Friday, April 29, 2016

Nothing Compares 2 U

Friday's Forgotten Books, April 29, 2016

                                   NEXT FRIDAY, SPECIAL TOPIC: FIRST BOOKS

Geoff Dyer, But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz (from Ron Scheer in the archives)

I guess you’d call this creative nonfiction. A former colleague recommended this book to me after reading some of my thoughts on the life-affirming and health-inducing aspects of listening to jazz as I deal with a visitation of brain cancer. The great irony is that the joyous practice of improvisation in smoky clubs of the bebop era was so virulently self-destructive for its musicians.
In Dyer’s evocative and impressionistic character sketches of several of its iconic figures (Lester Young, Bud Powell, Chet Baker, Art Pepper, Ben Webster, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus) we witness mostly downward trajectories, as drugs, prison, racism, alcoholism, mental illness, and violence take their toll. Whether or not you think of them as survivors, you come to understand that the music they invented and played was an act of defiance and subversion in the face of demons both internal and external.

I don’t want this to sound over dramatized. Dyer immerses the reader in an imagined subjective world of each musician, and that world is seldom as harrowing as it appears from outside. Like some, Lester Young floats in the isolation of an alcohol haze, never quite sure if he is living or already dead. Thelonious Monk glories in an ongoing rage against fellow musicians and the instrument he plays. 

Meanwhile, some escape to Europe, where they find an appreciative audience and are granted a reprieve from the vestiges of Jim Crow discrimination. If anyone fares badly in the book, it is Chet Baker, who is portrayed musically as someone whose seductiveness as a performer was always in the form of promises he never kept—a self-absorption that verged on coitus interruptus

Dyer bases his book on biographical and historical accounts, but is more interested in impressions than facts. The end result is a cross between dream and documentary. While representing jazz composition and performance as driven by the effort to capture evanescent and transcendent moods (think of Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo”), Dyer’s lucidly clear prose is a wonder of poetic expression.
He closes the book with a stimulating essay on mid-century jazz, with an overview of the wave of high-profile jazz musicians who followed in the decades since (e.g., Miles Davis, Keith Jarrett), while illuminating some of the key issues that have animated the discourse of musicologists who have never lost their love for the genre. There is also a discography and a lengthy bibliography.

Sergio Angelini, DEAD MEN DON'T SKI, Patricia Moyes
Yvette Banek, MURDER AT ARROWAYS, Helen Reilly
Les Blatt, THE SIRENS SANG OF MURDER, Sarah Caudwell
Bill Crider, THE LAST TALK WITH LOLA FAYE, Thomas H. Cook
Curt Evans, CAPE COD
Ed Gorman, BONJOUR TRISTESSE, Francoise Sagan
Rich Horton, TWO BLACK SHEEP, Warwick Deeping
Jerry House, EARTH'S LAST CITADEL, Moore and Kuttner
Nick Jones, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, Patricia Highsmith
George Kelley, THE SALIVA TREE, Brian Aldiss
Margot Kinberg, THE CASK, Freeman Wills Crofts
Rob Kitchin, JAPAN 1941,  Ari Hotta
B.V. Lawson, MURDER AT THE FOUL LINE, edited by Otto Penzler
Steve Lewis/Barry Gardner, MAKE NO BONES, Aaron Elkins
Todd Mason, FANTASTIC, February 1969, edited by Barry N. Malzberg; F&SF, February 1969, edited by Edward L. Ferman; STARTLING MYSTERY STORIES, Summer 1969, edited by Robert A. W. Lowndes
J. F. Norris, DEATH MY DARLING DAUGHTER, Jonathan Stagge
Mathew Paust, WHAT'S WRONG WITH DORFMAN? John Blumenthal
Reactions to Reading, THE DROWNED BOY, Karin Fossum
James Reasoner, LIAR'S KISS, Eric Skillman
Richard Robinson, First Contacts, The Essential Murray Leinster by edited by Joe Rico
Gerard Saylor, WEST TEXAS, Al Sarrantonio, THE COLD. COLD GROUND, Adrian McKinty
Kerrie Smith, THE BARRAKKE MYSTERY, Arthur Upfield
Kevin Tipple, SHAKEN: STORIES FOR JAPAN, Tim Hallinan
TomCat, THE GREAT MERLINI, Clayton Rawson 
TracyK LIVE AND LET DIE, Ian Fleming 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Nothing Compare 2 U



