Oh, that’s right… I have a blog. Who knew? Well, let’s get a bit caught up, shall we?
As I had mentioned previously, we celebrated my 52nd birthday last weekend. Mrs. M fixed a large ravioli casserole that lasted several days, and the traditional chocolate cake. I also received cool stuff from the ladies, and the promise of more while I’m in Toronto later this week (on which more anon.)
I got a nice 3-CD retrospective from Yes, along with the remastered first album from Devo, and the Allah-Las’ eponymous album. All three are recommended. On the reading front, I scored copies of two noir classics, Dave Weigel’s new book on the history of progressive rock, and Lawrence Block’s Write for Your Life, the print version of a writers’ seminar he used to conduct. I read the first three books this week; because Larry’s is a different kind of animal, I started it last night and will work through it.
Weigel’s book is a bit of a tweener, not deep enough into the tall grass for long-time fans (ahem), but maybe a little abstruse for folks who are new to the genre. While most folks who write about prog tend to engage in full-on nerd-bashing, Weigel’s enthusiasm for the music comes through, and his snark is that of the self-aware nerd who knows he’s into something goofy, but likes it anyway. As a result, the book is engaging, and I would have enjoyed a longer version. While Weigel pays some attention to neo-prog (giving a quick look at Marillion) and prog-metal (Dream Theater), there’s a lot more territory to cover there.
I do think the book is pretty timely, given the recent deaths of a number of major figures in the genre, such as Chris Squire, Greg Lake, John Wetton, and Keith Emerson — whose story, from first purchase of a Hammond organ to his suicide, works as a sort of frame for the genre. And I guess that it’s better to leave the reader wanting more than less, but I think what I’d really want is a remastered edition of the book with bonus tracks, as it were.
Steve Fisher’s I Wake Up Screaming (1941, revised 1960 — I read the 1960 version) very nearly lives up to its title. It’s set in Hollywood, and has the feel of Dream Factory noir/industry expose. Most of the book gives us the sense of “frantic, spiraling doom” that James Lileks says describes the best work in the genre, and the character of Ed Cornell (an obsessive, consumptive detective reportedly based on Cornell Woolrich) is a terrific — and terrifying — character. Alas (for me, anyway), Fisher offers an ending that, while not a cheat, backs away from the abyss that a Jim Thompson might have embraced. I think the Mad Dog would be satisfied with the conclusion — which isn’t an insult — but it makes me wonder if the ending was dictated more by the needs of the film industry (where Fisher did quite well) than by the tone of the rest of the book. So close.
You Play the Red and the Black Comes Up (1938) was written by Eric Knight (the creator of Lassie), under the pen name of Richard Hallas. Woody Haut’s essay in LARB offers a very solid examination of the book, which Haut describes as “James Cain filtered through Thomas Pynchon.” I found it blackly funny — a sort of screwball tragedy — and quite entertaining. As an aside, my copy of the book includes an introduction from cartoonist (and Zappa fan) Matt Groening. He feels obliged to warn present-day readers that the book’s protagonist — an AWOL Marine from Oklahoma turned hobo, in a book written in the late 30s — is less than sensitive in his terminology for marginalized groups. “So it’s come to this, then?” ran through my mind. Still, Groening clearly likes the book. So do I.
As I mentioned, I’m heading to the True North, strong and free (plus PST and GST) in a few days, where I’ll be attending and carrying on at Bouchercon. I’ll be doing my official bit on Thursday morning, where I’ll be taking part in “Author Speed Dating” as part of a promotional effort for the reissue of Broken Glass Waltzes. My tag-team partner will be Dale Phillips, who you may wish to visit here.
As is my custom at these things, expect reports to follow.
And I think I’ll leave you with a bit of music. Here’s an odd one I heard this morning, from an “Afrocentric” South African beat group called the Shangaans. At least one writer describes the all-white band as “bleached Zulu,” but it seems to be with a certain affection, and the group seems quite happy to use native instrumentation. Anyway, this was one of the singles from their only album, 1965’s Jungle Drums (which, by the way, includes some Miriam Makeba compositions). This is “Yeh Girl”.
See you soon!