Thursday, November 29, 2012

Last Night Everything Broke

It hits you late at night. You're finishing up the dishes, listening to a BBC4 series on European detective fiction or some old Merle Haggard or Wilf Carter you got hanging around. So you throw it up on Twitter.
Sounds good, right? Then Edmonton's great crime novelist Wayne Arthurson (he writes the Leo Desroches books) checks in with
and next thing you know, you feel like maybe you're on to something.

I've been reading a lot of Crumley lately, so, you know, I'm not surprised that I'm wrapping the genres around one another like two ends of a reef knot. This is rattling around in my head a few days later when I pick up The Muddy Forks & Other Things, a small press collection of Crumley's short fiction and non-fiction that I've been picking at like it was someone else's Halloween candy for the last few months, and read his 1990 profile on Clint Black, "Anybody Can Write a Sad Song".

"I can finally admit," Crumley writes, "that for reasons I don't understand, exactly, I have always believed that country music belonged to me and mine.
"Me and mine, of course, referring to those unruly and always tiresome clans of Celtic hill people, people who pretty much refuse to believe in civilization, people who have been making trouble for the civilized world ever since they first painted their butts blue and rolled downhill with the velocity, arrogance, and ignorance of stones, breaking the civilized heart of Pax Romana, firm in their belief in the clan, the blood feud, and their odd, wailing music, pipes and bad, bad drums, wild music designed for love and war, cursed to confuse the two, losing all their wars, eventually, and most of their love, the keening cry of the permanently dispossessed, outsiders proudly bemoaning their fates..."
Obviously, those are my people too. The triple Celtic knot of my first, middle (none of your business) and last names has doomed me to one of three possible career paths: writer, country singer or shamus. Some combination of all three would be lovely, really, but I'm not holding my breath--despite requests from those who've heard me sing.
In the space of a paragraph, Crumley admits to liking both X and Reba. Reba McEntire, huh, I may have to reconsider in this light. Gotta admit I really only know of her as the star of Reba. But, y'know, she was good in Tremors--good as anyone else. And X, well, X is maybe the most Country Music Punk Band in Country Music Punk Band history.

But, uh, Detective Fiction and Country Music. You know, it's not an exact parallel. Oh, it's fun to play at like, James Ellroy:Merle Haggard, Patricia Highsmith:Patsy Cline or, uh, Lee Child:Blake Shelton, but that's where I want to take this. I mean as a whole, not as any individual moving parts. But, Emmet, you don't get to have the whole without all the individual parts, you ninny.
Okay, right, this is about Genre or maybe more precisely Genres I Happen to Like, so obviously they're the same thing, because my aesthetic values are inflexible.
Country Music and Detective Fiction--first of all, I guess I must love them both as genres, and as such am curious about everything that goes on within them. The excellent writer David Cantwell once said something like “Country music was never as much a chronicle of rural life as an ongoing, post-migrant eulogy to that life.” That always sounded awfully Noirish to me. And I think, in a way, that Detective Fiction is a eulogy to a life as well, a lament for the post-industrial fuck-up in which we live, a metaphoric record of how gutless and greedy we could be.
But as much as I love both genres, what I love the most, I think, is watching/hearing them get snapped over someone's knee. Or twisted around a tree like a cartoon bodybuilder might do to a No Parking sign. On a record or on the page, I love the sound of breaking glass. I love the sound of expectations thwarted. As the California Writer Antoine Wilson said:
I like it when masterplans go wrong—when humanity in all its forms asserts itself against rigidity and misguided ideals.

BUT, y'know, I love those misguided ideals too. You have to love and understand them intimately if you're gong to thwart them with any power. I love Maigret and I love George Jones as much as I love Nathan Larson and Danny Barnes.
 I can't find it anymore, but I read something Jerome Charyn wrote, writing advice, about how the thing to do is do build your own canon, your own pantheon, study those masters who appeal to you, and that's how you figure out what it is that you've got to do. I don't know, I think I remember it wrong or I'm misapplying it--two things I'm good at.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Justin Bieber: Conservative Heartthrob

I was surprised to see a backlash against Justin Bieber from Canadian conservative (or libertarian, as some of them prefer to imagine themselves) pundits following the Bieb's performance at the Grey Cup.

