Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2014 November 28 • Friday

The Strand has always been one of my favorite book stores. I'd love to know how much money I've spent there since moving to NYC in 1990. But it's changed in recent years. You're not going to score any amazing finds at a shockingly low price. I guess you can blame the web for that.

But it's also had something of a facelift. The interior has been signifcantly expanded and redesigned. The lighting is brighter and the selection of books is nowhere near as interesting. There's also a lot of peripheral stuff. Tote bags, t-shirts, mugs, stickers, post cards, whatever. Tourist stuff, I reckon.

There's also a lot of candy for sale right at the the check-out counter, presumable because The Strand is a block away from the Union Square multi-screen theater and lots of movie-goers kill time before the show by browsing in The Strand.

These are the changes that were apparent to me. There were other changes that I wasn't aware of, however, and these are the subject of Greg Farrell's On the Books: A Graphic Tale of Working Woes at NYC's Strand Bookstore.

The book, a non-fiction graphic novel, based on Farrell's own experiences as a Strand employee and incorporating interviews with other employees, is a depressingly familiar story of management devaluing labor.

It was a surprise to me that the owners of The Strand might be jerking around their workers. Of course, it was also a surprise—a bigger one—that The Strand was a union shop, that the employees had a union and benefits or anything other than a low hourly wage. I didn't know there were bookshop jobs like this.

Farrell is speaking for the workers here and he's admirably upfront about his point of view and being on one side. The portrait he paints of the shop's owners isn't especially flattering but it's not a smear campaign. He encourages his readers to continue to shop at The Strand. He asserts that a boycott would hurt the employees as well as the owners and would be counter-productive to the employees' best interests.

Instead he recommends that you support The Strand but let the owners know that you value the people who work there and consider their knowledge and labor a strong inventive to continue buying books there.

In fact, I bought Greg Farrell's book at The Strand and you should too!

2014 November 26 • Wednesday

If one of the things you like about watching old movies is keeping an eye out for interesting details in the background or on the peripheries, especially during scenes shot on location, then you would most likely enjoy this book by Jim Dawson: Los Angeles's Bunker Hill: Pulp Fiction's Mean Streets and Film Ground Zero!.

Bunker Hill has quite a pedigree. It's featured in numerous movies and television shows (helpfully listed in an appendix), and was home to Raymond Chandler for a while. (It's to this fact that the mean streets of the subtitle no doubt refer, while the ground zero is a nod to Kiss Me Deadly, another movie that starred Bunker Hill.

Perhaps the last hurrah for Bunker Hill was the use of the Bradbury apartment interior for J. F. Sebastian's apartment building in Blade Runner. I've never been to the area but apparently nothing remains of Bunker Hill, not even the hill itself. This book is a window into the past, and looks upon the residents of this bygone time and place with sympathy and admiration.

2014 November 24 • Monday

The 346th Soundtrack of the Week is Peter Thomas's lovely music for Der letzte Mohikaner.

Peter Thomas is linked in my mind with the frenetic jazz of Jerry Cotton movies or the far-out, groovy shakes of Space Patrol.

But this score, for what is presumably a German take on The Last of the Mohicans, is almost entirely lyrical, romantic, lush and melodic. It has some of Thomas's signature aggressive and strangely mechanical rhythmic devices as well as his boozy use of brass, but mostly it's a score to be swept away by. There are also nods to some of the traditions of Western film scores, such as pulses that imitate the clip-clap of horse hooves and some Americana melodies like "Yankee Doodle".

2014 November 21 • Friday

It took a while but I finally got Kullrusk's vinyl-only release, Digital (ha ha).

The first thing to notice is how beautiful the vinyl itself is.

It's a great record, too, a worthy follow-up to their first two. More deep grooves and great use of amplifiers and effects by the two reed players.

2014 November 19 • Wednesday

2014 November 17 • Monday

This re-recording—brilliantly executed—of John Carpenter's score for Assault on Precinct 13 is the 345th Soundtrack of the Week.

There's not too much to say about it. A slinky and menacing bass line, a mesmerizing rhythm track and some melodic synth textures. This describes almost every cut on the CD.

Some exceptions are the lonely, bluesy "Precinct 9, Division 13", "Julie" and "Walking Out" (practically the same cue) and the flat-out horror sounds of "Wrong Flavor" and "Sanctuary". I wouldn't be surprised if Jan Hammer was influenced by this.

Also included in this release is Carpenter's music for Dark Star, but more on that later.

2014 November 14 • Friday

The final book in the Carter trilogy, Jack Carter and the Mafia Pigeon, takes the humor that distinguished the other two books and runs with it.

Competent and level-headed, Carter has always been a grown up in a world of children. This third book makes him the babysitter for a host of really poorly behaved adult brats, which is the main source of the comedy. The rest of it comes from the old reliable fish out of water scenario. Carter finds himself not in the London he knows and loves but in Spain, enduring all manner of things he hates (planes, driving, tourists, etc.).

