Thursday, January 28, 2010

FFB: The Texas-Israeli War: 1999

FFB:The Texas-Israeli War: 1999 by Jake Saunders and Howard Waldrop
From the Back of the book:
On August 12, 1992, England's tiny nuclear arsenal fell on Ireland, on
South Africa, and finally on China. Instantly the planet went up in
flames. In the first half year of what was to be called the War of '92,
half the Earth's population perished. The United States was reduced to
a vast underpeopled land -- and, to make matters worse, Texas had
seceded and taken her precious oil reserves. But Israel, virtually
untouched in a world ravaged by war, was painfully overpopulated.

I was promised an end. Regan/The Russians were going to drop the bomb, a runway comet was going to pass between the earth and the moon, the oceans were going to rise, the trees were gonna die and it was all going to end. Oh, yeah and Jesus was gonna come back as well. It wasn't just me, it was a large part of my peer group. We watched The Day After, Testament, The Road Warrior and countless knockoffs.

And then there were the books, the well endless series: The Deathlands, The Survivalist, Out of the Ashes, Endworld, The Guardians, and on and on and on. There were also the stand alone book, often the better entries in the cannon: The Stand, Swan Song, Earth Abides, Alas Babylon. It got to the point where I used to joke in high school that we have a Holocaust lit class, we should also have a post Holocaust lit class.

Maybe the first of these that I ever found was today's forgotten book. The Texas-Israeli War: 1999 take a moment to just look at that title. It's kinda, well it's a thinker that's for sure. I have to admit that I don't totally recall reading the book, I know that I did somewhere along the line, but what makes it stick in my brain is more how I came into possession of the well worn copy that currently resides in my apartment, and from what I remember it is the story of how the book made it's way into my life that is the better of the two tales.

It was the mid 80's (cue the lamest 80s synthpop in your collection)-- and I had recently been transferred from the minimum security Elementary School Facility where my local government had assigned me to the Maxim security facility known as Forthsye Junior High School. I was in an alternative Jr High Program called MYA, and it was here that I finally found a group of misfits to belong with. There was Dave, the super smart kid who sat in almost every class with us despite being two years younger (he took 9th grade math, he was 10).   Ryan lived with his mom who taught ballet, he was able to talk her in to buying him a ninja suit. Erik was the son of a cab driver who wrote Role Playing Games on the side. Mike, lived with his dad in a shady part of town while his mother lived in the ritzy suburbs of the D. Then there was Jake. He was into all the same stuff we were, pulp novels, Role Playing Games, and of course Comic Books.

Jake was owner of the book The Texas-Israeli War: 1999 and spent most of 7th reading and re-reading it. Somewhere along the way it vanished, and even though we all recalled the title the book was gone. I don't really recall being aware of it's having vanished, and it wasn't until years later that I found the true story behind where it had gone.

My Jr. High internment lasted all of two years and I and my group of friends bolted for the safety of Ann Arbor's Community High School. CHS was free of the gangs that ruled the Junior High School, now more preppies, no more jocks, just a collection of misfits, brainiacs, art fags and the assorted weirdos that a town like Ann Arbor produces. All but one of my group of friends went to CHS and as soon as we reached safety things started to fragment. Jake was the first to go. His older brother was a senior and had a number of friends and contact, and Jake was quick to abandon us for them. The drama club and it's little family pulled away another group member and by the time we were seniors there were only three of the original group of MYA refugees that still hung out.

It was during this last year of High School, while at the home of one of the other guys that he pulled out the copy of The Texas-Israeli War: 1999 and presented me with it. I was stunned to be standing there in his bed room holding that book. Looking at that cover and recalling how far we had all come in the last 5 years. Why? was my question to him, why take the book? Honestly I don't recall what his answer was. Then he gave me the book and I have held onto it all these years.

