Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2023 August 30 • Wednesday

One of these days I'd like to re-read many of Leslie Charteris's Saint stories and novels—just the ones from before World War 2, probably. Maybe there are a couple from the war era that are okay but once you get past the 1930s they start to lose their luster.

One of my favorites, for story, atmosphere and writing, has always been The Saint in New York. I've owned at least four different copies of it over the years, the fourth one being this Spanish translation in an old pulp magazine that I found in Barcelona last month, at the same shop as the magazines/comics mentioned in this space last week.

That's not how I've ever pictured Simon Templar. It looks more like James Cagney. And none of the TV or movie versions of The Saint were ever quite right either. He's a character who lives his best life on the page.

But it's a nice over and the interiors have some cool illustrations as well.

Ever since returning from Spain, I've been spending a few minutes a day doing Spanish (and Swedish) on Duolingo. Perhaps reading El Santo en Nueva York is a good goal to set.
2023 August 28 • Monday

Let's twist again? Like we did last summer? I don't think I did any twisting last summer. So let's twist this summer with the 793nd Soundtrack of the Week: Joey Dee in Hollywood, two rock and roll movie scores that appear to be by Henry Glover.

The first dozen tracks come from Hey, Let's Twist!, an admirably direct title. First up is the audio from a trailer for the movie, with an announcer excitedly going on about the "magnificent madness that's twisting across the world" while we get little clips of various songs.

Followed by the songs, of course, all pretty standard early rock and roll numbers with names like "Roly Poly", "I Wanna Twist", "Let Me Do My Twist" and so on.

They all have really good energy and nice musicianship, particularly from guitar and keyboards.

It ends with a bit of a surprise, a love song for voice and accordion (with a dash of maybe celeste or glockenspiel) in (mostly) Italian, "Na Voce, 'Na Chitarra e' o poco 'e luna".

The other movie represented is Two Tickets to Paris, which starts with a more standard orchestra-backed theme song, "What Kind of Love Is This". It's maybe a rather subdued twist.

After that we get a mix of twist numbers—"Willy Willy", "Twistin' on a Liner", "Instant Men"—and other flavors of musical number for the rest of the score—"The Open Sea", "Left Bank Blues"—etc.

Again there's great guitar playing as well as saxophone and other instruments.

2023 August 25 • Friday

Here's the other Spanish comic I picked up in Barcelona. It's the same size and shape as Claro de Luna but appears to have a stronger emphasis on adult action as opposed to teen excitement.

I like the illustrations. In addition to being nicely composed, they really present movement effectively.
2023 August 23 • Wednesday

You can almost always find a cool used bookstore in a big city and also usually find a really cool bookstore. Like whatever place I happend upon in Barcelona last month.

The proprietor was sitting inside smoking a foul-smelling cigar. The shop and everything in it reeked of that cigar smoke mixed with a powerful scent of body odor.

But the place had the goods. Old books and magazines and maps and sheet music and advertisements and match books and any other kind of ephemera from assorted Spanish yesterdays.

What got me was this stack of small magazines that were a hybrid of comic strip, celebrity interview and pop music. The cover would feature a jukebox hit and inside would be a continuing comic strip narrative plus a profile/interview with somebody famous, usually an American film or television star.

It's called Claro de Luna and it looks like this:

This one has James Garner.

The comic strip looks like this:

Here's another one with Richard Chamberlain, currently starring in Dr. Kildare, a show I've been working my way through very slowly for several years now.

Finally, I also grabbed this issue, which features the band Les Surfs, who are not a surf band.

I'm sure I'll return to Barcelona one of these days. If that shop is still there and if I can find it, I'll pick up some more of these or something perhaps just as interesting.

2023 August 21 • Monday

The 792nd Soundtrack of the Week is music for a movie called Nerosubianco by the rock band Freedom.

It starts with "Relation", an interesting and post-Sgt Pepper mix of piano, heavy back beat and horn section, with a lyrics that circle around the concept of "relation".

