large_buzzardOver the years, most people ask me about WKRP. Was it a real radio station? What local station was it based on? Only when WKRP in Cincinnati was on the air originally, I lived in the Cleveland area. I didn’t listen to rock station WEBN. I listened to the old G98 in junior high. But in high school…

The THUNDERING Buzzard!” Len “Boom Boom” Goldberg would bellow during station identification. “W Emmm Emmm Essssss!” Alan Freed might have coined the term “rock and roll” on the old WJW, but WMMS made careers. Ask Aerosmith, Todd Rundgren, Bruce Springsteen, even Guns ‘N Roses. WMMS, like a handful of other stations in other markets, was one of the stations you wanted to play your music back in the 70’s and 80’s. A friend who moved to Cincinnati from New York liked to brag she heard of bands like REM and the Red Hot Chili Peppers before I did because she lived in Queens and I lived in Cincinnati. I informed her that an ex-girlfriend gave me my first REM tape in 1988, and my favorite record store played Mother’s Milk on heavy rotation back when it first came out. She didn’t like that. But then she’s not my friend anymore.

In the 1980’s, Kid Leo, the afternoon drive jock, shepherded a lot of new bands on the air both playing their records and interviewing them. To many of use who grew up in the Carter and Reagan eras, Kid Leo was WMMS. It was Leo, now program director and afternoon jock on Little Steven’s Underground Garage on Sirius XM, who embraced new acts and got them on the air. Springsteen and Rundgren were early examples. Break big with Kid Leo in Cleveland, then you were off to Chicago, then New York, and finally, Los Angeles. WMMS became the lynchpin for the entire Midwest.

But WMMS also made sure local acts felt the love, too. The soundtrack to my graduating class’s adolescence includes heavy doses of The Michael Stanley Band. Stanley came very close to breaking big with a few singles you might remember: “He Can’t Love You Like I Love You,” “Lover,” and “My Town.” He might have done it, too, in the early eighties if he and the band relocated to LA or New York or even Nashville, which had become friendlier to rock acts by the mid-eighties. But Stanley was and is loyal to Cleveland. And WMMS was loyal to Stanley, sometimes playing his albums in their entirety, with Stanley (to the record company’s irritation) invitation to go ahead and roll tape. It didn’t hurt his record sales.

We also would start our school days with Jeff and Flash, which evolved into The Buzzard Morning Zoo. From 1972 until the early 90’s, Jeff Kinzbach and newsman Ed “Flash” Farrens handled morning drive in the days before the morning zoo became an annoying cliche on classic rock stations. When a rival station in Chicago called out Rolling Stone for consistently rating ‘MMS as the readers’ favorite major market station, Jeff & Flash called out Rolling Stone for disrespecting the Buzzard’s audience with accusations of ballot-box stuffing. Ironically, WMMS continued to be the readers’ favorite, with WONE in nearby Akron (which, I’m proud to say, employed my cousin, Mike Rose, for many years) suddenly winning the medium market crown.

‘MMS also played a key role in luring the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to Cleveland. Stations in other cities cried foul, but ‘MMS stood its ground. It also did not flinch from disagreement when Kid Leo interviewed Grace Slick. Slick, in her final days with the Starship, suggested that not only was Cleveland the wrong city, but her own San Francisco did not deserve it, either. She said it belonged in the Deep South because of the music’s delta blues roots. Kind of hard to argue with it.

WMMS is not the station it once was. The same could be said for its Clear Channel sister WEBN on the other end of the state. When I first started visiting Cincinnati in 1990, I noticed a lot of parallels between the asylum up on Frog’s Mountain (better known as the hilltop neighborhood of Mt. Adams) and the Buzzard. ‘EBN, like ‘MMS, was subversive and about as anti-corporate as you could get in 1990. But those days soon ended. Both stations were bought out by Jacor, the radio behemoth that later got swallowed up by Clear Channel. You have to go to satellite radio or the Internet to find anything remotely like it these days.

