Mike Baron, New Story, Sons of Jackals

SONS OF JACKALS

 

The title Muhammad burst from the cover in three-dimensional letters like a Cecil B. DeMille production. A lean, mean fighting machine in a white suit, wrap-around shades, beard and turban with a scantily-clad houri clinging to one leg, cigarette dangling from his lip, side-kicking a Hassidic Jew with skullcap and prophylactics two feet off the ground.

“It’s meant to be satiric,” Polly Furst said. “I’m Jewish myself.”

“Do you go to temple?” Josh Pratt asked. They sat outside at a round metal table adjacent to the sidewalk at the Laurel Tavern, a family-friendly pub on Monroe Street in Madison, WI. It was early May and the temperature was in the mid-sixties. Josh’s dog Fig sat at his feet. He flipped through the comic book.

“No. I come from a long line of secular Jews.”

“Man, I love comics. Used to read them in prison. This is good art.”

“Thank you.”

“Where do people pick this up?”

“From my website or at conventions. Capital City and Westfield have it. I asked Diamond and never heard back. I think it was too hot for them.”

“Have you received any death threats?”

“Too many to count. I told the police and they said there was nothing they could do. FBI, same thing. It’s like they have no interest in protecting me. I had to shut down my Twitter account and block about a hundred people on Facebook.”

“Did you report them to the administrator?”

“No. I guess I should have, huh.”

“Cops don’t protect people,” Josh said. “They come along after you’ve been stabbed and try to figure out who did it.”

“I have a bunch of shows coming up. I’m not going to be intimidated into hiding! I contacted Executive Security and they suggested you.”

“Huh,” Josh said. He’d finished their seminar last December and hadn’t taken any security jobs, although he’d been involved in the Cretaceous murders. “Anything local?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, has anyone phoned you or approached you in person?”

“No. I keep my phone number private but now I’m beginning to worry.”

“Where do you live?”

“I rent an apartment at Alhambra on the South Beltline.”

“I get two-fifty a day plus expenses.”

Polly goggled. She was a skinny thing with pale skin, a poof of curly red hair and a Roman nose. She wore a Tank Girl T-shirt over her flat chest and wire-rimmed glasses. She looked like a goonie bird. She snuffled, pulled a used tissue from her backpack and ran it under her nose.

“Allergies. My cash flow isn’t so great as you can imagine, but I have a terrific collection of original art I’ve collected over the years. My grandfather bunked with Charles Addams and Bill Mauldin in World War II. I suppose I could put some of my pieces up for auction.”

“I’m sympathetic to your case, Polly, but I don’t work for free.”

“I know that. People think that because I’m a starving comic book artist that I should do jobs for the publicity.”

“You make a living at this?” Josh said.

“Sort of. I got lucky last year when Vertigo tapped me to do a three issue run of Fables. Then I did a fill-in issue of Wonder Woman so I have a little money in the bank. I may have to sell my Mauldins and Addams drawings.”

The waitress came with three hamburgers. Josh set one on the ground for Fig. By the time Josh straightened up it was gone. Polly wolfed hers down looking around furtively as if some green was about to make a citizen’s arrest. She brought out two amber plastic bottles from her backpack, opened them and downed two pills.

“Do you have a concealed carry permit?” Josh said.

Polly stared at him like he was a bug. “Don’t be absurd! No one should have a gun except the police.”

“I’d like to take a look at your place and if you don’t mind, I’d like to see your original art.”

“Do you know anything about comics?” Polly said.

“I like The Badger. I think I have a few floating around.”

“Everybody loves The Badger,” Polly said. “I never wanted to do superheroes.”

Josh hefted Muhammad. “What’s this?”

“It’s a satire.”

“I don’t think Muslims do satire. Tell me something. With everything that’s happening in the world, with terrorists flowing over the southern border like a land rush, what made you think this was a good idea?”

“I’m an artist. I can’t think about what’s politically correct and I can’t let prejudice affect what I consider art or it’s the death of art. Every day we hear another ukase from some idiot that this or that should be off-limits.” Polly spoke in a faux low voice. “’There are many proper subjects for humor. Islam is not among them.’ Fuck that! Even Schindler’s List has a few laughs.”

Josh liked her. He’d always hated bullies.