Hammond organ introduces a strange hybrid of calliope, circus and square dance (thanks to frantically bowed violin) for "We Say No": "You can keep all your laws / But for us we say no".

The organ also starts off "Attraction (Black on Whie/With You)", which starts off very slow but heavy, has a piano break followed by a pounding drum break and, after the singer gets out some "Yeah yeah yeah yeah"s, gets into a kind of jazz/funk blowing section for the organ.

Piano leads the way on the mid-tempo and thoughtful "Childhood Reflection", which has a Beatles-ish ostinato at its center.

"To Be Free" is an acid rock waltz with an impressive electric guitar solo.

Then it's time for straight rock again, with another Hammond-propelled song, "The Truth Is Plain To See", which also features harpsichord!

String section joins the band for the minor key stomp of "The Better Side" followed by acid rock guitar wailing in the heavey "Born Again".

For "Decidedly Man", the tempo picks up again and the harmonic movement of the song goes up and down, adding to the sense of urgency.

Finally there's "Seeing Is Believing", which mixes acid guitar with piano and a spacious, somewhat ominously cloudy atmosphere as the band sounds more reverby and powerful here.

2023 August 18 • Friday

Hank Searls delivered a terrific thriller with his novelization of Jaws 2. Could he do it again with considerably less to work with for the infamous Jaws The Revenge?

I guess we should start with the movie. I liked it. Oh, it's not actually good, but here at Gutbrain Headquarters we stopped caring whether movies were "good" a long time ago.

Jaws The Revenge has great photography and a great score and is anchored by an impressive performance by Lorraine Gary, returning for a third time as Ellen Brody.

Oh and Michael Caine is in it! And Mario Van Peebles!

The basic plot is that Sean, the younger of the two Brody sons, gets killed by a shark in Amity. (This happens around Christmas and there's a lot of Christmas stuff going on so you can add this to the list of Christmas movies like Die Hard, Invasion USA, A Force of One, etc.).

Mom Ellen Brody then goes to be with her other son, Michael, in the Bahamas, where he and Mario Van Peebles's character are tracking conchs. He and his wife, a professional artist who makes sculptures, have a young daughter.

(The scultpure gets a lot more time and importance in the book.)

The same shark shows up in the Bahamas, where great whites apparently just don't ever go, and starts going after remaning members of the Brody family.

That's the gist. The movie doesn't really sell this idea very well and sometimes the shark POV shows it just kind of lurking, like Jason Voorhees hiding behind a tree, which is confusing because great white sharks never stop swimming. They can't, unless they're dead.

One of the movie's more notorious bits involves the shark sticking its head out of the water and actually roaring, but by the time this happens, my disbelief had been suspended out of existence.

So that's fine.

I liked the movie but you probably won't. Searls, however, has indeed worked some magic with the book. Just as the novelization of Jaws 2 had more horror than the movie could include, Jaws The Revenge ratchets up the action quotient, with rival drug dealers trying to kill each other, and also includes a fantasy element, in which a Haitian voodoo priest uses evil magic to link himself to and control the shark.

This might sound like it won't fly but actually it's perfectly integrated into the story and is given the right amount of support from the characters.

The shark is the son of the shark from Jaws 2 but he doesn't have any grudge against the Brody family. He doesn't distinguish between them and anything else, he just wants to eat, like, a lot. Just like his mom.

But Mike really pisses off the voodoo guy, who is actually able to use sorcery to make Mike's young daughter walk into the sea at night, where the shark is waiting for her, and to send the shark after Mike and his partner Jake.

It works for me. And it also provides at least some explanation for the Brody family's being so shark-plagued.

The biggest stretch is that the shark goes to the Bahamas at all. Searls explains that he was "impelled by a savage whim" to go south and also ominously mentions, foreshadowing the voodoo to come, "other, stranger forces man could never understand".

There are some excellent set pieces with a whale and a windsurfer as well as Mike being trapped by the shark in a sunken ship.

And Searls appears to do something rather witty with the character of Hoagie, played in the movie by Michael Caine. At one point Hoagie remembers his daughter, and reflects that "She'd been just sixteen years old…".

