Player Bands

Once upon a time, you had to know how to play your instrument to be in a band. You either sang on key or sang in a style that made up for your lack of talent. Your drummer and your bass player had to keep time. And if the singer or the keyboardist was subpar, then the guitar player had better step up his game. These were player bands. Not only was the message or the stage show important, but you had to be able, as a unit, to play well.

These bands, to whom their sound was more important than anything else, were what Todd Rundgren once termed as player bands. It’s what the Rolling Stones and The Beatles had in common. The Stones relied on that sound that only Mick’s voice and Keith’s guitar could create. The Beatles had no central figure. John and Paul might have been first among equals, but the few recordings they did post-Pete Best without Ringo behind the kit really show that it was a group effort.

There are still a few player bands around. Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters, even Coldplay, fit the bill. But the charts are now dominated by pre-packaged, auto-tuned acts that don’t even write their own music. Many that do are so dependent on technology that their live shows are nothing to write home about.

Some might say the decline began in the 1970’s with arena rock. But then listen to a Journey concert, whether it be the classic Steve Perry line-up, the current line-up, or, dog, the days when Randy Jackson played bass for them. They’re a live band, dude, and what you hear in the studio is what you get on stage. And they have to be good to get the studio sound onto stage with them. The decline did, indeed, begin in the 1970’s, but not with arena rock. (No, the arena suckage actually began about 10 years later with rampant lip-syncing.)

It actually began with punk. Now, punk’s appeal is its ragged, screw-you sound. No one will ever compare a Ramones album to Abbey Road. And both The Beatles and the Ramones would be insulted if you did. But in Britain, where punk was much more political than its American counterpart, there was a school of thought that, if you learned to play your instrument, you were not properly focused. How do you think Sid Vicious got a job as a bass player?

This, of course, is understandable. America’s economy looked like the 1990’s compared to 1970’s Britain. England had become one giant rust belt, with the Tories shaking things up in a way the working class did not like. A lot of loud, atonal, screaming rock music was the perfect way to flip Maggie Thatcher the bird. The youth of Britain were pissed (in both the British and American sense of the word, but mainly the American). Politics over skill is perfectly understandable.

Unfortunately, this had the side effect of making it perfectly okay to be a talentless hack, particularly when technology made the cheap synthesizer – and thus the synthesizer duo – a pathway to stardom. Seriously, do you think Soft Cell (of “Tainted Love” fame) would have been able to gain any notice beyond playing for beer money prior to 1979?

In the meantime, the worst of the punks learned three chords. The best ones developed their skills and broadened their musical tastes. Now you do have to know at least three chords to play punk rock. Indeed, most player bands these days fall into the punk category, or grunge, punk’s bastard offspring.

But punk bands don’t tear up the charts – even the alternative charts – like they once did.

It’s too bad. While I expect at least two members of a band to be able to play their instruments, I know we’re doomed to airwaves and downloads full of technology-bloated, auto-tuned, bland noise.

Forget bringing the sexy back. Bring back rock’s balls.

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Ebookery: Jochem Vandersteen

Dutch author Jochem Vandersteen has been an enthusiastic apologist for PI fiction. Ten years ago, he created Noah Milano, a reformed Mafioso trying to go straight. He tracks the comings and goings of PI fiction on his blog, The Sons of Spade, and is the founder of The Hardboiled Collective.

You’re known mainly for your PI character, Noah Milano. Tell us a little about him.

I created Milano more than 10 years ago to be my ”ultimate PI”, the character I wanted to read about in those days.

He’s influenced by Spenser and Elvis Cole, infused with a more modern edge. Through the years he came to be more and more his one unique character.

The main thing that makes him unique is the fact he used to work for his mobster father and has been looking for redemption after severing his ties to his dad. The conflict between what his upbringing tells him to do conflicting with what is the right thing to do has made him popular with  a lot of fans.

More and more Milano seems to have become a last resort for people in trouble than a regular PI-like character. More Equalizer than Rockford if you will. He’s been starring in his own novel (http://www.amazon.com/White-Knight-Syndrome-Milano-mystery/dp/0595274838/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_6), short story collection (http://www.amazon.com/Tough-As-Leather-Collection-ebook/dp/B0056IBUR8) and novelette (http://www.amazon.com/Alabaster-Skinned-Mule-Milano-Novelette-ebook/dp/B005T0UC3G/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_4) since, earning kind comments from people like David Levien, Wayne Dundee, Jeremiah Healey and many others.

