Favorite Bands: KISS

KISS live in 2013

Llan We, used under Creative Commons

Back in the fifth grade, I was a proud member of the KISS Army. I went next door to listen to the neighbor kids’ copies of Destroyer and begged my mom for a copy of Rock and Roll Over for Christmas one year. What’s not to love? Scary guys in makeup rocking out. The tall one even spat blood and fire on stage. I tells ya, kids, it was better than a Saturday morning cartoon. I even dutifully endured KISS Meets the Phantom. (OK, that was above and beyond.)

KISS was the original shock band of the 1970’s, and despite the sexually explicit lyrics (which horrified my mother more than Gene Simmons’ Demon character), they were targeting us kids as well as the high school teens and college students. Why do you think they’re still around after almost 40 years?

For us as kids, KISS was mysterious. They never appeared publicly without their makeup. Even after leaving the band, original drummer Peter Criss did television interviews with his back to the camera. And we kids rocked out to “Detroit Rock City,” “God of Thunder,” and “Rock and Roll All Nite.” They had range, too, with Peter Criss supplying the ballad “Beth” and the mellower “Hard Luck Woman.”

Then in 1979, something went wrong. They came out with “I Was Made for Loving You,” which, while a classic, was probably ill-advised. Peter Criss quit, replaced by Eric Carr. Then original guitarist Ace Frehley quit. In the early 1980’s cameĀ Music from the Elder, which can only be explained by producer Bob Ezrin mouring the breakup of Pink Floyd. After that, founders Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley made the decision to break with the past and get rid of the makeup. We finally got to see that Gene Simmons was not a demon but a really big Isreali with a goofy grin. KISS became a glam metal band, going through two more guitarists before settling on Bruce Kurlick. They eventually ended the nineties with a grunge album (looking more like Metallica than Nirvana). And then…

The makeup came back. KISS embarked on the never-ending farewell tour, starting with the original line-up, then substituting Tommy Thayer for Ace Frehley. Peter Criss swapped the drummers stool with Eric Singer, who replaced the late Eric Carr (who died of cancer.) They’ve been primarily a live act since then. One of the things that has kept KISS in the limelight is Gene Simmons Osbournes-like reality show with partner (and now wife) Shannon Tweed and their two kids. Simmons has been rather open about his life on the show, in recent seasons letting the cameras see him in more dickish moments.

Sometimes, you wonder if KISS is a bit too mercenary. Would The Beatles go this far? The Stones? U2? But then The Beatles did, if only because nobody knew how to do rock and roll yet. But The Beatles were musicians. KISS is a show.

Thursday Reviews: Divorced From The Mob by Andrea Giovino, Emma by Jane Austen

Divorced From The Mob: My Journey From Organized Crime To Independent Woman

Andrea Giovino with Gary Bozek

Andrea Giovino once was the darling of the New York Mafia. Charming, vivacious, and blunt as hell, she impressed John Gotti by barking at several wiseguys at a nightclub for treating a friend like dirt. But it all came crashing down in the early 1990’s. Her common law husband, John Fogerty (not the guy from Creedence Clearwater Revival) and her brother, John Silvestri, were busted on a pot-running operation. It was at that point “Andy,” as her friends call her, realized she needed to get out. Ironically, the very reason she got into the mob in the first place was what drove her away finally. She wanted to provide for her four children and avoid the crushing poverty of her Brooklyn childhood.

Giovino gives a detailed account of how she started out stealing bread for her dysfunctional (and very large) family to her early days as a model in Manhattan to dating mob notables such as capo Frank Leno, Gotti confidant Mark Ryder, and of course, Fogerty, an Irish operator with ties to the Gambino family. Giovino doesn’t white wash what she did and why. If anything, she apologizes and takes responsibility, admitting she has been very, very lucky, especially after refusing Witness Protection.

I listened to this on audio, read by Giovino. She gets a bit repetitious, and sometimes, you wonder how she stayed out of jail as long as she did. But in the end, she comes off more as a relieved mother. There’s none of the crocodile tears or rehearsed contrition of such famous mobsters as Sammy “The Bull” Gravano.

Emma

Jane Austen

For a while, it seemed like Jane Austen had become the darling of Hollywood. Clueless, an updated retelling of one of Austen’s novels, and Emma, a Gwyneth Paltrow vehicle, brought this Regency-era author to the public’s attention after she languished as an entry on high school English reading lists. However, Emma was described by her author as being about a heroine likeable to no one but Austen herself.

