30 June 2009


I'm not going to get all-Jungian on you, don't worry. Most of that "meaning" stuff is, in my view, ascribing more significance to events than they deserve. But I'm a skeptic, and a bit of a crank, so take it for what it's worth. Regardless, WordMan™ digs "synchronicity" because of its Greek root: khronos. The word means "time" or "age." According to Partridge, the verb form is khronizein, and that forms a compound with sun- (with, together) to make sunkhronizein. Thus we have "synchronize" in English, whence comes "synchronicity." Recently, for reasons I'm not quite sure, I became interested in a film I saw many years ago called Dark City. It is a unique piece of work: part noir, part fantasy/SF, part philosophical rumination. In all, it is enjoyable and engrossing. The central theme is illusion vs. reality. The main story line is the creeping awareness by one individual that something is wrong with his life--his memories have been suppressed, and his gradual awakening shatters his safe, comfortable world and forces him on a quest for the truth. I also recently picked up an old paperback novel, Time Out of Joint, by the SF master Philip K. Dick. It was written in 1959--my birth year--and the central theme is illusion vs. reality. The main story line is the creeeping awareness by one individual that something is wrong with his life--his memories have been suppressed, and his gradual awakening shatters his safe, comfortable world and forces him on a quest for truth.

Coincidence? Or synchronicity?

Actually, I could give a shit. But it was pretty cool. Both works, the movie and the novel, were not only well made, but fun and thought-provoking. By the way, the PKD site I linked to above is excellent. I'm going to add it to my list.

22 June 2009

I went to an actual concert!

A rare event for me, I might add. I actually spent money, too. Les Claypool of Primus fame was the headliner. I was familiar with him mostly by reputation, so it was exciting to hear and see him perform live. Supposedly he plays the bass guitar, but this show featured a variety of strange-looking versions of the instrument that one would not know, at first glance, were bass guitars. Mr. Claypool also liked to wear weird outfits (including doing one number in a monkey suit) and sing strange songs while playing his instruments. His distinguishing mark seemed to be the use of a bow, like a cellist, but he would also whack the strings with quick, short blows and create some remarkable percussive effects. He was one of those fellows that did everything effortlessly, not appearing to break a sweat or having to concentrate. The music was in the rock genre, but lacked much of the traditional song structures, involving a lot of meandering jams and jumbled melodies. I must admit I liked it. The rhythms were brisk and danceable, the crowd was on its feet most of the show, and the thumping, driving, thundering rock sensibility of the band was much in evidence. The band consisted of a cellist--weird, considering the lead instrument was the electric bass--a drummer, and another percussionist who's main piece was the vibraphone. The vibes have a long history in jazz, and this outfit had the jazz band's free-wheeling attitude and superb musicianship. Claypool is a wizard, conjuring up some fantastic stuff from the bass, really stretching the boundaries of the instrument. I was remimded a bit of Belá Fleck's genre-bending mastery of the banjo. Despite the differences in style, both men have a playful mien on stage and infect the audience with their sense of fun. Claypool showed a bit of his darker side, savaging a drunk in the front row--who was apprently hassling a woman--with some choice epithets. I can't imagine that from the soft-spoken Mr. Fleck. The opening act was Yard Dogs Road Show, a unique combination of music and performance that included dancing girls and sword-swallowing. Imagine the mistreated, bastard offspring of The Tubes and Frank Zappa and you'll get some idea. They were actually quite impressive musicians and singers, featuring the usual rock lineup of guitar, bass, and drums, but rounded out with an accordion, trombone and trumpet. The dancing girls were a true burlesque act, channeling the Old West and vaudeville quite nicely, and showing a lot of lovely flesh as well. All in all, it was a good pairing. The gorgeous setting in Jacksonville and beautiful weather (as well as a great dinner with my bestest pals) made it a first-rate evening's entertainment.

21 June 2009

East coast bias

Everyone is talking about the Solstice today, but for us left-coasters, the astronomical event actually ocurred last night (22 h 46 m PDT). Regardless, today is the first official day of summer. Here in the State of Jefferson, we have cool temperatures and partly cloudy skies. Summer here is usually quite hot, and one can go weeks without seeing a cloud. I'm not a big fan of desert summer climate, so I've been enjoying the spring-like conditions. The Celts started their summer about halfway between the Vernal Equinox and the Summer Solstice, the so-called Beltaine, the cross-quarter day often celebrated as May Day. The Solstice, to them, was Midsummer or High Summer. That way they had several weeks of lenghthening days before the longest day happened. So, Happy Midsummer!

20 June 2009

Harvest Ale

In June? You bet, you just have to look south. The Sierra Nevada folks have a new brew, the 2009 Southern Hemisphere Harvest Fresh Hop Ale. It is part of a series, naturally, of fresh "hop harvest" beers, but the first I've come across. It was a rich, smooth, velvety drink, with a bright hop nose and lots of flavor. The strong, dry finish was not in the least bitter or astringent. Apparently they've discovered, like me, the joys of New Zealand hops. The Chico guys have been making killer brews since I was a senior at Cal, they are the "third leg" of my beer triumvirate along with Anchor Steam and Guinness. These are the drinks that opened my palate, and showed me there was more--much more--to malt beverages than Bud and Coors. Raise a glass, mates!

19 June 2009

The Russo Clan

I just noticed that the protagonist of the last two Hard Case Crime novels I blogged about were Anthony Russo, in Peter Blauner's 1994 Casino Moon (HCC-055), and Tony Russo, in Jason Starr's Fake I.D. (HCC-056). Funny, I thought I'd made a mistake with one of the posts, but I just double-checked and, indeed, the characters have the same name.


