Posts Tagged ‘Reviews’

An Old White Man Speaks (Reluctantly)

Tuesday, October 9th, 2018

I don’t like falling into the Old White Man category, but the facts (remember them?) seem to make my membership in that sad club mandatory.

And I really don’t want to talk politics, and I don’t intend to talk directly about it, exactly…but my brain just won’t give me anything else to talk about right now.

I’ve mentioned before that I used to accept all “friend” requests on Facebook, because I viewed anyone interested in me as either a current or potential reader, aka customer. But because of the vile political rants that often came to me through that door, I now only accept people whose names I recognize. Apologies.

On Facebook, I look at posts in groups I’ve joined having to do with illustration, comics, movies and other quirky interests of mine. I look at my “feed” (or whatever it is) maybe every couple of weeks. So I no longer regularly follow the fun things that friends post about themselves and their families – it’s the price of avoiding the horror of what people think.

So lately I have mostly posted stuff about my band, including links to performances, and links to reviews and interviews with me (and often A. Brad Schwartz, since Scarface and the Untouchable is still out there doing well). Yet my brain urges me to talk politics and current events. I want to swat my head with a rolled-up newspaper – Bad brain! Bad!

Here’s the thing. I have friends and business associates (and sometimes those categories overlap) who are firm Trump supporters. I also have readers who fall into that category, and (as noted above) they are customers, who I would not care to anger and irritate. Call me a coward if you like, but I relish being able to make a living.

But I want to wade in, just a little. I consider myself a centrist, if somewhat left of center. Back in the days of the Ms. Tree letter column, pre-Facebook by decades, I would express my views on a subject – abortion comes to mind – and receive hate mail from both the left and right, from those who could not process the notion that I did not approve of abortion, thought it was probably a sin (if you believe in that kind of thing), but still felt it should be legal, because who am I to foist my opinion on what a woman wants to do with her body?

When you stand in the middle of the road, that gives traffic coming from both ways an equal opportunity to run you down.

Where we are now is that we essentially have three political groups – two parties and an unruly center – who define themselves as republican, democrat or independent. There are major divides within those groups, of course, but more and more people are calling themselves independent because of frustration with both Coke and Pepsi. The problem with declaring yourself independent politically is that in most states you can’t vote in primaries. That means the hardcore republicans and democrats get to pick their candidates, which means one extreme meets another extreme at the ballot box, and many independents feel very frustrated by the choices presented them.

A good friend of mine from high school – the very definition of an independent thinker – told me he had not voted for president last time. He thought Trump was an idiot, but he despised Hillary Clinton. So nobody got his vote.

What I said to him was, “John!” (Let’s call him John.) (After all, it’s his name). “John! The lesser of two evils is still less evil.”

So let me boil down, as someone in the middle, what I think is the biggest problem we face.

Everybody who leans left, whether considering themselves democrats or progressives or independent, needs to consider how good the republicans are at branding. At labeling. What the republican base loves about President Trump is that he “tells it like it is.” But any objective look at the man would tell you he is a liar, possibly a pathological liar. The genius is in the labeling. The other day Trump made up a bill about immigration – made it up, my friends, it doesn’t exist – and gave it a name and blamed it on the democrats. This is in a long line of genius manipulation of branding from the republicans. They are not Anti-Abortion, they are Pro-Life. Genius. When protestors swarm their offices, they call it “mob mentality.” They know that if you want to cut down trees, you call yourself the Tree Conservation Group.

Meanwhile, many democrats are starting to add “socialist” to their name. Bernie Sanders is a mover and shaker in the demo world, but he isn’t even a democrat. I would take him more seriously as a democratic candidate for the presidency if he were a damn democrat. Old White Males like me (on either side, or in my case in the middle of the divide) know that for many older people (say, forty up), “socialist” is a loaded word, like “fascist” or “Communism.” There are plenty of fascists out there on the right who are smart enough not to call themselves fascists. It takes a democrat to do something that dumb.

