STUFF I READ
Got about 2/3ds of the way through NOS4A2 and put it down. Didn't care. Didn't care about the characters, didn't believe the story. And I loved Horns. I love Locke & Key. I don't know why this one didn't resonate for me, it just didn't. Hanging fire on Dr. Sleep to hear what others say.
Conn Iggulden's Genghis Kahn saga is unputdownable. Anybody who has seen me at a recent con saw my face buried in Wolves of the Plain or Lords of the Bow, the best historical fiction I"ve ever read. Iggulden lived in Mongolia for a time visiting the plains, mountains and cities where Genghis conquered. Just amazing.
Could not finish Stephen Hunter's The Third Bullet. I'm a huge Hunter fan and have read everything he's written. But this action mystery about the death of JFK was too long on wonk and way short on action. Every now and then Hunter would contrive a shoot-out for his Vietnam-era hero, who is now retirement age. I recommend Pale Horse Coming, Dirty White Boys, and the 47th Samurai.
Read Michael Connelly's The Scarecrow. Best Connelly I've read. I think Connely gets bogged down in detail and that while his story-telling is strong it never generates any juice. That is, it doesn't get you going, make your pulse race, drag you by the esophagus through the narrative. The Scarecrow, about a serial killer, is never less than compelling.
Ron Faust: Jackstraw. An excellent thriller from an under-rated writer. Faust's In the Jungle of the Night is what Hemingway might have written if he wrote thrillers. Jackstraw is about a shady operative for the CIA who turns rogue, has an affair with a Presidential candidate, and is forced to run for his life through wildnerness in a story reminiscent of Geoffrey Household.
Currently reading Preston & Child's Gideon's Corpse. I've read all their books and thought they jumped the shark with Two Graves, the last Pendergast series, but this series starring Gideon Crew moves along at freight-train speed.
My wife Ann's friend Jana is the aunt of one Eddie Barbash, saxophone prodigy. So when Eddie's group Jon Batiste and Stay Human played the Lincoln Center we were there. Jon Batiste is a young, rapier-thin charismatic New Orelans piano player and his six piece group marched frequently into the audience. Two massive drum kits framed the band which began with a fresh take on the classic "St. James Infirmary." The band made frequent and excellent use of space, coming to abrupt halts then plunging back in, with hilarious and fitting atonal excursions and bridges. Batiste punctuates his music with silences and ear-shattering blasts, perfectly timed. Barbash plays alto with subtlety frequently taking it way down, but never below your threshhold. Likewise bone player Ibanda Rhumbika, who played a lot of tuba marching through the audience, knows how to speak low.
They played "My Favorite Things" marching through the audience, Batiste on harmonabord, a keyed instrument into which you blow. His piano playing ranged from barrelhouse to the type of New Wave pioneered by Herbie Hancock, with frequent quotes ranging from "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" to "Killing Me Softly." Drummer Joe Saylor worked a single kettle drum from every side but inside, purposefully breaking a stick to emphasize a point. The ninety minute set flew by in the twinkling of an eye. This jazz could wake the dead. At times the double horns of Barbash and trombonist Ruhmbika reminded me of Dreams. At other times the band suggested Earth, Wind and Fire. However they kept their own identity, one foot firmly planted in New Orleans, ending with a traditional funeral march which segued into "Just A Closer Walk With Thee."
A BRIEF HISTORY OF JAZZ ROCK
Why a book on jazz rock? The first Blood, Sweat and Tears album, the one by Al Kooper captured my imagination like a bonfire. I fell in love with those bluesy horn charts and the R&B vibe. In rapid succession, Chicago Transit Authority, Edgar Winter, Dreams, and the Butterfield Blues Band emerged. The late sixties, early seventies were they heyday of jazz rock. Epic in particular loved those guys and so did I.
One of the first concerts I saw at the U. of Wisconsin was B.B. King at the Union Theater. B.B. brought a horn section and somewhere during the first set I found myself transported from my seat to in front of the stage along with half the audience.
I was lucky enough to see Dreams, Butterfield and Chase, little realizing that they represented an anamoly. They thrived briefly and then faded. Why? Nobody knows. Certainly no one is producing the kind of horn-centered rock they had back then. There are countless bands following in the footsteps of the Beatles, Beach Boys, Byrds. Led Zeppelin tribute bands, tribute bands of every stripe and persuasion. But no one today is advancing rock with horns.
Encouraged by impresario Bruce Brodeen, founder of Not Lame Records at popgeekheaven.com, I wrote a chronological history of the movement incorporating my own experiences, extensive musical analysis and interviews with many of the principles. I've talked to Al Kooper, Elvin Bishop, Bill Champlin and many others.
Today few jazz rock bands remain. Malo and Tower of Power not only remain but continue to make vital music. Although TOP has had many personnel changes over the years, the core group of Emilio Castillo and Doc Kupka remain. Malo has almost completely changed its personnel, and with no need to play top ten hits, this may be one reason they remain so vital.
