July 29, 2013

The Anarchist Has Left The Building

On Saturday, July 27, 2013, after I finished proofing the print copy of Hoods, Hot Rods, and Hellcats, I sent the small list of corrections to Brian Roe. I was floored the next day when I got on Facebook and saw that Mick Farren was dead. He had been performing at the Borderline Club in London the day before, as part of the Atomic Sunshine Festival, when he collapsed on stage.

I don’t really know what to say, except that he was one of my idols, he was a fellow Gene Vincent fan, he was kind enough to write the introduction to my anthology, and I think of him as my friend.

I'm glad he died on stage with his boots on, but most of all I'm glad he didn't die in America—far worse than being a country that had come to frighten him, we are a country he couldn't afford to die in.

"Much of what we now call the paranormal is, I'm quite convinced, the product of forms of science and mathematics we have yet to even approach. As to the knowledge of our inevitable death being a spur to inquiry and creativity, I think it's much more basic than that. Humans are curious monkeys who stood on their hind legs to look over the tall grass, and we just can't stop doing it. In fact, I actually do my best to ignore individual mortality. My real hope and faith is that the Ancient Tribe of the Searching Ones will survive and continue, and that I can in my own way add a couple of insights to the common store of knowledge theory and fantasy. That's what really continues." —Mick

July 23, 2013

The Same Little Tune

A passage from Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles, Volume #1: Say You Want A Revolution, has been stuck in my head for the last couple of days:

"Your head’s like mine, like all our heads; big enough to contain every god and devil there ever was. Big enough to hold the weight of the oceans and the turning of the stars. 
Whole universes fit in there!  
But what do we chose to keep in this miraculous little cabinet? Little broken things, sad trinkets that we play with over and over. 
The world turns our key and we play the same little tune again and again and we think that tune’s all we are."

July 17, 2013

A Secret Passion For Mercy

“There are certain families whose members should all live in different towns— different states, if possible—and write each other letters once a year.”
The Blue Hammer, Ross MacDonald
Yesterday on the way home from yet another doctor’s appointment for the lovely wife, WTTS played Warren Zevon’s “Poor Poor Pitiful Me.” For a moment, it hit me kind of hard because it’s one of those songs and lately, in the midst of so much turmoil, I’ve been terrible at being present—my thoughts sometimes get away from me to twist and turn down strange and emotional paths.

But it was only for a moment. After that moment, I felt a lot better.


Because Zevon's song led my thoughts to Ross MacDonald.
“The Archer novels are about various kinds of brokenness.” —Ross MacDonald
When the series began with The Moving Target in 1949, Lew Archer is a typical hardboiled hero investigating the usual hardboiled crimes that involve money and blackmail, then lead to the usual murder, another one after that, and probably, at least, one more for good measure. Though that’s not to say the early books are bad books. They’re not. There’s a reason Anthony Boucher called The Way Some People Die, the third book in the series, “The best novel in the tough tradition I've read since Farewell, My Lovely and possibly since The Maltese Falcon.”

But they’re not as good as the later books. MacDonald doesn’t find his voice until The Doomsters. And he doesn't understand it or his character until his next book, The Galton Case:
“Almost twenty years have passed since Anthony Galton disappeared, along with a suspiciously streetwise bride and several thousand dollars of his family's fortune. Now Anthony's mother wants him back and has hired Lew Archer to find him. What turns up is a headless skeleton, a boy who claims to be Galton's son, and a con game whose stakes are so high that someone is still willing to kill for them.”
With the 8th book in the series and the ten more that would follow, MacDonald sits aside a lot of the hard-boiled junk and focuses on themes of identity, family secrets, childhood trauma, and relationships between men and women. Archer goes from your standard tough guy to a world-weary, surrogate father who races against time —does the man ever sleep—to save a whole host of desperate young people from their parents' sins.

Why the change?

I don't know.  As a writer, it's sometimes hard to trust in yourself, even if you've got a number of bestsellers under your belt. Growing up, Kenneth Millar [MacDonald's real name] had a very difficult childhood. In 1956, his daughter Linda Millar, a trouble teenager herself, killed a boy in a hit-and-run. Maybe it took all those things coming together—the trusting in his skills, confronting his own troubled past and his daughter's troubled future—to begin crafting what's been called “The finest series of crime novels ever written by an American.”
“I used to think the world was divided into good people and bad people, that you could pin responsibility for evil on certain definite people and punish the guilty. I’m still going through the motions.”The Moving Target, Ross MacDonald
So what does this have to do with Warren Zevon?

Paul Nelson, a friend of Warren’s and the man who wrote “The Crack-up and Resurrection of Warren Zevon” for Rolling Stone magazine in 1981, was the first person to relate the story of Ross MacDonald’s intervention.

In brief: Zevon was a big Lew Archer fan. Nelson knew MacDonald from an interview he had done. Nelson called MacDonald. MacDonald showed up at Zevon’s house, and the two talked for several hours. “And I found myself telling him things that I'd never told anybody,” Zevon said later, remembering the day. “...Ken Millar made me realize that I wrote my songs despite the fact that I was a drunk, not because of it.”

The next day, following their conversation, Zevon re-entered his detox program.

"You have a secret passion for justice. Why don't you admit it?"
"I have a secret passion for mercy. But justice is what keeps happening to people."
The Goodbye Look, Ross MacDonald

July 9, 2013

On This Day

I’ve always much preferred Dashiell Hammett over Raymond Chandler. The preference comes down to a lot of different things and not just that I think Hammett was the better writer. There's a fundamental difference between the two that I think James Ellroy explained best:

“Chandler wrote the man he wanted to be—gallant and with a lively satirist's wit. Hammett wrote the man he feared he might be—tenuous and skeptical in all human dealings, corruptible and addicted to violent intrigue.”

But today is another reminder of why Hammett remains firmly on my list of literary heroes. On this day in 1951, Dashiell Hammett was sentenced to contempt of court for refusing to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee. The 57-year-old writer served his time in the West Virginia Federal Penitentiary, where he was assigned the job of cleaning toilets.

Years later, according to Lillian Hellman, when questioned about it, Hammett replied, "I don't know why. I guess it has something to do with keeping my word but I don't want to talk about that.... I hate this damn kind of talk, but maybe I better tell you that if it were more than jail, if it were my life, I would give it for what I think democracy is, and I don't let cops or judges tell me what I think democracy is."

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