Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What's goin on....

Currently re-reading Ian MacDonald's brilliant REVOLUTION IN THE HEAD, the best book EVER about the Beatles. Read the original version back in about 2001, so am eager 2 C what's new in this updated, revised edition (2007).
Fulla great Dtails, NEthing BUT boring track-by-track analysis of the Beatles' songs, & some GREAT jokes (Xplaining why, on "Love Me Do," producer George Martin assigned the vocal leading in2 the harmonica break 2 McCartney: Bcos Lennon, heading in2 the break that he played on harmonica, had previously bn singing "Love Me waaaah! -- which was deemed uncommercial.") -- amazing that a guy who could write this vividly, this brilliantly -- the 1st person 2 get something NEW outta the Beatles' work in 30 yrs -- should fall victim 2 an ongoing battle against Clinical Depression. MacDonald committed suicide in 2003. He knew his stuff -- there's a long article by MacDonald also posted on-line about the impact of Depression on Nick Drake's tragically shortened life, & tho MacDonald didn't know Drake, his insight is pretty amazing, & the writing is (of course) beautiful. & as my own dark moods & definitely-minor-league depressions have taught me, sometimes NOTHING helps. Who knows what else was happening in MacDonald's life, but U'd think he'd keep bashing away with the 1 thing he did Xtremely well....
NEway.... Coming fairly soon (hopefully): New reviews of The Strawbs' HALCYON DAYS best-of, Badfinger's WISH YOU WERE HERE, Lewis Shiner's SAY GOODBYE: THE LAURIE MOSS STORY (novel), Ian McDonald's CHAGA (collection of linked short-stories), Jonathon Green's DAYS IN THE LIFE: VOICES FROM THE ENGLISH UNDERGROUND, 1961-1971 (oral history), Animal Collective's MERRIWEATHER POST PAVILION & Television Personalities' MY DARK PLACES (2 attempts 2 try 2 listen 2 something FAIRLY NEW -- *takes deep breath*), & possibly a look back at Hipgnosis's WALK AWAY RENE & Roger Dean's VIEWS.
I also promised a friend a review of It's A Beautiful Day's 1st 2 albums MONTHS ago & have never got10 2 them. I am consumed w/ guilt & shall try 2 do better.
I also wanted 2 babble some more about my newspapering & military Xperiences, but that can cer10ly wait.... It's cold & rainy here. Hope U all R well. Keep warm! -- TAD.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Some pretty great rock&roll novels....

Here's 2 mixing genres: If U're a music fan U might really Njoy some of the following rock&roll novels, summa which R among my fave books in the world. Since the list is kinda short, I'll follow it up with other rock-music novels I'm aware of but haven't read or couldn't get thru (tho the reviews were good), & some Xcellent rock&roll short-fiction. & away we go....
* GLIMPSES, Lewis Shiner -- The BEST rock&roll novel EVER. Shiner's hero has the ability 2 hear & create great "lost" pop music that never quite Xisted in reality: The Beach Boys' SMILE, The Doors' CELEBRATION OF THE LIZARD, Jimi Hendrix's FIRST RAYS OF THE NEW RISING SUN. In order 2 create this music on tape, he slips in2 a sorta alternate reality (or is he hallucinating?) where he meets all these great musicians & plays a part in helping them finish their projects. The section on SMILE is especially fine: Shiner knows his stuff & doesn't mess up the Dtails. Meanwhile, the real-life crises Shiner's hero hasta face when he's not searching 4 lost music R real & Blievable (failing marriage, father dying, growing older). Vivid, gripping, moving. Great stuff.
* GOSSAMER AXE, Gael Baudino -- The 2nd-best rock&roll novel ever. When a harper from the land of Faerie is trapped in our reality without the love of her life (who's still on The Other Side), she forms a heavy-metal band as the most direct way 2 blast a hole Btween the realities & get her lost love back. Great in-a-band Dtails, moving stories of both our heroine & the women who join her band, & a marvelous happy Nding. Vivid, involving, Xciting, Mpowering.
+ ZEITGEIST, Bruce Sterling -- Recently reviewed here. A lovable con-artist comes up w/ a musical scam 2 fleece the Moslem world of millions of $$$ just B4 Y2K hits. But the conman loses control of his act & then the girls in his "band" start dying due 2 neglect. Outrageous, cynical, sarcastic -- but there's a happy Nding 4 all the good folks. Even the conman saves his soul. & it's laff-out-loud funny.
= THE ARMAGEDDON RAG, George R.R. Martin -- '60s group The Nazgul reforms but their tour Cms a front 4 all kinds of dark plotting. Some nice nostalgia & good group-rehearsal scenes, but the cloak&dagger/thriller plot lets down Martin (1 of my heroes) & his characters.
= ROCK CRITIC MURDERS, Jesse Sublette -- I've read this 3x & tho there's a good feel 4 Bing in a no-frills blues-rock band & the hot, dry, MT Texas setting is completely Blievable, there R no real suprises in the standard murder/private-investigator plot. It's just not Xciting enuf.
= THE MEMORY OF WHITENESS, Kim Stanley Robinson -- This shoulda bn better. A young Master Musician learns 2 play Holywelkin's Orchestra, a sorta giant keyboard/orchestrion-thing that creates magical music that can unite all peoples.... He goes on 2 tour the Solar System (sorta the Ultimate Tour) ... but gets sucked in2 a cloak&dagger plot involving sun-worshippers on Mercury. Kinda heavy-handed & disappointing, tho Robinson's written some other great stuff: "Green Mars," "Mother Goddess of the World," "Escape from Kathmandu," "Discovering Life," "The Lucky Strike," "The Part of Us That Loves," & the AMAZING "A History of the 20th Century, With Illustrations."

+ THE COMMITMENTS, Roddy Doyle -- OK, I think the movie's better, but this is DEFinitely worth taking a look at. Doyle's got an odd writing style (I'M 1 2 talk?): Everything is shorthanded, he never uses quotes 2 show his characters R talking -- but the struggles of a band 4med "2 save Ireland thru R&B" R amusingly & involvingly Dtailed, & it's a quick read. Only a coupla minor complaints: The book Nds JUST AS IT'S GETTING REALLY GOOD (just like the film), & I don't think we ever quite HEAR the music The Commitments per4m. But 4 Ghod's sake, C the movie 2....
+ HIGH FIDELITY, Nick Hornby -- *Grumble, grumble* ... This is a pretty-good "growing-up" novel, centered on a hero who owns his own used-record store & starts recording local bands on his own garage-based record label(!), but still won't accept responsibility, get married & act like "a real grown-up," according 2 his girlfriend. Funny, nicely observed & Xcellently written, very readable -- but I hated the Nding. I would not have married the girlfriend who 4ces the hero 2 grow up -- most guys would likely resent her 4 Bing so pushy. 4 me, the best things in the book R the off-the-wall record-store humor ("You can't possibly be taken seriously as a person without at least 5,000 albums in your collection"), the hero's ongoing Top 5 lists of The Best Rock&Roll Songs Of All Time (4 all possible occasions), & the long reminiscences about his previous girlfriends.

