Posts Tagged ‘Appearances’

True Noir Begins as Another Chapter Ends

Tuesday, June 11th, 2024

This lovely True Noir image I just had to share with all of you.

True Noir promo poster

On Monday June 10 a recording sessions involving six actors (most, if not all, of whom would be familiar to you, but I have to withhold their names for now) will get my audio adaptation of True Detective truly underway, guided by the fine hand of Robert Meyer Burnett (Free Enterprise).

* * *

I began playing rock ‘n’ roll in 1965.

I’d been Henry Higgins in our high school’s production of My Fair Lady, and it was the height of my years in chorus. The rest of the school year would be occasional concerts, very much a winding down after my quartet (Kathy Bender, Joyce Courtois and Mike Lange) had won State three years running. I’d snagged three Number Ones at State myself. No where left to go.

At that time, thanks to John/Paul/Ringo/and George, local pop combos (as we put it then) were springing up like mushrooms with the haircut to match. Some friends of mine from Chorus and I got into this craze a tad late, forming a group called the Barons. It should have been spelled Barrens, without the “s.”

My uncle Mahlon was a district sales manager for Chicago Musical Instruments, home of Gibson guitars. I had figured to have my uncle get me a bass guitar at cost. It looked like the easiest instrument to pick up quickly. He reminded me that I had taken three years of piano lessons. I reminded him that I fucking hated piano lessons and the most notable thing about the experience was that I rarely practiced.

He pointed out to me that combo organs were the coming thing, thanks largely to Paul Revere and the Raiders, and that even if I’d been a miserable piano student, I still knew more about playing keys than I did the bass. He suggested he get me a Farfisa.

I picked up enough rudimentary knowledge (basically how to play chords) to fill that role in the Barons. We played our first gig ($25, and were overpaid at that) two weeks later. The Barons dissolved quicker than Alka Selzter in a glass and, with my friend Jim Hoffman and some junior high kids who’d been recommended to me, formed the Daybreakers.

We became one of the upper tier local bands – I believe Muscatine, Iowa, at the zenith of this phenomenon, had 26 “local pop combos.” Initially I used sheet music till my cousin Kris, visiting (and a veteran combo player) asked me what the hell I was doing with sheet music to the likes of “Louie Louie” and “Hang On Sloopy.”

“Hasn’t anybody told you about C-F-G?” he said, through cruel laughter. “Almost all rock and roll songs are C-F-G!” That was an over-simplification, of course, but not much of one.

The Daybreakers by 1967 were in Nashville, thanks to Jack Barlow, a country artist (who had been a high school student in the music class that my father taught at Muscatine High School) who recorded for a famous record producer named Buddy Killen. We went down to Nashville with half a dozen songs, five originals and a version of Gershwin’s “Summertime,” and lucked into a record contract. Killen had on his roster, in addition to Barlow and several other country artists, a very successful soul artist, Joe Tex, and Atlantic Records was after Killen to find a rock act. And we walked in the door.

The record was “Psychedelic Siren,” a regional hit that was a claim of a sort of fame for the Daybreakers. It came out in early 1968 and was too much in the vein of Paul Revere and the Raiders to compete with the explosion of hipper music that happened immediately after our record session – we heard “Light My Fire” and “Purple Haze” on the radio, driving home from Nashville, and knew we were screwed.

Nonetheless, the band lasted five years (for a time called “Rox”) and we played in concert with the Rascals, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, and the Buckinghams. And nobody could take away from us that we’d had a national record distributed by Atlantic on their Killen label, Dial.

You can read about all this, and get the names of my fellow bandmates – we were inducted into the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2008 – on my website (click on MUSIC).

Shortly after playing the induction concert, we appeared for the Muscatine, Iowa, Class Reunion (three of the original members – Buddy Busch, Mike Bridges and Denny Maxwell – were Muscatine High School Grads in ‘70.)