The right has to own up to the cruelty and falsehoods their leader espouses; they need to examine his pro-Russia stance and look at a lifetime of sketchy business success built on tax fraud and inherited wealth. The left needs to stop requiring purity of their candidates and focus on the shameful way women have been minimized, ignored and even ridiculed in this latest debacle, and then go with the best available choice.

I understand that people are tired of gritting their teeth when they vote for somebody. And I hate being practical. It’s more fun being right, and there is comfort in indignation. But being practical is often necessary.

The lesser of two evils is less evil.

* * *

This past Saturday, Oct. 6, I was a speaker at the Iowa City Book Festival. I appeared on a fun panel about what authors read (and I revealed how little fiction I read these days) but also gave an hour talk to a nice crowd in a room at the Iowa City Public Library.

I was supposed to do a reading, but I wasn’t in the mood and instead gave an extemporaneous talk about my career, with an emphasis on my years at the University of Iowa’s Writers Workshop. Barb says I was out of control, but in a good way. I did get a lot of laughs, including from Barb.

It was recorded and I’ll share a link, if possible, on a future update.

Here’s another podcast about Scarface and the Untouchable with Brad and me.

And another.

Here’s info about the upcoming, revised Red Sky in Morning, now correctly titled USS Powderkeg.

Finally, here’s a nicely compact Scarface and the Untouchable review.

M.A.C.

Crusin’ the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2018

I’m going to be a little lazy this week, and for the most part just share this complete record of Crusin’s 25-minute set at the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction concert. This is courtesy of my pal Ken Duncan (who did the Steadicam work on Mommy!).

More about that appearance and our honor can be read here in a Voice of Muscatine write-up (although I don’t remember saying we stole the show – we were perhaps in the top three or four bands out of a dozen, but I wouldn’t be so bold as to claim domination).

I have started work on the new Mike Hammer, which is called Murder, My Love. The first two chapters were written in a St. Louis area Drury hotel, while Barb and I were getting to know our granddaughter Lucy, having a great time with three-year-old grandson Sam, and helping out their dad and mom (Nate and Abby) a little bit, too.

Briefly, let me encourage you to order Primal Spillane, a lovely trade paperback from Bold Venture. It’s a much expanded collection of Mickey’s comic-book filler prose stories, written in the early to mid-‘40s, mostly for Timely, the precursor of Marvel. It also has a similar but longer – but never before published story – as a bonus. The shorter version of Primal Spillane was published about ten years ago, put together by Lynn Myers and myself. Publisher Rich Harvey made this possible and did a great job on this definitive edition.


Hardcover: Bold Venture Press
Trade Paperback: Bold Venture Press |
E-Book: Bold Venture Press | Amazon Nook Kobo

I will bury a somewhat political reference here, though I know it irritates some when I do. Sorry. But am I the only one who noticed that the fictionalized name of Brett Kavanaugh in Mark Judge’s memoir of high school and college debauchery – Bart O’Kavanaugh – substitutes one Maverick brother for the other?

Finally, Scarface and the Untouchable gets moving right along. Check out this great review from Brad Schwartz’s hometown paper.

M.A.C.

Did I Mention We Got in the Iowa Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame?

Tuesday, September 11th, 2018

As promised, here’s a look at the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction weekend at Arnold’s Park, Iowa, perched on the banks of Lake Okoboji. (The photo accompanying this update, however, was taken at Fruitland Fun Days on September 8.) This is mostly about the rock side of my purported talents, so feel free to bail if you have no interest.

Labor Day weekend at Arnold’s Park – and the area surrounding it – is frantic with end-of-summer vacationing, and the traffic that accompanies it. The trip north was both dull and eventful, because Barb and I discovered (on an endless farmland drive best described as a green wasteland) that the credit card we had recently had to cancel and replace got our cell phone service cut off, and at one point got us locked out of our hotel room.

That was the downside. The upside was a weekend that celebrated rock ‘n’ roll, specifically the Iowa variety. The members of Crusin’ all went their own way with their respective families, in this vacation wonderland, but came together for the various band activities. The Sunday morning sound check was not ideal – each group had very limited time, and in truth that led to some problems with monitors that evening. But with a dozen bands performing, that was perhaps to be expected.