LITTLE HEROES, Norman Spinrad -- Something about "the old lady of rock and roll" helping 2 create an act that'll unite the country & possibly the world. Tried 2 read this fat novel a coupla x & couldn't get very far, but Spinrad knows his stuff & is almost always suprising 2 read.
SAY GOODBYE: THE LAURIE MOSS STORY, Lewis Shiner -- Based on GLIMPSES, this should also B great, but I've never Cn a copy 4 sale NEwhere. Supposedly this is about a fictional singer-songwriter who Didn't Quite Make It. Worth tracking down, I'm sure....
WRACK AND ROLL, Bradley Denton -- Gotta copy on my bookshelf & when I get 2 it I'll let U know. Looks a little like LITTLE HEROES. Some of Denton's short stories R outrageous & funny....
ECLIPSE, John Shirley -- A trilogy, something like a punk-rock apocalypse....
THE KILL RIFF, David J. Schow -- This is less a rock&roll story & more a horror novel. A father goes out 4 revenge against a heavy-metal band after his daughter dies at 1a the band's concerts. Schow was a talented & funny short-story writer, but tho the reviews of this novel were good, I couldn't get past the grim 1st chapter.
THE TEXTS OF FESTIVAL, Mick Farren -- An apocalyptic pulp-science-fiction novel, psychedelic & etc. Farren was a member of The Deviants & the Pink Fairies, was a rock critic, & co-wrote a song or 2 w/ Hawkwind.
TIME OF THE HAWKLORDS, Michael Moorcock & Michael Butterworth -- Speaking of Hawkwind, this book turns that British heavy-space-rock band of the '70s in2 heroes in their own adventure. If it captures the atmosphere of their albums it might B pretty cool. Moorcock co-wrote some songs w/ them & did a coupla guest vocals.
(+) THE BEAR, Rafi Zabor -- Is jazz OK in this list? Zabor's novel is about a saxophone-playing bear who practically turns in2 Charlie Parker when he hits the stage at New York jazz clubs. The 1st 1/2 of the book is pretty great, vivid & funny & involving, but when The Bear started onna long nationwide tour I just sorta drifted away, like I do w/ a lotta jazz....
...I've read reviews 4 rock novels Ntitled SMOKESTACK LIGHTNING and JAMBEAUX, but I have no idea who the authors R....

* "Stone," Edward Bryant -- An electronic-feedback technician in the stage crew 4 a future singer (a Janis Joplin-type) helps her commit suicide -- in the most public way possible. Intense & moving. Bryant's other music-related fiction that I've read ("Armageddon Between Sets," "Drummer's Star") is OK but a little thin, not up 2 the high standards of "Stone" or some of his other stories like the brilliant "Strata."
* "A Little Night Music," Lucius Shepard -- Xcellent. Shepard reviews a per4mance by a zombie rock&roll band. Cold & creepy.
* "Dead Air," Greg Egan -- Scary! Haunted goings-on atta late-nite rock&roll radio station. That'll teach the heroine 2 play such possessed old rock&roll songs as "Hands of Jack the Ripper"!
* "Preflash," John M. Ford -- A photographer can C people's futures, & 1a the jobs he does is shoot a video 4 an up&coming singer. Amazingly vivid & cinematic, the whole thing reads like a really good music video....
* "The Winter Market," William Gibson -- The hero of this also shoots a video, sorta, centering on the driven heroine who thinks she's not much longer 4 this world. MayB this doesn't qualify as a music story really, but I can't C the video Bing done w/o music....
+ "The Music of the Spheres," Bradley Denton -- Turns out some rock&roll (Specially the REALLY addictive stuff) is a plot by aliens 2 take over the Earth.... Hilarious!
+ "Jeff Beck," Lewis Shiner -- An avg. everyday guy gets the chance 2 play guitar just as good as the legendary Jeff Beck ... but his new power does not make him happy....
+ "All the Way Up, All the Way Down," Robert Silverberg, part of his novel THE WORLD INSIDE -- Silverberg has a great vision of a future rock band, the instruments they'd play, what it'd B like 2 C them per4m. That's sorta background 2 the actual story, but it's worth reading just 4 what Silverbob does w/ the band. The rest of the story shows Silverberg's overcrowded urban world of 2281, & like the rest of the book the vivid setting sorta overwhems the events of the story.
+ "The Feast of St. Janis," Michael Swanwick -- Another Janis Joplin story. A future traveler visits the annual Feast, the climax of which is the sacrifice 2 the crowd of "this year's" Janis. Impressive, Dtailed, kinda shocking. Swanwick's 1st published story (1980). His only other solo "music fiction" story I've found, "In Concert," is 4gettable. But some of his other stories R great, like the brilliant "The Dragon Line" (an updating of Merlin, Arthur, etc.), mystical & moving "The Edge of the World," hilarious "Ginungagap."
+ "The Big Flash," Norman Spinrad -- A rock band Cms 2 B pointing the way toward nuclear Armageddon. The story has some intensity, & the Nding is grimly inevitable. But there R no real suprises here. When this was published in '69 it probly was a little shocking....
+ "The Song the Zombie Sang," Harlan Ellison & Robert Silverberg -- Classical music OK? The zombie only awakens 2 play keyboards in something like a classical production. Bn yrs since I read this, but Ellison & Silverberg's talents meshed well.
= "Touring," Gardner Dozois, Jack Dann & Michael Swanwick -- Spooky horror story, about how Buddy Holly, Richie Valens & The Big Bopper havta keep playing the same concert at Clear Lake, Iowa, over & over & over. & of course their audience R all dead 2....
...If NEbody has some suggestions, I'm always intrested in reading more good rock&roll fiction....

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dumped! Stalled! & other issues....

Now this might B Nlightening: I, "Mr. Music," the man who's either heard or read everything, have probly spent more $$$ on books & music than the Gross Annual Product of most 3rd-world countries -- & a large amount of it has gone right back 2 the used book & record stores over the yrs since at least 1975.
4 some1 with a supposedly wide range of intrests, there's a LOT of stuff I've given up on musically & literarily -- couldn't get it thru my thick head, got bogged down 1/2way thru, it didn't grab me, I couldn't focus, it was all noise 2 me.
Tho mosta this list is offa the top of my head, I thot it might B revealing 2 look at some of the stuff I've given up on over the yrs. Some of this is supposedly great stuff, & I'll bet it IS -- there R lots of fans of summa these works out there, all the critical refrences say much of it really is great stuff. Some of it I'd liketa have back. I might just have bn 2 stupid back then 2 pick it up.
I'm not gonna do NE vast research or memory-racking trying 2 come up with a definitive list, but here's a few of the things I've bn unable 2 read or listen 2 over the past 35 yrs.... & if some of these R treasures 2 U, drop me a note & clue me in on why. & on some of these, mayB we can work out a deal....

