Sunday, September 27, 2015


Well, maybe.
Since the last time I posted here, I took a week's vacation back home in Idaho, saw family and some old friends I haven't seen in 30 years; rather foolishly dumped one relationship that -- while nice -- hadn't been going anywhere in awhile; went through another romantic whirlwind that went REALLY BAD in less than six weeks; and now I'm single again.
(Women! What do they want? Hell, I don't know. Most of the time I don't even know what I want....)
The vacation was great -- I felt very much that I was back where I SHOULD be, even though Boise is MUCH BIGGER than it was when I left back in 1982. I didn't want to come back to Washington.
To force myself to make the drive home, I went the back way -- avoided the freeways and took the back roads, saw places I hadn't seen in 30 years, and a lot of spots I'd never seen before. It was great to see that -- no matter how big Boise's become -- outside the city, lots of places haven't changed much. Emmett, Cascade, McCall, Horseshoe Bend -- they've all barely grown since 1982. That was a comfort to see.
But now I'm more homesick than ever.
Money remains tight. A few weeks ago I sold $100 worth of CD's and books to my nearest Half-Price Books store to keep up with my bills. I would have sold them more if they would have taken it....
Still have no Internet access at home, and I'm WAY past the point where I want to be typing posts at work and have my boss come by wondering what I'm still doing in the store typing at 1 a.m. So.
We'll see how this works out. I trust that this blog may become a bit more personal than it has been in the recent past, because other than work and laying around at home, I don't have a whole lot else going on. Fall has already started here, I already feel like I'm half-asleep most of the time -- and if I'm this tired NOW, what am I gonna feel like in December?
I've been working on some longer writing projects, but I mostly haven't gotten too far before things bog down.....
I'm still bored -- I still want more from most music than it gives me. I still want more from most fiction than I get. I recently re-read Paul Theroux's RIDING THE IRON ROOSTER, about exploring China by train, written back in 1986 before the protests in Tiananmen Square, before China became the huge economic power it is today. I first read the book when I was in Greece in 1991, surrounded by a gorgeous country I couldn't afford to go see any of. What I learned on re-reading Theroux's book was that I'd forgotten almost all of it. So I have more travel books lined up.
At least non-fiction speaks directly to me and mostly doesn't waste my time.
At least the Blues is heavy emotion directly expressed. Coming up soon I have a LONG list of GREAT songs that I know I NEVER would have heard without listening to KPLU's "All Blues" show, every Saturday and Sunday from 6 p.m. to midnight Pacific Time, streaming at All these songs would be well worth your time to check out....

Monday, May 4, 2015

Update 64

Hey there. My new Favorite Song Of All Time (until the next one comes along) is the Derek Trucks Band's "Down in the Flood," an old Bob Dylan song that's on the band's 2009 CD ALREADY FREE. It's freaking awesome, with lots of GREAT guitar, I can't stop playing it, and you should check it out.

COMING SOON, I should have a list of "The Best of All Blues." After months of listening to's "All Blues" show from 6 p.m. to midnight Pacific Time every Saturday and Sunday night, I FINALLY started taping the best stuff I could catch, and have now filled-up four 90-minute tapes worth of great stuff. (I'm a low-tech, low-budget guy, but sometimes it takes me FOREVER to figure out the obvious.) So I should have a long list of that for you soonly. That music has certainly helped keep me awake and moving at work lately.

ALSO SOON: Remember when I used to write about music at this blog? Well, I hope to listen to some Olde Favorites over my weekend, and we'll see what comes out of that. Maybe even some new stuff....

Saturday, April 11, 2015

My 800th post????

Yeah, I can't believe it either....

Latest musical discoveries -- all thanks to KPLU-FM's "All Blues" program, every Saturday and Sunday from 6 p.m. to midnight Pacific Time, and streaming at Especially good stuff is marked with a *: I'm still drawn most to the funny stuff, big dramatic productions, and anything with a good riff I can hum or whistle along with.... Lyrics I can screech along with are good, too....
Alabama Shakes -- *You Ain't Alone. (Brittany Howard's singing is amazing. This hits HARD, like some great lost '60s R&B track.)
Rhiannon Giddens -- Black is the Color.
Danielle Nicole -- *You Only Need Me When You're Down.
Stacey Jones -- *Can't Do Nothing Right.
Chris Joyner -- *Hallelujah.
Irma Thomas, Tracey Nelson and Marcia Ball -- *Sing It.
Buddy Guy -- *Meet Me in Chicago. (Buddy burns up the guitar on this.)
Joe Bonnamassa -- Jelly Roll Baker. (Silly song, but I like the way he sings it. The guitar's pretty good, too.)
Ann Peebles -- *Read Me My Rights. (Why wasn't this a hit?)
Ronnie Earl -- *Eddie's Gospel Groove. (You will swear that this is some forgotten early-'70s Santana jam.)
Lyle Lovett -- *She's No Lady, *My Baby Don't Tolerate.
Carla Thomas -- *B-A-B-Y.
Joan Osborne -- *Shake Your Hips. (Another silly song, but I like the way she sings it -- and her backing band is great, once they stretch out with the tune.)
Johnny A -- *Drinkin' Rye. (Not as amazing as his "Wichita Lineman," but nice.)
J.B. Lenoir -- Voodoo Music.

* Lawrence Gonzales: DEEP SURVIVAL (2003) -- This was in the Adventure/Travel section of my favorite local used bookstore, Book 'Em in Port Orchard, Wash. -- but it's not really travel writing. Gonzales spent years interviewing survivors of disasters to see what got them through it -- how they lived while others around them died. He interviews people who fell out of airplanes, fell off of mountains, people lost in the mountains for days, 911 survivors, people who were adrift at sea for weeks, pilots, astronauts, and more -- and comes up with some theories about things they all did that helped them survive.
Gonzales was started on this project by his father -- who was shot down over Germany during World War II, fell 21,000 feet inside the cockpit of his bomber and survived the crash, was held in a German POW camp ... then went on to earn a PhD and become a microbiologist.
Some of the folks Gonzales writes about are friends who were killed in plane crashes ... plane trips he said "No" to at the last minute.
It's weird, but I laughed all through this book. Gonzales has a lot of Attitude as a writer, and some of these stories ARE funny. And others will rip your heart right out. Still others will make you wonder how dumb people can be -- and just how much abuse the human body can put up with and still survive.
I tried to read Gonzales' rock&roll novel JAMBEAUX a few years back, and couldn't get through it. DEEP SURVIVAL is way better -- it's the best thing I've read in months. See if you can find it.

Only one complaint about Robert Christgau's memoir GOING INTO THE CITY that I raved about last time -- I propped it open so I could eat lunch and keep reading ... and the book's back broke and the pages started to fall out. I paid $30 for THIS?

