Monday, July 31, 2023

The Penetrator #43: Rampage In Rio

The Penetrator #43: Rampage In Rio, by Lionel Derrick
October, 1981  Pinnacle Books

Clearly my criticisms of recent volumes of The Penetrator have caused a blip in the time-space continnuum and gotten back to series co-author Mark Roberts. For there could be no other reason to explain the sudden uptick in quality here in Rampage In Rio. It hasn’t been since the 20s of the series that we’ve seen such violence and even, believe it or not, a little sex – nothing too risque, but we certainly get some of that goofy Roberts purple prose. 

In fact, Rampage In Rio is almost a prefigure of Roberts’s post-Penetrator series Soldier For Hire. In particular it predicts the bonkers finale of that series, Jakarta Coup, complete with bizarre sex talk (below), a lusty babe who turns out to be a jackbooted villainness, random bouts of liberal bashing, and an action vibe that’s more akin to military fiction than the lone wolf vibe more typical of men’s adventure. The only caveat is, while Rampage In Rio has all those elements, they aren’t nearly as exploited as they would be in Jakarta Coup

Oh and first of all, the cover art for The Penetrator is now credited to Hector Garrido, aka the guy who a decade earlier did the covers for The Baroness. Somehow Garrido has turned Mark “The Penetrator” Hardin into a South American gangster on the cover, complete with a Panama Jack sort of hat. The only problem is, Mark (as Roberts refers to him) actually dyes his hair blond in the novel, even his eyebrows, given that he goes undercover in Brazil as a German expatriate. Otherwise Garrido gets the other details correct: there are headhunters, for example, and also Nazis, though to be sure they aren’t in full WWII uniforms. 

Oh and another note – as we’ll recall, the previous volume concluded with Mark experiencing a terrible personal loss. (Spoiler alert: It was the death of his sometimes-girlfriend Joanna Tabler.) But given that the preceding book was by series co-author Chet Cunningham, this “terrible personal loss” is barely even a factor in Rampage In Rio, only mentioned twice in the narrative, and in passing at that. It’s my assumption that the series editor might have amended this material into Mark Roberts’s manuscript. In particular, there’s a part where Mark is about to get busy, and here we have the first of the two egregious mentions of the preceding book’s climactic loss…after which Mark gets on with getting it on, and no more is mentioned of the loss until toward the very end of the novel. 

In fact when we meet Mark at novel’s beginning, he’s just sort of puttering around in his airplane (naturally, for a Mark Roberts installment) and “looking for a new mission.” He’s not upset about anything or desolate after his loss or whatever; just the Penetrator looking for a new job to, uh, penetrate. Meanwhile we readers have already underwent a somewhat brutal opening sequence in which people – among them children – have been kidnapped by a group of neo-Nazis. One of the captives is 15 year-old Tina Rock, an “incredibly successful country-rock star from Kansas.” Speaking of children, later in Rampage In Rio Roberts goes into what I consider too dark a tone for a men’s adventure novel, with kids getting gunned down and massacred by the Nazis. 

But initially these kids are captured to be held down in the green hell of Brazil for ransom, the neo-Nazis looking for money to further their movement. They have a base in the middle of the Brazilian jungle, all of them expat Germans or Germans who grew up in Brazil (their parents having gone there after the war). Leading them is Herman Braunn, who claims to be the grandson of none other than Hitler himself. He’s more of a loser than the sadist you might expect; Roberts fills the pages with a lot of internal politicking in the neo-Nazi camp, with one faction aligned against Braunn – and besides, these Nazis are a little more “well behaved” than you might expect. In one of those aforementioned “too dark” sequences a fat Nazi molests one of the captured children (off-page, I should note)…and for this affrontery the other Nazis have him whipped as punishment. 