DUMPED! (Music I couldn't hear.)
Jon Anderson -- Olias of Sunhillow.
Kevin Ayers -- Odd Ditties best-of.
Barclay James Harvest -- Best-of's 1&2, Octoberon, Time Honored Ghosts, & Other Short Stories.
Be-Bop Deluxe -- The Best and the Rest of.
Brand X -- Masques.
Bruford -- One of a Kind.
Lindsey Buckingham & Stevie Nicks -- Buckingham/Nicks (a lost gem, 1st side's pretty great).
Buffalo Springfield -- 1st.
Camel -- Mirage, Chameleon best-of, Stationary Traveler.
Caravan -- 1st, If I Could Do it All Over Again...., Live with the New Symphonia, Better By Far, The Album.
Cheap Trick -- Their Greatest Hits, Authorized Greatest Hits (neither 1's perfect, or even complete).
Bruce Cockburn -- Resume best-of.
John Coltrane -- Giant Steps (pleasant but not earthshaking), A Love Supreme, Expression.
Miles Davis -- Live Evil, Aura (still haven't quite given up on IN A SILENT WAY).
Emerson, Lake and Palmer -- Tarkus (worst prog album ever?), Works Volume 2, The Atlantic Years best-of.
Fairport Convention -- 2nd/What We Did On Our Holiday.
Firesign Theater -- Forward Into the Past best-of.
Five Man Electrical Band -- Coming of Age.
Fleetwood Mac -- Behind the Mask.
Robert Fripp -- Exposure, The League of Gentlemen.
Genesis -- Foxtrot, Duke, Invisible Touch.
Gentle Giant -- Giant Steps best-of, The Power and the Glory, Giant for a Day.
Dave Gilmour -- 1st.
Gong -- Expresso, Expresso II (haven't quite given up on YOU yet).
Grobschnitt -- Rockpommel's Land (nice Krautrock I'd liketa hear again, 1 great song "Anywhere.")
Gryphon -- 1st.
Daryl Hall -- Sacred Songs.
Albert Hammond -- (2nd?) (with "I'm a Train" & "Names Tags Numbers and Labels," pretty great songwriter.)
Happy the Man -- 1st.
Hatfield and the North -- 1st, The Rotters' Club, Afters best-of.
Hawkwind -- Roadhawks best-of.
The Headboys -- 1st (Silly New Wave, a few Xcellent songs: "The Shape of Things to Come," "Changing With the Times," "Silver Lining").
Henry Cow/Slapp Happy -- Desperate Straights.
Steve Hillage -- Green.
Incredible String Band -- Relics best-of, Be Glad for the Song Has No Ending.
Mark Isham -- Vapor Drawings. ("On the Threshold of Liberty" is pretty good, but this ain't no Group 87 album....)
Jade Warrior -- Best of (worth it all 4 1 amazing song, "A Winter's Tale").
Keith Jarrett -- In the Light.
Jethro Tull -- A Passion Play.
Elton John -- Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, Rock of the Westies.
Keane -- Under the Iron Sea.
King Crimson -- Islands, Beat.
Mahavishnu Orchestra -- Birds of Fire, The Inner Mounting Flame.
Matching Mole -- Little Red Record.
McDonald & Giles -- 1st.
John McLaughlin -- Extrapolation.
Don McLean -- 3rd (S/T, w/ "Driedel").
Pat Metheny -- Rejoicing (& I LIKE him).
Thelonious Monk -- Underground (pleasant, nice dischords, but not stunning).
Moody Blues -- A Dream (German best-of from their beat-band days), The Other Side of Life, Sur La Mer, Keys of the Kingdom, Strange Times.
The Move -- Split Ends.
The Nice -- Ars Longa Vita Brevis.
Nilsson -- Son of Schmilsson.
Mike Oldfield -- Hergest Ridge, Platinum, Airborne, QE2 (tho he does a GREAT version of Abba's "Arrival"!).
Van Dyke Parks -- Song Cycle.
Alan Parsons Project -- The Turn of a Friendly Card, Eye in the Sky, Vulture Culture.
Pink Floyd -- Ummagumma, The Wall, A Nice Pair (1st 2 albums).
Poco -- The Forgotten Trail best-of.
Prince -- 1999.
Renaissance -- Novella, Azure d'Or.
Return to Forever -- 1st.
Roxy Music -- Flesh and Blood, The Atlantic Years best-of.
Todd Rundgren -- A Wizard/A True Star, Todd, Initiation.
David Sancious and Tone -- True Stories.
Paul Simon -- Graceland.
Soft Machine -- Third, Triple Echo best-of.
Chris Squire -- Fish Out of Water.
Steely Dan -- Katy Lied.
Synergy -- Cords.
Tangerine Dream -- Alpha Centauri/Atem, '70-'80 (4-album best-of box set), Thief soundtrack (boring Xcept 4 the meltdown "Igneous").
Three Dog Night -- Harmony, Golden Bisquits best-of.
Steve Tibbetts -- Safe Journey.
Traffic -- John Barleycorn Must Die.
T. Rex -- 20th Century Boy best-of.
Judie Tzuke -- Sports Car.
U.K. -- Night After Night/Live.
U2 -- October, War.
Various Artists -- V (Virgin Records 2-album sampler), Charisma Festival (Charisma Records 2-album sampler), Harvest Heritage 20 Golden Greats.
Velvet Underground -- Best of ("All Tomorrow's Parties" is GREAT, but I COULDN'T HEAR the rest....).
Jennifer Warnes -- Shot Through the Heart.
George Winston -- December, Winter Into Spring. (1nce yr hooked by 1 George Winston album -- AUTUMN -- how many others do U need?)
Stevie Wonder -- Original Musiquarium best-of.
Yes -- The Yes Album, Fragile, Relayer, Tales from Topographic Oceans, Tormato, Drama, Yesshows, Classic Yes best-of.
Frank Zappa -- Weasels Ripped My Flesh ("Directly From My Heart to You" & "Oh No" R both pretty great... but the rest is just NOISE!).

STALLED! (Books I couldn't finish.)
J.G. Ballard -- Crash, High-Rise.
Clive Barker -- The Damnation Game, Weaveworld.
Peter S. Beagle -- The Folk of the Air.
Alfred Bester -- The Stars My Destination.
James Blish -- The Day After Judgement.
Michael Bishop -- Catacomb Years, Transfigurations.
John Brunner -- The Shockwave Rider. (I don't remember much of THE JAGGED ORBIT either.)
Samuel R. Delany -- Dhalgren (Of course. I don't remember much of BABEL-17 or NOVA either).
Philip K. Dick -- Martian Time-Slip, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Confessions of a Crap Artist. (& I can barely remember THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE. But THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCH is pretty amazing, & A MAZE OF DEATH only slightly less-so.)
Bret Easton Ellis -- American Psycho.
Harlan Ellison -- Spider Kiss.
K.W. Jeter -- Dr. Adder, The Glass Hammer, Noir.
Jack Ketchum -- Ladies' Night.
Caitlin R. Kiernan -- Silk.
Stephen King -- Gerald's Game, Insomnia, The Green Mile (great movie tho).
Dean R. Koontz -- Midnight.
Barry N. Malzberg -- The Men Inside, Guernica Night, Cross of Fire (but the short version "Le Croix" is great!).
Rex Miller -- Frenzy.
Frederik Pohl -- Chernobyl.
Frederik Pohl & Cyril M. Kornbluth -- The Space Merchants.
Richard Rhodes -- Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb.
Kim Stanley Robinson -- Red Mars, The Wild Shore, The Martians (some great short stories but I bogged down near the Nd.)
David J. Schow -- The Kill Riff.
Lucius Shepard -- Green Eyes (& THE GOLDEN is 1 of the boringest vampire novels ever, but I finished it).
William L. Shirer -- The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (got 1/2way thru then met my future wife, so much 4 the book....)
Robert Silverberg -- Son of Man. (But usually he's pretty amazing.)
Bruce Sterling -- Islands in the Net, Holy Fire.
Neal Stephenson -- Cryptonomicon.
Peter Straub -- Ghost Story (But IF YOU COULD SEE ME NOW, KOKO & THE THROAT R all pretty amazing).
Donna Tartt -- The Secret History.
Paul Theroux -- The Old Patagonian Express, The Family Arsenal, My Other Life (good 4 skimming), Fresh Air Fiend (parts of which R GREAT!).
Irvine Welsh -- Trainspotting.
Gene Wolfe -- The Claw of the Conciliator, Soldier of the Mist, most of his short stories.
Rafi Zabor -- The Bear.

2 B continued...?

Where I'm coming from....

