We Interrupt This Hiatus…

…To bring you a new short story. Actually, it’s an old one.

A few years back, Paul Guyot issued a challenge to write a short story involving an armored car and a baseball cap. This was my short, “A Big Score for Little Dale,” and it’s now live at Aldo Colcagno’s Darkest Before the Dawn.

Reader Request: Johansson Sings Waits

Charlie Stella asks, “Scarlett Johansson doing (singing) Waits/thumbs up or down?”

I hadn’t heard about this until recently, so I Googled and found this link.  Listen for yourself.

Well, Charlie, thumbs down.  It sounds lifeless and uninspired.  Of course, I’m pretty harsh on a lot of covers of Waits.  I’ve never forgiven Rod Stewart for his so-sugary-it-made-me-diabetic cover of “Downtown Train.”  But even that had more life and energy than Johansson’s take on Waits.

Now Springsteen…  There’s a man who can cover Waits.  But then Springsteen is singing from the same side of the tracks.

But then why listen to covers of Tom Waits when you can listen to Tom Waits?

Reader Request: Anonymous Industry Reviews

Charlie Stella asks:  “Anonymous Industry reviewers? What’s up with that?”

Honestly?  If you review a book, you should sign your name to it.  ESPECIALLY if it’s a negative review.

If you’re going to take a swipe at someone, own it.  I know some publications don’t credit their reviewers, but it’s a practice I never really cared for.

Reader Request: War Protests

Since the rest of you couldn’t be bothered (and the blog filler is still coming. Deal with it!), Charlie Stella stepped up to the plate and sent in THREE requests. Three.

Well, slackers? What’s your excuse? I sent you links and everything. All you had to do was click and go, “Hey, Jim? Tastes great or less filling?” “What safety word do you and your wife use in those more unorthodox intimate moments?” (“Bananas.” Thanks for asking, pervert!) “Why do conservatives hate America?” (They don’t. Wingnuts do. There’s a difference.)

But Charlie stepped up. And Charlie’s first question is indeed loaded. He asks, “What happened to the war protests?”

True, you don’t hear as many people protesting Afghanistan as you did Iraq. There are a lot of reasons for that, so I’ll just bullet point the ones that strike me:

  1. 9/11 came out of Afghanistan, and many people, including your humble narrator, feel we should have kept our focus there.
  2. Iraq, let’s be honest, was a clusterfrak.  The motivations to go were never satisfactorally explained.  The intelligence was faulty at best, outright perjury at worst.  And six years after George Bush stood on the deck of the Abraham Lincoln under a “Mission Accomplished” sign, we are pulling out with over 4000 casualties.  Americans don’t like that very much.
  3. Iraq:  Scumbag dictator who sells cheap oil.  Not really a key ingredient for widespread outrage.  Afghanistan:  Controlled by the fanatical Taliban, whose charming customs include beating women and caning children who laugh, sheltered al Qaeda, which in turn slaughtered over 3000 people on American soil.  Outrage?  In spades.
  4. This administration is aiming a lot higher than the last one.  Even when they come up short, they aren’t sounding the clear-and-present-danger alarm every five minutes.  It’s not that they’re not afraid of what’s out there.  They’re just not letting fear be the message.
  5. Americans have other things on their minds now.  The economy sucks.  Health care sucks, and no solution will make anyone happy.  Let’s face it:  We’re suffering a 2000’s hangover now, and we, as a nation, are a tired, tired people.  Much of it stems from letting fear get the better of us.

That’s some of it.  Not all of it, obviously, and you’re view on what’s a bigger cause will likely differ from the next person’s.

The Best Of MTM Cincinnati: The Chili Wars – Chain Edition

Possibly the most popular My Town Mondays post on this blog to date. – Jim

A couple of weeks ago, I told you about Cincinnati-style chili.  I also passed on posting a recipe, since I’ve never made it from scratch.  George Matthai, in the comments section, offered one of his own.  I also promised to give you a run-down of the different chains and a few indie shops.  Today, I look at the chains after the jump.

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Best Of The Old Blog: Stones Vs. Beatles? No Way!

[Originally posted to Northcoast Exile on April 13, 2005. This was the most popular post on the old blog that didn’t feature a naked soccer mom. – Jim]

John Scalzi, in his Reader Request Week post for today, tackles his weightiest subject to date:

“Beatles or Rolling Stones?

Superman or Batman?

‘He or she’ or singular ‘they’?”

Let’s get the first two out of the way. Batman, because when Superman has to be Clark Kent, he’s a wimp. When Batman has to be Bruce Wayne, he’s still a bad ass and not to be screwed with.

They. Linguists and grammarians need to just get over it. English lacks a proper gender nonspecific pronoun. Sorry, but “it” doesn’t cut it. So if we can have a royal “we” and an all-purpose “you,” English can survive a generic “they” for gender non-specific third person.

Now to the heart of the matter: Beatles vs. Stones. Beatles. Hands down. They were all working class stiffs. Quite frankly, they reinvented rock. Poppy? Hell, yes, and so what? Without The White Album, Sgt. Pepper’s, and the criminally underrated Abbey Road, rock simply would not be rock. That’s not to say the Stones didn’t do their part. “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Satisfaction,” and “Gimme Shelter” anyone? But… Well, let Scalzi tell you:

“The Beatles had the stones (so to speak) to break up and stay broken up, meaning that their canon is undiluted from years of post-creative suckage.”

