Tuesday, January 26, 2010

High Noon: Thirty

noun informal
a foolish or contemptible person who lacks social skills or is boringly studious
adjective (french)

Peter Dragovich's blog, The Nerd of Noir, first caught my attention while searching for reviews of a book I'd just read, (Psychosomatic by Anthony Neil Smith). What I read, apart from being insightful and ridiculously well informed, was a profane blast of enthusiasm so infectious that I set up a blogger account just so that I could leave a comment on the piece. A couple of days later I went back to my comment and, like the vain sob I am, clicked on my own name to check my profile. Looked like a handful of other people already had. Turns out people read these things fired off into the void of cyberspace, so I started a little blog called Hardboiled Wonderland to go with my profile. So, in a manner of speaking, if you've enjoyed anything on this blog in the last year + that its been running, well you can thank Pete. I go back to his blog regularly for the most entertaining reviews of books, movies and television shows I've ever read. Unlike me, Pete is completely fearless with his opinions which elevates him to the status of true critic instead merely fan and enthusiast - where I'd fall into the landscape. He's taken to task some of his favorite, (and mine), authors for lazy, predictable work in pretty harsh terms, where as I'd probably just refrain from reviewing a particular work. He's established his voice and presence on the webs and in my humble opinion deserves to be branded and quoted and blurbed on the hardcore shit like that Aint it Cool News guy, dear reader.

Pete is the contributor for this installment of the Narrative Music series.

High Noon: Thirty, or Wake the Hell Up, Martin Scorsese

There’s no denying that I am a lover of the bleak shit when it comes to, well, every type of entertainment, be it books, music, movies, TV - whatever the fuck. I consider any good, brutal song to be somewhat noir, therefore I could have pontificated about any number of sad bastard songs from sad bastard artists I love. Songs: Ohia (and all of Jason Molina’s other projects), Nina Nastasia, The Two Gallants, early Neil Young, Nick Drake, early Wilco, Whiskeytown (and Ryan Adams’ first album Heartbreaker, the only good thing he’s done all decade), Velvet Underground, Townes Van Zant, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, early Modest Mouse – all have ample amounts of shit in their catalogues that would have been perfect for this piece. But instead of choosing any old heartbreaker, I’ve decided to let you into my sad little headspace for a bit, to fill you in on something I do with many of my favorite songs: make small mental movies out of them.

And before you have a chance to call me out on my bullshit I will just fess the fuck up: Indeed, the preceding paragraph was a shameless attempt to lay out my music nerd cred before you have a chance to tear me apart for my actual song choice. When it comes to music, it never hurts to preemptively strike before the hipsters have a chance to maul you with nasally, whiney put-downs (“Radiohead’s okay, but only on their imports that you can only find on the black market in Mumbai.”)

I like songs that are cinematic, ones that automatically build a movie scene in my head after a listen or two. “Don, Aman” by Slint makes me think of a guy with a gunshot wound stumbling across a barren field toward a distant cottage, blood-soaked pistol dangling from one hand. “Child in Time” by Deep Purple brings up this ten-minute long sequence in a bar that’s all De Palma-y and bloody that I’d share with you if I wasn’t afraid Scorsese would snatch it up whole-cloth (okay, I’d let Scorsese have it, but he’s gotta contact my ass about it first). But if anybody’s looking to do a genuinely solid adaptation of the true crime classic Helter Skelter, I’ve got your opening credits sequence laid out for your ass, no charge.

(Please note that there should be a link inserted here to a video of the Mamas and the Papas song Twelve-thirty - sorry - the link isn't there any more... I don't think... maybe I'm just inept. - JA)

No, there is nothing wrong with your computation machine – the Nerd is indeed gonna talk hippie bullshit music on one of the most badass blogs in internetland. But before you click away in disgust (no doubt to some hardcore porn to cleanse your ocular and audiological palettes), hear the Nerd out. Actually, listen to that creepy-ass song first and then read on. Or, if you’re scared a co-worker might catch you listening to The Mamas and the Papas, here are the lyrics.

I used to live in New York City
Every thing there was dark and dirty
Outside my window was a steeple
With a clock that always said 12:30

Young girls are coming to the canyon
And in the morning I can see them walking
I can no longer keep my blinds drawn
And I can't keep myself from talking.

At first so strange to feel so friendly
To say good morning and really mean it
To feel these changes happening in me
But not to notice till I feel it.

Young girls are coming to the canyon
And in the morning I can see them walking
I can no longer keep my blinds drawn
And I can't keep myself from talking.

Cloudy waters cast no reflection
Images of beauty lie there stagnant
Vibrations bounce in no direction
And lie there shattered into fragments.

Young girls are coming to the canyon
And in the morning I can see them walking
I can no longer keep my blinds drawn
And I can't keep myself from talking

“Twelve-thirty”, as far as I can tell, is a song about how fucking great Los Angeles seems compared to the clich├ęs of New York City – dark and dirty, unfriendly people, all that kind of shit. It’s a Mecca for the flower children, a place where everyone seems genuine and everything is sunny and beautiful and all that kind of happy horseshit. But then, in the very last verse, that abstract-as-fuck last verse, the narrator realizes that L.A. is no better than any other place, it’s just as vapid and empty and soul-crushing as the rest of the world.