Thursday Reviews: Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King

Dolores Claiborne

Stephen King

This book is one of two that have very few supernatural elements to them. In a couple of crucial scenes, Dolores Claiborne St. George has a vision of Jessie Burlingame of Gerald’s Game. Likewise, Jessie had a vision of a woman over an open well on the day of the eclipse that links these two stories. It’s rather appropriate as Dolores Claiborne and Gerald’s Game are yin and yang. The former is about a woman abused (and later oppressed) who pays the price for not fighting back and standing up for herself. Dolores Claiborne pays the price for just the opposite.

In a nutshell, this first person story is about a woman accused of killing her employer, Vera Donovan, an invalid old lady who fell down the stairs to her death. The reason Dolores is suspected is not so much how she was found at the scene. No, Dolores was accused of this before when her husband Joe fell down a well. Only Dolores freely admits she got away with murder the first time.

What’s interesting is that Dolores Claiborne turns out not to be the central character in the story. Even when the day of Joe’s death is recounted, it’s really Vera who is driving the whole story. Dolores’s story is really about the consequences of Vera’s manipulations. And as hostile as their relationship is, both women, it turns out, needed each other to the very end.

The movie could never tell the story the way King told it. It’s all Dolores, in her Maine islander accent, telling about her adventures being Vera’s paid companion and why Joe St. George had to die. The movie expanded and combined several of the characters and, of course, used the eclipse. But it got the most important line right.

“An accident,” a much younger Vera tells an angry Dolores, “can be an unhappy woman’s best friend.”

And so it is here.

Guest Post: Anthony Neil Smith – One Slick Bastard

I’m off to Conference Room M for an IT meeting today. Conference Room M is Maloney’s, a west side bar, where I plan to hide from people bugging me about where their Start button is. In the meantime, Neil Smith talks smack about his bad-ass new book, The Baddest Ass.

BaddestAss600So Jim writes me and is all like, “Hey! We should trade blog posts because I’ve got a slick bastard of a new novel out, and you’ve got a slick bastard of a new novel out, so YEAHAAAARGH AND HAPPINESS!” And I was all like, “Me also YEAHAAAARGH AND HAPPINESS! Let’s do it because YEAH, GODDAMN IT!”

And then I realized: I had nothing to write about.

I mean, I wrote The Baddest Ass last year, and since then I’ve written a whole other new slick bastard of a novel, and now I’m working on another whole other new slick bastard of a novel. So you should all feel lucky I even remember the title.

In times of need, I turn to my readers. And they ask for free stuff. And I tell them I won’t write any more books unless they pay up. And also, ask me shit so I can write this blog post for Jim. And they come through for me almost every time. I love you slick bastards.


Livius Nedin (of BOOKED podcast fame) asks: “There seems to be less Lafitte in The Baddest Ass than in previous books. Was this a conscious decision?”

Well…not at first. I always end up approaching the Lafitte books as a “point of view” challenge. Who has the POV, and how does that person see Lafitte? In the first one, he tells his own story. In the second, we see the POV of several characters, including Lafitte. In this one it started out as a possible second person book inside the head of Bryce West, but then the story changed. So I decided that this book was about how others see Lafitte, but without giving the reader a look into Lafitte’s head. He’s walled off. So that means he can only be on the scene when the POV characters are around him. And next time (let’s just admit it—I want to write more Lafitte), I might limit that access even more.

And another thing: why the fuck haven’t you slick bastards invited me back to Booked podcast for this one yet? What did I ever do to you, not counting the time I punched your slick bastard uncle in his drunk mouth for saying how much he loved that shitty new Van Halen album?

Dave White (who writes things) asks: “Have you ever considered a YM prequel?”

Ya know, I tried to write a couple of prequel short stories with Lafitte and his partner Asimov, and I even posted a bit of one on the blog, but I just couldn’t finish. Just wasn’t interested enough. I promised one of them to those slick bastards at Crime Factory and then just crashed and burned. So maybe one day, but the idea of a direct prequel just doesn’t interest me so much. I’m never a big fan of those in books or movies. Something with a kinda-sorta connection, though? I like those, and I’ve had an idea in the back of my mind for a big novel featuring a character from Hogdoggin’. We’ll see.

