Monday, August 20, 2018

J.R. Young & The Review As Fiction

The Rolling Stone Record Review, by The Editors Of Rolling Stone
August, 1971  Pocket Books

In my review of Death Rock I mentioned obscure early Rolling Stone contributor J.R. Young, who introduced the novel concept of writing short stories instead of straight reviews. Inspired by Fabe’s novel I decided to give the Young stories another read, so got out my copy of The Rolling Stone Record Review and my Rolling Stone Cover To Cover CD-ROM.

According to the CD-ROM, Young contributed 26 articles, most of them reviews, between February 1970 and December 1973. But as noted below, this number is suspect, as per The Rolling Stone Record Review Young had pieces in the April and November 1969 issues, which would make it 28 total – that is, if there aren’t more in addition to those two. I’ll have to figure this out someday. Anyway, Young was doing short stories from the beginning, and it was my assumption that he only eventually moved to regular reviews due to editorial/reader pressure or because he’d gotten burned out on the short story format. But in fact he was also doing regular reviews from the beginning; of the 28 (known) pieces he contributed to Rolling Stone, only eleven of them were short stories, all contributed between April 1969 and January 1971. And I’m not sure about any editorial pressure; The Rolling Stone Record Review features an entire section devoted to Young, titled “The Review As Fiction,” and has an intro perhaps written by RS honcho Jann Wenner that enthuses over his work:

The problem of communicating one’s thoughts about an album by writing a story rather than directly dealing with bass lines, influences, production flaws, and the like, is nearly insurmountable. Perhaps the only reviewer to come to terms with this exacting form has been J.R. Young, a mild-mannered young man who lives on a lush 15-acre farm in a tiny town in Oregon “where we have a nice garden, but we also have these funny little bugs in the cold water.” Don’t let his Master of Fine Arts from the University of Oregon or his two years’ teaching experience at the State University of New York fool you – the man’s a good writer.

This brief intro is all that’s really known about the mysterious J.R. Young, whose first name it appears was “Jeff.” Several years ago I started a thread about Young at the Steve Hoffman forum, and in 2015 a woman who was briefly Young’s sister-in-law, in the early ‘60s, kindly filled in some details about him. We know from it that he was into the blues, that he lived in Oregon for a time (one of his early Rolling Stone contributions is a short feature about an Oregon co-op), and that he moved to California – and apparently slipped into the aether, as there’s no other info about him I can find. Some have claimed that he did his short story reviews for Creem after leaving Rolling Stone, but I’ve never owned a copy of Creem so can’t attest to that. I’d love to hear from anyone out there who knows, though.

Young’s “reviews” perfectly capture the vibe of the era, and for the most part his protagonists are dopesmoking hippies – kids, really, with the majority of them barely into their teens. Only one or two stories feature adult characters. But somehow Young was able to tap into the hazed zeitgeist of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s; while his stories rarely ever feature anything having to do with music other than the characters occasionally listening to it, he still manages to convey the spirit of rock.

So here is a rundown of the short stories Young wrote for Rolling Stone, in order of publication date. I’ll follow the Rolling Stone naming method – artist name, album name, and date of the issue in which it appeared. An asterisk denotes that the story was included in The Rolling Stone Record Review.

The G.T.O.s, Permanent Damage (4/16/69)* – This short tale was apparently Young’s first; it isn’t listed when you sort by “Contributor” in the Rolling Stone Cover To Cover CD-ROM; the earliest listed result is the Live/Dead review, below, which wasn’t published until February 1970, almost a whole year later. Fortunately the review is included in The Rolling Stone Record Review, but not in the “Review As Fiction” section; instead, it’s buried in the “Los Angeles, Southern California, and Other Extremities” section. The mass market paperback equivalent of an Easter Egg, I guess. But if this truly was Young’s first story for the magazine, he came in with a bang – it’s a crazy tale about a proto-punk kid who takes speed, berates his mother for her old-fashioned music tastes, beats her up, then pranks her with the gift of a new record, the joke being that the G.T.O.s were an all-female group (“Girls Together Outrageously”) under the direction of Frank Zappa, and their LP was all about screwing famous rock stars. This one’s weird and wild.

Ten Years After, Ssssh (11/1/69)* – This is another one that doesn’t appear in the “Contributor” filter under “J.R. Young” in the Cover To Cover CD-ROM, it but does appear in The Rolling Stone Record Review. Anyway, the tale introduces us to the “Very Wise Kid,” a teenager who is shopping in an antique store for an instrument – anything other than a guitar. As he explains to the kindly old proprietor, it’s all been done with the guitar, and there’s nothing someone else couldn’t do “ten years after” the Kid himself has done it. This phrase puts him on the topic of Ten Years After, in particular their new LP, Ssssh, which the Kid says is a new sort of thing; indeed, “I think perhaps Alvin Lee is God.” He then leaves the store, going out to preach the Word to others, fated to return in another Ten Years After review.

The Grateful Dead, Live/Dead (2/7/70)* – This is the earliest listed entry when you sort by “J.R. Young” in the Rolling Stone Cover To Cover CD-ROM, which makes me wonder if there are even more Young reviews before it that just didn’t get tagged – if I ever get a lot of free time, it might be worth hunting through the review section of each issue to find out. The fact that the Permanent Damage and Ssssh reviews don’t come up in the results makes me suspect that there might be more Young stories that just didn’t get tagged by the CD-ROM creators.

Anyway, According to The Rolling Stone Record Review, this was Young’s most popular story, and I saw one online claim that some editions of this album came with a slip proclaiming, “Put on the Dead and spread!” This memorable tagline features throughout the story, which is a short one about a trio of young girls named Marsha, Starglow, and Sheila, who when we meet them are “four joints to the cosmos” on “very potent dope.” Sheila’s telling the other two about her latest boyfriend, Real George, who every day after work likes to come home and immediately “ball,” screaming “Put on the Dead, and spread!” This is because, “Real George likes nothing better than to fuck to the Grateful Dead.” Soon enough this very thing happens, Real George ripping off his clothes as he tears into the house, bellowing, “Put on the Dead, and spread, ‘cause I’m loaded and ready to go!” Sheila sheds her own clothes (“She was naked in a jiffy”), puts on a tape of Live/Dead, then rushes into the bedroom with him. The story is goofy and has that fuzzy-freaky vibe I love so much, but it’s pretty short and it’s mostly centered around the tagline, which is repeated several times.

The Guess Who, American Woman (3/7/70) – “Teddy had spent the warm January afternoon at Sugar Marlow’s place rolling finger-sized joints out back in the rec room where Sugar’s dad sometimes played pool and had executive parties.” With yet another effective opening line J.R. Young brings us into the world of Teddy, a dopesmoking Long Beach “blues freak” teen who likes to get ripped and play all the latest heavy blues stuff with his buddy on his KLH portable (a turntable Young mentions a few times in his stories, leading me to believe it’s the one he himself perhaps used). When Teddy goes home and finds his kid sister and her “weird fuckin’ cunt” of a friend listening to the usual “bubble gum” type music, he pokes fun at her for listening to such shit. But the joke’s on Teddy, because they’re playing The Guess Who, and the music gets stuck in his head, and that night he slips into his sister’s room and borrows the LP – lighting another fat joint as “the half-gram [turntable] arm drop[s] onto the album.”

B.B. King, The Thrill Is Gone (4/2/70)* – One of Young’s very best stories, and you often find it mentioned by those who remember his work. Opening with an explanation that it’s inspired by the recent B.B. King single, this wonderful little short story, so good that it should’ve gotten out of the rock magazine world and into a “Best Short Stories of 1970” anthology, concerns a guy named Bud as he drives through rural Oregon, reflecting on how he used to make the same run with his frat brother Phil back in ’64. Phil was a “card” who was known for telling tall tales; in particular he once told Bud a good one about how Phil was driving through a desolate area just like this and his radio picked up an actual broadcast from 1949, like a beam from the past. Phil’s theory was that, since sound travels as waves, it only stood to reason that at some point the waves pass outside of human comprehension but are still out there, and somehow his car radio just picked that particular wave up. But then Phil always was talking about strange shit, as we see in this ultra-weird aside:

Phil once told Bud that someone had pictures, almost a film, of Christ on Calvary. The pictures had been discovered buried, wrapped in a parchment tube. What it was, so Phil’s story went, was a series of rabbit retinas. Someone had lined up a row of rabbits facing the cross and then chopped their heads off in quick succession. The final retinal imprint was somehow made permanent in each eye, and thus, when all the retinas were lined up, there was a pictorial study of Calvary. The story had bothered Bud for a long time.

I love that this little story is buried within the main story, and it’s an indication that by this point Jann Wenner (or whoever edited the reviews section) was letting Young do whatever he wanted. But anyway here Bud is driving on the same stretch of road, almost ten years later, and he turns on the radio, and he hears this ghostly voice coming over the waves. The song sounds old and antiquated, the signal is weak and fading fast, and Bud wonders if he is experiencing the same thing that Phil did all those years ago. That here is another of those old sound beams experiencing a “pause in its second stellar flight.” But the signal’s fading away and Bud cranks it up – only to be blasted almost out of his seat by Wolfman Jack, announcing that he just played B.B. King’s latest single, “The Thrill Is Gone.” This is an effective little piece, alternately poignant and eerie, and very memorable.

