Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Bob Dylan: The "S" Songs (Part 5 of the Series)

This is probably the last of this series.  Here are my favorite Dylan songs beginning with the letter "S".

Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands


See That My Grave Is Kept Clean

Seven Curses

Seven Days

She Belongs To Me

Shelter From the Storm

Sign On the Window


Simple Twist of Fate

Sitting On a Barbed Wire Fence

Someone’s Got a Hold of My Heart

Song to Woody

Spanish Harlem Incident

Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again

Subterranean Homesick Blues

Friday, February 19, 2016

Bob Dylan, Starting With "I"

My pick of the best Bob Dylan, with titles starting with "I", in alphabetical order.  Only 18 of them...

I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)

I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine

I Pity the Poor Immigrant

I Shall Be Fre No. 10

I Shall Be Released

I Threw It All Away

I Want You

Idiot Wind

If Not For You

If You Gotta Go, Go Now

If You See Her, Say Hello

I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight

In My Time of Dyin’


It Ain’t Me, Babe

It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry

It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue

It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding
(This is a follow-up to Bob Dylan A to Z, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Bob Dylan A to Z, Part 3

Well, I couldn't help myself...

All Along the Watchtower

Ballad of a Thin Man
Death Is Not the End
From a Buick 8

Gotta Serve Somebody

Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance

I Shall Be Released
(I could pick at least a dozen…)

Just Like a Woman
Love Sick

Masters of War
(and I haven’t even gotten to Mr. Tambourine Man, which I love)

Not Dark Yet

One Too Many Mornings

Pledging My Time
Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again
(or one of about a dozen others)

Too Much of Nothing
With God On Our Side

You’re a Big Girl Now

I don't think I can manage a Part 4...

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Bob Dylan A to Z, Part 2

A while back, I posted a list of Bob Dylan's songs in alphabetical order by title--my favorite from each letter (when there were any).  Tonight, it's my second favorite from each letter (missing letters mean there were no songs, or there were no songs I liked well enough to list):

All I Really Want To Do

Blowin’ In The Wind

Chimes of Freedom
Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right

Forever Young

Girl From the North Country
Highway 61 Revisited

It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
John Wesley Harding

Love Is Just A Four-Letter Word

My Back Pages
North Country Blues 

Only A Pawn In Their Game
Political World

Quinn The Eskimo
Restless Farewell

Subterranean Homesick Blues
Tombstone Blues


Watching the River Flow

You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go

I may have to do a third round of this...

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Martin Edwards (ed.), Resorting to Murder

Martin Edwards (ed), Resorting to Murder: Holiday Mysteries
British Library Crime Classics/Poisoned Pen Press, 2015

Martin Edwards has done mystery readers a great service by shepherding into print both short fiction and novels (from the 1920s through the 1950s) from both well-known and largely forgotten authors.  This collection of 14 stories includes pieces by Arthur Conan Doyle, G.K, Chesterton, R. Austin Freemen, H.C. Bailey, Anthony Berkeley, Leo Bruce, and Michael Gilbert  (among the better-known authors) and introduces (or re-introduces) us to E.W. Hornung, Arnold Bennett, M. McDonnell Bodkin (which seems a highly unlikely name to me, but he was a real person), Basil Thomson, Helen Simpson, Phyllis Bentley, and Gerald Findler.

In any collection like this, the stories vary widely in quality, but all of them are worth reading.  Some of them rely a bit to heavily on flashes of unmotivated intuition, others don’t always provide the reader with all the information that might be expected.  A couple of the stories are more-or-less shaggy-dog stories of one sort or another. 

My personal favorites are the Reggie Fortune story (“The Hazel Ice”), by Bailey and “Holiday Task,” by Bruce (even though the solution is pretty obvious; it features Sergeant Beef).

I have one quibble with the presentation:  It’s difficult to determine original publication information (outlet, date) for the stories; it is not provided for most of the stories (appearing in the introductions to the stories by Thomson, Berkeley, Bentley, and Findler, and even in those cases the date of publication is generally omitted).  Although that information is not necessary in order to enjoy the stories, it would be useful for someone who is interested in how the stories fit into the other works being published at around the same time.