The Daybreakers is where my experience in rock ‘n’ roll starts (we’ll just shrug off the Barons) and I figured it was the beginning and the end. But in 1974 my longtime musical collaborator, (the late) Paul Thomas, suggested we start up again. I wanted to, but was reluctant – we didn’t care much for what was playing on the radio at the time.

A short sidebar: in those days, the pop combo days, all of us were “cover bands” (a term that wasn’t used then). The idea was to do a few originals, so if you got a chance to record you had something to offer, but mostly to give the kids music they were familiar with.

Anyway, the idea behind what quickly became Crusin’ was to dust off the old Daybreakers list and call it nostalgia. We did something at least a little historic, because Crusin’ the first ‘60s band in the Midwest and maybe almost anywhere (we were only five years past the ‘60s, after all). Unexpectedly, we got surprisingly popular locally and even regionally, and I wound up quitting my community college teaching job to play music with Paul – we even imported Bruce Peters, the best showman I ever performed with (and I performed with some great ones), from California where he’d gone to “make it.” We convinced him to come back to Muscatine and make it.

When the writing gig on Dick Tracy came along for me, I stayed with the band for a while – was sort of in and out and in again – and had a few reunions before Paul and I decided to re-group. While we never reached the level of popularity locally we’d had in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, the reputation of the original Crusin’ kept us as busy as we wanted to be. We made several records (notably the CD “Bullets!”), opened for the likes of the Turtles, Grass Roots and Peter Noone, and contributed to a national CD release of bands doing their versions of Monkees song (we did “Little Bit Me, Little Bit You”).

And in 2018 we were again inducted into the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, this time as Crusin’.

Here’s Crusin’ in 2008 at the Riverside Casino; this version features our original Daybreakers bass player, the late Chuck Bunn, and our longtime terrific guitar player, Jim Van Winkle, whose brother (the late Brian Van Winkle) replaced Chuck.

I also had the great fun of playing with the late Miguel Ferrer, Bill Mumy, Steve Leialoha and Chris Christensen in the “comic book” band, Seduction of the Innocent, appearing chiefly at the San Diego Comic Con. We released a couple of CD’s as well, “The Golden Age” (beautifully produced by Bill) and a live album.

In recent years, Crusin’ has played only in the summer, just a handful of gigs. For a while – since my open heart surgery in 2016 – I have suggested each year is the last.

This time I mean it.

This is the 50th anniversary of Crusin’ and our three performances will be our last.

This is a hard page to turn, a tough chapter to complete. But it’s time. I will be content that, as my late friend Paul Thomas said at the close of a successful gig, “Rock ‘n’ roll happened.” Miguel knew I was partial to that phrase, and the last time Seduction played, at the close he put a hand on my shoulder and quoted Paul Thomas: “Rock ‘n’ roll happened.”

Yes it did.

The last three Crusin’ dates, all in Muscatine, Iowa (or nearby), are June 21 at Ardon Creek Vineyard & Winery, 6:00 P.M. to 8:00 p.m., Independence Ave., Letts, IA 52754; June 30, Muscatine Art Center’s Ice Cream Social, 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm; and 1314 Mulberry Ave, Muscatine, IA 52761; and Sunday August 11, Second Sunday Concert Series, 6:00 pm to 8:00 p.m. at the Musser Public Library and HNI Community Center located at 408 E 2nd Street, Muscatine, IA. These are all outdoor events and subject to rain.

There is a chance we may do one last gig after that, but it’s not firmed up (it would likely be in September).

Nothing lasts forever. Here is the state of Muscatine High School as of today.

Muscatine High School mid-demolishing.
* * *

I am pleased to see myself listed as a “genre giant” here.

On the other hand, I never forget what Noah Cross said to Jake Gittes in Chinatown: “Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.”


It’s Christmas (Blue) in March!