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Déjà Vu (4/30/70)* – I’d say this one is Young’s masterpiece, if for no other reason than it’s a full-fledged short story, taking up 5 ½ double-columned pages in The Rolling Stone Record Review. The intro to “The Review As Fiction” states that this story “almost found itself onto the Big Screen, and is known to have frightened ‘hip’ record store owners from Secaucus to Sacramento.” This is because the crux of the story revolves around a small group of dopesmoking would-be terrorists who are radicalized by the real thing – a Weather Underground type who moves into the complex they all share in Eugene, Oregon and who ultimately gets them to blow up a record store. As ever Young brings the whole fuzzy-freaky era to life, with its fuzzy-freaky characters; in addition to Dave, who works in a record store and designs his own bomb blueprints, we have:

[Dave’s] old lady was something else, too, because her scene, as she so candidly admitted, was a “mixed bag,” anything from “politico-revolutionary theatre” to blue ribbon winer at the Lane County Fair for her apricot conserve. She said “Sorry ‘bout that” more than three times a day, and talked on endlessly about good karma. 

Clipper, the cat who lived next door to them, thought “her act was nowhere” privately, although he still would have loved to ball her. He was an older cat, and presumed he was terrifically sexual, and was into all kinds of “villes,” such as “I’m in Turned-onsville,” or “He’s from Hostilesville.” He had a freaky girlfriend who always wore a peasant blouse and jiggled her tits on purpose. 

“Nipplesville,” Clipper often laughed as he made a grab for the big ones. 

They were all heavy record freaks and well into dope, always dropping “pure Owsley” and tripping at the beach, stashing joints, and things like that, and always to the big beat of the sounds that Dave brought home from the record store. Music and dope went hand in hand in their households – whether fucking in the shower, eating dinner, talking revolution, reading Mao, answering the door, whatever, they were wacked.

Into this fold comes the mysterious Jordan Rover (hmmm…“J.R.”), who moves into their complex and keeps to himself. He seems to be on the run and the others try to bring him into their fold to find out about him. But he refuses their friendship and even, believe it or not, their dope. Instead he rails at them for their laziness, how all they do is talk about revolution, while their energy is really devoted to the next big record that comes out. As far as Jordan’s concerned, they all should hope that CSNY’s upcoming album – which is so hotly anticipated that it will come off like an atom bomb in the current blasé rock scene – turns out to be bad. That way they can channel that energy back into fighting in the streets and causing societal upheaval.

I wonder if this is yet more commentary buried within the story, as this particular issue of Rolling Stone carried a separate review of Déjà Vu, ie a “real” review, and it was very negative, bitching about how polished it sounded and etc. But anyway our heroes get serious about all that hippie-terrorizing and before you know it Dave’s blown up the record store he works in – after closing hours, when no one’s there, fortunately. The group is so radicalized that they don’t even realize Déjà Vu has finally come out – they’ve tossed out all their albums and their apartments are now spartanly-furnished centers from which they plan more guerrilla warfare. Then one night they hear some good music coming from down the hall – and there’s Jordan Rover, naked and smashed on a fat joint, blasting Déjà Vu on a portable KLH turntable.

Ten Years After, Cricklewood Green (6/11/70)* – A sequel to the Ssssh review, this one’s framed as an interview with the Very Wise Kid himself. The unnamed reviewer, who claims to have read that earlier review and realized at once that the “Kid” was “a very old and dear friend” he knew back in Junior High, three years ago(!), decides to track the Kid down and ask him if he really thinks Alvin Lee is God. The Very Wise Kid defends his claim, but does admit that the new Ten Years After album Cricklewood Green isn’t as good, and comes off like Alvin Lee searching for a top ten hit. This one ranges everywhere from comparing the new record to Chinese food to claiming “Sometimes even God shows off” when it’s argued that Lee’s guitar playing is unnecessarily fast. It occurred to me that this review is likely a parody of the long, often pretentious interviews Rolling Stone was known for, with rock stars elaborting at length on all and sundry topics and the interviewers asking long, probing questions; the tone and style are the same here, though of course it’s done in a fraction of the space. 

Various Artists, Woodstock (7/9/70)* – Per the intro to “The Review As Fiction” in The Rolling Stone Record Review, this and the Déjà Vu review are Young’s two “masterpieces.” I like some of the others better than this one, but it is an effective tale, basically an indictment against the hipsterism that was already rearing its head in the hippie underground. For once we move out of Oregon: it’s Pittsburgh, PA, where we meet 18 year-old Bill, who was “too drunk” to drive over to Woodstock when the festival was going on. But he got bitten by the Woodstock bug afterward, and has become a walking encyclopedia of everything that happened there – he knows the album by heart, has seen the movie multiple times (even getting some of the fabled “brown acid” so he could experience bad vibes during his second viewing), and further has started to lie that he was at Woodstock.

Such is Dave’s fame that others on campus now come to him with Woodstock questions – like at the party in which the story takes pace, where a girl asks if it’s true everyone was naked, “like cocks and cunts and all that.” (Always throws me for a loop how profane Rolling Stone could get in its early days!) But there’s another kid at the party, someone new on campus, memorably described as “a hairy ragamuffin of hipdom,” and he’s sitting there listening to Bill with a strange look on his face. Of course, this kid was really at Woodstock, and with just a few simple questions he outs Bill as a liar. But it’s not a good victory for this kid, as he himself is later shamed by a “girl” (Young has a habit of never naming his female characters), who tells him, “You are Woodstock Nation, and if it’s come down to this, then that’s sad. That’s why there will never really be a Woodstock Nation. You won’t let anybody live on your land.”

Free, Free (7/23/70) – “Our number one rave record reviewer” gets the new Free album in his latest batch of LPs to review, and takes it home where it becomes the butt of a few lame “Is that so and so?” jokes. It seems that with this review Young was attempting to meld his short fiction approach with a regular sort of review, so that we understand Free is imitative of more famous acts, and not very good at all, but it’s relayed in the format of a short story. It doesn’t really work as well as the straight-up stories, though.

Neil Young, After The Gold Rush (10/15/70) – Young’s last major piece of fiction is one of his best, and surely the only reason it wasn’t included in The Rolling Stone Record Review was because it was submitted too late for inclusion; otherwise this one is a masterful character study that surpasses the poignance of the B.B. King review. I was really caught up in it, and it’s nearly as long as the Déjà Vu review. It’s about young Steven, a “good boy,” who has only recently decided to look into rock music; he owns a mere two records, both by Neil Young, whose voice he likes. But Steven is more into sitting on his bed every night in total silence and straining to hear his father in the den beneath him; Steven’s nights are filled with the sounds of the den’s TV, from the Carson show to the late movie, until he finally drifts off to sleep. But his father never makes a sound down there, sitting in total silence, and when Steven asks him about “that movie last night,” his dad just shrugs.

The story is very much the antithesis of the Permanent Damage review, as it’s about a son desperate for his father’s attention and love. The two never talk, but every night Steven goes to bed earlier and earlier, just so he can sit in silence in his bedroom and listen for the sound of his father down in the den. It goes on for a while – and despite the lack of anything “happening” it’s more enthralling than many thrillers I’ve read, such is the power of Young’s prose and characterization. Finally it comes to a head, and late one night Steven’s dad abruptly switches off the TV and yells for Steven, saying he knows he’s up there.

Father and son bond in an all-night session of laughing and talking, and all seems well, even on into breakfast the next day. But when Steven asks his dad about “all those movies” he used to watch in the den, his dad bottles up again and that’s all she wrote for the father-son bonding. That day Steven goes downtown all day and comes home with “Neil Young’s newest record,” and “he was with it for a long time afterwards.” Once again Young has delivered a tale that has no bearing on the actual record under “review,” but he’s managed to capture the desolation and alienation that is central to Neil Young’s work. This is a good story, another indication that J.R. Young should’ve been known beyond the Rolling Stone readership, but it was the last such story he was to contribute.

“A Tale Of Christmas Present” (1/7/71) – Young’s last piece of fiction (at least according to the Cover To Cover CD-ROM) isn’t even a review – I mean, even less of one than his other “reviews” were – but it is buried in the “Reviews” section of this issue. It tells the Yuletide tale of two 14-year-old kids getting ripped on dope and shoplifting at the local mall: “Sammy Snapper and his lamb, Cynthia Swellhead, that lovely little liberated libido herself, had arrived after three at the Valley Creek Shopping Center, and by three-thirty had declared it was theirs for the asking.” The short tale has the duo hitting the discount record store, where Cynthia does her thieving in the Opera section. A “house dick” disguised as Santa nearly catches her, but Cynthia knees him and the two make their escape, after which Cynthia figures she might stop stealing. It’s a fun story, with that same fuzzy-freaky vibe, and I wonder if it was written as a “review” for one of the records mentioned in Cynthia’s stealing spree but just excised and put here on its own.

And with this short tale Young’s fiction contributions ended; unless as mentioned there are indeed more Young stories that just aren’t populating in the Rolling Stone Cover To Cover CD-ROM search results due to some technical snafu. Young did contribute the occasional review and feature to the magazine until December ’73, but after a feature piece on a “Singing Cowboy” he dropped out – and apparently vanished from the scene. The veritable D.B. Cooper of rock journalism. As stated above, it’s possible he did more short story-style reviews for Creem, but I have no confirmation. It’s a shame Young didn’t branch out into fiction, as juding from the tone and quality of these stories he could’ve written the novel of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s counterculture, or at least a pretty damn cool paperback cash-in of it.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Smuggler #7: Welcome To Oblivion

The Smuggler #7: Welcome To Oblivion, by Paul Petersen
June, 1975  Pocket Books

Grab your hankies, everyone – The Smuggler comes to an end with this volume. Seriously though, it’s another tedious trawl of a read, 200+ pages of characters sitting around and talking – and usually the sole topic of their conversation is hero Eric “The Smuggler” Saveman, that perfect paragon of human perfection who is perfect in every way.

It’s four months after the previous volume, the date given as May, 1972. Eric is on trial, indicted by none other than the Supreme Court for his “treasonous” actions in the climax of the last book. As we’ll recall, Eric expressly went against the President’s orders so as to stave off a war with China or something, and now his ass is in trouble. It appears that Petersen set his series in the recent past (the first volume was set in 1969) because he wanted to bash Nixon a little more – this volume brings up a subplot that the government is corrupt and at novel’s end Eric wonders who he is even working for. 