Ramir watched his father die in ’93, swearing he’d never touch the stuff. Not drugs, nor drink. The smell in Daddy’s room was enough to put him off. Daddy never got past Nam, talked about it for the next twenty-five years, dreamed about napalm, Agent Orange, rounds quickly jammed into a gun, jungle stuff. Hot sweaty nightmares, bone-chilling ones, waking everyone up with his moaning, yelling, thrashing. A bed board pounding the wall didn’t mean sex in the Obabie household. Daddy went to a Vet’s group once or twice, but no one down there encouraged his return. Tyrone was too damned angry for anyone to deal with. Except his wife—and not always her.

The three kids could hear Mama soothing Daddy in a sing-songy voice on those nights. “Gonna be alright, Baby. Gonna be alright.”


It wasn’t all right, though. Tyrone Obabie, who’d picked up the habit during his 1969 tour, cashed out because he couldn’t remember how much heroin he’d already put in his veins.

“Would’ve killed a horse,” the White Coat in the ER said.

“Maybe he wanted it that way,” Ramir’s older sister told White Coat in the corridor in her sassiest voice. She never was any good at dealing with men like him.

“Thirty years of drug use—should’ve done him in years ago.”

Ramir’s older sister had no quick comeback for that. White Coat turned his back on the Obabies.

“Your Daddy wasn’t meant to be a solider.” The children turned to look at Mama. Mama had never said a bad word about Ty, even if she was pretty much used-up by then. Was anyone meant for war, Ramir wanted to ask.

Ramir’s two sisters grew up to be school teachers—one teaching math in a community college. They married, even when nobody else was doing it. Had kids. Moved to Southfield—bought ranch houses with deep back lots that their husbands mowed on Saturdays. Put their father and his ranting and his drug use behind them. Helped their Mother out when she needed an extra twenty, a weekend away, a grandkid to hug.

Ramir—well nothing worked out the way he expected. Didn’t finish high school—even 11th grade—despite his sisters’ team-ragging him whenever they could. Him being the baby only got Ramir so far, and he was just a no-count drag on them eventually.

Mama—she finally tossed him out too— tired of finding his drug shit everywhere—scared of cars stopping outside the house late, sick of coming in from her job book-keeping at an auto parts supplier to find him unconscious on the sofa, weary of dialing 911, sitting by his hospital bed to see if he was gonna join his Daddy.

The only thing Ramir had going for him was his looks. Sometimes girls did tricks, then turned over the money. Not that he was a pimp. They did it without him asking—least most of the time. Put a ten or a twenty in his hand, stuck their hand down his pants. He put their hard-earned money in his nose or his vein. Had a girl out in Troy, white girl too, who earned a hundred dollars a pop. Fixed him up with a new dealer when his old one got sent to Wayne Country Correctional. Said this guy had some sweet stuff for him to try. Something new. Sheila, she was his favorite coochie all right. Took care of him good.

He did everything right, new needle, cleaned the vein, but that drug—that sweet stuff Sheila found—took him to another place, place he’d never been. Couldn’t move, couldn’t shout, couldn’t blink his eyes even. And eventually, he couldn’t breathe.

Author's Note: Although this is in a larger font on my compose function, I can't get it to be larger here. Sorry. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Nothing Compares 2 U


I believe that in a series-and I am thinking as much of series like Ferrante's Neopolitan books as in crime fiction- that each book should basically function as a standalone. You should not have to read the second book to understand the first one. It's okay to do this on a TV show, but not in a book or even a movie. Now Book 2 can give you a greater understanding of the characters or extend the plot but it should not be necessary to read it to understand the story.

What do you think?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Prince: Nothing Compares

Forgotten Movies: RAISING ARIZONA

I loved this movie from the Coen Brothers when I saw it in 1987. Now, not so much. What seemed clever then seems cloying now. Hi (Cage)and Ed (Hunter) steal a baby from parents who have five of them. The theft yields little happiness for them and various other people get in the way. There is too much racing around, too many alternative southern accents, too much screaming. There were so few scenes of them with their baby, it never felt real. Hunter was in it too little for it to become the screwball romance it wanted to be. This was very disappointing. Was my taste in 1987 bad or am I jaded now? It was easy to find places that better lines and better situations could have saved the day. I don't know. Maybe it's me.Have you seen it lately?
What movie did not hold up for you thirty years on?