I'm sneaking-up on a yr of posting reviews & rants on-line. It's as compulsive 4 me now as it's ever bn, & possibly moreso. Some of the reasons I write here R obvious: Since at least age 12 I've felt like there's a TON of REALLY GREAT music & books out there that people never Cm 2 notice or 4get way 2 soon. This is my effort 2 push U toward investigating some of that stuff. I remember feeling clearly at age 12 what a shame it was that so much really good music Cmd 2 slip by unnoticed or unremembered -- there Cmd 2 me then something really WRONG with that. It still Cms that way....
More recently I've started 2 feel that there's sevral not-2-obvious reasons why I do this. I know writing here is almost the only thing now that consistently makes me happy, that makes me feel like I'm not wasting what's left of my life. I know writing here helps me stop thinking obsessively about the things that bother me most -- my son who suddenly ran away 6 mo's ago & who I still don't know the whereabouts of; my daughter, who's life I've just barely bn a part of over the last 10 yrs (but I keep trying); my mother, who died B4 I could tell her that everything that keeps me going -- writing, music, books, movies -- I owe 2 her, that I woulda bn nothing without her; the love that I repeatedly keep turning away from.
I know I'm a big Drama Queen, that I over-dramatize, I always have. & I can B miserable NEWHERE. These days I prefer 2 B miserable alone, & I don't wanna inflict my sometimes very selfish moods on NE1. Sometimes I feel guilty about this. I have trouble dealing with people in-person sometimes, & when things get crowded or tense I withdraw.
My best friend in highschool 1nce told me that I ALWAYS think things R worse than they REALLY R. I know I still sometimes hype-up impending crises so I can breathe a bigger sigh of relief & relax more 1nce they've passed. I useta B REALLY bad about it -- it sent me 2 the hospital with a panic attack 2 days after my 4oth birthday. I thot it was a heart attack. I thot I was gonna die.
I've lightened-up quite a bit since then. A little bit of counseling helped address my perfectionist 10dencies & my anxiety -- but it reached a point of diminishing returns: my therapist clearly felt I wasn't screwed-up enuf 2 go NE further. I was basically pretty normal.
Since then, I've tossed mosta my perfectionism over the side (tho I'm still trying 2 "fix" the world by pushing what I think is great 4got10 art upon U all), & I am WAY less stressed-out these days. But I still need a lotta quiet time 2 myself, & I can still get pretty unhappy thru no1's fault but my own. I know I feel better when the sun is out --perfect that I should live in Washington where it can rain 4 6 mo's straight. But I know that I'm tired & grumpy & burned-out, that I feel like I died when I wake-up most days, & that each winter gets harder 2 get thru. I already feel like I'm shutting-down early 4 THIS winter.
Writing is the only thing that has never failed me. I sometimes get bored talking 2 myself in a journal, but blogging sure hasn't got10 boring yet. In fact, after my old computer died & I moped around 4 a few wks, I then made a pretty strong effort & spent $$$ I didn't really have so I could get back on-line. That's how strong the compulsion is.
It means a lot 2 me that those of U who R out there R reading this. I no longer worry about WHAT AM I GONNA WRITE ABOUT NEXT? There's always something else that will grab me musically & literarily, & if all else fails I've got this LIST....
(It's a sidelite, but my favorite book critic Algis Budrys 1nce wrote that a really successful piece of writing is usually the sign of some troublesome struggle or growth process inside the writer. I sometimes Cm 2 4get that art comes from PEOPLE -- that a song or a story wouldn't Xist without some1 making it happen, having the will 2 create & complete it, & that someday I'm gonna havta B happy with The Thing Itself, the finished work, Bcos there may B nothing more the artist can tell me. If Van Morrison could Xplain his great songs, he wouldn't have had 2 write & sing them. & if I could build my musical library 2 include everything I remember hearing & Bing Nchanted by back in 1972, I STILL probly wouldn't B happy. But that won't stop me from trying....)
This'll probly B the last 1 of these soul-searching posts I do 4 awhile -- it's bn awhile since the last 1. I promise I'll get back 2 my Main Topics real quick-like. But along with Bing the way I deal with the world, this is about the only thing I look 4ward 2 these days, the only thing that makes me feel like I've accomplished something, that mayB I'm not done yet -- written in the 1 place in the world where I feel totally relaxed & safe & At Home. My room.
I'm doing the best I can. Thanx 4 listening.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Great Big Forgotten Hits

Oldies radio, hah! A truly Nlightened oldies radio station would play NEthing old & great, whether it was a hit or not -- would have a playlist WAY more OPEN, like I once thot pop-music radio was SUPPOSED 2 B.
A truly Nlightened oldies station wouldn't B afraid of playing NEthing from Led Zep's "Stairway to Heaven" 2 Elvis's "Mystery Train" 2 Hank Williams Sr. 2 old country-western trucking songs like Dave Dudley's "Six Days on the Road," or "Give Me 40 Acres," or that 1 about the girl wearin nothin but a towel & a smile in a picture on the billboard in the middle of the big 'ol highway....
An Nlightened oldies station would play NEthing great from rock & pop 2 folk 2 jazz 2 country (Johnny Cash did some GREAT SONGS! So did Buck Owens! EVERYBODY should hear them!) 2 great soundtrack songs 2 Broadway standards.... Andy Williams 2 Yes, Barbara Streisand 2 ZZ Top, the Stones 2 C.W. McCall, the Osmonds 2 Frank Zappa, the Beatles 2 Aaron Copland.
Am I asking 2 much? Apparently I am. Why do we HAVE formats on radio NEway?
Locally we've got Seattle's KJR, who've bn around 4EVER & will play NETHING -- when's the last time U heard Leif Garrett or Shaun Cassidy on the radio? 4 me it was LAST WEEK, & I'm NOT HAPPY about it --& we've got KBSG, who actually don't do 2 badly & hava little taste & get a little old-time Top 40 radio feel with those syndicated specials they sometimes run on wknds.
We've also got KZOK, The Classic Rock Station, who mean well -- but who keep playing THE SAME Classic Rock Oldies U've already heard 40,000 times -- "Smoke on the Water"! "Tush"! "Keep On Loving You"! "Roundabout"! "Satisfaction"! "All Right Now"! "Money"! "Comfortably Numb"! & of course "Stairway to Heaven"! -- & they play them over & over & OVER. Truthfully, the best oldies station I've got is my stereo. & of course it ain't as well-stocked as I'd like, tho Ghod knows I've tried, & I'm not yet DONE trying.
But when was the last time U heard NE of these old big hits on yr favrite local oldies station. My bet is: Not lately....
* "The Rapper," The Jaggerz (#2/1970) -- Probly not what yr thinking. This catchy # is about a guy who uses NE lines he can think of 2 strike-up conversations with attractive women. Can't hardly fault him 4 that. But my favrite lines R in the chorus: "Rap-a-rap-a-rap they call him the rapper/...You know what he's after." A little dated, but a pretty daring subtext 4 1970. The Jaggerz included Donnie Iris, who hadda coupla late-70's hits including "Ah! Leah." The Jaggerz recorded 4 Kama Sutra/Buddha, who were sorta a power in the late-'60s/early-'70s U.S. bubblegum-pop market with acts like the Lovin Spoonful, 1910 Fruitgum Co., Ohio Express, & later Brewer and Shipley, Ocean, Stories & others. Label-owner Neal Bogart later 4med Casablanca Records & inflicted massive disco overdose on us all....
* "Daydreaming" (#5/1972), "Until You Come Back to Me" (#3/73), Aretha Franklin -- My Ghod this woman was amazing. "Daydreaming" is at times laid-back & leisurely with great intertwining vocals by Aretha & whoever's singing with her, then steps up 4 marvelous rushed unison choruses without losing that dreamy mood. "Until You Come Back to Me" is Aretha speaking directly 2 her lover about the changes she's gone thru since he left & what she's gonna do 2 get him back -- & U absolutely BLIEVE she's talking 2 some1 specific. The same backing singers R in support, & there's great keyboard & flute touches. Urban & hip-hop stations otta B playing both of these -- mayB they R & I just don't know it....
* "You Are Everything" (#9/1971), "Betcha By Golly Wow" (#3/1972), The Stylistics -- My Ghod, this stuff is so sweet it'll rot yr teeth right out. MayB what they useta call "sweet soul" is way outta style now, but The Stylistics were pretty amazing. These songs R so gushingly romantic they'll make U swoon, & lead singer Russell Thompkins Jr. was stunning. These songs R so sweet, so pretty, mayB emotion like this can't B broadcast on radio NEmore without some dumb DJ making a joke. But give these songs a chance & they will knock U OUT!
* "Baby I Love You," The Ronettes (#24/1964) -- "Be My Baby" is immortal, & will probly never B 4got10 thanks 2 the showcase it got during the opening credits 4 DIRTY DANCING. But this is just as great (I think better), with a terrific heartfelt lyric & a heartbreaking vocal per4mance from Ronnie Spector -- with a voice like that, how could U NOT tell her that U feel the same? & that great hook: "Woh-oh, WOH-oh-oh-oh...."
* "Denise," Randy and the Rainbows (#10/1963) -- 4 me, The Ultimate Doo-Wop Song. The only time I've EVER heard it played on the radio was while I was driving thru the snow in Utah's Wasatch Mountains in Jan 1998, heading home to Wyoming after a week-long Caribbean cruise with the X, the song's sweet choruses coming thru like a broadcast from another, warmer planet: "Oh Denise shooby-doo, I'm in love with you...." Chillingly beautiful. Some of the same feeling I got from hearing The Stylistics, 2 B honest. Blondie did a cover version of this back in '78, but I've never heard it. Don't know how they coulda bettered the original....
* "Love (Can Make You Happy)," Mercy (#2/1969) -- Big, mushy, sentimental, gooey, cosmic MOR love-ballad & I am an absolute sucker 4 it. Gorgeous group-choral vocals, & instrumentation almost slushy enuf 4 Sergio Mendes/Brazil '66 or the Sandpipers or some other no-talent. Brilliant, & WAY 2 sweet & naive 2 get played straight-faced on the radio NEmore. When's the last time U heard it?
*"Green-Eyed Lady" (#3/1970), +"Don't Call Us, We'll Call You" (#9/75), Sugar Loaf -- Sugar Loaf were from Denver. "Green-Eyed Lady" is pure 1970, kinda psychedelic, kinda sexist, lotsa swirly organ, a little dated but who cares. "Don't Call Us" is a cynical & funny music-biz song, supposedly about how the band were turned-down 4 a record deal by CBS. Suprised it made the Top 10 in the rather boring musical winter of '75....
+ "No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach's In)," Gary Farr and the T-Bones (#3/1966) -- With a tune originally used in an Alka-Seltzer commercial, this is a lite, airy, innocent mid-'6os instrumental that's actually kinda haunting & timeless with its wordless female vocals & surf-guitar & Farfisa organ touches. Think I last heard it on radio around 1972.
Just a few suggestions 2 liven-up oldies radio with, nothing 2 obscure or shocking. Just a few songs I haven't heard in ages. & if NEbody out there works in radio & thinks they could liven things up a little ... would U like a suggested play list?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Great Halloween songs....