The end result is that the Supreme Court puts Eric on suspension – for at least 4 and a half years, or until the ’76 election. Now we delve into the tedious, ultra slow-moving section of the book where Eric says goodbye to all his friends, like blue-eyed black guy Joshua Kane and his wife Belinda, and Eric’s dad, and all these other characters, because Eric is no longer a ZED agent and can’t associate with any of them because they are top-secret people living top-secret lives. Even Eric’s home in Connecticut, the pretentiously-named paradise that is Cascade, is ransacked by ZED staffers; the bastards even take his guns, though Eric still has a couple of his own. Not that he uses any of them. 

Indeed, action is pretty damn sparse in Welcome To Oblivion. And the title, by the way, is couresy an offhand comment Eric makes when he’s canned; “Welcome to oblivion,” he mutters to himself, in what will prove to be an incredibly lame bit of foreshadowing. Because this installment’s villain turns out to be named “Dr. Oblivion,” folks! But anyway Eric goes around saying so long to everyone, then decides to head out of town…and on the way he does what any other recently-fired secret agent would do. He sees a softball game in progress as he’s driving along the road and he decides to join in(!).

On this incredibly hamfisted “plot development” the entire novel hinges; Eric ends up with a hot tomboy on one of the teams. Her name is “Alysson O.” and she talks Eric into heading to Manhattan with her in her mobile home(!). While Eric’s driving she goes in the back to change and comes out with long blonde hair and a skintight dress that shows off her “full breasts.” She relates that her dad wanted a boy and raised her to act like one or whatever, so she indulges in the occasional baseball game and shit like that. It’s all just so ridiculous as to be awe-inspiring; Eric was just fired by the Supreme Court a day or two ago.

As if that weren’t enough, Alysson reveals that she’s a fan of Eric’s – she even has, believe it or not, scrapbooks devoted to his quarterback days at Stanford years ago. And that’s scrapbooks friends, ie in the plural! Man, The Smuggler is just an ego-trip of the highest order…as we’ll recall, Eric Saveman is a demigod among mortals, better looking, better muscled, better skilled than anyone, and smarter to boot. And when he’s not on the page, the other characters sit around and talk about him. Or think about him. Eric Saveman is the sole human being of any importance in the world of The Smuggler, with entire government conspiracies centered around him and a master criminal who has even devoted six years of planning to draft him.

And look at that…judging from the cover, Eric Saveman sort of looks a little like…why, he looks a lot like Paul Petersen! Wait a minute, it is Paul Petersen!

Petersen attempts to be going for more of an ensemble piece this time, with other ZED entities, in particular Joshua and Belinda, getting their own subplots…and yet all they do is talk about Eric! Or think about him! The fact that Alysson O. actually kept several scrapbooks devoted to Eric Saveman’s glory years as a friggin’ college quarterback is actually just one example of many such Eric-worshipping moments throughout the book. But at the very least Alysson turns out to be a great ultra-‘70s sort of babe, right up there with the New Age occult babe of  volume #3.

For one, her Manhattan pad is an ultramod dream – it’s got “platforms” that are like rooms on elevators, and with the push of a button you can bring different “rooms” down to you. This is explained at length – of course, Eric actually knows the guy who designed the place, ‘cause Eric Saveman knows everyone and everything – but I did dig the “music room,” which is stuffed with LPs. It’s suddenly an analog geek’s delight as Petersen starts namedropping vintage stereo gear – Alysson has MacIntosh equipment, a Garrard turntable, and a Shure cartridge. Eric’s such a superman he even fixes the “contact strips” of the faulty Shure in a matter of seconds so the music can blast.

And what music do they play? Welcome To Oblivion features a lot of period details, which is cool if you’re into stuff like that, as I am, so we get various mentions of rock or jazz groups of the day; Eric himself plays some Hubert Laws before leaving Cascade, and here at Allyson’s he tells her he “doesn’t understand” Miles Davis or John Coltrane, so Alysson decides on some more soothing jazz as the two of them get down to the dirty business of finally screwing – but Petersen, for once, cuts away from the shenanigans! Yet more evidence that the depraved, graphic second volume was courtesy another author…though maybe that one, which as I recall was written in a more rough-hewn style, was the work of Petersen, and all the other volumes, which are a bit more polished but not nearly as depraved, are courtesy the mysterious co-writer David Oliphant, who is only credited in small print on the copyright page. 

Not that Petersen (or Oliphant) doesn’t give us a little sleaze here and there. We come back to the Eric-Alysson thing mid-boink, as if the author(s) realized we needed a little something to keep us from falling totally into a stupor. I mean The Smuggler isn’t as boring as Dakota, but it’s definitely up there (or down there, I guess), and it doesn’t help that this final volume is mostly made up of talking, talking, talking. And usually all the talk’s about the same topic – you guessed it, Eric Saveman. But there are more topical ‘70s flourishes about, like when some of Alysson’s jet-setter friends come over (one of the lovelies, wouldn’t you believe it, immediately hits on Eric!!) for a bona fide cocaine party, and Eric after a little deliberation partakes in the coke bowl as it’s passed around. This makes Eric the second of two men’s adventure protagonists I know of who snorts cocaine, the other being Johnny Rock in Len Levinson’s The Sharpshooter #7.

Things finally pick up when Eric meets Alysson’s dad, Dr. Oblivion. He’s a spare guy with a bald head and a nondescript demeanor and no one seems too taken aback that his name’s friggin’ Dr. Oblivion. They’re jumped by some thugs outside a Manhattan restaurant and Eric of course makes short work of them, this being the second action scene in the book, about a hundred pages in. But it’s all a ruse, the thugs secretly in the employ of Oblivion, and the good doctor drugs Eric’s drink and the Smuggler’s out for the account. Doctor and daughter casually discuss everyone’s favorite topic right over his unconscious form – Dr. Oblivion has planned this for six years at least, and his goal is to turn Eric.

And yes, Eric met Alysson because he decided join a softball game on the spur of the moment…well, this is vaguely and quickly explained away as like Providence or something, at least on Alysson and the Doctor’s part. Eric comes to in Montana, in the doctor’s lair, where he’s to be brought into the man’s employ…to do something. At this point Petersen seems to be writing a James Bond script in the manner of the Roger Moore years; Dr. Oblivion has this high-tech SCUDA thing, self-contained underwater drilling apparatus, which he plans to cause some global havoc with. Oh, and he’s got a forest of coca plants, ie millions of dollars of cocaine, so Eric knows the dude’s loaded, yet he’s sure someone else is footing the bill. Eventually Eric will learn that Dr. O even bought out a portion of the US government to frame Eric, and also many of them are conspiring with him in his SCUDA plot. 

The finale sees Eric almost too quickly escaping, and calling in some of the students from the nearby Deep Security School, where Eric himself was a student in the second volume. At one point they get caught on SCUDA, where Alysson joins the cause – mostly because her dad decides to make her a casualty of war, to die from lack of air in the sealed-off, inescapable SCUDA! “Perhaps if you’d been a son,” he regretfully tells her over the ship loudspeaker. That’s cold, man! And while the other characters are freaking out because there’s no way to escape the SCUDA, guess who keeps a level head and comes up with a way to get out??

From here we have an almost off-hand climax in Venezuela, to which Dr. Oblivion has absconded. Whereas the previous volumes at least had some semblance of climactic fireworks, this one continues on the blasé vibe, with Eric and team surprising Dr. O and Eric handing the doctor a pistol to finish himself off. As mentioned the novel ends with Eric back at ZED, but wondering if it’s all worth it – the novel (and series) ends on a Watergate joke, which would imply that the “something treasonous is going on” subplot that runs throughout is intended as a reference to the soon-to-happen (in 1972, that is) Watergate fiasco.

I wonder if Petersen and Oliphant had this ending in mind all along. We know from publicity reports that Petersen got a contract to write eight books in the series – my hunch is still that the unpublished eighth volume was actually something between volumes two and three, as discussed in my review of the third volume. In other words I don’t think the eighth volume was one written after Welcome To Oblivion, as the series definitely seems to conclude here, and gives some indication at least why Petersen set the series in the recent past – perhaps he was leading up to Eric getting caught up in the corruption of the Nixon administration?

Who knows. The important thing is it’s all finally over.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Random Record Reviews: Volume 1

A few favorite obscure ‘70s Rock LPs: 

I thought I’d put together a list of some of my favorite obscure rock records, inspired by the list 00individual did. (One of the coolest guys on the web, by the way.) Anyway hopefully you all won’t mind this anomaly of a post…though if do you like it, maybe I’ll do more in the future. Or maybe despite your feedback I’ll just continue to do them and then cry myself to sleep at night.

With no further ado, here is my list, in order of release date:

1. Paul Kantner/Jefferson Starship: Blows Against The Empire
RCA Victor, 1970

While the Jefferson Airplane was on hiatus, guitarist/vocalist Paul Kantner assembled a pantheon of California rock musicians at the recently-opened Wally Heider studios in San Francisco and recorded this sci-fi concept album about a group of “crazies” revolting against America, stealing a starship, and heading to “the garden” in space. So basically like that “space hippies” episode of Star Trek. This Jefferson Starship is not to be confused with the later one Kantner would also put together – that one was more of an actual group, who of course had a huge hit in the ‘80s as Starship with “We Built This City” (which ironically was written and released after Kantner had left). This 1970 Jefferson Starship is composed of Grace Slick, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Jerry Garcia, Airplane bassist Jack Casady, and Peter Kaukonen, brother of Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen. Not to mention many others.