Monday, April 6, 2015

More music books....

* Barry Miles: ZAPPA: A BIOGRAPHY (2005) -- I'm not much of a Frank Zappa fan, but if you are, there is a ton of history and information in here, and some of it is smoothly and involvingly written. Just not sure how much of a perspective and overview you get. Miles has SO MUCH history and info to fit in that the book sometimes feels crammed. It wasn't very well edited or proofread, either. It reads like a rush job, in places.
The best part of the writing comes right up front, where Miles describes how Zappa was convicted in his early 20s on a totally bogus pornography charge and spent 30 days in a crammed, hellish cell in the San Bernardino County Jail. The experience scarred Zappa for life. From then on, he doubted anything anyone in a position of authority told him -- and spent his 30 days imagining guitar chords so loud they could knock down the jail walls.
This is such a great story, and Miles tells it so well ... that he repeats the whole thing a few chapters later.
Zappa was so productive as a recording artist that later chapters start to seem like laundry lists of tours and albums and lawsuits and other happenings. Miles seldom pauses to provide much perspective until after Zappa dies. But the details are definitely here.
I would have liked a more detailed discography -- it takes up a score of pages anyway, with the contents of more than 60 albums listed. Everybody who ever played in Zappa's bands is mentioned in the text, but they aren't credited in the discography. Maybe that would have taken too much space.
Still, worth a look if you're a fan.
* Kent Hartman: THE WRECKING CREW (2012) -- If you're shocked to learn that The Beach Boys, Byrds, Monkees, Grass Roots and Gary Puckett and The Union Gap didn't always play on their hits, you might find some surprises in this look at the wildly talented but mostly anonymous Hollywood studio musicians who played on scores of hits back in the '60s and '70s.
This is the bunch that played on Phil Spector's hits and kept on backing star solo artists and bands into the mid-'70s. Hartman uses the life stories of guitarist/singer Glen Campbell, drummer Hal Blaine and bassist Carol Kaye to show how the Wrecking Crew began and evolved, from "Be My Baby" to "Love Will Keep Us Together."
Other members of the Crew included keyboardists Larry Knechtel, Al DeLory and Mike Melvoin, bassists Ray Pohlman and Joe Osborn, guitarists Tommy Tedesco and Louie Shelton, drummer Jim Gordon, and many more. Many of the Crew went on to performing or producing careers on their own -- like Campbell, Knechtel (with Bread), producer DeLory, producer Shelton, Gordon (with Eric Clapton), and others. Sonny Bono's even in there. If you've heard '60s and '70s pop, you know these folks' work. But most of them didn't get album-cover credits until the '70s.
And all along the way there were musicians who resented being replaced in the studio by the Crew -- but other than Michael Nesmith, most of them faded away....
There are some neat stories here if you don't already know the territory, but if you've read about Phil Spector in any depth, you may not find many surprises.
What, you mean The Partridge Family DIDN'T play on their own albums...?!
* Robert Christgau: GOING INTO THE CITY (2015) -- Consider this a rave. Christgau, the rock critic who's been rating records in monthly columns and once-a-decade books since the late 1960's, has written a memoir about his life and career that is absolutely gripping once he actually starts recapping his career as a critic. I laughed all through it, and I like very much the way Bob mixes together memories of his writing, music, and his love life. I like very much the way he tells TOO MUCH, more than you probably want to know. And at the end, Bob comes across as a normal guy with a neat job -- dedicated, workmanlike, modest. Yeah, sure.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Progress reports

Here's a quick look at some fairly current rock&roll books -- I may have a longer write-up on some of these eventually....
* REMEMBERED FOR A WHILE (2014) -- An authorized companion to the music of Nick Drake, compiled and edited by Cally Collomon and Gabrielle Drake. This is a huge (400 large pages), gorgeously produced book that includes memoirs about Nick by his friends, relatives, and fellow musicians, complete lyrics to all his songs, in-depth discussions about how he recorded each of his albums, a detailed three-year diary by Nick's father Rodney Drake covering the period when Nick's mental illness was at its worst, and MUCH more. Also included is critic Ian MacDonald's long article on Nick, "Exiled from Heaven," which makes the case that Nick's PINK MOON isn't about Depression, it's about coming back from the darkness. Only question I have is a mention about supposed "problems" with the great BRYTER LAYTER album -- the only "problem" I can find mentioned in the text was that Island Records couldn't come up with a good cover photo, and that delayed the album's release by four months. This is a beautiful book, but I still think hearing any of Nick's albums will tell you all you need to know. Warning: It's EXPENSIVE.
* GOING INTO THE CITY (2015) -- A memoir by rock critic Robert Christgau. This gets Really Good around Page 100, when Bob starts talking about going to college, listening to music, and getting laid regularly. Not sure about those first 100 pages -- but Bob is still his usual opinionated, know-it-all self. I'll be making a list of the new big words he uses here. So far, after Page 100, gripping.
* SOUND MAN (2014) -- Memoir by record producer and engineer Glyn Johns. I've skimmed most of this, and I'm sorry to report that Johns doesn't come across as anywhere NEAR as cranky and funny as he did in an '80s interview he did with Bill Flanagan for MUSICIAN magazine. And I think that's too bad. Still, lots of great stories about working with the Stones, Beatles, Who, Clash, Small Faces and Faces, Joan Armatrading, Fairport Convention, etc. Pretty compulsive.
* THE JOHN LENNON LETTERS (2011) -- Well, I said "fairly" current. Some of these are not letters. Some are postcards with six words on the back. Some are shopping lists or laundry lists or barely coherent scribbled notes apparently stolen from Lennon's apartment in the Dakota. That said, the actual LETTERS are mostly pretty great, and Lennon in anger was something else. Beatles biographer Hunter Davies edited and is his usual charming self. Lots of great photos. Worth a look.
I'll be back soon, with MORE....

