Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2019 November 29 • Friday

A John Grisham book? I was surprised too. But my mother thought I would like it and she gave it to me and I had never actually read a John Grisham book so what the hell, I read it and I think I'm basically the same person as I was before I read it.

It's called The Racketeer and the first line is "I am a lawyer, and I am in prison".

It's described as a legal thriller, perhaps because a John Grisham book is understood to be a legal thriller by definition, but I'd call it a caper novel.

It takes a while, a very entertaining and well paced while, to get to where you know what's supposed to be happening in the book and then there's kind of a huge twist at the end so, you know, I've probably said too much already.

The main character is a lawyer who was basically used as a small cog in a big machine of fraud and while he never acted in bad faith or even, I think, did anything illegal—certainly not knowingly, if at all—he nonetheless gets swept up in the investigation and conviction process and thrown to the wolves.

He loses his whole life, most heartbreakingly his son. His wife divorces him and remarries, and their child has a new relationship with his stepfather. What's the dad supposed to do in jail?

He doesn't see any way to work back to where he came from or get back what he lost so he starts thinking in a new direction.

Part of that direction involves revenge.

It's pretty clear why Grisham can sell a zillion books. He knows what he's doing and based on this book is a bracura technician and entertainer. It's a real pageturner and interesting and intelligent as well as delivering the required amount of character without getting us too bogged down in anybody's inner life.

The pacing is near perfect until about three-quarters of the way through, when it does start to tire a bit. But just a bit. And you'll most likely be really curious to find out just how the hell it's going to end...

2019 November 27 • Wednesday

If you missed the first issue of Reuben Radding's photo-zine Off Topic, you can still be fashionably late to the party by ordering the second issue here!

Reuben's photographs always leave me wanting to see more of them, and this is no exception. And it means a lot to have it printed like this, to have an actual artifact, particularly such a well made and artistic one.
2019 November 25 • Monday

When Chevy Chase returned as Fletch for a second movie, Fletch Lives, so did composer Harold Faltermeyer. His score is our 597th Soundtrack of the Week.

The main title theme is surprisingly laid back and atmospheric, not the kind of catchy and pulsating tune I associate with Faltermeyer.

For "Fletch Out the Window", though we're back in familiar ground, a percolating and toe-tapping synth tune reminiscent of Faltermeyer's best known work.

Most of the rest of the music continues in that vein, frequently working in the Fletch theme, though "Fletch Walks" has a spacy/country feel to it with some nice slide guitar and "Who Knows" sounds like a love theme.

There aren't as many songs on this release as there were for the Fletch soundtrack, but there is the sunny "Make a Change" by Buckwheat Zydeco.

2019 November 22 • Friday

Japanese film director Yasuzo Masumura is a litle bit known in English-speaking parts of the world, due to a handful of interesting, unusual and visually striking films that have had official commercial releases.

Nakano Spy School is certainly interesting, unusual and visually striking, as well as being a bleak story of the multi-layered destructions of war.

While technically a war movie, Nakano Spy School takes place behind the scenes, as an army lieutenant played by Daisuke Kato tries, without funding, enthusiasm or any other kind of support from the Japanese military, to realize a vision of an elite forces of espionage agents who would, upon graduation from his rigorous and specialized training academy, go forth and infiltrate countries all over the world and supply Japan with sensitive information for, well, decades and decades, more or less forever.

He recruits the most capable officers in the army and effectively ends their lives. They discard their army uniforms, never to wear them again, put on business suits, change their names, and immediately abandon their previous lives, families, everything, and disappear into the training camp to learn numerous skills, from safe-cracking and the use of poisons to dancing and sex.

The main character is Jiro and the first pang comes when he puts away his uniform. He'd only been able to acquire it in the first place becauser his fiancée, Yukiko, who lives with his mother, had given him her savings.

So that's kind of sad. But it's nothing compared to what comes later.

