Archive for the ‘Message from M.A.C.’ Category

Sidekicks

Tuesday, May 26th, 2020

Hardcover:
E-Book: Google Play Kobo

Digital Audiobook: Google Play Kobo

The day this update appears (May 26) is the pub date for the new Caleb York western novel, Hot Lead, Cold Justice.

Unlike the other Spillane co-bylined books in the Mike Hammer series (and other crime novels), these westerns are mostly by me, working with characters and situations from Mickey’s various drafts of his screenplay, The Saga of Calli York, written for John Wayne but never produced. I have endeavored in these novels – I just completed another – to bring either a strong mystery or crime novel element into the proceedings. Even if you don’t usually read westerns, I think you will have a good time – assuming you are reading my other work, in particular the Spillane material.

I am not a voluminous reader of westerns myself, though I have long been a fan of western films. I can talk John Wayne, Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea and Audie Murphy with the best of ‘em; same goes for directors like Sam Peckinpah, Budd Boeticher, Anthony Mann, John Ford and Howard Hawks. The early seasons of Maverick are mid-century TV at its best. Probably my favorite western novel (and there’s a certain irony about this – see if you can catch it) is the novelization of Howard Hawks’ movie Rio Bravo by its screenwriter, Leigh Brackett, the woman who shared screenplay credit with William Faulkner on the same director’s film of The Big Sleep.

I’ve never been a big Faulkner fan, but there are two stories about him that I love.

One is that a frustrated reader told him how much trouble he was having understanding what Faulkner had written in The Sound and the Fury. Faulkner told him, “Have you tried reading it drunk? That’s how I wrote the thing.”

Another is that Faulkner was paid big money to fly to a college campus to talk to a creative writing seminar as their keynote speaker. When his turn came, Faulkner went to the dias and asked how many of the college students wanted to be writers. They all raised their hands. Then Faulkner said, “Then why the hell aren’t you home writing?” And sat back down.

I don’t know if either of those stories are true, and I don’t care. Somebody already mentioned here once said, “Print the legend,” and I agree with that.

Getting back to Hot Lead, Cold Justice – a title I suggested as a joke that was immediately embraced (mine was The Big Die-up) – a lovely review has appeared at that great book review site, Bookgasm, and rather than put you to the trouble of chasing a link, here it is (written by Mark Rose):

Max Allan Collins has entered my reading list once again, this time in a genre with which I’m mostly unfamiliar: the Western. Hot Lead, Cold Justice is listed as by Mickey Spillane and Collins, and this is the fifth book in the series featuring Spillane’s character Caleb York.

For those who don’t know, Spillane and Collins were friends, and upon the former’s death, he entrusted his literary property such as his characters (Mike Hammer) and unpublished screenplays (where the character Caleb York originated) to Collins. So Collins has written a number of Mike Hammer stories and now explores the world of late 19th-century New Mexico.

It’s a tough frontier world but the little oasis of Trinidad, New Mexico seems just fine for Sheriff Caleb York. Until his deputy is shot twice and left to die. York had just given the man his long coat and hat, and he’s convinced that the gunmen were aiming for York and not the deputy. Luckily, the deputy survives. But York knows he’s got men after him now.

These men are a rough and brutal lot. Their leader rode with Quantrill, the notorious Missouri raider who massacred the men in the free state town of Lawrence, Kansas during the Civil War. They’ll stop at nothing as they attempt to rob banks in the area in order to set up a stake for themselves and eventually go live on a beach in Mexico. And while they do that, they can find time to ambush York and bring his do-gooder life to an end.

This is a short (just over 200 pages), rip-roaring read with the fast pacing and smooth style that characterizes all of Collins’ work. Characters are simply described, but set up with credible backstories and behaviors. The scenery is all well-described. Dialogue is spot-on, except perhaps for the unfortunate dialect awarded to the deputy’s voice.

If you want a movie-style Western and you’ve read all your Louis L’Amours, I think it would be a place to start with Max Allan Collins and Mickey Spillane’s books featuring Caleb York. Here are the titles in order: The Legend of Caleb York, The Big Showdown, The Bloody Spur, Last Stage to Hell Junction, and Hot Lead, Cold Justice.