Monday, March 16, 2015

Return of the Moondog

Along with all the usual stuff, here's what I've been playing for customers at work lately, including tapes from KPLU's "All Blues" program....
Dumpsta Funk -- *Blues Wave.
Tedeschi Trucks Band -- *Come See About Me.
Geneva Magness -- *You Were Never Mine.
Aron Jones -- *My Love Remains.
Dixie Cups -- *Iko Iko.
Allman Brothers -- *One Way Out, Don't Keep Me Wondering.
Shamekia Copeland -- *Never Goin' Back, *Lemon Pie (for the poor).
Ray Charles -- *Mess Around.
Jeff Beck with Imelda May -- (Remember) Walking in the Sand.
Maria Muldaur -- I'll Be Glad.
Sonny Landreth -- *Zydeco Shuffle.
Screamin' Jay Hawkins -- *I Put a Spell On You.
Beth Hart and Joe Bonnamassa -- *I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know.
Wild Magnolias -- *Party, *Coochie Molly, *Pocket Change.
Irma Thomas -- *River is Waiting.
Irma Thomas, Tracy Nelson and another woman who's name I can't remember -- *Sing It.
Johnny "Guitar" Watson -- *Gangster of Love.
J.J. Cale -- *Lies, Call Me the Breeze.
Slim Harpo -- *Tina-Neena-Nu.
John Mayall -- *Room to Move.
Johnny Rivers -- *Memphis. a few more new songs by women, one doing a joyous new version of "Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair," another with a great rocker called "You Only Need Me When You're Down," and a third with an angry rocker called "Can't Do Nothing Right" -- I'll try to get names on these....
NOTES: "Gangster of Love" has got to be the silliest "blues" ever. "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know" is dramatic and stunning -- the best thing I've heard in awhile. "I Put a Spell on You" is a little primitive (mid-'50s, right?), but I love that one great line: "I don't CARE if you don't want ME -- I'M YOURS!" "My Love Remains" is by a Seattle artist -- a little "Purple Rain"-ish, a little Hendrix-ish, but good. "You Were Never Mine" is sad -- a bit reminiscent of Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me," but good stuff. "Come See About Me" is more good stuff from Tedeschi-Trucks, with nice guitar -- wish they'd included it on MADE UP MIND.... "Never Goin' Back" is a nice spooky crime tale; "Lemon Pie" is a hilarious political protest song. "I'll Be Glad" might be the first blues song by Maria Muldaur that I've ever liked. The other stuff with a * listed above is recommended.

Weather here has gone from sunny and near 60 to pouring rain and in the low 40s. I told everybody it was too early for Spring, but....
I'm tired and my feet hurt. However, I wrote a new short story that suddenly popped into my head on Tuesday morning -- Ghod knows what I'm going to do with it -- and I'm looking at another big writing project....
More soon....

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Moondog's Friday night dance party!

The playlist:
Pat Boone -- Isn't That a Shame, Blue Suede Shoes.
Perry Como -- Dream On Little Dreamer.
The Lettermen -- Worlds.
B.J. Thomas -- Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, I Just Can't Help Believin', Hooked on a Feeling, Mighty Clouds of Joy, Suspicious Minds.
John Denver -- Back Home Again, Annie's Song, My Sweet Lady.
Abba -- Fernando, Chiquitita.
Air Supply -- Lost in Love, All Out of Love, Every Woman in the World, Sweet Dream....

...So did you think I was JOKING about Getting Good With God in my last post?
Well, ... I WAS joking. Here's the REAL playlist....
Wild Magnolias -- *Party, *Coochie Molly, *Pocket Change.
Three Dog Night -- *Out in the Country, *Celebrate, *My Impersonal Life, *I Will Serenade You.
Badfinger -- *No Matter What, *Baby Blue.
Elvis -- *Promised Land.
Journey -- *Lights, *Feeling That Way/*Anytime, *Somethin' to Hide.
Elton John -- *Teacher I Need You, *Have Mercy on the Criminal..
Todd Rundgren -- *Couldn't I Just Tell You?
Chicago -- *Questions 67 and 68, *Feeling Stronger Every Day.
The Cars -- *Dangerous Type.
Rush -- *Time Stand Still, *Force Ten.
Fleetwood Mac -- *Oh Well, *The Green Manalishi, *Why?, *Sisters of the Moon, *World Turning.
Kansas -- *Miracles Out of Nowhere, *Questions of My Childhood.
Five Man Electrical Band -- *Absolutely Right, We Play Rock and Roll, Money Back Guarantee.
Steely Dan -- *My Old School, *Dirty Work.
Motorhead -- Killed by Death (live).
Manfred Mann's Earth Band -- Living Without You.
Rolling Stones -- *Happy, *Tumbling Dice.
Heart -- *Mistral Wind.
Moody Blues -- *The Story in Your Eyes, *Question, *It's Up to You.
Nick Drake -- *Pink Moon, *Things Behind the Sun, *From the Morning, *Northern Sky.

Also tossed in a few tracks taped from KPLU's "All Blues":
Los Lobos -- I Walk Alone.
Johnny Rivers -- *Memphis.
John Mayall -- *Room to Move.
Buddy Holly -- Not Fade Away.
Slim Harpo -- *Tina-Nee-Ni-Nu.
John Hiatt -- Riding With the King.
J.J. Cale -- Lies.

Coming Eventually: Reviews of REMEMBERED FOR A WHILE, a huge official companion to the music of Nick Drake -- this will probably be the Book Of The Year for me ... and THE JOHN LENNON LETTERS.

PS -- That last post about supposedly satanic rock stars got more looks than anything I've written here in MONTHS. So, I see what the drift is here and will be acting accordingly....

