Monday, October 26, 2009

Needles & Pills

Last year when Anthony Neil Smith announced the idea to do a themed issue of Plots With Guns set 500 years in the future and call it Plots With Ray-Guns, I geeked out and thought "I've got to be part of that". I worked out what I believed to be the perfect story for the issue and submitted it waaay early. Rejected. "Too Sci-fi". WTF? With just a touch of bitterness I checked out the issue when it was published and one of the first pieces I hit was Kieran Shea's Koko Takes a Holiday. Oh, shit, I thought, so that's WTF ANS was holding out for. Some balls out prose that was so electrifying it could've been about uh, flowers or the weather or a sale at the GAP and still held my attention. I recently told Kieran this and he confessed it was his 3rd attempt to get into the issue. So there you have it. We both wanted in. I was told "no" and quit. He was told "no", came back again, was told "no", came back again with an amazing piece that couldn't be turned down. You and I could both learn a thing or two from K-Shea, who by the way is guest blogging today in the Narrative Music series.

"Lord I'm Discouraged"

When Jed asked me to contribute to this blog tangent, I immediately went to a song that’s been in my heavy iPod rotation— “Lord, I’m Discouraged” by The Hold Steady. This song just breaks your goddamn heart with a sledgehammer…a lover’s unanswered prayer for a girl decimated by the horrors of hard addiction.

Despite the band’s reputation for rousing, humid anthems to youth passed, lyricist and lead singer Craig Finn has a deeper storyteller’s marrow laced deep in his bones. Maybe it’s the Irish Catholic thing, I don’t know, but troll through the band’s catalog and you’ll find his songs are populated with very troubled characters. Men and women sifting through the wreckage of indiscretions and indulgences, striving for grace in an unforgiving world.

The brilliance of Finn is his ability to define scenes with targeted thrift. Just when you think a line will end predictably, he’ll whip it around and sucker punch you. Kind of like early Springsteen back when “the Boss” had a pair of hairy wind chimes dangling between his legs (another discussion entirely). For example, in “Lord, I’m Discouraged” right before an achingly sweet and cresting guitar solo, Finn employs this line to sum up a drug deal:

“This guy from the north side comes down to visit, his visits they only take five or six minutes…”

Either observed or participated in, Finn knows the dark side. Drug dealers of serious weight rarely stick around after a buy.

“Lord, I’m Discouraged”

Lord, I'm discouraged
the circles have sucked in her eyes
Lord, I'm discouraged
her new friends have shadowed her life
Lord, I'm discouraged
she ain't come out dancin' for some time
I try to light candles
but they burn down to nothin'
and she keeps comin' up with
Excuses and half truths and fortified wine
Excuses and half truths and fortified wine
Excuses and half truths and fortified wine
There's a house on the southside
she stays in for days at a time

I know I'm no angel
but I ain't been bad that way
Can't you hear her?
She's that sweet missing songbird
when the choir sings on Sunday
And I'm almost busted
but I bought back the jewelry she sold
And I come to your altar
But then there's just nothin'
and she keeps insisting
the sutures and bruises are none of my business
she says that she's sick
but she won't get specific
the sutures and bruises are none of my business
This guy from the north side
comes down to visit
His visits they only take five or six minutes

Lord, I'm sorry to question your wisdom
but my faith has been waverin'
Won't you show me a sign
let me know that you're listenin'
Excuses and half truths and fortified wine
Excuses and half truths and fortified wine
Excuses and half truths and fortified wine
I know it's unlikely she'll ever be mine
so I mostly just pray she don't die