Like a lot of teenage friends we all drifted out separate ways. Dave, tours the world and has been on This American Life and the David Letterman show. Erik, the son of the RPG writer? He works in quality control for Yahoo out west. Ryan, the only guy I ever knew who really had a ninja suit? I have no idea where he is. Mike? He lives a town over from me, we have coffee once or twice a year. Jake? I have no idea where he ended up. I know he's on facebook, and I
have considered sending him a message simply reading "I have your copy
of The Texas-Israeli War: 1999."

The end of the world came, just not the way we were expecting it to. The cold war ended, the fear of nuclear annihilation has lifted for now. The world changed and all that was true and expected in the mid 80s has mostly been supplanted by new fears, and new threats.

Thoughts, Comments, anyone know where I got the Runaway Comet bit?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Eilen Jewell: Sea of Tears

Eilen Jewell: Sea of Tears
Do you know those opening dirge like moments of the song Endless Sleep by Jody Reynolds? If you don't it's a dark mix of rockabilly balladry and sparse shadowy twang. Most of the album Sea of Tears by Eilen Jewell has that feel, and from the moment I heard the title track I had to hear it all.
That first listen came as part of the No Depression podcast # 8 which featured selections from the top albums of the year as voted on my the No Depression community. Of course leave it to me to find the album almost a year after it's April 2009 release, but it's taken me longer to find much older albums. I checked the CD out of my local library and gave it a spin. The title track was as good as the first time I heard it and the rest of the album having that same feel has become one of my current faves to put on.

The track Sea of Tears then popped up on a Roots Rock Radio Podcast I had sitting in my queue for the last month or so-- just to give me that extra kick in the pants to write something about it. Something that had been brewing for a long time, something about a tune from the world of Folk, Country and Roots Rock that I believed would appeal to people who spend their listening hours with the screaming sounds of the mix of punk, power pop, hard rock, psychedelic, soul, surf and rockabilly that has most recently fallen under the heading of Garage Punk.

Rock and Roll for me has always been about the energy. Elvis, Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran, Bo Diddley, The Animals, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath, BOC, The Ramones, The Damned, The Misfits, The Screaming Trees, Turbonegro, The Hellacopters and on and on and on-- they all have one thing in common in their best moments-- Energy.

Eilen Jewell has that energy, that passion and that edge of relish in her delivery of the songs on the album Sea of Tears. It's as if she can't figure out if she is really sad, or happy that her heart is broken. There is that tension of joy and sorrow carrying the songs along. I like the dark early rock rumble of the music as much as the almost amused passion of the vocals. Her voice has weight to it, it's got soul and it's got a little bit of depth. It's the kind of voice that should age nicely and I hope is still wailing when it's 70.

So, all you garage punkers out there, you need something to fill the void of that collection of Estrus CDs gathering dust in the attic of your youth, this might just be it.

Thoughts, Comments, recommendations?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

FF Music: Patricia Vonne

I first heard Patricia Vonne on the Roots Rock Radio Podcast a couple of years back. The track Rebel Bride, a blistering Tex Mex Hard Rock tune, was played on the show and I just had to hear more. Her album Guitars and Castanets turned out to be one of the better finds of the last decade for me. It's filled with Latin tinged roots rock. She has a natural and dramatic voice that carries both the harder rock numbers and the softer ballads. Texas, her home state, oozes from not only the lyrics but the music it's self. I have checked out her other albums, and they seem to be lacking a focus, an energy and a vibe that Guitars and Castanets carries. I still have hopes that she will produce another album as good as Guitars and Castanets and it's been a while since her third album Firebird came out and I hope that she has something new in the works.

From Wiki
Patricia Vonne is an American singer and actress.

A native of San Antonio, Texas, Vonne moved to New York City in 1990-2001 pursuing her artistic ambitions. She worked extensively in Europe and America and was featured in national / international commercials, and film work. Formed her own musical band, performed the NY circuit from 98-2001 before relocating to her native Texas where she currently tours extensively in US, Mexico and Europe.

