Monday, February 28, 2011


Scarred but Smarter II

“I really don’t mind the scars,” Wilson started, she pushed her sweatshirt hood back and looked over at me “it’s the itching that kills me,” there was a twinkle in her eye and a hint of lechery in her smile.

I didn’t say anything in response, for a moment I wished that I smoked, but I never had and never would. We had just escorted the model to security and were headed back from Detroit Metro.

“That’s to say, it’s not the…..” she started,

“I got you, I heard,” I was a little gruffer than I needed to be, but that was my way. I was gruff with the help, mostly because of my friendship with the boss.

“So I have been tasked to, well,” she paused and looked ahead. I nodded, keeping my eyes on the road.

“We want to know what’s your deal? Why are you so…” I heard her words and took a moment to wonder how I should respond. There was the temptation clam up, shut down or joke, but in the end, I had to give some credit to her for asking.

“Distant, cold, detached, uninvolved.” I offered

“Yeah,” she looked back at me, her eyes were slightly downcast and she was doing that thing with her chin that is supposed to evoke sadness or submission, if she had been standing I wondered if she would have been twisting her arm around to expose her wrists.

“I don’t really know, it’s the mode that I fell into when I would come into the office, and then it became a bit of a joke, which I played up too, and then it just kinda stuck.” I wished the radio had been on so that I could play with it, I had to settle for adjusting my hands on the steering wheel. I wanted a cup of coffee that was a prop that I could have toyed with.

“That’s sad, why no change that? You should come to a after party, or join the gang for lunch and you know…. Just be yourself,” she looked forward again, and then I could see her look out the window. Outside the sun was setting on another grey winter Michigan day. Soon we would be passing the Ypsi Ford plant and soon enough we’d be back at the office.

“Well,” she started again

“We’re almost back to Ann Arbor, so just what ever is on your mind,” I didn’t believe that I was really saying that. I had made a point to be detached from the business; I was after all just kept on retainer. The fact that I was driving people to the airport was simply a favor, a favor for cash, but still a favor.

“I guess, it’s just that people, staff, ok, us girls wonder what’s going on with you and the boss?” She looked right at me and our eyes met, I could see there was something important in the question.

“Listen, I am the itching, something get’s ripped, or damaged, or cut, and I come in an patch it up, but I am the irritant, and because it’s the job, I am separate from the gang. I also report to Megan, and we have become…. Well, it’s not really clear, but” I stopped; I really didn’t know what more to say. I didn’t know how to really answer the question. I knew that my relationship the business wasn’t like theirs, and because of that I had access to the boss.

“Ok, I think I get it, maybe” I looked over and gave her a smile. She was young, she was pert, and full of life, but she was real. On the surface she looked like any 20 something young professional, only she worked for a place that sold fantasy images, she worked around the far edges of the sex industry, there had to be some scars in there.

“For the record, I don’t mind the scars either, the itching I think I might like, because sure it can get annoying at the time, but after the fact you know there was a story behind the whole thing.” I flipped on the turn signal and pulled the car onto the on ramp and we re-entered the city limits.

More over at Patti Abbott's blog HERE

Feb 2011 Monthly Reads

The Dame by Richard Stark

The second of the four Grofield novels find’s our buddy Al looking into an island job that could make him some cash. He’s not impressed with the initial set up, but finds himself caught up in it all anyway. It’s a quick, swift, who-done-it…. That is a Stark, but maybe not the more iconic of the bunch… and after reading Dead Skip last month, where Stark is named and Parker makes and appearance I am looking forward to Black Ice Score and getting back to Parker’s adventures. That said I know that Lemon’s Never Lie, the final of the Grofield books is coming up, and I have read and enjoyed that one.

Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn

I kept running to this memoir about the author having encountered his MIA father as a client of the homeless shelter the author was working in. I fooled around with the book for a while and then gave up, I like the title I like the short chapters, I like the choppy narrative, but it just couldn’t sustain the energy for me.