Is this a reference to Caine's famous line from Get Carter, immortalized by Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in The Trip but apparently—I'll have to watch the movie again—not in the film itself?

I like to think so.

Anyway, the bottom line is that Jaws The Revenge was a really good thriller and a worthy follow up to the Jaws 2 book. I wish Searls had written more of them.

The first line is "On an evening a week before Christmas a famished gull stood on an icy piling in Amity Harbor".

2023 August 16 • Wednesday

All these sharks, you say. What about killer whales, you ask?

Well, I sat down with the movie Orca and not even Ennio Morricone could save it. There's a novelization of it but I'm not at the moment inspired to check it out.

But last week's visit to Chicago's Bucket o' Blood yielded a new Paperback from Hell reprint: Peter Tonkin's Killer.

It's better than Orca. I actually made it through the whole thing. Though I'll admit that I didn't love it.

It starts out promisingly, with a military program that's making killer whales into extremely formidable weapons and, wouldn't you know it, the super whale in question kills an admiral and escapes. This is what usually happens.

Then we get some melodrama about various characters converging for Arctic research, and their various tangled pasts and complicated relationships. Their plane crashes and explodes, but only after they've got the supplies off of it, and they're stranded on an ice floe but it's a really big one.

But a whole bunch of killer whales are around, led by the whale from the beginning of the book, and they'll just come smashing through the ice at any time, and of course the human characters make things worse for themselves by being human, and keep doing significant damage to their chances for survival.

It's not a horror novel so much as an adventure novel, or more specifically a survival novel. Tonkin appears to know a lot about cold weather conditions and Iniut mythology and sea creature biology and all that and a lot of it is interesting but the writing throughout is just kind of utilitarian and not especially engaging.

It's one thing after another and none of the people is believable as a real person or even relatable as a fictional person. So many things are "sudden" or "unimaginable" that the words lose power by the end of the book.

For instance: "Suddenly Colin's eyes sprang open". Well, of course. Any time anything "springs open" it will do it suddenly. There's no other way for something to spring open. But "suddenly" is just a favorite word, over-used here.

In addition to the killer whales, there are other problems to deal with. Hundreds of walruses in one memorable scene. But these things always just kind of pop up out of nowhere. Which I guess is how the characters would experience them too but it adds to the flat and shapeless quality of the narrative.

There's a reason Chekhov notes the gun on the mantle in the first act. If someone is going to shoot the gun in the third act, audiences want to know that there was already a gun there to shoot, otherwise it just seems like a lazy way out of problem the author was having with trying to resolve the story. It makes a difference to have these things set up.

For instance, here's one of many things that just comes out of nowhere in Killer:

He was sitting there, all rumpled and untidy, peering through his misted spectacles at her. A great warmth welled up in her chest. She reached for him. And then the polar bear came in through the back of the tent.

Polar bears hadn't been mentioned before this and so that last sentence comes across as languid wand waving on the part of the author. "Oh, let's just put some action and conflict here."

There are also characters who are unbelievably ignorant about certain subjects, presumably so those subjects can be explained for the reader's benefit. This is a standard way of feeding exposition but it just doesn't make sense that the people in this situation wouldn't know these things already.

So this is no Jaws 2 novelization. It was a bit of a slog to get through. But I'm still grateful that Paperbacks from Hell is making these titles available in such nice editions.

The first line is "Everything in the AIM facility in Oregon shone with the same deep shine, from the back of the killer whale to the boots of the sentry who checked Admiral Hope's pass".

2023 August 14 • Monday

Imagine if Dolly Parton hated you. Your life would be over, wouldn't it? But it seems unlikely that Dolly Parton actually hates anyone. I'm sure there are lots of people she wishes would do better or behave differently but I bet she doesn't actually hate anybody. It's one of the reasons she's so freakin' great.

And here's another reason: her music for the movie Dumplin', our 791st Soundtrack of the Week.