“Now they say you can’t write Luke Cage unless you’re a black man. And you can’t play a movie Indian unless you’re Indian. There’s a reason they’re called actors. Edgar Rice Burroughs would have been forbidden to write Tarzan because he never went to Africa. Alexander Dumas could not have written The Three Musketeers because he was a black man. They’re calling for the death of the imagination.”

“I hear you.”

“Did you ever see The Year of Living Dangerously? Linda Hunt, this little midget woman won an Oscar for portraying a Vietnamese man. What do we do now? Take away her Oscar ‘cause she’s not Vietnamese?”

“Never saw it.” Josh hadn’t seen many movies and most of those that he had seen he saw in prison. Inmates voted on what they wanted to see so Josh had intimate knowledge of Hell Up In Harlem, Superfly, Buck Town, Easy Rider, Hell’s Angels On Wheels, and Wild Angels. The tiny gay contingent never could summon the votes for The Bird Cage.

“Sorry for the rant. Seems like I gotta justify everything I do these days.”

“Not to me.”

“So what do you think?” she said, fixing her green eyes on him.

“About what?”

“About protecting me!”

“Let’s take a look at that original art. I might do it for the art.”

“Great!” Polly said. When the check came she snatched it. “I’ve got this.”

Minutes later the waitress returned perplexed. “Ma’am, your credit card didn’t go through.”

“What?”

“We got notice from your bank that it’s been canceled.”

“That’s impossible,” Polly said.

It’s started Josh thought as he reached for his walletrecent photo of mike

At the Dog Park by Mike Baron

By Mike Baron, Writer of Nexus and Badger. Cali on Mike's Chair

 

AT THE DOG PARK

 

The dog park is three acres of enclosed wood chips on which dogs like to dine, from which we can see Long’s Peak gleaming in the sunlight. Long’s Peak is over fourteen thousand feet and sixty miles away. People die every year on Long’s Peak because they think it’s an easy climb. I don’t know why they think that.

The more dogs, the more activity. A half dozen or less encourages sloth and introspection but when the mutts mount up, so do the dogs! They circle like a large Hadron Collider attracting other dogs as small planets snagged by gravity, usually in a counter-clockwise direction. Archimedes observed how a whirlpool of dogs sucks in all other dogs.

I am down to two dogs following the passing of the immortal Bob. Freddie and Mack LOVE big balls. You wouldn’t think a twenty-pound dog could get a soccer ball in her mouth. WRONGGGGG! This dude brings a giant knot to the playground and the dogs go berserk, especially Freddie and Mack who are obsessed with BIG BALLS. The giant knot is just that—an inch thick hauser twisted into a five pound sphere with two ropes running out the poles. Dude tossed the giant knot and Mack got there first. Gripping the hauser in her steel trap jaws, she led a dozen dogs on a deranged dervish in the dirt to the detriment of none.

This morning at the park I met a guy named Rod. I told him I wrote comics and he told me that his grandfather, Milton Wohl, was one of the original Fleischer Brothers animators in Florida, and had worked on the early Popeye and Woody Woodpecker cartoons. In the Army during World War II, Wohl’s bunkmates were Charles Addams and Bill Mauldin.

You meet interesting people at the dog park.

Mike Baron Writing A Gleaming Nugget

NUGS

 

People often say to me, “I have a terrific idea for a novel! I’ll tell it to you, you write it, and we’ll split the profits!” After I am done kicking them in the nuts, I say, “What is your novel about?”

“Well it’s about a prince, or maybe he’s just a duke, who lives in a country that’s sort of like Switzerland, only with elves. And there are some dragons. And a princess.” At this stage I nod and pass out.

When people ask you what your novel, or movie, or comic is about you must be able to tell them in a brief and exciting manner. A gleaming nugget of concise enthusiasm. One of the oldest stories in Hollywood was the pitch for Star Trek. “Wagon Train in space.” This may or may not be true, but it illustrates succinctly what the show is about. You don’t have to boil it down to four words. A paragraph will do. But your paragraph is just as much an advertisement for your novel as the novel itself. It must intrigue and excite. Once you’re committed to your idea, your first priority should be distilling that hard little nugget of information.

People ask me what my novels are about. Helmet Head: Nazi biker zombies. Whack Job: Spontaneous human combustion and alien invasion. Biker: hard-boiled biker gang crime. Skorpio: A ghost who only appears under a blazing sun. These brief descriptions are not meant as cover blurbs. Cover blurbs are a bit longer and go into more detail. But the nuggets themselves are enough to excite interest. Nazi biker zombies is only three words yet it leaves no doubt as to the nature of the story. Let the reader discover the beauty of your words, the subtlety of your characters’ relationships and wisdom as they read your book. The point is to hook them. The point is to sound like these guys: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQRtuxdfQHw

You want your description to sound the way these guys talk.

