Posts Tagged ‘Girl Can’t Help It’

A Wolfpack Book Giveaway and an Adventure in the Wild

Tuesday, September 29th, 2020
Murderlized Cover
Murder: His and Hers Cover

NEWS FLASH! All through October, almost every day, one or another of my novels will be part of the Kindle 99-cent Daily Deal, starting with The War of the Worlds Murder. Throughout this sale, both Girl Most Likely and Girl Can’t Help It will get the one-day, 99-cent treatment, as will all the “Disaster” mystery titles and all three Reeder and Rogers titles, including the very appropriate-at-the-moment Supreme Justice. Check every day!

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This week marks the first of several Wolfpack trade paperback giveaways. First up, two short story collections: Murderlized and Murder – His and Hers.

Murderlized collects most of my short story collaborations with Matthew V. Clemens, co-author of the forthcoming Wolfpack release, Come Spy With Me. Matt and I also co-wrote CSI: Crime Scene Investigations, Dark Angel, and Criminal Minds novels, as well as the Reeder & Rogers trilogy (beginning with Supreme Justice), the standalone thriller What Doesn’t Kill Her, and the two J.C. Harrow novels (starting with You Can’t Stop Me). The title story of Murderlized features Moe Howard of the Three Stooges as an amateur sleuth.

Murder – His and Hers, originally published by FiveStar – collects stories co-written by Barb and me as well as a few of our individual stories. Barb is the co-author of the “Trash ‘n’ Treasures” series (most recently Antiques Fire Sale) and is also the co-author of our son, Nathan Collins. Two standalone thrillers we wrote together, Regeneration and Bombshell, will be brought out in new editions by Wolfpack soon.

[All copies claimed. Thank you! — Nate]

* * *

This past week I shot the Noir Alley segments with host Eddie Muller that will wraparound the show’s presentations of two of my favorite noir films, Kiss Me Deadly and Born to Kill. Both host and guest were in their respective home offices, joined by a Zoom-like link and with top flight folks at TCM handling the remote logistics and tech.

Actually, on my end, my son Nate was handling the tech, and he was here throughout the several hours it took to prep and shoot the two shows (well, the wraparounds for two shows). I would have been lost without him, as a bunch of new equipment was sent by TCM to bring us up to broadcast standards.

If that sounds like an ordeal, it wasn’t, except maybe for Nate and the TCM folks, because Eddie and I had a blast. We were talking about two movies we both love and, more broadly, the crime/suspense genre that we both love. I believe the segments, when aired, will run something like ten minutes per episode, and we went easily twice as long and could have talked all afternoon. We were like two old pals in a bar catching up and comparing notes and having a hell of a good time, drunk on each other’s enthusiasm.

Eddie is a sweetheart and beyond knowledgeable. He has done more to popularize and explain film noir than anyone on the planet, and his efforts to mount film festivals and work for preservation of this sacred/profane style of cinema are second to none. His book on Gun Crazy, which is in my top five films of any genre, is the best book I’ve ever read about a single film. It’s available here.

I am, no flying shit, honored to be on Noir Alley, and talking about Kiss Me Deadly – a movie who nobody but the French gave a damn about when I first discovered it, around 1961 (in junior high!) – feels like a privilege and a vindication.

It airs on TCM on Nov. 21. Write that down, but I will almost certainly remind you.

* * *

Today (Sunday, Sept. 27 as I write this) Barb and I emerged from our modified sheltering-in-place to undertake an outing. The preparation rivaled D-Day and the execution was only slightly less harrowing. And that’s coming from the author of Saving Private Ryan.

Iowa is a place where a good number of the half of this state who support Donald Trump have decided to express their admiration by not wearing masks, pooh-poohing social distancing, and insisting that the death of over 200,000 Americans is a hoax perpetrated by those pesky libtards.

So stepping out into this shit storm takes a good deal of fortitude laced with foolhardiness.

One of our favorite little jaunts is to drive the hour and fifteen minutes from Muscatine to Amana, one of the several Amana Colonies. Two restaurants there, serving German-American food (what’s good enough for the Bund is good enough for us!), are among our favorite dining experiences, although their family-style service isn’t, well, perfect for a pandemic.

But workable for carry out, perhaps? We set out in rain summoned by God to dissuade us. He should know by now that we will not be intimidated when it comes to matters of self-indulgence.

We ordered by phone, when we were fifteen minutes out, and the Ronneburg Restaurant (our other fave is the Ox Yolk Inn) was terrific in putting together carry-out cartons for us. The cashier and wait staff were properly masked (traitors!) even if their patrons mostly weren’t, and appeared to be conducting business in a thoughtfully careful way.