Rolling Stone was ruthless in its review of the album, but if anything it has aged well. Each side flows from one song to the next, with side 1 set on Earth and starting off with the shambolic proto-punk of “Mau Mau” (which manages to call out Nixon and Reagan) and coming to a close with the Kantner-Crosby gem “A Child Is Coming,” dedicated to the baby Kantner and Slick were soon to have (mistakenly reffered to as “he” throughout, the baby turned out to be a girl they named China who eventually became an MTV host!). Side 2 opens with Slick’s proto-metal muezzin “Sunrise,” the sidelong suite eventually centering around the “Hijack” of a starship – complete with an SFX track courtesy Garcia and Mickey Hart of the Dead. I thought I’d do a “top track” for each of these LPs, but I had a hard time picking one for Blows; this is such an “album album” that to me the songs don’t work as well when you excise them from the album itself. That being said…

Top track: “A Child Is Coming,” which starts off like an acoustic ditty before morphing into a droney, drugged-out psychedelic dirge with Kantner and Crosby trading non-sequitir lyrics while Slick provides ethereal wordless vocals above them. Bonus note: The fuzz bass on this one is positively cavernous on the vinyl – but then my XLM MKII cartridge (with New Old Stock stylus, baby!) brings out the bass in everything.

2. Twink: Think Pink
Polydor, 1970

In 1969 Alexander “Skip” Spence, troubled former Jefferson Airplane drummer and Moby Grape singer/guitarist, got out of a mental ward, headed for Nashville, and recorded the solo album Oar, a solo album in its truest sense, with Spence handling all the instruments. Ignored in its day, Oar was rightly praised decades later. However, a year after Spence’s record came out, another former drummer in a psychedelic group recorded his own solo masterpiece, however this one’s yet to have received its due. The drummer was named Twink (aka John Alder), and he’d been with the Pretty Things; his record, Think Pink, is one of the last blasts of British psych.

Unlike Spence’s album, which sometimes sounds more like a scratched-up folk 78 than a rock record, Think Pink is fuzzed-out acid rock, complete with druggy spoken word pieces, backwards sound effects, and driving acid rock guitar, Twink fronting a group that would soon reform as The Pink Fairies. It’s also damn funky at times; Gnarls Barkley even sampled the track “Fluid” on “Would Be Killer,” on their 2008 album The Odd Couple. Special note must be made of my copy, released by the Italian label Akarma on neon pink vinyl; definitely one of the most psychedelic things I own.

Top track: “Rock And Roll The Joint,” a fuzzed-out acid rock stomper that doesn’t even waste our time with vocals.

3. Wilderness Road: Wilderness Road
Columbia, 1972

Several years ago, for an inexplicable but brief moment in time, I was interested in country-rock. I’d had friends who raved about Gram Parsons and stuff like that, but whenever I tried listening to it I was like, “I hear the country, but where’s the rock?” (Regardless, at the time I declared “Chestnut Mare” the greatest song ever.) Anyway here for once is an example of the genre that truly lives up to both styles of music. Aptly described by Rolling Stone as “The Who fronting The Byrds” (bearing in mind that RS meant the early ‘70s Byrds, ie the version of the group that gave us country albums like Farther Along), Wilderness Road was a group of comedians(!?) who also performed music together, and this, their first of two records, is a sort of Western concept album, telling the story of a gunslinger.

You know you’re in good hands from the first track, which starts off with the familiar country twang – and then some Townshend-esque power guitar kicks in. Not only that, but there are psychedelic production tricks here and there, so the record truly straddles many genres, and sadly it’s another that’s been ignored. But fortunately like most of the other albums on this list, the hipsters of today are still unaware of it, so you can get a copy for cheap.

Top track: “Dr. Morpho’s Revenge,” which really captures the “Who meets the Byrds” vibe, plus adds in some cool psychedelic-‘60s style production effects.

4. Randy California: Kapt Kopter And The (Fabulous) Twirly Birds
Epic, 1972

Randy California was only in his early 20s when he recorded this but he was already a veteran rocker – at 15 he played with rising star Jimi Hendrix, who dubbed Randy “California” given that Jimi had two Randys in his band. After this California formed Spirit with his 40-something stepfather, and went on to the cusp of fame, before dropping out and leaving the group. California headed to London where he assembled two other former Hendrix colleagues – none other than Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding, aka the “Twirly Birds,” appearing here under pseudonyms.

Perfectly described in a Youtube comment as “the Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas of rock albums,” Kapt. Kopter is a drug-soaked epic of Hendrix proportions, featuring countless overdubbed psych guitars and California’s stoned ramblings fluttering in, out, and overtop the soupy mix. Comprised of tripped-out cover versions and shambling, freaky originals, Kapt. Kopter is a damn monster of a record, unjustly ignored upon release and too obscure today.

Top track: The hazed-out, nine-minute cover of “Rain,” which I think trumps the Beatles original, complete with a random fake-out opening and a whole new refrain. 

5. Kenny Young: Last Stage For Silver World 
Warner Bros. Records, 1973

Just one of those chance discoveries…two decades of collecting ‘70s LPs and I thought I was familiar with just about everything, but I’d never even heard of this ultra-obscure record until I spotted it recently in the clearance bin of a Half Price Bookstore. Kenny Young, aka the guy who wrote “Under The Boardwalk,” went the singer-songwriter route that was so en vogue the early ‘70s, and this was the second of two such albums he released. I don’t know anything about the first one, but Silver World is a sci-fi concept album set in the far-flung future of 1997, telling the Romeo And Juliet story of two young lovers in a totalitarian society. Unlike the Kantner sci-fi LP, this one’s of a decidely country-rock flavor; actually, maybe George Harrison’s material of the era would be a more apt comparison. Indeed some of the lead guitar throughout sounds identical to Harrison, and some of the tracks could almost be outtakes from All Things Must Pass.

Like the Kantner record, this release has all the bells and whistles – a gatefold cover, a little booklet on the storyline, and a big pamphlet with color photographs and detailed perfomer info. However the album clearly didn’t register much; I searched my Rolling Stone Cover To Cover CD-ROM and couldn’t find a single mention of Kenny Young, let alone this album. Regardless, I find it very compelling, and it was a nice discovery.

Never released on CD, Silver World is also a healthy reminder of the power of vinyl: the top track, “Light To Light,” has this awesomely deep fuzz bass throughout, yet it’s almost entirely missing in the Youtube upload. To paraphrase the old lady in the ‘80s commercial, “Where’s the bass?” Get yourself a turntable and hear it for yourself – Last Stage For Silver World has yet to be “discovered” by the hipsters of today, so copies are still very cheap.

6. Mike McGear: McGear
Warner Bros. Records, 1974

Mike McGear, aka Mike McCartney, aka Paul’s brother, released this unsung LP in ’74 which was basically a Wings album in all but name – Paul wrote or co-wrote all of the songs, performed on them along with wife Linda and Wings guitarist Denny Laine, and also produced the album. So it’s pretty much a Wings album with a different singer, though occasionally you can hear Paul’s distinctive backing vocals. The record is pretty great, even if it apparently didn’t resonate with listeners of the day. Rolling Stone did like this one, though, writing how McGear, known as a comedy performer, approached each song as an actor approaches a role.

This is a good comparison, as McGear, whose voice is a bit too thin and weak for the heavier songs, veers from Bowie-esque monotone on some tracks to sounding on others like, well, sort of like Paul McCartney. Special mention must be made of “What Do We Really Know?,” one of the tracks Paul wrote himself and which surprisingly he never did his own version of; clearly from the guy who gave us “Helter Skelter,” it’s a hard rocker that, like the earlier Beatles classic, features a heavy metal sort of coda.

However my top track on this one would have to be “Givin’ Grease A Ride,” a funky sort of “T. Rex meets krautrock” thing with Linda on awesome vintage synths and Paul showing up to help scream the vocals at the end.

7. Neil Merryweather: Space Rangers
Mercury, 1974

Like the Randy California album, this is a proto-metal hard-rockin’ monster of an LP, but whereas Kapt. Kopter has a druggy looseness about it, this one’s razor sharp. The guitars are heavy throughout, but Merryweather’s pop sensibilites keep the hooks in place – for the first side, at least. The second side veers more into a funk-metal sort of thing, with the riffs and beats more important than the hooks. In fact the last quarter of side 2 sounds like Primus a few decades early. Speaking of beats, Space Rangers is funky throughout, and thus has apparently been plundered by DJs of today, so this is one of those LPs that’s sometimes priced a bit too high. It’s super cool, though.

Top track: Opening song “Hollywood Boulevard,” which encapsulates the vibe of the entire LP in a little over 5 minutes.

8. Relatively Clean Rivers: Relatively Clean Rivers
Pacific Is, 1976

I’ve never gotten much into the Grateful Dead…the sole album I have of theirs is the original release of Anthem Of The Sun, which is cool, but not enough to make me seek out anything else – again, I just find it all too country, and country’s not my thing. And yet, this privately-pressed mid-‘70s LP is everything I always wanted the Dead to sound like…it’s rural for sure, but it also features occasional acid rock guitar, psychedelic sound effects, and sometimes even video game-esque electronic squelchings. The brainchild of reclusive underground rocker Phil Pearlman – who previously had fronted similar private press acts Beat of the Earth and The Electronic Hole – Relatively Clean Rivers also sounds like a sort of underground Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – or maybe that should be “and Reed,” as Pearlman’s monotone vocals at times are very similar to Lou Reed’s.

This sole album from the group goes for insane prices today…the kicker being that the original release is the only official release. Pearlman, who dropped out of the music biz after this and became a farmer, living with his family in the country (and one of his sons, by the way, grew up to become an Al-Qaeda operative!), refuses to reissue any of his albums. Thus the only copies of Relatively Clean Rivers you’ll find are bootlegs, in particular released by bootleg label Radioactive Records or its vinyl subsidiary Phoenix Records. Regardless, it’s a fun listen, sort of a last gasp of the early ‘70s counterculture, and it’s often pretty damn funky to boot.

