Tag Archives: nexus

Weekend at Dude’s, by Mike Baron

Nexus 35 years

WEEKEND AT DUDE’S

I went to Phoenix recently to plan the next phase of Nexus with artist Steve Rude. I flew Frontier. Once again I was singled out for extra scrutiny by TSA. Happens every time. “Why me?” I said. “You have an anomaly in your groin area,” replied the agent. “Must be my enormous johnson,” I said. Actually, it’s the titanium brace in my hip which I acquired when I fell through a trap door in my own house in 2000.

Frontier’s seats are made of a single unit of plastic that doesn’t hinge. The little fold-out shelf was the size of a postcard. Water was free. A bag of chips cost seven dollars. However, the plane arrived more or less on time. Dude picked me up at the airport and we drove to his house which lies on the far western fringes of Phoenix in a weird neighborhood consisting of giant houses, many with thirty foot tall garages, surrounded by desert. As we entered a big dog, possibly a fox hound, rushed up to greet us. Dude chuckled and said, “Ha, the giant blowhard.”

Jaynelle found Daisy wandering the neighborhood and took her in. Now they have two dogs. Designer and graphic artist Mike Jones was there as well working on the Nexus Compendium which will provide behind-the-scenes looks at Nexus’ history plus a lot of never before seen art. I signed 500 posters, also signed by the Dude and the Big G (Paul Gulacy,) which are going out as premiums to kickstarter participants.

Just the other day I received a desperate plea from the Big G, along with everybody on his FB list, that he’d been mugged in Ankara, Turkey and needed money to get home. Of course he’d been hacked and it was a scam but Chuck Dixon and I had some fun stringing the hacker along with promises of money.

We also discussed the next phase of Nexus, following the current storyline which debuts in January. The current storyline is loosely based on Nexus vs. Galactus. It is epic! Dude took us on a tour of the environs and introduced us to his barber and the saleswoman who sold him his car. We ate at a nice Mexican/Italian restaurant that night which had outstanding shepherd’s pie. Then it was back to Spaceship Dude for more brainstorming. Dude hauled out page after page of original Kirby as well as paintings by Harry Anderson and Drew Struzan.

We plotted all day Sunday and went for a walk around the neighborhood. Very little grass and what there was has those damnable underground watering systems. I used to have one. Then we got Mack. The first thing she did was chew up all the underground tubes. There were little parks here and there, half acres of greensward surrounded by palm trees. I asked a guy why so many houses had those thirty foot garages and he told me, “for people to store their stuff.” The only reason I could think for those garages was to house sailboats, and there is a big lake about thirty miles away.

Sunday night Jaynelle made a delicious clam and pumpkin chowder, and on Monday morning Mike Jones dropped me off at the airport on his way back to Texas. And that was my weekend at the Dude’s.

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.

 

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.