One notable thing here is that Professor Haskins has a more active role than I can recall in any previous volume. Mark frequently heads back to the Stronghold to discuss the situation with the Professor, and also gets info from him on a frequent basis. Professor Haskins this time helps Mark figure out that these kidnappings seem to all be the work of one group, and ultimately they conclude it’s a bunch of Nazi-types operating out of Brazil. Before that though we have a lot more action, as Mark heads to Los Angeles and manages to prevent a few kidnappings while putting the pieces together. Here also we get the first taste of “bleeding-heart liberal” bashing, as after one firefight Mark looms in the distance and listens to a couple cops complain about liberals. As egregious as it can get, but still pretty funny, and an indication of the sort of thing Roberts would do later in Soldier For Hire

But the most notable thing in Rampage In Rio is that Mark Roberts dangles a plot idea I have long wondered about: a potential team-up of the Pinnacle men’s adventure heroes. In the first quarter of the novel Mark, down in Brazil, comes upon a rack of English-language books in a store: 

Unfortunately though, a team-up of The Penetrator and The Death Merchant never happened. In today’s era, with team-up superhero movies and plots that hinge on multiverses with multiple versions of the same character and all that, such a team-up would seem like a natural idea. But for whatever reason it never occurred to the powers at be at Pinnacle. Or maybe it was just a matter of figuring out who would write the books – I mean if The Penetrator and The Death Merchant were together in one book, would Mark Roberts write it? Or would Joseph Rosenberger? This also gets down to a rights issues – Rosenberger owned his character (which is why he was later able to move the series over to Dell), whereas Roberts was a writer for hire. So hell, maybe a team-up did occur to someone at Pinnacle, but the idea was untenable. At any rate it was cool to see Mark even consider the idea here. 

Also Roberts indulges in even more in-jokery with the Six-Gun Samurai mention; that was another series Roberts was writing at the time. I’ve never read this series myself but have been aware of it since I was a kid. I remember my brother picked up a copy of the first volume when it was brand new on the bookstore shelves – he’s 7 years older than me so he would’ve been 14 at the time. Not sure if he ever read it but I do recall flipping through the book myself over the years, but never reading it. Anyway I like this kind of in-jokery Roberts would do in his series books. 

But speaking of how the Death Merchant team-up is dangled but never happens, Roberts also makes unexploited forays into science fiction this time. There’s a part where Mark meets an old Nazi who worked in the camps in human experimentation, and this guy hints that cloning was a real thing that the Nazis figured out. But Roberts doesn’t go more in this sci-fi direction. He also doesn’t, as mentioned, much exploit the sexual material in Rampage In Rio. Per tradition, Mark does manage to pick up a babe while on the job, in this case an expat German blonde named Gretchen who, of course, propositions Mark while he sits alone in a bar. When they hit the inevitable sack, Roberts surprisingly leaves it off page. He has them go at it again shortly after, where Gretchen delivers dialog that’s almost a prefigure of the infamous “toss my cookies” line in Jakarta Coup

Speaking of goofy phrases, if I didn’t know any better I’d suspect Rampage In Rio is where David Alexander took a lot of inspiration for his later Phoenix series – not in the content, but in the alliterative put-downs Roberts uses for his Nazi villains. “The Nazi nerd crumpled like a sack of soft turds,” is probably my favorite of the bunch, but there are a lot more besides: “soiled superman,” or a part where Mark “pulp[s]” a Nazi’s “testicles and depriving the world of a horde of Hitlerian horrors.” However as mentioned this fun gory pulp is unfortunately sullied with un-fun gory pulp…like the parts where a couple innocent kids are gunned down by those “soiled supermen.” Actually Roberts writes so quickly he overlooks his own plot threads; there’s a part late in the book where Mark befriends a young American orphan in the jungle, and Mark is reminded of his own orphan childhood, and there’s almost the dangling potential here that Mark himself might take this kid home and raise him. But the kid soon disappears from the narrative, never mentioned again. 

