Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Murderers - Fredric Brown

Yesterday's post about The Beat Generation brought to mind this cool novel, The Murderers by Fredric Brown.

Fredric Brown was one of those writers who could spin a compelling story in just about any genre he chose. One of his most famous stories is "Arena" which appeared in Astounding Magazine back in 1944. I'm betting that anyone who has ever read "Arena" has never forgotten it. It was also the basis for a Star Trek episode. His science fiction novels include What Mad Universe and Martians, Go Home.  Brown is also well known for a series of mystery novels featuring carnival showmen Ed and Ambrose Hunter, beginning with The Fabulous Clipjoint.

I found The Murderers in a used bookstore and was instantly intrigued. Here was a novel by Brown I've never heard of, and needless to say, I snapped it up "toot sweet!" And boy, was it a good find!

Bantam, September 1963

The novel is told first person by a down-on-his-luck, or what I should just say, an unemployed "beat" actor making the rounds of kicks and highs in 1950's Hollywood.

"Honey, you got a stick or two?" she asked. "I can't look any more wine in the face, but I could sure use a blast." She came over and put her arms around me, wriggled against me. "I'm worth it when I'm on weed."

Okay, before anyone has a chuckle at the dialog, remember that this novel was first published in 1961 and Fredric Brown was not above using a tongue-in-cheek approach to building up his characters before wrecking their worlds.

Anyway, it's a little potheaded kitten like this one that tips our narrator, 27-year-old Wally Griff, down his little trip into trouble. But that's really just an excuse. Wally doesn't really need a reason for anything he does. He's one of those characters built for 50's noir. And there is a moment in the novel where Wally recalls the Kenneth Patchen poem, "The Murder of Two Men by a Young Kid Wearing Lemon-Colored Gloves" just before he makes that left turn down the twisted path to Endsville. The poem makes a neat analogy for this ride of kicks and kills among the lowest rung of Hollywood's players, actors, musicians and beatniks. It's that cool, baby.

And if you're curious to hear the poem referred to above, here's a video I found of it on YouTube, for your pleasure.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Dick Contino and Daddy-O's

I shook, twisted, stomped, gyrated, flailed, flashed, genuflected, wiggled, strutted and banged my squeezebox like a dervish orbiting on Benzedrine, maryjane and glue. James Ellroy - "Dick Contino's Blues.

A couple weeks ago I caught this old B-flick, The Beat Generation, on TCM. With a screenplay by Richard Matheson (yes, the legend, Richard Matheson) I figured it would be good for a few chuckles late at night with a beer and potato chip meal for company, and for the most part I was right. It was pretty much as expected, a somewhat entertaining, somewhat derisive stab at the beat movement that was popular at the time it was made. Cheesy dialog, buffoonish characterizations and Mamie Van Doren slinking around make  it go down without getting too "wrapped up in the conformity of it all,"dig. Also showing up for the fun was Jackie Coogan, Louis Armstrong, a verse blowing Vampira, and...late in the movie...Dick Contino.

Dick Contino's role is limited to a singing cat at a bongo beach party thrown by nihilistic serial rapist Stan Hess (played to the hilt by Ray Danton) that becomes a sort of slapstick escape 'n chase scene, complete with rhumba line dancing, bongo banging and wrestling!

Watching Dick Contino perform "Don't Bug Me, Daddy-O" reminded me of another flick, Daddy-O, from 1958, starring Dick Contino. That movie, from what I remember, is fairly entertaining and bad enough to have gotten the MST 3000 treatment.

And, what does all this have to do with Ellroy's "Dick Contino's Blues"? Well, I'm gonna tell ya. It's just my way of recommending a couple of flicks and a pretty cool novelette that folds, spindles and mutilates 1950s L.A. hipsters, B-movies, pinkos, lefties, perverts, beatniks, fast cars, loose women, and a psycho or two, into one neat little package complete with its own soundtrack.

See what your grandparents shook their fists at, then tell 'em about it next Sunday at church. They'll be impressed.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Roy Orbison - Mystery Girl

Written by Bono and The Edge for Roy Orbison's album Mystery Girl, "She's a Mystery to Me" is a great Roy Orbison performance and pretty cool video directed by David Fincher as well.