It's getting 2 B that season. Soon all the little goblins will B hitting the streets, & I've bn thinking about what rock/pop songs from the last 50 yrs would make up a good Halloween soundtrack, a mix-tape or -CD if U will, mainly highlighting (as usual) the forgotten or overlooked. But unlike with Christmas (I can rattle off 2 U a dozen great overlooked Xmas songs almost without thinking -- wait til Dec!), I came up with only a few overlooked gems & then hadta start falling back on stuff almost every1 knows. So let's get this list goin & then I'll open up the blog 2 musical suggestions from y'all out there....

* Peter, Paul & Mary: "A'Soulin'" (1962, from their album MOVING) -- This 1 works 4 Xmas or Halloween, since the kids in this song R clearly trick-or-treating, but it's during the Xmas season. They R POOR kids 2: "Meat nor drink nor money have I none...." I could C this song Bing sung as far back as Biblical times; there's a cold-desert-winter feeling 2 it, as well as a bit of Old Testament atmosphere surrounding the importance of Giving. But it's joyous -- the singing is amazing & the acoustic guitars R pretty mesmerizing. RIP, Mary Travers.
* Blondie: "Angels on the Balcony" (1980, from their pretty-much worthless album AUTOAMERICAN) -- This gorgeous, moody classic is buried near the Nd of Side 1 of the album, but it jumps right outta the speakers at U. A classic Xploring-the-haunted-house story, the guitar-driven wordless choruses R great, & Deborah Harry never sang better or warmer, without that cool distance she sometimes had. There's even spooky ghost sounds in the instrumental middle-break....
* Fleetwood Mac: "The Green Manalishi" (1969) -- Now this really IS scary. Back in their early blues-band days, Mac's founder/guitarist Peter Green really did have a hellhound on his trail, & this song portrays the vision of evil he felt was chasing him: "All my tryin is up/All you're bringin is down." 2 months after this brilliant heavy blues hit the Top 10 in England, Green quit the band 2 join a religious cult. He couldn't bear 2 get NE closer 2 the thing that haunted his nightmares....
* Jim Stafford: "Swamp Witch" (#39/1973) -- This is spooky. Stafford made a brief career out of silly joke-songs, but this is absolutely straight & U can almost feel the moss growing off the sides of the trees in this moody, atmospheric song about a witch who casts a spell 2 save a sleepy bayou town. Made #39 4 1 wk around Halloween '73.
* King Crimson: "Starless" (1974, from their album RED) -- Soundtrack music 4 the Very Last Halloween Anywhere Ever. "Red" itself is equally relentless, pummelling, powerful & life-affirming....
* Wigwam: "Bless Your Lucky Stars" (1974, from their album NUCLEAR NIGHTCLUB) -- My son felt this rumbling, ominous, relentless 6-minute ultimate-vocoder-song was pretty spooky, possibly Bcos almost the only words U can make-out in it R the repeating title line. Not sure precisely what's going on here, but these guys from Finland had the dark, ominous mood DOWN.
* Queen: "The Prophet's Song" (1975, from their album A NIGHT AT THE OPERA) -- Never have bn able 2 figure out precisely what's going on here either, tho it Cms 2 B another Biblical-era tale of prophesized gloom & doom. But Freddie & Co. play it absolutely straight, & tho it's a little long the melodrama is amazing & the impact is pretty stunning. Sorta the serious flipside 2 "Bohemian Rhapsody," this shoulda bn at least as well-known.
* Donovan: "Season of the Witch" (1968) -- Heavy! Don's phrasing is kinda silly in places ("When I look out my win-dow") & the lyrics R such a total scream ("Beatniks are out to make it rich/Oh no!") that Procol Harum's Keith Reid coulda written them. But it's obvious Don is having a great time, & his backing band (which I'd bet $$$ included Jimmy Page & John Paul Jones of later Led Zep fame) play the hell outta this, & it builds 2 a pretty hot intensity. Pretty great 4 a piece of total foolishness....
+ Incredible String Band: "Witches' Hat" (1968, from their album THE HANGMAN'S BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTER) -- This is also spooky. Unlike the silly album it's part of, this creates a brief, stark, Nd-of-the-yr ghostly-wind-thru-the-barren-trees feeling. There's also a la-la-la chorus that sounds like kids dancing around a fire during the time of the Black Death. Dark, mystifying, definitely old rural-style witchcraft. A perfect soundtrack if U're Halloween is taking place in rural parts of the British Isles. Some of the ghosts around there go a LONG way back....
* Weird Al Yankovic: "Nature Trail to Hell" (from his album 3-D) -- Yeah, I know what U're thinkin. Probly the best non-parody song Al ever did (tho it still makes fun of FRIDAY THE 13TH-style movies), with LOTSA melodrama, crashing production by guitarist Rick Derringer, hilarious lyrics, & an over-the-top finale stolen equally from opera & the Beatles' "A Day in the Life." Great!
* Motorhead: "Killed By Death." Hilarious! & great guitar!
+ Five Man Electrical Band: "Werewolf" (1974) -- If yr next-door neighbor was a werewolf, wouldn't that really mess up the neighborhood? That's what this song's about. Kinda dated, but I thot at the time that it was gonna B a big hit....