Harsh VS. Cozy in Writing by Mike Baron

HARSH VS. COZY

 

I like crime fiction that’s hard as nails with grim and often violent depictions of life along the seams. I admire Robert Crais, Andrew Klavan, Stephen Hunter, Jim Thompson, James M. Cain and William Lindsay Gresham. I love Chandler and Hammett. But there is another type of crime fiction: the “Cozies,” perpetrated primarily by the British, in which all the violence occurs off page and the denouement takes place in an oak-paneled drawing room when a pompous epicure, be it Nero Wolfe or Hercule Poirot, reveals the villain over tea and crumpets.

Nothing wrong with Cozies. I have read every Rex Stout and some Agatha Christie. It’s just that my taste runs toward the hard and gritty. Sherlock Holmes is responsible for the bull market in Cozies, although he himself was never cozy. Conan Doyle wrote for the Victorian age when showing severed limbs or thrusting organs simply wasn’t done. Contemporary accounts of Jack the Ripper employ hilarious euphemisms to describe what was once considered indescribable. (Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper achieved apotheosis in James Hill’s 1965 movie, A Study In Terror.)

An odd little subset to Cozies are mysteries solved by dogs and cats. One need only look at the oeuvre of Rita Mae Brown whose best-selling titles include Tail Gate, Nine Lives To Die, The Litter of the Law, and The Big Cat Nap, all yclept a “Mrs. Murphy Mystery.” There are Cozies featuring dogs such as Jane Arnold’s Let Sleeping Dogs Lie Mary Hiker’s Play Fetch: An Avery Barks Dog Mystery, C.A. Newsome’s A Shot in the Bark: A Dog Park Mystery, and Neil S. Plakcy’s Dog Have Mercy: A Golden Retriever Mystery. Can mysteries starring ocelots, coati mundis and peacocks be far behind? I love my dogs and sometimes write about them, but they don’t solve mysteries. There’s nothing wrong with cats solving murders if that’s your thing.

Every crime writer is fascinated by human darkness. The challenge is to present it in a way that isn’t torture porn. Ann Rule, Aphrodite Jones, and Jack Olsen never stint on their description of the crimes. To do so would rob the reader of their morbid fascination, which is one of the reasons we read true crime. All crime writers try to shine a light on the darkest corners of the human soul, the better to understand ourselves.

Narrative Voice in Writing by Mike Baron

THE NARRATIVE VOICE

The narrative voice is among the most important aspects of fiction. It is the narrative voice that seduces, excites, grabs you by the throat and drags you through the story. If the narrative voice is boring or stupid, like most business and academic writing, it kills whatever interest you may have in the story. The narrative voice can be in the first, third, or second. The latter is very rare. “You went to the store. You pulled a gun. You shot the clerk.” It’s just odd.

The first and the third have ruled fiction since Walter Scott defined the novel as “a fictitious narrative in prose or verse; the interest of which turns upon marvellous and uncommon incidents.” As a devotee of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee stories, I have long been a fan of the first person narrative. But it wasn’t just the “I” talking. It was McGee’s world view, his love of tradition and decency, that informed the narrative. It was also MacDonald’s uncanny ability to evoke evil in its purest form. But mostly it was McGee’s laconic voice.

Tom Wolfe and James Ellroy own two of the most distinctive narrative voices in literature. Wolfe’s is god-like, omniscient, a wise-cracker who exposes human frailty without mercy.

At the moment Mac was in command, behind the wheel of her beloved and ludicrously cramped brand-new Mitsubishi Green Elf Hybrid, a chic and morally enlightened vehicle just now, trolling the solid rows of cars parked side by side, wing-mirror to wing-mirror, out back of this month’s Miami nightspot of the century, Balzac’s, just off Marky Brickell Village, vainly hunting for a space, he writes in Back To Blood, which does for Miami what Empire of the Vanities did for New York. Strips the veneer off a steaming pile of vanity.

Ellroy, whose L.A. Confidential is among the most influential of literary and film noirs, writes in an abrupt, rat-tat-tat prose distilled from decades of lurid pulps such as True Detective and Los Angeles gossip columns.