Monday, October 19, 2009

Indiana Jonsing

Back in St. Louis. Back in my own bed. Back to my old bad habits. First a big thanks to Frank Bill and his lovely wife and apologies about the toilet. BTW they make some good sturdy industrial strength plungers in Indiana. Email Frank and I'm sure he can tell you where to pick one up. I got to see first hand the locations described in his dark stories of rural blood feuds as well as good hunting and fishing spots in the area. We stayed up too late talking reading, writing, horror movies and the guilty pleasures of Bud Light Lime. Yes, Blimey. Friday afternoon I drove up to Indianapolis and found a place to park, then made a line for the hotel bar. On the way to said bar I accosted Duane Swierczynski then made an ass of myself to Martyn Waites, Gary Phillips, Megan Abbott and Reed Farrell Coleman. A while later Anthony Neil Smith came to my rescue joined by fellow First Offender Karen E. Olsen who helped me learn some conversational subtleties that I put to good use when I chatted up Sophie Littlefield and Craig McDonald. Ran into fellow St. Louisans John Lutz, Robert Randisi and Rod Wiethop dragging their long suffering wives along to yet another event populated by misanthropic alcoholics. Scott Phillips showed up as I was sharing a "tall guy" moment with Kieran Shea and Seth Harwood and we were joined in dinner by Stacia Decker, John Rector, Dan O'Shea, Dennis Tafoya and other pleasant rummies too numerous to count with double vision. After dinner I made fan boy advances on Victor Gischler, Sean Doolittle, Dennis McMillan, Sean Chercover, Marcus Sakey, Alison Janssen, John and Ruth Jordan before retiring to befoul Greg Bardsley's bed, (cause he didn't arrive till Friday) in K-Shea's room. Shea was a class act it's gotta be said who made the whole thing possible for me. No way I could've afforded it without his offer of a place to sleep. In the morning Shea and I shared breakfast and spoke of our various projects then he encouraged me to sneak into a noir panel featuring Mr. Gischler and Christa Faust before skipping town to attend to aforementioned familial commitments. Thanks to everybody who made the trip a possibility and a pleasure.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Where The Wild Things (Will Be)

Just found out I've got enough scratch for one night at Bouchercon in Indianapolis. What this means: after work on Wednesday I will leave for Indiana and crash at the home of Frank Bill and raid his liquor cabinet, I mean garage. Thursday morning as soon as I'm sober and caffeinated I will continue on to Indianapolis, (perhaps Mr. Bill riding shotgun) and crash the hotel room of Kieran Shea and Greg Bardsley, (who won't actually be there till Friday dammit) and stink up the latrine. Thursday night I will meet up with Scott Phillips and (I'm told) Anthony Neil Smith, Stacia Decker and Dan O'Shea, (maybe more) and play pin-the-kitty-on-the-cozy with substances that rhyme with drunk. Friday morning will find me back on the road to St. Louis with a lifetime's worth of cautionary tales in the back seat. See you there.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Surviving Helena

Going way off the reservation when I reveal I was watching the second season of Flight of the Conchords the other night and saw the episode in which Art Garfunkel makes a cameo. Laughed pretty hard, yet not as hard as one of the only other times I recall seeing Garfunkel in a film, (outside of Catch 22). The unintentionally funny Boxing Helena also starred Julian Sands, Sherilyn Fenn - that chick who wore the awesomely tight sweaters in Twin Peaks - and Bill Paxton. Me thinks it was the movie that Kim Basinger was sued for breach of contract for leaving and gladly paid $$$ to get out of. At its core was a decent idea for a scary movie, but the end product was, well I hope it wasn't what anybody was going for. The director, Jennifer Lynch, (daughter of David) spent the last fifteen years or so in hollywood purgatory for that one and re-emerged recently and quietly with a hell of a sick picture called Surveillance. So glad she got the chance to make another flick. Reminded me of the gratitude for second chances I felt after seeing Richard Shepard's bounce back effort, The Matador after his flop The Linguini Incident sent him to development no man's land. The cast of Surveillance got new leases on their careers, (in my eyes), too. I've never seen Bill Pullman so good, so creepy and nervy and jittery. Even though I love some of his pictures - The Last Seduction, Lost Highway, he's not been the strong link. And Julia Ormond had one memorable performance before this, the detached detective in Smilla's Sense of Snow after spending her earliest exposure as the woman coming between men, (Legends of the Fall, First Knight, Sabrina). French Stewart shakes free his 3rd Rock persona as a bored cop abusing travelers on his beat, (think a far more sadistic version of Super Troopers) and Cheri Oteri makes a solid go in a dramatic role. As Lynch recalls in one of the special features ...the phone rang and I picked it up and heard "You are the sickest bitch I know" and I said, "Dad?"... So, yeah. Second chances and reinventions. Good for them. Now for a Garfunkel image makeover.