You went the independent route from the get-go. What was behind that decision?

I live in the Netherlands but like writing in English and also understand that this language makes it easier to reach a large audience. I understood many legacy publishers would think this an odd situation so I published via IUniverse and came out with White Knight Syndrome.

With the success of ebooks I decided I would be able to reach many new readers also without the handicap of being a non-US resident. I’ve decided to put out my first novel, White Knight Syndrome, in ebook-form in December 2011 by the way.

You have a new series out now. Tell us about Mike Dalmas.

Dalmas is a husband and a father, ex-Special Forces and car salesman. He’s also the guy the Bay City cops call in when they need something done the badge keeps them from doing. You see, the cops know Dalmas killed the man who molested his daughter and are prepared to keep him out of jail if he keeps doing their dirty work.

Where Milano is influenced by my favorite PI’s Dalmas is influenced by writers like Lee Child, Matt Hilton and David Baldacci.

There’s a new Dalmas story coming out every month via Trestle Press.

I’ve got a scoop for you as well, there’s a new character coming up called The Innocence Man, a college professor dedicated to get innocent people out of jail. Look for him to appear soon.

You’re working with Trestle Press (whom I’ve interviewed here, along with fellow author Paul D. Brazill.) How did that relationship come about?

Simple. I read about what Paul D. Brazill had been doing and it sounded like a great way to go with my Mike Dalmas stories.

Tell us a bit about your blog, The Sons of Spade.

On my blog I feature news, interviews and reviews about PI fiction. I started the blog to counter the idea the PI novel is dead AND as a way to promote my work. It’s been very rewarding, resulting in getting to know fantastic writers who have been very kind to me. It also allowed me to found the Hardboiled Collective (http://www.amazon.com/Hardboiled-Collective/lm/R11XQIPKS6YD96), a group of hardboiled writers promoting each other’s work.

My Town Monday Cincinnati: Twenty Years Here

Twenty years ago this month, I packed all my possessions into an old postal Jeep, headed south on I-71, and arrived in Cincinnati, aka the Queen City. It was an inauspicious start. I was supposed to start work for a local Chevy dealer only to find out a license suspension three years earlier disqualified me from working there. They neglected to tell me this until after I moved here.

But I wasn’t going back. I’d have to move in with my parents, and they lived in Holmes County, in the midst of Amish country and two hours from any city worth mentioning. I sucked it up, bounced around a few jobs until I eventually got into IT. In that time, I’ve watched the city change.

In 1991, the Bengals were still taken seriously, though founder Paul Brown died a few weeks before I’d arrived. Both the Reds and the Bengals played in Riverfront Stadium. Jerry Springer was a local anchorman. Few people had heard of George Clooney, the son of a former local anchorman and nephew of singer Rosemary Clooney. There were fewer buildings in the skyline. Fountain Square took up two blocks. Third Street was one-way eastbound, and second street did not exist. Cross County Highway, now Ronald Reagan Highway, went nowhere unless you wanted a northern shortcut to I-75 from Montgomery and Kenwood. Northern Kentucky had no skyline. You could see the Roebling Suspension Bridge from Dixie Terminal’s lobby because the riverfront was essentially a parking lot with a few night clubs and warehouses scattered about. And Kings Island, the local coaster-freak mecca? It looked pretty much like it did in the classic Brady Bunch episode set there and was still Hanna-Barbera themed. To this day, if you have to park at a distant parking lot to get to your office, it’s locally referred to as parking in Scooby Doo, which was the name of the most distant Kings Island parking lot. The lot’s there, but the Hanna-Barbera cartoons have since been replaced by Star Trek, and most recently, Peanuts.

In that time, Cincinnati has had three minor league basketball teams, four arena football teams, and two hockey teams, one of which, the Cyclones, still exists. When I arrived, you could still see concerts, hockey, and Xavier basketball at the Cincinnati Gardens. Xavier invested in its own arena.  Riverfront Colisseum became The Crown, then Star Bank Arena, then the FirstStar Center, and is now US Bank Arena. The Bengals moved across the riverfront to Paul Brown Stadium. The city then shoved Great American Ball Park in between Riverfront Stadium and US Bank Arena (or whatever it was called back then.) Jerry Spring left town to become the ringmaster. Local radio talk show host Bill Cunningham went from late night loud mouth to conservative blow hard to his own television show. Yes, people. We are responsible for the Bill Cunningham who is not the bike riding octagenarian in the New York Times but the bastard child of Springer and Maury. (We’re sorry.)

