Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Western Roundup

2012 contained The Summer of Westerns for me. Toiling away at what-shall-remain-a-nameless-insurance-company by day and working on my writing / editing by night left me looking for escape. Thanks to some on-line recommendations I started reading old paperback westerns.

In no particular order here is the list of novels I devoured:

A Noose for the Desperado by Clifton Adams - 1951
The Man who Killed the Marshall by Ray Hogan - 1969
Ride the Red Trail by Lewis B. Patten – collected pulp stories 1953
The Lone Gun by Howard Rigsby - 1955
Buchanan Gets Mad by Jonas Ward - 1958
Wyoming Jones by Richard Telfair - 1958
The Two-Shoot Gun by Donald Hamilton - 1960
The Cage by Talmage Powell - 1967
Outlaw Marshall by Ray Hogan - 1959
The Last Days of Wolf Garnett by Clifton Adams - 1970
Blood Justice by Gordon D. Shirreffs - 1964
Vengeance Trail by Archie Joscelyn - 1951
Vengeance Rider by Lewis B. Patten - 1962
.44 by H.A. DeRosso - 1953
The Reformed Gun by Marvin Albert - 1959
Man Outgunned by Lewis B. Patten - 1976
The Man From Riondo by Dudley Dean - 1954
Ramrod Rider by T.V. Olsen -1961
The Ruthless Range by Lewis B. Patten - 1963

While some of the above novels were better than others, I can honestly say there was not a bad book in the batch. Most were published in the 50s and 60s and for an average of a dollar a book, I got a bang for my dollars. I also got to discover some new writers (new to me!) that I will definitely be on the lookout for in my used-bookstore trawls.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Retro Soap

The Inheritors by Harold Robbins, Pocket Books, February 1971

As a kid growing up in Florida I’d spend almost every day of my summers at the neighborhood swimming club. There were two swimming pools; one for families and one for adults. The family swimming pool was almost always crowded with teenagers and tots and, for all the kids under the age of twelve, mothers stuck with the duty of accompanying them while their husbands ogled firm, nubile, brightly bikinied over-21-year-old bodies over in the adults-only pool. Ever the observant little shit that I was, I noticed that plenty of these mothers carried in their beach bags thick paperback books along with their suntan oil, beach towels, cigarettes and sunglasses. And almost every day I’d notice the same name on these paperbacks: Harold Robbins.

I’d guess that the last time I’ve seen anyone reading a Harold Robbins novel was somewhere around the time one could still smoke cigarettes inside a shopping mall, or wear a mood ring. For all his immense popularity then, Harold Robbins’s books seem forgotten today. Something to consider when wading through the glut of novels by the Janet Evanovitch, Nicholas Sparks, and “50-Shades-plus” gang over-stocking the bookstore shelves now.

Over the past couple decades I’ve sampled a few Robbins novels and have found them to be, for the most part, horribly written, frequently boring and surprisingly light on the kinky sex stuff that he’s famous for. Perhaps I’ve not read the “right” novels by him. There had to be something that the public got from his novels.

The other day I found three of his titles; 79 Park Avenue, Never Leave Me, and The Inheritors, on sale at the library book shop. Liking the vintage covers, I picked them up for the price of a buck and a half.

The Inheritors is the story of two mavericks in the entertainment biz back in the mid-1950s and follows them through to the 1960s. Steve, an upstart go-getter, lands a job as president of Sinclair Television by insulting the company’s founder and owner in a ridiculous job interview, where he goes on to admit he’s also screwing the owner’s daughter. Sam is a publicity hound for a low-rung studio producing movies appealing to the grind house theaters along 42nd Street. Together, these two gentlemen take the burgeoning television industry and Hollywood movie studios into the 1960’s while consuming boatloads of scotch and Martinis. The women in their lives serve mainly as props to provide drinks, have sex with, dump, slap, throw tantrums and use only for the purposes of furthering careers. A typical compliment for a woman in the novel is “Good girl,” or “Nice ass,” or something like that. I can’t for the life of me see what would attract female readers to novels like this but the sales numbers don’t lie. As for the sex, something Robbins was notorious for, the scenes here are pretty tame. I understand they got crazier and more over-the-top as his career stretched into the 70s and 80s, but here they’re pretty short and almost quaint. There is a kinky orgy scene with acid heads, hippies and junkies later in the novel, but its shock value is diminished when one of the characters is shown offering a joint, saying, “Light up and turn on.”