Another element Roberts doesn’t exploit as much is an appearance of that favorite villainness-type of mine: the Nazi She-Devil. In the final pages a female character is outed as a jackboot-wearing Nazi gal, complete with uniform, but Roberts mostly keeps her off-page after this revelation. Indeed, her comeuppance is unsatisfactorily rendered, with Mark sniping at his foes from a distance. Otherwise the potential of this Nazi She-Devil is not much exploited. I mean, she’s no Helga Haas

Overall though Rampage In Rio is a fine return to form for The Penetrator. For once Mark Hardin actually kills his opponents instead of just knocking them out with Ava the dart gun (which doesn’t appear this time), and Roberts injects some of the goofy fun that has been missing in the past several volumes. Hopefully this will continue for the remainder of the series.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Doomsday Warrior #17: America’s Sword

Doomsday Warrior #17: Americas Sword, by Ryder Stacy
January, 1990  Zebra Books

Boy, if you thought the previous volume of Doomsday Warrior was lame, just wait till you read this one! I’ve said before that Ryder Syvertsen was clearly phoning it in at this point; one can almost feel him hoping and praying that the series would get canceled so he could stop writing it. I mean all the dude does this time is basically re-write the previous book; America’s Sword is almost a carbon copy of American Overthrow, but again with the caveat that this one’s even worse. 

It’s a shame how Doomsday Warrior has experienced such a downward spiral. The first volumes were pretty cool, packed with gory violence and explicit sex. But around the midway point of the series Syvertsen must have lost interest or heart, as he began dialing back on all the craziness. At this point in the series the violence isn’t nearly as gory as before and the sex is all off-page. Even the goofy subplots have been dropped; for a while we had a lot of stuff about Ted “Doomsday Warrior” Rockson caught in a love triangle between Amazonian redhead Rona and lithe blonde Kim. All this is forgotten, with practically all female characters removed from the series – even the mandatory “native babe” Rockson will pick up on his post-nuke travels does not appear here in America’s Sword

But speaking of Syvertsen’s lack of interest…turns out I was right in my review for American Overthrow, where I guessed that none of that volume’s concluding incidents would be picked up in the next volume. I was more correct than I could’ve guessed. So as a recap, in the finale of the previous book Rockson had saved feeble old President Langford and his daughter Kim from the clutches of this sadist who was trying to brainwash them. Kim, once declared to be Rockson’s beloved, had disappeared from the series with nary a mention for the past several volumes, so this was the long-awaited reunion of the pair. But rather than build on this, Syvertsen never even gave Rockson and Kim a moment together; she was brain-fogged when Rockson saved her, then out cold later. As I recall, Rockson hoped Kim and her father would come out of it during the long trek back to Century City, and maybe they could talk then. 

But in true “series reset with each volume” fashion, America’s Sword takes place one month later and we don’t get one iota of info on what went down during that trek home…I mean, did President Langford regain his senses, something Rockson was worried about? Did Rockson and Kim rekindle their relationship? Folks, we still don’t know the answer to either of those questions. For indeed, America’s Sword opens with an overlong sequence in which an earthquake rocks Century City, and Rockson, sleeping in bed (alone for once!), is trapped in the rubble that was once his room, staving off rats and waiting to be rescued. 

We learn that a staggering twenty thousand people were killed in the quake and Century City is partially destroyed. But here’s how half-assed Syvertsen has become with his series: he never even tells us if Langford or his daughter Kim survived the quake! I mean of course they do, but still – he has Rockson desperately wondering if the two are among the victims, but Rockson leaves a few hours after the quake and never learns the answer. He doesn’t even ponder their fate during this latest trek outside of Century City. Hell, Syvertsen’s so half-assed that he also has Rockson concerned over Rona’s fate right after the quake …then Syvertsen makes the casual mention that, the night before leaving the city, Rona comes to Rockson’s bed and “they made love.” So, uh, I guess she did survive the quake! I mean, not only does Syvertsen neglect to even build up on any of his suspense, he casually dispenses info with nary a concern for drama – and Rona doesn’t even have any dialog! She’s literally mentioned in passing. 