Dig that Rockabye Bear - The Rockabye Contract

Last year in my used bookstore travels I found a whole slew of "Contract" novels by Philip Atlee featuring Joe Gall aka The Nullifier. Joe Gall is a freelancer, who takes assignments on contract. He works alone, reports to no one, and plays by his own rules.

Fawcett Gold Medal, 1968
Gall is one of those guys who is a walking expert on everything from atomic science to yoga. He's also a hell of a tiger in the sack. He would need to be, based on the picture of Joe seen in the top left corner above. The back cover also shows a series of photos of Joe puffing on a cigarette (probably a Lucky Strike) and blowing the smoke laconically over his shoulder. In case you missed it, he's cool. And deadly.

Actually, he is pretty cool. The novels, including this one, are all told in first person. Based on the couple I've read you can pick them up in any order and not worry about a continuity to the series. The Rockabye Contract begins with Joe Gall arriving in Greenwich Village to meet with a young hot folksinger named Hester Prim, who performs topless.

A Miss Hester Prim, who had just come on stage, was wearing a short black vinyl skirt and black boots. Strands of her flaming hair had been taped over the nipples of her breasts, and she handled the twelve-string Gibson like a ukulele. Hester was a big girl, several inches over six feet.

In addition to describing Hester, we also get Joe Gall's opinion of hipsters and hippies and folkies, seen through the eyes of a cynical assassin who's a bit self conscious of having aged in places they "couldn't find on a map." And it's just the kind of asides that keep the novel moving. Joe is a sociologist of sorts, much like another contemporary, more famous Gold Medal hero, Travis McGee.

Joe's assignment, as far as Hester Prim is concerned, is to act as her manager as they tour Europe. Beyond that, he's not exactly sure what the contract entails. But things happen quickly. To sum up: he flies with Hester to London, then on to Germany where he must learn why two agents have disappeared investigating a seemingly innocent toy factory with ties to a certain Caribbean dictator who has a taste for young virgins. In the process Joe gets to lay a spanking on Hester (nice!), is chased by German police through an apartment building, is captured and kidnapped on to a plane full of mannequins and flown to an unknown location in the Caribbean. He's then held neck deep in a pit full of mud. After executing an escape, Joe Gall tangles with the dictator's thugs, foils an assassination plot and is followed explosive toy koala bear. And yes, he get to bed the hot Hester Prim. Who said spying ain't fun?

Well, maybe real spying isn't so fun, but this book sure was, if you don't try to think about it too hard.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Willie Nelson - A song for Father's Day

My dad, Ronald C. Reichenbaugh, passed away back in 1988, he was 49 years old. There hasn't been a day when I don't think of him at some point, something I'm sure that most of us who've lost a parent at such a young age all do. We had our issues. I don't think there is a son and father in the history of the world who hasn't butted heads. I can see now that, different as I was convinced then that my dad and I were, I'm carrying pretty much the same restless soul he did. He channeled it into his photography, and I put it into my writing. Another thing we had in common, is we could both spot the prettiest woman in a crowd. Invariably we'd pick the same one. He had ideas about things that probably went against conventional standards of the time, and sometimes he didn't let what others thought stop him. And, though it was frequently difficult to be around each other then, I could appreciate where he was coming from. Now that I've reached the years he did, I understand it a little bit more.

Anyway, I thought I'd post this song by Willie Nelson in his memory. Willie Nelson's songs were something I heard often in the house growing up. My dad and I had wildly different taste in music, and the last thing I would have ever done then is admit that I kind of liked the Willie Nelson music he played. But I did.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Key to the Suite - Where the Boys All Go

My perspective on John D. MacDonald's novel A Key to the Suite comes from 6 years of working at a resort in Scottsdale Arizona back in the first half of the nineties. MacDonald's novel is set in a resort in the early sixties and follows the shenanigans of a handful of conventioneers as they maneuver, plot, climb and back-stab each other up and around that corporate ladder that we've all been sold a bill of goods on. This is the "organization man" at his ugliest, and by the end of the novel, no one comes up smelling pretty.

