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Sunday, September 9, 2012



& Otto PenzlerThe Best American Noir Of The Century (Mariner) :: When people ask me what I’m up to, I always make sure to tell ’em about the 100,000 word noir novel that I’ve been working on for the past quarter of a century. When they wonder why it’s taken so long for me to finish it, I cheerfully explain that, oh no, it’s already completely written but that I’m motivated by obsession to continually revise it and add even more layers of black humor to what was already a pretty stiff drink to begin with.

Next, I go on for a while about how unfortunate it is that neither Bruegel nor Kurelek are still alive to do the 45 chapter illustrations that I need to have drawn. Then, by the time I’ve gotten around to telling them what kind of music I listen to while I’m making my revisions, they’ve long since headed for the hills. Which makes me wonder how they’d react if they ever got enough gumption to read the first three pages.

I’ll get to that song set in a second, but first lemme enlighten you on the many merits of this black-sheathed 700 page tome which contains 39 scabrous short stories by such past and present masters of the genre as Spillane and Cain; Thompson and Block; Leonard and Woolrich; and literally dozens of others. What’s that you say? You don’t know any of those authors’ first names? Then step right up for a brutal back street education that begins in 1923 with Robbins’ seminal freak show story “Spurs” and is all downhill after that, decade after decade.

The whole sordid mess is edited and annotated with acerbic aplomb by the two above-noted bold-faced reprobates, both of whom come to the fight armed with an excess of expertise. Otto Penzler is the man who founded the legendary Mysterious Press imprint, and he contributes a suitably succinct Foreword which tells you in no uncertain terms exactly what noir is...and isn’t.

James Ellroy knows a few things about the weighty albatross of obsession, and his Introduction is almost worth the price of admission alone as he delights in delineating a misshapen milieu wherein “society grants women a unique power to seduce and destroy; a six-week chronology from first kiss to gas chamber is common in noir.” Kinda sounds like the proposal for my own novel, only it’s not nearly as romantic as that.

As for that aforementioned song set, it’s funny strange how everybody has a list of their favorite noir novels and their favorite noir movies but you never hear anybody talking about their favorite noir records—until now. So the next time you’re in the mood for doom, why not spin my five favorite noir downer discs, all of which truly scrape the bottom of the soul:

1. A BAD START: The Velvet Underground
White Light / White Heat (Verve) :: You’ll die laughing as humor and horror team up and then abruptly close out of town.

2. EVEN WORSE: Lou Reed
Berlin (RCA) :: As languidly alluring as a quicksand bog and twice as tough to extricate yourself from.

3. NOW WE’RE TALKING: Neil Young
Tonight’s The Night (Reprise) :: Old Black Eyes takes the concept of Frank Sinatra’s seminal saloon albums For Only The Lonely and No One Cares; swaps a shot glass for a spike; and then settles in for the long decaying haul. Bonus points for releasing it on Frankie’s own personal record label.

4. CLOSE BUT NO CASKET: Nine Inch Nails
Broken (Interscope) :: When a guy names his music publishing company “Leaving Hope” and then repeatedly wails “I tried, I gave up” over and over again, you’d think that he wouldn’t be long for this world—especially after he calls his next record The Downward Spiral and leads it off with the positive reinforcement anthem “Mr. Self Destruct.” Instead, Reznor now owns an Academy Award. Amateur.

In Utero (DGC) :: Finally, a true professional who backed up his brag into a body bag. Cobain liked Lennon because the latter was “obviously disturbed” but although Beatle John wrote cry for help songs like “Help” and “Nowhere Man” and “I’m A Loser” he never shotgunned his head into an abstract painting. Lennon recording a cathartic primal scream song like “Well Well Well” is one thing; listening to Cobain’s harrowingly insane choked off giggle at the 3:13 point of “Milk It” is another thing entirely.

– “Heartbreak Hotel” (Island) :: Whether you pick the original studio version on Slow Dazzle or one of the subsequent live versions on June 1, 1974 or Fragments Of A Rainy Season or Live Circus is irrelevant. What makes all of them so unsettling unsound is that you can’t tell if Cale is playing for laughs or being deadly serious. Either way, his accurate interpretation of the song’s desolate lyrics is as perceptive as it is terminally bleak.

Be seeing you!

Sun, September 9, 2012 | link 

Sunday, September 2, 2012



The Art Of Howard Chaykin (Dynamite) :: The first time I met illustrator and author Howard Chaykin was at the Cosmicon III comic book convention in 1975. Okay, so maybe we didn’t actually meet so much as we just happened to be loitering in the same room at the same time and I had the chutzpah to take a few candid photos of him which later literally developed into a series of surly snaps. Chaykin had illustrated Sword Of Sorcery for DC Comics two years earlier but, although I liked his nascent work, after receiving that sullen stare I wasn’t fan enough to strike up a conversation, even though I was on my way to becoming a wiseacre professional rock critic.

Thirteen years later Chaykin’s attitude and art were now so sharp you could slice a brisket with it, and my own rock critic style was almost his acerbic equal—at least, that’s what I thought when I finally got up enough gumption to grill him about his most infamously influential work Black Kiss and was cocksure enough to casually crow: “Y’know, I’ve still got all those issues of Sword Of Sorcery you drew and one day I’m gonna sell ’em and buy a house!” Whereupon there was a slight pause, followed by Chaykin’s reply: “Fuck you.” Then, after an even shorter pause: “That was a nice fuck you, by the way.”

And while some might describe Chaykin’s entire iconoclastic career as being one big “nice fuck you” to the world, there’s no denying that when it comes to skillfully laying down a solid solo riff with incomparable chops and assertiveness, you can always count on Howard Chaykin to consistently cut everyone else in the room and deliver the goods, without fail. The key to his longevity—indeed, the one distinguishing characteristic which sets him apart from his peers—is that Chaykin has always had the innovative improvisational soul of a jazz musician.

Now that soul and its reflective body of work is made manifest in this deluxe 250 page hardcover career-spanning compendium. The artwork more than speaks for itself, but what makes The Art Of Howard Chaykin so radically refreshing from every other comic art book you’ve ever encountered is that—unlike the Damon Runyon meets Paul Bunyan tall tales of Steranko: Arte Noir or the blowjobian suck up sycophancy of Kirby: King Of Comics—the accompanying biography tells Chaykin’s life story in a straight, no chaser style whose brutal unblinking honesty is only surpassed by its unabashed humility.

To his credit, Chaykin’ll be the first one to readily admit that his early art suffered severely due to a dissipated lifestyle and a lackadaisical work ethic—and only Chaykin would have the texticles [sic] to tell it like it is and then show you archival examples of what he’s talking about. The life lesson of how he single-handedly strong-armed his astonishingly callow youth into becoming a disciplined stylish visionary and ground-breaking pioneer of the graphic novel is an informative telling commentary that many a local loser could learn from today.

Howard Chaykin
Black Kiss 2 (Image) :: [really sic]

Be seeing you!

Sun, September 2, 2012 | link 

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