Dan Vierck (who also writes things and is a new father) asks: “What’s the closest BL has been to getting his cuss together? To being William Lafitte? Is that not in the cards for him? Does he not want that?”

First, I have no idea what “getting his cuss together” means, so that means you’ve grown smarter than me, and I hate you, you slick bastard.

I thought about having someone call him “William” in the prison book, but then forgot and never bothered.

In Yellow Medicine’s first draft, there was a redemptive moment. There was a possibility of him continuing to be a cop. But as I read back through, things changed. The story didn’t feel like it wanted to go that way after all. So my agent and I went through a bunch of different endings, struggling to find what made sense for all that came before. Instead of redemption, it was a choice. An open-ended choice. It was Kurtz about to peer into “the horror”, or not. Or something. That’s a real book, right?

R.J. Stroud (Twitter superfan) asks: “Were you inspired/influenced by a favorite novel or character when you created Lafitte?”

Yeah, it was The Shield and Vic Mackey. No matter what he did wrong, you still (kind of) rooted for the guy. Right up until the penultimate episode when he got immunity and laid out EVERY BAD THING HE’D EVER DONE over those past seven seasons. Once you heard that, you were like, “Oh no. I was rooting for all that?” So why did we? One reason was because he made the excuse of it being for his family. He had two kids, one autistic. He had already thrown away his marriage, and now he claimed that he was doing all the “side work” to help secure his family’s future.

With Lafitte, I wanted to take away the safety net of the family. I wanted him to have already lost that stuff and have a chance to start over. So of course, he’s just baaaaaad. But if he’s so bad, why is he so compelling, especially in his own words? I jumped into the deep end from there.

Also, I had just moved to Minnesota, was in a rotten mood (around here, “Minnesota Nice” is an elaborate prank), and started filtering that into a character who had the balls to do something about his own rotten mood.

Of course, since then, I’ve fallen in love with the state (thanks to my wife, especially), even though there are still some mean cusses down here in Marshall. Chilly bastards, I tell ya.

R.J. Stroud (again) asks: “If you could choose only one song to be in a film adaptation of a Lafitte novel, what would it be?”

I hear awesome songs all the time that I wish I could hear while watching a Lafitte flick. And I usually put together a whole lot of stuff to listen to while writing a Lafitte book. But one that seems perfect would be “Go It Alone” by Jason Isbell right as Yellow Medicine fades and the closing credits start. Oh yeah.

Dana Yost (poet, editor, and intrepid journalist):  Can you name five personal traits/habits shared by you and Billy (three seemed too easy, ten too many, so five)?

Okay. First, we both like cheap red wine. Second, we both lived in a weird house in Yellow Medicine County with a creepy vibe. Third, we both carry a lot of attitude, even if it’s mostly for show. Fourth, we get annoyed with slick bastards like you asking personal questions. And fifth, we both hated Minnesota at first. I have now come to love the living hell out of this slick bastard state, whereas Billy, ya know, will never love any place like he loved Mississippi.

R. J. Stroud (third times the charm) asks: “Other than Sam Rockwell, who should play Lafitte on the big screen?”

Really? Are you serious? Is there anyone other than Sam Rockwell who is right for Billy Lafitte?

Well, you slick bastard, I’ve got one other unconventional choice: Johnny Knoxville.

But by now you’ve seen the book trailer that Paul von Stoetzel did for The Baddest Ass, and that guy who plays Lafitte for ten seconds (Shad Cooper!), he could pull it off, right?

Now, sit down and let someone else ask a question, alright?

Jay Stringer (another writer of things for a very very very very small publisher called Amazon…like the river):  What is Billy’s opinion on the price of ebooks? Does Billy think there is too much swearing in crime fiction?

Billy has no opinion on ebook pricing. If those slick bastards can get away with gouging the readers, he’s probably all for it and wishes he had found a con like that which would’ve kept him out of trouble.

As for cursing, yes. Billy thinks there is way too much cursing in crime fiction. After all, he believes only old people bother reading books, so we should all have a little respect for our elders.