From Perfidia, his latest novel about Los Angeles on the eve of World War II:

Bobby De Witt was a jazz drummer. He personified the appellation “lounge lizard.” He wore high-waisted flannels and two-tone loafer jackets; he kept up with his pachuco bunk mates from the Preston Reformatory. He caught me sketching him. I convinced myself that he recognized my talent and Norma Shearer–like aplomb. I was mistaken there. All he recognized was my penchant for the outré.

            He had a small house out at Venice Beach. I had my own room. I slept away months of taxing outdoor days and too hot and too cold outdoor nights. I ate myself back from the brink of malnutrition and pondered what to do next.

            Bobby seduced me then. I thought I was seducing him. I was mistaken. He saw that I was growing wings and set out to clip them.

            Bobby was quite sweet to me at first. It started changing shortly after New Year’s. His business picked up. He got me hooked on laudanum and made me stay home to answer the phone and book dates with his girls and their “clients.” It got worse. He held a dope kick over me and coerced me into his stable. It got much worse.

Jazz drummer is always a synonym for dope peddler and pimp. I have the knife scars on the back of my thighs to prove it.

Around the time Ellroy wrote L.A. Confidential and The Big Nowhere, I couldn’t get enough. He lost me when he moved onto his JFK trilogy, American Tabloid, White Jazz, and Blood’s A Rover. The prose had become so terse and mannered it lost all humanity. I have read his latest, Perfidia, and it is a partial return to form. But he’ll never own my heart the way MacDonald or Wolfe does.

When you think of it, all your favorite writers have strong narrative voices.

 

Finding Your Theme

FINDING YOUR THEME

 

When I was twenty-one I thought I’d write a paperback and make a couple thousand dollars. Easy money! I wanged away on my manual and accumulated several thousand words that amounted to nothing. I moved to Boston and wrote for alternative newsweeklies the Boston Phoenix, Boston After Dark and The Real Paper. Every day, after I’d interviewed musicians and written my column, I would wang away at my manual accumulating thousands of words that amounted to nothing. John Braine, in his book Writing A Novel, advised writers not to attempt it before they were forty because they hadn’t accumulated enough life experience to know what they were talking about.

There are always exceptions like William Styron who wrote Lie Down in Darkness at age 26, Richard Price who wrote The Wanderers at age 25, and Carson McCullers who wrote The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter at age 23. It’s all right to hate these people. There is such a thing as natural talent.

I kept plugging. In the meantime I found comic books as a creative outlet. I have always loved comics and I will always be involved with them. But those novels kept cooing to me in the wee dark hours of the morning. I disdained outlines or lengthy preparation. If Elmore Leonard could wing it so could I.

Only I couldn’t. My novels lacked theme and plotting. Most of all they lacked a convincing narrative voice. It is the narrative voice that draws you through the story and if the narrative voice is clumsy or off-putting, people will put off your book. There are terrific writes who can’t write a novel to save their souls. The brilliant historian and essayist Victor Davis Hanson wrote a novel called The End of Sparta, dealing with the same themes and story as Frank Miller’s 300. I couldn’t wait. Then I got it. Run-on sentences and endless, endless unpronounceable names, characters delivering lectures, it was unreadable and impenetrable. That’s just my opinion. Others liked it. But to see how historical fiction can grab the reader by the throat and drag him through the story so that he becomes oblivious to night, day, and the needs of the flesh, pick up any Conn Iggulden or Robert Harris, whose three novels about ancient Rome are delightful.

In the late nineties and early 2000’s I suffered a series of personal calamities that kept me from writing. I took a number of jobs including handyman at an anesthesia machine company, unloading automobile bumpers, and assembly line at a company that makes mouse pads. I moved to Fort Collins in 2003 and met my writing guru, Pete Brandvold. I kept developing comic book concepts and one of these concepts, a satanic rock band that comes back from the dead, wouldn’t let me go. The outline kept getting bigger. You have to write an outline for prospective comic book editors.

Several years after my late wife died, I started writing Banshees. Unlike my previous attempts, I was in control of the characters, theme and narrative voice. It was exhilirating. I could feel it in my bones.

Since then I’ve written a number of novels, most of which are horror. Banshees is horror. It will be published but right now my agent is concentrating on my new material. So what’s the message? Never give up, never give in. I have met people who want to write or do comics so badly they have destroyed themselves in that pursuit. Some of these people will never succeed for a variety of reasons. It serves no purpose to tell them that. There is always tomorrow.