So none of the questions concerning Langford or Kim from the previous volume are addressed or resolved. Instead, the big deal this time is that Rock and team must make an emergency journey to nearby Free City Pattonville (the setting of the previous volume, by the way) to get needed supplies to rebuild Century City. Even this plot will ultimately be dropped – spoiler alert, but we don’t even get to see Rockson and team getting the supplies, let alone returning home so Rockson can find out who survived the quake. Instead Syvertsen goes on two separate detours which make up the bulk of the novel. And my friends these detours are exact replicas of the incidents in the previous book! 

As we’ll recall American Overthrow featured this random part where Rockson and team came upon this volcano world filled with lava men, and many pages were devoted to the team learning the customs and etc…and then Rockson realized the entire damn thing had been a dream. Okay. In America’s Sword this scenario is repeated, except instead of a volcano world it’s a jungle world, randomly enough in the middle of the post-nuke US terrain, and Rockson and team marvel at the monkeys and other jungle animals here in the humid climate. They also meet up with the natives, though the difference here is that the natives are friendly…and also there’s no female dalliances for Rockson. I mean WTF? Syvertsen has so neutered his series that even the once-madatory “native gal sex” has been removed…Rockson and team merely eat and drink a lot as honored guests. 

But of course things take a more “thrilling” turn and they have to fight a giant rad-monster thing as part of the ceremony which is required to leave the jungle world. At the very least, this sequence doesn’t turn out to be a dream, but otherwise it is such a carbon copy of the lava world scenario in the previous book that I couldn’t believe it. I mean surely Syvertsen could have come up with something better than a lame ripoff of his own lame work? But he’s not done ripping himself off. Again as we’ll recall, American Overthrow proceeded to feature Rockson saving a city from a despot who was using a gas to control the minds of his subjects. 

Well…guess what happens in this one? Rockson comes across yet another city filled with seemingly-happy people, ones who are a little too enamored with politics, but of course it will turn out that they too are under a sort of mind control. And Rockson will have to save them. So yes, this book is a carbon copy of its predecessor. Anyway, the political activists here are “Republams,” and Syvertsen wears his politics on his sleeves in making fun of these latter-day Republicans…ones who worship Nixon and live for bureaucracy. But otherwise Syvertsen fails to exploit his own goofy concept; he doesn’t have the ability to bring it to life, or perhaps I should say the willingness. I mean he’s already written 16 of these goddamn books and he’s tired, folks. 

So we have weird goofy stuff like this radiated Nixon monument thing that glows in neon flashes and seems to have an animated Nixon statue inside it (Syvertsen is particularly dense in his descriptions here), and also Rockson himself is mind-controlled after being subjected to a Republam recruitment video. But it’s all just so goofy…I mean he and his fellows are brainwashed, but all they’re forced to do is file paperwork and type up paperwork. It’s just so ridiculous and G-rated, and Syvertsen’s so bored with it all that he has everyone saved by the deus ex machina appearance of other members of the Rock Squad. 

As mentioned, by the end of America’s Sword we have no resolution…to anything. Rockson and team continue on their trek for Century City supplies. No doubt next volume they’ll be back and the city will be completely rebuilt. Oh and I forgot to mention. In another elaborately built but unexploited subplot, Syvertsen has about thirty recruits being sent off with Rockson, to help with supply delivery…nothing is made of this and the recruits add nothing to the plot. Hell for that matter, Rockson breaks his ankle in the opening Earthquake section…and Syvertsen doesn’t even mention it again in the novel, with Rockson running and fighting and doing everything just as usual. 

Perhaps the only saving grace of America’s Sword is a cool bit early on where Rockson thinks back to his childhood days; we learn he’s from California, though he doesn’t know it by that name in this post-nuke US. If I recall correctly, this is the first we’ve had an actual flashback to Rockson’s youth, and we learn how his father taught him hunting and other skills. We’re also reminded how the Reds massacred his family, setting young Rockson off on the path of revenge. This latter is not developed in actual flashback narrative; we’re just informed that Rockson memorized the faces of the Reds who raped his mother and sisters and killed them and his father, and then hunted them down – this “Rockson’s revenge” scenario has never actually been fully told, so far as I can remember, but the story alone is more interesting than the majority of the actual novels.