Top track: “Journey Through The Valley,” which features all the stuff mentioned – country vibe, sub-Reed vocals, acid-dripping electric guitar, and a funky beat.

9. Klaatu: Klaatu (aka 3:47 EST)
Capitol Records, 1976

The mysterious group so good people actually thought they were the Beatles, Klaatu eventually turned out to be a trio of Canadian musicians who preferred to operate anonymously. When I moved to Dallas in the summer of ’96 I was on a Beatles kick and I recall I got a Beatles trivia book at the library, something from the ‘80s with a bunch of Beatles minutiae. Anyway this is how I discovered Klaatu; one of the lists in the book was like “Top Twenty Reasons Klaatu Was the Beatles.” But get this – the author provided no further details, so when I read the list I thought, “Holy shit! The Beatles got back together and no one knew??!!” I found an online seller with this LP, ordered it…and sometime before its arrival I found info about the group online…back then there wasn’t near the amount of info on the web as now, of course. But anyway by the time the record got to me – in prisitine mint condition as if someone had carefully stored it away for the past twenty years, just for me – I knew that, sadly, Klaatu was not the Beatles.

But the record was great! I played it a lot, then rediscovered it a few years later, when I wrote a review of it for Julian Cope’s Unsung. Reading the review now, I see I come off as overly negative and condescending (imagine that!!). I did this record a disservice, as it’s truly great. It moves and grooves, and it’s filled with cool ‘70s production gimmicks…and it does really sound like the Beatles at times. One singer sounds identical to George and another sounds identical to Paul; there’s even the goofy track “Sir Bodsworth Rugglesby III” with its Muppets sort of vocals, and you could easily figure it for Ringo. However the solo Beatles weren’t doing anything like this at the time – Klaatu, titled 3:47 EST in Canada – is more along the lines of ELO with a bit of a ‘70s hard rock crunch, and perhaps is an indication of what Sgt. Pepper’s might have sounded like if it had been recorded ten years later.

Top track: “Sub-Rosa Subway,” aka the greatest hit single Paul McCartney never recorded. I mean tell me that singer doesn’t sound exactly like Paul!

And that’s just the tip of it, friends. I haven’t even mentioned King Crimson rhythm section McDonald and Giles’s self-titled 1970 psych-folk-funk masterpiece, or Grace Slick’s ’74 solo LP Manhole, or….

Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Man From Planet X #2: Tiger By The Tail

The Man From Planet X #2: Tiger By The Tail, by Hunter Adams
June, 1975  Pinnacle Books

Whereas the first volume of The Man From Planet X at least made the pretense of being a men’s adventure sort of spy-and-sex thing, this second volume drops all such pretenses and goes straight for a comedy approach. James D. Lawrence, once again serving as “Hunter Adams,” appears to already be bored with the concept “producer” Lyle Kenyon Engel has handed him – a red-skinned alien with a monstrous-sized member who has come down here to Earth to “study Earthlings,” which is shorthand for banging tons of babes. All in the name of science, of course.

Branded a “New Erotic Adventure Series” by Pinnacle, Tiger By The Tail is more akin to the goofy sleaze novels that were so common of the era, a light-hearted sexual romp that encompases both purple prose and straight-up explicit material. But even though there’s the occasional fight or chase, none of it is treated seriously and hero Peter Lance, aka Pritan Lansol of the planet Tharb, is so superheroic there’s never any question of him getting killed or even injured. I mean the dude’s super strong, hyper fast, can do all sorts of bizarre mindblowing stuff in the sack, plus he can even talk telepathically to animals. Not only that, but he’s as patient as a zen master and as polite as Mr. Rogers.

Well anyway it’s a few weeks after that previous book and ol’ Peter is heading out of New York in his station wagon(!) for another excursion into human relations, when his ESP senses detect nearby danger, right across the border in New Jersey. Turns out to be a sexy young housewife who is being threatened by a tiger on her own front yard. Peter first literally (and lamely) catches the “tiger by the tail” and tosses it, then telepathically communicates with it. The tiger is a female named Tanya, and Peter calls her off, but then some dudes with machine guns show up, gunning for the animal. Peter easily defeats them, disarming them and beating them up in the blink of an eye. Then he and the housewife repair upstairs for some casual ‘70s sex – Peter’s sexual magnetism is such that these Earthling babes immediately think of getting him bed as soon as they meet him. (I happen to have the exact opposite affect on Earthling babes.)

But Lawrence seems to have gotten sick of all the intermittent banging in the previous volume, so this time his focus is on weird gross-out stuff. We get our first indication of this when, after their quick screw, the housewife notes that Peter’s extra-long and thin member has an injury on it, Peter having been knicked there during the fight or somesuch, and insists that he clean off the wound. Anyway to cut to the chase, Peter’s dick gets stuck in the sink. It’s just one of those books, folks…then the lady’s husband shows up, and he is, naturally, a plumber, but Peter with his superhuman strength is able to pull the entire sink out of the wall as he beats a hasty retreat.

Tanya escaped from a zoo run by Velma Thorp, brunette babe with beehive hairdo who is running the place in the mysterious absence of her great white hunter father, Hugh, a former movie star. But upon his arrival at the zoo Peter is again attacked by men with machine guns, and after quickly knocking out these ones it occurs to him that perhaps they are tracking something hidden within the animal. Ultimately he will of course be proven correct; Velma reveals that her dad brought Tanya back from Russia a few months ago, and mentioned something special about her – it will develop that something has been surgically inserted in Tanya’s hide, a device which could trigger WWIII or somesuch.

For the most part this main plot – which just barely categorizes the novel as men’s adventure – is cast aside and more time is spent on the “jungle porn film” Peter is roped into filming by drunkard director Burk Fontana, who declares upon seeing Peter’s dick: “That fucking whang of his is a potential goldmine!” Burk you see has been hired by Velma in a desperate bid to track down her missing father, who has been gone for three months but who is known for random, unexplained disappearances…Velma’s muddled hope is that this film, to be shot on the zoo Hugh Thorp opened, will somehow capture the attention of her father, wherever he might be, and he’ll come back home. Upon seeing that awesome whang, though, Burk demands that the flick needs to be a porn.

Burk, who steals the novel, calls in a former sword-swallower turned porn starlet to feature in some test footage based around fairy tales in which Peter screws a bevy of gals, capping off with this sword-swallower managing to contain his entire girth in her mouth. But she turns out to be a commie spy who has something hidden up in a certain part of her anatomy, something which latches onto Peter’s dick while he’s enthusastically boffing her, to the extent that Peter’s dick swells up to crazy levels. Enter the CIA agent from the previous volume, who has been tracking this sword-swallowing spy, Fifi, and informs everyone that she’s known for this trick – cue more gross-out stuff as Fifi again has to blow Peter, but this time it’s to suck that poison out.

Along comes wealthy socialite Crystal Warrick, a blonde vixen who demands, “Take out your cock!” promptly upon meeting our hero. She’s seen the test footage, you see, and through some chicanery she’s managed to buy out the Thorp zoo so she can have a controlling interest in the jungle porn. She is now running the film, and declares that they’ll be filming in Africa, not on the zoo itself, and that further she will star in the film and Velma can co-star if she’d like – there is a simmering jealousy between the two, not that this stops them from shooting girl-on-girl scenes for the movie! But Crystal, despite coming on strong to Peter, always refrains from full-on sex with him; it later develops, in another of the novel’s many arbitrary subplots, that Crystal’s a virgin – and of course Peter takes care of that for her.

Lawrence hits all the bases, so to speak: promptly upon arrival in Nairobi Peter is being propositioned by a sexy native: “Peter’s first real contact with a black Earthling.” And boy is it a memorable first contact. Later on, Peter, realizing that Crystal is hiding things from him, decides that “A simple little rape might do the trick,” and proceeds to anal-rape her, after which a satisified Crystal declares, “Okay, I’ve taken you up the ass, I guess I may as well take you into my confidence.” There’s also a part where Burk and the film crew are lured into the jungle by a bunch of horny native gals and screw away with aplomb, not realizing it’s a trap orchestrated by the Black Death, a big guy in black robes with a leprousy-ravaged face.

Despite the amount of sex there’s nothing steamy about any of it…particularly given how Peter’s always thinking of the women as “Earthling females.” You almost sort of get the idea that Peter would be just as game to experiment with Earthling males. But the explicit material is less pronounced than last time – I mean it’s graphic and all, but many times Lawrence spends more time on the foreplay or naughty dialog, then leaves the actual “coupling” vague. This one’s also missing those cool ‘70s touches that were frequent last time, I mean who could forget Peter Lance dancing to Led Zeppelin on a quadraphonic hi-fi?

But it does go on and on, and it’s more of a lame comedy than anything; even when Peter is briefly captured by Chicoms it’s more goofy than thrilling. But Lawrence plods away, almost desperately padding the 200+ pages; there’s even an arbitrary bit where Peter gets amnesia – a subplot that lasts all of a few pages and has no bearing on anything. For those diehards who want to know “But what’s it all about?,” long story short: Hugh Thorp turns out to be an agent of top-secret CRACK, as is Crystal Warrick, and he was on a mission to capture some doomsday tech from the Reds, and hid the schematics or whatnot in that cannister which he implanted in Tanya.

All told, Tiger By The Tail was really stupid, displaying none of the cool funky sleaze Lawrence delivered for Engel in the far superior Dark Angel series. My assumption is The Man From Planet X failed to resonate with readers even in its own day, as the third and final volume didn’t appear until two years later.

Monday, August 6, 2018

The Rock Nations

The Rock Nations, by George William Rae
June, 1971  Paperback Library

Well, Death Rock appears to have sent me back into the spiral of late ‘60s/early ‘70s counterculture, and The Rock Nations is another paperback original cashing in on the era. But unlike Death Rock this one didn’t appear to get much traction anywhere. It is similar to Maxene Fabe’s superior novel though in that it isn’t as much of a “rock novel” as you’d expect, especially given the back cover hype (below).

