Monday, August 15, 2011

What you can learn about writing from a lungful of smoke and a gun to the head

Started reading a mystery novel that I downloaded on ebook library loan, and I hate it already. I won't name names, because I may get to like it more, but here are my reasons for hating it so far..

In the first sentence, someone points a gun at the hero's head. This is not bad in itself. Raymond Chandler said that whenever he started to run out of ideas, he'd have someone come busting through a door with a gun in his hand. This is very good advice -- often metaphorically -- and I've cited it more than once. But maybe you shouldn't have run out of ideas before the first sentence? But OK -- gun to his head. Then we have a couple of pages of flashback to the previous 15 minutes, then back to the gun to the head. So this makes it feel like a really cheesy device. If your flashback is only going to cover 15 minutes, why not just start the story 15 minutes earlier?

In the gun-to-head sentence, we get the character's name, which sounds like a retread name from the 40s. Well, people have more or less the same range of names they did in the 40s, but if you're dangerously flirting with 40s private eye cliches anyway, maybe a little more work on the name?

And if you're flirting with 40s private eye cliches, why have the character smoking Luckies? Are they making a comeback? Or are we really channeling Mike Hammer?

And what does he do with the Luckies? He inhales a lungful of smoke. There are two things almost guaranteed to make me lose all respect for a writer: telling us that a character chewed and swallowed something, or that he/she inhaled a lungful of smoke. This is stuff we could have figured out for ourselves.

Sue Grafton, a terrific mystery writer, has one annoying little tic -- unnecessarily specific action. Kinsey Millhone (not a 40s name), her detective, is always sticking keys into ignitions or turning the handles of doors. But she's good enough that she can get away with it.

The writer of this novel does advance beyond 40s cliches at one point, to an 80s cliche -- the bad guys wearing masks of presidents of the US. He shows some restraint here, though. Only one is wearing a George Bush mask. The others are a gorilla, a vampire, and a death's head. Clinton, Nixon and Reagan?

Well, back to reading.

Billy Faier

This past weekend was the Saugerties Artists Studio Tour, and I had my studio/showroom open in the Barbara Fite Room at Opus 40. It was a great weekend -- sold a few prints, a few books, and met some old friends. Sunshine, one of my mother's dearest friends.

And a guy with a big bushy white mustache, who introduced himself to me. I remembered him, though he didn't remember ne -- which is as it should have been. I was a teenager, hanging around Woodstock, just starting to find out who I was and who I wanted to be, and he was one o the people I wanted to be. Billy Faier, banjo virtuoso. Wandering troubador, itinerant folksinger.

Turns out he's still around, and still -- after a bout with carpal tunnel, and an operation to correct it -- playing the banjo. He lives in Texas now -- "One of the biggest reasons I like living in Texas; it's the only place I ever saw where the inhabitants love to sit around the campfire half the night singing songs about their home state. Can you imagine this happening in New York? New Jersey? Of course not." He has a website which contains a fascinating mini-autobiography, and a great account of the folk scene in the 40s and 50s. Even better than that, it has a treasure trove of Billy's music from over the years, available for streaming audio or download.

My friend, banjo legend George Stavis, when I told him about running into Billy, said "I consider him one of my true progenitors."

For locals, Billy Faier will be playing at the Woodstock Farmers Market this Wednesday, Aug 17, 5-7 pm.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Metropole

In one of my old jazz posts here, I lamented how little there is on the Internet about the old Metropole Cafe, the Times Square jazz spot. I remember hearing Henry "Red" Allen there, and I regret, now, being too caught up in the bebop/moldy fig wars to appreciate fully that great traditional jazz. But I decided to look again, to see if anything new had gone up.

For those who don't remember, the Metropole was not your classic tiny, smoky dive of a jazz club, like the Village Vanguard or the Five Spot. It opened up boisterously onto boisterous Times Square, and the bandstand was a long runway behind the bar, seemingly more designed for strippers than jazzmen (and in a later incarnation, before it vanished completely, it was a strip club).

I found this photo from 1966, with Dizzy Gillespie headlining. It's one of a collection of photos of NYC in the 60s by kdavidclark, including a couple of beauties of folksingers in Washington Square Park.

And this one from 1948, by the great jazz photographer Herman Leonard (whose brother, Dave Leonard, did some of the best photos of Opus 40 and Harvey Fite that I have ever seen).

This one, from 1960, featuring the Dukes of Dixieland on the marquee, is by Anonyme, and you can buy it for $900. Why so much? I looked up Anonyme, and there's a Societe Anonyme, founded by Katherine Dreier, Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp -- but they closed up shop in 1941.But if you're in a nostalgic spending mood, you can also bid on a menu from the old Metropole.

Here's one with Cozy Cole on the marquee,  from a great jazz reminiscence blog called Stomp Off, by the noted jazz producer Chris Albertson.

And there's one one more picture, of a rock band called the Teemates, opening at the Metropole. Their web page is a fascinating glimpse at the career of a group of 60s rockers who almost made it.

And still no history of the club. No Wikipedia entry, although in the entry for avant-garde artist Barbara Rosenthal, it's mentioned that she did a stint as a go-go dancer at the Metropole. Someone should write one. Not me -- I don't know enough. Someone like the late Arnold Shaw, whose Wiki entry I did write.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Streets named after blues musicians

With the recent designation of Buddy Guy Way in Chicago, I started to wonder what other streets -- or public places -- I knew about W. C. Handy Park in Memphis and Duke Ellington Boulevard in Manhattan -- were named after blues musicians. Some don't have to be -- you wouldn't rename Beale Street, for certain. Here's what Yahoo searches found.


Beaumont, TX

Holt, AL

There's also a street in Old Cape Cod named after Patti Page, who wasn't a blues singer, but good for her, anyway.