Friday, September 29, 2006

"Where Bush Street Roofed Stockton"

Christine picked the City by the Bay for a getaway, and for me that meant looking up a few noir locations. She should have known that was coming.

Hard boiled detective fiction provided some of my earliest reading enthusiasm.

It was with a little help from San Francisco Noir by Nathaniel Rich that I found the plaque identifying the location of Miles Archer's death from The Maltese Falcon.

(I guess it has a bit of a spoiler so don't look if you're planning to read the book.)

I can remember reading about the monument's placement in the '70s in one mystery mag or another but for some reason I've never made it to San Francisco until now.

I can't say why it took so long, but I was glad for an opportunity to travel in the footsteps of Sam Spade.

At Hotel Rex
We were staying at the very cool Hotel Rex, which has a Maltese Falcon passage mixed in among literary quotes that decorate various floors. We were actually about a block and a half from the spot "Where Bush Street roofed Stockton before slipping downhill to Chinatown."

So of course it was the last night in town I actually found Burritt Alley, even though I'd spotted Dashiell Hammett Street on our first night, when we were heading to Chinatown for a festival and dinner.

Finding noir
It's not hard to find, but earlier in the week I'd managed to pass on the wrong side of the street almost every time.

A girl in a chef's jacket was talking on a cell at the mouth of the alley when I located it--something you wouldn't have seen in Spade's day--but otherwise it looked about like it's described in the novel.

She offered to take a picture of Christine and me together, but I opted for us to do separate poses.

The sun was still a little high, I guess, for the perfect experience which would have called for night and fog, but it was still nice to be there, almost inside a great literary work.
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Friday, September 22, 2006

What's on the iPod? - A Real Mix

iSkin gave me free downloads on emusic as a thank you for buying skins for the SidPod from them a while back, so I've been perusing the MP3 offerings and trying to put together a quality playlist or, failing that, a pile of guilty pleasures.

The selection doesn't rival iTunes, but I've found a reasonable mixture of indie and classic, kind of across the board.

Favorite Discoveries via emusic
Alexi Murdoch is my favorite "new to me" indie artist from emusic. Apparently "Orange Sky" caused a bit of a stir that I missed out on when his EP was released, but now I'm board. Cool song.

Mediaeval Baebes - OK, I'm a little naive about the Classical charts but I've been to a Renaissance Festival or two. I love tunes in the middle ages tradition, and I found several tunes from their Mirabilis album including their take on "Scarborough Fayre. "

Favorite filling in the gaps in my collection
I love the music of the late Warren Zevon, and I found several tunes I didn't have including ironically his recording of "My Ride's Here," one of my favorites.

It's sad and cynical and I really like Bruce Springsteen's version on the Warren Zevon tribute album, "Enjoy Every Sandwich," but it's nice to have the original to carry with me. (Usually--aforementioned excepted--I hate tribute albums , and that's one thing you have to watch out for on emusic. They have lots o' songs recorded by someone other than the original artist.)

Another great Zevon tune I found was "I Was in the House When the House Burned Down," also featuring his dark, cynical humor.

Guilty pleasure of the lot
The Archices - "Sugar, Sugar" that's really all I have to say about that isn't it?

Favorite PBS star recordings
Picked up a couple of Roger McGuinn tunes from "Roger McGuinn Live at the XM Studios" album including "Mr. Tambourine Man."

Rounding things out
I've never owned enough Jazz or been Jazz literate enough so I also grabbed several classics from John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk.

Songs I'm pissed off I downloaded
"Rocket Man" and "A Word in Spanish" speaking of tunes not recorded by the original artist. I'm sure there were ASCAP payments involved but I really thought I was getting the Elton John versions. You start listening to a cover, and you just get that feeling something ain't right.

All in all though, I've a good emusic experience, and you've probably read the benefits - you buy you own, you're not just renting tunes until the next device sync.

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What's on the iPod? - They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Anymore

Because it's important to know the truth and not the smear tactics being spread by those running against Kinky Friedman, the next Texas Governor.

I'm offended most of all as a fiction writer, because if you read the lyrics to "They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Anymore" it's clear the negative remarks come not from the Kinkster's first person persona in the song but from a:

"...redneck nerd in a bowling shirt..."

Trying to brand Kinky as a racist with those remarks is like attributing Darth Vader's remarks to George Lucas and saying he favored the Empire over Luke Skywalker's forces.