This turns out to be one of the more uninentionally funny things about the novel, as the whole friggin’ thing’s supposedly about some hippie driving around the country and going to all the rock festivals of the day!! So naturally the reader would assume the novel would be filled with furry freak brothers and sisters passing the peace pipe and dropping the sugar cubes and soaking up the vibes of Hendrix, the Airplane, the Dead and whatnot. But nope – what we instead get is a lot of speechifying and preaching and sermonizing on this or that, not to mention whole heaping helpings of bitching about practically everything. The novel is basically a 224-page diatribe narrated by a self-involved asshole.

The common perception of the hippies in today’s world is the “peace and love, man!” cliché familiar from movies and TV shows; the actors on the late ‘80s Freedom Rock commercial pretty much represented all hippies to the kids of my generation. But years ago when I started reading all the hippie lit of the era itself, I was surprised to discover that the hippies were pissed. About what? Everything!! Most of those hippie novels, written by scrawny-chested guys and bra-burning gals, were screeds against the establishment, filled with hate and anger about everything, even their own movement. But then, the Left is filled with hate, and if anything it’s only gotten worse.

So this novel follows suit, and George William Rae captures the same angry voice. Strange then, as the only author I can find by this name was a pulp writer in the ‘50s and ‘60s who also turned out a book on the Boston Strangler in the late ‘60s. Surely this guy could not have been a hippie, as the narrator of the novel, a twenty-something Boston hippie named “Skin” Sherman, is too authentic…I know good writers can capture any voice, but it would really be assuming a lot that Rae, likely in his forties or beyond, could do so well. Sure, an author of that age could do it today, but today such an author would’ve grown up in the post-rock world. I asked James Reasoner if he knew anything about Rae, and he confirmed the author seemed to mostly operate in the ‘50s and ‘60s; James brought up a great point, though – perhaps this was actually Geroge William Rae, Junior, but left that tag off the end of his name?

At any rate, the novel is copyright Coronet Communications, owner of Paperback Library, so it’s possible this was written by some other author entirely, and “Rae” was just a house name, but given that it’s such a specific name, that’s hard to buy. Regardless of all the mystery, the novel is pretty well written, faithfully and exactly capturing the voice of other examples of this short-lived subgenre, and Skin Sherman seems like such a real person that I’d be shocked as hell to learn the book was really written by an older pulp author. The acid test comes in the fact that, by novel’s end, you are sick as hell of Skin and his endless bitching and self-obsession – just like the real hippies, he burns himself out and by book’s end you just want him to shut up and go away forever.

Skin drives an International Van with “Busy Being Born” painted on the side; when we meet him it’s June 1969 and he’s on his way to Atlanta, to catch the Atlanta International Pop Festival, which actually isn’t named – we’re just told it’s a festival on the Raceway. Skin is quite ashamed of the fact that he is, “dig it!,” rich, thanks to a wealthy grandfather who insisted Skin take some money when he became an adult. So Skin bought up an actual house in Boston’s trendy hippie district, so ashamed that he’s actually a “capitalist” that he hides the fact from everyone, even his (temporary) “true love” Mary Faulkner, an “ultrabuilt” blonde in pink granny glasses Skin picks up on his way to Atlanta. That’s her on the cover, right alongside Skin; the cover artist clearly read the character descriptions. 

Mary, who turns out to be from Boston, too, is hitchhiking with “fat Times,” aka a heavyset girl who comes from the Haight and who escaped the place due to the “bad scene” developing there, with hippies turning on one another. This theme becomes apparent in The Rock Nations as well, so the author was clearly aware of the direction things were heading – one should not go to this novel looking for doe-eyed reflections on the Woodstock Nation or the peaceful ways of the hippies in general. And one certainly shouldn’t look to it for frontline reporting on those rock gods and goddesses at the height of their powers; hell, even Jimi Hendrix gets the brush-off from our eternally-pissed narrator.

Nope, what you’ll get from The Rock Nations is a lot of senseless entitlement and an irreperable hate which permeates through the pages…again, not much different than what you’ll find today, though at least the hippies smoked dope and took acid and knew how to relax every once in a while. Along the way Skin also encounters Janie, a well-bred aristocratic type who has gone, naturally, full-bore hippie terrorist, dedicated to bombing capitalist institutions and often trying to hijack “rockfests” to spread Leftist propaganda against the establishment. Yawn.

One thing though that also bears similarity to those other hippie novels of the era – there’s rampant cursing (“fuck” appears several times a page, at least) and a fair helping of sleaze; Skin gives us all the details on the various “hairy situations” he gets into with “earth-mother” Mary and “incredible fuck” Janie – and folks, we’re talking 1969-1970 here. It’s real hairy. And let’s not forget the typical uncleanliness of the hippies in general…they’re sleeping in mud at these rockfests, using broken porta-potties, standing out in the rain all day…and occasionally runing into muddy ponds for a “bath.”

As mentioned the “rock” material is scant, at best; Skin takes us along to the major rockfests between June 1969 and August 1970, but we more so get the intermittent bitching about the ever-present rain, the lack of food and water, and the general “bad vibes” that descend on each place. Music content is relegated to something like, “Jimi Hendrix was hamming up the Star-Spangled Banner” or somesuch; perhaps the most mentioned performer is Grace Slick, about whom Skin fantasizes over (“That chick really does something to me”), but otherwise there just isn’t much, folks. It’s a head-scratcher for sure. Hell, even the Grateful Dead gets like a single mention, and that in passing. The author does though often quote rock lyrics – with no credits on the copyright page – but even here it’s in a demeaning light, like when Skin informs us how they all get to singing a “dumb song” by The Who on the way to one of the festivals.

The back cover, below, outlines all the rockfests Skin attends over the timeframe of the novel. They’re the big ones, of course. But in each case he has to be convinced to go – Mary having moved in with him and begging him to go to Woodstock, or Altamont, or whatnot – and we’ll really just get a rundown on how traffic was bad, what the turnout was like…and then instead of rockfest stuff we’ll get stuff like Skin having to leave to go broker a “skag” deal for heroin junkie/eternal annoyance Dubinsky, another of the hitchhikers he’s picked up along the way. Woodstock is given the most text, naturally, and here we see that Skin actually likes one of the groups – Santana(!!). Altamont is almost as featured, but as expected it’s all the heavy stuff…the sadistic Angels beating up the crowd (and even the Airplane singer), killing a guy, etc.

As for the less-famous rockfests…ironically, Powder Ridge also takes up a lot of the text, and the kicker here is that there wasn’t any music at that festival, due to an injunction by the town leaders. So of course this is the one Rae spends a lot of time on, as the “rock tribes” that make up the “rock nation” have come here to Connecticut anyway, and it starts off idyllic before it too descends into Altamont-esque violence and madness. Kickapoo Creek is so vague that Skin tells us he can’t recall the name of a single band that performed there, which is one of the things that makes me suspect this novel really was written by a contract author who just did some serious research, as Kickapoo Creek, held in Illinois in May 1970, is one of the lesser-hyped (and lesser-remembered) festivals of the era. 

Skin actually hops over the pond for the big finale at the Isle of Wight; Mary has left him, given his penchant for screwing random women (even hippie girls have standards, it appears), and she’s gone off with the crew to the big festival over in England. So Skin follows, hires an air balloon to find her, spots her in the massive crowd right before taking off, and, in an actual memorable and touching scene, they end up riding the balloon over the freak throng and feeling all warm and sunny. Hell, even Hendrix gets a positive mention here, Skin telling us that they of course had no idea at the time that Jimi “would soon leave us.” But then Mary says so long, she’s going off to France with some other guy, and Skin’s right where he was at the start of the novel: all alone. “Were any of us being born?” he wonders, finally ending his miserable tale of self-pity.

The Rock Nations is recommended more as a period piece, but it’s got nothing on Death Rock, or for that matter even on Passing Through The Flame. It is at least a little easier to find than Death Rock, but personally I thought the best thing about it was the cover art, which also appears on the back cover along with some great copy – copy that promises a much better novel than what we get:

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Steel Lightning: Slash And Burn (Steel Lightning #3)

Steel Lightning: Slash And Burn, by Kevin Sherrill
January, 1992  Zebra Books

The never-titled men’s adventure series that I call “Steel Lightning” reaches its third and final volume, sporting basically the same cover as the previous volume (only with “Slash and Burn” lamely added beneath the title) and jumping over to the Zebra imprint, which at this point was the same house as previous imprint Pinnacle.

Like those earlier two books, Slash And Burn is just way too friggin’ long for the genre, coming in at 256 pages. And the helluva it is, most of it’s padding. For once again Kevin Sherrill keeps his main characters on the sideline for the duration, only occasionally livening things up with some action – but even then the action is a bit bloodless when compared to the previous volumes. A sort of blandness has settled on things, and there’s no mystery why there was never a fourth volume.

To make it worse, the opening of the book promises something a lot crazier than we actually get – we meet a teen girl as she’s tripping on Delight, the new drug that’s basically Ecstasy on steroids; pop a pill and you’re a living orgasm or something. Well this girl takes a bunch and prety soon she’s sucking and fucking away, right in the middle of a New York nightclub that’s blasting techno music (the book is very “early ‘90s”)…and then she goes into a massive seizure (one of those unfortunate Delight side-effects), a seizure so, uh, climactic that it makes her entire body seize up, so quickly and so savagely that she severs off the dicks of the guys who happen to be inside the various orifices of her body! And plus she’s dead, too, another of those unfortunate Delight side-effects.