Tuesday, March 12th, 2024

This is a big week for us, with two Iowa premiere showings of Blue Christmas, first this Wednesday March 13 at the Collins Road Theatre in Cedar Rapids (technically at 1462 Twixt Town Rd, Marion, IA 52302) and on Saturday, March 16 in our hometown Muscatine at the Palms 10 (at 3611 Palms Dr, Muscatine, IA 52761). Both showings start at 7 p.m. and will be followed by a Q and A by myself and various cast and crew members.

There’s good news and bad news about these two screenings, and both are the same news. The Cedar Rapids event is essentially sold out – two seats remain available on their website. The Muscatine event is 70% full. Both events are reserved seating. The Muscatine event’s remaining seating is in the area closest to the screen.

I have to say I was blown away by how great the movie looked (okay, I’m a tad biased) on the huge screen at the Palms in one of its two largest theaters.

The final premiere event will be on Friday, March 22, at the Last Picture House in Davenport at 325 East 2nd Street, the fabulous new theater brought to the Quad Cities area by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods of A Quiet Place fame. As I write this, fifty seats are remaining (about 40% of the seating).

Two screenings will be part of the Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival on Saturday April 6, again at the Collins Rd Theater in Cedar Rapids. Showings will be at 9 a.m. and 1:05 p.m. I will be attending the second of those and we may have a Q and A after that screening with myself and cast and crew (haven’t confirmed that yet).

Blue Christmas will be playing in twenty-some theaters in Iowa in December of this year, exact dates to be announced. The physical media (Blu-ray and DVD, from VCI Home Entertainment) will be available starting November 1 of this year. It’ll be offered to the streaming services for the 2024 holiday season as well, but it’s too early to know where and when Blue Christmas will be available in the streaming world.

If you are a cast or crew member, and want to reserve one of our limited set-aside seats at one of these remaining premieres, let me know. Same goes for our indiegogo donors whose level of support promises an advance ticket. (If no seats are available at any of the three remaining premieres, your seats will be provided at one of the 2024 holiday season screenings at the Iowa theater most convenient to you.)

And we hope to avoid any inconvenience, so if you are a cast/crew member or indiegogo contributor, do check with the theater websites to see what’s still available, and in any case check with me at or producer Chad Bishop at to see if we have a seat set aside for you (we were provided a limited number from the theaters who booked the film for the premieres).

We do not want to make anyone unhappy at these happy events, including ourselves! The last thing we want is someone who’s been promised a seat only arrives to discover no seats remain. Barb and I and Chad will give up our seats if necessary, but that’s only three seats, after all.

* * *

Here is an excellent write-up about Blue Christmas from the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Here’s another article about Tom Hanks extolling the virtues of our film Road to Perdition. Tom, you never call! You never write! Hope all is well.

Here’s an article about the Mike Danger comic strip that I wrote (What? You did?).

Check out this essay on Road to Perdition, focusing on the graphic novel more than the movie.

You may not know this, but Brash Books has all three Perdition prose novels (Road to Perdition, Purgatory and Paradise) in one reasonable e-book package.

Finally, my frequent collaborator, Phil Dingeldein, is a prime mover in the newly revitalized Quad Cities Film Office. A nice article is right here, with a shot of us at work on the set of Blue Christmas last October.


Spirit of Seventy-Six

Tuesday, March 5th, 2024

The Muscatine premiere of Blue Christmas on March 16 is already about half sold-out, so if you want to attend, getting tickets now is not a bad idea. It’s reserved seating, which is another factor.

Advance ticket sales are available here.

Blue Christmas Horizontal Poster
* * *

Here’s a nice article about Blue Christmas and its upcoming Muscatine premiere.

Fridley Theatres to hold red carpet premiere
for local indie film on March 16

A red-carpet premiere is coming to Muscatine for a local indie production.

This month, on Saturday, March 16, the Palms 10 Theatre in Muscatine will be holding a premiere for Blue Christmas. The red-carpet event will begin at 6 p.m. with the movie starting at 7 p.m. A Q&A will be held with the film’s cast and crew afterwards.