That heroine is Emma Woodhouse, and successfully fixing up her governess with a local widower, she fancies herself a matchmaker. Mr. Knightley, a family friend and another widower (likely ripe for matchmaking as well), warns Emma that she meddles too much in other people’s affairs. Undaunted, she attempts to fix up her friend Harriet, an illegitimate child, with the young, handsome local vicar, Mr. Elton. Elton, however, is a social climber, and a woman of questionable origin and no fortune will not do. He instead proposes to Emma. Horrified at her plans going awry, she rejects him. Elton leaves town for a while, returning three months later with a woman of even more means than Emma.

And an enormous ego to match her higher station.

Austen described this as a comedy of manners, and that it is. Emma swears off matchmaking for a time, only to be tempted by new suitors for Harriet and also for her new friend, Jane Fairfax. Predictably, these go awry as well, both because of Emma’s misreading of her friends’ (male and female) intentions. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable read, though the language was a surpise (or, as Austen wrote it, “surprize”). Plus this was written in the years following the War of 1812. So the idea of a sixteen mile trip into London – my morning commute – is something of an ordeal: No cars, no trains, no paved roads. Instead of riding a rented handsome down to the rail station to ride into the city (or just jumping into the Family Truckster and driving for half an hour), it’s a process to hook up a carriage and ride over rutted roads in questionable weather.

What’s Wrong With America: No Metric System

Let’s take a look at how we measure things, shall we? In America, 0 degrees is based on some chemical reaction Daniel Fahrenheit used in his laboratory. Water freezes at 32 degrees and boils at 212. Length is measured in inches, which is based on someone’s thumb back in the Dark Ages. Twelve inches make a foot. Three feet make a yard. There are 1760 yards in a mile. Unless it’s a nautical mile, which is about 2025 yards. Roughly. Weight is in ounces and pounds. None of it makes sense until you reach tons. Sort of.

The rest of the world uses the metric system. Everything base 10. You have to be dumber than a rock not to get it once you learn it. And it’s base 10. Monkeys can figure this out. A kilometer? That’s a thousand meters. Kilograms are are a thousand grams, which, while tinier, make a hell of a lot more sense than ounces, don’t they?

They once tried to convert the US to metric. Then some idiots afraid of change started whining, calling it communist or some stupidity. So we got stuck on an antiquated illogical system. Know what that got us?

A crashed space probe.

This isn’t American exceptionalism. This is stupidity masquerading as tradition covering up fear of change.

Remission

Last year, I managed to lose 20 pounds after doing a diet Nita had tried 20 years ago with great success. However, this was a hard diet to maintain. When the six weeks ended, I gleefully ended the program with a milkshake from Graeter’s Ice Cream.

Jabba the Hutt

Lucasfilm

I was back into the 280 pound range during the holidays, but soon after, my weight dropped to 275, where it’s stayed since since.

Unfortunately, some problems remain. I’m still on medications for blood sugar, cholesterol, and high blood pressure. I still need a machine to keep me from snoring to death. Exercise continues to be a challenge, with my new college cutting into time I’d intended for running.

At the same time, a funny thing happened two weeks ago. I weighed in on the morning of August 17 at 275 pounds. Then I had a busy weekend with little time to snack. I even skipped breakfast one morning. Come Monday morning, I weight 271 pounds. I went hungrier during the day. I felt better.

I know this sounds stupidly obvious, but not snacking seems to be the secret to losing weight. Not just losing weight but keeping my blood sugar down and not having that “2:30 feeling” from 2 to 4:30. I had been told over the past decade that grazing was the way to keep blood sugar and weight down. It occurred to me the power to cleaning out my medicine cabinet, ditching the CPAP, and probably living to at least 75 (quite an accomplishment in my family) seems to be eating fruit for breakfast, not gorging on potato chips and Reese’s Pieces, and trying to get in what exercise I can with challenges around time.

Sound obvious?

You would think it is, but you can’t just tell people to do this. I know. I’ve tried everything. The problem is we live in a fast food culture where the only thing you can eat on the run is crap. Those McD’s burgers that we thought were treats when we were kids? Hey, it’s cheap and fast. And we keep buying it. Sure, they sell healthier foods these days, but you can’t eat a salad and drive. You can’t eat their fruit offerings while weaving in and out of rush hour traffic.

An excuse? Yes, but an easy one most of us. We don’t even realize we’re doing it.

But for me, I need accountability. I have high cholesterol, hypertension, type II diabetes, and sleep apnea for one reason and one reason only: I’m still fat. And the thing is 270 pounds seems to be the magic number. Get below that for an extended period, and my blood work numbers look really good. So I’m putting it out there by posting this.