+ Bobby "Boris" Pickett & the Crypt Kickers: "The Monster Mash" (1962/1970, etc.) -- Of course....
* Rolling Stones: "Sympathy for the Devil" (1968) -- Naturally. A freakin masterpiece, & pure evil. Jagger's majestic coolness, Keith's brief guitar freakouts toward the Nd, & those killer "doo-doo" backing vocals. Brilliant disturbing music.
* Jefferson Airplane: "White Rabbit" (1967). If yr Halloween is Bing chemically enhanced....
* Blue Oyster Cult: "Don't Fear the Reaper" (1976) -- How could I have 4got10 this? So cool, so smooth, with great ghostly guitar riffs & the coolest backing vocals. The Cult's 1988 version of "Astronomy" (from IMAGINOS) would work as pretty great Halloween music 2 -- it's got the same spooky mysterioso mood & the same great ghostly guitar. "Morning Final" also has a nice spooky mood. NEthing but "Tattoo Vampire," 1 of the worst things they ever did, & (like "Reaper" & "Final") from their above-avg '76 album AGENTS OF FORTUNE.
* Fleetwood Mac's "Rhiannon" (1975) really IS about a Welsh witch. But I think it's pretty close 2 worn-out. I prefer Mac's "Sisters of the Moon" (1979, from their album TUSK), which I think is witchier, spookier, louder, & has LOTsa great Lindsey Buckingham freakout guitar at the Nd.... Or how bout the long version of "I'm So Afraid" on FMAC LIVE (1981)? It's almost ALL loud&heavy freakout gtr -- definitely scary. So R Buckingham's possessed vocals on a lotta that album....
+ The Doors: "People are Strange" (1967) -- Not about Halloween, but I've always thot it had a really nice creepy outta-kilter quality, Btween Jim Morrison's crooning & Ray Manzarek's almost-honky-tonk piano in the middle....
* Beatles: "I Am the Walrus" (1967) -- If this isn't the most twisted, eerie, bizarre, spooky thing they ever did (right up there with "Revolution #9" & of course "Mr. Moonlight"), I'll eat acid. It's like a nightmare. & it was the B-side of the insanely catchy & harmless "Hello Goodbye." "Strawberry Fields Forever" ain't Xactly a walk in the park, neither. Nor is "A Day in the Life."
(Am I the only music fan in the world who'd like 2 hear David Bowie sing "the Walrus"? Don't U think he'd B great fallin back on his old Anthony Newley-isms when he gets 2 lines like "Expert textpert joking smokers don't you think the joker laughs at youuuuuuuuu?" ...Well, mayB not. But I'd like 2 hear Elmer Fudd sing the Velvet Underground's "All Tomorrow's Parties," 2....)

Pink Floyd: "Careful With That Axe, Eugene" -- I haven't heard this in YEARS. Cm 2 remember there Bing some pretty good horrific screaming in it, but other than that I'm not really qualified.... Bsides, if CREEPY is what U want, why not "One of My Turns" on THE WALL? Great self-portrait with a lotta great lines, & the way Roger Waters SINGS it, that dry, croaking voice he uses: "Don't look so frightened, this is just a passing phase, one of my bad days.... Why are you running awayyyyyyy?" That Rog, what a joker.... The live version of "Astronome Domine" on UMMAGUMMA is a little scary 2.... So is "Jugband Blues"....
The Eagles: "Witchy Woman" (1973) -- I guess this is an OK mood piece 4 them, but I never really liked them that much (Xcept 4 "Outlaw Man," "James Dean," "Peaceful Easy Feeling," "I Can't Tell You Why," "Seven Bridges Road"), & I always thot this was sorta contrived & stupid....
The Headboys: "The Ripper" -- Some pretty-good blood-curdling screams in this, but the rest of it's kinda dumb. Their 1st (only?) album (1980) is kinda a 4got10 silly-new-wave classic, if U can get over the dated cutesiness of parts of it. (How could they possibly have been NE GOOD? They were on RSO!)
...I'm not really qualified 2 suggest NEthing by Ozzy, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Scorpions or AC/DC (Xcept mayB "Hell's Bells" or "Highway to Hell," & "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" is great comedy but doesn't fit this list. "Big Balls" is Njoyably crass.... I wish I could Njoy these guys AS COMEDY the way I can Njoy Motorhead....).

- Bloodrock, "D.O.A." (#36/1971) -- My Ghod. The worst death-rock song EVER. Made the Top 40, 2. Heard it 1nce at age 12 & it scared the crap outta me. Haven't heard it since & don't want 2 -- the 1 time pretty-much scarred me 4 life....

* Deep Purple, "Hush" (#4/1968) -- From the wolf's howl that kicks it off, 2 Jon Lord's pushy organ hysterics, Ritchie Blackmore's wild gtr, Joe South's obsessed lyrics & Rod Evans' macho vocal, this is a great spooky song that I'd 4got10 all about -- til I saw the full moon on Halloween nite, then thot of that wolf's howl -- & then humming this song in my head helped get me thru mosta the rest of the nite at work. I don't know Purple's work as well as I probly should, Xcept 4 this, their Xcellent version of Neil Diamond's "Kentucky Woman," & the freakin' classic "Highway Star." Oh, & "Smoke on the Water" has gotta B seriously in the running 4 Most Overplayed Rock Song of All Time....

DISCLAIMER: I was overseas in Turkey in 1990 & '91 & missed a lot musically-speaking (Nirvana? INXS?), & lived in Wyoming from '92 2 '98 (which felt almost as disconnected as living in the Middle East), + with a few minor breaks I pretty-much stopped paying attn 2 popular music after say 2004 (if not '98) -- & I know popular music has done nothing in more recent years Xcept GET SCARIER.
So if any of U good folks out there have some sure-fire nominees 4 more great Halloween songs, toss 'em in as a comment with a little bit about why, & I'm sure I'll B slappin my 4head & wonderin why I didn't think of those songs on my own. Either that or I'll B tryin 2 FIND them....
But just U wait until Christmas rolls around....

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The power of "I"

The 1st personal journal-style writing I remember ever Bing impressed by was a series of columns called "Language at Midnight," written by an Oregon guy named Bill Wolfenbarger, in a mid-'70s science fiction fanzine called OUTWORLDS, published in Ohio by a guy named Bill Bowers. I woulda discovered these columns around late 1975.
Wolfenbarger was the 1st person I ever read who could make recounting the mundane activities of an average day fascinating, filled with wonder & magic. He made something as commonplace as a tugboat blowing its horn late on a foggy nite sound mysterious & wondrous. Don't know whatever happened 2 him; I don't remember ever Cing his name again NEwhere. MayB he Bcame a starving poet.... (Strangely enuf, 4 1 of my last newspaper jobs, I recorded weekly 1-min radio commercials with a broadcaster named Bill Wolfenbarger, & it never even OCCURRED 2 me 2 ask if he was the same guy -- his age was just about right ... MayB I've had Alzheimer's even longer than I thot.... What was I saying...?)
I'd discovered science fiction about 5 yrs B4 that, falling 4 the sense of wonder & the cosmic scale & the poetry of writers like Ray Bradbury, George R.R. Martin, Roger Zelazny, Samuel R. Delany, Robert Silverberg, James Tiptree Jr., Harlan Ellison. But Wolfenbarger's very personal, subjective writing took me in another direction Ntirely. (This was at least a yr B4 I started keeping my own journal -- not sure I'd even THOT of it by then, tho I'd bn writing short-stories since I was 12.)
Up til then, when I bought & read science fiction magazines (there were at least 1/2 a dozen of them publishing back then), I picked them up 4 the STORIES, I was in it 4 the fiction. I didn't even read the book reviews -- I thot they were a waste of space. Essays? Who needs essays? Essays R those boring things U couldn't get thru in high-school English textbooks....
Around this same time I discovered music critics, thanx 2 a thick paperback called THE ROLLING STONE RECORD REVIEW VOLUME II. The personal approach RS's writers took 2 music criticism not only tried 2 put-across a feel 4 the music, they were also damn subjective & personal about their feelings about it. & some of them were brilliant: the amazing & anarchic Lester Bangs, the hilarious John Mendelssohn, scholarly Greil Marcus, tough-guy Dave Marsh. & others -- some of the work that sucked me in fastest was on my heroes the Beach Boys. Arthur Schmidt's gorgeous review of the Boys' SURF'S UP album (1971) was a mind-Xpander & an eye-opener (& still a favrite 2 re-read), & Stephen Holden's marvelous look back at the Boys' PET SOUNDS (1966) is -- I still think -- the best essay ever written on that groundbreaking album.
From this, I turned 2 book reviews in the SF magazines & found there were a few guys who really knew what they were doing, who had this essay form DOWN: Algis Budrys in the pages of FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION could crack great jokes & let U know what a writer's life was REALLY like (constantly looking back & 4th from the calendar 2 the checkbook), & when he felt a writer was sluffing he really lowered the boom. In GALAXY, Spider Robinson was always funny, & wasn't afraid 2 admit it when some supposed piece of SF-novel-as-art went right over his head. & there were other greats: cranky John Clute, angry Joanna Russ, miserable Barry N. Malzberg, hyperactive Harlan Ellison, forceful Norman Spinrad. I STILL go back & re-read their reviews, & some of their stuff is over 40 yrs old....
I learned essays, reviews, opinion pieces & "reportage" don't havta B boring, & I found writers who R masters of the form -- the brilliant John McPhee, the hilarious Tim Cahill; & I found ROLLING STONE, THE NEW YORKER & a few other mags printed long essays or "reportage" that didn't shy away from getting personal & Xpressing an opinion.
I already loved 2 write, & reading this stuff probly helped push me in2 my 4mer career -- I already thot other people's lives were more intresting than my own, & I always Njoyed listening 2 people talk. 4 20 yrs I wrote about other people's lives & listened 2 them talk. & 4 much of that period I kept my own journal. There R gaps in it -- up 2 5 yrs in some places, & I wish I had that time back, or at least a Dscription of what I was doing during it. But when I go back 2 late 1976 & read the 1st few journal Ntries by the 17-yr-old I was then, I mainly just wince at that guy who thot he knew EVERYTHING. I know so much more now, & I am certain of so much less....
Really good writing leaves me speechless. Some of the other blogs listed on this pg under "You'll Like These" include some really amazing work. I especially recommend "Asleep on the Compost Heap" & "There Will Be Blog," both of which feature funny, vivid, moving writing about music, movies, books, pop culture in general, & sometimes just off-the-wall silly stuff.
& I'll B searching 4 more great blogs. Tho I've really gotten back in2 fiction lately, I still think really good, direct, personal writing is tough 2 beat. & I know from my Xperience that writing here (& at my old website) has pulled some stuff outta me that I never knew was in there....