Meanwhile hot brunette Barbara Cohen, former druggie-hooker-pornstar-legal assistant-rape victim(!), current “Street Machine” smurfette, is jogging through the hellzones of New York (it’s the pre-Guliani era, baby), hoping to lure out the latest group of reprobrates her brothers in the Street Machine urban combat unit can wipe out. She lures out some teens with bats and we’re constantly informed how clean-cut they look, how hard it is for Barb (or “Cohen,” as Sherrill arbitrarily refers to her; the dude as ever can’t stay consistent) to grasp that these kids are trying to rape and kill her. This goes on for quite a while and finally Street Machine come out to even the odds…only here does Sherrill realize that he failed to inform us that these kids are “all black,” whereas previously he seemed to be describing like a roving pack of kids just escaped from a rerun of Leave It To Beaver

But “sloppy writing” is the name of the game in the Steel Lightning series, so we’re prepared for this sort of thing. However we are not prepared for the endless dirge of dialog that ensues here, as the members of the team, all hoisting subguns and suited up in their black kevlar uniforms, argue over whether or not they should kill these hoodlums. Here we are quickly re-introduced to the team: there’s JD Dinatale, the gruff and unlikable leader; Moses White, aka “the black guy,” a pro football linebacker once known as “Dr. Pain;” Miguel Negron, aka “the Hispanic one,” a former jazz trumpeter or something; Joseph Vernick, the stout WWII vet; and finally Brian Benson, the wraithlike force of malevolence who was burned to a crisp in the first volume. And of course we’ve already met “Barb,” she of the checkered, hard-to-understand past.

As usual though, Sherrill refers to these characters by a host of different names in the narrative, often making it hard as friggin’ hell to understand who he is referring to. As I’ve mentioned before, “main character” Dinatale is referred to as “J.D.,” “Dinatale,” or sometimes as just “John,” and it’s even worse when new characters enter the fold. And Sherrill is very much a “you missed the earlier volume, you’re shit outta luck” kind of a writer, as he doesn’t much re-introduce any of these characters and just thrusts them at the reader, arbitrarily referring to them by a variety of names with little concern for reader comprehension.

You’d think by this point someone at the publisher would call Sherrill and tell him, “Mr. Sherrill, consistency is your friend. All this referring to your characters by multiple names in the narrative, particularly when you’ve just introduced the character and haven’t given him proper setup, is most confusing for the reader. Could you please consider just referring to your characters by one name in the narrative to avoid such confusion?” To which Sherrill would respond, “Hey, fuck you, man – I don’t need this shit. I’m Kevin Sherrill!! If I wanna refer to my characters by a hundred different names, I will! Now suck it!” “Yes, Mr. Sherrill, I’m sorry to trouble you,” the publisher would say, but he’d be talking to silence because Sherill had already hung up. At which point the publisher would call up his chief editor: “Look, we’re cancelling Steel Lighnting. I can’t take anymore of this diva Kevin Sherrill, not to mention his lack of consistency in character naming.” “Cancel Steel Lightning? Are you crazy?” The chief editor would explode. “We’ve got Sherrill all lined up for Carson – he’s gonna be one of the last guests!” To which the publisher would respond, “Listen, I’m Mr. Zebra – if I say Steel Lightning is cancelled, it’s cancelled! Now suck it!”

But anyway our heroes have lured out these creeps and now they’re all rarin’ to gun ‘em down, just clean this scum right off the face of the earth, but instead they get in a long debate about it. Just back and forth, right in front of the punks who moments ago were chasing Barb with the intent of raping and killing her. And it goes on and on…with Moses White figuring maybe the punks should get a break and Vernick agreeing, and even Barb agreeing, but Brian’s over there chomping at the bit to kill ‘em all. It’s up to Dinatale to come up with the novel idea of beating them all up to a pulp.

The book as mentioned is too bloated for its own good, so we don’t get to the main villain until later: his name is Levi Golden, he’s an old Jewish man who escaped to America from the Nazi horrors of the ‘40s, and he’s behind the Delight scheme. In a bit of continuity we also learn he was the boss of the main villain in the previous volume. But man, talk about sending mixed signals. The back cover hypes Golden as “sadistic,” but when we meet him we’re treated to an overlong backstory showing all the horrors and misery he endured…escaping Germany as a young man with his wife and coming to New York, where he found even worse horrors, his wife raped and his daughter turned a hooker-junkie and his son killed and his wife left a catatonic wreck – and I mean all this before it’s even 1947!

So are we supposed to hate this guy or feel sorry for him? At any rate in a “tribute” to The Godfather, Golden a la Don Corleone had to get tough to face toughness, thus resolved to becoming more monstrous than those who preyed upon him. He set up a mafia of other escaped Jews and now, in 1992 (and we’re told this is all in December of ’92, right before Christmas, in other words a few months after the book was published – the future!!), Levi Golden is a kingpin of crime. But he has no marks on his record, and indeed his cover is as a harmless New York tailor, and he’s so successful in this pose that when Dinatale visits his shop later in the book only Dinatale’s cop-born sixth sense tells him the harmless old man is anything but harmless.

Sherrill though just wants to bide his time for the majority of the book; we endure all kinds of padding, from more Delight-spawned deaths to arbitrary action scenes starring Golden’s top henchman, Turk. When we get back to the Street Machine themselves, it’s usually to encounter them in mundane aspects – again arguing over the justness of their cause (three volumes in!!), or like with Vernick pulling the plug on his vegetable wife, or Dinatale bullyng an old nemesis of his from the force named Reimer who is clearly set up as a dude who will attempt to take down the Street Machine in some future volume that never happened.

While Slash And Burn is padded to the extreme, to Sherrill’s credit he writes as if it’s ten years earlier and not 1992; which is to say, the novel’s as un-PC as one could demand from the genre. This is mostly relayed via dialog, in particular from Dinatale; for example there’s a part early on where Maitland, the millionaire who secretly funds Street Machine, tells Dinatale that his team has picked up the notoriety of Batman and Robin in the underworld. To which Dinatale gruffly responds: “Two flaming queens if there were ever any.”

Speaking of sleazy stuff, the moment you’ve waited for has finally arrived, friends – Dinatale and Barb do it. As we’ll recall, our former hooker-pornstar-rape victim-crook asskicker has been doubting if she’s truly a lesbian; the thought of a man touching her makes her flesh crawl, after the gang-rape she endured in the first volume…any man, that is, except for Dinatale. As we learned last time Barb was wondering if she wanted to say to hell with it and do the guy – this time, after a failed hit attempt on Dinatale and Barb by Turk, the two repair to Metro Meats, ie the towering Street Machine headquarters, and clean up each other’s wounds before giving in to temptation. Sherrill really stretches this way out, long-simmer to the max, but after lots of talk, including the two smelling each other (seriously!), when they finally get to the down and dirty screwin’ Sherrill cuts away: “It went on like that for hours.”

After this Barb is now “the leader’s woman,” but nothing much else plays out on this subplot. It’s made clear though that it’s true love between the two and they would’ve remained an item in future installments. And the others othe team take it all in quite pragmatically, which is to say there are no ripples caused. I guess the only change is the two now worry over each other in the action scenes – which, finally, we get to in the final quarter. So in that way Slash And Burn is identical in its construct to the previous two volumes: an opening action scene, lots of padding, and then a final harried climactic action scene. Gee, I wonder if the fourth volume would’ve followed the same path…?

And the big finale is more goofy than anything: Golden’s secret Delight-manufacturing location is a fortress of a building deep in Chinatown, which we are informed is a no-man’s land along the lines of Beirut or something – such a no man’s land that Dinatale tells his troops they can go in with guns blasting, no silencers needed this time. And hell let’s bring a couple LAW rocket launchers along, too! But just when it goes down it all gets super ridiculous…Moses’s knee goes out on him due to an injury he’s been dealing with the entire book, and his massive frame crashes into the garbage the team’s hiding in, alerting Golden, Turk, and their entourage that it’s an ambush. And meanwhile Barb, apropos of nothing, goes into a seizure and starts freaking out!

Golden doesn’t have like an army or anything, so for the most part it’s just the Street Machine hiding in refuse and springing up to fire off a shot or two. We do get just a bit of gun-porn, not as much as previous volumes though, and as mentioned the gore is much toned down. In fact it’s all so bland I can’t even remember if Golden is given a big sendoff. About all I remember is all this occurs on Christmas Eve, and the book ends with a lame “Bah, humbug” joke from Brian Benson, and that’s all she wrote for the Steel Lightning series.

I recall the thrill I experienced when I discovered this series a few years ago, trawling Amazon for anything published by Pinnacle in the latter ‘80s, in particular any obscure men’s adventure books. I remember seeing “Midnight Lightning” listed, with no details provided, and then researching further and realizing it was indeed a men’s adventure novel – and that there were two more volumes! But sadly the series just never amounted to much, and my only suspicion is that Sherrill was given poor direction by the publisher…the books are always promising to go all-out, but never quite do, as if the publisher wanted a “real” novel, and not just a crazy action spectacle.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Mace #6: The Year Of The Boar

Mace #6: The Year Of The Boar, by Lee Chang
No month stated, 1975  Manor Books

I’ve been looking forward to this sixth volume of Mace for quite a while. Because my friends we’re finally out of the weeds, ie the previous five volumes by Joseph Rosenberger, and as if in reward for enduring those five beatings we’re graced with an installment by Len Levinson (using the same house name that Rosenberger did, “Lee Chang”). So even though Len delivers a protagonist much different than his usual (at least when considering his other ‘70s novels), it goes without saying that The Year Of The Boar is vastly more entertaining than any of Rosenberger’s installments.

I know from Len himself that he never read those previous five books; in fact as he most memorably informed me once: “I never heard of Joseph Rosenberger.” So for all intents and purposes this could be considered a standalone novel. And in many ways it is much different from Len’s other books of the decade, with a straight-shooter protagonist wholly at odds with Len’s typical main characters from this era. In fact Victor Mace is kind of boring, and makes one miss, for example, the neurotic Johnny Rock of Len’s three Sharpshooter novels.