Wow. That’s an overwhelmingly positive review, huh? But of course that doesn’t stop me from having a bone to pick.

Well, not really. I get it – I understand how somebody entering the serious, relatively realistic world of Caleb York could have difficulty with Deputy Jonathan P. Tulley’s “dialect.” But the thing is, Tulley isn’t speaking a dialect at all. Nobody ever spoke like that. I have no idea where I’m pulling that patois out of, unless I’m sitting on it.

We are in the territory of a character who is great fun to write because he can say or do just about anything, and I don’t have to apologize (even though I seem to be right now.)

Tulley has much in common with Mother (aka Vivian Borne) in the Antiques novels, because there doesn’t seem to be any behavior or train of thought or speech that she can’t get away with. Whenever I think I’ve gone too far with Mother, I run it past Barb and she always says the same thing, “There’s no way you can go too far with Mother.”

That’s because, at least in part, Vivian Borne was conceived as the comedy relief – the sidekick to her amateur sleuth daughter, Brandy. The problem is that Vivian (not surprisingly) didn’t behave. She insisted on having equal footing with Brandy, and began pushing for first-person chapters of her own. She has also developed into a hell of a detective, or (as we say in the cozy world) a heck of a detective. For a long time the girls argued over who was Holmes and who was Watson. But, really, it didn’t take long for Brandy to realize she was Archie Goodwin to Mother’s Nero Wolfe – only Mother is not at all a stay at home detective.

By the way, Antiques Fire Sale was published just a month ago, and is a good place to see what it is I’m talking about.

Sidekicks often become more popular than the more recognizably human heroes they hang around with. Does anyone really think Roy Rogers, for all his charm and his lovely singing voice, was more memorable than Gabby Hayes? What was Marshal Dillon without Chester? When Dennis Weaver left his Good name behind to be a full-fledged hero himself, Festus had to be called in off the bench.

It’s the Kirk and Spock effect.

As for that pesky dialect of Tulley’s, I have written him in a long tradition of characters like Dick Tracy cast members B.O. Plenty and Vitamin Flintheart. No hillbilly ever spoke like B.O., but that didn’t stop Chester Gould from letting him talk, or me from letting him devolve into a babbling source of malapropisms. And John Barrymore, the model for Vitamin, never spoke in the bewildering flowery way of the great Flintheart.

Speaking of hillbillies, no real hillbilly ever had a thing to do with Al Capp’s creations, either. As a kid, I was a Li’l Abner fan for years before somebody pointed out to me that Capp was doing hillbillies. In my college days, a leftist pal of mine complained that Capp was ridiculing poverty-stricken Appalachian mountaineers. I replied that the last time I looked, Capp was ridiculing everybody (just not as well, in his later years, as in his heyday).

Mickey created the way Tulley talks and I ran with it. I realize for some a cartoonish character like Tulley, in the midst of an otherwise straight story, may be bewildering or off-putting. But beyond his peculiar way of speaking, Tulley has grown and evolved from town drunk to sheriff’s deputy, and revealed himself as a good man to have at your side in a gunfight.

I think it was the late, great Bill Crider who said, “Every western ought to have a character in it that could be played by Gabby Hayes.” Or maybe it was the great but not late James Reasoner. Sure, there are loners without sidekicks – Shane, Paladin, late-period Randolph Scott, probably a bunch of others. For many a hero, though, a Pat Buttram or Fuzzy Knight or Walter Brennan is de rigueur. For the more serious-minded, Jay Silverheels or (in The Searchers) Jeffrey Hunter would have to do.

But, goldurnit, even Hondo had a dog. And I think Gabby Hayes could have played that hound right fine.

* * *

Speaking of sidekicks, I am happy to play Gabby Hayes to my lovely wife, Barbara Collins, to whom I was married on June 1, 1968. She would probably prefer Jeffrey Hunter, though.

Fifty-two years, and it really does seem like yesterday. Anyone who doubts that I am a very lucky man just isn’t paying attention.