I want 10 pounds off by Halloween of 2012. That puts me at 265 pounds. I want five more off by Thanksgiving. That’s just inside or above the 250’s, depending on how lucky I get. Last time I was that weight, I stopped having snoring problems. Plus the extra weight buys me a little wiggle room for the holidays. I’m not lazy. I’m just realistic.

So there. I’ve said it. Now I have to prove it.

Second Hand Goods: Valeria

She is a tall, slim brunette who manages to bed Nick Kepler by Chapter 4 of Second Hand Goods. And when Nick gets a call from Lenny Slansky, his car thief informant, about a missing limousine, it might be clear to the reader she’s known about Nick longer than he’s known about her. Clear to the reader, but not to Nick.

So who is she?

In the beginning, nobody knows. Nick thinks she’s just the unfortunate date of a boorish dirty cop, then the unwitting mistress of a suspected Russian mobster. (Suspected hell! They call him Ivan the Terrible.) Nikolai Karpov, the real power behind Russian criminal activity in Cleveland, thinks she’s just a secretary for one of his legitimate companies. And Ivan the Terrible? He thinks she’s his lover and partner in crime.

By the time Val’s identity becomes known, many people end up dead, including some innocent bystanders. All through this she plays the victim, leading Nick, Karpov, and Ivan the Terrible along. But even that raises more questions than it answers.

Will she return?

I don’t know yet. She’s the perfect character for a sequel to Road Rules, something I haven’t decided on yet. But really, her genesis was a scene I wrote when this story started out as a short story called “Lady Double Dealer.” In it, Nick was breaking into an expensive house in Cleveland’s suburb of Shaker Heights. He finds Val there waiting in the bedroom. She then proceeds to ransack the house, taking a few things (like the owner’s BMW) and not telling Nick why she was there. Explaining why both Val and Nick were there in the first place proved to be too complicated for a short story. So “Lady Double Dealer” was dropped, and Second Hand Goods became the sequel to Northcoast Shakedown.

Leigh Neely over at Women of Mystery is digging Second Hand Goods and is offering a free book give-away. http://tinyurl.com/8v5ohf5

Favorite Bands: The Doobie Brothers

The Doobies had a name that should not have been mentioned in my household when I was a kid. I mean “doobie”? Tolerance for marijuana was not something we were raised on. But my mom liked the Doobie Brothers’ music. So she turned a blind eye to the name. ‘Cuz damn, they knew how to play.

It would probably be easier to point out what Bay Area musicians working from 1970 to 1981 were not in the Doobie Brothers. Their collective line-up makes bands like Deep Purple, King Crimson, and Yes look positively stable. And like those bands, they benefited from the changes.

Rather than try to guess which line-up defines what era of the band, it’s easier to define them by the two primary songwriter/vocalists. The band was founded by, among others, Tommy Johnston. It ended under the leadership of Michael McDonald. In between?

“Long Train Running” was one of the early hits for the Doobies, when they transitioned from the Hell’s Angels’ house band (not literally, but almost) to a national act. It typifies their approach to music as they threw away the rules. They weren’t a power trio. They had twin lead guitars (later three with the addition of Steely Dan’s Jeff “Skunk” Baxter) and even tried playing with two drummers on stage. Tying these early sounds together was Tiran Porter’s fat thumping bass lines. Johnston (and later McDonald) shared lead vocal and song writing duties with co-lead guitarist Patrick Simmons. Simmons would be the only Doobie to be part of every line-up.

The band toured hard, to the point where Tommy Johnston’s health collapsed. He left the band in 1976, which left them in a lurch. They needed someone to take up Johnston’s vocal and songwriting load. Baxter suggested a session player from his Steely Dan days, Michael McDonald. McDonald was a keyboard player, but could he handle some of the rigors of Johnston’s work? The first rehearsal prompted Tiran Porter to be amazed that “that big black voice was coming out of that little white man.” McDonald got the job. When Johnston decided not to come back after his hospitalization, McDonald became a permanent member.


[Sorry I couldn’t find video from the 1970’s that didn’t sound like it was recorded in a rain barrel on VHS.]

Of course, this shifted the band’s sound from swamp rock, as typified by Simmons’ signature song, “Black Water” to blue-eyed soul and soft rock. They began with the very Doobiesque “Taking It to the Streets” but began drifting toward more Fleetwood Mac-style fare such as “You Belong to Me” and “What a Fool Believes.”

