May 25, 2010

Forgotten Music: Johnny Burnette's Rock N Roll Trio






Though you’ve probably never heard of The Rock And Roll Trio, I guarantee you've heard at least one cover of Train Kept A-Rollin'. Regrettably, like most of the rockabilly pioneers, they never managed to land a huge, national hit and, as evidenced by their influence on the British Invastion, achieved more success abroad.

If mentioned at all, it’s usually just the Elvis connection. Johnny and his brother Dorsey grew up in the same projects as Presley. Dorsey and Paul Burlison both worked for Crown Electric where Elvis drove trucks. When Dorsey finally quit the Trio prior to their appearance in the Alan Freed film Rock, Rock, Rock, he was replaced by Johnny Black, the brother of Presley’s bassist.

Frequently their lack of big success is dismissed due to their “Elvis” similarity. But none of them were ever ripoff artists and ripoff artists don't have the lasting effect on a generation of muscians they did. In fact, the Burnette Boys wrote “Rock Billy Boogie” in 1953. Their mistake was not recording it until 1957, after Elvis hit. While surpassing him in skill, The Rock and Roll Trio always lacked both Presley's luck and his charisma.

They only had two recording sessions together before breaking up in 1957. During their incarnation they left a body of rocking and often covered songs like “Rock Therapy”, “Midnight Train”, “Tear It Up”, “Oh Baby Babe”, and “Lonesome Tears In My Eyes”.

After the dissolution of the band, Burlison left the music world for a reliable paycheck. When he finally returned in the late 1980s, he discovered a fan base of guitar gods clamouring to know how he achieved the Trio sound.

The Burnette Brothers stuck it out, but would never produce anything with the same influential force. The two of them headed to California and landed a gig writing songs for Ricky Nelson. It worked well and this success spurred the pair through a number of different incarnations (The Burnette Brothers, The Texans, and The Shamrocks) on a number of different record companies.

Eventually, they again went their separate ways. Dorsey and Johnny both pursued solo work. Johnny had the better luck. Capital picked him up and marketed him as a teen idol. However, even a saccharine pop hit like “You’re Sixteen” wasn’t enough for a contract renewal.

Afterward, Johnny released two singles on his own label: “Fountain of Love” and “Bigger Man.” We’ll never know where he might have gone from there. On August 14, 1964 a fishing boat hit Johnny’s cabin cruiser and he drowned.

I try not to dwell on any of it. Because, for me, it’s always about The Trio. About Johnny’s frenetic vocals, Burlison’s distinctive fuzzed out guitar stylings, and Dorsey’s driving bass. Especially on one of my favorite Rockabilly songs ever, "Lonesome Train (On A Lonesome Track)."

I never get tired of that song.

But my wife does.

May 13, 2010

Needle Magazine's First Flash Fiction Challenge





The folks who run Needle: A Magazine of Noir issued a flash fiction challenge. For the details of the challenge, head on over there.

Keep reading below for my untitled entry.

***


“I’ve never been here before,” the girl said.

“The Space Needle? You live in Seattle.”

“It’s a touristy place. We never go—went to touristy places.”

The woman put the menu down and smiled with white teeth. “You never had the money. Now, you’ll go to a lot of touristy places.”

“When everything’s paid back,” the girl said and she smiled.

“You need to use the Crest Strips I gave you,” the woman said. “They don’t want to see yellow teeth.”

The girl closed her mouth and watched the city spin below her. She felt dizzy. “The yellow doesn’t really bother me,” she said. “I never liked the gap and the chip right here in front, but St—“

“They don’t want to hear about other men.”

“Oh.” She nodded.

“You’re nervous aren’t you?” The woman asked. “Do you want a drink?”

“Yes.”

Like the devil, the waitress appeared. The woman ordered and when the waitress was gone, she patted the girl’s hand. “You’ll get used to it.” She opened her purse and handed her a pill. “Take this,” she said. “With your drink when it comes.”

The girl started to smile. She stopped and swallowed the pill dry. “It’s hard.”

“The money helps.”

The waitress brought their drinks.

The girl raised hers. Her mouth tasted bitter. “When it finally comes,” she said and then drank.

The woman laughed. “Something always comes.”

“I didn’t think I’d ever be doing something like this.”

The woman sipped her wine and then said, “Eating here?”

The girl sucked on her Long Island. She swirled the ice with her straw. “Both,” she said.

The waitress brought their dates.

She expected the older one to sit by the woman. He didn’t. The younger one did. The older sat by her and touched her back, her neck and the sweep of her hair.