Taking place on Christmas Eve, 1942, in Chicago, Blue Christmas focuses on a private eye named Richard Stone, who is visited by the ghost of his late partner on the 1-year anniversary of his murder. Through the guidance of three visiting spirits, Stone is forced to visit his past, present and future to finally find his partner’s killer, as well as redemption for himself.

The film was written and directed by Muscatine novelist Max Allan Collins and stars Iowa actor Rob Merritt; Alisabeth Von Presley, who some may recognize from her time on America’s Got Talent; and Chris Causey. Chad Bishop helped produce and edit the film while Phillip W. Dingeldein served as the director of photography.

Collins described the film’s story as a mash-up of The Maltese Falcon and A Christmas Carol.

“They’re two of my favorite movies and two of my favorite novels, and I just saw a way to kind of do them both at the same time… So the material will be familiar to people, and it’s material that really resonates with people because it’s about a person who becomes better by the end of the story,” he said.

Although Collins is best known for his books and comics, this is far from the only time that he has worked in film. Throughout the ’90s and early 2000s, Collins had the opportunity to work on several independent film productions. After he was unable to get a sequel to the film adaptation of Road to Perdition, however, Collins shifted focus back towards his writing and left the film scene.

Then, in 2022, during the production of Encore for Murder, a Mike Hammer radio play that was performed live before then receiving a video recording, Collins was inspired to try doing film again, he said.

“(Encore for Murder) got me thinking about getting back into doing an indie film after about a decade and a half away from doing them,” he said. “I really do enjoy doing films because I enjoy the collaborative nature of it. Being able to bring talented people together is very rewarding, and it’s very different from the sort of solitary endeavor that writing a novel is.”

Reflecting on the production, which was filmed in October 2023 over the course of only six days, Collins had much praise to give the film’s cast and crew. He also thanked Naomi DeWinter and Muscatine Community College for its support in letting the production use its Black Box Theatre for nearly all of its filming.

“It was very much a Muscatine/Quad Cities affair,” Collins said. “I’m really proud of what we were able to do with it – and, boy, does it look good on the big screen.”

Tickets can be purchased on the Fridley Theatres website at

For those who are unable to make it to these one-time showings, Collins said Fridley Theatres, the chain that owns Muscatine Palms 10, has shown interest in showing the film at each of its Iowa and Nebraska theatres during the 2024 holiday season.

“That’s something we’re really excited about,” Collins said.

You can read the article with photos here, at least for the present.

* * *

Our Cedar Rapids premiere (with Cedar Rapids-area stars Rob Merritt and Alisabeth Von Presley present, as well as me and Chad and various cast members) will be March 13. The house is already half sold out. Tickets can be ordered here.

Our final premiere will be at the Last Picture House in Davenport, thanks to our friends Beck and Woods (creators of A Quiet Place). Here’s where you can buy advance tickets for the Friday, March 22, event.

We are also an official selection in the Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival, with a 9 a.m. screening and a 1:05 p.m. screening on April 6. Barb and I will be attending the latter screening.

* * *

For any birthday past 70, my late grandfather Ray Rushing used to answer questions about his age this way: “Over seventy, damnit!”

I know the feeling.

On March 3, yesterday as I write this, I turned 76 and the only thing that’s good about is that I’m not dead. There’s so much left to do and I’m going to try to do it. As Barb says, “Just keep on keepin’ on.”

That may explain why I did Blue Christmas at this ripe old age and have another indie film on the docket for later this year. More about that later. For now I have on my plate a final Heller, more Antiques novels with Barb (we were just offered a two-book contract from Severn), the final Mike Hammer novel for Titan, and a very exciting project that I’ve pitched (apparently successfully, but it’s early days) that I won’t be able to share with you until it’s signed, sealed and delivered. This year’s Quarry novel (Quarry’s Blood) may be the last, as well. Kind of feels like I’m wrapping things up, but there’s still a lot going on – one last indie movie after Blue Christmas, for example. And a Nate Heller series adapting True Detective (True Noir: The Nathan Heller Casebooks) and perhaps other of the novels as fully produced multi-part podcast. This involves my pals Robert Meyer Burnett, Mike Bawden and Phil Dingeldein.

