Posts Tagged ‘You Can’t Stop Me’

Smothers Brothers Comedy Column

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

Last week was spent recovering from writing KISS HER GOODBYE. I really should allow myself a week off between projects, but I am stacked up right now and just can’t take the luxury. But it was slow-going, getting anything done. By late in the week I was finally able to finish a 14-page synopsis for the next Mike Hammer radio novel, which is entitled ENCORE FOR MURDER. The basis is a brief novel outline I found in Mickey Spillane’s files, so THE NEW ADVENTURES OF MIKE HAMMER VOL. 3 (starring Stacy Keach) will again have a basis in Mickey’s work.

I also wrote the introduction for volume ten of IDW’s reprint series of the DICK TRACY strip, edited by my old pal Dean Mulaney, the man who brought MS. TREE to the world of comics. The book winds up 1945, includes the entire run of 1946, going several months into ‘47. This is prime Gould material — great villains, lots of wonderful comic-relief characters, with everything from the intro of the Two Way Wrist Radio to the marriage of B.O. Plenty and Gravel Gertie. Watch for that — it’s one of Gould’s strongest periods.

You Can't Stop MeThe first review of YOU CAN’T STOP ME has appeared, from internet reviewer Harriet Klauser, and it’s a nice one.

I have been in a somewhat nostalgic mood lately, primed by reading a good book, DANGEROUSLY FUNNY: THE UNCENSORED STORY OF “THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS COMEDY HOUR,” by David Bianculli. It’s as entertaining as it is informative, though the author has a bad habit of repeating himself (how many times do I have to be told that Jennifer Warren became Jennifer Warnes?) and sometimes including personal asides (don’t you hate writers who do that? I do!).

Anyway, it prompted me to look at the two seasons of THE SMOTHERS COMEDY HOUR available — actually these are BEST OF’s, selected and edited by Tommy Smothers himself. Season Three, the final season, was released first, followed by Second Two (no sign of Season One yet). This is not Tommy Smothers being quirky, rather realistic. The show began as a fairly traditional comedy/variety hour in 1967, and as the times changed, and the under-thirty crowd got radicalized, the show shifted naturally. By the third season, it was featuring counter-culture musical artists (The Doors, The Who) and hip comedy (George Carlin, Jackie Mason, the Second City-style Committee) with a number of episodes performed in the round. The third season set includes an excellent documentary, SMOTHERED, which chronicles the war between the show (in particular the volatile Tom Smothers) and CBS.

I started with Season Two, and admit to being shocked by how standard a variety show it mostly was — later I learned that Tom Smothers had edited both seasons ruthlessly (sometimes too ruthlessly) because he too realized the memory of the ground-breaking show of over 40 years ago was better than the reality. That, of course, is why he insisted the final season be released first. This is not to say there isn’t a lot of funny material in the second season boxed set — the Pat Paulson run for the president is there, and Paulson was an excellent deadpan comedian. But I fast-forwarded through about a third of the stuff. Leigh French as Goldie O’Keefe, spaced-out hippie chick, remains a lovely young woman, frozen in video amber, with a nice delivery, but the “jokes” run mostly to slipping drug references past un-hip censors. If hearing the word “roach” or “high” tickles your funny bone, you’re in the right place.

TV variety shows of the fifties, sixties and even seventies were pretty dismal. I watched a lot of them as a kid, but they are a tough go to sit through now. Even shows that were hip for their era, like SMOTHERS BROTHERS, FLIP WILSON, and LAUGH-IN, seem about as dated as kinescopes of early TV.

Smothers Brothers Season 3
The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour:
Best of Season 3

The third season of SMOTHERS was a revelation, though — while some traditional variety show stuff survives (and Tom S. edited a lot of that out), there is plenty of social commentary and musical acts that could have appeared no where else on primetime TV of the late ‘60s. I find myself not liking the stuff I didn’t like at the time — Mason Williams’ classical gas remains gaseous to me, as does his anti-censorship poem, and self-righteous hippie show biz types like the aforementioned Warnes, the Los Angeles cast of HAIR, Joan Baez and the oh so precious Donovan still give me a pain. If you lived through those years, and were a sort of hippie yourself (and that’s how I’d describe myself then — a sort of hippie, married and going to school but long-haired, in a rock band, and desperately trying not to get drafted), you found a lot of the hippie musical stuff of the era pretty forced and artificial and terribly self-satisfied.

Nonetheless, the bravery of the Smothers Brothers to air this stuff — and to employ as writer/performers young punks like Bob Einstein (aka Super Dave Osborne), Steve Martin, and Rob Reiner — is impressive. The difference in approach and attitude between season two and three is shocking — it’s like one week the show is CAROL BURNETT, and the next week it’s SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. Historic performances from Pete Seeger (“Big Muddy” is amazing) and Harry Belafonte (“Don’t Stop the Carnival” to footage of the ‘68 Demo Convention) are alone worth the investment, and not much fast-forwarding elsewhere is required.