“I see you’ve already started with drinks,” the younger one said. He snapped his fingers and the waitress appeared.

The girl wondered how she did that. Maybe I’ll ask, she thought.

When she left, the girl hiccupped. “I was nervous,” she said.

The back rubber smiled. “No reason to be nervous.”

She grabbed his hand and scooted her chair away from him but closer to the window. She leaned her face to the glass. “I’ve never been this high up before,” she said.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of.” The young one said.

“Don’t tell me—you know this because you’re an architect. I’ve never met an architect. I was starting to wonder if they were real. I’ve never seen one or known anyone who was an architect, but it seems like there are tons of characters on television who are architects. You must not do a lot as an architect, it seems like they’re always home.”

“I won’t know,” the young one said.

She craned her neck at the old one.

“Oh,” he said, “me either.”

“You know,” the young one said, “I heard, there’s some group that claims to have plans from the ‘62 World's Fair. Apparently these plans show the Space Needle was designed to send transmissions to aliens in other galaxies.”

The girl laughed and looked back out through the glass. “It’s nothing that interesting,” she said. “Do you know what it is?”

No one said anything.

She scooted her chair back. “Do you know what it is?”

The old one shook his head. “What?” He asked.

She was aware of him watching her mouth. He's probably thinking about me—she killed her thoughts by saying, “It’s simple. No aliens. No secret plans. It’s just—we’re always trying to fuck something. That’s it.”

“Yes, we are,” the one old said.

The girl smiled and waited for the pill to kick in.

May 12, 2010

Jason Duke's Red Hot Writing Contest





For details of the contest, head here. And if you're wondering, then I'll tell you.

Yes, Jason Duke is that crazy.

***

Flash Drive

I've put a price on things you wouldn't believe. Now, I can tell you how much my conscience is worth...

Callard rubbed the flash drive like a lucky rabbit’s foot. “Your name’s Defoe?”

It wasn’t, but that’s how Hargrove knew me. Hargrove arranged the meet and it was Hargrove’s boat that took us up the coast. “It is,” I said.

“And you’re like a middleman?”

“Didn’t Hargrove explain it to you?”

Hargrove came from below with two bottles of Stella Artois. He said, “I did.” He handed Callard his beer, then the tall man moved across the deck.

Callard stuck the flash drive in his shirt pocket. His face read late 30s. His clothes read maybe 20. He tipped his beer then said, “I want you to explain it to me.”

“I get people things.” I lit a smoke. Hargrove clinked his bottle against the railing. At the gesture, I opened the ashtray in the armrest. “Things they couldn’t get anywhere else.”

“Like what?”

“Services, collectables,” I said.

“Comics and toys? Classic cars? What?”

“No.”

He waited for more. He would have kept waiting if he hadn’t said, “Alright, I get you.”

“Your turn,” I said.

“I have pictures for sale.”

“What kind of pictures?”

“Didn’t Hargrove explain it to you?”

“I want you to explain it to me.”

Hargrove chuckled. Callard eyeballed him until he turned to laugh at the sea. We both watched his shoulders moving, his laugh lost in wave slap and gull cry.
“I work airport security,” Callard said. “Monitoring the full-body scan.”

“The pictures are from the scanner?”

“Yeah.” The way he said it, it sounded more like a noise than a word.

“Those images aren’t secure?”

“By me and that’s just enough to make an argument for maintaining privacy.”

I nodded.

Callard sat. “It’s like this.” He conducted his word flow with the bottle. “I sit in a room away from the scanner and work the monitor. I can’t see the person in real life. They walk up, step in the scanner.” He made science fiction noises. “Then, image pops on my screen. I push a button—green or red, proceed or detain.”

Callard leaned against the rear of the boat. He stuck the bottle between his legs and lit a cigarette of his own. More for the necessary pause and our accompanying wait than any urgent nic-fix. His transparency was contemptuous. I ground my own cigarette out and closed the ashtray. His bench didn’t have one. I laid my hand across mine.

Cultivating a long ash, he hid his smile in the smoke from the hotboxed cigarette. I saw it even before he ashed over the side and a breeze rolled over Hargrove and across the deck, scattering the haze. “The machine blurs faces,” he said. “Used to blur your junk until that guy in London smuggled the pea shooter next to his pee shooter.”

“It saves the images?”

“They’ll tell you no. But it does.”

“Evidence,” Hargrove said.