* * *

Digital Audiobook: Google Play

Somebody in Australia (home of Wentworth!) put together a list of my “oeuvre.” Check it out.

This list of Memorial Day mysteries includes my story, “Flowers for Bill O’Reilly.” I wrote it long ago, before I knew who the ex-Fox commentator was. I’ll change the name next time it’s reprinted.

Journalstone has put out an audio of The Last Stand, the last book Mickey completed in his lifetime, edited by me and with a novella I co-wrote, also included on the audio. I haven’t heard it yet, but it’s read by that wonderful narrator, Dan John Miller.

This is an insightful review of my Batman prose short story, “What is The Sound of One Hand Clapping.”

And, finally, here’s a smart review of Mickey’s novel The Girl Hunters, from the anthology of three Hammer novels I edited and introduced. Complex 90, of course, is the sequel.

M.A.C.

It’s Another Book Giveaway, Cowboys and Girls!

Tuesday, May 19th, 2020

[All copies have been claimed. Thank you for your support!]

I have ten hardcover copies of the forthcoming Hot Lead, Cold Justice – the new Caleb York western, due to be published on May 26.

As usual, the deal is (if you receive one of the free copies) you agree to write a review for Amazon, with reviews at Barnes & Noble and blogs also appreciated. If you hate the book, you are excused from this mission; but otherwise, let ‘er rip.

Reviews are encouraged from those of you who actually bought any of the current books. No new Amazon reviews have appeared lately for Girl Can’t Help It, Antiques Fire Sale, Masquerade for Murder and Do No Harm, so your help in that regard would be much appreciated.

* * *

Janet Rudolph, of the great site Mystery Fanfare, has provided a ballot for the Macavity Awards. Among other things, Janet is the editor of The Mystery Readers Journal, to which I have on occasion contributed.

Here it is:

* * *
Macavity Awards categories:

Best Mystery Novel:

Best Mystery First Novel:

Best Mystery Nonfiction:

Best Mystery Short Story:

Sue Feder Memorial Historical Mystery:

Deadline for Nominations: June 1, 2020

Books and stories must have been published in 2019.

* * *

To nominate, copy and paste the ballot into an e-mail, fill it out, and send to janet@mysteryreaders.org. Nominations must be received by June 1.

Books of mine that are eligible include Girl Most Likely, Killing Quarry, Antiques Ravin’, and Murder, My Love. Neither Barb nor I had short stories out last year. Of the novels, I would say Murder, My Love would best qualify under historical.

Speaking of Deadly Anniversaries, that fine anthology in celebration of the Mystery Writers of America’s 75th anniversary, is out now. My story, “Amazing Grace,” is in my opinion the best short story I’ve ever written.

I owe that to Barb, who suggested I develop a story out of an experience from my distant past that I had shared with her. It was a natural, and that it took Barb to suggest it, without me making the connection with an actual significant anniversary from my childhood – one important enough for me to share with her, and make enough of an impression that came immediately to her mind, if not mine – shows how writing fiction draws from numerous sources other than sheer imagination…no matter what Willy Wonka (and Anthony Newley) might think. Similarly…

One of the joys of writing historical fiction, for me at least, is having the research essentially present the story to you. I’m not talking about the broad strokes story (who really kidnapped the Lindbergh baby?), but story elements and possibilities – things you didn’t know about when the research began.

I am right now researching the Rosie the Riveter period of women working in defense plants during WW 2. I pitched a basic story and got the go-ahead from a publisher, but in reality didn’t have much more in mind than a mystery with that setting and time frame.

But as soon as I dug into the research, facts I’d not been aware of got up on their hind legs and barked. Right now, as the research winds down, I am almost giddy with anticipation of telling a story that has seemingly presented itself to me, like a gift.

An exaggeration? To be sure. What has come together is much more than broad strokes, but has not yet been hammered out into something approaching an actual story worth telling.

There is much riveting yet to do.

* * *

Thomas McNulty has a great blog called Dispatches from the Last Outlaw. He also has a fun You Tube show called McNulty’s Book Corral. I loved his episode about Mickey Spillane (and he was kind to me, as well).