Toured as a member of Tito & Tarantula in 2002 (band featured in the film "From Dusk Till Dawn"). Her song, "Traeme Paz", was featured in the film "Once Upon a Time in Mexico". Vonne's song "Mudpies and Gasoline" is featured in Quentin Tarantino's film "Hellride" starring Dennis Hopper.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Robert B Parker RIP

I stopped reading Parker back in the 90s when I stopped reading series books. I had found Parker and really discovered crime novels because of the TV show Spencer for Hire. When I started to read crime novels again a couple of years back I intended to return to works of Parker and picked up a battered copy of the The Godwulf Manuscript, which I had intnded to read some time soon. With Parker's passing maybe it's time to move it up to the top of the TBR pile.

Where every you are, thank you.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Hard Case Crime Alternative: Queenpin

Hard Case Crime Alternative: Queenpin

January 2010 is a month where Hard Case Crime won't have a new book out. For those of you that have read all of them and are looking for something to fill the void I suggest

Queenpin by Megan Abbott

here is my take on the book back in July of 2008
I almost didn’t pick up Megan Abbott's Queenpin. I’d heard an interview
with her a couple of years ago and been inspired to pick up a copy of
her first book… The Song is You, and wasn’t all that impressed….
However after running across a clip of her reading from Queenpin on
Youtube I was inspired to check it out of my library. I am so glad I
did, it radiates that pure Noir rhythm, and feel. I could almost hear
the Jazz, and taste the cocktails as I devoured the book. It’s the
story of a small time gal, who is plucked from the trenches of low
level casino grind and becomes the right hand of the local organization
runner. Soon she is also involved with a louse of a man, one that has
her number and gets her hips twitching…. And it’s all afoot from
there. I really like the sound and the tone, I love the feel of the
book, and I can’t wait to check out what ever Abbott has for us next…
hell I might even go back and check out The Song is You again, or her
second book Die a Little.

Since then:

I've had the chance to meet Megan and talk with her a couple of times. She confirmed that her goal with the book was to write a plot driven crime novel that would fit nicely next to the Hard Case Line. Her follow up book Bury Me Deep came out in 2009 and was a great look into the world of Phoenix in the 1930s, and another story about a man leading a woman astray. I know that she is working on a contemporary mystery currently, and I for one am looking forward to what ever she publishes next.

Thoughts, comments, HCC off Month recommendations?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Stan Ridgway: The Big Heat

Stan Ridgway: The Big Heat

When it comes to Detective Narrative in pop music, I always end up turning to Stan Ridgway and his 1986 tune The Big Heat first. The title track from his first solo record Ridgway, who had just finished up his tenure with the New Wave group Wall of Voodoo, was on his own and still probing the dark-pulpy landscape of the broken California/American Dream of moving west to find a better life. Crime, loss, darkness and Noir imagery were nothing new to Ridgway as much of this territory was covered in his songs with Wall of Voodoo. Spy World, Call of the West and The Lost Weekend being prime examples of lurid pulpy tunes from the early days of the band when they played along side early LA Punk bands.

Sonically his music paints a shadowy, hollow, dark and depressed atmosphere. The ringing of an early drum machine and the echoing dirge like tempo of the music stands in contrast to Ridgway's voice which is high and plain spoken, lacking the gritty bass of Johnny Cash or the tortured whiskey taint of Tom Waits. Maybe Ridgway is to Punk/New Wave what Warren Zevon was to the 70s singer-song writers at least vocally.

anyway on to the song.
The room was dark
It looked like someone had to get out fast
A window open by the fire escape
"How long have you been following this guy?"
The bell boy asked
"Not long enough, 'cause we got here too late."