The Bieber Narrative follows the conservative fantasy so closely, I can only imagine their objection to him is because he represents an affront to their Middle Ages concept of masculinity. Justin Bieber, born to an unwed teen mother, pulled himself up by his Youtube bootstraps to become the moment's biggest pop star--all without the help of Big Government handouts like Canadian Content or Factor Grants. Bieber is notoriously against women's reproductive rights and has a dangerously dim concept of aboriginal treaty rights. He's basically Tom Flanagan with hair gel.
But the conservatives of the Twittersphere were unhappy with Der Biebenkindl. They say they have a problem with the fact that he was lip-synching, one of them even suggested that Nickelback (last year's heteronormative Grey Cup entertainment) "haters" were responsible for this. But, as with most conservative pundits on Twitter, their memory is pretty short.
Bryan Adams did not sing live at the 2003 Grey Cup at Taylor Field, and I swear to the Based God, I didn't see a single complaint on Twitter.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Under the Eye of God by Jerome Charyn

The first thing you notice is the thickness of this book's jacket. You have never held a trade paperback with such satisfying heft. The cover feels like it's coated with some kind of velvety space-age plastic that makes it durable and pleasant to the touch at the same time. Like it was published by IKEA.
But it wasn't published by IKEA. It was published by the Mysterious Press, founded by a guy I took exception to not that long ago. It's also been home to some of my favourite books by people like Paco Ignacio Taibo II, James Crumley, Donald Westlake--and, not to mention, ten other Isaac Sidel novels* by Jerome Charyn
You're just going to have to trust me when I say I've got a lot more to say about the other ten books, going all the way back to 1974's Blue Eyes, and that I'd hoped you'd have already had the chance to read that before you read this blog post, but you didn't and you don't so this is where we are. 
Under the Eye of God is the first Isaac Sidel book since 1999's Citizen Sidel, which saw Isaac win the office of Vice-President of the United States in the 1988 election. If we've learned anything from the previous ten Isaac books, it's that Isaac is second banana to no one. Certainly not President-Elect J. Michael Storm, his running mate who was introduced back in 1997's El Bronx. I'm not spoiling anything to say that squeezing a character the size of Isaac Sidel--who spent most of his term as Commissioner of the NYPD doing battle with a tapeworm he'd been stuck with as revenge for taking on a Peruvian pickpocket clan--into the Vice-Presidential Suite is the equivalent loading a pistol onstage in the first act of a play by Chekhov.
Under the Eye of God picks up just after the election as Storm realizes how he pales next to his Veep and dispatches Isaac on a goodwill speaking tour of Texas--accompanied by the incumbent president's personal astrologer. What follows is classic Charyn: crosses, double-crosses, and even a few reverse-double-crosses all set against a passionately constructed piece of New Yorkiana.  While some of the action does indeed take place in Texas, notably the Alamo, the main thrust concerns shady goings-on at the historic Ansonia Hotel (currently appearing as "The Drake" on TV's 666 Park Place) on West Broadway.  Sidel is chasing the ghost of Arnold Rothstein--"AR", as Isaac calls him--the man believed to have convinced the Chicago White Sox to throw the 1919 World Series (New York and baseball are inextricable in Charyn's universe), biographed not too long ago by Nick Tosches in King of the Jews, and through this quest gets closer to understanding the true threat against the Bronx that's been brewing over the last few books in the series.

*Those ten other Isaac books were reissued as eBooks last spring by Mysterious Press. You can pretty much read them in whatever order you feel like if you're hunting for them in used bookstores, but reading them in order is more rewarding, and super easy in the eBook format. Start with Blue Eyes.

This post is part of a Blog Book Tour organized by Tribute Books.