ANSblastedb&wR.J. Stroud (oh, for fuck’s sake) asks:  “If you could go back in time and change one aspect of Lafitte’s personality, what would it be?”

Yeah, that’s a hard one…um, listen, maybe it’s time for someone else to have a chance. I’m just saying.

R.J. Stroud ( it’s starting to get a bit uncomfortable) asks: “If you could use another author’s fictional character in a Lafitte novel, who would it be?”

Lafitte might need to hire the Lincoln Lawyer. [Smith looks around the room] Anyone else? Seriously? [ Smith takes a long drink from water bottle. Refuses to look R. J. Stroud eye to eye]. This has been real fun and all—

R.J. Stroud (…….) interrupts: “Can you recommend another series that most closely resembles your Lafitte novels?”

Um, dude, like, Fifty Shades of stuff, I guess… [Smith glances at his watch, except he doesn’t wear a watch.] Um, security! Hey I’m running late here—

R.J. Stroud (restraining order now in effect) shouts: “Okay, okay. The only other thing I was going to ask was if Lafitte would ever be caught dead on Twitter. Ha, ha. Yeah.”

[Smith slips out the back way as the security guards head towards the questioner, Tasers drawn…]

Revising Holland Bay – Weekend 1


I like to edit with the original writing tool.

began revisions in earnest for Holland Bay. But rather than print it out (which is hard since I left BigHugeCo three years ago this month), I instead decided to do some quick search-and-replace edits. For starters, I did an F-bomb purge like I discussed a few weeks back. These were harder to fix than I expected, but I wanted to avoid having more than one F bomb per page. I know there will be some people who say, “Leave them in! Be true to your story!” Well, it’s not your story, it’s mine. So to be true to mine own self, out they come. I suspect a few will go back in eventually, but I’m just getting started.

I then went and searched for “your/you’re” mistakes, followed by “their/there/they’re.” Believe it or not, the only mistake along that line I found was using “you’re” as a possessive rather than a contraction.

Finally, I fixed something that’s been bugging me since the original version of Holland Bay. The fictional city of Monticello, despite dwindling population, is divided into boroughs. The southernmost one, a vast swath of vacant fields, formerly independent towns, and miles and miles of strip malls and fast food chains, was called “Huron.” The problem is that, where Monticello sits, there is a real-life town of Huron, Ohio. However, the fictional Monticello borders the very real town of Milan, birthplace of Thomas Edison. So I did a search-and-replace on Huron and changed the borough name to Edison. Boom. History and realism via Microsoft Word.

Finally, on Sunday morning, I dove into the revisions proper. Structurally, I’m satisfied with the story. There were a few “Mr. Obvious” lines I deleted, as well as chopping some repetitious lines. Early on, where I took more time to finish a day’s writing, I’m not finding so many of these. I suspect later on, I’ll be chopping up whole scenes and rewriting them on the fly. Later in a novel is usually when a writer rushes more. One reason is to finish the damn thing and be done. The other is the excitement that builds when you see the end coming.

That’s why we do revisions.

Bad Religion: Cleveland and the Holy Wars

BadReligion-ebook600When I wrote Bad Religion back in 2005, the golden age of televangelists had already passed. But if you came up in the 1980’s or were already an adult then, you could not have missed the freak show that was televangelism. Certainly, I couldn’t miss it, and that’s why my take on Christianity drives a lot of social conservatives batty. Doesn’t do much for the militant atheists, either, but most agnostics who’ve heard it are amused.

During the 1980’s, televangelists occupied a peculiar niche in American culture. They were part late-night talkshow host (at the time, there was only Johnny Carson, unless you wanted to stay up late, like me, and watch Letterman), part social commentator, and, to my growing horror as I went through high school, part fascist leader. Sometimes, I think Pink Floyd made The Wall five years too early. What Roger Waters could have done with Jerry Falwell, Jim Bakker, and Jimmy Swaggert. We’ll leave Pat Robertson out of the mix because he’s a very special kind of loopy, much more calculated than the others.

