Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Heartbreak & Vine Music Festival

Day 9


Bill Evans playing Waltz For Debbie, accompanied by Scott LeFaro
Count Basie, with Wardell Gray looking pretty nifty and playing beautifully. Along with Clark Terry and Buddy DeFranco.

Heartbreak & Vine Music Festival

Day 8

Tennessee Ernie Ford with Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant.

My dad had a radio program every Sunday on KXLA in Pasadena, just after Tennesse Ernie's program. I used to go to the station with him and Tennessee Ernie would spend a minute or two joking with me. I couldn't have been more than four or five at the time. We always got there to catch the last couple numbers by the band which I guess must have included Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant. What I would to give to go back to that time. I know Buddy Charlton and Leon Rhodes were great, as were Leon McAuliffe and Eldon Shamblin/Junior Barnard for Bob Wills, or Vance Terry and Jimmy Rivers, but I've always had a soft spot for the frenetic playing of Speedy and Jimmy.

Okay, here's another great duo- Buddy Emmons and Danny Gratton- though clearly they never officially played together in a group.

Poisonville by Massimo Carlotto and Marco Videtta

Poisonville by Massimo Carlotto and Marco Videtta

I've been an avid reader of Massimo Carlotto ever since The Columbian Mule, followed by The Master of Knots and The Goodbye Kiss. His work epitomises noir fiction and gives an interesting and accurate picture of the dark side of contemporary Italian culture. In Poisonville he has teamed up with script writer Marco Videta (Il secreto del successo, Sotto il sole nero). This is a more expansive and political novel from Carlotta's previous outings. Of course title derives from Hammett's Red Harvest. And like the latter novel, Poisonville is a book about how endemic corruption has become, and not just in northeast Italy where the book is set. In the new world order, everyone must share the guilt. And though localised, the crimes spread far and wide (timely considering that, as I read the novel, the Guardian reported the dumping of waste in the Ivory Coast by British oil trader Trafigura). Given Carlotta sparse style, it's difficult to tell which sections he wrote and which sections are Videtta's. I would suspect that the more discursive, political sections are Videtta's, but that is only a guess. Perhaps it was a genuine collaboration. Though it hardly matters, given the fina result. Nor does it matter that it was easy to figure out who the culprit was before I was halfway through the book, causing me to practically scream at the characters to realize what was going on. But family ties can hide the obvious. But then Poisonville isn't really a whodunnit as such, but something much more interesting. Moreover, it's a good thing the city in which Poisonville takes place is never named, otherwise Carlotta and Videtta would not be all that welcome there. Once again, Europa has proved itself to be in the front line of European crime fiction.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Heartbreak & Vine Music Festival

Day 7

Tom Jobim and Joao Gilberto playing Desafinado. They were influenced by and went on to influence cool jazz and more. So it's appropriate to follow with Lee Morgan with the normally anything but cool Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers (vintage 1958, with Bobby Timmons on piano, Benny Golson on tenor, Jymie Merritt on bass and, of course, Art Blakey on drums) playing I Remember Clifford.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Heartbreak & Vine Music Festival

Day 6

A double dose of country music:

-The Louvin Brothers
Charlie and Ira singing their hearts out. And a nice guitar solo by, I think, Jimmy Capps.

-Buck Owens: Tiger By the Tail
With the great Don Rich singing tenor and playing the Telecaster. Has anyone ever pointed out Rich's influence on Clarence White?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Heartbreak & Vine Music Festival

Day 5

Sleepy John Estes singing Mailman Blues

Ever since hearing him all those years ago on Sam Charters' RBF Country Blues anthology, Estes has been one of my favorite blues singers. Here he is playing alongside his customary partner, Yanks Rachell, who, for me, is the best blues mandolin player ever.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Heartbreak & Vine Music Festival

Day 4

The great Percy Mayfield getting loose.
Shot shortly before he died.
Could this be the only film clip of one of the greatest ever r&b singers?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Heartbreak & Vine Music Festival

Day 3

John Coltrane

In honor of his eighty-third birthday (September 23rd). Had he lived, what sort of music would he be playing? After all, Sonny Rollins and Ornette Coleman are still going strong at 79.

The following video brings back memories of first hearing Coltrane in 1963 at Shelly's Manne Hole, then later at the Jazz Workshop, and, of course, countless late night listening sessions.