To give you the flavor of Tom’s writing, here’s what he had to say about Masquerade for Murder:

Once again Max Allan Collins proves his incredible talent with another entry in Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer series. Often working from a sparse outline, Collins has crafted a remarkable series that not only pays tribute to Spillane, but advances the tough guy world he so brilliantly embodied. Masquerade for Murder is a hardboiled lunch, served up with a cold beer in a tall, chilled glass. It’s perfect. The characterizations are spot-on, the suspense is like a delicate soufflé, ripe with tension but delightful for readers to experience. There’s a solid mystery that needs solving, and while I suspected a few things, I was pleasantly surprised that I hadn’t figured it all out. That’s okay, that’s Mike Hammer’s job anyway, and he does so with the usual tough guy attitude. The story takes place in the late 1980s, and Hammer might be older, but he’s still a contender as several bad guys quickly find out. I’m quite the fan of both Spillane and Collins and I never get tired of these “collaborations.” Collins is a bit nostalgic this time around, or should I say that Hammer is a bit nostalgic. The New York of post-war America is gone, but Mike Hammer is still a rough and tumble tiger roaming the mean streets of Manhattan. Velda is here, too, older but still sexy. A few other kittens show up, but you’ll have to read the book to find out what happens. Masquerade for Murder is a great, fun book, and it arrived as if by a providential hand to brighten my day. Highly recommended!

Your check is in the mail, Tom!

Here’s a review (from the stellar site, The Stiletto Gumshoe) of Vengeance Is Hers, the 1997 anthology Mickey Spillane and I edited. It’s all women writers – except for one by a man (Mickey Spillane). Obviously it plays off the title of Mickey’s classic Hammer novel, Vengeance Is Mine!

This look at Elseworlds Batman tales includes a nice write-up on Scar of the Bat, my Eliot Ness/Batman graphic novel.

This annotated list of Road novels includes the graphic novel version of Perdition.

M.A.C.

Mommy Streams, Backlist Bubbles, We Binge

Tuesday, May 12th, 2020

Both Mommy and Mommy’s Day are now streaming on Amazon Prime. (Links: Mommy; Mommy’s Day) How long they will be there I can’t say (Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life has disappeared, though some other streaming services have it). If you’re a Prime member, it’s included.

[Note from Nate: Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life is currently on Tubi, free (with ads?)]

So if you haven’t seen both or either of these films, now’s your chance. If you have the earlier full-screen versions, this is an opportunity to see the widescreen versions that Phil Dingeldein and I recently labored to create. I do warn everyone not to expect HD quality (despite being streamed as HD) – the picture (particularly on Mommy) is rather soft. But it’s probably the best either one is going to look.

As I’ve said, compromises were made to be able to afford the wonderful casts.

remain proud of these films, and the Blu-ray double-feature release has received mostly good to great notices. People seem to understand where these little movies were coming from – which is to say blackly humorous melodrama, and a tribute to The Bad Seed and to Patty McCormack herself.

Mommy and Mommy’s Day are streaming on Fandango, too, for a couple of bucks. It may show up elsewhere (I am not kept terribly well in the loop by the distributor). (Links: Mommy; Mommy’s Day)

The novel versions will be coming out again one of these days, part of a package I am negotiating with a major e-book publisher for the seven remaining novels on my backlist (Amazon has most of the rest, Dover has the first two Jack and Maggie Starr novels).

We are also discussing a group of collections of my short fiction (and Barb’s), reprinting Blue Christmas, Too Many Tomcats, and Murder – His and Hers, plus a follow-up to that last title, a collection of my horror stories, and two collections of the stories Matt Clemens and I have done together.

Pulling these stories together has been a big job. They go back to the nineties in many cases, and were written using the word-processing program (wait for it) WordStar, and then converted to now nearly obsolete versions of WordPerfect maybe twenty years ago, and finally to Word. So while I have most of the files in some form, the dizzying array of conversion glitches causes twitches.