Televangelism grew out of a boom in traveling tent revivals in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Not surprisingly, many of these traveling preachers came out of the south. However, one city in the industrial Midwest found itself at the epicenter of this boom: Akron. Akron was once the rubber capital of the world, home to Goodyear, Firestone, B.F. Goodrich (and later Michelin’s American operations), and General Tire. About half the size of Cleveland, it was always the scrawny little brother to the auto and steel-heavy behemoth to the north. If I were a little more honest about my background, I’d say I was from Akron instead of Cleveland. The trouble is, if you say Akron to anyone south of Columbus, east of Youngstown, or west of Toledo, and eyes just glaze over. “That’s somewhere in Ohio. Right?” So I say Cleveland. Everyone knows Cleveland. Rock and roll. Baseball, football, and basketball. The city called home by Dennis Kucinich, beloved by Drew Carey, and screwed over by LeBron James. What did Akron have besides rubber?

Two TV preachers who would be right at home on any used car lot and the flagship station of The PTL Club. You probably know the last one. PTL was the brainchild of Jim Bakker, originally the host of The 700 Club before Pat Robertson decided he wanted to be the face of his ministry. More than preaching the gospel, Bakker and his wife, Tammy Faye, wanted to be TV stars. Bakker even once said he wished he could host The Tonight Show. My mother, a religious woman if there ever was one, faithfully watched The PTL Club at least three times a week. My dad, also religious and very conservative, preferred sitcoms, the odd cop show, and the nightly news, originally John Chancellor, then Frank Reynolds on ABC when Chancellor retired. PTL made him roll his eyes. Dad might have been religious, but he was pragmatic, too.

Jim and Tammy

Source: PTL Club

Being a kid, I skipped most of that circus by playing outside. For those of you too young to remember, before video games and the Internet, we played in the outdoors. Yeah, our moms even let us get dirty and banged up. The few times I watched the show, though, I was confused. Church was where the kindly old (OK, 48 was old to me, says the 47-year-old) preacher gave a sermon about being a better person. You saw people you grew up with or around. Your parents and those of the kids in Sunday school were part of the church’s governing body. It was a community. It was also an interruption in my Sunday morning cartoons. Not PTL. I have vivid memories of Tammy Faye looking down at the floor screaming at the devil and stomping Old Scratch with her high heels. (Mind you, the camera didn’t seem to pick up the devil.) And she would sing. Well, she called it singing. As a teenager, when she would open her mouth within earshot of me, I would go down to my room and crank up Blondie and Pat Benatar. If I wanted to hear women scream to music, I wanted it on key with punk-based rock blaring in the background.

Jessica Hahn

Source: Fox

And then it happened, right about the time I went into a brief hair metal phase in the late 1980’s. Bakker got caught with one hand in the cookie jar and another up Jessica Hahn’s skirt. The Bakkers’ ministry imploded before a nationwide audience, and Hahn became every metal head’s favorite groupie. Before long, Jimmy Swaggert’s ministry imploded and after Swaggert himself denounced Bakker as a charlatan. He tearfully got on television and told the faithful “I have sinned against you!” A genuine act of contrition? No. Two years later, Jimmy got caught doing it again, trying to screw a street walker out of the ten bucks he offered her to put on a show for him. Somewhere, his cousin, Jerry Lee Lewis, whose career stalled when he married his 13-year-old first cousin, was thinking, “Damn, I don’t look so bad now, do I?”

Rex HumbardBut that was PTL, which, despite its underpowered flagship station located in nearby Canton, actually came out of North Carolina. Working right in Akron was Rex Humbard. Humbard was not quite the freak of nature the Bakkers were. He started out as a Pentecostal preacher hailing from Arkansas. When he saw the potential of a television ministry, he realized the nature of a Pentecostal service, his outsized personality, and a ready audience for gospel music were all tailored perfectly for television. He began building what he called The Cathedral of Tomorrow in suburban Cuyahoga Falls. Humbard did not make my dad go diving for the dial (because we didn’t all have remotes back then. You had to get up and go over to the TV like some sort of animal. Primitive!). But then Humbard managed to gain an air of respectability that many of the other televangelists could not find beyond their own audiences. He even presided over Elvis Presley’s funeral. But Humbard, like a lot of television pastors over the years, ran into financial problems. His TV station was bought out and moved to Cleveland. The giant tower with rotating restaurant was never finished and now serves as a cell tower for part of Summit County. And his Cathedral of Tomorrow? Well, it was a comedy club when I left Northeast Ohio for good in 1991. Unlike a lot of other televanglists, Humbard survived, moved to Florida, and carried on a low-key mission.