“Yeah,” Callard said. “We’re just not supposed to access them.”

“They don’t monitor—“

“Honor system.” He finished the smoke in two drags and sailed it over the side. “I passed a psych exam and a background check—I wouldn’t steal.” He laughed, finished his beer and sent the bottle after the cigarette. He started below deck.

Hargrove stopped him. “I got it.”

“Alright.” At me, he said, “Your turn. You get people things, huh? Why does that mean I should sell what I got to you?”

“I work for people with disposable income. They spend that income on the sorts of things people usually spend that income on—cars, clothes—“

“Boats?” He asked the returning Hargrove.

Hargrove ignored him and returned to the railing.

“Over time they grow bored,” I continued. “They want something no one else has.”

“And you get it for them?”

“Or people approach me with things. Usually, I’ll know who’d want what. If not immediately, I can always find someone.”

“So you’re a salesman? A deal maker? A gopher? What do you call yourself?”

“Just Defoe,” I lied.

“He’s like a concierge,” Hargrove said.

“Then you’ll like this, Mr. Concierge. Go ahead and ring the goddamned penthouse suite.”

I expected the flash drive. I got an envelope.

Callard mistook my pause for excitement. “Go on,” he said. I unfastened the clasps. The bottle clinked against his teeth. “Bet you always wondered if her tits are real.”

I removed the photo.

I hadn’t and they weren’t.

“You thought you’d never see her naked.” He waved Hargrove over. “Have a look at what it takes to pull down 15 million a picture.”

I handed Hargrove the photo.

“It’s a little disconcerting,” he said. “No clothes. Skin ghostly. Faint lines of musculature underneath.”

“Her abdominals,” I said.

Callard took the photo back. “Fuck the core. Look at those thighs.” His eyes raced to his favorite spots. “Just wish the scan left the hair. I want to know if she shaves.”

“Not usually what I trade in, but I can sell it,” I told him.

“How much?”

“Not as much as you’d like.”

“Why the hell not?” Callard said, looking at Hargrove.

“It’s not enough of either.”

“What’s that mean—enough of either?”

“You have a naked picture of the biggest female movie star in the world. But you can eliminate the scandal rags and the news media.”

“Why? Cause I don’t need you for that shit?”

“Because you have a picture of the biggest female movie star in the world. There will be lawsuits and a criminal investigation. This technology has yet to spread to every airport. Her travel itinerary is well documented. Only a matter of time before they’d track down which airport and which machine took her picture.”

“And which tech,” Hargrove said.

“That’s leaves us with two options.” I took the photo back. “It’s too weird to appeal to the average pervert. Like you, they’d want to know if she shaves.” I shrugged and passed it back. “It’s not weird enough for the true deviants. Maybe if she looked like she had been skinned or something. So—it’s not enough of either.”

“There’s one more option,” Hargrove said.

We both looked.

“Sell it to her.”

“You two are on your own for that,” I told them.

Callard looked at Hargrove with that Happy Meal look. But Hargrove drove on past. “And that option?” He asked me.

“Look, it’s a nudie photograph. That’s it. Not damning enough to guarantee her payment, but with more than enough victim potential to send her to the press and the authorities. Give her a cause to get involved in that doesn’t require any real effort.”

“Fuck, man!” Callard threw his beer against the deck. “You said he’d set me up.” The bottle didn’t break. It rolled over the side.

Hargrove was in insurance, mostly. His company specialized in the big ticket. The items you hired an expert to appraisal and knew even he was guessing. Once a year, one of his clients got robbed. Hargrove sold the loot on the black market, officially wrote it off as a loss, gauged the client on higher rates, and recommended new security measures.

Hargrove owned the security company too.

We met a year ago when his crew found a human skull in a wall safe. Hargrove’s first thought was blackmail. But when the skull dated at 100 plus, he didn’t know what the fuck to do. He asked around and someone recommended me.

I was still living off the cash from Butch Cassidy’s skull when Hargrove called about this new deal. I lit another cigarette. “What else you go?”

He caught the look and lifted the flash drive from his pocket like one of those rigged, prize cranes. “This,” he said, “I don’t need you for. I’ve got a buyer for this. He pays every time.” He stroked the drive with his thumb. “You think the day Ms. Actress’ ass wiggled across the terminal was the first time I ever walked out with pictures? Fuuuuck—no.”

“More pictures then?” I said.

“More pictures.”

“Of children?” I asked, figuring those were the only other pictures worth something.

He smiled. “Just more pictures. Pictures you don’t want.”