My association with conventions begin as a resort security officer, pulling night shifts guarding showroom displays and convincing drunks that the turn-down girls were not there to do anything more than turn down sheets and leave mints on the pillows. Later I had the (no-so-great) pleasure of preparing the resort billing for conventions, which mostly meant debating how much on average a person may consume at an open bar staffed by bartenders looking out for their 18% gratuities. That and insisting that no, I was not able to make the golf charges look like meeting room rental charges. And you haven't lived until you've been stampeded over in the restrooms by a convention meeting that has just let out; with all the windy cacophony of spitting, farting and horking rattling off the tiled stalls and porcelain urinals.

But enough of all that. Here's a look at MacDonald's cynical 1962 pot-boiler.

Fawcett Gold Medal, August 1980
The huge hotel, now being brushed and polished by the maintenance crews, was like some bawdy, obese, degenerate old queen who, having endured prolonged orgy, was now being temporarily restored to a suitable regal condition by all the knaves and wenches who serve her. 

Enter into this setting is one Floyd Hubbard, an earnest, seemingly decent enough guy in his early thirties, looking to do the right thing by his bosses as he makes his way up the executive ladder. He's tagged right away as an ax-man by the rest of the joes attending the convention, most notably by a charmer named Fred Frick. Frick is looking out for his boss in crime, Jesse Mulaney. Mulaney is one of those bullshit artist, hail-fellow-well-met kind of backslappers who's managed to coast his way into a slot beyond his talents, brains and capabilities. Mulaney probably isn't the worst guy you'd want to know, but his antics have become such that the lords on mahogany row have deemed his usefulness to the corporation lacking. Frick, on the other hand, is one of those slimy creatures that MacDonald creates so well, the sort of guy with a greasy grin and yellow teeth and a phone number in his little black book that could fix any situation, legal or illegal. Frick's big idea is to hire a flooze to show up and rock the high and mighty Floyd Hubbard off his pedestal and tarnishing his sterling reputation. Once the execs back home see that Floyd pilots a tin horse, they'll hardly take any advice from him about the worthiness of good old Jesse Mulaney. That's the plan anyway.

The girl is Cory Barlund. Cory is a high priced call girl of very selective standards. She has no problem turning down a client, no matter who he is or how much cash he wants to drop. Cory is sent to Frick by her "madame", a shadowy babe known as Alma. Alma has supplied many of the guys with ladies of free spirit from her stables, and knows that Cory, in spite of being a bit of a pain in the ass, is just the girl for the job Frick has in mind.

...The busy, important man, sweets, does better with a high-level pro. All the questions are answered before you start. If he wants to do the town, he'll know she'll look good enough and dress well enough to take anywhere. And she won't get plotzed or chew with her mouth open or leave him for somebody else in the middle of the evening. He knows just how the evening is going to end up, and he knows she'll be good at it, and he knows there won't be any letters or phone calls or visits a couple of weeks or months later. It's efficiency, sweets. Modern management methods. 

That's the philosophy here anyway. Too bad things just don't work out as planned.

This novel is as good as any of MacDonald's novels, which means it's a pretty damn good read. Some of the dialog and mores may be a bit dated, but that's the fun of reading old books like this. You get a glimpse into a world that existed at one point in time outside our own. Something to ponder next time you're on Spring Break.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Ramones - Howling at the Moon

Produced by David A. Stewart, "Howling at the Moon" is a classic should-have-been-a-monster song for the Ramones from their 1984 album Too Tough To Die. Couple notes about the song; Ben Tench (familiar to fans of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) adds his talents to keyboards. It features a somewhat rare guitar break in it. Also the song had some small exposure as a video on MTV. But by small exposure, I mean almost no exposure compared to the other crap on MTV's rotation back then. It was written by Dee Dee Ramone and dedicated to Vera Ramone. Why this song didn't explode from radios that year, I have no idea. I'm trying to remember what bullshit songs were hits back then and I'm drawing a blank. No doubt some dreck by Phil Collins instead. Enjoy...