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

James Ellroy: INTENSE!

Another beautiful day here, dark gray and pouring down rain 4 the 2nd day in a row. On days like this I feel like I NEVER really wake up (just perfect that I should live in Washington, where it can rain 4 7 mo's straight), & most days I feel like crap upon waking NEway.
Bsides, I had bad dreams: Something about Bing a musical talent scout 4 Warner Bros Records & trying 2 sweet-talk an unbelievably scared & shy singer-songwriter-guitarist in2 coming up out of the basement she hid in. But she refused. I never saw her, only heard her voice. & at the end, just B4 I woke up, some homeless woman with big frizzy dark hair grabbed my hand & offered me love & affection as she huddled under a blanket.... WTF? I almost never dream....
But enuf of that. I'm sure a potta coffee will help. It usually does. Bsides, I got bigger fish 2 fry, like telling U why U should B reading James Ellroy, even if U think U don't like crime or police-procedural novels. I didn't think I liked them much either.
C, the thing is, Ellroy's brilliant. (It's 2 bad he realizes it, but if I could write this good I'd B arrogant about it, 2. But it's backfiring on him as he gets older: Ellroy's pre-publication hype 4 his latest novel, BLOOD'S A ROVER, came across strongly 2 me as a sorta parody of hyperactive science-fiction/fantasy/suspense writer Harlan Ellison's most obnoxious mannerisms circa 1972. & BLOOD'S A ROVER is an unused old Ellison title. MayB they're really the same guy? Nah....)
Back 2 the Good Stuff. Ellroy's the guy who wrote the novels that led 2 the fairly-recent movies L.A. CONFIDENTIAL & THE BLACK DAHLIA. Haven't Cn the latter, but I know that the 4mer, no matter how good it is (& it's pretty great), just gets U warmed-up 4 what's in the book. (So complex is the plot of L.A. CONFIDENTIAL that an entire sub-plot was left out of the movie, I think in an effort 2 add clarity -- if they'd tried 2 do the whole novel justice the movie woulda bn 6 hrs long. But there R clever tricks in the movie that Rn't in the book, apparently thanx 2 director/screenwriter Curtis Hanson.)
I seemta keep getting sidetracked here. These books, plus their companion THE BIG NOWHERE, R all at least 350 pgs, some push 500, & NO WAY am I gonna try 2 recap or condense the plots of NE of them -- tho all 3 include ugly murders, even uglier psychological pathology, & more complexity than U can keep track of. BIG NOWHERE features a killer who 1st murders his victims then chews on them with animal teeth; L.A. CONFIDENTIAL opens with an ugly multiple-murder at an LA cafe as a cover 4 a heroin deal, then gets uglier from there; BLACK DAHLIA centers around a famous unsolved LA murder case in which a dismembered woman's body is discovered in a vacant lot & the Ntire LAPD goes looking 4 the killer.
But the plots of these books Rn't the point. Tho Ellroy's lurid late-nite settings help drive his novels, & solving ugly crimes motivates the characters thru stories that often build-up a feverish pace, I don't think NE of these R the point either.
Tho Ellroy's '40s & '50s LA settings R nightmarish, I think what really drives him is 2 Dpict, Dspite the harshness of his reality, the NOBILITY of good people Dspite it all -- how they will almost always do what absolutely Must B Done when the chips R down & things R at their absolute toughest. Throughout his books, his characters, men & women, almost always make the tough choice & Do What's Right, even if it may lead 2 their Dstruction.
& this choosing 2 stay on the side of Right, or 2 move 2 it, exalts his characters, redeems them 4 their past sins. In Ellroy's books, a drunken X-cop bagman 4 the mob -- the most worthless X-cop in history -- learns how 2 Bcome a good cop when he teams with driven investigators 2 solve a huge murder conspiracy -- & he Bcomes close friends with the men who inspire him 2 return 2 the side of Right again. (Friendships R VERY important 2 Ellroy: BLACK DAHLIA takes 60 pgs 2 set-up a friendship B4 the Real Story ever starts.) A drunken 4mer drug-addict cop with a dark past who only cares about grabbing headlines helps solve the biggest murder conspiracy in LA history. A call girl retires at 30 2 lead a normal life & Bcomes the only person who can talk honestly & sensibly 2 2 cops investigating a string of murders. Ellroy is a little obsessed with Women As Victims, but his characters R very believable, real people.
These choices 2 always do The Right Thing don't necessarily lead 2 happy Ndings. Idealistic, driven young Officer Danny Upshaw does all the right things in pursuit of his elusive suspect in THE BIG NOWHERE -- & it does nothing but get him in2 trouble. Nobody saves him. Lieutenant Mal Considine in BIG NOWHERE comes 2 a tragic Nd just as it Cms everything is coming 2gether 4 him. & in BLACK DAHLIA, Lee Blanchard gives up EVERYTHING 2 chase the Dahlia's killer -- & mayB Nds up buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in Mexico. & lurking Bhind some of these stories is the biggest, most evil, most powerful, crookedest cop in all of L.A., Lt. Dudley Smith, every1's buddy: "Isn't it a GRAND day, lad?"
(I also like the way Ellroy carries-over his characters from book 2 book, even if they're only in supporting roles -- U meet a character in 1 book where he's at the center of the action, & he may return in another where he's in the background somewhere....)
((Ellroy's policemen also have an almost supernatural ability 2 read the Xpressions on people's faces & the looks in people's eyes -- & turn the information held in those looks in2 clues that help solve a complex murder case. Reality may not work Xactly like this, but this ability 2 READ people makes 4 compelling dramatic scenes ... & I wish I had the gift....))
Reading these books, I was reminded just slightly of Lawrence Block's Detective Matthew Scudder novels, set in New York (OUT ON THE CUTTING EDGE, THE SINS OF THE FATHERS, TIME TO MURDER AND CREATE, others). Block isn't as long-winded as Ellroy (at least he wasn't at 1st), & he never gets as feverish & headlong in his plots as Ellroy does, but the same insistence on making the Tough But Right choices is there in Block's work.
If Ellroy has a weakness, it's that he sometimes Cms in such a hurry 2 keep the pace cooking that (I think) he contorts the meaning of his writing. It's like he's 2 impatient 2 spell-out what he intends, so he shorthands: "Ran the porn dope past Hudgens. No smut hink." Now I know what that means cos I've read the book, & in context U can roll along with it, but it does sorta bounce U out of the story 2 trip over such short, choppy statements. But it also keeps the book roaring along like a freight train.
Ellroy has almost a dozen other books out there -- WHITE JAZZ, SUICIDE HILL, BECAUSE THE NIGHT, THE COLD SIX THOUSAND, MY DARK PLACES, CLANDESTINE, BROWN'S REQUIEM -- & I'll B looking 4 more. Bogged-down 100 or so pgs in2 the long CLANDESTINE when I tried 2 read it a couple yrs ago. Might B worth trying again.
At his best, Ellroy is REALLY intense. Never boring. A real roller-coaster ride 4 crime-story fans -- & mayB even 4 those who think they RN'T....