Numerous personnel changes gutted the Doobies’ sound. Baxter and Porter left. By the end in 1981, Simmons and McDonald were the only members of note. Simmons did not want to be a member of “The Michael McDonald Band,” and apparently, neither did Michael McDonald. He said in an interview that they could not get any further from the Doobie Brothers’ sound if they tried. They did a farewell tour with a reluctant Simmons before packing it in.

However, the late 1980’s saw one-off reunions, various members playing here and there together. In 1987, a significant number of former Doobies regrouped for a brief tour benefitting veterans groups. The tour was so successful that talks began over a permanent reunion. With McDonald’s solo career flying high, the band opted for the early “China Grove” line-up, releasing a new album, “Cycles.” They’ve toured ever since, with Johnston and Simmons as constants and Michael McDonald either touring as a member or occasionally appearing as a guest. Current bass player Skylark was hired to take on some of McDonald’s vocals. With Johnston’s recent vocal surgery, McDonald has come back to take on some of the load for Johnston on their next tour.

While digging up videos for this piece, I saw a comment on “What a Fool Believes,” which features a significant number of mid-seventies Doobies. A woman commented that her father used to play that song all the time, and that watching this, she wondered when it became passe to play an instrument live the way the Doobs were doing in this video. She said the music sounded more organic back then.

That was the Doobies secret. When it stopped sounding like that, they quit.

Thursday Reviews: Blood Work by Michael Connelly, The Awareness by Terrie Farley Moran

Blood Work

Michael Connelly

FBI agent Terry McCaleb was felled not by a bullet by a heart virus. He spent a couple of years on the waiting list and received a heart transplant. Now he lives on disability and spends his recovery restoring his father’s boat, theĀ Following Sea. When the sister of the heart’s donor visits, however, McCaleb finds himself drawn back into the old life. She wants him to find who killed her sister, and she believes the man who received her heart would feel a debt to her. McCaleb agrees, running afoul of an egotistical LAPD detective but energizing a sheriff’s deputy’s career. It turns out that Gloria Rivers murder bears a lot more in common with an ATM robbery a couple of weeks earlier. Because of the way the killer behaved, both caught on surveillance tape, it’s clear these were not simple robberies. McCaleb, a career profiler, recognizes the signs of a serial killer. While explaining this, he rattles off a list of killers he’s dealt with since coming to Los Angeles, several familiar to fans of Connelly’s Harry Bosch series.

This one is a bit different from Connelly’s Harry Bosch series. McCaleb’s methods are almost like that of Mycroft Holmes, preferring to stare at evidence already gathered for long periods. He does this as well in A Darkness More than Night, in which Bosch is a major character. In Blood Work, however, McCaleb is only a few weeks out of the hospital and limited in mobility. He can get around well enough, but he is barred from driving, relying on a neighbor and on Graciela, Gloria’s sister, to get around LA’s sprawling metro area. The details of working with a transplanted heart are vivid, and in one scene, you cringe when a suspect panics and knocks McCaleb to the ground to escape. McCaleb’s chest is still knitting together, so any blow might damage his new heart. Not good, since he’s trying to find who killed the previous owner.

It’s a terrific crime thriller written by an author with an ear for language and an incredible eye for detail.

The Awareness and Other Deadly Tales

Terrie Farley Moran

Terrie Farley Moran, one of the Women of Mystery, releases a collection of her short stories. They run the gamut from a True Blood-type fantasy to an absurd Christmas story to a cynical look at lawsuits and their consequences. She begins with “The Awareness,” from which this book takes its title. A supernatural tale, it looks at that often-overlooked other-worldly denizen, the banshee. The protagonist is a 300-year-old banshee who lives in the guise of a young freelance reporter. When a member of a family she is to watch over is about to die, she assumes the form of the banshee so her wailing can guide the soul to the other side. Only this time, something’s not right. Her latest charge wasn’t supposed to die. It’s not nice to murder a banshee’s charge. She will get even.

The grittiest story is “Meet Me by the Priest,” referring to a statue near a church in Manhattan. A soldier in the waning days of World War II is looking to dodge a transfer to Alaska. Soon, he is dodging a thug who doesn’t appreciate him taking his girlfriend.

The story I liked best was “Civil Suit.” The mystery actually doesn’t happen until late in the story with a clever means of poisoning a victim in front of several witnesses. What makes this story is the circus that is municipal civil court. The bailiff, who narrates, paints an amusing picture of the characters involved in a lawsuit kicked down from the upper courts.