Saturday, December 11, 2004

Alvin in Concrete

Walter Albert, who's been reading John Shannon's The Concrete River, was struck by this passage on page 132 of the paperback edition of the novel : "We was setting up this boiler room not far from Houston a few months ago. God-forsaken place called Alvin. We like to grace these little towns where maybe a lot of housewives want some pin money, and they don't want an arm and a leg for coming in, answering the phones."

It's always nice to see the place where you live immortalized in prose.

Why I love the Aggies

KBTX | Student Accused Of Eating a Roll Call List After Cutting In Line To Get Cotton Bowl Tickets

The Weather Report

When I'm out jogging in the mornings, odd thoughts run through my head. Today I was thinking about Elmore Leonard's rules for writing. Isn't one of them that you never start off with the weather report? Anyway, as soon as I thought of that, the first eight or ten lines of John Keats' "The Eve of St. Agnes" popped into my head. (Hey, I can't help it. I used to be an English teacher.) This is a poem I've read and discussed dozens of times. It's about magic and dreams and love, and, of course, the weather. The poem begins with one of the great weather reports in all of poetry:

ST. AGNES’ Eve—Ah, bitter chill it was!
The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
The hare limp’d trembling through the frozen grass,
And silent was the flock in woolly fold:
Numb were the Beadsman’s fingers, while he told
His rosary, and while his frosted breath,
Like pious incense from a censer old,
Seem’d taking flight for heaven, without a death . . . .

Luckily for you I can't remember any more. But you have to admit that it classes up the old blog quite a bit. I mean, John Keats never even thought about writing a Gold Medal original.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

America's Oldest Living Teenager Posted by Hello

Dick Clark's Saturday Night Show

In his comment down below, the crusty Cap'n Bob mentions Dick Clark's Saturday night show. This, of course, sent me into a veritable frenzy of nostalgia. The show, as I recall, was sponsored by Beechnut Gum, and its Saturday evening timeslot conflicted with my parents' favorite: Perry Mason. We had only one TV set at our house, and in fact I didn't know a single person in those days whose family owned more than one. One TV set was considered enough. There was never even any discussion about it, as far as I can recall. And of course the VCR (not to mention the DVR, TiVo, etc.) was so far in the future that we would have considered it the stuff of science fiction. So what was a poor boy to do?

My grandmother provided the answer. She lived next door to us, and she told my mother that I could come over to her house and watch the Dick Clark show. This was a tremendous surprise to me, since this grandmother (my father's mother) hardly ever spoke to anyone in the family. I don't think she liked us, and I've always suspected that my mother somehow coerced her into letting me go over and watch the show. But I didn't question my good fortune. I just went over there, turned on the TV set, and sat in the floor while I watched. My grandmother sat in the room's only chair, a rocker (no pun intended), and spoke not a word during the whole thing. When it was over, I left. Maybe I thanked her. Maybe not.

The performers on this show, as on Bandstand, all lip-synched their numbers, with the exception (as the Cap'n makes note) of Jerry Lee Lewis. I remember seeing him on the show, and others I remember seeing for sure were Chubby Checker, Jack Scott, the Big Bopper, Buddy Holly, Paul Anka, the Silhouettes, and the Royal Teens. There must have been many others.

The show continued at least into my first year of college, but when I went to college, my TV viewing came pretty much to a standstill. Nobody had a TV set in the dorm. That was unheard of. The dorm had one tiny set, down in a dank dungeon-like room in the basement, and that's where I watched the special on which Frank Sinatra welcomed Elvis home from his overseas service in the Army. That was the only show I saw during the nine months of college for my freshman year (1959-1960). While I missed out on the Dick Clark shows that year, it still remains one of the fond memories of my teenhood.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Dick Clark - Dick Clark hospitalized for stroke - Dec 8, 2004

Dang. I feel almost like I know Dick Clark personally.

I used to rush home from school in the afternoons back in the '50s to see American Bandstand, and it hacked me that I often had to miss about the first fifteen minutes or so. I remember some of the girls who danced on the show, including Justine, who seemed to be everyone's favorite, but I preferred Pat Molittieri. But I digress. The guy who held the show together was Dick Clark, introducing the records, the spotlight dances, and the singers who came on the pantomime their hits. Not to mention revealing the Top Ten and doing the "rate a record" segment. Speaking of which, the only one of those I really remember is the one when they rated "The Chipmunk Song." The kids hated it, but Dick predicted they'd all be dancing to it by Christmas.

I watched Bandstand in the summers when I was in college, and I watched it for years after that. I eventually lost interest, but I always perked up when Dick Clark was mentioned, even if I didn't watch any of his shows. Judy was a big fan of Password when he was the MC of that one, so I saw him regularly in those days.

I have no idea what kind of person he is, and I don't care. He was a major part of my growing up, and he's been around ever since. I wish him well.

The REAL Ocean's Twelve | Hi-tech gamblers to keep winnings (December 6, 2004)

This is pretty cool. I'd never have to nerve to try it, myself.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

A Recent Ken Bruen Novel Posted by Hello

Ken Bruen

There's been a little controversy in the blogoverse recently over the novels of Ken Buren. Seems that Lee Goldberg had the nerve to say that he wasn't impressed by Bruen's Edgar-nominated The Guards, and that bothered some people a lot.

But let's face it: not everybody's going to like every book he reads. Hey, there may even be some poor, misguided souls who don't like my books, as hard as that is to believe. And Lee, for one, didn't like another of my favorite books, River Girl, by one of my favorite Gold Medal writers, Charles Williams, but I didn't notice anybody calling him bad names for that.