Chairman Bruce cracks a joke

As I said, didda lotta reading during my Time Off. Re-read 3 James Ellroy cop novels (intense!), tried 2 get thru a re-read of James Tiptree Jr.'s BRIGHTNESS FALLS FROM THE AIR, got seriously bogged-down 200 pgs in2 Richard Rhodes' DARK SUN: THE MAKING OF THE HYDROGEN BOMB & gave up, tho I'm still very intrested in the history (I'll talk more about why someday), & read Nathanael West's MISS LONELYHEARTS, the only 1 of these I won't B reviewing here.
Actually, MISS LONELYHEARTS got me started: I'd been bored with fiction lately & figured I could relate 2 the book since it's about a newspaper guy who's going nuts, & 4 20 yrs I was a newspaper guy who sometimes thot he was going nuts. & tho I was suprised by the openness of the sex & the amount of heavy drinking Dscribed in a book written in the 1930s, & even tho I laffed a few times here & there, overall it didn't work 2 well 4 me. I just thot the book was 2 THIN, tho it's sposta B sorta a classic.
But all this is Bside the point, 'cos this is sposta B a review of Bruce Sterling's ZEITGEIST, a funny, outrageous, cynical look at the pop-music biz, pop culture & Middle Eastern politics circa Y2K.
I've written here B4 about how Sterling was 1 of the firebrands of science-fiction's "cyberpunk" movement back in the mid-'80s; along with William Gibson, Sterling was probly the most successful writer 2 create work classified under the "cyberpunk" banner. ZEITGEIST, which was published in late 2000, probly ain't cyberpunk, it's just barely science fiction; & since the time it's set in is now 10 yrs past it has sorta a weird not-2-dated feel 2 it -- everything that happens in it coulda occurred last week in Reality. Luckily, this sarcastic piece of work is about music, since this is supposed 2 B a blog that reviews music & books, & so I'm Starting Over with a book that's at least music-related....
Here's the plot in a nutshell: Shady music promoter & scam-artist Leggy Starlitz (a recurring character 4 Sterling, Starlitz has appeared in at least 2 earlier short-stories, "The Littlest Jackal" & "Hollywood Kremlin," & possibly at least 1 other whose title I've forgotten) surfaces in Istanbul with a new scam: An all-girl pop band created 2 scam millions of $$$ out of the Islamic world. Starlitz's act, the G-7 girls, are even lighter and airier than the Spice Girls, if you can imagine such a thing. They don't sing, they don't play instruments, they lipsync 2 pre-recorded tapes. (Most of the girls don't even have NAMES. Tho we meet a couple who have Real Personalities, mosta the G-7 girls R referred 2 as "The American One," "The British One," "The French One," etc. Mosta the time they R even addressed this way by their handlers: "Hey, French One, how's it goin?") Starlitz sets up an international network 2 sell G-7 action figures, clothes, lunchboxes, etc. The idea is to rake-in as much cash as possible from the Muslim world B4 the Ntire scam ends with the turn of the millennium.
But, this being fiction, there R complications. 1 of Starlitz's partners in the scam -- a power-hungry Turkish criminal with heavy political connections -- hijacks the act so he can rake in the cash all on his own. Leggy & an old friend (a former Russian pilot turned mercenary, assassin & all-purpose fixer) try 2 get the act back, but.... & then some of the G-7 girls start dying, at least partly due 2 neglect by their new "manager"....
Along the way, Leggy gets 2 know his precocious 11-yr-old daughter, visits parts of Cyprus, Turkey & the American Southwest that U'll probly never wanna visit, cleans-up the evidence at an ugly battle scene, & tries 2 fix the problems with G-7 & Do Right by both his act & his daughter.
The book is outrageous & laff-out-loud funny almost all the way thru. There were only a coupla places where I thot mayB Sterling was heading off the rails, but he pulled it back 2gether pretty quickly. I don't understand now why I bogged-down 50 pgs in when I 1st tried 2 read this -- mayB it just wasn't the right time 4 me 2 read the book. & the book's short -- only 275 pgs.
Intrestingly, after all we've learned about him, the book ends with Leggy apparently reformed from his low-down scamming fly-by-nite ways. Thruout the novel there R discussions about the diffrence Btween what G-7 does & "real" music -- 1 girl gets thrown out of the group Bcos she wants 2 write & sing "meaningful" songs, which isn't part of Leggy's scam. There's also a stunning Turkish traditional singer who obviously Has Talent & who every1's in awe of. But she comes 2 an unhappy end.
The book isn't quite perfect -- I'd call it a high + rather than a * on my scale. But it's funny & vivid & never boring. Possibly even better than Sterling's earlier HEAVY WEATHER. Chairman Bruce should let his hair down like this more often....

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I'm BAAACK....

Hey there folks. Thanx 2 my roommate & the good folks at WalMart, I'm back in bizness here at the Back-Up Plan.
My old computer died early in August, & during my 2-month forced layoff I was feeling very directionless, depressed, without a purpose or a Mission In Life. (My real-life job doesn't count.) Hopefully I'm about 2 rediscover that Mission, & if U're out there reading this, welcome aboard.
During my 2-month vacation I read a lot, the 1st time I've REALLY gotten in2 fiction again in a coupla yrs. Read sevral books the last few wks especially, including Bruce Sterling's outrageous & funny ZEITGEIST, & 3 novels by James Ellroy that I re-read -- the brilliant L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, the Xcellent THE BIG NOWHERE (which I'd 4got10 nearly ALL of since reading it a coupla yrs back), & I'm currently re-reading Ellroy's THE BLACK DAHLIA 4 about the 5th time. Ellroy's pretty brilliant. I also got about 1/2way thru re-reading James Tiptree Jr.'s BRIGHTNESS FALLS FROM THE AIR, & was having a pretty good time with it until the cuteness factor got me & I bogged down. I'll B posting reviews of all of these books + more books & music as I go along.
Haven't bn listening 2 music quite so much lately, not sure why, but mayB that intrest will return now that I'm re-connected again here & have somewhere 2 blab again.
My old website -- TAD's Weird Ass Music and Books -- is still up & running, tho I no longer have access 2 post new info on it. While I was on vacation, spammers apparently turned the "comments" sections in2 1 giant ad 4 Viagra. If U can 4give that, I still think there's some good reading that can B found there, including all the Ntries on early-'70s radio nostalgia, '60s & '70s science fiction, all the Great Lost Singles write-ups, the rant about Michael Jackson & CNN, & reviews of work by the Beach Boys, Nick Drake, Kate Bush, Fairport Convention & others.
I hope 2 keep blabbing about whatever strikes my fancy, now that I'm connected again. MayB there were only 1/2 a dozen people in the world who were reading me B4 my old computer's untimely demise, but after I got disconnected I felt like some1 had cut off my hands. It's great 2 B back.
I hope 2 B talking 2 U more about great overlooked books & music & whatever else gets me going (probly 2 include LOTS of nostalgia, as usual) VERY SOON. Cheers, & thanx 4 reading me....