After Jiro disappears, Yukiko relentlessly tries to find out what happened to him. She uses her experience as a typist for a British import company to get a job in the Japanese military office in hopes of picking up some information about Jiro.

But her previous employer was a British spy and sees an attempt to manipulate Yukiko for his own purposes. He tells her that the Japanese government executed Jiro for expressing views critical of the war effort, and that the reason Yukiko keeps running into a blank wall is because there's a conspiracy to cover up this shameful deed.

So perhaps she'd like to help the British by passing over sensitive information that comes across her desk at her new job, to get back at the murderers of her fiance.

Things proceed from there and it's a tragic and cheerless affair.

It's a rewarding movie to watch, however, because everything about it is great, from the acting—particularly Mayumi Ogawa's Yukiko—to Tadashi Yamauchi's score and the brilliant photography of Setsuo Kobayashi. Presumably Masumura should share the credit for the inventive compositions and uses of space and angles.

Every time I see one of Masumura's movies I want to see more of them.

2019 November 20 • Wednesday

LIMITED FARM BILL FAVORED! (And 3 NAMED TO FIX LIABILITY COSTS.) It's this again. I love it. And in this movie!

The Godfather (1972)

2019 November 18 • Monday

The 596th Soundtrack of the Week is also perhaps the release of the year. 55 years after it was recorded for a movie called Le chat dans le sac, this John Coltrane classic quartet session was finally made available under the name Blue World.

This is it. John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones in Rudy Van Gelder's studio on June 24, 1964.

What more do you need to know?

There are three takes of "Village Blues" and two takes of "Naima", the former being a relaxed and swinging jazz blues and the latter being a more meditatively intense slow burner.

"Like Sonny" is a shorter piece with Tyner doing a lot of the stretching out. Does it refer to Sonny Clark?

For almost the first three minutes of "Traneing In" all you hear is Jimmy Garrison on bass. Then Tyner and Jones come in and only after another two minutes and change does Coltrane come traneing in himself.

You can hear some studio chatter on some of the tracks. Incredibly most of this music, perhaps all of it, wasn't even used in the movie, so it's a really exciting discovery.

There are other such recordings of great voices awaiting excavation and release. I'm thinking in particular of the tapes being sat on by the estate of Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter.

C'mon, guys. Get over yourselves and let somebody do something with those.

2019 November 15 • Friday

One of the most interesting books to come our way recently is this collection of Chicago street gang cards.

Thee Almighty & Insane: Chicago Gang Business Cards from the 1960s & 1970s is presented by Brandon Johnson, whose great-grandfather immigrated from Mexico to Chicago in the 1920s and worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad's Chicago office for four decades.

Johnson's thoughtful and fascinating introduction sketches some of the demographic changes that have occurred in the last century of Chicago's history and how street gangs were a response to this. Interestingly, while many of the gangs were nativist and racist in origin and motivation, the lines could be blurry.

Connecting with ephemera such as these cards is often a great opportunity to feel something about a lost time and place, something you might not feel any other way. This book is a valuable and important document.

2019 November 13 • Wednesday

The first line of Chopper Cop #1: Valley of Death" is, "To the north were the diamond point lights of Sausalito and Tiburon, in the other direction the dark hulk of Alcatraz rising above the black carpet of bay, and along the edges, the muted lights of ships at the piers of Embarcadero".

This is a more restrained and atmospheric opening than I expected from the book's title and cover. I would have thought something along the lines of "Terry Bunker squinted into the sun and revved the engine of his customized hog, hoping he wouldn't have to draw the automatic tucked into the waistband of his jeans or the throwing knife hidden in his boot".

This book first came to my attention when somebody posted an image of the front cover on Friendface and noted its atmospheric qualities. I ordered it and read it and enjoyed it well enough to order the other two in the series.

Author "Paul Ross" is a pseudonym for any number of authors. I think one writer or a pair of writers wrote the first two books in the series and somebody else wrote the third one. For more information of this sort and for a truly impressive focus on this whole area of publishing, I urge you not to waste time here but proceed to Glorious Trash.