We ate our food in the car, like refugees with a Cadillac SUV. I had forgotten the sensation of being so deliriously stuffed to the gills. Caution thrown thoroughly to the winds, we set out for…wait for it…the outlet center at nearby Williamsburg, where for nearly half an hour we took our lives in our hands by shopping at Coach (Barb) and Book Warehouse (me).

In all seriousness (really) (no kidding), we were impressed by the measures the Williamsburg outlet took – masks were required by patrons and employees alike. I can’t speak for Barb at Coach, but Book Warehouse was definitely helped by the size of the place, with its generous aisles, and of course the lack of interest expressed by Americans of all political parties when it comes to reading books. Where would we be without that?

Best not think that one through.

Now, back in Muscatine in this haven of Blu-rays, reading material, and hoarded food products, Barb and I have returned to sheltering in place, warm and well-fed and terrified that we caught something out there.

Can’t wait for the holidays.

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Footnote to the above: on our adventure, we finished listening to Quarry’s Ex as read by Stefan Rudnicki for Skyboat Audio.

Man, does he do a great job with Quarry. He so gets it. At first it may seem like his warm deep baritone is too old for Quarry, whose boyish charm makes the terrible things he does and thinks go down so smoothly. But Stefan really, really understands the character and conveys the humor that the otherwise excellent Cinemax series completely missed.

And, anyway, these are the memoirs of Quarry, written mostly when he was an older man (as old as me, say), which is the way I view the Heller novels, too.

Stefan has also taken over on Mike Hammer for Stacy Keach, with Masquerade for Murder the latest. Haven’t listened to that one yet, as we do our listening in the car and, as this update indicates, we aren’t driving anywhere much. It took two Quad Cities outings and this Amana trip to get through the four CDs of Quarry’s Ex.

Listening to a Quarry novel, when I hadn’t been working on one for a while, brought something home to me – I can see why someone who likes the Quarry books might be confused by Girl Most Likely and Girl Can’t Help It.

A writer – like an painter, actor or a musician – has a right, perhaps even an obligation, not to just do the same thing over and over. I am able to stay fresh with Quarry and Nate Heller and Mike Hammer by painting in other colors, speaking in different voices, and performing in different keys, with the likes of the Antiques series, Caleb York westerns, and the Krista and Keith Larson novels. Same is true of the Reeder and Rogers political thrillers I do with Matt.

It’s likely Quarry and Heller and Mike Hammer fans will be comfortable with John Sand, hero of Come Spy With Me, but I can’t guarantee that. I will say only, to readers who only like one thing or another that I do, I have to write more than just a couple of things or I’ll get bored.

In which case, so will you.

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I’m doing a Zoom interview with Russ Colchamiro this Wednesday (September 30) at 8 pm ET.

And here’s a short but sweet look at Hard Case Crime.

M.A.C.

52 Cards and a Joker

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2020

Today, as I write this (June 1, 2020), is the 52nd wedding anniversary of Max Allan Collins and Barbara Jane Mull, aka Al and Barb Collins, aka Barbara Allan.

Fifty-two cards in the deck and one joker.

We are celebrating almost not at all, as we continue to shelter in place. Our splurge is a bottle of champagne, some wine-cheese spread, and crackers. This evening we plan to watch The Billion-Dollar Brain (a film we saw together on its initial release) as the third entry in our Michael Caine as Harry Palmer Blu-ray festival, having watched The Ipcress File and Funeral in Berlin on the preceding two evenings.

In recent years we’ve spent our anniversary in Galena, Illinois, at the Irish Cottage hotel, with two days of dining and shopping and doing touristy stuff. It’s something we enjoy very much and hope to do again one day. But going on such an excursion before there’s a Covid-19 vaccine is highly doubtful.

I try to stay away from politics here, though it does creep in. Forgive me, but it’s going to be unavoidable today.

You see, fifty-two years ago was 1968. Barb and I went to Chicago on our honeymoon. We ate at George Diamond’s and Augustino’s, restaurants that would eventually find their way into Nate Heller novels. We saw a bunch of movies, including (if memory serves and it often doesn’t) 2001: A Space Odyssey and a re-release of Gone With the Wind. We went to the Museum of Science and Industry. I also somehow got Barb to accompany me to countless old bookstores, all around the city, looking for the two Richard Stark “Parker” books I lacked, one of which was The Mourner. Not sure what the other one was. All I know for sure is I probably endangered our lives.