Scalzi cuts off the Stones productive years at Tattoo You. I say Steel Wheels had merit, but, like Pink Floyd’s Momentary Lapse of Reason, it was designed to be an album you’d expect from the band. The only difference is that David Gilmour used that phrase as a title. Mick and Keith really did have a momentary lapse of reason. It’s the double whammy of musical crap called Dirty Work and Undercover, both the worst Stones albums I’ve ever heard. (And yes, I include the two post-Wyman yawn fests. “Anybody See My Baby” my ass!)

A lot of bands should have packed it in or at least shed deadweight. Much sooner. Led Zep probably needed to call it a career anyway when John Bonham died. Page just wanted to play guitar, and Plant had already developed his own sound. Pink Floyd did a Wall too far with the bloated Final Cut in 1983. One wonders if the follow up would have been stronger if Roger Waters had either quit sooner or let David Gilmour and Richard Wright have their way. Genesis… Invisible Touch? I’m still pissed off about the title track off that song. What was that? Phil Collins and Mike & the Mechanics rejects? (To be fair, We Can’t Dance was decent, but the post-Phil Calling All Stations was a huge mistake.)

Prog bands generally outlive their usefulness. Somebody tell me why Emerson, Lake, & Percussionist and Yes are still around? Have you heard their post-eighties work? Tragic. Have you heard their eighties work? The Asia albums that never were.

I’d call for Metallica’s demise, but I want to see them live. I’d also call for Guns & Roses demise, but then I like them again since they became Velvet Revolver.

The band that should be around, but can never be again, is Alice in Chains. Remember Alice? This is a rant about Alice. I miss the hell out of those guys.

UPDATE: I wrote this before A Bigger Bang came out. While not earth-shattering or by any means a classic, it is a decent album. If the Stones had gone from Tattoo You to Steel Wheels to A Bigger Bang, skipping everything in between, this post would have been very, very different.

Reader Request: Literary Fiction

Brian Thornton asks:  “”Why is what passes for “modern” literary fiction so… pretentious?”

Answer?  I don’t know.

I’m generally not a fan of literary fiction.  It often seems pointless, style for style’s sake.  And really, while writing style can be a wonder to behold, if it’s applied to nothing, who the hell cares?

I never cottoned to the idea of sitting in some salon isolated from the rest of the world and writing big, important books, eschewing plot and character and maybe not sending the average reader running for the dictionary every five minutes.  Indeed, very few writers ever succeed in writing, as Richard Schickel so condescendingly put it, “unto the ages.”  (Someone should have taken away Schickel’s keyboard the second he wrote that.)

Mind you, some people like that kind of prose.  But let’s take the book that set Brian off, shall we?  Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.  McCarthy writes big fat honkin’ prose, long, lush descriptions, all the things your average thriller writer hates.  Mac also spins a rip-snortin’ yarn, and that, more than anything else, makes up for a myriad of sins.  He gets to indulge his stylistic side without having to strip the prose down to nearly Dick and Jane simplicity, and still tells his readers a tale.

At the other end of the spectrum, JK Rowling has written a series of books that are little more than the old reluctant messiah tale in a science fiction story dressed up as fantasy.  The style is clunky, and the storyline is recognizable to anyone alive in the last thirty years as Luke Skywalker’s adventures with Obi-wan.  But, like Cormac’s characters, people relate.  Potter is a normal teenage boy tossed into a bizarre world and told, “Oh, and you have to go slay the dragon.”  And just to provide a link to the real world you and I live in, he’s stuck living with his mother’s sister’s family, people you see smacking their kids and swearing at them in Wal-Mart.

There’s the trick.  People have to relate, and if it’s big flowery prose written about how wonderful your farts smell (or, for that matter, yet another middle-aged professor pining for his barely-legal teen student), the only people who will care are stuffy asshats in salons sneering at anything that sells more than 500 copies.

But if you want literary fiction, go read the late John O’Brien and find out what it’s like to have booze eat your brain in graphic detail.  Go read Tod Goldberg’s bizarre short story collection, Simplify, a series of stories spun from a simple (no pun intended) proposition:  What if?  (But not the Burn Notice novels.  Save those for the beach reads.)  And hey, surprise!  Dennis Lehane, Laura Lippman, and George Pelecanos are writing literary tomes within genre confines.  Because, and let’s be honest here, the line between literary and genre is a monumental crock of shit perpetrated by a bunch of elitists who want everyone to read their work, but are totally frightened that more and a few dozen will.

I read to read.  I read for enjoyment and, in the case of nonfiction, to learn something.  I sure as hell don’t read because some pompous ass says I’m supposed to.

Reader Request: Favorite Fictional PI

Gerald So asks, “Who is your favorite fictional P.I. and why?”

Good question.  Maybe Jack Taylor.  Ken Bruen’s troubled alcoholic ex-garda has a certain sadness about him I’ve not seen in other PI’s.  I don’t really see the Taylor series as “PI” or “hardboiled” as they are endlessly debating on Rara Avis.  Like a lot of Bruen’s work, the archetype is there, but it’s merely a springboard.  Half the time, Taylor doesn’t even bother with the cases he’s hired to solve.  Most of the time, he’s trying to get his life together, or someone’s trying to do it for him.

If you want to catch the essence of the Jack Taylor novels, read The Dramatist.  The ending crystalizes what the series is all about.  I’d read it again, but that final scene is so gut-wrenching, I can only read what comes next.  I can’t go back.