For the horror collection I decided to include the radio scripts of “Mercy” and “House of Blood,” written for the Fangoria radio show, Dreadtime Stories. I had adapted a number of my short stories for producer Carl Amari, but had two indie movie ideas I wanted to get up on their feet, and that’s how the two scripts above came to be written. The scripts were in a format (basically a very narrow strip of copy, maybe four inches wide, that required hours of work transforming them into more standard pages of text that wouldn’t bewilder or annoy readers. Fortunately, I have a staff to do such scut work. No, wait – I don’t!

Ultimately, though, it will mean the vast majority of my work will be available in e-book (and real books), with only a handful of things lost to the mists of time.

* * *

What have Barb and I been watching lately? Now that we don’t go to the movies anymore?

We finally got around to Ozark, which had been recommended to me by smart people, who were right. It’s a terrific show, very well-acted and full of twists and turns. Several people had told me that somebody (or somebodies) at the series seemed to be fans of mine or were influenced by me, and I think that might be the case. If so, it’s flattering. If not, it’s not the first time I’ve been deluded.

But there’s a hillbilly family reminiscent of the Comforts from the Nolan novels, a character called Boyd (Quarry’s partner in those novels), and a major villain in the first of the three seasons so far is played by the actor (Peter Mullen) who was the Broker in the Quarry TV series. And the good man doing bad things to keep his family afloat is Road to Perdition 101. Maybe half a dozen times I turned to Barb and said, “At least somebody’s reading me.”

The series itself is obviously something that wouldn’t exist without Breaking Bad, and it challenges you (in a Quarry-like way) to root for and identify with people who are making really poor choices. I don’t mean to overstate any debt anybody owes me, because (a) I owe plenty of debts myself, and (b) I may be full of shit about this.

The Guardian describes Ozark thusly: “Ozark follows the misadventures of Marty Byrde (the perpetually clenched Jason Bateman), a financial adviser forced to relocate from Chicago to Osage Beach, Missouri, where he launders money on a scale that would give Al Capone a cluster migraine.”

Bateman uses his standard glib, slightly put-upon persona to nice comic effect initially, and you are slightly amazed at first by how well that persona works in a dark melodrama. But as that melodrama grows darker, and the consequences ever more dire, Bateman’s performance deepens. Other mesmerizing performances come from Laura Linney, as Bateman’s even more glib wife, whose sunny smile delivers manipulative self-interest in such a “helpful” way; and Julia Garner’s Ruth, the most original and unique character in Ozark, a hillbilly girl with a good heart and a crushed soul, capable of kindness and murder, when either is called for.

I like the series and I think you will, too.

We also have recently enjoyed the surprise gift of a second season of Rick Gervais’ After Life, the touching drama/comedy (you don’t think I could ever type the vile word “dramedy,” do you?) that explores the road back for a husband consumed by grief over the loss of a wonderful wife.

The very special thing about After Life is its signature combination of mean humor and genuine sentiment. It’s a show about a man so depressed that suicide is an understandable option, and it’s often frequently hilarious.

I am a Gervais fan and have been for a long, long time. This little series isn’t much talked about, but it may represent his best work.

On the film front, we have watched a lot of British comedies of the late ‘40s and 1950s – such Alastair Sim gems as our perennial favorite, The Belles of St. Trinian’s, but also Laughter in Paradise and School for Scoundrels; and Alec Guinness in All at Sea, The Captain’s Paradise and Last Holiday.

And the most current season of Midsomer Murders, a favorite comfort food of ours, seemed particularly strong after a few missteps the season before.

* * *

Bookgasm, which is a book review site you should be regularly visiting, has posted a wonderful review of Girl Can’t Help It that’s been picked up all over the place, and I provided a link last week. But in case you haven’t seen it, I’m going to share it here, right now:

Notoriously prolific author Max Allan Collins has added a second entry to his Krista Larson series, GIRL CAN’T HELP IT. It’s also a stretch back to Collins’ past (and present) as a rock and roll musician. True! I didn’t know this either but Collins apparently wrote the song “Psychedelic Siren” recorded by The Daybreakers in 1968 (here, watch it on YouTube). In the author’s note, he states this is the first time he has mined his rock and roll experience for a book. Well dang it, more of this please. Mr. Collins.