I certainly do not regret having bought it, and am glad to have read these stories.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Ed Mcbain, Cut Me In

Ed McBain, Cut Me In
Hard Case Crime, 2016
Reprint of 1960 edition published as by Hunt Collins (Boardman Publishing)
Originally published in book form as The Proposition in 1955
In its current incarnation, a short novel (Cut Me In) and a longish short story (“Now Die In It").  In the novel, literary agency co-owner Josh Blake arrives at work after a night of binge drinking (he wakes up to find a lovely young lady half-dressed at his kitchen table and cannot remember her name). He and his partner Del Gilbert are (they think) representing Cam Stewart, who writes westerns, in the sale of the work to the movies and to TV.  Unfortunately, he finds his partner dead, and there is no trace of the letter authorizing their representation in the office safe.  And the photostatic copy that Blake has is soon stolen from him.  I forget just how implausible some of the early work by authors who subsequently achieve prominence can be.  In this one, Blake, after being kidnaped (to keep him from interrupting the announcement of Stewart’s acceptance of a movie offer), and shares 2 or 3 (it’s not clear) bottles of vodka and a truly wacky poker game with his kidnappers.  And then becomes immediately sober and drives off, much too late, to try to interfere.  The whole scene takes up maybe 5-7% of the book and is entirely unnecessary.  In the end, of course, Blake realizes who had been killing people, and calls in the sops.  Meanwhile,  in the short-story, Matt Cordell, who has lost his PI license, is asked by someone he knows to track down the man who has impregnated his friend’s sister-in-law (who is 17).  The case leads him to an ice cream parlor, where he discovers a clue that reveals all.  Both of these pieces are reasonably well-written, but with fairly obvious outcomes and characters who don’t really hold our interest.  Worthwhile as a piece of history, not as a piece of fiction.

Friday, February 5, 2016

John Billheimer, Highway Robbery

John Billheimer, Highway Robbery
The Mystery Company/Crum Creek Press
Originally published in 2000
ISBN 978-1-932325-41-6

This is the second book by Billheimer featuring Owen Allison, a civil engineer whose current work involves analysis of structural failures.  He has returned home to West Virginia (from California) at his mother’s request, to try to help his brother George (also an engineer, and Superintendent of Highways for the state).  The story is set in 1997, 35 years after their father, Wayne, who was Superintendent of Highways at a time when highway construction was (in fact) riddled with corruption (from the Governor’s office on down), died in a flood.  (Let me say that Wayne, far from being corrupt, was pushing very hard to wipe it out.)  Owen also reconnects with his best friend Bobby Cantrip (who operates a school for drivers who have to rehabilitate themselves after driving offenses), and his high school flame.

A corpse appears buried under the asphalt of an old road in the process of being widened to four lanes.  And it’s the body of Ray Cantrip, Bobby’s father, who had also been presumed to have died in the 1962 flood.  Except for the bullet.  Additional deaths lead to George being arrested for murder, and Owen’s ex-wife Judith coming from California to defend him. 

This is a stunningly constructed and written book, with a complex plot, a satisfying (in some ways) conclusion, and characters that I frankly love.  I liked the first book in the series (Contrary Blues).  I love this one.  It is by far the best book I have read in 2016, and had I read it in 2015, it would have been the best book I read in 2015.  It deserved to be a much greater critical and commercial success than it was.  The book in the Owen Allison series are:

The Contrary Buues (1998; also available from The Mystery Company/Crum Creek Press)
Highway Robbery
Dismal Mountain
(2001; also available from The Mystery Company/Crum CreekPress)
Drybone Hollow
Stonewall Jackson’s Elbow

The first 3 are available in print and in ebook formats.  The final 2 are available from used book sellers.

But a word about West Virginia.  I lived there for 5 years (August 1970 – July 1975), while I was in grad school; I was for that entire time an outsider.  But the portrait of the state presented by Billheimer (a West Virginia native) certainly reflects what I, as an outsider, read and saw about the state.  Less corrupt by the early 1970s, certainly, but the legacy was felt.  In 1976, John D. Rockefeller IV (known as Jay) was elected governor, succeeding Arch Moore (to whom he had lost in 1972; Moore was convicted on federal charges of corruption in 1990, following a guilty plea which he subsequently tried to withdraw).  By the time of Rockefeller’s election as governor, I had left the state, but my friends there said one reason he was elected was that everyone knew that you could not bribe a Rockefeller.