Sunday, March 1, 2015


I'm aware that my original plan for this blog -- to review what I call "Strange Music" you might have overlooked, or at least off-the-wall books about music -- has drifted a bit in recent months. For this lapse I hope to atone.
In an effort to get this return to the drawing board started, I visited my favorite local used bookstore, Book 'Em here in Port Orchard (free plug), and imagine the delight I felt when I discovered a copy of FROM ROCK TO ROCK -- THE MUSIC OF DARKNESS EXPOSED! (1990), a book that promises to show once and for all how many '60s, '70s and '80s rock stars SOLD THEIR SOULS TO THE DEVIL!
The book was compiled by a former working musician named Eric Barger, who spent 20 years in the biz, in a couple of bands that went nowhere. Eric says in his intro that he took advantage of every illicit attraction the rock and roll lifestyle had to offer, and clearly this book was his effort to atone.
Because clearly Barger felt guilty. And scared, make no mistake. And Lord knows there are so MANY things for a God-loving Christian to fear....
You can probably guess most of the culprits. There was little doubt about some of them -- AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Guns 'N' Roses, Motley Crue, Twisted Sister, Van Halen, Def Leppard, The Beastie Boys, Led Zeppelin, Madonna, Michael Jackson ... and of course The Beatles, who started us all down this Highway To Hell way back in 1964.
I was surprised by how many of these satanic rock stars are also conveniently dead -- Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Brian Jones (Rolling Stones), even Elvis Presley.
But what REALLY shocked me is how many previously-thought-harmless "artists" have sold their souls to the Dark Lord -- Cyndi Lauper, Lionel Richie, Journey, The Cars, The Who, Rod Stewart, Belinda Carlisle, Roxette, Wham!, Bananarama, Huey Lewis and the News, John Cougar Mellencamp, Hall and Oates, The Police ... even Bruce Springsteen!
Of course, it was no surprise to find The Beach Boys listed in this book. And even my heroes The Moody Blues have apparently had their ungodly moments -- anybody who heard their KEYS OF THE KINGDOM album knows that. ... Even Yes!
Shocked! SHOCKED I was! And grateful for the info, so that I may now purge my music collection and begin my long-postponed climb up to godliness. I've got a long way to go....
Which doesn't mean there aren't some minor problems with Barger's book. The writing actually isn't terrible. But he gets names wrong, he mis-attributes songs to the wrong artists, he doesn't know what to do with an apostrophe -- golly, I haven't had so much fun marking the errors in a book since Jerry Lucky's PROGRESSIVE ROCK FILES.
Then there's Barger's lapses in logic, his inability to see that something might be intended as a joke (how can anyone take Motorhead's "Killed by Death" seriously?) or for a dramatic or metaphoric purpose, his inability to grant that there might be any other way to godliness other than The One Way he pushes. Oh, and his book's organized terribly.
Possibly most hilarious of all is a LONG middle section in which 1,500 artists are listed under the guidelines of a 12-step "offensiveness" scale which lets you see with a glance just what's so offensive about all of them. Tons of these acts I've never HEARD of -- I have to assume they are LOUD bands...? And a good portion of these artists get a "12" rating, which means Barger isn't done investigating them yet. I'm sure Camel and Joan Armatrading and The Hollies aren't being kept awake at night by this.
King Crimson isn't even MENTIONED. Too scary?
And this book was written in 1990! Can you imagine what kind of book Barger could write TODAY? I'll bet he'd at least have a LOT of inspiration....
My favorite mistake is where Barger puts the words of The Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the U.K." into the mouth of ... Rod Stewart. Which has got to be a copyright violation. Or some kind of violation, anyway. I'm sure the LAST thing Rod The Mod wanted to be was the Antichrist.
This book is hilarious. LOTS of great cheap laughs.
And yet. And yet....
Looking around at the grim reality of today's world, and at the fates of so many rock stars ... I don't think popular music is ENTIRELY to blame for ALL of our MANY troubles, nor do I think teenage rebellion inevitably leads to drinking, drugs, early pregnancy, voting Republican, and eventual takeover by the Dark One.
But I agree that it's a Good Thing to get Good With God.
So, from now on it's strictly Pat Boone, The Lettermen and The Kingston Trio for me. Starting immediately.
See 'ya in church!

(PS on March 2nd -- I see I forgot to mention Ozzie Osbourne. He's all over Barger's book, I just forgot about him. It's nothing personal, I swear to ... well, you know.)

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Friday night playlist 5

Mostly '70's Album Rock Night! --
Three Dog Night -- *Out in the Country, *Celebrate, *Let Me Serenade You.
Kansas -- *Miracles Out of Nowhere, *Questions of My Childhood.
Fleetwood Mac -- *Oh Well, *The Green Manalishi.
Journey -- *Feeling That Way/*Anytime, *Something to Hide, *Lights.
Deep Purple -- *Hush, *Kentucky Woman, Black Night, Speed King, Demon's Eye, *Highway Star, *Space Truckin' ((for Leonard Nimoy)).
Five Man Electrical Band -- *Absolutely Right, We Play Rock and Roll, Money Back Guarantee, Julianna, *Signs.
Rush -- *Time Stand Still, *Force Ten, *Marathon, *Distant Early Warning, *Manhattan Project.
The Who -- *Slip Kid, *Music Must Change, *I Can See for Miles, *Let's See Action, *Join Together, *The Relay, *5:15, *I'm the Face, *Disguises.
Pretenders -- *Message of Love, *Don't Get Me Wrong.
Go-Go's -- *You Thought.
Bangles -- *Let it Go, *September Gurls, *Not Like You.
...What can I say? I was starting to wear-out the old Soul/R&B hits, I had to give them a night off. Have been listening to Joe Tex's best-of, though -- "Show Me," "Skinny Legs and All" and "I Gotcha" are all pretty great -- I hadn't heard "I Gotcha" since about 1973....
Saturday night it'll be all KPLU's "All Blues" -- have also been making more tapes from their shows, hitting customers with Taj Mahal's "Fishing Blues" and "Swat That Rabbit," Ry Cooder's "Get Rhythm," Duke Roubillard's hilarious "Alimony Blues," Betty Wright's "Clean-Up Woman," Sam and Dave's "Soul Man," Ann Peebles' "I Can't Stand the Rain," Staples Singers' "Respect Yourself," Robin McKell's "Bound to be Your Baby," Shamekia Copeland's "Can't Let Go," and some others I can't remember right now.
Have also been reading, of course. Non-fiction now, after that glut of novels I downed last month. Lots of Joyce Carol Oates essays in her collections WHERE I'VE BEEN AND WHERE I'M GOING, UNCENSORED, THE PROFANE ART, and CONTRARIES. Oates is pretty interesting on writers I'll probably never read, like Hemingway and James Joyce and D.H. Lawrence, Joseph Conrad, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Herman Melville. UNCENSORED has a funny piece on memoirs -- JCO had a pretty dim view of them at one time, even though she ended up writing a good one, A WIDOW'S STORY.
Am currently reading Bee Lavender's LESSONS IN TAXIDERMY, a memoir by a woman from my area in Washington who was diagnosed with cancer at age 12 and went through a series of operations, then contracted lupus. It is somewhere beyond scary -- horrifying, harrowing, jaw-dropping, horrible, riveting ... and starkly, beautifully written. And I'm only halfway through.
More soon.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Friday night playlist 4

...Along with the usual recent stuff, lately it's been Philly Soul hits of the early '70s!
I was already listening to and loving Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, but thanks to Sony/Legacy's cheap Philly Soul best-of, I'm hearing again for the first time in awhile O'Jays hits like "Love Train" and "Back Stabbers" -- both of which sound REALLY good in the digital format. The singing, the playing, it's all great.
About the O'Jays' "For the Love of Money" I'm less sure -- I tend to have trouble with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff's more "messagey" songs -- but I quote from it almost every time someone brings a stack of winning Scratch tickets into the store....
I've already raved about Teddy Pendergrass's GREAT singing on The Blue Notes' "The Love I Lost" and "Bad Luck," two old favorites. One of the bonuses of this Philly Soul best-of is that you get the LONG versions of the hits ... but sometimes less is more, in this case.
Also gave me a chance to hear for probably the first time in 30 years MFSB's "TSOP" and The Three Degrees' "When Will I See You Again" -- which sounds like heaven, like a latter-day Diana Ross and the Supremes hit, just gorgeous.
I thought in a best-of like this, Sony might actually list who the members of MFSB WERE, might give the studio musicians some credit, for a change. But there are no credits here, so if you want to know who's PLAYING this stuff, you're out of luck. They sure sound great, though.
My only other complaint is -- why isn't the O'Jays' "992 Arguments" on here?
...My Ghod, what's next for the white kid from Idaho? Barry White??