The first book in the series, Girl Most Likely, features Krista Larson as the Chief of Police in Galena, Illinois. She is assisted by her able staff but also by her father, a retired cop from the Dubuque Police Department who does invaluable detective work. In this second work, Girl Can’t Help It, the Larson duo is back on the job.

The book title refers to a song title recorded by local Galena band Hot Rod & The Pistons. They scored a huge hit with the song in the 80s when retro rockabilly hit big (think Stray Cats). They managed two albums and then faded away. But after their election into the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they’re set for a reunion gig and maybe even a little tour. The town of Galena is excited and creates a special musical festival to kick off the whole thing. All well and good.

Until one of the members is found dead of a heart attack in a bathtub. Oh well, old guys do die. But then a second band member commits suicide and his apartment has been ransacked. This hits the Larsons as fishy, and they’re fairly convinced that both deaths are murders.

Of course, we the readers know these are murders because we have chapters written from the point of view of the murderer. The crimes continue to escalate and it’s a battle between the murderer and the police department to see who will come out on top and if the entire lineup of Hot Rod & The Pistons will be killed off one by one.

Everybody knows Max Allan Collins by now. He has multiple series in place, writes another successful series with his wife (the duo goes by Barbara Allan) and is one of the solid bricks in the pyramid of genre writers over the past 40+ years. A lovely, smooth and polished style coupled with a brisk pace makes for quick reading short chapters, believable characters, behaviors and dialogue. If you like any of Collins’ works, you’ll like GIRL CAN’T HELP IT. I think this series has real promise. Recommended. —Mark Rose

Get it at Amazon.

A fun podcast about books, The Inside Flap, was kind enough to give Do No Harm and Nate Heller some attention. The Do No Harm stuff happens a bit after the hour mark. You’ll hear one of the participants wish that I would have Heller solve the JFK assassination (guess what books I sent along to them).

The great blog Paperback Warrior is posting their all-time ten favorite posts, and the one focusing on The First Quarry is #4.

Here’s a great interview with my buddy Charles Ardai, touching on our projects together.

The fantastic Stiletto Gumshoe site talks about Mike Hammer and Masquerade for Murder, and provides some links to things you may have missed.

This nice review of Antiques Fire Sale is a little quirky – doesn’t like all the talking to the reader, and thinks referring to Vivian as “Mother” is disrespectful – but some nice insights are on hand, as well. Loving us is preferred, but liking us is just fine, too.

Finally, check out this terrific Mystery Tribute piece about Mike Hammer and Masquerade for Murder.

M.A.C.

Music Is the Best Medicine

Tuesday, May 5th, 2020


Digital Audiobook: Google Play Kobo iTunes

I’m going to discuss audio today, specifically (but not exclusively) music.

I have been blessed with having some incredible narrators read the audio versions of my novels, with “the voice of Nate Heller,” Dan John Miller, out right now with Do No Harm. Also current is Masquerade for Murder read by Stefan Rudnicki, whose Quarry readings have been favorites of mine and many of you. Jack Garrett, who did a fine job on Last Stage to Hell Junction, has Hot Lead, Cold Justice coming this month.

Our habit is to listen to the audio books of our stuff in the car. So we have yet to adjust to listening at home. Since we are liable to be sheltering in place (in some form or another) until a vaccine arrives, that will probably change.

I depend on habit – on routine – to keep me sane in what I cheerfully think of as the random terror of the chaos that is life. Just this weekend, I finished writing the new Caleb York, Shoot-out at Sugar Creek, although I have not done the final read-through in search of typos, inconsistencies and the need for occasional tweaks. That’s a process that takes a couple of days. Barb enters the corrections and changes for me. More habit. More routine.

When I finish my draft (final but for what I mentioned above), I clean my work space. I begin projects with a pristine office and by the end of a project, my office has had a nervous breakdown. Perhaps it’s the historical nature of so much of what I write, but books and other research materials, and discarded drafts of pages and even chapters, are flung and scattered on a floor increasingly difficult to traverse.