angley09-01But if Humbard eschewed the circus atmosphere favored by Swaggert, Bakker, and a whole host of wannabes (such as Robert Tilton, the infamous Farting Preacher), another local televangelist embraced it and took it all the way to 11. Ernest Angley (pronounced “ainj-lee”) was the show. Think of what Sam Kinnison must have been like as a preacher, although Angley, still working at age 91, didn’t scream. He does do miracles on stage. And that cliched extra syllable that some preachers tack onto the ends of sentences-uh! Yep. That’s Ernest. Even has a southern accent so thick that Foghorn Leghorn would need closed captioning to understand him. Most people considered Angley a joke. It’s a perception that he never fought. He even played it up, making numerous appearances on the Cleveland morning talkshow The Morning Exchange, where he would playfully irritate news anchor Joel Rose, Cleveland’s grumpiest news man, and flirt with cohost Liz Richards. Angley also bought out Humbard’s proposed TV station and moved it to downtown Cleveland (where it served as the model for Calvin Leach’s own TV station in Bad Religion.) The station became more secular in nature, currently Cleveland’s CW affiliate. But all that served so Angley could carry on his ministry and his TV show. You just have to bee-leeeeeve-uh!

All this served as a catalyst for Bad Religion. Calvin Leach was created as a response to Humbard, Bakker, and Angley. I will admit the name Leach was a bit of obvious humor on my part, but I originally envisioned him as playing a larger and more malevolent role in the story when I started sketching out ideas. I wanted someone who would be this larger-than-life personality who would save your soul just as easily as he might sell you a 2005 Hyundai with its odometer rolled back. In either case, dark forces tug at your wallet as he speaks. I needed someone to be overly dogmatic with a presence that reminds one of Oz, the Great and Powerful, complete with warnings to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. He would contrast with Roy Sutton, his assistant and a man of humble lifestyle and personality, a preacher who is more about the Sermon on the Mount than blaring Christian rock at millions of dazzled viewers. Of course, as the story grew more complex, both men evolved into pawns of something else happening. It’s just big enough to involve huge sums of money, but small enough to remind a local police chief of a real-life cult killing not far from some of the events of Bad Religion.

Kindle | Nook | Smashwords

Physical Grafitti

Physical_GraffitiIt was the Led Zeppelin album that almost did not happen. When it did, it was too long for a single album. Surprisingly, many of its classic moments come from outtakes from Led Zeppelin III, Led Zeppelin VI, and Houses of the Holy, including that album’s discarded title track.

Yet it is the quintessential Led Zeppelin album. Everything you want to know about Led Zep is on that album, from the opening tune, “Custard Pie,” through the epic “Kashmir” all the way to the quirky final three songs. While it’s essentially cobbled together from four previous albums, it sounds like a coherent whole, as though Zeppelin were simply trying to do something on each disk and each side.

The album’s signature piece is “Kashmir,” the epic 8 1/2 minute song that barges into progressive rock territory, reeks seven kinds of havoc, and leaves a trail of destruction in its wake. The chord progression was something Jimmy Page had been working on since the Zeppelin III sessions. When he finally got it down, he and John Bonham played around with the riff to find the right beats to put behind it. Robert Plant added lyrics he wrote after a visit to the Sahara Desert in 1973. When it came together, John Paul Jones put together the classic arrangement that later for the basis of the 1994 Page/Plant live version. Plant later said that, coupled with a phasing effect Bonham was experimenting with, what Bonham didn’t do on the drums had as much to do with making that song work as what he did do. This is the difference between Bonham and Keith Moon, who are often mentioned in the same breath. Moon was all style and showmanship, not much of a timekeeper, but, as Pete Townshend put it, The Who’s real keyboardist. Bonham was more integrated into Zeppelin, sharing the rhythm section with Jones, probably the most talented player in Zeppelin, but always planning and reworking with Page.