Remember what Winston Churchill said. “Take away this pudding. It has no theme.”

 

10 Best Pop Music of 2014 by Mike Baron

Tenbest14

One: THE PINECONES: Ooh! (Reel Cod)

An instant classic and a masterpiece. Paul Linklater’s Toronto-based trio makes incandescent, luminous psychedelic rock that draws on the Yardbirds, the Hollies, the Beatles, the whole power pop panoply, sounding instantly familiar yet refreshingly new. Ooh! detonates like a thermonuclear bomb at the corner of Sunset and Vine and doesn’t let up, beginning with the Yardbirds/Hollies mash-up of “Gloomy Monday” in which Linklater’s guitar demands attention with fleet riffing usually associated with Al DiMeola or Les Paul. “It’s Always On My Mind” ambles in like the Lovin’ Spoonful with an operatic, almost vocally expressive guitar solo.

Linklater’s guitar sounds like Segovia on the exuberant “She’s So Confident.” “Come On Back” is pure psychedelia from San Fran’s Summer of Love, with strains of George Harrison, the Pillbugs, and John Cipollina. “That’s the Way” harks back to the great harmony groups of the fifties and sixties like the Everlys and Righteous Brothers due to the close harmonies of Linklater and bassist Brent Randall, which occur on most songs. “In ‘n’ Out” is Brian Wilson elegance: pure, simple and surprising. Every song is a winner.

Two: SPIRIT KID: Is Happening

Spirit Kid is Emeen Zarookian and Jeremy Mendicino, two superb poppers working a rich vein of hook-heavy pop also mined by David Myhr and Greg Pope. Emeen sings exactly how he looks, a rockin’ hobbit whose munchkin-like vocals perfectly match the material. “Everything Is Old” kicks things off with Kinks-like swagger and stadium-ready guitar. Guitar work throughout features superb dynamics incorporating almost subliminal classic riffs. Guitars drop out for one bar as and Emeen sings over percussion, a fresh bracer before the guitars come thundering back. Some of the songs run into one another like a circus train rolling by. “Is This Heaven’s” bass resembles like a sounding whale while “Tood Good For Winning” effortlessly summons XTC’s English Settlement.

“Miss Communication Breakdown” is in a Greg Pope vein with an abrupt phase shift into acoustic jangle for several bars. “Dot the I” explodes over a live wire guitar and infections hand-clap beat while “Heart Attack” rivals “Come On Eileen” for the sheer number of hooks.

Three: SECRET POWERS: 6

Ho hum. Another brilliant power pop masterpiece from this Montana-based quintet, overflowing with Beatlesque flourishes and killer hooks. Frontman Ryan Mayne’s six songs employ his characteristic descending themes beginning with “Bitter Sun,” a Jellyfish-type with cascading harmonies and an art-rock ELO-ish bridge, followed by the delirious “Palarium” with Beach Boys chorus behind a McCartney-esque melody. John Brownell’s “Spare Parts” has a Squeeze vibe. Mayne’s “Reservoir” slips under your skin with a rockabilly beat — dig that piano — and a massive hook. By the time you get to Mayne’s “Paula Brown” all resistance has fled. This is fist-pumping complex power pop that belongs on the shelf with the afore-mentioned bands, the Zombies, The Knickerbockers and their ilk. Brownell’s “The Way the Story Goes” rivals Spooner’s “The Way the Stories Go” in exactly the same way with a Queen-like guitar interlude. “Ready To Get Old And Die” is a future anthem, something Queen might sing and a fitting salute.

Four: WYATT FUNDERBURK: Novel and Profane (Jolly Ronnie)

Based in Nashville, Funderburk has contributed to records by The Wellingtons, The Connection and Linus of Hollywood while his own musical vector falls in the power pop tradition of David Myhr, the Davenports and Campbell Stokes Sunshine Recorder with whom he shares an affinity for effortless pop hooks. “Summer” has a Ben Folds/Fountains of Wayne vibe while “You Know What To Do,” a goodbye boyfriend song, has an elegant bridge and the type of one/two harmonies popularized by the dB’s. “Feeling Good Tonight” sounds the most Nashville with a loping vocal and cowboy yodel.

“Never Seen the Sun” bounces along with that one/two harmony while “North on 65″ is as rich as Duncan Maitland’s music. Finally, “If I Ever Wanted Easier” is a Raspberry-worthy rave-up. This is how you end an album, and yet another reason we want albums and not single song downloads.