"And everybody wants another piece of pie today," he said
"You gotta watch the ones who always keep their hands clean."
It's the big heat
There's someone followin' you
It's the big heat

Step aside we're comin' through
Well we followed him from Tucson, ended up in Baton Rouge
We trailed him here with information by
A woman he knew in Barstow that would like to see him dead
That was four weeks ago...well maybe five


A block away he wondered if he'd left behind a clue
The front page of a paper dated 1992
He remembered when he used to be the chairman of the board
But that was when the world was young and long before the war


The narrative the song is mostly a pretty straight ahead story, someone following, someone's searching, only it takes a William Borroughsesque turn when it references a news paper and memories from the future. The song gives only the outline of a story, it's stripped down and sparse, elusive but with just leaving just enough clues to starts following what is going on, and leaves more questions than answers. Who is this guy? What was in Tucson? Why is there a woman in Barstow that would like to see him dead? 1992? What War? all of these questions, and no answers, yet still I keep coming back to the song.

The stand out lyric for me is the "And everybody wants another piece of pie today," he said. The meaning of the line at first seemed like a straight ahead statement, someone in a lonely diner, the kind where they keep the pie on the counter on a glass covered tray or pedestal. The kind of pie that diners set out as the grail of your experience in their establishment, where patrons count their nickles in hopes of afford that first slice. Slice you buy a slice, not a piece, maybe that's the clue that this pie isn't a crust filled with peach (which I could for for at this moment), but more likely apple (which makes me think of the golden delicious apples in the film Thieves Highway)-- but a piece of the dream, the cash, the scratch, the action, the Moolah. Is that code for greed and taking it on the run to have more? As in life, it's never that simple, yet it's often not that complex either. Answers lead to question which lead to answers which lead-- and on and on and on.
Stan Ridgway official site

Comments, thoughts, anything?

Note: for some reason the song can briefly be heard in the 1986 film Night of the Creeps, which is only of note to because while the film is a fun 80s horror comedy, the real reason to watch it is for Tom Atkins as the quintessential hard boiled detective character.

12 Crime tunes is a new series inspired by the Narrative Music Feature over at Hardboiled Wonderland. It is my intent to write about songs that most people don't know, have never heard, but that I love. All of the songs deal with an element of crime and either tell the story or evoke a mood and atmosphere of crime and of Noir. I would like to have an installment each month during 2010, but currently only have 8 songs selected, so we will see how things progress.

Coming in Feb 2010: The Leningrad Cowboys -Thru the Wire

Thursday, January 7, 2010

FFB- Christian Pulp?

I'm going to do something a little strange this week (not that my FFB entries tend to be normal), but for this Friday I am going to talk about 2 books I have not read, 2 books that I might never read

I was sifting through a stack of donated books at work when I came across the cover you see above.

It looked like 50s/60s Crime Paperback, with the scratchy art and that faded cheap green cover. It was only when I picked it up and started to look that my brain finally figured out that this was in fact not a crime novel, but the old Christian bait and switch. Christian, mostly well meaning, have had a habit of trying to co-opt mainstream pop culture as a way to spread the word and as a way to give the members of the faith a approved version of the secular experience. This is most obvious in the world of music, where you can walk into almost any christian book shop and find a chart that says-- if you like Green Day you should check out-- also see the left behind series of books (or don't).

Anyway, The Cross and the Switchblade from 1963 by pastor David Wilkerson with John and Elizabeth Sherrill made something of a splash in evangelical circles when it came out, and so I went to my experts on these matters with some questions.

My family, to be exact my mother and her younger brother My mother's father was a baptist minister in the 40s, 50s and until his death in the early 60s. She and her sibling grew up in the 50s, but their parents still lived and forced them to live as if it was the 1930s. My grandmother was a professional ministers wife, and of course my mother grew up in the hands of the all that 50s fundamentalism, going to their schools, their churches, their institutional learning facilities--- and of course read their books.

I asked her about the book and the sequel Beyond the Cross and the Switchblade. She reported that it had been a must read in the 60s and that she had read it. I read her the back copy, and asked what she recalled "pretty much what the back copy says was her answer". My uncle recalled the title but never bothered to read the book, he's a rebel like that, and pretty much recalled what my mother did about the hype and the audience for the book.

Apparently there is a movie with Pat Boon and Erik Estrada, followed by a comic book adaptation both in the early 70s.