The other songs on the first disc are  a mix of original material and outtakes, but somehow, they flow naturally, one into the other.  “Custard Pie,” appropriately one of Plant’s hypersexed offerings, and “Trampled Under Foot” combined with “Kashmir” to make this album too long for a single disc. That was why the band took “The Rover,” “In My Time of Dying,” and “Houses of the Holy” off the shelf, reworked them, and made them part of a single first album.

On Disc 2, you can hear that Zeppelin is already moving on from their second phase, which including III, IV, and Houses of the Holy. “In the Light” is more experimental, but hardly psychedelic. “Down by the Seaside” sounds like something Plant might have done solo if he had left Zeppelin five years earlier. It was actually recorded in 1971. “Bron Y Aur” comes from the same sessions, but “Ten Years Gone” was one of those new songs for the Physical Graffiti sessions that sounds like an older, wiser band, particularly Plant.  The last three songs are an odd combination of tunes, featuring two outtakes from III and IV and what was originally supposed to be the last song on side 2 when the album was going to be just one disc. “Boogie with Stu,” recorded with unofficial Rolling Stone Ian Stewart is considered a classic Zeppelin song that still gets airplay occasionally when a DJ wants to tell Clear Channel where to stick it. “Black Country Woman” might have been lifted off an old Robert Johnson album. Both of these are wooden, acoustic, though Plant’s vocals are heavily distorted on “Boogie.” Then there is “Sick Again,” a song that would not be out of place on their final effort, In Through the Out Door and might have made Presence something better than one of those albums that grows on people over time. With “Sick,” “The Wanton Song,” and “Night Flight,” you get hints of the Zeppelin to come. The rest of the album is Zeppelin at its peak showing what its learned.

Missing, though, is the bombast and sexual bravado of Led Zeppelin I & II. There’s no “Communication Breakdown,” “Dazed & Confused,” or “Whole Lotta Love.” Aside from “Custard Pie” and a few lines here and there, Plant is lyrically keeping it in his pants, though, it must be said, not hiding a damn thing in the process. Robert Plant in the 1970’s was the heterosexual yin to Freddie Mercury’s gay yang.

It’s surprising many people don’t cite this album more. It is probably the one album that crystallizes the band’s entire history more than any other. Dave Grohl did point to it as his model for the Foo Fighters’ In Your Honor, but the Foos have become more Zeppelin-like in their approach in the seven years since while Zeppelin itself was already drifting apart when they released Presence. Seven years after Physical Graffiti, Bonham was dead, Jones was producing, Page had a new band, and Plant was solo. Yet if Zeppelin had stopped at Physical Graffiti, their catalog would have been complete. As it is, you can consider the rest of what they’ve done as a bonus.

Thursday Reviews: The Hurt Machine by Reed Farrel Coleman

The Hurt Machine

Reed Farrel Coleman

Death is very much on the mind of Moe Prager. As we meet him at the beginning of The Hurt Machine, he has just learned that he has a golf ball-sized tumor in his stomach. He refuses to begin treatment until his daughter Sarah is married. But Moe can’t stop thinking about the end. He feels an enormous amount of guilt over the death of his first wife, Katy, who was murdered by a man he fingered as the killer of a young girl twenty years earlier. He feels the weight of the lies he told about Katy’s brother, whose disappearance marked the beginning of his career as a private investigator. And he feels a debt to ex-wife Carmella.

This last one has Moe looking into the recent murder of Carmella’s sister, Alta. Alta is one of two EMT’s who watched a man die with the excuse that they were off-duty. As with any Moe Prager novel, there’s more here than meets the eye. Alta and her partner are pariahs in the FDNY. A few really angry hardcases are openly thrilled Alta is dead after making the department look bad. A lead that points to a recent fallen hero in the department triggers violent reprisals. But it also uncovers much more than a screw-up by two paramedics. Moe uncovers a web of blackmail, bigotry, and hypocrisy that leads him to discover that no one is what they seem to be.