Or conspiracy?

18 June 2009


The Greek dramatists gave us protagonist, the lead actor or main character. There's not much more you can say than that about Tommy Russo in Jason Starr's Fake I.D (HCC-056). He's the principal figure in the book, as well as the narrator, and you spend a lot of time with him. He's a loathsome sort, one of those completely self-absorbed types who sees all other people as merely levers to open up doors for him. He's also delusional--he thinks people like him, or ought to like him because he's good-looking and charming. He also believes, hilariously so, that owning a racehorse will transform his life. Riches, fame, respect, Hollywood parties, and all the other trappings of celebrity status will magically appear once he joins the exclusive fraternity of horse owners. The guy's a loser. The only thing he has in abundance is chutzpah, and I hesitate to use that lovely Yiddish word because it has a humorous, even likeable connotation for me. And Tommy Russo is neither funny nor likeable. So why write a book about a loser? Lots of novels have heroes, not merely protagonists, but noir fiction is different. You don't have to have good guys. What you have to have is tension. And Mr. Starr does that very well. Fake I.D. both grips you and repels you. The action is simple, direct, linear, and not at all surprising. But it is handled deftly, the suspense building chapter-by-chapter until the shit hits the fan and the protagonist meets his fate. I was reminded of Jim Thompson, especially books like The Killer Inside Me and Pop. 1280, where we go along for the ride with rather unsavory protagonists who seem to think the world exists entirely for them. All three of these works are bleak--you feel like you need a shower when you're done or the psychoses will rub off on you. But they are also surprisingly funny. Sure, it is a dark sort of humor, but that's why they call it noir, no?

17 June 2009

The Frozen Chosin

My dad was with the 5th Marines (Easy Company) in Korea. I was weaned on Robert Leckie's March to Glory, a gripping, novelistic tale of the Chosin Reservoir campaign. Dad had been frozen at Yudman-ni, wounded at Hagaru-ri, and evacuated at Hugnam. The story of his regiment's two weeks of hell in the North Korean mountains was part of my childhood lore. One of the first comprehensive histories of the battle was put together in 1981 by Eric Hammel, titled Chosin: Heroic Ordeal of the Korean War. I just finished it, and unfortunately it lacked the concise elegance of Leckie's book, suffering from an excess of detail and a confusing chronology. Of course, I've read perhaps two dozen works on Korea and Chosin over the years, and to be fair to Mr. Hammel, I got to his last. Military history is a tough task for a writer. You have to have a grasp of the jargon and the technical aspects of war-fighting, a good sense of the times you are writing about, and an unconscious mastery of geography and terrain. (For me, none of these books have enough maps!) I think the problem comes down to scope. Broad histories often lack human detail, unit narratives often miss the cultural, political, and historical context. There's a balance out there, and I don't envy the author searching to find it.

14 June 2009

The long and winding cyber-road

Today's post is a shout-out to pal Stephani, who paid us a surprise visit yesterday. She told me she reads my blogs regularly. That makes her one of a tiny handful! Gentle Readers: thanks for sticking with me. I am eternally grateful for your companionship.

07 June 2009

Casino Moon

Peter Blauner's 1994 novel Casino Moon was Hard Case Crime's May 2009 selection. It is the story of a fading, failing family. Atlantic City once was the Mob's town, but with la Cosa Nostra increasingly on the outside, the Russo family is finding it hard to make ends meet. Young Anthony dreams of the big payoff, a legit payoff, to finally get out from under the shadow of his stepfather Vin, an enforcer in Teddy Marino's organization. To make matters worse, Anthony is married to Marino's niece, and indebted to him financially as well. Teddy and Vin assume that Anthony will see the light and join the family's enterprises, but Anthony stubbornly wants to make it on his own. He goes off on a convoluted scheme to promote a championship fight, which ultimately Teddy views as the act of a traitor. Throw in a once-crooked but now honorable cop, a tough-as-nails femme who falls for our boy, a sleazy media mogul, a washed-up but wise prizefighter, and a few assorted thugs and you have a complex and satisfying novel. I'm not much for Mafia stories--I saw The Godfather in the 8th grade, fer chrissakes, and those films were the apotheosis of the genre. I like my crime to be local, and not necessarily professional. But that's a quibble, the story alternated between first-person (Anthony) and third person, which made it long (333 pages) compared to most of the HCC line. Unfortunately, Anthony wasn't terribly likeable or interesting, even though his plight was. Trapped by his past, something he had no control over, made him hungry and desperate, and his fall is all too predictable. The story is really about that--how an environment can poison its inhabitants, and turn every choice they make into something else entirely. Everyone is looking for an edge and watching their back because that's the dog-eat-dog world they live in. Escape is your only chance at redemption. A noir landscape, to be sure.

04 June 2009

Queen of the Blues

I own a set of DVDs from Reelin' in the Years called The American Folk Blues Festival. They feature footage of a generation of blues greats touring in Europe in the mid-sixties. The recordings are an absolute treasure and a must-have for blues fans. One of the discs features Koko Taylor singing "Wang Dang Doodle." She must have been in her 40s at the time, but she had the joyous swagger of a teen pop idol. Her growling, rocking vocals were part Etta James and part Big Mama Thornton, and seemed to emerge from deep within her as she belted out that party song. She was a distinctive-looking woman, with a huge, toothy mouth and big eyes set wide apart in a broad face. I was transfixed. Thus was my introduction to this giant of blues music, who just passed away at the age of 80. Sadly, Koko and her contemporaries are almost all gone. Fortunately for us the music lives on.

Recquiescat in pacem.