Funderburk now collaborating with Explorers Club’s Jason Brewer.

Five: HUSHDROPS: Tomorrow

This power-pop trio has the kind of quirky melodic sense found in The Posies, The Quarter After, and the Hang-Ups but always sound like themselves, due in part to the kind of A/B harmonies championed by the dB’s. Well that’s a lot of reference but it’s all good, starting with the Kon-Tiki-ish title track. These guys have a huge sound and it’s sometimes difficult to believe it’s only a trio. “This Town’s” guitar winds out like Jorma Kaukonen or Clapton with fuzztone so thick you could wear as a robe. “Up Against It” is slippery and delirious. “Take A Little Pain” sounds like something Burt Bacharach might have written, while “Find Her” is a subline Duncan Maitland-ish stunner. “Take Your Places” pings, zips, whines and shoots off sparks. “You Never Put Me Out” is a cousin to anything off Pet Sounds with a guitar solo that slots into place like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle.

Six: ADRIAN BOURGEOIS: Pop/Art

Bourgeois’ melodic genius is on extravagant display on this two disc set with virtually no filler, beginning with the piano-driven ballad “New December” which starts somber before soaring into poignance on strings of angels. As a songwriter, Bourgeois has a Todd Rundgren sensibility and an ear for bridges and hooks. His songs, such as the symphonic “Time Can’t Fly A Plane” seem bigger than their four minutes with more switchbacks than a mountain road. “Everybody Knows It Was Me” is a Ben Folds style rocker that starts sweetly but finds grit in the bridge and Bourgeois’ sweet tenor is spot on. His distinctive harmonica, part country, part blues dominates many of these songs including “Pictures of Incense,” another Todd Rundgren charmer that stiffens up in the bridge. There’s more than a twinge of Dylan in a lot of these including “Jonah” and “My Sweet Enemy,” which features banjo and harmonica. “Have It Your Way” is an urgent stomper with Ricky adding the high harmonies.

“Shot In the Dark” is a masterful blend of major and minor chords. “The Lost And the Free” is as bouncy and infectious as the 5th Dimension and follows an internal logic that leads to catharsis. “Better” is another melodic gem with the ineluctable progressions of Duncan Maitland. “Parachutes” and “Still Life” bring that symphonic Jellyfish sound, while the romantic “Celebrate” could have come off a Jeff Buckley record. “Rainy Day Parade” ends this cornucopia in folk ballad mode, again invoking Dylan.

Seven: RANSOM AND THE SUBSET: No Time To Lose (Tune Stack)

A late summer breath of fresh air, this trio led by singer/songwriter RanDair Porter channels classic power pop in the Fountains of Wayne, Churchills, Goldbergs mode. RanDair sings in an endearing, slightly lugubrious joker’s tenor beginning with the Jellyfish-like “Anna..’ “When Will I See You” is typical of their sound, enticing, bouncy, killer hook, highly reminiscent of Fountains. “Leaviong With You” is pulsing rock with an irresistible A/B harmony on the bridge while “Million Out Of Me” is an ode to get-rich-quick schemes with a touch of Badfinger and Vegas With Randolph.

“No Time To Lose” is a heartbreaking McCartney-esque ballad about a woman desperate for love. “She needs a husband, she needs a man, someone to love her, he’ll understand.” “Questions” is a cry of existential angst perfectly suited to RanDair’s sardonic voice. “Baby Cry” is an unberably sad song about a dog. Ransom delivers terrific dynamics, hooks, harmonies, and deep emotion.

Eight: THE LEGAL MATTERS (Blunk Street)

Detroit power pop trio consisting of Andy Reed, Chris Richards and Keith Klingensmith have produced a chiming, multi-part harmony celebration of the Everly Brothers, C,S&N, Hollies, Byrds and Beach Boys blended into a sing-along series of seriously sweet songs beginning with the “Rite of Spring,” whose close-coupled A/B harmonies recall the dB’s. The acapella passage puts the emphasis on the honeyed voices. You can almost hear the Hollies singing “Stubborn” or the Everly Brothers singing “Have You Changed Your Mind.”

“Mary Anne” is something Brian Wilson might have written ca. Pet Sounds while “So Long Sunny Days” is a languid surf and sun drenched slice of canyon rock with liquid guitar. There’s a hint of Jeff Buckley in the gorgeous “Outer Space,” but it’s all gorgeous.