I drug hard on the smoke and looked at Hargrove as he headed back to the wheel. “It’s his property.”

The boat started moving.

Callard stood and watched the foam.

I watched his back.

I've sold a lot of heinous things. But, it only took me two cigarettes and seeing the dock on the horizon before I made the offer. “I’ll buy it.”

Callard turned.

“Buy what?"

“The flash drive.”

“You don’t know what’s on it.”

“I think I do.”

Callard shrugged. “You’re money,” he said. “Let’s see.”

“Don’t have it here.”

“Yeah, fuck you then.”

“I can get it with time. If you walk to my car, I’ve got 40 thousand.”

“I'm not fucking walking to your car." Callard made a gun with his fingers and pointed it at his head.

"Then wait here."

"40 ain't enough.”

“How much?”

Callard named a price.

“Bullshit,” I said.

The boat stopped. “Seems fair,” Hargrove said.

“Fuck you, Hargrove. It’s his property.”

“And I’m still the middle man.”

“Fine,” I said. “It’ll take me some time.”

“No, now.”

“I can’t materialized it out of thin air.”

“I thought you got people what they wanted—I want money. So, get it.”

I lit another smoke to keep from hitting him.

Hargrove said. “Wire transfer.”

“Anything over ten draws attention.”

“Not in my account and not from yours.”

I looked at Callard. "You trust him with your money?"

"More than you," he said. “Switzerland?”

“Switzerland is fucked,” I said.

“Somewhere safe,” Hargrove said.

“Fine.”

“Excellent,” Hargrove said. "We'll use my satellite phone."



When the deal was done, I walked back to the car and took the laptop out of the truck. I booted it and waited. They were both still onboard the boat.

The computer chirped.

I stuck the flash drive in the USB and lit a smoke.

I checked the boat and double-clicked the icon. A new window popped up. I watched the contents load and caught Callard walking along the pier. Hargrove was casting off again.

The green bar finished. The computer dinged.

I double clicked on the folder.

Callard hit the far parking lot. Hargrove walked back to the helm.

Motherfucker. I drummed the side of the screen.

A car pulled in for Callard. The boat’s engine rumbled and chewed waves.

The folder opened—one picture.

Ash fell on the keyboard. I double…triple…quadruple clicked the jpeg. The picture opened and a middle finger filled the screen.

The car sped off toward the highway. The boat chugged out to sea.

Only the finger remained.

Everything has a price. But I’ll tell you something--my fucking conscience is too goddamned expensive.

***

For more of the Concierge check out:
The Double D

Lord Knows

May 6, 2010

Distressing Thoughts




The main danger of blogging is the possibility of alienating others.

Years ago, there was a particular science fiction author I used to enjoy quite a bit. Then I discovered his blog. After getting a taste of his political and religious beliefs, I found the man so abhorent that I have never purchased or borrowed a single thing he has written since.

That's why I don't read biographies; generally, I want to continue liking the people I like.

Sometimes, though, it can happen when I don't think you're really considering the risk.

Case in point, earlier this week I was reading the newsletter of another author. Among the usual lists of appearances and publication dates, this author puts little bits of personal stuff. Most of the time, it's nice and makes the author seem a little more human and not so much like a thing or a product. This time he included a short movie review.

It happened to be for a movie I really enjoyed.

I don't think that everyone must like what I like. Constant agreement is not a factor on how I feel about you unless you can best be described as an argumentative prick. However, this particular author's critique was so off, so wrong, and so stupid that it was offensive to my intelligence.

It just pissed me off.

It lowered my opinion.

And it made the author seem like a cheap commodity.

It made me notice other little things; comments, opinions, and reoccuring themes that made me wonder about the author's political beliefs.

For a good fifteen minutes, I actively disliked this person.

But the guy wasn't setting out to offend anyone. He wasn't trying to force anything he thought on the big things down my throat. And I think he had no idea that anything in there could possibly irritate anyone.

But what's interesting to me is that the science fiction author had to know. He had to know if he talked about his feelings about god/God and politics that he was going to irrevocably piss some people off. Especially since that seemed to be all he ever talked about on his blog.

Maybe he's just that out of touch? Maybe he thinks he has enough readers that he can afford to lose more than a few? Or maybe he doesn't give a fuck?

Maybe to a degree that's a good thing? Though, it's still not much of an excuse for being an outright fucker.

Thankfully, I don't have to worry about that for a while. But it's a thought I don't find very comforting when all I really want to do is write.


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