If traditional politicians misrepresent the truth in their ads, can we trust them on anything?

Wow, is that the queen mother of dumb questions?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Charles L. Grant - The Last Call of Mourning

Messages from a couple of directions are telling me Charles L. Grant has passed away after a long illness, and I'm, of course, saddened by the news.

I once heard him called a writer's writer, admired by those enraptured by words for his mastery of the language. His opening paragraphs are always fabulous passages to read, and his tales wonderful evocations of dread. He long championed "quiet horror."

The OxRun Station cycle includes my favorites of his books, but all of his novels under his own name were worthy, atmospheric reads.

A scary little town
The OxRun books explore a strange little town in both the modern era and in its distant past with a trilogy of novels that also paid homage to the black-and-white horror movies of the thirties. He also wrote comic science fiction and much more and edited some of the most respected horror anthologies of the current era.

I remember one of the first times I ever saw him.

It was when World Fantasy was in Nashville-- I think I'm remembering the place correctly-- in the eighties. He was hosting a late evening panel called "Charles L. Grant's Dark Corner of the Shop."

Sharing the dais was the late Karl Edward Wagner.

While they waited outside the hotel meeting room where their panel was to convene, they donned wrestler's masks and hurled boasts and insults at each other in a wild and fun impromptu exchange.

Hard to believe they're both gone now.

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Friday, September 15, 2006

Great Horror Short Stories - A Psychical Invasion by Algernon Blackwood

I love pyschic investigator stories, forerunners to the X-Files and Kolchak, many penned in an era of spiritualism and mysticism around the turn of the 20th century.

One of my favorites is "A Psychical Invasion" (1908) by Algernon Blackwood. It features Fox Mulder's spiritual grandfather, John Silence. (Read it online here.)

Silence is one of those physicians who stretches his intellect beyond the challenges of his medical practice, and "Psychial Invasion" is one of his most exciting cases.

Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds
Silence is called on to help a haunted writer who, following essentially a psychidelic drug experience, is hearing colors and having conversations with inanimate objects not to mention being opressed by an unseen presence who compells him to draw her likeness.

Silence sets out to dehaunt the young writer's house using a collie named Flame and cat named Smoke, animals being highly attuned to spiritual activity.

The dehaunting is a task as challenging as just about any besides Shirley Jackson's Hill House.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Kinkyads are here

Kinky for Governor television spots are now available for viewing online at Kinky Friedman's website-

Good Shepherd - featuring animals from Utopia Animal Rescue founded by the Kinkster

Clean Energy, Clean Government - focusing on Texas' need to import energy

Check them out - both do a good job of image building and stressing Kinky's stand against political business as usual.

If you're not from Texas, tell somebody who is.

Monday, September 11, 2006

What's on the iPod? - A Song for 9/11

I first heard Loudon Wainwright III's "No Sure Way" on NPR's Fresh Air in October 2001, when we were all still in shock.

The singer/songwriter's account of a subway trip into Manhattan days after 9/11 remains as deep and affecting as the first time I heard it -- blending mythological references (...there beneath the East River it felt like the River Styxx...) with the stark, painful reality.

Five years gone
I attended a charity function the other day, and a speaker noted that the cool autumn morning made it impossible for him not to think of that other September, now five years ago.

Five years? I've lost touch with the guy I was on the phone with that morning when I heard, but not how I felt.

"No Sure Way's" lyrics capture it well:

I saw the three initials
W, T and then C
I'd survived/somehow was living

But somewhere I shouldn't be
At the next stop the doors opened
And I emerged up above ground
I was in another country.
Elysian Fields? No Chinatown.

I think I'll have to listen a few more times over the next couple of days. To the memory of the innocent...

Further reading

Esquire: "The Falling Man"

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

At the Table of Free Voices

(Note: Since writing this I've read coverage that there were streaming problems from The Table of Free Voices. What I saw Saturday morning seems to have been a real time feed toward the end of the day so apparently it was corrected.)

Watching the discussions at The Table of Free Voices was a little overwhelming in more ways than one. If you haven't heard via, it was a gathering of 112 participants from around the globe.

They were prompted by 100 questions posed by people from everywhere and read by Nigerian activist Hafsat Abiola and actor Willem Dafoe.

The corners of the wind
Ideas were coming in many languages and from literally many directions yesterday morning, but it was fascinating to watch and listen--not to agree with every viewpoint-- but to be stimulated by the minds and nations represented.