I happen to like most of what I've read by Ken Bruen a lot. I believe it was Jeff Meyerson who recommended The White Trilogy to me a year or so ago. I didn't pay much attention at first, but Jeff said something about how he knew I'd like the three books, so I thought I'd give them a try. As it turned out he was certainly right. The White Trilogy blew me away. I hadn't been as excited about a writer in a long time, and I started telling everybody about him. Back in March of this year, at the AggieCon, I'm sure people got tired of hearing me talk about him.

I'm not sure why I liked the books so much. Probably it was a combination of things. First of all, the style caught me. It's distinctive, spare, and poetic, and it works just fine for me. I can see why it might not work for everyone, though, and that's all right. I have a feeling Bruen isn't trying to please everyone.

Another thing was the tone of the books. To me they seemed like the 87th Precinct on speed. And they don't play by the usual rules. Anyone can die (or get cancer or get maimed or get hooked on drugs and/or alcohol) at any time. Crimes are solved more or less by luck, or accident, rather than anything resembling what you might see on CSI or Law and Order. Sometimes it's hard to tell the cops from the criminals. Sometimes the cops seem even crazier than the criminals. I ate it up.

So naturally I was delighted when I found out that stories begun in The White Trilogy weren't going to end with the three books that comprised it. Blitz might be subtitled Brant is Back, but the whole surviving crew is back: Falls, McDonald, Nash, Roberts. And it's as good as the first three, if not even better.

Last weekend I did a signing at Murder by the Book in Houston, and I picked up the fifth book in the series, Vixen. And believe me, vixen is a mild word for the title character, one of the best villains in the entire series. I liked this one a lot as well.

I feel pretty lucky because I have three other Ken Bruen books in my TBR mountain, with more to be added shortly. You can bet I'll be getting to them fairly soon.

Doc Benton's Olde Tyme Astrology Shoppe

Doc Benton's Olde Tyme Astrology Shoppe

The character of Seepy Benton in A Bond with Death resembles a real person. He's now got a big web presence (he wishes!). If you're into astrology, I recommend him highly.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Review Below. Posted by Hello

The Librarian

Last night there were several original movies on TV. HBO had the classy and well-reviewed Peter Sellers biopic. The Hallmark Channel had a comforting middlebrow fantasy called The Five People You Meet in Heaven with Jon Voigt. And TNT had the cheesy Da Vinci Code/Raiders of the Lost Ark rip-off, The Librarian: Quest for the Spear. Anyone who knows me will know immediately that I went for the cheesey rip-off.

And I even watched all of it, though I was thinking all the time, "This is what we've come to. Starting with National Treasure, and now this, every movie made for the next ten years will be the same." And I was also thinking, "What a piece of crap."

But, as I said, I watched it.

There's no need to summarize the plot, since it makes very little (if any) sense. I kept watching mainly, I think, in hopes to see the rest of Kelly Hu's Serpent Brotherhood tattoo. (Ms. Hu, by the way, was seriously under-used in the movie. She was great in her few scenes.)

There's no need to comment on the special effects. I've already said, "cheesey." That about covers it. If you could, for even a second or two, have believed that the stars (Noah Wyle and Sonya Walger, who has the best line in the movie) were walking over an actual bridge anywhere near an actual waterfall in one of the big scenes, you might have bought into the movie. But you couldn't believe it. Not even for a second or two.

There was one point, however, at which I was willing to suspend my disbelief. Almost. The big martial-arts scene at the movie's climax features some of the lamest fighting I've seen since Diana Rigg turned in her leather suit. But even at that, to see Bob Newhart as a martial artist was worth sitting through the other two hours of the movie. Almost.

Actually, if you can overlook the ridiculous plot and the cheesey effects, the cast is pretty good. Wyle is appealing as a geeky librarian, and Walger is aces as his hardboiled protector. I've mentioned Kelly Hu. Newhart is fine, as always. Jane Curtin has a small but entertaining role. Poor Kyle MacLachlan, though, must have needed the money. Desperately. Or maybe he just enjoyed being pure Virginia ham.

You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll kiss two hours good-bye.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

This is the anthology that contains the infamous "No Class Chick." Posted by Hello

Before there was Joe Lansdale . . .

. . . there was "No Class Chick" by J. J. Solari. When I first met Joe, back around 1979, one of the stories he told me about was in an anthology called Best Biker Fiction from EASYRIDERS. So of course I bought the book and read the story. Last night I read it again. It's still as profane, and as horribly funny, as it was 25 years ago.

I once accused Joe of having written "No Class Chick" because I'm sure he wrote for Easyriders when he was starting out. He's never admitted it, but it's certainly like a story Joe would have written. It's about a guy whose initiation into a bikers' club is to take a woman on a cross-country run, and she has to remain in his company the entire time. Before he even starts, she dies. But that doesn't change the rules. The story starts off gross and gets progressively grosser. The old phrase "not for the squeamish" was never more appropriate. (I'll spare you most of the details, but there's even a rape scene.) If that's not a Lansdale plot, what is? It even has Lansdale like similes: "The panic-frozen bunch of wanderers couldn't have helped a cockroach out of a plate of mashed potatoes. . . ."

I'm posting this in case some future doctoral candidate about to write a dissertation on the collected works of Lansdale is looking for influences. Sure, there are the obvious ones, like Harper Lee and Flannery O'Connor, but "No Class Chick" must not be overlooked.