Ronald Reagan now connects Montgomery on the east side to a point on the 275 Loop that connects it I-74 and Indiana.

In that time, the Ohio River has flooded three times. We have had four major snowstorms that made me question why I bothered leaving Cleveland in the first place. (Um… Dude, you didn’t live there when you left?) A hurricane actually hit in 2008, Ike was still barely hanging onto that status as it followed the exact same track another storm did in 1900 after destroying Galveston.

But Cincinnati to me is where I became a writer. I discovered the Internet while living in a one-bedroom apartment in Oakley back in 1994 and parlayed that into a career as a technician, then a programmer.  I’ve met Springer, Johnny Bench, and Marge Schott. I also met the city’s biggest benefactor, Carl Lindner, in the lobby of the Westin, though, typical of the late Mr. Lindner, I did not realize it until after he walked away. I’ve been married and divorced and married again here. This city has played host to 80% of my adult life.

I sometimes get frustrated with the pace of progress here, the conservatism that occasionally reaches religious proportions, and the idea that there is no reason to go beyond the I-275 Loop. (That last one is most prevalent on the West Side, and I find it pretty amusing now that I work over there in Delhi Township.) But it also has one of the best library systems I’ve ever seen – You have to go to New York to see a better one, had my life saved at a world class hospital in Mt. Auburn, down some serious bar hopping in Mt. Lookout, downtown, and just over the river in Newport, Kentucky. I’ve watched baseball at two Major League ball parks since moving here. It’s changed my life in ways I never imagined.

And it allowed me to be with Nita and AJ, the family I never would have had if I had stayed in Northern Ohio or moved to another city or even another state. In fact, two weeks before I went out with Nita for the first time, I was on business for BigHugeCo in Chicago and began seriously discussing moving there. Then came the big Valentine’s Day date, and by summer, I was remarried. I was also not leaving this city any time soon.

If anything, I’ve got at least another twenty years in Cincinnati ahead of me.

More at the My Town Monday blog.

Black Friday

‘Tis the season, and time for the first “Bah, humbug!” of the season. That’s Black Friday.

Every year at midnight on the Friday after Thanksgiving, millions of people gather outside Target, Walmart, Best Buy, or wherever to recreate the 1979 Cincinnati Who concert in an attempt to grab one of six $25 big screen TV’s. The rest of the day is spent fighting over whatever is on the store shelves, ramming other people’s cars in the parking lot, and generally screaming at one’s fellow man because “that’s my Billy the Big Mouth Bass,” dammit!

And the people who participate in this orgy of the worst of capitalism are fanatics about it! As soon as the tryptophan coma subsides, they bundle up, grab a pup tent, and head down to the store to wait for the doors to open. Retail companies rub their hands with glee as they stand to make a significant portion of their annual revenue during this 24-hour frenzy. Retail employees look upon this day with dread. The rest of us?

Sleep.

It’s Friday. We have the day off. We don’t have to get up early. Those of us in IT may have to work, but we get to go in while no one’s around. Do you know how valuable that is to those of us who keep your computer from turning into a smoking mess everyday? Our commute is easy because all the other commuters are either sleeping in or killing each other in the aisles at Wal-Mart.

I never understood the appeal of Black Friday. Yes, there are deals to be had, but even the most fanatical bargain hunters I know usually spend the day combing the Internet for upcoming sales when the holiday crowds are more manageable, bidding on eBay, and shopping on Amazon.

Yes, before the doors open, it’s a party atmosphere, not unlike before a football game. However, once the doors open, the only resemblance to football remaining is that to soccer hooligans when it’s Guiness night at a Man United match or the Dawg Pound at a Cleveland Browns game: rude, drunken, and violent. The only thing is I think it’d be more fun to get into a brawl in Manchester or sit in the bleachers in Cleveland. There’s beer there, and we’re all watching football of one form or another. I’m sorry, but it’s not worth a cheap DVD player to sustain damage to my purchase, my car, or my body.

Actually, most of our shopping is done. I usually do it in the month or so between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This year, we did it early. But if you want to cram yourself into a store that’s already exceeding the legal capacity allowed by fire marshal just to get your mits on a $20 iPod, knock yourself out.

