Posts Tagged ‘Reviews’

I Confess About Perry Mason, Plus Quarry!

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2020

Photos: Everett Collection; Illustration: Dillen Phelps

Perry Mason is back!

What great news for mystery fans! Just think of it – the crackling courtroom scenes with their dramatic on-the-witness-stand confessions. The shrewd defense attorney willing to make the law jump through hoops to clear an innocent client. His tough P.I. associate who tracks down every lead and takes every risk. The loyal beautiful secretary who may, or may not, be having an offstage affair with her boss. The veteran police detective who this time has the goods on the lawyer’s client. The dogged D.A. who is convinced that, finally, he will definitely send Perry Mason’s client to the big house or perhaps even the chair.

And that TV cast – Raymond Burr, understated but smoldering; Barbara Hale, professional but so lovely; William Hopper, handsome and wry; Ray Collins, the Orson Welles player who made something lovable out of crusty Lt. Tragg; and William Talman, the bulldog D.A. who survived even his own marijuana conviction. Nine glorious years it ran (and 22 TV movies with Burr and Hale years later!), and it runs still, entertaining little noirs about love and business and justice.

The best ones were always based on the novels by Erle Stanley Gardner, that self-taught lawyer who cut his teeth in the pulps and went on to rule the slicks and the paperback racks, outsold only by Spillane and Christie, and – like them – under-valued by critics who didn’t know great storytelling when it bit them where they sat. But even those not based on Gardner novels were entertaining, and those scripted by mystery writer Jonathan Latimer were always terrific.

And now he’s back! Perry is back on HBO and he’s not your grandfather’s Perry Mason, boy, or your father’s or your mother’s or…anybody’s.

Look, I believe in taking film and TV adaptations of fiction on their own terms. You may be aware that I am a Spillane fan, yet Kiss Me Deadly (set in L.A., not New York, and designed to make a monkey out of Mickey) is my favorite Mike Hammer movie. I find Road to Perdition in some ways an improvement on my original. I didn’t mind the Quarry series on Cinemax moving my stories from the Midwest to Memphis, and even put up with the humor being drained out of my guy – it wasn’t my version. But they caught the spirit of what I was up to. (And sent checks.) Cool.

However.

This new Perry Mason is a private eye, not a lawyer (at least not yet). He is also a blackmailer and a drunk and a divorced father and generally a depressed sad sack in a studiously rumpled trench coat and shapeless fedora, as well as a tie that we’re reminded several times has an egg stain on it. He exists in a gloomy world where his activities include taking photos of an obese man performing cunnilingus on a starlet (pumpkin pie is involved), and doesn’t that seem right out of Erle Stanley Gardner!

It’s a series that is 50% art direction, 40% cinematography and 10% actors trying not to embarrass themselves. Oh, and there’s a score that consists of random piano chords and jazz-style dirge licks. The first episode establishes that Mason gets along okay with one police detective and exchanges insults with that detective’s partner – you know, like The Maltese Falcon, if The Maltese Falcon sucked.

And who needs Raymond Burr when you have Matthew Rhys to shuffle around feeling sorry for himself, exhibiting all the charisma of a wet sock. Remember how Perry lived on his dead folks’ rundown farm? You don’t? I guess I’m a little fuzzy on that myself. I can tell you the HBO show is set during the Depression, and, brother, does it put the depress in Depression. Of course, if you like dead babies with their eyes sewn shut, you’ve come to the right place.

But there’s diversity the old Perry Mason lacked. Paul Drake (not in the first episode) is an African-American uniformed cop. Mason’s girl friend is an Hispanic airplane pilot who doesn’t seem to like him much (can’t blame her). No, she’s not Della Street – that character is a different lawyer’s secretary. That lawyer is played by John Lithgow who seems to be a man who woke up in somebody else’s dream and is just trying to fit in.

Spare me the news that this is an origin story, and that Mason will evolve into the character we know and once loved. That much evolving even Darwin couldn’t sell.

It’s enough to make me long for Monte Markham.

Do I sound irritated? Well, I feel certain this series will be every bit as popular as the David Soul-starring Casablanca show. Current efforts by a lot of smart people to get Nathan Heller and Mike Hammer on TV will be crippled by this pathetic misfire. All HBO’s Perry Mason will accomplish is to convince TV execs that traditional tough detective shows, particularly, especially, set if in period, are home box-office poison.

Excuse me. I feel the urge to put on my studiously rumpled raincoat and shapeless fedora and go for a walk in the rain. Where did I put my egg-stained tie?

* * *

Now I’d like to share with you an essay by Kieran Fisher at Film School Rejects about the Quarry TV show.