In the afternoon a formal induction ceremony was held in a beautiful high school auditorium, and I represented the band with a brief speech, off-the-cuff as usual, which led to me forgetting at first to acknowledge former band member (and Daybreakers founding member) Dennis Maxwell, who only came from Arizona. Sallie Bunn accepted a plaque for her late husband, Chuck – also a member of both Crusin’ and the Daybreakers – and Brian’s brother Jim, who was our guitarist for over a decade, also picked up his award. Other members of the band (there have been fifteen or sixteen of us, over the 43 years) who couldn’t attend should be getting their plaques by mail in a few weeks.

The big event is the Sunday night induction concert, starting at 6 pm and going past midnight, and we had a spot that was at once terrific and terrible – terrific in that we had the ten o’clock slot, which is prime time, and terrible in that we had to follow an All-Star band with some top talent in it…Megadeth bassist David Ellefson sat in for a couple of tunes, for example. The All-Star Band even played two songs that were on our 25-minute set list – “Wild Nights” and “We Gotta Get Outa This Place.”

Now here is where my ridiculous ego comes into play. As we stood waiting in a sort of doorless green room just off stage, I started smiling when both songs were performed…because I knew we did them better. They did another song from our regular list, and I wished we had played that as well.

Understand that in the garage band scene of the mid-60s – at least in my corner of the world – the combos were like street gangs. We were all scrounging after a small number of gigs (sock hops, proms, house parties), and we hated the other bands. Fist fights were not uncommon. There was nothing we liked better than pimping out another group. When we opened for the Strawberry Alarm Clock in the late ‘60s, an Iowa City band that we despised closed their set with a limp “Crossroads” – so we opened with our own blistering version. Once when a promoter stiffed us opening for the Kingsmen – saying we were lucky to be opening for a famous band, then instructing us not to play any Kingsmen songs – we opened with “Louie Louie.” (We also played “Money,” which we weren’t getting, though it was what we wanted.)

Meanwhile, back at the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction concert…

The trouble with All-Star Bands is they are under-rehearsed and they are cluttered with talent. I have no idea how many people were on stage, but there were three lead guitar players alone. And Crusin’ might be a garage band from Muscatine, Iowa, but by God we are a band.

And that was one of the big pleasures of that night. We at least held our own among a dozen bands, some of whom were really, really good and none of whom stunk up the place. I felt we killed, and so did the rest of the guys, but we may be deluded. That’s okay.

Because last summer, after our very talented guitarist Jim Van Winkle left us, and we had to replace him and come up with three sets of material in about a two-week period, we weren’t really a band. Veteran local musician Bill Anson came on board, just to temporarily help us. But he found out how much fun this group is to be in, and he decided to stick around. We are glad and grateful he did.

Crusin’ had a busy summer – busier than I intended – and most of our gigs were outside in awful weather. Just sucky, humid, shitty weather. And we are not kids anymore. I began talking about making this my last summer of gigs, with the Hall of Fame concert my send-off. We discussed limiting performances to two hours (not the standard three and hell no to four hours) if we did come back.

But what happened at the Hall of Fame concert was that we came together as a band. A real band. Any time you change a member in a four-piece configuration, it’s a new band, and it takes a while to gel (and sometimes you just congeal). I knew we had the makings, because Bill Anson is a strong singer with a very different voice and style from mine, which immediately gave us a boost. As for guitar playing, I’ve liked Bill’s work from day one; but he stands in two big shadows.

First, his brother Dave is a fairly legendary guitarist around here. Second, Jim Van Winkle – his immediate predecessor – is something of a genius with guitar. But guess what? At the induction concert – actually after the sound check – I had three people individually come up and comment on how great our guitar player is. “Where did you find that guy? Wow!” That kind of thing.

Another factor was my purchase this year of a new Vox keyboard to go with my Hammond-style Nord. A Vox keyboard hasn’t been produced in decades, but Korg recently put one out. The authentic ‘60s sound of it got me some great comments at the concert. And it, too, makes us a different band.

So maybe we killed, maybe we didn’t.