Besides the highway construction scandals, the state was beset by failures of badly constructed dams (in which mine runoff was impounded), with the most notorious dam failure occurring when the dam on Buffalo Creek failed (February 26, 1972, in Logan County (roughly 60   miles SSW of Charleston, the state capitol.  This is the beginning og the description of the disaster, from Wikipedia:

The Buffalo Creek flood was a disaster that occurred on February 26, 1972, when the Pittston Coal Company's coal slurry impoundment dam #3, located on a hillside in Logan County, West Virginia, burst, four days after having been declared 'satisfactory' by a federal mine inspector.[1]

The resulting flood unleashed approximately 132,000,000 US gallons (500,000 m3) of black waste water, cresting over 30 ft high, upon the residents of 16 coal towns along Buffalo Creek Hollow. Out of a population of 5,000 people, 125 were killed, 1,121 were injured, and over 4,000 were left homeless. 507 houses were destroyed, in addition to forty-four mobile homes and 30 businesses.[1] The disaster destroyed or damaged homes in Saunders, Pardee, Lorado, Craneco, Lundale, Stowe, Crites, Latrobe, Robinette, Amherstdale, Becco, Fanco, Braeholm, Accoville, Crown and Kistler. [2] In its legal filings, Pittston Coal referred to the accident as "an Act of God."

This was not the first, nor would it be the last, mine-related dam to fail in West Virginia.  Many of the dams that failed had been approved and rated safe by state inspectors.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Albums at #1 On the Billboard Charts on My Birthday, 1961-1985

I started buying albums, really, in 1964 (Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are a-Changin’), and I still buy CDs (which makes me a relic).  I wondered how many of the albums that made the top of the Billboard charts on my birthday I had purchased, so I looked (I found the year-by-year lists on Wikipedia).  The album with the earliest release date I bought was Jazz Samba (1963; Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd), which I bought some time in the late 1960s.  The last album that was at #1 on my birthday?  Born in the USA (1985; Bruce).  Anyway, here’s the list.  The ones I bought (and mostly still have) are in italics. 

1961 Wonderland By Night, Bert Kaempfert and His Orchestra (mono
          Exodus (soundtrack) (stereo)
1962 Blue Hawaii, Elvis Presley (soundtrack, mono & Stereo )
1963 The First Family, Vaughn Meader (mono);
          Jazz Samba, Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd (stereo)
1964 The Singing Nun, Souer Souirre (one list from here on)
1965 Beatles ’65, The Beatles
1966 Rubber Soul, The Beatles
1967 The Monkees, The Monkees
1968 Magical Mystery Tour, The Beatles
1969 The White Album, The Beatles
1970 Led Zeppelin II, Led Zeppelin
1971 All Things Must Pass, George Harrison
1972 American Pie, Don McLean
1973  No Secrets, Carly Simon
1974 You Don’t Mess Around With Jim, Jim Croce
1975 Elton John’s Greatest Hits, Volume 1, Elton John
1976 Gratitude, Earth Wind and Fire
1977 Songs In The Key Of Life, Stevie Wonder
1978 Saturday Night Fever (soundtrack), The Bee Gees
1979  Briefcase Full of Blues, The Blues Brothers
1980 The Wall, Pink Floyd
1981 Double Fantasy, John Lennon & Yoko Ono
1982 4, Foreigner
1983  Business As Usual, Men At Work
1984 Thriller, Michael Jackson
1985 Born In The USA, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

On radios, rock & roll, and my birthday

I started thinking the other day—probably because of the number of musicians who have died recently—about when and why I began paying attention to pop music.  The “when” is easy, and I suppose the “why” is as well.  For my tenth birthday, in 1958, my parents gave me a radio.  AM only, of course, and I suspect it was a Philco (my mother’s cousin ran a tire and appliance store, and I think they bought it from him).  So I started listening, mostly in the morning as I was getting ready for school and in the evening before lights out (and, as I recall, after).