The first song is the uplifting "Here I Am", part gospel and part "Let It Be", in which Parton duets with Sia.

Elle King then joins Parton for the toe-tapping country-rock of "Holdin' On to You", which has sly funkiness in the rhythm section.

Acoustic guitar creates the lonely sound for "Girl in the Movies", a song that tells a story of wistful dreams, made achingly beautiful by slide guitar and string section.

Next is "Red Shoes", which sounds like a classic Dolly Parton autobiographical song, similar to "Coat of Many Colors". Pedal steel guitar adds a sublime layer of sound to the band.

Now Mavis Staples joins Parton for the driving and bluesy "Why", which has earthy bottleneck slide guitar running through it.

"Dumb Blonde" is a solid country number, from instrumentation and arrangement to melody and lyrics. And it's fantastic. Where's Dolly Parton's Nobel prize?

An affecting lyrical piano-driven song is next, sad and gentle, performed by Parton with Willa Amai.

The next song, "Who", continues the note of melancholy as Parton sings about insecurity and loss of hope.

The tone gets more hopeful with "Push and Pull", which has a relaxed but insistent pulse to it and more gorgeous singing and touching lyrics. Jennifer Aniston and Danielle Macdonald are also on this.

After that Alison Krauss and Rhonda Vincent join Parton for the sprightly bluegrass number "If We Don't", sure to get your energy level up a bit higher.

The record closes with new versions of a couple of classic Dolly Parton hits: first there's the backbeat-propelled "Two Doors Down" with Macy Gray and tha band Dorothy and then, just in case you've somehow managed to remain unmoved by the brilliance, musicality and feeling of everything that's come before, here's "Jolene" performed by Parton with a string ensemble. It's devastating.

2023 August 11 • Friday

Continuing with book-movie connections, we just read Hiroshi Sakurazaka's All You Need Is Kill.

Keiji Kiriya is a new recruit to the United Defense Forces, a global military organization trying desperately to turn back invasion by an alien spearhead of creatures called Mimics. He dies in battle but not before encountering the famous Rita Vrataski, a.k.a. Full Metal Bitch, a.k.a. Calamity Dog, a.k.a. Mad Wargarita, a woman who kills the formidable invaders by the scores, singlehanded, preferring a battle axe to a gun. Axes don’t run out of ammo.

He’ll meet her again, though, because after he dies he finds himself in a time loop beginning about 30 hours before his death. After getting killed in battle a few more times he decides to train hard to survive. To be like Rita.

If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because this book was the basis for the movie Edge of Tomorrow, which took the bones of the novel and created a new structure with them.

We like the movie quite a bit here at Gutbrain Headquarters and we enjoyed checking out the book. The novel is more about the inner journeys of the two main characters, punctuated with massive action scenes. It has a surprisingly affecting ending.

English translations of Japanese fiction don’t usually bring us much sensual pleasure but All You Need Is Kill, translated by Joseph Reader with Alexander O. Smith, is a lot better than most and we felt like we could really hear the voices of the text.

The first line is “When the bullets start flying, it’s only a matter of time before fear catches up with a soldier”.
2023 August 09 • Wednesday

Jaws 2 isn’t a great movie. The book, on the other hand, is a terrific thriller, a novelization of an original screenplay that must have been rewritten many times over before filming.

If you’ve read the book you can spot traces of the original story in the movie. But the book, written by Hank Searls and based on a screenplay by Howard Sackler and Dorothy Tristan, is so much better.

There are many things the book does better than not only the movie but also Peter Benchley’s original Jaws novel, which often seemed like a John Cheever story with some shark thrown in here and there.

In the Jaws 2 book, the shark is much more of a character, and not an evil one. She’s huge and she’s pregnant and for the sake of her unborn children she just has to eat a lot, all the time. (The shark in the book Jaws is referred to as "it".)

Attention to character is given to every creature in the novel, whether a dolphin, fully realized and relatable and an object of concern for the reader despite only having a few paragraphs of page time, or two human divers killed in the books opening: the same opening as in the movie but in the movie they aren’t characters, just two nameless people in wetsuits.

