Wednesday, November 02, 2016
From Little Sandy to the Blue Hammer: It's All One Case- The Illustrated Ross Macdonald Archives by Paul Nelson, Kevin Avery, with Jeff Wong
A few after my foray into the realm of Little Sandy, I crossed the rubicon and begin a long descent into the world of Ross Macdonald. It was Macdonald, along with Hammett and Himes who would be my introduction to hardboiled noir fiction. Which is to say, corruption in high places, accompanied by the poetry of street-level circumlocutions. To this day I still can't tell one Macondald novel from another. They really are all one novel, all one investigation and, as in the title of Kevin Avery and Jeff Wong's book, all one case. Which is say, they are all about the culture and its discontent, particularly when it comes to families, and how, as the man said, they really do fuck you up.
I stopped gumshoeing Nelson in the 70s, though I remember reading some of his rock criticism in Rolling Stone and elsewhere, always finding it interesting and eclectic. Because for him, as for Macdonald, it was also all one case- fiction, film writing, westerns, noir, music. Whether Gatsby, John Ford, Hammett or Warren Zevon, it was all part of the same American landscape. But instead of using his multiple interests and talents to take him to new heights, Nelson would apparently find the combinations so overwhelming and intense that they would eventually silence him. Or maybe he'd said it all, was unable to say anymore. Or it could simply be that he could not edit himself any longer or make it all cohere. Capable of so much, Nelson would end up delivering much less than he could have. Even so what he did manage to produce was always interesting and often brilliant, whether zooming-in for close-ups of his favorite musicians or writers, or panning-out for wide shots of the culture in general. Unfortunately, he could never get it together to write that elusive novel or film, until it all went silent and he ended his days as a reclusive clerk in a video store. Not so different from the way a young Quentin Tarantino began his career. And there is a little bit of Nelson in Tarantino. As for Macdonald, I would over the years revisit his work, occasionally picking up one of his novels only to marvel at his writing, the depths he was able to reach, all of which reminded me that this was why I got interested in this type of writing, because it's capable of saying so much. Of course must have felt much the same way.
Kevin Avery's biography of Nelson expanded on the information I had previously gleaned from Nolan's biography of Macdonald, namely that Nelson had conducted a marathon interview with Macdonald, pitching up his tent in Macdonald's house for some weeks. I remember writing to Kevin saying, just as so many others had, something along the lines of what, there's hundreds of hours of interviews Nelson did with Macdonald. Shouldn't they be made available. He assured me that they soon would be.