Literally.

The World Is Flat By Thomas L. Friedman

The World Is Flat is a book I should have read when it came out in 2005. And it’s a book every member of Congress and the president should be required to read and do a book report on. Friedman elaborates on his observations of how technology has “flattened” the world over the past twenty years, leveling the playing field for much of the world. The version I went through was the 2006 update on audio.

Basically, Friedman posits that two concepts have made the world a flatter place: The Ten Flatteners  and The Triple Convergence. What are those?

The Ten Flatteners are something we deal with on a daily basis in our 2010 world without a second thought. The collapse of the Berlin Wall is now history. Web browsers – Well, you’re reading this on one, aren’t you?  Workflow software, which you see every time you shop online. Uploading, in the form of web sites, blogging, podcasting, YouTube (still in its infancy when this book was written), etc.  Outsourcing.  Offshoring.  Supply chaining. Insource, that is, taking on the functions of your customers to speed their processes up. (Guess who fixes that laptop you handed off to UPS to send to HP? UPS does.) Search engines, of course.  And the “Steroids”: wireless, smart phones (at the time this was written cell phones and PDA’s), digital phone, video conferencing, and broadband.

What is the Triple Convergence? Well, the Berlin Wall made Soviet-style socialism very unpopular, and even open societies that practiced it shifted to open markets. (No, Virginia, socialism is not practiced in the United States. Only stupid or paranoid people believe that.) In the wake of the opening of Russia and China, and the marketizing of India and Eastern Europe, the Ten Flatteners emerged in the wild 1990’s. Around 2000, these all came together to create the world we live in now.

Friedman is convinced that any individual with access to this technology, with as few barriers as possible to using it to its potential, and a willingness to collaborate with anyone anywhere who can make their ideas a reality can succeed and thrive in this new world.

He warns us, however, that it’s not without its dangers. The same technologies that make it possible for Dell to have a call center in Banaglore tell a factory in Malaysia to ship a partially completed laptop to Nashville for assembly before you get it also makes it possible for al Qaeda to organize and plan its brand of terrorism. Putting up walls, says Friedman, is not the solution, however.

Instead, he says, much of the Muslim world needs to be opened up. Al Qaeda, he says, doesn’t really recruit well in free societies because in free societies, when you get access to technology and capital, you tend to want to participate in the world, not throw rocks at it. Hopefully, Arab Spring – which is going into fall now – will begin that process.

Friedman doesn’t reserve criticism for oil-funded dictatorships, either. He has a few words for the US and Europe, saying they need to start focusing again on science and technology and less on Wall Street. Harvard and Yale may be good at turning out presidents, but they need to start turning out presidents who understand that the nation that does not value science and engineering will ultimately fail. So if you want to know where the deficits in America and Europe came from, listen more to Michio Kaku than Sean Hannity.

But the tone of the book is mostly hopeful. Anyone anywhere willing to educate themselves on what to do and to do what it takes to compete with someone across the globe can, in fact, succeed.

Giving Thanks

It is Thanksgiving here in America. Today is the day where we sacrifice large, slow-moving, slow-witted birds in honor of all we are thankful for. In Canada, they do this in October when the weather is warmer and the roads are less likely to be iced or snowed over. No wonder Canadians are less stressed than Americans.

Nonetheless, I have a lot to be thankful for…

For starters, I am thankful for this little miracle. This coming Valentine’s Day will be the four-year anniversary of our first date. We both strongly suspected we’d have a relationship from the get-go. We never realized it’d be a whirl-wind romance that would result in marriage that summer. I am also thankful for AJ. When I married Nita, I would have been content if AJ just thought of me as “That dude mom married,” happy as long as I took care of his mother and didn’t act like the stereotypical unlikeable stepdad. We’re a family, and I never expected to have one like this.

I’m thankful to be working. And not only that, I’m thankful to be doing work I enjoy. I’m a web developer now. ASP.Net for now, but I’m learning Java, and PHP is not that hard to pick up. It’s a terrific change from simply fixing computers, though I still do a fair amount of that. It’s great to know that arcane language behind the pages you see and make them active. I eventually want to be able to do this on tablets and smartphones.