For its faults, The Inheritors was much better than The Adventurers and Where Love has Gone, the only other Robbins novels I’ve read. It was entertaining the way a prime time soap opera like Revenge is. So, if you’re in the mood for some retro pot-boiler action, maybe Robbins will fit the bill. Just don’t expect your brain to go along for the ride.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Blame it on Mary-Anne

Oh wow...I’m so glad I found this song again! This was the 1st 45 record I ever owned, thanks to my mom who picked it along with a portable record player of my own. I was in first grade and up to this point I had only a couple long  players of children’s stories like Jack & the Beanstalk, The Three Little Pigs, Cinderella, and Pinocchio to name a few, that I could only listen to on my dad’s hi-fi. I think they got tired of my asking them to play records on it and decided to get my own record player.
“Mary-Anne with the Shaky Hands” appears on THE WHO SELL OUT, and was released on the Decca label in this different version as the flipside to “I Can See for Miles.”  Much as I loved “I Can See for Miles” I played “Mary-Anne” way more often, and credit this song (and “Miles”) for kick-starting my love for rock music, nice and loud, with just the right amount of pop to it. Years later when I got to see The Who play at Tampa Stadium they played this song, much to my delight. I’m sure my mom has no memory of getting me this record, but I sure do. I’ve long since lost the single 45 of Miles/Mary along with a lot of my stuff from childhood. But I do own the LP, THE WHO SELL OUT, which it appears on in its more acoustic version.

Saturday, December 22, 2012


Gravity's Rainbow byThomas Pynchon - 1973 - Bantam

I’m in 10th grade and see the book on the shelf at Maida’s Used Books, thick paperback, golden spine, name and author. I pull it out and look at the back cover. "Fantastic", "Dazzling", "Brilliant", "Tremendous", but nothing telling me what the book is about. The first line is a grabber, okay, but what’s the book about? I open it randomly and read a passage where a guy squeezes a certain Jessica Swanlake through her damp knickers and think, okay I can maybe get into this, and take the book home with me.

Later I realize, somewhat to my consternation, that there is a whole lot of white noise to wade through to get to that babe with her damp knickers, and I’m not sure I want to bother. I put the book down and decide to read NORTH DALLAS FORTY instead. But then my English teacher, Mr. Patterson, unkempt in his wrinkled sport coat and long black hair, sees GR among my jumble of textbooks. “Kurt! You’re reading that book? Heh heh heh…”

“I guess so,” I tell him. “I just started it. What’s it about anyway.”

Patterson gives me a look like something made it worthwhile to come in that day and face his bored and listless students after all.  “Just read it,” he says with his Hollywood smirk.

Years later, I’m TDY in Germany and drinking in a discotheque in Bremerhaven, checking out a woman with a shaved head at the bar near me. I’ve been separated from my comrades and I’m alone in this place with music something a lot like Kraftwerk loud all around me before Der Schprokets brought them to Saturday nights in America, and much preferable to Laura Branigan’s “Self Control” that is heard multiple times at every club we go to. I glance at the woman with the shaved head, fuzzily aware that I can’t do anything about it without knowing more than a few words in German, to the shame of my ancestors, when a pretty young woman approaches me and asks if I’m American. Immediately my defenses are heightened, envisioning a drunken American rolled of his money in an alleyway because of the lure of a Cute German Girl but I know that denying it would be futile. “Yeah, I’m American,” I tell her. “It’s that obvious?”

The Cute German Girl invites me to join her and her friends, one of whom is also an American. I like the way her dark hair sweeps down her shoulders and her dusky eyes (no, not really Bette Davis Eyes but sleepless and slatternly and she could be a spy regardless) and follow her. Her American friend is some hipster from New York, and we talk about American shit as I think of ways I could make it with the Cute German Girl next to me. Hours pass and we part the night as best friends who will never meet again and saddened by the loss of the Cute German Girl to the night I hail a cab and say “Luftwaffe, bitte...” The cabbie nods his head and says “Drei Funf” (with Umlauts) and we roll.

Back in the barracks I pull GR out of my duffle and try reading, but can’t concentrate while thinking of the Cute German Girl and her dusky eyes, Kraftwerk, bald chicks, beer, nocturnal emissions at La Club Femina and the touch of a dewy female thigh under the spinning lights as “Self Control” spins yet again, and I barely make to the porcelain plates for toilets to spew foamy beer, bratwurst and Pommes Frites mit Mayo against it, splashing tiles and porcelain like that cow in Texas pissing on a flat rock. I wipe my mouth and flush twice because it’s a long way to England and stagger back to my bunk, dreaming about the Cute German Girl kissing me goodbye beside the incomprehensible graffiti on the wall at my back before turning her dusky eyes away, and my book falls on the floor next to my bunk, ignored and rejected once again...

At FSU my senior year in English and my professor is the same Douglas Fowler who wrote The Guide to Gravity’s Rainbow and I’m thinking, shit, I’ve got to read GR after all, and write a 5000 word essay on it and be tested on it and I don’t think he’s going to give a tinker’s damn about my Jessica Swanlake fantasies spun out into reveries about Cute German Girls with dusky eyes and the back of my trench coat stenciled with graffiti in reverse, but it turns out that we’ll be reading THE CRYING OF LOT 49 instead. Not a problem, I can put that baby down in an afternoon and still be ready for beer and wings at Bullwinkles where maybe I’ll catch that little blond twist from my Chaucer class into a moonlight dance.