Stark House Press book of the month:

It's Always Four O’clock by W. R. BURNETT

Dig it Daddy-O

Dig it loud and live

The big beat from the coast,

Jazz Bo, jive tale of… hell,

This is it, the Noir Jazz tale you have been waiting for, it’s a classic. The bare bones of the pop music story, kids with talent, things start to get going and then it’s every man for himself. What carries the story is the vibe of the thing, the language, the evocation of the time, place and world at the start of Pop TV fame. It really needs it’s own soundtrack, it needs a Tom Waits a Stan Ridgway or even a Kevn Kenny to read it aloud for your to really get the drift. That Burnett is largely out of print is a crime, his fluid prose are cinematic, dramatic and have the right jazz tempo. Check it out.

Lawrence Block book of the Month: Burglar in the Closet

Another winning entry in the Burglar series, this time around Bernie gets caught up in a murder that occurs while he locked in the victim’s closet hence, the title. It’s not that he was on the Hot Prowl, she came home earlier and Bernie get’s to hear her murder, and after some time, he has to figure out who did it to keep it from getting pinned on him.

Double Indemnity by James M Cain

I had never read a Cain before this, I was aware of course of the great film based on the book, and had just watched it again and figured that I should check out the book. It’s short it’s more of a novella than a full-blown novel. Having seen the film, I am stuck with the improvements of the film over the book, mostly the addition of the snappy Chandler dialog and the cinematic changes of things like last names, clothing choices and even the streamlining of the story. All this is not to say that the book is a shabby read, it is a great noir that can be knocked off in a couple of hours and is well worth checking out.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

26 soundtracks: Wild in the Streets

The Shape of things to come...

Wild in the Streets from 1968 was about an America where the voting age had been lowered to 14 and a Rock Star, Max Frost, is elected president. The film deals with the issues of the time it was created and the generation gap. Without going into my whole Baby Boomer rant, it’s interesting to see what happened to the country when the Baby Boomers really took control of national politics and where we are after two decades of Baby Boomers really running the show.

Anyway, this is about the soundtrack, which is filled mostly with up-tempo Folk, Psychedelic and Garage Rock. Most of the songs are loose and janggly, however the Max Frost and the Troopers song Shape Of Things To Come (which is not to be confused with the Yardbirds song of the same name) is of note for several reasons. First it is just a great song from the era, with a driving Farfasa organ sound that is clean and stark. It’s lean and driving and even a little chilly. Lyrically it’s a call to arms calling for a revolution that is inevitable, with a join or you’ll be sorry vibe. Of all the songs on the soundtrack it is the most fascists. First you have the name Max Frost and the Trooper, that sounds like the house band for Nazi Germany circa ’68, they would have been bigger than the beatles.

The title Shape of Things to Come is of course is taken from the George Orwell (Animal Farm, 1984) {ok, not really It's H.G. Wells thanks to Todd Mason for the correction} story that deals with the eventual succession of the nation state of the 20th century by a benevolent society of scientific technocrats running the means of production, of distribution and access to educations, health care (any of this sounding way to current here in 2010??) and the place of individual in society. I have to pause here and recommend the 1936 film version of Shape of Things to Come from Britain which is not only a great early Sci Fi film, but looks amazing.

The title track, Wild in the Streets is a disappointment in that it’s way to controlled, mellow and mild. Lyrically it’s notable for it’s warning to those over 30, letting them know that the younger generation is gunning for them. Fifty Two Per Cent is another solid song also with a threat as the message, reminding the listener that the Boomers were 52% of the population at the time.

Over all it’s an interesting album that documents the time, the place and the music. Aside from The Shape of Things to Come there is nothing that is classic, but if you are looking for a 60s Psych Gem you could do a lot worse.

Next time: The Soundtrack to another Rock and Roll Fantasy OST Streets of Fire

You can fine more Final Thursday Music HERE

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

26 Films: O.C. & Stiggs

O.C. & Stiggs


“That’s the problem with insurance damage in never permanent ”

Robert Altman wasn’t always at the top if his game, but I think all his films are worth checking out at least once. While M*A*S*H, The Player, and Godsford Park are well thought of, it’s safe to say that O.C. & Stiggs will never be considered a master piece. It’s a film that I discovered as a teen and think that it might just be the most punk rock film ever made. Sure it’s a mess, but it has it’s moments and it has some the best scenes of managed chaos since the Marxx Brothers… all of that is not to say that it’s anywhere near the level of those films.

The plot is pretty simple; O.C. & Stiggs are a pair of Phoenix area high school Students trying to navigate the mid-80s landscape of Regan upwardly mobile America. At the start of the film they sneak into the backyard of the Shwab family, to make long distance international calls and tell their story to President Bongo of Gabon.