THE FOREIGN FILMS
My friends, as most of you know I'm a big pop fan. I say it every year and every year it's true: this has been one of the greatest years in pop music ever, but you'd never know it from Rolling Stone, Spin, Billboard, the Grammies, and the rest of the dinosaur media. They are clueless. Most of these groundbreaking popsters are operating without benefit of a big music machine to hype their product. They are not marketing. They are creating art. We follow their activity at Pop Geek Heaven.In 2007 Bill Majoros released the 22-song two disc Distant Star under the name The Foreign Films. This was a thermonuclear explosion on the order of Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper, traces of which can be heard throughout the shockingly original music. Distant Star is a musical and emotional tour-de-force that belongs in every collection.
It has been a long dry stretch during which Majoros played on and produced records for many friends but the wait is over. Bill has released a twelve minute songcycle "Fall of the Summer Heart" that will blow you away, containing traces and undercurrents of every great pop stylist of the last forty years. You can hear it at their website of The Foreign Films
Speaking of Music Dinosaurs, Ann and I are both big fans of NBC's Nashville, a sudsy soaper that takes place in the world of country music. What took them so long? Soap and country music? The actors do all their own singing and they sing well. T-Bone Burnett is the Musical Director.
AND THEN I READ:
Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer by Tim Jeal. Always fascinated by this guy. Born a bastard, horrible childhood in the workhouse, Stanley moved to America to reinvent himself. He was a nasty piece of business while young, exploiting his friends and lying his way through society. Became a newspaper reporter and was assigned to find Dr. Livingstone in equatorial Africa. That first expedition was unbelievably grueling and laid the groundwork for Stanley's reputation as cruel and ruthless. But he softened on subsequent expeditions. There is no doubt that the second expedition in which he traced the Congo from its headwaters to the Atlantic, is the single greatest feat of exploration in human history. You think you have it rough. Read this book.
The Third Bullet by Stephen Hunter. Hunter is one of my favorite thriller writers and I can't recommend Pale Horse Coming or the 47th Samurai too highly. But this installment in Bob Lee Swagger's life was pretty lifeless. Maybe I just don't care about who killed Kennedy. Maybe the prose was too thick. But I read 9/10ths and then I just gave up.
NOS4A2 by Joe Hill. Just started and not grabbed yet. But I will plow on.
Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer. Pat Tillman was the Arizona Cardinals' star defensive player who quit the NFL and enlisted in the Army Rangers following 9/11. Pat Tillman was an extraordinary young man in every way: thoughtful, intelligent, deeply moral, athletically gifted, and his death from friendly fire is a tragedy. Krakauer does an excellent job laying out the whole Afghanistan mess beginning with the Soviet invasion. Unputdownable, as are all Krakauer's books.
THE NIGHT WITCHES
Garth Ennis has written a three-issue story arc in his Battlefields series dealing with the siege of Stalingrad. Beautifully illustrated by Russ Braun, the story follows two characters, a timid German conscript and a Russian girl pressed into service to fly obsolete P-40 airplanes over the German lines at night to drop bombs. These barely trained girls, most still in their teens, were known as The Night Witches.
This is not Sgt. Rock or Sgt. Fury. Rarely has war been portrayed with such raw brutality and realism. Of course like horror, comics are ill-suited to present the horrors of war simply because the art, no matter how great, simply can't match the reality or what you see in your imagination. Still, there are scenes in here that are difficult to take. Ennis captures the visceral hatred both sides felt in this conflict, one of the greatest battles of WW II. It was an enormous siege that lasted for months and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands not only from battle, but from starvation. The only way you can wrap your head around it is to focus on a couple of players.
Braun is one of those artists who draws from life and his characters are all different, and convincing. With some artists you can look at any face they draw and know immediately who drew it. Not so Braun, who is also illustrating Ennis' The Boys for Dynamite.
The ending is downbeat, brutal, maybe a little cynical but well earned.
I asked Garth where he did his research:
I actually first read about the Night Witches in a comic when I was a kid-I talk about it in the intro to this collection, from a series I strongly recommend:
It's also archived online, the sequence in question starting at frame 87, here-
As to the specific research for my stories, they included-
Note that the last one is old and fairly inaccurate, only really of use as a broad overview.
MORE STUFF ABOUT WRITING
I started writing fiction before I knew how to write. I was already making a living, albeit barely, writing for so-called "alternative newspapers" in the seventies: Boston After Dark, The Boston Phoenix, and The Real Paper. I also wrote for Fusion and Creem. I peddled a series of science fiction short stories and sold a couple. For some reason I could always write short stories. Novels are harder.
I told an editor the following idea: Suppose Kennedy had not been assassinated by a bullet? Suppose he had actually been killed by a tiny space ship that had veered off course?
The editor told me that if I knew what was good for me, I would forget that idea and never mention it to anyone ever again.
I tried writing novels. All I did was waste paper and pile up words. It is my theory that every would-be writer has a million words of bullshit clogging up his system and it would behoove him to get them out as soon as possible so as to move on to the good stuff. There are always exceptions. Harper Lee. Truman Capote. Carson McCullers. Richard Price. I hate their guts.