But we were, in a way, born. If not to be wild, exactly, wild enough to come back for another summer of this insanity…probably with a CD of new original material.

A word about the venue. We were playing at the Roof Garden, one of the Midwest’s most famous ballrooms. Among those who played there were the Everly Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Guess Who, the Shangri-Las, the Yardbirds, and Bobby Darin. We played to a capacity crowd of 1000. The building (the second in the venue’s history) is being torn down by the time you read this. We performed at the last event prior to the building of a new facility with the old Roof Garden name.

I can almost hear my old bandmate Paul Thomas saying, “We’ve closed down bigger joints….”

* * *

So originally I was supposed to be at Bouchercon in Florida this weekend. But Barb and I decided with the long Labor Day weekend, which included not only the musical responsibilities but a very long drive going and returning, that setting out more or less immediately on another big trip was just nothing we could face. Much as I wanted to see my friends and fellow authors (not mutually exclusive categories), I decided against it. Worst part was not being there to promote Scarface and the Untouchable.

But I am so glad we cancelled.

Why? On our return to Muscatine on Labor Day evening, we discovered our basement was flooded and half of the electricity in our house was out. The latter included the washer and drier, and the TV (cable box fried), though the refrigerator was running (neither of us had the energy to catch it).

We spent all day Tuesday dealing with an electrician, getting electricity back around 5 pm, and the rest of the week was taken up with dealing with our sopped basement.

Miraculously, I had – after years of putting it off – recently turned the hoarder’s nightmare that the basement’s library area had become, bringing in new and additional bookcases and thoroughly sorting and downsizing. So very few books or magazines were destroyed. And the band room had few instruments or amps on the floor, since Crusin’ had been on the road when two torrential rainstorms hit Muscatine.

Today (Sunday the 9th as I write this) we have the basement dried out enough to bring the carpet cleaners in on Thursday.

We would have had to leave for Florida and the Bouchercon on last Thursday morning. Our Tuesday and Wednesday were nightmarish enough, let alone factoring in getting ready for another major trip.

* * *

As the International Association of Media and Tie-in Writers’ outgoing president (in the sense of leaving, not being bubbly), I sat for an interview with new president, Jonathan Maberry. You can read it here.

The Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine blog has used a piece from me about Mickey Spillane’s 100th.

The Seattle Times gave Scarface and the Untouchable a terrific review. (They don’t like it if you’re blocking ads, though.)

Finally, since this update started out with Crusin’ (and Bouchercon), we’ll finish the same way. Jerry’s House of Everything mentions Crusin’ doing “Incense Peppermints” (by Strawberry Alarm Clock – their second mention this column!) in 2011 at the St. Louis Bouchercon.

Sadly, this was bass player Chuck Bunn’s last gig – he passed away two weeks later. Jerry’s You Tube link didn’t work for me, so here it is again (in a clip put together by the great Eugene George).

M.A.C.

Crusin’ Inducted Into the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame

Tuesday, September 4th, 2018

Dennis Maxwell and his wife Chaffee. Denny is an original Daybreaker and also played with Crusin’

NO rest for the wicked: Joe LeValley at the Meet and Greet at Arnold’s Park for the Hall of Fame induction brought along books for M.A.C. to sign — a board member no less!

M.A.C. interviewed with Crusin’ looking on at the interminable “Meet and Greet” presentation, drummer Steve Kundel amused by my quick, short answers to get it over with.

Crusin’ at sound check Sunday morning (9/2/’18)

Crusin’ at the awards ceremony

M.A.C. Steve Kundel (standing) and Bill Anson signing autographs after the induction ceremony.

Crusin’ in the Rooftop Ballroom at the Sunday night induction concert.

M.A.C. at the induction concert

M.A.C. at the induction concert

Crusin’ alumni Dennis Maxwell (coming from Arizona!) joins Crusin’ onstage at the induction concert.

Crusin’ with Maxwell at induction concert.

* * *

Here’s a nice Scarface and the Untouchable review.

This fun interview with Brad Schwartz and me focuses on our reading habits.

The UK Daily Mail weighs in on Scarface and the Untouchable — favorably!

M.A.C.