Essentially they have spent their summer being a thorn in the side of the Shawbs because, the husband is an insurance magnet, had canceled O.C.’s grandfathers retirement insurance. O.C.’s Gramps with out his insurance is headed for a nursing home and O.C. is about to be shipped off to live with an uncle in Arkansas.

In what was slated to be a teen sex comedy, Altman manages to skewer the neo-affluence, the oblivious parenting of the era, the right wing survivalist, the high school hi-jinks films and the stereotypes of homeless winos and Vietnam vets. The film also contains the Altman wandering camera, the overlapping dialog and ensemble cast he was known for. Paul Dooley, Jon Cryer and Jane Curtin all have big roles, but are far too often overshadowed by the smaller roles of; Ray Walston, Dennis Hopper, Martin Mull, a pre-Sex in the City Cynthia Nixon and one amazing scene with Bob Uker.

Like all good teen films of the time there is also an extended musical performance, only instead of getting what ever puffy haired New Wave one hit wonder, Altman brings in King Sunny Ade and his African Beats, a world music artist who after becoming a huge hit in his home land was being poised to be the next Bob Marley in the states by his record company. This of course never happened and King Sunny Ade never was able to make the step from the world music genre to the mainstream, which is really strange because watching his performance in the film he showcases everything that a cross over act needs. I have owned a couple of his records and none of them ever came close the magic and connection of his O.C. & Stiggs performance.

Fashion wise O.C. & Stiggs is a time capsule of tacky and misguided clothing choices all too often made by the rich and stupid, and it even plays a role in the film. Mr. Stiggs starts off with sunglasses with those side cover things that you would think are only legal while transversing the deserts of Africa; on the other hand this film is set in a desert. Of course there is also the suits they wear when purchasing their car, and then the whole business with the Afro-Dizzy-yacks… witch I won’t go into, other than to say Martin Mull almost steals the film with his intro of ‘Girls if you need clothes, and you don’t here….” Line right before he offers O.C. and Stiggs cups of brown rum with the line ‘ Double or Triple, there’s no Singles here”.

I have to fess up and say that this film holds a very nostalgic place in my life. It was something that my friends and I all discovered because we were fans of Jon Cryer and were on a mission to track down all of his films. Of course he has a small role in this film, that’s everything that someone like Ducky from Pretty in Pink, or Grant from Dudes, or even Morgan Stewart from Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home isn’t…. but the magic of a film that was seeing though all the bullshit in the teen flicks of the era meant something to me and to my circle of friends. We were smart enough to know that there was a lot of hollow, debt ridden, compromised lives out there pretending that everything was ok, and this film affirmed that.

O.C & Stiggs was featured on the Onion A.V. Club's My Year of Flops, you can read that HERE

Up Next: Pyrates with Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick

Friday, February 18, 2011

FFB: Dead Skip by Joe Gores

Dead Skip by Joe Gores

Gores past away at the end of last month and there were flurry FFB entries in memory of him. I had only read his Spade and Archer at the time of his passing, but the first of his Dan Kearney and Associates(DKA) book Dead Skip has been hovering around the top of my To be Read Pile, and I had already planned on reading this year.

The story is the ultimate well worn first plot any one thinks of when you say mystery fiction…. in that it is set up, it’s a who-done-it. What makes it stand out is that features a real, professional detectives and focuses first on their day to day work doing repos and skip tracing.

Our lead in Dead Skip is Larry Ballard who steps up and attires to figure out who has attacked one of his co-workers. Backtracking the last couple of cases a a pool of suspects is generated, they are interviewed and eliminated as Ballard get’s closer and closer to figuring out what happened.

The writing is clean and direct and drives the plot along, keeping some suspense, but paying off questions raised in time. I really liked that Gores shows how long it takes to get answers, to follow up on leads and how no matter how good you are forgetting one little thing, or not following up on one lead can bollix the whole venture up, complicate things, and create more work for the investigator.

I need to take a moment here to talk about Richard Stark. Not only is he name dropped in the book, but his character Parker makes an appearance in the book, he helps to get some information and move the plot along. I haven’t read Plunder Squad yet, but apparently this chapter also appears in that book.