It was not until several years ago that everything snapped into place. Just like that. A great big cosmic snap. Preceded by thirty years of practice. There was nothing wrong with my ideas. Ideas are a dime a dozen. It's the treatment that justifies them. It ain't the meat it's the motion. It's not what you say it's the way that you say it. In other words, it is the author's voice that seduces the reader and pulls him through the narrative. Sure you must have conflict and tension, but you must present these in an entertaining manner. It is the writer's duty to entertain for if reading is a chore, who will read fiction.
What does this have to do with the Kennedy assassination? Just this. That idea became the basis for one of my best novels.
MILE HIGH MEGA STORE
Ann and I drove down to the Mile High Mega Store last Saturday for a signing. We took I-25. Where the highway crossed the St. Vrain and Big Thompson rivers the water had spread out hundreds of yards on either side. We took a circuitous route because so many major arteries were closed due to the flooding.
The Mega-Store, at 4600 Jason St., looks like a warehouse except for the banner hanging from the roof. It is a warehouse! It's 45,000 square feet of comics, the biggest comic store I've ever seen--maybe the biggest in the world. Mile High brought in some out-of-state talent for the gig including my old friend Rick Veitch, creator of Bratpack among many others, and Jai Nitz from Kansas City. writing Dream Thief for Dark Horse.
The Fort Collins contingent included Ron Fortier, Lee Oaks, Todd Jones and me. Also illustrator, screenwriter and motorcycle painter Monte Moore.
Due to the flooding the people stayed away in droves. Nevertheless it was a good opportunity to catch up with some old pals and bask in the splendor that is comics. If this store doesn't have it then probably doesn't exist.
The first Salt Lake City Comic Con instantly became the biggest convention ever held in that state and one of the top five biggest cons in the country. Headliners included the Shat, Adam West and Stan Lee. The con put us up at the elegant Little America hotel which offered old world service and stately grace. The convention center is enormous. We set up shop between a costumer and a gamer and were immediately besieged by a young man dressed as the Riddlerwho swished up and down the aisle in a manner so gay as to make Pee Wee Herman resemble Vladimir Putin. Not that there's anything wrong with that!
Kevin J. Anderson summoned us to his large end cap display because Kevin has become my publisher. Look for Skorpio next month from Wordfire Press. Attracted by Kevin's many fantastic novels including the Dune sequels and more Star Wars novels than you can shake a light saber at, we sold quite a few Whack Jobs while observing the passing parade. Steam punk was very big this year. There were numerous fantastic costumes but none better than the life-size velociraptor (see picture with Kevin J. Anderson.) Several Waldos vied for discovery. Plenty of Thors swung hammers. There were Catwomen to die for and Catwomen to hide from.
The Lego display was of Middle Earth, complete with Mordor and the Shire. It looked like a real landscape. There was a nine foot ghoul mounted on the roof of a Cadillac hearse who ignited unwelcome bass booming every five minutes in an attempt to gin up interest. In fact, the noise level on the main floor was akin to a 747 what with the constant announcements, every other booth booming music, and shriekers shrieking. Then there are the parents of two or more children who bring double-wide trams which they attempt to bulldoze down the aisles. One family of six purchased meals at a vendor and sat in the middle of the floor eating, forcing others to walk around them. Still others commandeered entire staircases as impromptu bleachers from which to hold forth. A pox upon them.
As we left the con one evening a young man stood out front shouting, "I AM NOT A BUM! MY LUGGAGE WAS STOLEN! I NEED TWENTY DOLLARS TO BUY A BUS TICKET!" Unfortunately for him I fell for that gag once before.
Hats off to organizer Dan Farr for putting on such a spectacular entertainment.
THE DOG PARK
I started going to the dog park in '03, with my old mutt Lucy. On the first or second day I met Doc. He must have been at least eighty. He had a labradoodle named Amiga. Dr. Keith Sutton had been a physician up and down the Front Range, a motorcylist, had lived in Mexico for awhile and had several kids in the area. He was funny, jovial and kind to all.
We got Bob at a ranch north of town and started taking him. My mom died. A month later my wife died. A few months after that Lucy died. I got Freddie, some kind of wild-ass German shepherd/border collie mix and took him and Bob to the dog park. Freddie loved to wrestle with Amiga. Doc disappeared for a week and we all wondered what happened until one of his daughters brought Amiga to the park and explained that Doc had been experiencing some dizzy spells and wasn't sure he should drive. A month later he was cleared and good to go.
In '10 I married the delightful Ann and we acquired the Macker, some kind of wild-ass Boston terrier/pug mix and I began bringing her to the park too. People know we're coming because Freddie and Mack bark the whole way like the guns on the USN Ticonderoga.
Last week no Doc. His daughter showed up with Amiga and explained Doc had forgotten to set the parking brake on his Volvo station wagon, got out, and the car rolled over him breaking several ribs and severely abrading the skin on his legs.
This morning one of the regulars who was in touch with Doc's daughter said that Doc had decided to be taken off all life support and just go.