When I clean the office, which takes a day or so, I listen to music. Right now, that’s about the only time I do listen to music, despite a CD collection as voluminous as my DVD/Blu-Ray library. As with audio books, music has been relegated to listening in the car. Which means it, like audio books, is hampered by not much driving happening.

And another habit, another part of our routine, is to take a day or two or even three off at the end of a project and do a getaway. No, not to some exotic vacation spot – just to Galena, Des Moines or suburban Chicago (trips to St. Louis were part of that, for the years when Nate and Abby and son Sam, and later daughter Lucy, were living there). Nothing elaborate – just dining and shopping and maybe a movie. Another habit is to take a day off during the writing process – working six days a week – to either Iowa City/Cedar Rapids or Davenport. More audio in the car gets listened to on those days.

Days not happening right now.

So the audios of our books are piling up. A year from now or so, if a vaccine or other credible treatment has emerged, and we can emerge too, we’ll have plenty to listen in the car. Including the new Weezer CD I just ordered.

And yet music has been an important part of how I’ve settled into the new routine here in Corona-ville. (This score just in – Corona 19, Trump zero).

You may recall – if you’re bored enough or perhaps masochistic enough to follow these update/blogs regularly – that I have resumed my ‘90s and early ‘00s obsession with collecting laserdiscs. I had dumped many of my discs, cheap, since I’d upgraded to DVD and Blu-ray on most of them, and hung onto only the things not available in those later formats.

But laserdiscs look terrible on flat screen TVs, so I invested in a 19″ CRT and bought a used laserdisc player from e-bay and set it up in my office. And, much to my wife’s dismay, I started buying laserdiscs again (through e-bay). Sometimes these are movie titles otherwise unavailable; but mostly they are music – a lot of stuff from the ‘80s and early ‘90s isn’t available elsewhere, as well as things from the ‘50s and ‘60s that got laserdisc-only releases (usually collections, like Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Greatest Years).

I won’t bore you with details, but Japan put out of lot of laserdiscs with clips from the UK’s Beat Club and the USA’s Shindig and other sources that were rarely available here, except on the gray market. These laserdiscs look and sound particularly good. And I eventually had to replace my player with a cool silver one made in Japan, which is superior to our models.

The Japanese in particular put out collections of British invasion material, including discs dedicated to single groups, sometimes with interview and documentary footage. Wonderful discs include some of my favorite bands, like the Animals, the Yardbirds, and the Dave Clark Five. Artists of the mid-‘60s through the early ‘70s are represented in collections with incredible performances, like the Vanilla Fudge doing “Keep Me Hangin’ On” and “Shotgun,” and Dusty Springfield doing…well, anything.

Now what I’m about to say is no revelation, not even to me. But at my age, listening to this music, and seeing the artists performing it, hits me emotionally harder than I expected. I got these discs because I liked the music and the artists. But seeing those artists, back in the day, performing that music, swept me back; memories and feelings surged and swelled.

People talk about music – particularly the pop music you grow up with – being the soundtrack of your life. That’s a cliche, I know, but like all cliches, it has more than a kernel of truth. Nothing takes me back to the ‘70s more fully than seeing Karen Carpenter singing Paul Williams tunes, although Three Dog Night doing Paul Williams comes close.

Barb and I encountered Karen and Richard Carpenter (we didn’t exactly meet them, just exchanged a few pleasantries) in the green room at Good Morning America when I was promoting Dick Tracy in the early ‘80s. Karen was skeletal, probably a few months away from dying, and Barb and I were shocked by the alarming sight of her. Apparently she had low self-esteem (also an observation that is less than revelatory) but it’s so damn tragic to think of that incredible, rich voice living inside that frail, damaged body and soul.

I wasn’t particularly a huge Carpenters fan. I remember liking “Merry Christmas, Darling,” and I was not an imbecile, so I knew a lovely voice when I heard it. But like a lot of us at the time, I dismissed the Carpenters as corny and the production as too slick and a sign that the rougher-edged ‘60s were over. It was Paul Williams and Phantom of the Paradise (still among my favorite movies) that began my reassessment, largely thanks to Jessica Harper’s rich, Karen Carpenter-like singing, and seeing Richard Carpenter’s sister in the disturbing flesh – a victim of her own self-doubt – added a tragic patina.