Joe Kenney there is an expert and a sleuth and a wit.

So Terry Burton is a cop but he rides a motorcycle and has long hair and sideburns and is, as the back cover of the book will tell you, "a cop other cops don't like".

There's some creepy cult that's getting hippie drop-out rich kids to commit suicide but then they come back from the dead and tell their parents that they could live again in exchange for big bags of money.

There are several effective set pieces, particularly one in a graveyard at night, and Mr. Burton always has his motorcycle with him and always needs it.

While the story, plot and characters are all fairly crude, the actual writing, the nuts and bolts of word choice and sentence structure and scene setting and all that, are actually pretty good.

Not great but fun and probably better than it had to be.

2019 November 11 • Monday

Once upon a time I actually did a gig or two with the great bass player and multi-instrumentalist and composer and improvisor Kato Hideki. His music for the documentary film El Viaje de Monalisa is our 595th Soundtrack of the Week.

The first track, "Night Out", is a lovely instrumental with a swaying reggae-like feel. The different instruments sound like they have different colors and blend very nicely.

"Mystery" is a very meditative and hypnotic piece with sounds that are similar to bells or gongs but are probably created with different instruments. There's a background of resonance tones and eventually some string-like sounds come in as well.

This mood and gentle, slow not-quite pulse are continued in "Transformer", a dreamy and soothing piece that has a hint of possible danger.

Things pick up after this with the rock instrumental "Someone Wants Sex, Someone Wants Money". This has a great groove with some snarly guitar work.

The atmosphere becomes mellow again with "Poetry", the most textural and ethereal piece on the record. There are long tones that sound like pastels and some delicate crystalline voices that ease in and out of the landscape.

The record concludes with "Reflexion", a gently pulsating piece with delicate angelic sounds floating above a slightly fuzzy and softly driving bass line. The overall mood is hopeful.

2019 November 08 • Friday

In 1969 or 1970, 17-year-old Wendy Allardyce runs away from her safe and cozy and secure but stultifying home because she feels like she's not being taken seriously or given the independence, trust and autonomy that she has earned.

What happens next is the story told by Lee Kingman in The Peter Pan Bag.

This is, I think, a "young adult" book. I read it anyway and found it to be very well written and absorbing. There's a clever and not overdone Peter Pan motif, what with Wendy being named Wendy and another major character, a catalyst for much of what happens, being named Peter.

Kingman does an amazing job of balancing both a gentle and optimistic story with some harrowing elements that are true to real life's possibilities.

The book itself is somewhat protective of Wendy, but while she is shielded from a lot of harm that could come to her, both she and the reader are aware of the potential dangers.

At one point she takes way too much speed, under the mistaken impression that the pills are aspirin and will stave off a debilitating headache, and blacks out at a party. She wakes up to find her earrings were stolen, but realizes with alarm that any number of things could have happenedd and she there wouldn't have been anything she could have done about it.

The other young people she meets are all well drawn and distinct characters, from aspiring photojournalists to rich kids more or less playing at being Bohemia to a traumatized Vietnam vet—still a kid but permanently damaged.

It's not always to tell the kids on drugs from the kids with serious mental illnesses, the kids who can check in and check out of the hippie scene at well from the kids who cram themselves into rat-infested basements with dozens of others because they have no other place to go.

I don't suppose anybody could or would write a book like this today. It's hard to imagine such a book being published. But it's a remarkable and rewarding novel as well as a time capsule of sorts.

2019 November 06 • Wednesday

John Shirley's Cellars was great reading for the Halloween season, especially since it takes place in New York City in the days leading up to and including Halloween itself.

The edition I read has a really lackluster, blah cover.

The original paperback printing presented it much better.

Edward Lee is not a familiar name to me and since introduction does little more than relate his enthusiasm for Shirley's novel, it didn'do much for me.