Nine: MICHAEL DERMOT: Pilot

Strong debut of emotionally and musically complex hortatory rock in the manner of Andy Reed, Captain Wilberforce, by the end of the record you will be able to identify this band blindfolded. This trio delivers a dense sound with fuzztone on mostly mid-tempo burners that stick in the brain, beginning with the Billy Joel/Michael Penn-like “Another World.” “In My Mind” begins as a doo-wop powerhouse with Dermot’s left hand heavy on the keyboards, but it seems to be working toward a chord change that never appears.

“Destiny Park” features excellent dynamics that guide you through a series of gentle rhythmic rapids and a haunting bridge. “KONTS”, the “King of Nothing to Say,” is an anthemic condemnation like “Nowhere Man” or “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” with a carving knife guitar solo. “Haunted” is epic and “Unforgiving Night” is a bittersweet emotionally devastating song with gorgeous chords.

Ten: THE HANGABOUTS: Illustrated Bird

Suddenly from out of the blue with mere days left in the year comes this polished gem of tuneful rock in the tradition of the Red Button, The Galaxies and The Everly Brothers. John Lowry and Gregory Addington have that kind of harmonic magic. “Roman Forum” starts things off in an Eagles/Hollies vein. “Cut Down” has a swooningly gorgeous bridge, as do most of these songs. The boys’ keyboard work is impeccable from chiming organs to background burbles. Touch of McCartney in “November” while “I’ll Get Over It” has some of that Nillson magic. “Dr. Dragon” would be a good theme song for a Roger Moore 007 movie, but not for Connery or Craig. “I Wonder Why” combines elements of the Red Button, the Offbeat and the Beach Boys.

 

 

 

“Jackolope Jones”

CHAPTER FORTY-ONE “Jackalope Jones”

 

Friday couldn’t arrive soon enough. Josh wanted to take Fig to dinner but she wasn’t biting. “Just pick me up at nine.”

The last light was fading in the west as Josh pulled up at the foot of the steps leading to Fig’s bungalow. He kicked out, climbed the steps and knocked. A piebald cat leaped onto her porch and twined around Josh’s ankles. The door opened.

“Come on in,” Fig said. “I’ll be ready in a minute.”

The cat came in with him. The room featured hilariously mismatched furniture — a Queen Ann sofa, a beanbag chair, a round oak dining table, an odd collection of kitchen chairs. Southwest style rugs on the hardwood floor and a mutt of unknown provenance on the rugs thumping his tail against the hardwood floor.

“That’s Mr. Schermerhorn,” Fig said from a back room. “He’s very friendly.” She pointed to the cat. “That’s Squishburton.”

Josh stooped to pet. “I’ve been thinking of getting a dog.”

“Really? Well I hope you’ll adopt one from the pound instead of paying hundreds of dollars for a purebred.”

“That’s the plan.,”

Fig danced into the living room wearing jeans, a black T-shirt and a denim jacket, a simple strand of pearls around her neck. “Let’s go!”

Fig got on the pillion and wrapped her arms around Josh’s waist. The Club was hopping when they arrived. Located next to a cemetery, the Club was built in a 170 year old barn that had been renovated and added onto until it consisted of a series of mis-matched segments. The parking lot was jammed and most of the curbside parking was gone but there was always room for cycles. Josh found a spot with six other chops right in front. He looked at the license plates. He always looked at the license plates. Two of the bikes were from Iowa.

“That’s Jackalope’s bike,” Josh said pointing to a Fat Bob with apes.

“Who’s Jackalope?” Fig said.

Josh grinned. “Wait ’til you meet him.”

Josh paid their five buck cover charge, got stamped and went into the big room in back with a stage and a wrap-around balcony containing booths. Three, big, loud, beefy Bedouins had commandeered a table in the corner. As Josh and Fig entered a big, rangy man with a mullet wearing a flash-covered leather vest stood and waved.

“YO CHAINSAW! OVER HERE!”

Fig looked at Josh. “Chainsaw?”

“It’s a long story.” He led her by the hand up to the table where the boys had pushed back and added two chairs.

A big guy with a mullet stood. “Man, I can’t believe that bullshit went down at your place!”

“Wild shit, man!” said a man shaped like a haystack. “Why didn’t you waste those Insane Assholes yourself?”