I liked the book and I look forward to reading the rest of the series. I also want to point out the great Art Nevo/ Art Deco covers on the Mysterious Press covers.

"Dan Kearney and Associates" DKA Novels:

Dead Skip (DKA; 1972)

Final Notice (DKA; 1973)

Gone, No Forwarding (DKA; 1978)

32 Cadillacs (DKA; Edgar Award nominee, Best Novel; 1992)

Contract Null & Void (DKA; 1996)

Stakeout on Page Street and Other DKA Files (DKA Short Stories; 2000)

Cons, Scams & Grifts (DKA; 2001)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

26 Soundtracks: Hiding Out

Hiding Out Soundtrack

Film Trailer

Film studios in the late 80s were chasing the $$ still in the pockets of the teens who had taken in all those John Huges films. No doubt trying to cash in on Pretty in Pink and soon to be old to play a teen Jon Cryer was cast in the lead of the back to high school Hidiing Out, which started out as a intresting look at the trials of the American High School before falling into a mob hit man at the rally for class president grinder…. But I am not here to talk about the film, but about the soundtrack.

See in addation to movie tickets (and VHS rentals, tapes were expensive and it really took until the early 90s for the studios to understand that selling htem to viewer to own was a cash cow) those John Huges films also sold soundtracks. Pretty in Pink, and The Breakfast Club stand out as the winners in the soundtrack sweepstakes of that era, and so a film like hiding out needed a edgy soundtrack that would sell to the kids.

At the time what a good soundtrack really needed was vision, and a strong director who know the value of the music to their film. Cameron Crowe, John Huges and Penelopy Spheres all knew this and that is why their soundtracks all stand today as a part of their film, as a time capsule of the era. Hiding out n the other hand has some great songs, mostly by accident. As a collection it feels like there were one or two moments that helped the film, and were needed, but the rest were just tracks from bands with the right connections and ended up in the film.

The Roy Orbison and K.D. Lang version of Crying is the most memorable from the film, as it was used in a sequence at the school dance, but aside from the improved rap by students I can’t recall the scene where any of the other tunes are used. That’s not to say that there isn’t a couple of gems on the ablum. Public Image Ltd.(PiL) was rarely as accessible as they were with Seattle. Johnny Rotten’s post Sex Pistols band had their own majuc and place in music history, but they failed to connect with me over and over, this tune however remains one of my favorite PiL tracks.

Aside from Roy the biggest name on the album is a solo Boy George track. That’s a cultureal touchstone that I never got that meant nothing to me at the time, the whole Boy George, Culture Club thing I mean. To be fair I was growing up in a town that helped to spawn all that was rough and in your face about punk rock… not that I knew that at the time. In the years to come it was that heavier, grittier and more revolution based music that would appeal to me. Boy George was really just a shiny pop act, giving the world more pop confections at least at the time. I have no clue if this tune appeard on any of his albums, or if this was a case where they offered him some cash to record a tune for the soundtrack so they would have a newer name act in the film and on the soundtrack.

Catch Me (I'm Falling) by Pretty Poison (Hiding Out Soundtrack)

Catche Me (‘m Falling) is pure 80s electro dance pop, it is one of the forgotten gems on this album. A perfectly produced slice of alternativly tough and danceable fluff. I don’t know that I could take a whole album of the band Pretty POsion, but this song should have been on one of those Rhino Records New Wave Hits of the 80s comps.

Scarlett & Black channel a vaugly Brit New Wave feel with You Don’t Know, it’s one of those tunes that you know is like something else, but you just can’t put your finger on it. It has a mid tempo beat, and slightly soulful vocals, like OMD or Tears for Fears. Bang Your Head by Lolita Pop was a supriseingly enjoyable near ballad, that plays more like a manta than a full song, but the production never get’s too much and it’s over quickly enough.

The rest of the soundtrack is really not my thing, it sounds dated and reminds the listener of how good and how bad the music of the period could be.