There Was More Moral Ambiguity
to Explore For Cinemax’s ‘Quarry’

The Cinemax series brought Max Allan Collins’ iconic pulpy crime institution to the screen in 2016, but viewers didn’t pay attention to its brilliance at the time.

Most people live boring and mundane lives, meaning that they’ll never become willing participants in the criminal underworld. However, if pop culture’s fascination with crime stories reveals anything, it’s that people are drawn to the dark side when it comes to the entertainment they consume. The allure of this type of storytelling is multifaceted and complex, but sometimes it’s as simple as enjoying the thrills it provides.

Crime-centric entertainment often presents a more nuanced take on criminals as well. How many movies and shows have you watched where you root for protagonists who engage in some very questionable acts? That’s because these characters aren’t always evil to the core. They sometimes have justifiable or understandable reasons for their bad behavior. Such is the nature of Quarry.

Based on Max Allan Collins’ long-running pulp novels of the same name, and created for television by Graham Gordy and Michael D. Fuller, Quarry revolves around Mac (Logan Marshall-Green), a marine who returns to Memphis following the Vietnam War to find that he’s been shunned by society. His wife is having an affair, he can’t find gainful employment, and the press hates him due to his involvement in a village massacre while on duty. Mac then gets into debt with a man called The Broker (Peter Mullan), which leads to him becoming a contract killer.

Needless to say, Mac is a character who can’t catch a break. He just wants a fresh start and a regular life, but he’s forced into an unlawful situation that he doesn’t want to be a part of. Furthermore, he’s haunted by the guilt of his war crimes, having caused the deaths of several innocent women and children. He joined the army to become a hero and left a villain.

One of the most compelling elements of Quarry is Mac’s struggle to figure out who he is, morally and emotionally. He’s a flawed human being who wants to be a better person, but he makes some bad decisions along the way. But his propensity for killing comes naturally. Violence and killing make sense to Mac because he’s good at both, causing him to feel conflicted.

Marshall-Green brings the character to life with aplomb, straddling a fine line between sympathetic antihero and homicidal monster. He boasts the swagger to play a convincing tough guy, but he also displays the emotional range of someone who’s struggling to cope with repressed emotions. He’s also quite charming, which makes for a very layered and well-rounded performance. His charm also makes the character likable, even though you wouldn’t want to bump into this guy on the street.

Of course, another reason why Mac is easy to root for is that his enemies are worse than him. In one episode, a man called Suggs (Kurt Yaeger) — a murderer/potential rapist with a prosthetic leg — kidnaps Mac’s wife in an effort to lure the contract killer to him. Mac’s wife doesn’t deserve his drama, though there’s an argument to be made that her husband’s to blame for all the bad that comes their way. The Broker is also pretty rotten, as he’s essentially forcing Mac to murder people.

Quarry doesn’t hold back when it comes to the violence either. One standout scene sees some poor shmuck get crushed by a car. There are also some gruesome war flashbacks that depict pure horror and brutality. That’s unsurprising considering that the showrunners also wrote some episodes of Rectify, which contains its own fair share of violent moments. And like that show, Quarry is all about that Southern Gothic neo-noir style that’s absolutely intoxicating. The South’s landscapes make for a stunning backdrop to Quarry‘s world of death and mayhem.

The Quarry novels debuted in 1976 and continue to be published to this day. In recent years, Mac’s exploits have even branched off into comic books. There’s an abundance of interesting stories to bring to the screen, and Cinemax canceling this show after eight episodes is a hard pill to swallow. Despite being a constant presence in crime fiction, Quarry screen adaptations are severely lacking.

The books are all over the place and don’t adhere to any set chronological order. However, the general story is that he takes assignments for The Broker before breaking free of his duties. Then he becomes his own man, defending targets from other hitmen (for a small fee, of course). He eventually retires, but he can’t stay out of the game. If the audiences turned up for Quarry when it mattered, it could have lasted for multiple seasons without growing stale.

The series could have taken the chronological approach. The novels haven’t always been released that way, but you can read them in a certain order for a structured approach to the character’s life story. That makes sense for television, too. Still, I love the idea of a Quarry show where seasons bounce around all different timelines.

Fans of Breaking Bad, Banshee, True Detective, and shows of that ilk will enjoy Quarry. It’s pulpier than those shows, but it boasts enough similar sensibilities and stylistic similarities to hang out with them in its own way. It’s just a shame that it never received the opportunity to make a long-lasting impression on viewers.

* * *

The great magazine True West has reviewed the new Caleb York, Hot Lead, Cold Justice, right here.

This link is to the definitive interview with me on the subject of the Dick Tracy movie novelization.

Finally, the Mike Hammer mystery, Murder, My Love, has been nominated for the Best Original Novel “Scribe” award. Here is the complete list of nominees.

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.

* * *

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.

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.

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.