The book itself is quite good, though. This is a real horror novel: creepy, violent and disturbing, much like its environment, New York City and the Lower East Side in particular in the early 1980s. By all accounts that was an unhinged, near-apocalyptic, beyond damaged and decayed place.

Only trace quantities of it remained when I moved to NYC in 1990, but it seems to me that Shirley has captured the time and place very well. He happened to be there, so that helps.

The book opens with our hero in 1955 at the age of ten and gets down to business. This boy has supernatural powers, among them the ability to communicate with or at least hear the dead. But this is the kind of gift that can seem like a curse and he's traumatized into repressing them, forcing them down deep, disowning them and forgetting them.

Then we're in 1981 New York and dead bodies are being found ritualistically slaughtered and disemboweled along with symbols and writings that indicate that they're being offered to demons in exchange for wealth and power.

This is actually literally the case and as a metaphorical forecast of the Reagan era, yuppies and big business and huge cultural, social, political and economic shifts that still need to be reckoned with and reversed.

The pace of Cellars drags a little bit at the end, and I think I prefer it without the revised ending that Shirley has added to this edition.

It's described as a hardcore horror novel and that seems apt. It's brutal enough and hardly pulls any punches.

It does have some Fiction Writing 101 tendencies to have literally everything be connected to a very small group of characters—you might find yourself thinking, "wait, he 'just happens' to be his nephew?" and such things—but it keeps things moving along. Not too much plot getting in the way of the story, as Joe Bob Briggs used to say.

I really enjoyed it and will look for something else from Mr. Shirley in the future.

The first line is "'Maybe he's a gypsy,' said the taller of the two boys".

2019 November 04 • Monday

The 594th Soundtrack of the Week is Marcello Giomnini's music for L'ossessa.

The main title theme is some weird electronic noises and screaming at first, followed by a chorus of voices speaking something in Italian. This morphs into a chorus singing what sounds like unholy church music. The weird clanging and bell sounds never stop.

Those unsettling sounds return in "Suspence Diabolica", along with another element that's like an electronic didgeridoo. This is very much like the later cue "Tema Trillato/Magmatico", of which the second half just removes the trilling.

"Suspence in Crescendo" is a variation on this with more space and some deep and mysterious drumming.

"L'ossessa (Samba)" is almost absurd or perhaps actually absurd in its druggy spacey lounge grooviness. It also sounds very low budget, perhaps all the instruments played on the same keyboard.

This is followed by "Tema Agitato", which has a similarly stripped down keyboard-dominated aesthetic but which manages to create a persuasively tense atmosphere.

Is "L'ossessa (Mozartiana)" actually Mozart? I don't think so but it does sound like "classical music" with piano, violin and cello.

The "Tema Ossessa" that was hinted at in the main title track gets a keyboard work out here. It depends more on harmonic movement than having much of a melody. Again sounds like all one keyboard.

After that comes a choir without instrumentation singing "Miserere Mei Deus", which sounds like actually standard church music. "Esorcismo Ex Abea" is similar.

"Ritmico Triste" is another cheap-sounding keyboard lounge track but this one is pretty nice, with a cool melody and a laidback groove.

Things get weird again, and kind of Radiophonic Workshop-like, in "Suspence Diabolica B".

"Tema Drammatico" blends the keyboard with strings successfully for a fuller sound and a classical-influenced piece of dramatic underscore.

An excited and creepy-sounding group of chanting and calling voices gives us "L'ossessa (Litania Satanica)" and then there's a massive 11-minute track that kind of does it all: weird electronics, groovy drums, wailing choir, beats and keyboard drones...

"Messa Nera" is perhaps even more alarming, with genuinely weird vocal parts that might be processed somehow, combined with an insistent and relentless clanging sound and more hard to identify electronic sounds.

Things get wrapped up with the moody "Tema Mistico (Finale)", another keyboard special.

2019 November 01 • Friday


The Twilight Zone: "Mr. Dingle, the Strong" March 03, 1961