Around the same time that this book came into my hands I also discovered a book called The Night Pastor about a catholic priest (why it was Night Pastor and not Night Priest I don't know) who ministered to the night people of Chicago in the 1960s mostly by playing a mean Dixie land jazz piano--

Thoughts, comments, anyone read any of these?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Donald Westlake: More thoughts

I see that I have had a lot more traffic on my last post than I usual get, and figure it was because of Donald Westlake. I feel a bit sheepish for not saying more about the my year exploring his work, so I figured I should at least say a few more words.

I first heard of Westlake when I was a teen or in my early 20s when my mother tried to push a copy of The Spy in the Ointment on me-- I wasn't interested and later sold off that copy as part of the great purge of 2002. I didn't think about Westlake (or honestly most crime fiction) again until I discovered the Hard Case Crime series in 2008.

When Westlake passed away on New Years Eve of 2008, I had only read a couple of his books, but the Richard Stark Hard Case Crime reprint of Lemons Never Lie had left me wanting more, and I had also enjoyed (but honestly not loved) 361. As news of his passing spread someone out there on the net proposed the idea of reading a Westlake book a month in commemoration and the idea stuck with me. Working in a library I had access to a number of his works and via the Friends of the Library and my local mystery book shop (Aunt Agatha's) I was able to amass a small but growing collection of his works.

As they say on the Out of the Past podcast "Works consulted for this year include":
Jan 09
The Hunter by Richard Stark
Butcher's Moon by Richard Stark
Feb 09
The Hot Rock by Donald E. Westlake
March 09
Dancing Aztecs by Donald E. Westlake
April 09
Man with the Getaway Face by Richard Stark
May 09
Kinds of Love, Kinds of Death by Tucker Coe
June 09

The Outfit by Richard Stark
July 09
The Cutie by Donald Westlake
Aug 09
The Mourner by Richard Stark
Sept 09
Parker: The Hunter (Graphic Novel) Adaption by Darwyn Cooke
Oct 09

Anarchaos by Donald E Westlake
Nov 09- Which was my short story month
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

Dec 09

The Score by Richard Stark
Somebody Owes Me Money (Book On CD) Donald E Westlake

Looking over the list of Westlake/Stark books that I read, I see that the one glaring area that I did not explore is his later books. Pretty much all of what I read was from the 60s and 70s. This wasn't planned, I think it was more of a case of my trying to start with his early series work and then catch up with the later adventures of Dortmunder and Parker once I had explored the early works. As I work my way though my collection I will get to the later works-- I swear.

I don't know that I can really identify any over arching themes from the Westlake books I have read-- maybe a distrust of organizations and a pointing out of the absurdity of contemporary life. There often seems to be someone who just wants to go to work, do the job and go home in Westlake's work, people just want what they are owed. I also think that the comedic work really complements the hard core down and dirty work, it's as if he is saying that you can either laugh at the world or fight it head on. Strangely I think I am at the point in my life where I am more likely to laugh at it, but I found myself reading more of the Parker books, which fall on the fighting side of the fence.

The good/sad news for Westlake/ Stark fans is that there is one more 'new' Westlake book headed into print in the spring of 2010. The prophets of crime over at Hard Case (and if you haven't picked up one of their books yet, I urge you to-- there is a link above to the site where you can check out their catalog and each book has a sample chapter available). Then there are the University of Chicago Press reprints of the Parker books of which the first 9 have been released and the next three are also slated for spring of 2010.

Donald Westlake official site
The Violent World of Parker
Hard Case Crime

Thoughts, comments, favorite Westlake books?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Books: A year of Donald Westlake and Dec 09 reads

In commemoration of Donald Westlake I made it my mission to read at least one of his works each of the last 12 months. I also checked out a couple of the films based on his books and even listened to one of them as a book on CD. Overall it was a great experience, and I have come to enjoy Westlake as a master of story telling. I liked some of the books more than others, but can't say that I disliked any of what I read. The Parker books I read were a joy to discover, and I enjoyed his more comedic as well. The movies based on his work were hit and miss. I enjoyed The Hot Rock, Point Blank and Payback. Made in the USA really is it's own animal that while based on a Stark book really give no hint of what makes the Stark books work. The Bank Shot had it's moments, but I found myself more interested in the location shots of LA in the early 1970s.