Monday, April 25, 2016


In SHOT IN DETROIT, twelve African-American men under forty die. At one point in its long gestation, I composed back stories for each man, not sure if I would use them or not. 

I decided not. The story belonged to Violet Hart, the photographer, and these long pieces diluted that--and it made for too many characters, something I personally don't care for. 

But I do feel their stories are worth telling. The stories are all basically fictitious but mirror the sort of deaths that take place in any urban area. 


            A female reporter stuck a mike in Pete’s face on Christmas morning, after the fire was out. “How many years have you been with the DFD?” 
Seventeen, he told her. Most of them spent in a 109-year old firehouse that was a fire hazard itself. No one knew about the condition of the wiring, but who had the money to replace it? Not Detroit. He didn’t tell her that, of course. They’d been read the riot act about dissing the City.
            “I hear you’re the one they call on when a fellow fire fighter is buried under debris.”
Pete was 6”4 and weighted 270. He could yank floorboards out if it took that. Hoist fallen walls, loosen joists, carry two people at once. 
 “Done it once or twice.”
“Like today, right? You pulled someone out today? On Christmas.”
He nodded.
 “How do you feel about risking your life to put out a fire set by arsonists? Torched a house that’s been scheduled for demolition for five years.”
Suddenly she sounded angry; her eyes dark holes. Pete was flummoxed for a second, still taking in the face he’d watched for years on the nightly news. A black woman with lighter freckles that he saw now. He guessed the heat had melted her makeup. Was she angry with him or was it just for show? Did she want him to rant about it?
 “Breaks your heart. Breaks your heart,” he answered senselessly. Then he caught the jittery look of his crew commander and tried to come up with something better. “And  these guys here today—man—they do whatever they can for the people  in Detroit. Today and every day.  ‘Specially on Christmas.” He stopped short, seeing she’d already pulled the mike away.
The Christmas wreath with bells on her lapel jingled as she walked away. He wondered how she could navigate the icy sidewalk in those high heels.
They didn’t show much of what he said on the news that night. Instead the shot was of the rubble from the vacant house burned to the ground, a comment on the DFD failure or the vicissitudes of this city. But the fire hadn’t spread to the house next door, inhabited by an elderly woman and her grandson. That was their success.                
Sephia and he watched the whole thing after they finished off the holiday ham and exchanged gifts. Just the two youngest looking on with saucer eyes.
“That bitch,” Sephie said, switching the TV off. “She didn’t have to show that trashy yard. Made it look like you guys failed."
“Doubt it was her decision,” Pete said, defending the woman he’d spent two minutes with. The face familiar to him from years of watching the TV news—except for those freckles. “Don’t they have bosses to decide that?”
“Damn, I wish I’d taped it,” Sephie said, jumping up. “Maybe they’ll show it again at eleven. I wonder if any of the neighbors saw it”   
That hadn’t, of course. Didn’t watch the news. And Channel 8 didn’t air the segment again. There were new fires, robberies, and deaths to report. The Free Press story the next morning was on page 6 and didn’t even mention him. The headline read EARLY MORNING CHRISTMAS FIRE ON THE EASTSIDE. It barely got a column.

It was a vacant house again just a few weeks later. Another on the list for years. Maybe inhabited by a squatter. Sometimes a squatter would torch a house he knew was due for demolition—just out of pique.
Place was a dump. And also an inferno by the time they arrived. Flames and smoke were already blowing out the windows on the second floor. Engine 28 and Squad Car 2 arrived, joined by two more pumpers, a ladder truck, and a battalion chief. An additional crew stood ready. Engine 28 fired a surge of water that knocked back the fire. The crew stormed the house seconds later, a Detroit fire-fighting tactic not shared in many cities where the approach was more cautious. They advanced up the stairs, hose in hand. Pete in front, ready to knock down whatever got in the way. He was high on adrenalin. That’s the way it worked, the reason they went forward. The men doused hot spots as they moved up the steps and into the attic.
It happened quickly. There was a creaking sound, and few pieces of wood from the ceiling dropped to the floor. Less than two seconds later, the entire roof collapsed. Pete Oberon was pinned to the floor. He made it out of there on a stretcher, made it a few weeks more in a hospital bed. But the pain was too enormous, the infections too great. Septicemia killed him as much as the burns. 
He made the headline this time.