Have also been playing at work ... I'm sort of embarrassed to admit ... TAPES of the best stuff from KPLU-FM's "All Blues" program, tapes of the stuff that's impossible to find, or that a guy on a tight budget like me can't afford.
So far, that includes Johnny Guitar Watson's silly "Gangster of Love," Dr. John's hilarious "Why Come it is?", Eric Bibb's moody "Follow the Drinking Gourd," guitarist Sonny Landreth's great "Zydeco Shuffle," Ry Cooder's silly "Crow Black Chicken," and guitarist Johnny A's gorgeous "Wichita Lineman" -- yes, the old Glen Campbell hit. This veers kind of close to muzak in places, but it's really an amazing piece of work. If you're a fan of the original, you should try to track this down. Or check out "All Blues," streaming on between 6 p.m. and midnight Pacific Time, Saturdays and Sundays.

My newest e-book memoir, WHAT HE MEANT, a tribute to my old writer buddy Don Vincent, is now available for $2.99 at's Kindle Store.
The book's an attempt to make sense out of my best friend's sudden death a couple of years ago, and to figure out why he apparently gave up writing in his later years and went silent -- despite his many big plans for huge fantasy-novel writing projects.
The book recaps some of the experiences we went through together. We shared an apartment twice -- he let me sleep on his couch for free for six months once when I had nowhere else to go. Once we were in love with the same woman. We both went into shock at the death of his fiancee in a car wreck. I was later the best man at his wedding, and he was the best man at mine. And he encouraged me to join the Air Force and make a skill out of the one talent I had.
He was always a better, funnier, more vivid, more imaginative, more disciplined writer than I was. And I told him so. I wouldn't be writing this without him as a role model.
This may be another book that hardly anyone will be interested in, but I had to write it. I had to get it out of my system.
What will I write next? Well, I've been thinking about that old rock-group novel....

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Death duties

In her JOURNAL 1973-1982 (2007), Joyce Carol Oates painted an idyllic portrait of her long marriage to her husband Raymond Smith. They were very happily married for 47 years.
In her vivid, painful memoir A WIDOW'S STORY (2011), Oates tells how she lost her husband.
Ray contracts pneumonia, and Oates rushes him to the emergency room. He spends a week in the hospital, seems to be recovering -- and then a hospital-borne infection invades one of his lungs and he's gone within 24 hours.
Oates feels like she's been slammed in the head with a hammer, and she sleepwalks through the next six months, performing a seemingly endless series of "death duties" she'd never imagined could be so empty and meaningless.
The grief eats her up. She can't sleep, she can't write, she has trouble functioning in public. About the only place where she gets a break is at the oasis of her teaching job at Princeton University.
In this long, dark, soul-searching memoir, some of the best moments are actually FUNNY. Oates' neurotic cats shun her, because they think she's taken Ray away from them. Oates gets practically buried in sympathy gift baskets, and almost begs the mail and UPS to stop delivering items to her home.
Her friends help get her through it, even if she can't answer the phone when they call. Dozens of cards and letters pour in too, some of which it takes her months to read. Her main method of communication after Ray's death is e-mail.
This book doesn't make hospitals look good. Oates can't sue the hospital because she had her husband cremated -- she couldn't stand the idea of anyone cutting into him during an autopsy. You won't trust doctors and hospitals much, either -- every doctor in this book is worthless. They say the wrong things, do the wrong things, take the wrong actions, misdiagnose diseases.
Later in the book, when Oates develops shingles, her own doc misses it and she suffers in pain for another two days until the doc sees his mistake -- and by then the medication she's given doesn't have half the effectiveness it would have if the doc hadn't messed up.
The docs keep prescribing sleeping pills and anti-depressants -- Oates has more than enough pills to kill herself if she wants, but she's scared of becoming addicted to sleeping pills.
There are lighter spots. Oates also shows more about what her marriage was like. There are flashbacks to her and Ray's married days including a horrifying year in Beaumont, Texas; in Detroit, and in Canada. Going through Ray's papers, Oates finds a draft of a novel Ray tried to write before he met her. She includes parts of it in the memoir, and briefly considers completing it. The book sounds good to me -- but Oates points out she doesn't know where Ray was headed, or what he intended to fill the gaps.
This may not sound like light reading, but read with her earlier JOURNAL, WIDOW'S STORY makes for a warm, loving portrait of a long marriage, and a harrowing recap of the steps Oates had to take before she could say without fear "This is what my life is now."

My book about my old writer buddy Don Vincent is just about done. I have a few dozen "Strange Music" song-titles I want to plug-in as chapter titles, but the rest of it's finished.
This is probably another book that almost no one will be interested in. But I had to write it.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Friday night playlist 3

...All the usual recent stuff, plus:
The Neville Brothers -- *Hey Pocky Way, *Bird on a Wire, *A Change is Gonna Come, Fire on the Bayou, Brother John/Iko Iko, Yellow Moon, Voodoo (live), Ain't No Sunshine, Let My People Go/Get Up Stand Up (live) (all from BEST OF/THE MILLENNIUM COLLECTION).

Would never have heard the Neville Brothers if it weren't for KPLU's "All Blues" show every weekend. On this cheap best-of they do an absolutely gorgeous version of Leonard Cohen's "Bird on a Wire," and a beautiful cover of Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come." There's also a very nice up-tempo version of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine" -- the original's one of my all-time faves, so I wasn't expecting much.
Some of the others will definitely keep you moving -- like "Voodoo" and "Yellow Moon," "Fire on the Bayou" and "Get Up Stand Up."
Best of all for me are the GREAT horn parts that light up "Hey Pocky Way." I've been playing that one over and over.
Most of this is good party music. I admit I'm hesitant about some of their "issue-oriented" songs, but I'm still listening. And I've heard Steve Miller's "Fly Like an Eagle" WAY too many times to put up with another version by someone else....

Finished William Gibson's IDORU (1996) finally. It's a nice entertainment. It's certainly not as "visionary" as his NEUROMANCER was, or the short stories in his BURNING CHROME collection were, but it reads smoothly, and there's some nice cyberspace/computer-oriented stuff in it, some nice "visuals."
In the future, a world-famous rock musician decides to "marry" a famous Japanese singer, who is actually a computerized simulation. His management panics, and hires a data-visualizing expert to see if he can figure out WHY. The musician's fan club also freaks out, and sends a representative from the club's Seattle chapter to Tokyo to get The Real Story.
The story then moves into vivid character sketches and accidental smuggling of illegal computer hardware, and turns into a chase-intrigue thing. There are brutal security men, tough and clumsy Russian agents, homicidal former bosses with a grudge. And it's funny.
I bogged down about 100 pages in the first time through, in what I thought was Gibson's rather distant, thin style -- plus the fact that the data-visualizer's job-interview seemed to be taking up the whole book. But it read quicker and more smoothly this time around.
Only complaint is I would like to have seen the musician's brutal head-of-security "talk to" a villainess in the plot on-stage. In the book, we're only given hints of what that conversation will be like, and I was looking forward to it. She'd certainly earned a talking-to.
It only took me about five years to get through this novel. I wonder what ELSE I've got lying around here....