Len was clearly given at least a character outline to work from, though. It’s still Victor Mace, Chinese-American kung-fu wizard from Hong Kong who has relocated to America, but whereas Rosengerber’s Mace did CIA jobs on the side, Len’s is the head instructor at the Lotus Academy on Canal Street, in the Chinatown section of Manhattan. There is of course no mention of the previous five volumes, though if anything Len’s novel harkens back to the vibe of Mace #1, in that it doesn’t have any espionage commando stuff and is more of a simple “kung fu master versus stupid thugs” sort of thing.

The simple nature of the storyline is made clear by the plot: Mace goes up against some crooks who plan to burn down tenement buildings in Chinatown and build luxury high-rises in their wake. Mace comes into it when one of his students is killed in the latest fire; he learns later that another building was recently burned down in the same area. But as the dead guy’s teacher Mace is sworn by the ancient rules of kung-fu to avenge his student’s murder within a few days or something, so he’s off into action posthaste.

Mace starts off the novel being interviewed by sexy journalist Joyce Wilson, who is doing a story on the kung-fu craze. Len sort of pulls a fast one on the readers; we know that Joyce is attracted to Mace and hopes he asks her out – indeed she hopes he’ll take her back to her place and boff her brains out, being a “liberated woman” and all – but it never happens. Mace goes off with Joyce within the first few pages, but is first distracted by some would-be muggers who give him the handy opportunity to show off his skills, and then he’s further distracted by the burned-down building his student lived in. He ends up telling Joyce “maybe next time” and sets off – and Len apparently forgets all about Joyce, having her disappear for the rest of the novel, only returning near the very end when Mace calls her up to see if she knows a mob boss’s address. 

Instead, the novel is given over to a lot of chop-sockeying; same as in the Rosenberger era there are random all-caps bursts of “CHINK!” from Mace’s enemies, followed by Mace’s shouts of “KIII-AAA!” as he kicks them into oblivion. However the incessant “shuto chop” of Rosenberger is gone, replaced by various combinations of punches and kicks, though Len’s own “shuto chop” (meaning his own overused pose, a la Rosenberger’s shuto chop) would have to be the “horse stance,” which it seems Mace is going into every few pages. That being said, Len’s fights are more entertaining, even though they’re really the same as Rosenberger’s – endless, extended sequences of Mace kicking and punching people. But as I’ve said before, I personally feel that martial arts combat isn’t as suited to prose as say gun combat is. There are only so many ways you can describe a punch or a kick.

And as mentioned Mace is kind of boring anyway…he’s too much of a straight-shooter, and his occasional speeches on the kung-fu way kind of make him a bore. That said, he does have an incongruous habit of putting an unlit match in his mouth, which I guess is intended to make him seem tough – otherwise he’s very tall, slim build, long back hair, same as the cover. Also in an interesting bit of cross-series continuity, or at least what might be seen as such, Mace has a pal on the New York police force: Lt. Raymond Jenkins, who we can assume might be the brother of Lt. Richard Jenkins in Len’s Bronson: Streets Of Blood, written around the same time as The Year Of The Boar. Jenkins even gives Mace a gun at one point, insisting he keep it for protection against the Mafia enforcers who are coming for him, but of course Mace doesn’t use it.

Another harbinger of the Rosenberger installments is that Mace is suitably superhuman; he’s actually up in the Dr. Strange league this time, able to see and hear beyond normal human perception with his “shuh” talent. As if that weren’t enough, he’s even able to focus his “chi” to such an extent that he can stop the flow of blood from a gunshot wound in his shoulder…and when the bullet’s extracted (by a Chinatown acupuncturist, naturally), Mace is able to focus his will and re-seal the wound!! All of this, coupled with his take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward sex, makes Mace more of a sort of kung-fu Jesus than the typically-rabid (or at least driven) Len Levinson protagonist.

The title comes from Mafia bigshot Frank Zarelli, whose plans Mace threatens; Zarelli and Chinatown opium importer Mr. Sing concoct a scheme to hire some kung-fu killers to come over from Hong Kong and kill Mace. It’s Mr. Sing who compares Zarelli to a boar, so one assumes Len was given this title before he started writing and found some way to accommodate it into the narrative. Led by seven foot tall sadist Rok Choy, who happens to have been a kung-fu schoolmate of Mace’s who was kicked out twenty years ago, these kung-fu assassins are pretty cool and definitely bring the novel the flavor of vintage bell-bottom fury movies; upon their arrival in Manhattan they’re instantly getting drunk and taking advantage of Mr. Sing’s teenaged assistant – the only part of the novel to feature any dirty stuff, and most of it relayed via dialog.

However Rok Choy is dispensed with sooner than expected, and Mace quickly sets his sights on his remaining followers. In fact Mace is so superhuman that the question isn’t so much if he’ll survive but how quickly he’ll take out his opponents, no matter how greatly they outnumber him. I guess in this way Len’s book is also similar to Rosenberger’s, but it must be said that his Mace is a bit more likable, if too distant from the reader due to his perfection. As for Zarelli, his fate is a bit unexpected, and it occurs shortly afterward, as Mace promptly assaults the man’s heavily-guarded home. Len ends the novel right here, with Mace catching a taxi back to Chinatown – there’s a goofy out-of-nowhere recurring bit about a new cabdriver who doesn’t know his way around Manhattan, and the various characters keep getting into his cab – and that’s that. Vengeance has been meted out in the demanded time.

Overall The Year Of The Boar was entertaining, certainly when compared to Rosenberger’s previous five books, but at the same time I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as Len’s other books from this period. Not that there’s anything wrong with his prose or his dialog, it’s just that it lacks that zany spark the others had. And mostly I feel this is due to Mace himself, but again this isn’t Len’s fault – he was hired to write a book about a kung-fu master and that’s how a kung-fu master is written. So in that regard he certainly exceeded, but when you’ve read say Shark Fighter you just expect something more from the guy. I mean when a cab driver who appears on maybe half a page total is more memorable than the lead character, you know something is up.

Back in July 2012 I asked Len about Year Of The Boar as part of the interview I did with him for The Paperback Fanatic. I asked him again about the book now that I’ve read it, and he decided to “augment” his original Paperback Fanatic comments for my review. So here’s Len on the origins of The Year Of The Boar – and I have to say, the “rapacity” of New York landlords (as Len memorably described them in a recent email) comes through loud and clear in the novel!

THE YEAR OF THE BOAR began with a phone call from an editor I knew at Belmont-Tower, don’t remember his name. He said he was working for a new publishing house called Manor and asked if I would write for them. I said “sure,” which was how a desperate freelance writer naturally would respond. 

I lived at 114 Christopher Street in Greenwich Village in those days, and walked uptown to the meeting at Manor’s office located in the same vicinity as Belmont-Tower on lower Park Avenue south of 34th Street. Zebra Publishing for whom I later wrote was in the same area. 

Also in attendance at the meeting was a young lady editor who I also knew from Belmont-Tower. No one else was in the office, which as I recall, consisted of only one medium-sized room. This young lady editor had previously told me that she worked with Nelson DeMille when he was in the Belmont-Tower stable. I suspected that Manor was connected to Belmont-Tower in some way. 

I don’t remember details of the meeting but I ended up writing two novels for Manor, THE YEAR OF THE BOAR and STREETS OF BLOOD in their BRONSON series by Philip Rawls. I don’t remember which I wrote first. 

THE YEAR OF THE BOAR really stimulated my imagination because I was very interested in Eastern religions at that time, and had studied karate under the great Okinawan master Ansei Ueshiro who worked out in class alongside us students in his studio on West 14th Street in New York City around 1962. His speed, strength and precision seemed supernatural. Inspired by him, I affixed a bamboo mat to a wall of my apartment and punched it in order to build up callouses on my knuckles, but my knuckles bled and no callouses ever happened. 

In addition, I had studied Vedanta Hinduism plus Theravada, Mahayana, Tibetan and Zen Buddhism, attending many lectures and reading lots of books. I also spent much time in NYC’s Chinatown, largest Chinatown in America, which was spilling over into Little Italy and the Lower East Side. Often I explored out-of-the-way streets and alleys, hung out in Buddhist temples, ate at funky restaurants, and munched on lotus seed buns as I wandered about. Sometimes I wished I could move to Chinatown because I loved the exotic atmosphere, almost like being in Hong Kong. 

I also had watched a few Kung-Fu movies on the Bowery in Chinatown. None had subtitles but were fascinating anyway. The nearly 100% Chinese audiences seemed to enjoy them very much. Those King Fu movies doubtlessly influenced action scenes in THE YEAR OF THE BOAR, which begins in Chinatown and much of the action occurs there. 

The character of Joyce Wilson, described as reporter for a NYC daily, was based loosely on a real reporter for an underground NYC weekly newspaper who lived in the same building as I in Greenwich Village, and was a friend of mine. Now she is a famous reporter for the NEW YORK TIMES. I don’t want to mention her real name because I don’t want to embarrass her. 

While writing THE YEAR OF THE BOAR, I was having problems with my landlord because my apartment was rent-controlled and he wanted me to move out so that he could jack up the rent. He refused to fix what was broken and threatened to have me beaten up if I complained to the Housing Authority. So he transmogrified into the predominant villain of THE YEAR OF THE BOAR and came to a very dark end in the novel. 

All these experiences and semi-understood theologies served as foundations of YEAR OF THE BOAR. As I skim through the novel today, I think the narrative was undermined by my tendency to toss in sex scenes that seem casual and unmotivated, but it seemed like a lot of sex was casual and unmotivated during the seventies. It was a strange time and I spent much of it sitting in a series of non-luxury apartments in Manhattan, writing action/adventure. To paraphrase Marcel Proust, it was life carried on by other means.