At the center of it all are those underrated performers, the Smothers Brothers, hip subversives posing as white-bread American boys. I loved them from the first time I saw them on (wait for it) Jack Parr’s TONIGHT SHOW. In the midst of a lot of smug and self-important folk musicians, the Smothers Brothers came on with their lampoon version of folk that had, in its day, the impact of Andy Kaufman. Initially, Tommy just seemed to be an idiot screwing up the act. We did not know we were witnessing one of the last great traditional comedy teams in the Laurel and Hardy/Abbott and Costello/Martin and Lewis mode. And Dick Smothers was and is a genius straight man.

I had all their albums. Grew up listening to them. Saw them perform at Hot Springs, Arkansas, at a nightclub/casino (a mob operation my middle-American parents took me to), and got to speak to them both and get my first celebrity autographs. They were extremely kind to me. (I would have been, perhaps, 16.) From junior high on, my friend Jim Hoffmann and I did Smothers Brothers impressions at parties and shows — we got great laughs in the time-honored tradition of kids stealing the acts of professionals, butchering those acts, and getting undeserved giddy praise from their classmates.

During the late ‘60s, Barb and I never missed THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS on Sunday night (MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE came right after, with Leonard Nimoy in for Martin Landau at this point, Trekkies). We were married in June ‘68, Barb 19 and me 20, and the assassination of Robert Kennedy took place while we were honeymooning in Chicago. Right around this time, I took a draft physical at Des Moines, Iowa, that scared me silly, classifying me 1-A — fortunately, I eventually was re-classified 4-F. Would Barb and I have gone to Canada? Probably. So we were absolutely the target audience of THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS SHOW, but I admit that I never saw anything controversial about what I saw there, and was shocked that censorship was an issue in an era of MIDNIGHT COWBOY and ZAP COMIX.

(Yes, friends, an almost draft dodger with leftist leanings somehow became the caretaker of right-wing icons Dick Tracy and Mike Hammer.)

So watching these DVDs, I find myself experiencing various shivers of memory — delight, sorrow, embarrassment, even pride — as I watch Tom and Dick Smothers on their very important TV show take on the establishment. The stories of Tom’s battles with CBS are so much like mine with the Chicago Tribune Syndicate over DICK TRACY that it made me uncomfortable — we were both punks, and both right. We took a stand, and got fired. I said pride was one of the shivers.

I recommend the book and both DVD sets, which are loaded with special features, each episode bookended with on-air comments by a very uncensored Tom and Dick (prepared for E Entertainment reruns a while back). Anyone my age will find this compelling viewing.


Quarry Racking ‘Em Up

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

Barb and I are signing at Mystery Cat Books this Saturday (details above). We’ll have both QUARRY IN THE MIDDLE and ANTIQUES FLEE MARKET available, and many rare out-of-print M.A.C. items will be on hand, as well. It’s possible Ed Gorman may drop by, which provides a sighting opportunity second only to Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster.

More wonderful reviews are coming in, some for QUARRY IN THE MIDDLE, others for the Quarry movie, The Last Lullaby.

Craig Clarke, long a booster of my work and a knowledgeable Quarry fan, provides a really smart, insightful review at his Somebody Dies website.

And writer Ron Fortier (he collaborates with Gary Kato on the fun comic Mr. Jigsaw — Gary assisted Terry Beatty on Ms. Tree back in the day) has provided another sharp-eyed review of The Last Lullaby.

And the Author Magazine website has posted a great review of QUARRY IN THE MIDDLE.

Battle Royale

Coming out this week from Viz is the novel BATTLE ROYALE, the wonderfully fried modern classic that was the basis of the cult film. The film is very well-known for one too controversial to ever get traditional American DVD distribution — high school kids on an island play Survivor with lethal weapons, winner take all. I wrote an introduction for this edition (tying it to the original Death Race 2000), and Nathan translated an afterword by Koushun Takami, the author of the novel, plus an interview with Kinji Fukasaku, the director of the film. (Nathan may be doing a major translation project for Viz very soon — stay tuned for a much more detailed announcement.)

We are seeing the paperback of ANTIQUES FLEE MARKET, with its festive new Christmas cover, displayed face-out at the big chain stores, sometimes in the mystery section, sometimes with Christmas-themed books. The perfect stocking stuffer. Barb continues to work on her draft of ANTIQUES KNOCK-OFF (ANTIQUES BIZARRE will be out in the Spring).

Matt Clemens and I have been working on the synopsis for the second novel in the series that begins with YOU CAN’T STOP ME. After a false start on a different idea, Matt and I (at Bouchercon in Indianapolis) pitched editor Michaela Hamilton of Kensington what we all think is a really strong, wild idea that she liked…and which I will not share with you here. I’ll say, though, that this series attempts to take the approach Matt and I developed for the CSI, BONES and CRIMINAL MINDS novels into something of our own that has an element of social satire (having to do largely with reality TV) that serial killer novels often lack.