Ostensibly sent on vacation he finds he's sharing his bosses' Spanish villa with a neanderthal-like American mobster. As bad as that is, things only get worse as other irritating people show up to join the party.

There isn't as much action as in the first two books but it's still very enjoyable, well written and alternatingly funny and disturbing. There is some foreshadowing of events in Jack's Return Home. Several references to British culture and sport of (presumably) the time went over my head. The first line is "The rain slides down my bedroom window".

2014 November 12 • Wednesday

Soho Crime has done the world a big favor by reprinting all three of Ted Lewis's Carter novels. I read Jack's Return Home (Get Carter) a while back and was blown away by how good it was. Didn't seem to be much hope of a sequel, though, if you know what I mean. The other two books in the trilogy were out of print and quite expensive so I deferred hope of finding out how Carter comes back.

Now I know. He doesn't. Jack Carter's Law and Jack Carter and the Mafia Pigeon both take place before Jack's Return Home. And Jack Carter's Law is at least as good as the first book in the series.

Carter is the lieutenant to a couple of crime boss brothers. The brothers aren't too bright and they need Carter to run things for them. Lucky for them Carter is smart, experienced, tough and pretty damn unshakable.

Max Allan Collins, in an introduction to this reprinting, remarks that Carter makes Richard Stark's Parker "look like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm". This doesn't seem fair to me. Carter and Parker are different but I think they would work together just fine. They share most of the same priorities and are both extremely competent and in control of themselves.

In Jack Carter's Law Carter's employers are about to lose everything, thanks to an informer who's handing the keys to the kingdom over to the police. Carter is like a gale-force wind blowing through London, trying everything he can think of to turn the situation around.

Not only does Lewis write scenes of action and violence in a dazzlingly understated fashion, he also gives Carter wicked senses of humor and irony. These two are not overdone. You won't be mistaking Carter for James Bond or Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I was quite sad to reach the last page. Good thing there's another Carter book! The first line of Jack Carter's Law is "The parked Rover shudders and sways in the wet wind that races down Plender Street".

2014 November 10 • Monday

The score for The Cosmic Man, with music composed by Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter and released by Monstrous Movie Music as half of a two-CD set (with Sawtell & Shefter's music for Kronos), is the 344th Soundtrack of the Week.

At first listen to The Cosmic Man, I thought it was one of the greatest theremin records ever. Apparently, however, there's no theremin on it at all. The electric violin can produce very similar sounds and does so here (and on Kronos).

The music in The Cosmic Man is very clearly marked by mood: danger, suspense, romance, action. What's most impressive about it is how effectively these moods are sustained, drawn out for surprisingly long sections without losing the listener's interest. And anytime something extra is needed, the electric violin is there!

2014 November 07 • Friday

It's always nice when there's another Coin-Op book!

The Hoeys are on their way to being national treasures, if you ask me.

Their latest "single" is about two guitar-playing dogs who freak out a folk festival by plugging in and turning up. The short story is told in rhyme and is charming.

Get it here!

2014 November 05 • Wednesday

Here's another great book I found on a Park Slope street: The Rage by Gene Kerrigan.

I'd never heard of Kerrigan but The Rage won the Gold Dagger for Best Crime Novel in 2012. It also combines two sub-genres I enjoy: the police procedural and the heist story. In addition there are a complex web of relationships and circumstances, a violent psycho, an unsolved case that powerful people want left alone, skeletons in closets and bloody vengeance.

And I'm partial to these Europa editions. They're well made and pleasant to handle and read.

Some bits of The Rage read like an echo of Ted Lewis's Jack's Return Home (better known as Get Carter). The action takes place in a Dublin reeling from being massively screwed by unpunishable finance manipulators. It's not a story about justice but about trying to balance things, doing your best and living with the consequences—if you live.

After a pointless, unnecessary and overused Raymond Chandler quote, The Rage begins, "His fingers gripped the thick wooden rail, both hands clenching so hard that it felt like he might crush the wood to splinters".

2014 November 03 • Monday

That there was more to Henry Mancini than the famous "Mancini sound" is demonstrated quite persuasively by our 343rd Soundtrack of the Week, Mancini's music for Nightwing.

It starts with a beautifully dreamy section for harps and strings, actually a bit similar, I think, to the beginning of a Radiohead song to come decades later. Then a flute melody comes in, followed by unison horns adding some darkness to the sunny soundscape.

The story of the movie is about thousands of bubonic plague-infected vampire bats that are terrorizing an Indian reservation. Mancini seems to have used some Native American instruments, perhaps the aforementioned flute, which plays the most prominent role in the score.

While there are some tense and frightening passages for the attacking bats and other action-centered scenes, in general the music is ethereal, dreamy and beautiful, meditative in places. This is one of Mancini's best, though it seems never to come up in any discussion of his work.