Naima: the Quartet, 1965

Heartbreak & Vine Music Festival

Day 2

Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys

Can anyone identify the band members in this video?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Entrapment by Nelson Algren

From "Single Exit" (first published in 1947):

"He walked down endless flights, turning at last into the hotel entrance to the bar. Juke music funneled out through the entrance in a roaring bass, beating out 'Blues in the Night' in a vocal that rang hoarsely, like a manacled madman's voice full of hoarse glee at his own pain. Beneath it, standing in the doorway, Katz heard the fast and slippered shuffle of the same shoes he had heard whispering so lonesomely away, down an uncarpeted hall and out into the lonesome street. A soft-shoe shuffle! Would there be applause to greet him? And many friends? He brushed down his coat and hurried in. As the juke died out on a troubled whine.

The dancers all had gone. The singers all were still. There was no one but a sweatered fellow placing chairs along the bar.

Katz stood shifting restlessly from one foot to another, trying to down his disappointment at forever, all his life, arriving just a moment too late for everything.

'Closing up?' he asked diffidently.

The fellow moved on toward the back without answering, drawing chairs soundlessly across the floor, tossing them slowly, without effort, along the bar, so that no matter how carelessly he moved, they fell, softly, into neat rows, and stayed so strangely motionless, all along the bar.

Above the bar mirror a neon kitten flashed two suggestions off and on, in bright and blood-red steel:


Why doesn't anyone write like this anymore?

Maybe there are those who do, but, if so, they are most likely on the margins of the literary world. Because most writers, including crime writers, haven't the nerve to put themselves out there like Algren did, while, at the same time, doing so with all their heart and soul. Not, at any rate, if they intend to sell books or, for that matter, get published. Of course, there are examples of extreme literature, but it's usually pretty sterile stuff in comparison, too ironic or pretending to be tough and in your face. Few are willing to be as overtly political, literary and as cantankerous as Algren. Always concerned about those at the bottom end of society. This even though Algren believed that his work had no effect on the culture. Nevertheless, Algren won the National Book Award for Man With a Golden Arm and was, for a while, a best selling writer.

Algren, based on the stories, essays, poems, prose poems and fragments of a novel in Entrapment, and much of his other work, could be arrested for incitement to intelligence, much less riot. In fact, it's almost impossible to comprehend that Algren could have been so popular during the 1950s and early 1960s. We have Otto, Sinatra, Kim to partially thank for that, though Algren's popularity started before that. Yet Man With a Golden Arm was such a mess of a movie, at least compared to the book, that it ruined the novel for many subsequent readers. Nor was Walk on the Wildside, with a script by John Fante (aided by Ben Hecht), much better. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine how anyone might be able to capture Algren on film, that is without sacraficing so much of the literary quality of his novels. Maybe it's just that Algren, with all his ruminations and characters who move from the comedy to tragedy, sweet wise yet so innocent, can't be filmed.

Algren was part of a generation of writers that included James T. Farrell (in fact, there is a short piece in Entrapment which constitutes Algren's apology for dissing Farrell on ideological grounds and recognising that, though Farrell was not a great stylist, Studs Lonigan affected a generation of people), John Dos Passos, Richard Wright whose last remaining personage was probably Studs Terkel. They were all political radicals with a sense of the street and literary enough to hold their own with more established types. Algren has been compared favorably to Faulkner, and one can see why. Okay, so maybe he's more erratic, but at his best he is every bit Faulkner's equal.

I might be alone in thinking his early writing, particularly his short stories, constitutes his best work. Not that I didn't enjoy his later novels, but they are just a bit too contrived for me. I like him best when he is in Whitman/Farrell mode, railing against the rich and the stupid and the reactionary, and doing it with his heart and soul.

Entrapment- the title comes from Algren's unpublished final novel, a semi-autobiographical work about the love-sick- is already one of my favorite books of the year. One wishes Algren, capable of breaking your heart with a single phrase or sentence, had been able to finish the book. But, as the editors, who have done an exemplary job in putting this collection together, say, it was far too close to the bone. Likewise, I wish he were around today to comment on what was going on in the world.
Heartbreak & Vine Month-Long Music Festival

Day 1

Freddie Roulette

Note the bar slants, attitude, voicings, cascade of notes, and pipe.

"Everybody wants to love, nobody wants to cry.
Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Notes on Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon

-Though Pynchon's latest novel is about the past, it is not one of Pynchon's book that tells us much about the future. Nor should it be viewed as such. Rather, IV is one of Pynchon's entertainments, like Vineland or Crying of Lot 49 (though more lightweight than the latter) that the author has been known to favor and produce from time to time.