The authors cast their net wide, bringing into the story trauma suffered by Brody’s elder son and the younger son’s attachment to a baby seal cub, as well as an organized crime narrative thread—something Benchley took a stab at in the first book but didn’t get right—as well as state politics and various quirky locals.

The plotting is extremely tight, with everything interlocking, often in surprising ways. Only one bit, the fate of the Mafia boss at the end of the book, is a disappointing and unbelievable contrivance.

The ending, in which the shark is ready to give birth and has switched from "must feed" to "must kill anything that moves so my babies will be safe", takes place at night in the fog with numerous children in peril and is an excellent exercise in horror.

(One of many pleasing touches is that one of the unborn sharks is on the small side and in danger of being eaten by his own siblings if mom doesn’t get enough food.)

There’s some confusion about whether the events of the book take place two or four years after the events of Jaws, that summer of shark attacks referred to here as The Trouble. Sometimes it’s two years, sometimes four. By our count it’s three times each. Probably four years is better, based on context, such as the Mafia guy’s having been vacationing in Amity for the last three years but seemingly not having been there during The Trouble.

But it was such a great book! Maybe we should read more novelizations…

The first line is "A flattened, blood-red sun rose dead ahead".
2023 August 07 • Monday

Jimmy Webb's music for Voices is the 790th Soundtrack of the Week.

It starts with "I Will Always Wait for You (Theme from Voices)", a slow love song in 3/4 sung by Burton Cummings.

"Rosemarie's Theme" starts with what sounds like glockenspiel and harp, giving it a children's song sort of feel. When the strings come in, they add a feeling of romance.

Things get funky with "Disco if You Want To", which has some synth sounds that anticipate the soon to come 1980s and nice alto sax soloing.

After that there's "The Children's Song", performed by Andy and David Williams, a sappy but uplifing song about life's practically limitless possibilities.

A heavy backbeat drives "Family Theme", which lets flutes handle the main melody with orchestral backing.

Then there's Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers doing "Anything That's Rock 'n' Roll", which is fairly self-explanatory. Great song.

Then there's an instrumental version of the main theme, followed by another uplifting Burton Cummings-performed song, a triumphal number called "On a Stage".

"Across the River" is a jazz ballad with the alto sax featured throughout.

Willie Nelson shows up after that for "Bubbles in My Beer", another great song that you've probably heard before.

The album wraps up with the tender cue "Rosemarie and Drew", then "Drunk as a Punk", which is another Burton Cummings song, but this time an aggressive rocker, and finally an instrumental version of "The Children's Song" and reprises of the two main thenes, "I Will Always Wait for You" and "I Will Always Wait for You".

2023 August 04 • Friday

Jaws is frequently tagged as the first summer blockbuster movie, changing the course of the movie industry forever. Perhaps so. But it was presumably inevitable as the commercial activity of every human creative endeavor became not just the point, to many, of its creation, but also, somehow, "news".

Looking back, it's hard to see why the success of Jaws was especially newsworthy. There had always been big blockbuster movies, often ones that the studios dumped tons of money into, risking almost everything on a release that just had to be a huge hit.

And while marketing is exponentially more lucrative and "diversified" now than it had been in the past, the opportunity to sell any number of products by linking it to a popular movie was commonplace well before the 1970s.

So why does Jaws have this landmark status? We hate to disappoint you, but our answer to that question is that we don't really know or care. We do really like Steven Spielberg in general and Jaws in particular, so we're going through a little bit of Jaws studies right now.

Next on our syllabus, after reading Peter Benchley's original novel, is Carl Gottlieb's The Jaws Log.

This is a fun read. Gottlieb worked on the screenplay, continuing to write scenes even while the movie was being shot in Martha's Vineyard and Gottlieb himself acting in it.

There were many difficulties involved in filming, particularly in regard to weather and dealing with the locals.

We've always heard that the mechanical shark didn't work as expected, leading to Spielberg's having to improvise and suggest the presence of the shark rather than show it as much as he wanted to.