“I’m not allowed to have guns, boys. This is Fig. Fig, this mullet-headed fool is Tim, the fat one’s Bad Bob, and the dude with the perfect hole smack in the center of his forehead is Jackalope Jones.”

Jackalope stood, took Fig’s hand, and bent to kiss it like a continental fop.

“I’ve heard of you!” Fig said.

Jackalope looked up. He was a wiry dude in his mid-forties wearing a denim vest with flash, a white Sturgis-T, starting to bald. He had another, smaller hole directly above the big one, at his hairline.

“They tell you why they call me Jackalope?”

“No,” Fig said bemused. Josh held the chair for her and sat beside her.

Tim, Bad Bob and Jackalope all started to talk at once. Josh slammed his palm on the table and they stopped, startled.

Josh pointed to Jackalope. “Let Jackalope tell it.”

“I used to be plain Jack Jones,” Jackalope said.

“You always liked jackalopes,” Tim said.

“That’s true,” Jackalope said. “But that’s not how I got my name. Couple years ago we were riding up near Menomonie, who was it, Tim? You, Bad Bob, Josh, the Big Kahuna, and Orpheus.”

“Anybody remember that skank Orpheus brought along?” Bad Bob said.

“Shut the fuck up, Bob!” Jackalope said. “I’m trying to tell a story here! Anyhow it’s like ten p..m. in July, we’re riding along this snakey-ass country road and I’m in the lead. I come around a corner and there’s a fucking eight-point buck standing in the middle of the road. I hit it! I hit it in such a way that its horn went in here,” he pointed to the hole in the middle of his forehead, “and came out here.”

He pointed to the smaller hole at the hairline.

“So all these fucks pile off their bikes, grab hold of the buck and slash it to death with their buck knives, right? Then Josh takes a saw out of his saddlebags and he saws the fucking antler off the deer, leaving it in my head until they can get me to a hospital. And Bad Bob says…”

“You look like a fuckin’ jackalope!” Bad Bob, Tim and Josh all said.

Fig laughed.

“The EMTs and county cops were stunned by the amount of blood,” Tim said.

“And I survived none the worse for wear,” Jackalope finished grandly.

 

Blog–Rock and Roll Movies

ROCK AND ROLL MOVIES

There are many good rock and roll movies. I’m not talking documentaries like Hail, Hail Rock and Roll!, The Last Waltz, or Stop Making Sense, I’m referring to rock and roll fictions. Bill Haley’s Rock Around the Clock is the grandaddy of them all but rock movies didn’t really take off until the eighties.
American Hot Wax appeared in 1978. It’s the story of the first great rock and roll show hosted by Alan Freed, played by Tim McIntyre. Inexplicably, this masterpiece has never been issued on DVD. It’s the only movie in which Jay Leno doesn’t play himself, unlike triumphant appearances by Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.
Absolute Beginners is another overlooked masterpiece, this one about the birth of rock and roll in fifties England. Released in ’86, directed by Julien Temple, Absolute begins with the mother of all tracking shots putting A Touch of Evil to shame. It follows teen phographer Colin as he tracks the nascent movement and feature performances by Ray Davies, David Bowie, Sade, and the music of Charles Mingus.
Mark Wahlberg’s Rock Star is another excellent movie recounting the story of how the lead singer of a tribute band devoted to Steel Dragon actually becomes Steel Dragon’s lead singer. It is loosely inspired by the real-life story of Tim “Ripper” Owens, singer in a Judas Priest tribute band who was chosen to replace singer Rob Halford when he left the band. You will never forget the scene where Wahlberg debuts with Steel Dragon.
Tom Hanks’ That Thing You Do perfectly captures the innocence and exuberance of the birth of rock and roll in America in 1964 as it follows the fortunes the hilariously misnamed “The Oneders,” whom, it turns out, are one-hit wonders. Stars Hanks look-alike Tom Everett Scott.
Still Crazy is my favorite. It follows the adventures of the heavy metal band Strange Fruit who fell apart at a rock festival in 1970, only to find them reforming twenty years later. Everyone is brilliant, particularly Billy Nighy as the pretentious lead singer and Billy Connelly as their stage crew/manager. We follow their hapless tour through Europe but a funny thing happens on the road. They keep getting better. And rock movies don’t get much better than this.
Some compare Still Crazy to Spinal Tap, but there’s a huge dif. Still Crazy takes its characters seriously. Spinal Tap remains the king of mockumentaries.