I came to the table a little late since things started at 9 a.m. Berlin time, but I caught many interesting snippets.

Open ended
Sometimes the questions that came across as the most affecting were those less concrete.

And the one that resonated for me in the moment came from activist Julia Butterfly Hill--she who spent 700 plus days in a tree to save it from loggers and later founded Circle of Life Foundation:

"What is your tree? What is it in your life that calls you to be bigger than what you think is possible?"

Fear is the cheapest room in the house
I heard Anuradha Mittal's response Saturday morning and thought it was eloquent. Now it is available online in its entirety here :

"I would have to say it is a phrase by Hafez...who said, `Fear is the cheapest room in the house. My dear, you deserve better living conditions...' Every day I remind myself that it is about courage. That one can never be defeated until we give up hope, 'till we give up the courage, 'till we accept the fear that they want us to live in. Her phrase is my tree..."

And what a wonderful tree that is.

Amended and expanded 7:56 p.m. 9/11

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Friday, September 08, 2006

Rolling to 44

Yesterday was my birthday. It was such a busy day I didn't have a lot of time to think about it. Then I checked in on my MySpace page.

The little profile box had automatically changed from 43 to 44. It was the first time I saw it in print and it was sobering.

I'd grown comfortable with 43. It's not 23 but it's not bad.

But 44?

The 4 somehow makes things different. I'd accepted 43.

44 is closer to 45! which is halfway between 40 and 50 and howthef**** did I get to 44 or even 40?and ohmigod where is the f***ing break lever?

I was recovering from minor--except surgery is major--on my last birthday and I blinked and it's a year later, a year since I stayed home two weeks recovering and watching movies until I felt good enough to read books again to pass the time--how much The Man Who Knew to Little --there's nothing but crap on can you stand?

And now it's a year later.

And there's a 4 at the end of my age.


Monday, September 04, 2006

Down in the Cellar

My review of the upcoming Gospel of the Living Dead by Kim Paffenroth is now available in the new webzine Down in the Cellar. Check out the book reviews section.

The book is an interesting examination of the "Dead" films that really delves into their deeper meaning.

The 'zine also features horror fiction, poetry and movie reviews. Drop over and have a look!

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Friday, September 01, 2006

What's on the iPod? - The Last Man on Earth

I've always thought The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price must have provided a bit of inspiration for George A. Romero as he prepped Night of the Living Dead.

The two came out only a few years apart then went on to extensive late-night TV re-runs.

The Price film, the first movie adaptation of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, features scenes of shambling vampires menacing Price in a boarded up house, and they look a lot like the ghouls converging on the farmhouse in NOTLD.

The films diverge from there and NOTLD probably has a higher scare quotient, but I've always had a bit of affection for Last Man's moodiness.

I like it better than the other adaptation, The Omega Man with Charlton Heston, even though its take on the vampires is interesting, especially with Anthony Zerbe as their leader.

I'm looking forward to the next adaptation allegedly due in 2007. I've lost track of who it's allegedly starring now.

Free - Vampires - Free
Last Man is an essentially Italian film. Apparently it was going to be a Hammer Film and would have been shot, no doubt, in lurid color, but they passed. It is for one reason or another in the public domain and is thus available for free download at They have iPod ready versions . By the way, if you run an Mpeg4 through Videora, it really screws up the soundtrack. I don't recommend it.

Vincent the Vampire Slayer
As mentioned, the film involves Vincent Price as Robert Morgan--marginally an action hero!?- being menanced by vampires. He's the lone survivor of a plague that's turned everyone into bloodsucking freaks.

He hides out in his bachelor pad at night and spends his days staking vampires. He just can't seem to find his old friend who's turned and keeps coming back to get annoy him. He's that kind of friend.

There's a long, somewhat slow flashback at the center detailing the disease's course and Morgan's hopeless efforts to protect his family, but the beginning and the action-adventure ending make up for that.

After the flasshback, he befriends a poodle, meets a woman--not a swinging '70s African American woman like Charlton Heston--but a woman who's not a vampire yet.

There are visually interesting scenes of black clad pursuers--fortunate that they color-cooridnated--tracking Vincent/Morgan through a church as the climax arrives right along with the thematic meditations on morality in a world turned upside down.

It's made darker and thus scarier by its black-and-white stock.

Check it out if you have a few gigabytes free. It's got its scares, and it's got Vincent Price.

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