At the tail end of the honeymoon, we watched in our room at the Bismarck Hotel the coverage of the murder of Bobby Kennedy. We were both Bobby supporters and it hit us hard. The rest of the trip had been so much fun that even this tragedy wasn’t enough to taint the experience. But it was certainly a strange, haunting way to complete it.

But the year itself brings so much to mind. Barb was working fulltime at the First National Bank, where she would rise to an officer’s position. I was playing in the Daybreakers – our record “Psychedelic Siren” came out early in 1968 and we did many gigs promoting it – and starting at the University of Iowa where Richard Yates became my mentor at the Writers Workshop. I had several hard years of rejection slips ahead, but would sell both Bait Money and No Cure For Death before graduating with my MFA.

That lay ahead. In 1968 assassinations and racial turmoil and general political turbulence had the country by the throat. June 1, 2020, seems uncomfortably familiar. We seem to have made precious little progress, and it’s disheartening.

The only good thing about this familiarity is the woman I’m married to, who remains lovely in just about every way imaginable.

I never dreamed another time as troubling as the one we lived through would come around for Barb and me to experience. I am hopeful, guardedly, that things will change in November. That the cruelty and stupidity around us lessens, and that the partisan divide decreases in intensity. That the absurdity of white supremacy and racial prejudice can finally be overcome. And that Americans, politicians included, will learn the lesson that a pandemic is not red versus blue. That a virus doesn’t give a good goddamn who you voted for.

* * *

The excellent book review podcast, The Inside Flap, has nice things to say about Girl Can’t Help It and includes a long interview with me on that novel and on Nate Heller, as well as excursions into Dick Tracy, Nolan and the Antiques series. The Girl/MAC stuff starts at the 24-minute point.

Jerry’s House of Everything is a wonderful blog by Jerry House, who has been a big booster of my work. As a generous postscript to a look at the IAMTW, the organization for writers of tie-ins that Lee Goldberg and I founded, he has written a very nice piece on Girl Can’t Help It, with You Tube links to performances by the Daybreakers, Crusin’ and Seduction of the Innocent.

I’m taking the liberty of reprinting the Girl Can’t Help It review here.

MAC ‘n’ Roll: Mention of Max Allan Collins above allows me to segue ever so briefly to one of his latest novels, Girl Can’t Help It, the second in his series about Galena, Iowa, sheriff Krista Larson (a highly recommended book; pick it up now!). {I’ve made no secret that I am a Max Allan Collins fan-boy; well, fan-geezer, really.) In addition to having a number of best-selling and award-winning series, Collins has had a long career as a comic strip/book writer (Dick Tracy, Batman, Road to Perdition), tie-in writer (CSI, Bones, Saving Private Ryan), film writer/director (Mommy, Mommy’s Day, Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life), and cultural historian (The History of Mystery, Men’s Adventure Magazines, For the Boys: The Racy Pin-Ups of World War II). Collins has also authored trading card sets, video games, mystery jigsaw puzzles, and Lord knows what else. If all this wasn’t enough, he has also been a professional rock and roll musician since 1966. His bands the Daybreakers and Crusin’ have both been inducted into the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. He also was part of a “comic con band,” Seduction of the Innocent, with actors Bill Mumy and Miguel Ferrer, comics artist Steve Leialoha, and comics fan John Christensen.

Girl Can’t Help It is the first novel by Collins that made use of his rock and roll background. Regional band Hot Rod & the Pistons is inducted into the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and murder begins striking the band members. It’s a well-crafted mystery that seamlessly blends a lot of that state’s rock and roll history — something I was not fully aware of until now.

Here’s some of Collins’ music, beginning with the Daybreakers’ regional hit “Psychedelic Siren”:

And here’s 60’s retro band Crusin’ playing “Incense and Peppermints” at the St. Louis Bouchercon:

And here’s Seduction of the Innocent doing a set at the 1988 San Diego Comic Con:

For those of you who’d like to read Jerry’s piece on the International Association of Media and Tie-in Writers, it’s right here.

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Yet another of these movies-you-didn’t-know-were-based-on-comic-books articles features Road to Perdition.

Finally, the Seattle Mystery Bookshop blog has a nice write-up by “JB” on Do No Harm. The reviewer, like several others looking at this novel, suggests I leave certain things unresolved that the novel really does clarify at least in terms of what happens in Heller’s world. I think the problem (and this is on me) is that part of what I wanted to do was examine every major theory about what happened in the Sam Sheppard case, and that seems to have muddied the waters for some readers. This is a long blog entry about a lot of things, so you may want to scroll down till you come to the Do No Harm cover image.

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.