Anyway, I enjoyed my year with Westlake and as I have amassed a stack of his books he will not be far from my reading in 2010. Speaking of 2010, it is my intent to read at least one John D Mac Donald book a month this coming year.

Dec 2009 Books: Here is a quick overview of the books that I finished reading in Dec 2009

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
The title pretty much tells the story of this oral history of the the bay area punk scene. Like the other oral histories I have read this was insightful, informative and engaging.

Leave it to Psmith by P.G. Wodhouse
Tarot Card Book Mark Fruit
In the past I only knew P.G. Wodhouse via BBC TV series Jeeves and Wooster. This was my first Wodhouse novel and it was a nice light comic read, almost a cozy. No one dies and the crime element is pretty limited-- however I am looking forward to my next visit to the world of P.G. Wodhouse.

The Score by Richard Stark
Tarot Card Book Mark Flying
This was my Westlake book for the month-- a fast paced heist tale with a lot of energy and twists and turns. More good stuff and I am looking forward to the Jugger the next of the Parker books and the next book on my TBR pile.

A Heartbeat and a Guitar: Johnny Cash and the making of Bitter Tears by Antonino D'ambrosio
My second music related book for the month, and of all the books I read in 2009 none moved me in the way this one did. It's the story of not only Cash and his post Sun Rockabilly years but his interaction with the New York Folk scene in the early '60s, and the plight of the Native Americans in the early 1960s. I learned more about that movement from this book (did you know that JFK promised not to break the treaty that George Washington made with the Seneca-- only to do that when he got into office?) than I have anywhere else. Also like any great book about music it sent me back to the album Bitter Tears (which has long been a favorite of mine) and has more looking forward to getting my hands on the works of Peter La Farge who wrote many of the songs on the album.

Losers Live Longer by Russell Atwood
Tarot Card Book Mark Candle
Hard Case Crime book for the Month
Payton Sherwood sure hasn't made it big since the events of his first adventure East of A, but Atwood has only grown as a story teller. This book finds him looking for the murder of a legendary PI and ending up with an answer he's not going to like. This was a fast, fun and addictive read, everything that a Hard Case paperback should be. You gotta love that cover as well.

Hunt Through the Cradle of Fear by Charles Ardai
Tarot Card Book Mark The Hat
The second of the Hunt for Adventure books, this one carries on the pure escapist Indiana Jones style adventure started by the first one. It never slows down and has just enough of the twists and turns needed to keep you reading. I liked the Clive Cussler like cameo by Ardai, and have the next Hunt book hovering around the top of my TBR pile.

Somebody Owes Me Money (BOCD) Donald E Westlake
Hard Case on CD!
I wanted to check out the audio book version of at least one Westlake book this year, and this was it. Nicely read and preformed, this Westlake story is about a Cab driver who is looking for the payout on a winning horse and when he stumbles on the murdered body of his bookie finds a whole lot more.

Mr. Monk in Outer Space by Lee Goldberg
I've never really considered Monk before reading this book. Somewhere around the middle of the story I had to head to the library and check out a couple of DVDs of the series. I picked up about 6 of the Monk books up at the Friends of the Library sale a while back because I enjoyed the previous book by Lee Goldberg that I read. This one finds Monk looking into the murder of the producer of a cult Sci Fi TV show and the murder of the CEO of a fast food chain. While I liked the investigation part of the story it was spending time with Monk and his cast the kept me reading, and has me looking forward to my next Monk novel. I also laughed a couple of times, which I don't often do when reading.

Thoughts, comments, recommendations?
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.