This is an old story, probably true about Jacques Tourneur's Cat People and memorably told as part of the movie The Bad and the Beautiful, but it doesn't seem to be true about Jaws, at least not based on The Jaws Log.

The mechanical sharks—there were three of them: one full shark, one left half of the shark, operated by people on the other side of it and one right half of the shark, operated the same way—were attached by a steel arm to freaking railroad tracks and would run along the tracks to move through the water. Those tracks, of course, had to be on the ocean floor.

So that sounds hard enough, just as it is. The tracks were for the half sharks. The whole shark was propelled by means of a sled operated by divers.

And we don't think it's an accident how Spielberg builds the presence of the shark in the movie. In the first shark attack scene, you don't see any part of the shark. In the second shark attack scene, you think you glimpse something for a moment but you're not really sure what.

In the third shark attack scene, you see the famous fin and you get a very quick look at the whole shark, just for a moment, from above, and there's a dream-like quality to it that imbues the image with both beauty and horror.

After that you get quite a bit of shark as the three lead characters set out to hunt it. Spielberg remarked that Jaws has a two-act structure instead of the most common three-act structure, the first act being the shark going after humans and the second act being humans going after the shark.

The Jaws Log is breezy and witty and should be enjoyed by anyone interested in the movie, the people involved in it, or Hollywood in general—although the industry of fifty years ago must be considerably different than it is today.

In the end notes, first written for a 25th anniversary edition, Gottlieb tackles Robert Shaw's Indianapolis speech and denies that John Milius wrote it. Certainly it seems to have originated with screenwriter Howard Sackler and was finessed in various ways by numerous people. Gottlieb prefers to give the real credit for the speech to Shaw himself.

The first line of this 30th anniversary edition is "I began writing this foreword during a recent visit to South Africa, where I spent a few days in the bush near Kruger National Park and had a near-death experience with an angry elephant".

2023 August 02 • Wednesday

We just read Peter Benchley's Jaws because we wanted to read the novelization of Jaws 2 and there's a procedure to this kind of thing.

The movie is better than the book. It's not clear if this is even the book Benchley wanted to write. This edition came with a few reminiscences from the author, and in one of them he revealed that he started out writing it as a comedy. When his editor read the pages he urgently redirected the first-time novelist.

This might explain why the book Jaws often comes across as a cross between John Cheever and a trying-to-be-hip 1970s version of Peyton Place.

Bits with the young people and their drugs are mostly embarrassing and Benchley's occasional remarks about Amity's black citizens simply mortifying. There's an organized crime subplot that goes nowhere, but does provide the book's second most memorable scene—no, not where Ellen Brody tells Matt Hooper her rape fantasies while they're having lunch, which isn't in first or second place but does in fact happen—but when Brody drives to the mayor's house to throw the Brodys' dead cat at him.

This might all sound pretty wacky if you're thinking of the movie. There's a dinner party scene that's basically the center piece of the story and when the book ended we found ourselves wondering whether the Brody kids were going to get those tennis lessons that had been so passionately discussed by their parents.

The most memorable scene, however, is the first one, to which the movie is fairly faithful. The description of the swimmer's death in the first shark attack is a gem of horror, perfectly constructed with maximum impact and economy.

If only more of the book were like that! Benchley does shark really well but there are only about four pages of shark in the first two hundred pages of the book, the rest of it being concerned with more or less soap opera business.

The end of the movie always seemed like a bit of a cheat to us. After all, we want to know what to do if we're ever in that situation. The serendipitous compressed air tank cannot be counted on, nor can our having possession of a firearm and the ability to use it so well.

So we were curious to see how things resolve in the book. No spoilers but it's a lot more of a cheat than the movie, so baffling in its inconsistency and randomness that it had us wondering if the shark had actually just been a metaphor the whole time.

(There's also a bit of a nod to Moby Dick at the end.)

The first line is "The great fish moved silently through the night water, propelled by short sweeps of its crescent tail".