People are constantly asking me about the film version of ROAD TO PURGATORY, and I can only say that it remains very much alive, and I hope to have news for you soon. In the meantime, I am working on the graphic novel conclusion to the saga, RETURN TO PERDITION, doing my best to stay out in front of artist Terry Beatty.


Copy Editing

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Very soon you will be able to leave comments as these updates become more like a regular blog. But it’s my intention only to post once a week. It would be very easy for me to abuse the blog format and write a bunch of stuff for free every day.

This week found me plugging away at Heller, nearing the half-way mark on the new novel. I also did some work on RETURN TO PERDITION, as Terry Beatty has started on the artwork, and my job is to stay out ahead of him. I played a Crusin’ band job Saturday night.

In addition, Matt Clemens and I spent a day comparing notes, and preparing to send back to our publisher, the copy-edited manuscript of YOU CAN’T STOP ME. There is no part of the writing process that I like less than dealing with a copy-edited manuscript. Copy editing should be restricted to preparing the manuscript for typesetting, correcting typos, correcting spelling, noting missing words, pointing out inconsistencies (i.e., a character starts out with red hair and becomes brown-haired by the end), pointing out word repetition, and flagging unclear sentences or passages (for the author to rewrite). About one out of three copy-edited manuscripts I receive seems to have been attacked by a well-meaning soul who anoints him-or-herself as my co-author. I’ve been at this professionally since 1971. I have taught college English, and countless writing seminars. Yet they constantly “correct” and “improve” me.

What do they correct? How about “fixing” grammar in dialogue? How do they improve me? How about turning long run-on sentences in action scenes, designed to hold the reader down into the fray, into a bunch of short, choppy ones? For me a major problem with such copy editors is my use of punctuation, which I view as a tool and use for sound and effect. Style seems to bewilder some copy editors.

Putting Humpty Dumpty back together is a task I have had to undertake many times. This despite the fact that I usually include a note to the copy editor (very politely stated) that lists my preferences and eccentricities. Understand that the copy editor’s real functions (listed above) are crucial, and I am as often grateful to them as I am, well, not grateful….

The other aspect of the copy-edited manuscript that is frustrating to writers is its arrival at inopportune times — these manuscripts (and galley proofs are the same) frequently arrive with little or no warning, with a crazy turn-around-time, even as a short as a couple of days.

I find, when I’m working on a novel that losing days to this necessary but unexpected work can really slow me down. I build up a certain momentum, and these interruptions — again, a necessary part of the process — cause me trouble. For me, writing a novel is akin to reading one. And I like to stay immersed.


A Week in the Life

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

I don’t have any news to report that I can think of, but I hear all the time from people wondering how I write so much, when do I sleep, etc.

And I have frequently talked about how by nature I am lazy (a fact, not an opinion). But when I’m working, really working, I work my ass off and I work steadily. This week is a case in point. I wrote six of the seven days, taking off Friday (Barb and I went to the nearby Quad Cities and saw the very funny EXTRACT and had a nice meal and shopped). But every other day I wrote in the morning, the afternoon and later that night, spending the evening watching stuff with Barb (last week, we ran through both seasons of the wonderful MAD MEN as well as a new MIDSOMER MURDERS from England on a PAL disc).

That’s a typical week when I am in the “bunker,” really, really working. I turned out four Heller chapters (not hacked out or churned out — worked many, many hours on them, with much revision and polishing). I also did my drafts of the synopsis and first chapter for the second serial-killer book for Kensington (the first, YOU CAN’T STOP ME, will be out in March), working from Matt Clemens’ excellent rough drafts (Matt and I spent several hours discussing plot problems and tactics on that project as well).

Other things I did last week include take my 84 year-old mother out to dinner, talk Heller and historical research concerns (and original art collecting) with George Hagenauer, decide to buy the Beatles mono box and not the stereo, talk my wife into letting me buy a second new keyboard for the latest version of Crusin’ (I have now replaced two mid-’80s keyboards with current ones, a Nord and a Roland Juno) . I had no Crusin’ rehearsal last week, though I did rehearse myself several times, and bass player Chuck Bunn and I prepared (with Matt’s help) a lengthy history of the band with photos for use as promo and possibly to help get us into the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. (Daybreakers are in, but Crusin’ would like to get in separately — next year is the Crusin’s 35th anniversary.)

Speaking of which, if you’ve ever enjoyed Crusin’ over the years, live or on record/CD, go to the Iowa Rock ‘n Roll Music Association web site and nominate Crusin’ for next year’s Hall of Fame.

That’s a fairly typical week in the life, for when a major project is under way. Before you say, “Wow!”, please note that this is my job. I do not teach or go to a law office or greet at Walmart (yet).

Please observe that Nate is going to have an ongoing list of forthcoming books, right at the top, from now on — the first of many new and exciting changes here at FOMAC.