came of age as they say, and the films that Hughes made did make an impact on me, then and again later on when I started to unpack their messages. I had to have seen all of them, if not in theaters then on video (everyone remember the old days of video?). At the time they were sold as being 'Real' and 'Honest' about teens and their issues. I have to applaud Hughes for dealing with issues that weren't addressed in other teen films of the time-- class being the biggest one-- but at the same time I can't help but shake my head at the underling message of conformity that was in many of those films. To me the best of the teen films (and I am not counting Ferris Buller which is a fantasy even if it contains many truths) has to be Some kind of Wonderful, which is really Pretty in Pink with the correct ending. The rest of his films are marred with things like Annie Potts finding happiness when she sells out in Pretty in Pink and the underling message of The Breakfast Club seeming to be that as long as the nerds do all the work they will be allowed to live with out getting picked on. No matter my issues with those films they are iconic and did mean something to me and my generation. As a writer I always wanted to know where those stories would end, and it's too bad that Hughes never was able to come back and tell that tale.

Second Billy Lee Riley, almost the last of the Sun Rockabilly crew. He was there, he was part of it, and even if he did not get the fame and fortune of Elvis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash or the last man standing Jerry Lee Lewis he was part of that scene and that era. His band, sometimes known as the Little Green Men, were basically the house band at Sun and Riley was a first rate singer and ax man. I have always had a fondness for his classic Flyin' Saucer Rock'n'roll, which might just have been part of the blue print for Horror Punk and Psychobilly down the road. If nothing else he was pumping out the kind of energy that weaves it's way through the history of real Rock and Roll, from Rockabilly to Garage Rock to Proto Punk, Hard Rock, Punk Rock, Heavy Metal, Power Pop and on into the world of Grunge and Hi Energy Rock and Roll--- all of which have now seemingly come under the umbrella heading of -- Garage Punk!

Lastly Willie Deville. 70s NYC punk icon who brought that punk energy to R&B (the real stuff not the warmed over disco the mouse has been selling as of late) and roots rock. Like many of his peers from the CBGBs days he never really got the mainstream attention he deserved, but the underground and of course the Europeans remembered him. It's only been in the last couple of years that his music, mostly the Mink Deville 70s era stuff, has been part of my collection, and while I am still discovering his work his passing just reminds me that we are watching his generation of musicians start to leave us (those who lasted out the 80s) and wonder who will be the next to go.

thoughts, comments, remembrances?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Friday Forgotten Book: The Chucklin' Whatsit?

Friday Forgotten Book: The Chucklin' Whatsit? by Richard Sala.
Some time in the late 90s artist and musician Tomb (aka Jackson Phibes) mentioned the comic artist and writer Richard Sala in a e-mail. I of course had to look up his work, as anything that Tomb was talking about had to be worth checking out. Sala's most current work at the time was today's Friday Forgotten Book The Chucklin' Whatsit?.

Broom, hack writer turned detective by
necessity, is having a heck of a time figuring out why astrology
columnists are turning up dead, seemingly at the hand of the Gull
Street Ghoul, a killer from the city's past. The solution to the crimes
involves a strange organization named G.A.S.H., a shadowy masked man
named Mister Ixnay, and tiny outsider-art dolls called "whatsits."

What I like about the book is that it mixes the feel of outsider culture, pulp story telling and the comics medium with just the right twist. Sala has said that he is inspired by time spent in his grandfathers antique shop. The look of Sala's art has a Edward Gorey via The Hernandez Brothers look. I also like the fact that his characters are often dumb, short sighted or just make mistakes. I have become a fan of Sala's work in general, and look forward to each and every one of his new projects.