Track listing:

Live My Life by Boy George

Bang Your Head by Lolita Pop

Catch Me (I'm Falling)by Pretty Poison

You Don't Know by Scarlett & Black

So Different Now by Felix Cavaliere

Run! Hide! by all that jaz:

I Refuse by Hue & Cry

Crying by Roy Orbison & k.d. lang

Crying (Prelude) - Jon Cryer, Keith Coogan

Max For President Rap by Lee Anthony Brisdon, David L. Robinson, Daryl Smith

Real Life by Black Britain

Seattle by Public Image Ltd.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

26 Films: Plain Clothes

Plain Clothes
When looking for trends in history the more distance you have from a place the better able you are to see what was going on in the culture. What I can see very vividly now is a generation, the Baby Boomer, who refused to put away childish thing staying in power, one of the ways to keep themselves young was to make sure that no one born after them was allowed to grow up. This has manifested in many ways, from a near pathological insistence that they ‘changed the world’ and the constant referencing of events like The Summer of Love, Woodstock, and the single handed ending of the war in Vietnam as proof that they have been the saviors of the world…….argh, don’t’ get me started on all of that..
All this is to say that by the late 80s with the first wave of generation Xers graduating from high school and college and entering the work force there were a spat of films (ok, maybe only 2 that I know of) and one TV show that featured these Gen X kids being seen as so young and young looking that they were able to pass as high school students. On TV it was 21 Jump Street, on film it was Hiding Out (see the review of the soundtrack to that film later this week) and today’s forgotten film, Plain Clothes.

Set in Seattle, Plain Clothes is the story of cop Nick Dunbar, a young officer who frustrated at being assigned again and again to details because of his young looks. When his brother is implicated in the murder of a teacher, he looses his temper and get’s suspended. He takes his suspension time to enroll in school and try and clear his brother’s name. The film is part look at how crazy American High Schools are in 1988, part who-done-it, and part 80s Romantic comedy. There is also a plot about the Baby Boomer Teachers worry about their pensions (20 years on this part resonates even more than I did then), and of course Nick falls for a young teacher who thinks he is a student, when they are really about the same age.
I am not going to make the case that it’s a great film, it existents now as a time capsule of the time and place. There are a number of very funny lines and a couple of scenes that raise the film above the level of trash. The cast is solid and there are noteworthy performances by George Wendt and Seymour Cassel. Also watch for the moments with Abe Vigoda, Harry Shearer, and the PA announcements from Robert Stack.
Plain Clothes is not out on DVD as of this writing, it is on Netflix instant if you want to check it out. I do think that someone is missing an opportunity not packaging it as a double disc with the Jon Cryer flick Hiding Out.
Up Next: The Robert Altman not classic, but I love it anyway for my own reasons…. O.C. & Stiggs.
More Overlooked Films at Todd Mason's blog Here

Friday, February 4, 2011

FFB: King of the Wood by John Maddox Roberts

It must have been frustration for young writers who discovered the pulps their parent’s generation had read were no longer around. Just think of a kid of about 14 or 15 discovering the format in attics, and used book shops and garages around the country….. and of course in those late 60s paperback reprints of the bigger name authors… only when these would be pulp writers entered the writing market in the 70s and 80s there was little call for their take on pulp.

All of this is to say that King of the Wood reads like it should have been published over the course of a year in an adventure pulp, with each installment giving a little piece of the adventure of Hring Kristjanson, as he wanders an alternative North America circa 1485. Hring a son of the royal bloodline has been cast out of both the Christian church and Treeland his nation.

From that starting point we get a series of adventures over the course of which Hring explores the empires and cultures that have come to power, or stayed in power on the continent of North America. He finds and looses companions, ascends and descends levels of power, before finally leading one last big adventure and returning home, before giving into his fate.

I don’t want to get too much more into the story, let’s just say that there are solid adventure yarns though out the book, filled with adventure, weird rituals, and even what is essentially a western tale.

As a writer John Maddox Roberts has had what I consider an interesting career. After King of the Wood, which was published in 1983, along with Cestus Dei both of which I also read as a teen, he would go on to write eight Conan between 1985 and 1995, if King of the Wood is any indication I would say that he would be the right choice for Conan. He also contributed one of the three D&D Mysteries, Murder In Tarsis (1996) to their excellent but all too short-lived ventures in genre blending. These days he’s best know for his SPQR series Mystery series set in Ancient Rome. I’ve read the first one and enjoyed it a lot.

A lot of books that I read as a teen haven’t held up to being revisited, but rereading King of the Wood, I felt like I was getting a lot more out of it than the first time around. Roberts is an author who is well worth checking out.

More Friday Forgotten Books at Todd Mason's Blog HERE