So years go by, not measured in coffee spoons but in cigarette butts and midnight stints as a hotel dick in Scottsdale, psychotic girlfriends, corporate whiners, layoffs, spreadsheets, year-end closes, 3AM airports and dirty buses and trips to Germany, and that goddamn book still sits on the shelf when I finally take it down one afternoon after turning 50 and notice my scrawl at age 16 still there on the first page. The one I wrote so long ago in anticipation of a good dirty read about WACs with wet knickers.

I finish GR at last, this thick friend now faded and furry from 35 years of neglected companionship, but waiting for me regardless from bookshelves to duffle bags, smelling the beer and the bongs and the discount perfumed bedsheets and dirty laundry and burnt mac ‘n cheese and desperation, elation, failure and success, it waited for consummation at last, and I wonder what my old high school English teacher, Mr. Patterson, would say now that his once greasy black hair has turned snow white with his black eyes peering out beneath albino caterpillars. He’d probably give me that Jack Nicholson sneer he does so well and say “Jesus, Kurt. What took you so long?”

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Cool Books - Used

Some interesting finds in a couple used bookstores. The first set are two paperbacks by Chester Himes published in the 70's by Signet.

I love the covers. I hadn't seen these editions before but I wasn't about to leave the bookstore without snapping them up. Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones are getting some seventies makeovers for these editions. Looking forward to reading them. For Love of Imabelle is also known as A Rage in Harlem.

The next couple are more on the trashy side, but for a buck each I didn't mind picking them up.

The Cannibals from 1968 (Avon Books) is Keefe Brasselle's insider portrait of the entertainment industry. It's touted as shocking and all that. Lots of teaser blurbs inside full of hype and hysteria. The back of the cover proclaims it as "The most talked about novel of the decade" but I'd not heard of it before. Too bad the cover is worn. The Barracudas was published in 1973 (Avon Books) and comes without any hype at all. It seems pretty much ignored as of today. Oh well, I love its cover with that ponce smoking a cigar studying that dish's backside as she makes some sort of appointment over the phone. Should be good trashy fun.

Last for this group is a Rock & Roll novel from 1974 (Avon Books). Rock & Roll Retreat Blues by Douglas Kent Hall.

I had an English professor from FSU (back in the 80's) state that there has never been a good novel about Rock written yet. Ever. Whether or not he knew of this book I'll never know. The back description mentions plastic motels, Plaster Casters, "willing, glittering groupies," "mind-altering drugs," Hells Angels and a mad bomber. Sounds like all the right ingredients to me. Plus I kind of dig that psychedelic cover, to boot. We'll see how it turns out.

In the meantime, I still have to get through Gravity's Rainbow.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

I Found a Peanut, one day....Thee Midniters

I’m the first to admit that I can’t spell for beans, but that’s the real name of a terrific mid-sixties garage rock band from East L.A. Thee Midniters could pretty much do it all; surf, rave-ups, soul, rock and you get the idea. Apparently, early in their career they’d wear Lone Ranger masks when performing and throw them to the girls in the crowd. I have no idea what the girls would throw back at them in return.
The lineup changed a bit through their career and included Little Willie G., Larry Rendon, Benny Caballos, Little Ray Jimenez, George Dominguez, Roy Marquez, Ronny Figueroa, Romeo Prado, George Salazar and Benny Lopez, in addition to later members Danny La Mont and Jimmy Espinoza.
There is a killer live version of “Land of a Thousand Dances” they do that I would recommend checking out if you’re so inclined. They had a regional hit with the terrific “Whittier Blvd.” that you may have heard, or not if you’re only glued to commercial radio. I got introduced to Thee Midniters through one of the numerous garage rock compilations I’ve picked up over the years. Later on, I was happy to find IN THEE MIDNITE HOUR!!! CD from Norton Records, exclusively of Thee Midniters songs including the ones mentioned above. Here is “I Found a Peanut” for your pleasure. It’s got a weird vocal about what happens after eating that strange peanut you found. You’ll have this one stuck in your head later, trust me.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Big Little Books

When I was a kid I had a small collection of these Big Little Books from Whitman Publishing Company, published in the 60's. This one had to be my favorite, since it's the one I have the clearest memory of.

Dick Tracy Encounters Facey - 1967 Whitman Publishing Company
I vaguely remember that Facey was a master of disguises, and that he robbed either banks or jewelry stores. These were cool little hardback books that I'd look at over and over. Each page had a color plate detailing the action, with the text on the opposite page. They were tiny in size, but thick in page count. I had one for Tom & Jerry, The Lone Ranger, Fantastic Four, The Man From U.N.C.L.E, and Major Matt Mason, in addition to some others. By the time I was in the 6th grade my collection of Big Little Books were long gone to that great dust pile of collectibles out of our reach. Later, in the late 70's I remember seeing paperback versions of BLBs, and no longer in color, which I thought sucked. Every now and then I see the hardback BLBs from the 60's in antique stores, usually for inflated prices. Or at least prices higher than I'd be willing to pay. Too bad they don't still make these books for kids. I think they'd still like them.

The Fantastic Four in the House of Horrors - 1968 Whitman Publishing Company