Sing those smart, sharply bleak fucking lyrics with the harmonies the Mamas and the Papas are known for and pack them into a rich wall of sound and you’ve got a damn fine song on its own – and I’ll say that shit with only a minimal amount of shame. Every dog has their day, am I right? I mean, it took Joan Baez twenty years of dicking around with hippie bullshit message music before she created her timeless, complex and adult song about Bob Dylan “Diamonds and Rust,” so why can’t The Mamas and the Papas get one right during height of their careers?

But if you’re still anti-“Twelve-Thirty”, allow the Nerd to further persuade you. So the Manson family murders, along with the violent failure that was the Altamont Speedway Free Festival in northern California, is often cited as the end of the sixties ideals, the moment the hippies figured out that like Peter Fonda says in Easy Rider, “We blew it.” A bunch of hippies go nuts and slaughter a bunch of rich folks in the night, the death knell has been fucking rung but fucking loudly.

It’s the moment that everyone realizes what John Phillips (Interesting that there’s not one but two kiddie rapers on the edges of this post, Roman Polanski and incestmeister John Phillips himself) apparently figured out a few years before, that Laurel Canyon (i.e. hippiedom in general) is not some haven, some place where you’re protected from the evil in this world. All the songs and protests and art and free thinking can’t keep out the crazy, that even hippie love-in communes can breed heinous, misguided violence.

So imagine this song, this slyly culturally-resonant tiny masterpiece, opening up a movie version of Helter Skelter, the opening credits popping up over the images. My idea is that there’s just a big long montage of shots of the Manson girls running through the yards of southern California homes in the dark. Just shadows and trees and hills in high contrast then a flash of movement as some hippie chicks come into view then ducks back into the shadows. Such shots would happen in quick succession over and over, each bleeding into the next with seamless fluidity. There’d be location shots of Spahn Ranch and Cielo Drive, naturally, but whether or not any of these images were one night or many nights would be unclear. Then toward the end of the song, “Directed by Pete Dragovich, AKA The Nerd of Noir” would appear and the audience would walk out of the theater in protest.

Maybe the song could even appear toward the end of the trailer for the movie, just this creepy old The Mamas and the Papas song popping up before shit goes to black and it says “Theaters Everywhere Christmas 2020” or some shit like that.

I know, I know, you can hardly stand it, can you, dear reader? I have just pitched you the most awesome idea ever and yet it remains unrealized, only alive in your mind. Or maybe you think it’s lame and too “on-the-nose” for your tastes. Maybe you still can’t get over the fact that this is the fucking Mamas and the fucking Papas, for Christ’s sake. But come on, the line “Young girls are coming to the cannnnnnyoooonnnn” played over shots of the Manson girls running around southern California in the dark, on-the-nose or not, is about as nastily noir as it gets.

The Nerd of Noir, who sometimes goes by Pete Dragovich, is a critic for www.bscreview.com and a blogger for http://nerdofnoir.blogspot.com , which is, obviously, his own personal blog. The Nerd lives in the Twin Cities and is extremely proud of himself for resisting the urge to include a Mama Cass joke in this piece.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

True Grit

I worked at a bookstore when Daniel Woodrell's Winter's Bone was published in 2006. I pushed that thing on everybody from readers of badass thrillers to parents looking for fiction for their teenagers to snobby literary types with a big ol' metaphor lodged up their back sides to twitchy meth mouths looking for a cautionary tale and people of any walk looking for an authentic taste of the region.

The only dissent I ever experienced on the book's merit was from suburban rich folks horrified that their big city friends on the coasts might read it and think that life in Missouri ain't the Sex and the City episode they were trying to convince themselves it could be.

And I got that reaction a lot.


Well, they can go ahead and be all kinds of scaredy now, 'cause Winter's Bone, the movie, makes its debut this week at The Sundance Film Festival, (where it's in competition along with Michael Winterbottom's The Killer Inside Me). And the relatively few people that read books are waaaay outnumbered by them that sees talkies. That's right, cat's outta the bag. Everybody's gonna know that the Ozarks aint too cosmopolitan. And while the jury is still out on the film, (let's face it, it'll have to be pretty spectacular to live up to its heritage), it is an exciting thing that this kind of film is even being made today. 2009 supposedly taught us that the adult drama is dead, but here we are looking forward, in the next year, to some ambitious stabs at filmic renderings of regional gritty maturity.

I feel like a broken record bringing up my anticipation of the various William Gay projects, That Evening Sun as the first offering and other Woodrell projects including Give Us a Kiss, but I'll mention them again and add to that list the new cable series Tough Trade coming from Chris Offutt and Jenji Kohan. And I'll even throw in some movie-type recommendations along these lines. Sitting right atop my list of the best and most exciting film stuffs to come out of the (relative) south, (Arkansas) in the last decade is Jeff Nichols and his film Shotgun Stories. The aughts also brought us Arliss Howard's take on Larry Brown with Big Bad Love while David Gordon Green retooled the region twice with George Washington and Undertow and Ray McKinnon stepped behind the camera for Chrystal.