I grew up in Indianapolis, and so I almost automatically listened mostly to WIBC (1070 on the AM dial); the other stations were country (WIRE; which I cared not for even then) or “old” music (WXLW)—Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Patti Page, Tony Bennett (when my parents listened to the radio, that’s what they listened to).  The two DJs on WIBC whose programs I heard most often were Jim Shelton (mornings) and Dick Summer (evenings).  Shelton in my memory must have been older; he sort of sounded like everyone’s impression of your father’s older brother.  Dick Summer, on the other hand, was young and played the newest stuff; his program was broadcast from a drive-in restaurant on 38th Street, near the Indiana State Fairgrounds, Merrill’s Hi-Decker.  The popular feature on his program was “Make It of Break It,” during which he would play a newly-released song, and everyone in the parking lot at Merrill’s would flash their lights and honk their horns when he asked whether the song “made it,” and should continue to be played, or whether he should “break it,” and never play it again.  (By 1964, Summer was at WBZ in Boston.)
(Merrill's Hi-Decker, with the
WIBC broadcast booth on top.)

WIBC was not a particularly adventurous station, programmatically.  I think the rule was that the #1 song that week, and maybe the entire top 10, had to be played during every DJ’s shift.  (In fact, given the song lengths at the time, a DJ could easily play the entire top 40 during a 4-hour show.)  So we heard the same songs with great frequency.  

When I first got the radio, the top songs almost certainly included (I can’t find a list; the Billboard Ho1 100 lists date back only to August 1958):

Tequila,” The Champs
All I Have To Do Is Dream,”The Everly Brothers
Who’s Sorry Now,” by Connie Francis
“Twilight Time,” The Platters
“Sail Along Silvery Moon,” Billy Vaughn
Catch a Falling Star,” Perry Como
Get A Job,” The Silhouettes
Magic Moments,”: Perry Como
“He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands,” Laurie London
“Wear My Ring,” Elvis Presley
“Stood Up,” Ricky Nelson

I actually remember maybe half of those (I’ve italicized the ones I remember; the version of “He’s Got the Whole World…” that I was familiar with was later).  In early August, the top 10 on the Billboard charts (in order) were

“Poor Little Fool,” Ricky Nelson
“Patricia,” Perez Prado and His Orchestra
“Splish Splash,” Bobby Darin
“Hard-Headed Woman,” Elvis Presley
“When,” The Kalin Twins
“Rebel-Rouser,” Duane Eddy and His Twangy Guitar (and the Rebels)
“Yakety-Yak,” The Coasters
“My True Love,” Jack Scott
“Willie and the Hand Jive,” The Johnny Otis Show
“Fever,” Peggy Lee

In six months, things got a lot more interesting, in my opinion.  I remember being stunned by “Rebel-Rouser," all 2:21 of it, and thought "Yakety-Yak” (2:30) was pretty amazing.  Willie and the Hand Jive” (2:20) might have been the first song that I was aware of being by a black group…also, I had no idea what “hand jive” meant.  I suspect a lot of people were unclear on the concept.  And “Fever” (3:16), although not rock, was pretty confusing to a 10-year old.  Exciting, but confusing.

And, one year to the day after I got my radio, I turned it on in the morning to the news that Richie Valens, Buddy Holly, and The Big Bopper had died in an airplane crash.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Paige Shelton, To Helvetica and Back

Paige Shelton, To Helvetica and BackBerkley (January 5, 2016)

A bad title, and unrelated to the content of a pretty good book.  (I am somewhat unsympathetic to "cute" titles, so take that with an appropriate caution.)  Clare Henry, Chester Henry's granddaughter, works with him in his (their, really) store, The Rescued Word, in Star City Utah.  A local writer of romance novels), Mirabelle Montgomery, comes in to have her antique Underwood 5 typewriter repaired, which is one of the things Clare does.  Because this is the sort of person I am, and because, when I was in college in the 1960s, working on the student newspaper, I typed thousands of words on an Underwood upright, I thought I should know what the Model 5 looked like.  And here it is:

(Oh, and that does appear to be an image of an Underwood 5 on the cover.  I couldn't find anything that looked quite like the ones I used.)
That night, a stranger is murdered in the alley behind the store.  Clare's best friend Jodie (a local cop) and Jodie's brother Creighton (another local cop, and someone with whom Clare had recently broken up with) are investigating.  The story moves fairly briskly through goat relocators, a geologist and his stolen geode, to a conclusion involving the past of Homer Wayfair, long-time editor of the local newspaper.  The investigation is carried, really, by Jodie, although Clare's contributions are worthwhile--and, unlike a lot of amateur-detective novels, she shares her discoveries promptly with the cops. 

A very nice first book in what appears to be a series.  I hope Shelton manages the small-town-with-a-lot-of-murders issue better than it usually gets handled.  I definitely to read the second in the series.