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Escape routes

During a 60-year writing career, Graham Greene wrote a series of novels that mulled over how to live a moral life while surrounded by crime and intrigue. Novels like BRIGHTON ROCK, THE THIRD MAN, THE QUIET AMERICAN, THE HONORARY CONSUL, THE END OF THE AFFAIR, A BURNT-OUT CASE, etc.
I haven't read any of them. But I may HAVE to now, after reading Greene's partial autobiography, WAYS OF ESCAPE (1980). I read Greene's previous partial-autobiography, A SORT OF LIFE, about 20 years ago and thought it was BORING AS SHIT. Greene just didn't REVEAL much. Yeah, his childhood wasn't easy, and he struggled for a few years as a newspaper sub-editor while writing his first few books. He suffered throughout his life with manic depression. But he just didn't REVEAL much. He seemed so DISTANT.
WAYS OF ESCAPE reveals more -- that writing those many novels was a way of dealing with that manic depression. Greene wonders a couple of times in the book about how people who can't write or paint or make music deal with the craziness and stress that goes with everyday life.
Greene brought some of the stress on himself. When he wasn't writing, he was serving in Britain's Secret Service during World War II -- he insists it was No Big Deal. ... And didn't I read somewhere awhile back that he was a spy for years after that? That would explain his attraction to visiting various hot spots around the world -- Russia, Poland, Vietnam, Israel, Cuba, Spain, west Africa, Kenya, Malaysia, Paraguay, Argentina, Panama, Ecuador, etc.
Greene describes all these travels in the book ... and discusses the real-life models that some of the seedy characters in his novels were based on -- characters that critics said for years came totally from Greene's imagination, from a place they started calling "Greeneland."
Along the way, Greene also discusses smoking pot and opium and taking cocaine while in some of these foreign locales -- rather nonchalantly, as if it was all just part of the job.
He also mentions (but does not name) a series of mistresses, and admits to spending lots of time in brothels. All of this is related in a reserved, gentlemanly manner. As if it wasn't shocking -- as if it was just the thing an English gentleman should do.
Of course there's nothing romantic about writing -- you sit in front of a computer or a piece of paper and just do it -- try to make what you see in your head come out on the page. Greene doesn't describe the actual writing of his novels much, but he does talk about some of the situations surrounding them, his financial condition, the failure of his marriage, his travels for research.
He still doesn't reveal much, and he says up front that he won't. But it's an easy book to read -- one of the easiest things I've read in months. I was done with it in a couple of days.

I'm interested in the actual process of writing for other writers, how they do it, what effect it has on them, when they know they're doing it right. First it was Joyce Carol Oates' JOURNAL and now Greene, and I've got more piled up. I'm trying to figure out if I'm a writer or just a middle-aged guy with ego problems. Maybe I'm just self-obsessed and I love the sound of my own voice in my head. I could be the world's worst writer. I just don't know.

Reading William Gibson's IDORU, enjoying it much more this time. Got bogged down after 100 pages last time -- now I'm two-thirds of the way through, and I'm enjoying the slick, slippery, shiny surface of the thing. Plus, some of the characters are musicians, which means the book actually fits into this blog. Even if one of the characters is a computer-generated illusion....

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Friday night playlist 2

...Pretty much the usual stuff, plus:
Tedeschi Trucks Band -- *Made Up Mind, *The Storm, Calling Out to You, Do I Look Worried?, Idle Wind, Misunderstood, Part of Me, Whiskey Legs (all from MADE UP MIND).
Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes -- *The Love I Lost, *Bad Luck, If You Don't Know Me By Now.

Tedeschi Trucks Band really rocks on "Made Up Mind," and "The Storm" has some nice guitar work. Unfortunately, these are the only two songs on their MADE UP MIND disc that really seem to rock. On a lot of the rest, they sound something like a Southern-Rock Fleetwood Mac. "Idle Wind" with its added flute sounds vaguely Jethro Tull-ish. "Whiskey Legs" is bluesy -- that doesn't mean I like it much. "Made Up Mind" has everything you'd ever want from a classic rock and roll song except for a really great ending. It just sort of ... stops.
I'll be listening more....
Hadn't heard Harold Melvin -- with Teddy Pendergrass on lead vocals -- since the early '70s. Had forgotten how really brilliantly these songs are sung. "The Love I Lost"'s choruses are just killer, and "Bad Luck" has always been a fave. I can't play "If You Don't Know Me By Now" at work -- it's too gloppy and slows me down. But man, Teddy was a helluva singer....

Friday, January 23, 2015


Joyce Carol Oates has been publishing novels and short stories since the early 1960s, averaging a book or two per year into the 1990's. She's won a couple of National Book Awards and several O. Henry Prizes for her short stories. Some of her works are pretty dark. Her story collection NIGHT-SIDE focuses on experiences with the paranormal. Her '90s novel ZOMBIE was supposedly partly based on the Jeffrey Dahmer case. She's been appearing in horror anthologies for years.
Her JOURNAL 1973-1982 (2007) shows her at work agonizing over several books and dozens of short stories.
She writes constantly. She writes so much that her novels and short story collections start to back up on her. She writes so much that whole novels and collections go unpublished.
In the decade covered by the JOURNAL, Oates starts writing a series of "Postmodern Gothic" novels -- books that are 600 to 1,000 pages long: BELLEFLUER, A BLOODSMOOR ROMANCE, THE CROSSWICKS HORROR, and MYSTERIES OF WINTERTHURN, along with other, shorter novels.The backlog piles up to the point that she lets CROSSWICKS go unpublished -- despite having poured months of work into it.
And when she's not writing novels, she's doing short stories, or essays, or reviews. It's like she never stops.
It helps that she has a strong marriage, and supportive surroundings. She several times refers to her life as "idyllic" -- and it is, even though she seems kind of above-it-all sometimes.
She's not hurting for money. She's embarrassed by her stories appearing in PLAYBOY and PENTHOUSE and VIVA, and says she and her husband don't need the money. And they don't -- the paperback rights for the best-seller BELLEFLUER sell for $385,000, and a later book sells for $50,000. Oates ends up a professor of creative writing at Princeton. But even before any of that happens, she and her husband are living comfortably.
She travels, and meets other writers like John Updike, Philip Roth, John Barth, Donald Barthelme, Susan Sontag, Gail Godwin, Anne Tyler, John Gardner, and more.
What impresses me is Oates' determination and drive -- her absolute conviction that what she sees has GOT to come out, no matter how long it takes, no matter how miserable it makes her, no matter how outlandish or extreme it might be. She says at one point that she is addressing in fiction material that she would never be able to tackle directly. I wonder what drives her, and though she gives some family history, we never learn what powers her creativity.
Her very happy marriage must have meant a world of support to her -- her husband Ray also ended up a professor at Princeton. Now I have to read Oates' A WIDOW'S STORY, about what happened after Ray died unexpectedly from a hospital-borne illness a few years back.
I'm not exactly a fan of Oates' fiction, but her JOURNAL shows a writer hard at work mulling over problems encountered in writing her novels, reacting to the public's reactions to her work, and living a low-key, quiet, creative life. In many ways, it does sound idyllic.