The adult drama is dead. Long live the adult drama.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Once More, Into the Gutter

Sniiiffff. Smell that? It seem straight Out of the Gutter to you? It's been a long wait since the Revenge Issue, (which you can and should still order), but Matt Louis and his team of editors, (really? Something was edited out?!?) have come roaring back with the Sexploitation Issue. Friends, I have a piece in said issue called Viscosity - go ahead, keep your mind in the gutter. Thanks to Hana K. Lee for helping my decide on a name for the piece, (Allan Guthrie suggested The Ugly Dick). I won't lie to you, folks, the story is rooted, ahem, in fact and rumors from my own time as a young man. I don't claim first, ahem, hand knowledge of the practices put forth by the guys in this story, but I know people who do. My piece won't cause anyone to faint ala Chuck Palahniuk's Guts, (pick up his novel composed of short stories Haunted for that little gem), but I'd like to think it registered a chuckle or two and maybe even some understanding across gender lines. My wife says it gave her some insight, too late for her, though - I liked it and I put a ring on it.

I'm honored/horrified to share space in the issue with Chris Pimental, Jasper Owens, Michael Bracken, Glenn Gray, Steven Barnes, Angela Caperton and so many others. And I agree with Rod Lott over at Bookgasm when he praises the non-fiction pieces in this issue, they've stepped it up big time. The bar has been raised/lowered again.

There's news from the OOTG camp too. They're expanding into books, (Out of the Gutter is a magazine - in case that wasn't clear) this year. Apparently we can expect the first offerings from Gutter Press sometime in 2010. Are you tingly? Might wanna get some ointment for that.

While we're on the subject of OOTG I should announce that filmmaker Julian Grant is in the script writing faze of preparation to shoot a feature based on my story A Fuckload of Scotch Tape which appeared in OOTG's Revenge Issue, (which also features, Jordan Harper, Greg Bardsley, David Cramner, Sophie Littlefield, Charlie Stella and Vicki Hendricks!). I've seen a handful of his short films and can verify that the man has chops and imagination. He's produced and directed fims for fifteen years for everybody from HBO to The Lifetime Network, but last year moved to Chicago to teach at Columbia College with the goal of making an independent feature per year. He's just completed the first of those right on schedule. It's a zombie flick called The Defiled and if you're in the Chicago area on January 25 you can catch a sneak preview.

Needless to say I'm excited about seeing what he turns out.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Get Thee Behind Me

2009 is officially over as of this post. A much better year than its predecessor for me, but still shy of expectations. Many irons big and small warm themselves in the meager fire, but none have emerged hot and ready for striking. Tepid as it may be, I've removed one and begun hammering away at it, (and significantly cut time at an actual paying job to make time for), and I'm flushed with the exertion, risk and excitement of the work. A quick list of strikes and gutters follows.

2009 in writing - 2/7 split. While tremendously enjoying screenwriting projects, I failed to produce a novel - in fact, I threw out the one I spent the better part of the year working on.

2009 in publishing - Spare. Short stories in ThugLit, Sex, Thugs & Rock and Roll, Surreal South and Out of the Gutter, but alas no novel.

2009 in reading - Strike. So many great authors I got around to reading for the first time that I'm embarrassed to admit now that I hadn't yet read.

2009 in meeting famous people - Strike. Heroes anyway.

2009 in becoming famous people - Gutter. Zero paparazzi

2009 in beauty - Gutter. See hairline, waistline and face lines.

2009 in the internets - Split. Thanks to everybody who reads, comments on and submits to grilling at HBW it's been gratifying, but I hardly have a moment to browse said 'nets and Twitter? I am so lost. Also those naked celebrity pics are sometimes fakes and might even damage your employer's computer. Thanks to 'nets, I have found another Jed Ayres in the country, but I'm a little fearful to discover which end of the doppelganger I represent.

2009 in movies - Gutter. Bout a half dozen outings to the movie houses which is pitiful, plus gave up on probably 70-80% of the flicks I started watching at home.

2009 in TV - Spare. No The Wire or The Shield, Lost was promising, Big Love's 2nd season was good, The Riches' 2nd season sucked, I lost track of Rescue Me, Damages 1st season warrants a look at the 2nd, Sons of Anarchy's 1st was a mixed bag, Brotherhood wrapped up and never lost it's dignity, Dexter got creepier, funnier and more dull simultaneously, Dollhouse failed to compel me - the long game holds promise, but the episodic nature just wasted my time. Star Wars The Clone Wars is great - kiss my ass haters. Battlestar Galactica followed its pattern of starting brilliantly, sagging mid-season and coming back big in the end. It was a great ride, but thank god, its over. Or is it? Not sure I'm up for all the spinoffs and supplementals, but I'll check out one or two. Mad Men has surprisingly filled the Sopranos void for me. Breaking Bad is great and Weeds came back from the brink it teetered on season 3. Season 4 was probably its best. Curb Your Enthusiasm remains constant, while It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia just gets better and better.

2009 in money - Gutter.