My health seems to be relatively good, though I have a bad day now and then (one was on my birthday itself) that indicates I have to pace myself better if I want to stick around for a few more years.

On my birthday we went to Dune Part Two and I really didn’t care for it. Neither did Barb. Son Nathan, a science fiction fan, liked it more but termed it “slow and unpleasant.” We had all liked Part One, and the advanced praise for Part Two from a bunch of people whose opinions I trust make me question my own judgment. I found the film tedious in the desert sequences and over-the-top in the bad guy portions with two risible villains – the usually reliable Stellan Skarsgård (the Broker in the Quarry pilot!) and least-scary-sociopath-ever, Elvis actor Austin Butler, as well as Christopher Walken as the evil emperor or something, a particularly misguided choice.

Dune Part Two

But Barb and I seem to be alone on this. The best I can say for it is that the lead, Timothée Chalamet, did a creditable job. Best supporting players? The giant worms.

I love science fiction and fantasy movies and TV, particularly Star Trek (I am a stubborn Star Trek The Motion Picture apologist) and the first two Star Wars films, and Forbidden Planet and Outer Limits and on and on. But I’ve always found s-f novels, most of them anyway, clunky with prose worthy of the side of a paint can (Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson excluded). I truly believe this to be my problem, because too many smart people love the stuff, and I was a shit science student. But man I love me some Kirk and Spock and Bones.

Here’s the thing. Feel free to love Dune Part Two. Too many smart people like it for me to be right about this for anybody but myself. The narrative arts (actually a lot of art in general) is the receptor plus the deliverer. Novels and short stories, and movies too, are inherently collaborative – the audience member plus the artist. I like to say, when somebody dislikes a book of mine, fair dinkum (as the Aussies put it) – sometimes I present my shows on Broadway, other times at the Podunk Playhouse.

In other words, your mileage may vary.

Certainly people who dislike my work are not wrong (though I prefer to think of them as misguided). I get complaints from readers (and reviewers) who think I go into too much detail about clothing and setting, when my approach is otherwise fairly spare. It confuses some readers and irritates others.

My frequent collaborator Matt Clemens always says something to the effect of, “Max doesn’t like to have his characters run around naked, unless they’re naked.”

Ironically, this has to do with my twin enthusiasms for prose fiction and motion pictures. From a very, very, I might say VERY, early age I sought out the books (prose novels and comic books) that movies I liked had been based upon. And I would admit, if pressed (and you’re pressing me now, aren’t you?), that the works I most admire tend to be movies. I probably like Chinatown better than Hammett and Chandler, and boy do I like Hammett and Chandler. I probably like the film Kiss Me Deadly more than Mickey’s actual Mike Hammer novels (maybe excluding One Lonely Night, Spillane at his most vivid and crazed).

So on some level I am trying to make prose fiction that plays like a movie in your mind. I may or may not be successful at that, but that’s the attempt, anyway.

Going back to Dune Part Two, the smartest response I’ve seen to it comes from people who love Frank Herbert’s novel and find the film a sort of visual adjunct to that work as opposed to a cinematic version of it.

But what do I know? If I tell you I liked the David Lynch Dune much more, would you have me locked up? Maybe in the cubicle next to David Lynch?


Chinatown, Blue Christmas Coverage and Fruitcake

Tuesday, February 20th, 2024

Thanks to producer Chad Bishop we have a Blue Christmas web page. It includes info about buying advance tickets to some of the premieres and we will be updating it to include the others, so check back to the page for the update info over the next few weeks.

Blue Christmas is an Official Selection of the Cedar Rapids International Film Festival. Info about the festival is right here.