Brian W. Aldiss has also been writing since the early '60s, and has won science fiction's top awards while tackling novels, short stories, memoirs and criticism. His TRILLION YEAR SPREE is an excellent critical history of the science-fiction field. His first novel, THE BRIGHTFOUNT DIARIES, showed me how I could write my first e-book, after years of putting it off.
The only review I read of HARM (2007) before buying it indicated that Aldiss wrote the novel in anger over current events -- terrorism and torture, surveillance, personal security issues, and other aspects of the war against terror.
Now I wish he'd been a little angrier.
In HARM, a British citizen who happens to be a Muslim gets jailed for writing a satiric novel in which one character jokingly suggests assassinating the British Prime Minister.
For this, he is jailed and tortured repeatedly, for months. No charges are brought. There is no trial. His wife is also interrogated and tortured. The interrogators want names, plans, contacts. They don't believe the book was a joke.
As the torture goes on, the hero ... dissociates ... and seems to ... travel ... to an alien planet, where he becomes a different person. This new planet is certainly no Eden. nor are his adventures there very enjoyable -- except as a break from the torture sessions.
Some neat things happen on this planet. The insectoid life forms that live on the planet are pretty neat. The village of Haven seems not such a bad place. Best of all is "The Shawl" -- the million pieces of a shattered moon that blocks out the sun during two days out of every 12. There are some interesting uses of mood on this alien planet.
But. The planet's native "ruling" race gets wiped out. Nobody in a position of power there can be trusted. They all seem deranged. Some of the writing in this setting is awkward and cliched. Not sure how much of that was on purpose.
I'm also not sure that the alien-planet setting mirrors or contrasts the main story to any useful purpose.
There's also no escape from the nightmare back here in "the Real World."
Hate to sound bloodthirsty, but I think the torture sessions should have been MORE brutal. I don't think Aldiss should have let his readers off the hook. There should have been no relief.
Spending a whole novel in George Orwell's Room 101 (from 1984) might have been too much. But in these days of short attention spans, I don't think it does a writer any good to downplay his message.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Friday night playlist

(* = Great stuff!)

Irma Thomas -- *River is Waiting, *I Think it's Going to Rain Today, If I Had Any Good Sense I'd Go Back Home, Overrated, Be You (all from SIMPLY GRAND).
Etta James -- *The Jealous Kind, Come to Mama.
Bo Diddley -- *Mona, Who Do You Love?
Delfonics -- *Didn't I Blow Your Mind This Time?
Spinners -- *I'll Be Around, *I'm Coming Home.
Al Green -- *You Ought to be With Me, *I Can't Get Next to You, *Love and Happiness, *Take Me to the River, *Call Me, *Love Ritual, *L-O-V-E Love, *Let's Stay Together, *I'm Still in Love With You.
Dramatics -- *What'cha See is What'cha Get, *In the Rain, *(Gimme Some) Good Soul Music.
Funkadelic -- *Can You Get to That?
Aretha Franklin -- *Rock Steady.
Brothers Johnson -- *Strawberry Letter 23.
Timmy Thomas -- *Why Can't We Live Together?
Tower of Power -- *So Very Hard to Go, *Down to the Nightclub, *You're Still a Young Man, *What is Hip?
Sly and the Family Stone -- *M'Lady, *Sing a Simple Song, *Thank You Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin, *I Wanna Take You Higher.
Earth, Wind and Fire -- *Serpentine Fire, *Getaway.
Sanford-Townsend Band -- *Smoke From a Distant Fire.
Booker T and the MG's -- *Time is Tight, *Hang 'Em High.
Wilson Pickett -- *Land of a Thousand Dances, *Funky Broadway, *Don't Knock My Love, *Fire and Water.
James Brown -- *I Feel Good (I Got You), *Papa's Got a Brand New Bag.
Otis Redding -- *Shake, *Respect, *Try a Little Tenderness.
Janis Joplin -- *Kosmic Blues.

BTW, our station is now selling a gallon of Regular gas for $2.19 -- the lowest price we've had in YEARS....

Am currently 90 pages into my book about my old writer buddy Don Vincent. The book is called WHAT HE MEANT -- at least for now. Am currently proofreading, not sure quite what I have yet, and I could use another 10,000 words, 10 pages or so, but that might yet work out....
On Friday worked on two short stories -- one about a tiny radio station that becomes "Radio Free America" when things in this country start getting even weirder -- not sure if that's gonna be a short-story or a book or what.... Took another look at the silly possessed-coffeemaker horror-story I wrote last April: I still like it. Did some cutting and re-writing to make it a little clearer, may send it out again for another rejection, soon as I find somewhere else to send it....
Am currently reading THE JOURNALS OF JOYCE CAROL OATES 1973-1982 -- it's pretty involving, even though I haven't read that much of her work, a few short stories. Some of her stories are pretty dark. Was struck by a comment she made about one of her books, THE TRIUMPH OF THE SPIDER MONKEY: "This is one of the most disgusting things I've ever read -- and I wrote it." So I'm gonna have to check THAT out now....
Hope you all are well....