-I had my doubts about it working, but it does. After all, the era of the noir parody seems to have long passed. Likewise, crime/noir novels set in, and about, the 1960s. But Pynchon, through language, observation, humor, wit and political insight, characature and critique, carries it off.

-Granted, it might not be everyone's thing, particularly if you're expecting something along the lines of Gravity's Rainbox or Mason Dixon. And you're certainly not going to like it all that much if you're into straight-ahead narratives, minimalism and verisimilitude. But I wonder whether crime readers who've criticised IV for its use of the genre's various tropes actually believe fiction writing is, or should be, a replication of reality, if that were even possible. If so, they are either suffering from bad faith or are selling fiction writing short.

-In terms of language and narrative convolution, Pynchon could, by a quite stretch of the imagination, be compared with Chandler. After all, Chandler, though a total original, was writing a parody of the Hammett/Black Mask school. One would have to put oneself back in the late 1940s or 1950s to experience the impact Chandler's language must have had at the time of publication. So in that sense, IV might even be more faithful to Chandler than some of the more obvious parodies of the latter.

-What keeps IV interesting is it's historical context, set in the past with an eye on the present, even if it studiously avoids telling us anything about the future. But the sixties were, as Tom Hayden has maintained in a recent book, a decade that has so far refused to die. Likewise, IV, appearing some forty years after the era in which it is set, speaks of estate and credit scams,and the beginning of the computer culture. Had the novel been published in the 1970s it would necessitate a radically different reading. Yet by trying to be be part of the historical moment, its disillusionment and displacement shows, portrayed, as it is, through wilted rose-colored humor, incongruity and a studied stupidity.

-IV is better and more picaresque than Vineland but comes out of the same mould. Though Vineland was for me a disappointment, because it was Pynchon's first novel to make me aware that the author had multiple guises- there was the Pynchon who immersed himself in popular culture, as well as a Pynchon who was obsessed by the contours of history- and that not every book was going to be like V or Gravity's Rainbow.

-IV might not be up there with Crying of Lot 49, but it's not far off. However, Lot 49 was about the present, whose resonances lasted for at least a decade. Here the theme isn't Waste or Paranoia, but drugs consumed during a particular time and place, and the signifier is a boat adrift at sea that turns out to be a tax dodge set up by a group of dentists. While the protagonist's dope smoking might occasionally give him an edge, mostly it warps his sensibility and contributes to an endearing fin de epoch stupidity, which, at the same time, allows for some off-the-wall observations- he thinks Sherlock Holmes is a real person, after all, he's got a real address, though he's probably not still living. If nothing else, having a moron as a p.i. makes a pleasant change.

-So IV is confirmation that there are two Pynchons- one who writes Vineland, Crying and IV and another who writes more substantial work like V, Gravity's Rainbow, Mason and Dixon and Against the Day. But that's no longer much of a surprise. After all, we know there's the Pynchon of the Simpsons, the Pynchon who loves garage and surf bands, the Pynchon who appreciates Warlock- the novel and the film- and thinks Jim Dodge's Stone Junction a great novel. And I have always sort of gone along, and mostly agreed with him on all that. But even his entertainments, like moments in IV when you wonder where this is going and where and when it will end, can wear thin. Yet you can be sure there's always something going on here, though it's often the way it's said more than what is said. But that's a vice that is definitely inherent.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

I am a real sucker for WPA guide books. They give a glimpse of a time in the not so distant, one in which my parents came of age, when federal programs took people off the dole onto the government payroll. Moreover, some excellent writers helped put the guides together, writers like Algren, Ellison, Cheever, Rexroth, Steinbeck, Meridel Le Seur, Zora Neal Hurston, Weldon Keyes, Louis L'Amour, Richard Wright, Benjamin Appel, Jim Thompson, as well as an assortment of hoboes and eccentrics, including the great composer Harry Partch. If one looked into I bet any number of future crime/noir writers besides Thompson, Appel and Algren could be found amongst them. David Taylor's Soul of a People is an excellent history of that period and I now discover that he has a blog devoted to the WPA's writer's project, which I highly recommend.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

An updated list of poets who wrote or write crime/detective/noir novels:

Sophie Hannah
David Bottoms
Paul Auster
Jim Nisbet
Barry Gifford
Dennis Johnson
Max Brand
Charles Bukowski
Jory Sherman
Maxwell Bodenheim
George Milburn

But for my money, Fearing remains the best of them all.