As disgusted as he gets with the case, Moe can’t let it drop. It soon becomes more than tying up loose ends with Carmella. As with all his cases, Moe is unable to let it go well past the point other PI’s would have dropped it. Cancer, however, adds a new dimension to it. When Moe is wrapped up in the case, he’s not thinking about his possibly imminent demise. Even without the cancer, Moe has a sudden realization that he is sixty, and he is not going to be around forever.

Fortunately, Coleman assures us that he is around for two more books.

Holland Bay – The First Read-Through

Billy Crystal in Throw Mama from the Train

Source: Orion Pictures

So, I dusted off the new first draft of Holland Bay. And guess what? I didn’t curl up into the fetal position and cry, “I can’t write! It’s complete crap! Oh, woe is me!”

By the way, not only is “Woe is me” a horrible cliche, it’s a grammatical atrocity that offends even me, the guy who promotes split infinitives and singular they as good grammar. Does anyone really say that?

I digress.

All I did was read. I did tweak a couple of things, like switching “site/sight,” “your/you’re,” and so on. Occasionally, there was a word missing or I typed something in a hurry without really thinking about it. Other than that, I made no changes, no flagrant notes “Hey! Murdoch is 29 on page 42, and he’s 37 on page 254! WTF, man?” There were a few continuity problems, but this has been one of the cleanest drafts I’ve written in a long time.

Does this mean I’m done when I finish the revisions? Ready to pack off to an agent to earn me fame and fortune?

Oh, hell no! I’ve recruited a new first reader, having divorced the original one. I need someone who did not write this to tell me if this passes the smell test. And he’s edited before, so he’s exactly what I need to take the next step.

But it’s good to see first round of revisions won’t be as traumatic as they usually are. Some of this has to do with Holland Bay having an earlier incarnation. It kind of told the story, and the first few chapters resemble that earlier version. But then I took a different route to the ending and put a different bow on the package.

All I need now is to get this beaten into shape for the next step.

Then I gotta go write another one.

Bad Religion

BadReligion-ebook600Bad Religion, the third Kepler novel, is now available. Unlike the previous Keplers, this one will be available in print soon.

The skinny: Nick and Elaine are shadowing Roy Sutton, the pastor of a suburban church. So far, they’ve found nothing on him, but one of Nick’s operatives comes across something that tells them they’ve been on the wrong track. But a collision on a lonely rural road keeps Nick from finding out what. It also forces Nick to look more closely at the church itself. Who’s really skimming the money? Is it Calvin Leach, the church leader who wants to be the next great televangelist? Is it Alex Pullman, whose real estate fortune was made paving over perfectly good neighborhoods to build upscale shopping malls? Is it one of the church board? Or is there more going on here, a religious schism that’s closer to Nick’s past than he imagined.

In the background is Nikolai Karpov, the Russian mobster who seemingly likes Nick enough to want to bring him into his organization. Meanwhile, Elaine is dealing with the disintegration of her marriage and what her budding partnership with Nick means, both personally and professionally.

This book was written in 2005 as the third book in the Kepler series. As often happens in small press, the book never saw the light of day. As I began releasing the first two Kepler novels and the collection, I dusted off the old manuscript and went through the beta reads that had been sitting around since 2006. I was pleasantly surprised to rediscover this story. It’s more complex than the first two Keplers.

I’d like to thank Jennette Marie Powell for the awesome cover on this one. Covers are something I’ve struggled with. Jen began her career as a graphics designer. So doing a little back-and-forth and thinking about how crime novels normally look really brought this together quickly. I hit on the “keyhole” idea for the cover, and boom, Jen had it together a couple days later, better than I expected.

This will be the first print novel I’ve offered since Northcoast Shakedown‘s original release in 2005. It’s time to return to print.

The ebook editions will be $3.99. Print details will become available when that edition is ready.

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