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Shiner skates on

Lewis Shiner has written a couple of excellent rock&roll novels. His GLIMPSES is THE BEST rock&roll novel EVER, to me.
Shiner's SAY GOODBYE was a low-key, gritty story of a woman trying to make a name for herself in the indie-folk scene. Completely realistic, with great, vivid, believable scenes in nightclubs and recording studios, SAY GOODBYE had everything a music fan could ever want -- except for a good solid ending, and a clear explanation of why the main character was so DRIVEN.
Of Shiner's novels I've read, the weakest is now DESERTED CITIES OF THE HEART, which was about Mayan Indians and time travel, and had some nice atmosphere, but isn't in the same time-zone as GLIMPSES.
Shiner's also written some excellent short stories -- "Jeff Beck," "Love in Vain," "Brujo," others.
Well, after I gave up on fiction a week or so ago, I have to announce that Lew Shiner got me again. His SLAM (1990) is a low-key, gritty knockabout comedy about getting out of prison, finding a job, and having your whole world fall apart. It reads like the writer did some living before he started writing.
And it's FUNNY.
Dave gets released from a Texas prison after serving nine months for tax evasion, and heads to the Gulf Coast, where an old friend has grabbed him a skate job -- taking care of a house full of cats while the late homeowner's will goes through probate.
Dave hates cats, but he's grateful for the job. Until people start coming out of the woodwork, trying to get their hands on the house. The wacky head of the "UFO Church" down the street wants to make the house the church's new home. Neighbors think the house is a hot piece of real estate. One old couple swears there's a treasure map hidden somewhere in the house. And Dave's old cellmate thinks it's a great place to hide out while he sets up his next dope deal.
All this is almost enough to drive Dave crazy. But there's also the hot woman who works at the convenience store down the street. And the warmed-over 50-year-old widow who wants to grab the house for reasons only she knows....
This is just for starters. As Dave's story unfolds, it leads into an early look at the "computer underground," and some pretty cool views of "skater culture."
I'm not gonna tell you how it ends. But you'll be laughing.
Though not as amazing as GLIMPSES, SLAM is a lot of fun -- and it's smoothly written, quirky and involving from the first page. I was never bored. And it only took a couple days to read. If you haven't read any Shiner yet, you should definitely check him out.
I'm just happy I actually got all the way through a novel again. Too bad SLAM sat around the house waiting for five years to get read. I wonder what ELSE I've got lying around here....

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Is it just me?

Maybe I'm being stupid about this, but I have pretty-much given up reading fiction. I don't have the time or the patience for it.
I get bored quickly by fiction that doesn't at least TRY to be real, that is merely daydreaming, escapist junk-food for the brain, that fails to address the world I see around me every day -- millions of people out of work, who knows how many homeless people, stressed-out folks who never sleep, crazy people on the street every hour of the day and night, people who spend more time with their smartphones than with their spouse or kids, crimes and guns everywhere, terrorist attacks all over the place, people constantly yelling and screaming in frustration, people constantly drinking and drugging themselves because they can't take it....
You'd think the LAST thing I'd want would be more of this.
But it seems like any writing that doesn't at least notice that it's a big, ugly world out there doesn't work for me.
I can't remember the last time I made it all the way through a novel -- was it really Brian Aldiss's BRIGHTFOUNT DIARIES a couple years ago?
My favorite trick for years has been to get 50 to 100 pages into a novel and then give up because it isn't moving fast enough. Writers like Thomas Harris, Jack Ketchum and Kathe Koja spoiled me a long time ago. I didn't USED to have such a short attention span....
I recently got halfway through Paul Theroux's HOTEL HONOLULU, which I thought was a really great series of character sketches. Too bad he had to force a STORY in there.... True, I did re-read Theroux's novels MY SECRET HISTORY and MY OTHER LIFE this past fall, but those are almost like autobiographies, very direct.
Maybe I need to go back to Max Barry -- he was pretty edgy....
I used to read people like William Gibson and Bruce Sterling when I wanted to feel "caught up" with Reality. But I tried Gibson's IDORU and ALL TOMORROW'S PARTIES and they just don't work for me. The last Sterling novels I was able to get through were ZEITGEIST and HEAVY WEATHER. Both four-star worthy. But I tried HOLY FIRE and DISTRACTION and ISLANDS IN THE NET -- no go.
Neal Stephenson? Well, SNOW CRASH was a lot of fun, had everything you'd ever want except a good ending. But I gave up 100 pages into CRYPTONOMICON. And since then he's written several books that are even LONGER. I'm about a decade past the point where I could get through a 1,000-page novel. Hell, it took me FOUR MONTHS to read Stephen King's IT back in 1987 -- and that was when I was INTERESTED. And I haven't been able to read King in YEARS....
I even read a couple short stories recently. Mildly interesting ideas, reasonably clever. But they were just notions -- they showed no signs of a real, lived-in life. And all I could think was that they were JUST LIKE something I might have written myself at age 19....
I tried reading some travel writing for awhile, and that worked out OK when Paul Theroux was writing it, or the silly J. Maarten Troost. But some other folks waste too much time for me. Redmond O'Hanlon is mildly funny, and I admire his adventurousness. But he needs an editor. And some others are even duller.
I LOVE to read. I WANT to be affected, impacted, have my face rubbed into something -- I WANT to be involved, I want to be ripped up by a story. And that hasn't happened to me in a long time.
Maybe this is just another sign that I should be writing my own fiction, that I'll never be satisfied until I do. Ghod help me. Wishing you had a story to write won't make it so.
My old buddy Rastro over at La Historia de la Musica Rock may have some comment on this -- he often seems to be reading current, cutting-edge stuff, and has reviewed a couple of fairly new novels over the last month.
I want to be grabbed by the throat. I want to be riveted. I'm sick of being bored. I just hope this isn't another one of the joys of GETTING OLDER.
Advice? Suggestions? Recommendations?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

These are the jokes....

I'm halfway through writing another e-book, this one about my old buddy Don Vincent -- about what a role model he was for me when I was just starting to write, about what close friends we were, about some of the things we went through together, about how he took me in and let me live in his apartment FOR FREE when I had nowhere else to go.... It's another book nobody will buy, but this stuff is forcing its way out, so....
One problem: I went on at some length in the book about what a joker Don could be, about how even though he could be a very serious guy, he took NOTHING seriously, everything was an excuse for playtime.
And naturally, as a result, I've been able to remember exactly ONE JOKE Don ever told. So much for this book making people feel like they'd actually met Don....
I don't think too many people out there can help me with this problem, but ... I'll be working on it....
And you can read more about Don under posts here entitled "Don's Greatest Hits" and "An obituary"....

A couple weeks back I read Joe Klein's WOODY GUTHRIE: A LIFE (1980/1999) --a very smoothly written and very involving biography of the legendary Okie from the Dust Bowl who wrote "This Land is Your Land" and "Roll On, Columbia," among many others -- one of the inspirations for Bob Dylan and countless other folksingers and singer-songwriters.
Much of the book is as stark and gritty and down-to-earth as the black-and-white photo of Woody on the book's front cover. And the book definitely doesn't romanticize him. Clearly Woody was A Piece Of Work. (Can't creative people realize they might have more success and last longer if they DON'T DRINK?)
The book's worth a look if you're into musicians' life stories. There's a heckuva supporting cast, including Pete Seeger, Leadbelly, Burl Ives, Will Geer, Alan Lomax, Arlo Guthrie, Bob Dylan of course, and more.
But it's not a happy story. And don't be put off by Woody's nearly-pornographic letters to his second wife, which are quoted at length....