I introduced a great screening of Chinatown at the Fleur Theatre in Des Moines on Saturday night (Feb. 17). A good house – about 70 people – took up one of the three screens. The Fleur is a terrific theater, recently re-opened under new management by Iowa’s Fridley chain. Barb and I would like to thank Fridley’s Chris Kottman for inviting us (and for his hospitality). The Fleur staff is stellar (and they have perhaps the best popcorn in the state…though the Collins Road Theatre in Cedar Rapids rivals it) and the venue is among the best in the Midwest.

Seeing Chinatown – probably atop a three-way tie with Vertigo and Kiss Me Deadly for my favorite film – on a big screen in a 4K presentation (where is the 4K disc, Paramount?) was breathtaking for this fan. The audience was divided in roughly two groups – those who’d seen the film before and those who hadn’t. I envied the latter group, and was pleased to hear laughs and gasps coming at the correct moments.

I talked about the film’s relation to various hardboiled (or noir) mystery writers, including Hammett, Chandler and Spillane, names that weren’t necessarily familiar to the younger attendees (which included a good number of film students from Drake University). While screenwriter Robert Towne often pointed to Chandler as a major influence on the story, I mentioned that Kiss Me Deadly had an impact, too – unlike Phillip Marlowe and Mike Hammer, the protagonist of Chinatown – Jake Gittes – was a “divorce dick,” like the Hammer of the Kiss Me Deadly film.

And I of course mentioned the significance of John Huston, director of the 1941 Maltese Falcon, playing a major role (to say the least).

M.A.C. speaking about Chinatown at the Fleur
I explain to the audience at the Fleur why John Huston’s name is bigger than Roman Polanski’s on the CHINATOWN poster.

My appearance – in a Fleur series featuring writers and filmmakers introducing films that had inspired them – was designed in part to promote the World Premiere of Blue Christmas at the Fleur next Saturday (February 24). I will be there with producer Chad Bishop and a number of the actors, including star Rob Merritt and maybe his co-star, Alisabeth Von Presley, in a red carpet event.

We got great coverage from Channel 13, WHO, in Des Moines, who focused on Blue Christmas and the Feb. 24 event at the Fleur. We were sitting at the counter at the Drake Diner having a fantastic breakfast when suddenly the story came on the big screen near the serving window.

Blue Christmas coverage on TV at the Drake Diner
The view of Channel 13’s BLUE CHRISTMAS coverage from the Drake Diner counter!

Advance tickets are available here.

Our three other premieres are the following:

Collins Road Theater/Cedar Rapids Premiere – March 13th
Palms 10/Muscatine Premiere – March 16th
Last Picture House/Quad Cities Premiere – March 22nd
* * *

Barb and I are already in pre-production on the next indie movie, Death by Fruitcake, which (if all goes well or even passably) will introduce Brandy Borne and Mother (of the Antiques cozy mystery novel series) to the big screen (in Iowa, anyway) and on the flat screen in your house.

What kind of movie is it? Well, it starts with a murder and ends with a fruitcake recipe.

That recipe, which was included in the source novella (“Antiques Fruitcake”) and featured in the paperback collection Antiques Ho Ho Homicides, looked wrong to Barb. For one thing, there was no butter in it. How could that even work?

In order to be responsible storytellers and filmmakers, we set about making that fruitcake recipe, planning to at least taste the finished product, though neither of us are fruitcake fans.

The batter looked like fake vomit – you know, the gag item that Magic and Gag Shops always sell.

Fruitcake batter, or fake vomit?
Dessert – comin’ right up!
Fake vomit, or fruitcake batter?
Magic shop fake vomit, kids!

But the result was…we swear…delicious. True, we ate it warm with ice cream, but that’s fair dinkum, as they say on Prisoner Cell Block H and Wentworth.

Fruitcake is served – surprisingly delicious!
Fruitcake is served – surprisingly delicious!
* * *

Iowa Public Radio has a really good article on me and Blue Christmas at their web site.

And the great J. Kingston Pierce writes up my announcement that I’m planning for the next Nate Heller novel to be the last. Nice that people still care. Really nice, actually.