I’m thankful to be gainfully employed. There was a period of uncertainty last year after BigHugeCo and I parted ways. I managed to find contracting work through the end of the year, and then…

There was a scary six weeks at the beginning of this year. Six weeks is nothing compared to what some others have gone through. So to basically pick up roughly where I left off leaves me very grateful.

One thing I’ve always been thankful for is music. Music has always gotten me through some of the worst times in my life. There was a period when I thought all was right with the world because Roger Waters hated life. Sometimes, I needed angry music like Metallica to purge the demons. Other times, I needed Shirley Manson’s dark beauty to lure me out of a funk. The Foo Fighters are sort of my go-to band these days. Sometimes, though, I just want to put on some classical and chill.

I am thankful I can write. And I’m thankful other writers still take me seriously despite my struggle for success. Writers like Anthony Neil Smith and JD Rhoades and Ken Bruen who lent a few words to kick off my ebooks. Writers like Brian Thornton and Jennette Marie Powell who are always there when the story doesn’t work or when it finally does. After a decade, it’s clear I don’t really do it for the money, even if it took me a few years to realize that. I do it because I wanna.

Monkey typing

And now, I’m going to go to my mother-in-law’s and thank her for this year’s sacrificial dead bird.

Flaming turkey

Labeled for reuse

When I Am The Evil Overlord…

For the last few weeks on Twitter, I’ve been posting edicts once a day about my plans for #wheniamtheeviloverlord. This stems from an email that still periodically makes rounds explaining what the author would do when they were the evil overlord. Many of his comments seem directed at either Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld or at Emperor Palpatine. Various versions contained such nuggets as “My crack troops will be required to take daily target practice and be able to shoot a fly off a beer can at 200 yards” and “As a matter of fact, death is NOT too good for the hero.”

So what would I do if I were the evil overlord?

Well, what makes evil overlords evil? For starters, they’re generally genocidal bastards. In fact, even in real life, they give genocide a bad name. Really. Who gets slaughtered in these campaigns? It’s almost based on birth or geography. No one can control their birth, or my entire family would be named Rothschild. As for geography, that’s generally a matter of circumstance. Do you think anyone really wanted to be Hitler or Stalin’s neighbor? These are both stupid reasons to off large groups of people. They did nothing to earn it.

As evil overlord, I would make my victims earn it. Those telemarketers who think the Do Not Call List is a polite suggestion? That becomes a capital offense under my regime. Also on the list, any record company executive who believes piracy gives him or her the right to look at your hard drive or put spyware on your machine. Homie don’t play that, and after my Legions of Doom have their way, neither will they.

But I don’t want to be the evil overlord just to kill anyone I want. In fact, that can backfire. Let’s just stop at the cast of Jersey Shore and hand me the Nobel Peace Prize for my trouble. (Bullets are expensive, and I’m doing this for my minions.) I may be evil, but it’s only because I would have an overdeveloped sense of self-worth. That’s tough to manage.

When I am the evil overlord, the Screaming Divas – Whitney, Mariah, and Celine – will have to stop. Just stop. No comebacks. No Vegas shows. Just stop.

When I am the evil overlord, no one from the upper East Coast will be allowed to be a sportscaster on ESPN or Fox Sports.

And Jim Rome will be required to apologize to my wife.

Even if he doesn’t remember why.

When I am the evil overlord, the local classic rock station’s program director will be required to listen to the rest of Elton John’s and Bob Seger’s catalog. Yes, dumbass, both men recorded more than three songs, and you may have to die for ruining “Down on Main Street” and “Goodbye, Norma Jean” for everyone else.

When I am the evil overlord, it will be legal to run the idiot driving 40 mph in the fast lane off the road. And said idiot will be required to pay for the damage to your car. In fact, you will be required to run them off the road. I have spoken!!!

When I am the evil overlord, Oxford commas will be mandatory on pain of death.

When I am the evil overlord, Roger Ailes’ job at Fox News will involve a mop, a bucket on wheels, and a plunger.

When I am the evil overlord, Dennis Miller will be required to be funny again.

When I am the evil overlord, Lorne Michaels will retire from Saturday Night Live.  Or else.

When I am the evil overlord, there will be a decade moratorium on vampire fiction. Hey, if Charlaine Harris is hanging it up with Sookie Stackhouse, there’s not really a point, is there?

When I am the evil overlord, Hollywood will be required to start coming up with original ideas again.

So what will you do when you’re the evil overlord? Tell us in the comments or tweet it to #wheniamtheeviloverlord