Likewise seeing Eric Burden or Rick Nelson or Bobby Vee (I already had every scrap of Darin, so little of him has turned up on laserdisc, though a few great “Mack the Knife” renditions are collected here and there) stirred memories specific and general. For me, the funny thing is I’ve always been into nostalgia – but mostly second-hand nostalgia, for the ‘30s and ‘40s of my parents, thanks in part to Warner Bros cartoons and the Three Stooges, and for the ‘50s which I remembered only vaguely from early childhood – my first record was a 78 of Elvis (“Hound Dog”/”Don’t Be Cruel”).

But I never really understood – never experienced – nostalgia in a meaningful, personal way until I saw these laserdiscs. I now realize that the best years of my life are indeed over, even as lucky as I am and as happy as I am to still be on this planet, despite a pandemic and a political scene that dismays and discourages daily.

Like Karen Carpenter, Carly Simon is an artist I had taken for granted. Carole King I always valued, as did Barb; but somehow when I thought of Carly Simon, what came to mind was her first album’s jacket with that fetching bra-less photo of her. But what I, in my continuing male wretchedness, failed to appreciate at the time was how many great songs, performed in a warmly personal and open style, this woman gave us. A live laserdisc reminded me – Simon has an incredibly winning awkward grace in performance – and a three-CD boxed set of hers is what I listened to cleaning my office.

Watching Cyndi Lauper on laserdisc, performing wildly and well and with complete abandon to an audience in Paris, reminds me how much I enjoyed the early ‘80s…how fantastic those years were, when both Nate Heller and Nate Collins came into the world, when Barb and I were loving New Wave music and in so many ways coming into our own. And how, now, astonishingly, the ‘80s are suddenly a long time ago. I mean, I already knew the ‘60s and even the ‘70s were a long time ago.

But the ‘80s?

And weren’t the ‘90s last week?

The mingled joy and sadness of revisiting this music – hearing it, seeing it – has helped me adjust to sheltering in place. Hey, I know we’re lucky. I can still work – in fact, I have now hit my stride and thrown off any initial sluggishness and am working pretty much every day. But with a laundry list of underlying health issues, at a ripe old age, I am not going anywhere for a while, except the pharmacy and supermarket.

Even Warren Zevon, faced with cancer’s death sentence, got to see the latest James Bond movie before he passed. And maybe that says it all – that my biggest worry right now is not being able to see the new James Bond movie in a theater.

Music is calming and reassuring and the only method of time travel science has yet come up with. Back in the ‘80s, when I was having a lot of stress on Dick Tracy due to editorial interference, I found the only things that soothed me were Johnny Mathis and Sade records…they were mellow, and mellowed me out. You go to the shrink; I’ll listen to “Chances Are” and “Smooth Operator.”

And when I hear Eric Burden or the Vanilla Fudge or Rick Nelson or so many other artists, I feel the urge to play music again…even though I haven’t touched my organ (get your mind out of the gutter) since the pandemic began. But it does seem that, whenever I tell myself I have hung it up where rock and roll is concerned, something comes on the radio that gets the juices flowing again.

Yesterday I cancelled my band’s July 4 gig. We have only one date this year that I haven’t cancelled – it’s in September. We’ll see.

Never say die.

Also, never say never again.

* * *

Thanks to those of you who participated in the Antiques Fire Sale book giveaway. The books were sent out last week.

Check out this great review of Girl Can’t Help It from Bookgasm.

This is part two of a really nice article/interview about/with me, with an emphasis on Mike Hammer and Masquerade for Murder.

Here’s an essay I wrote about the process of writing the Mike Hammer novels – ground I covered here a while back, but a somewhat different take.

I was asked to write about my five fictional private eyes. Check it out here.

This is a look at my graphic novel (with Kia Asamiya), Batman – Child of Dreams, with a ton of scans.

Finally, here’s a link to the interview Barb and I wrote for Brandy and Vivian Borne to boost Antiques Fire Sale.

M.A.C.