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Random Record Reviews: Volume 7

CAP-FM: What’s In-Store For You 

In previous posts I’ve mentioned how much I enjoy what was known as “progressive freeform” FM rock radio, the history of which was recounted in WNEW-FM DJ Richard Neer’s FM: The Rise And Fall Of Rock Radio. I’ve also mentioned Javed Jefri’s wonderful Let The Universe Answer, in which you can hear airchecks of the actual freeform era. 

I started wondering if any records of the day followed the FM format of seguing tracks with a DJ patter between the songs…and somehow stumbled upon that very thing! This is CAP-FM, aka the FM radio station that never was. The brainchild of Capitol Records’s national manager for Album Oriented Rock, Ray Tusken, the CAP-FM: What’s In-Store For You promo-only records followed the format of an FM broadcast of the day, the idea being that stores would play the records over the stereo system and interested shoppers might scan the bins for the albums the DJ talked about. Also a nice play on words in the title – “what’s in store for you” referring not only to new music out from Capitol, but also literally referring to the albums shoppers could find in the store. 

A pretty brilliant idea, I think, but I’m guessing the CAP-FM: What’s In-Store For You albums were too expensive to make, or provided too little ROI, thus there were only four of them…all released over a period of 2 years. There also seems to have been some behind-the-scenes wrangling, as Ray Tusken is not listed as “executive producer” on the back of What’s In-Store For You #4. That volume also sees a female “announcer” (uncredited, same as the male one was on volumes 1-3), as well as more of a focus on guitar rock than the first three volumes, which could indicate more shake-uppery. 

I recently came across a contemporary feature on the first CAP-FM release, in an industry journal called Cash Box. There Ray Tusken was interviewed, where he stated that the album was specifically put together like a radio set, with the songs seguing into one another in a cohesive block, “like a good [radio] jock would do.” He also noted that something called a “limiter” had been applied to the album, meaning that it “sounded like a tuner,” not like a regular record. I can say that these records sound incredible and are some of the best-sounding records in my 2,000+ collection. Capitol clearly put some effort into the production, engineering, and mastering…which could be another indication why there were only 4 of them. 

First a note on the DJs, merely credited as “Announcer” on the back cover. (We know from the feature story mentioned above that the male announcer on #1-3 was someone named Mike Harrison, but I don’t know who the female Announcer on #4 was.) One main difference between these faux-FM broadcasts and real ones is that the CAP-FM announcer(s) have zero personality. The male Announcer on #1-3 and the female Announcer on #4 just indicate the songs about to be played, or that were just played, and might occasionally provide a few brief asides about the group. But there’s no attempt at “connecting” with the audience. Also worth noting is that there’s no hard selling on the records, no “You can find this album right here in the store!” sort of stuff. In fact they try to make it sound like a legitimate radio broadcast…the first What’s In-Store For You record even carries the conceit so far as to identify the faux-station as “WCAP-FM,” ie adding a “W” like real stations on the East Coast would have. Also worth noting that the Announcers do not say “Cap-FM;” the station call letters are spelled out, again like a real station: “C-A-P-FM.” 

There’s also no intro or outro on any of the records. The idea was likely for the store employees to just keep flipping the record over, so that customers coming in would have no idea they weren’t hearing a real FM radio broadcast. Each record in the series opens with the Announcer’s blank statement “This is CAP-FM,” then it goes straight into a song. Each side ends with the Announcer stating, “This is CAP-FM. We’ll be back.” Another thing to note is they didn’t go all the way with the “real radio station” conceit; there are no fake advertisements, a la The Who’s The Who Sell Out

Other than that old Cash Box feature, there’s not much info out there about the CAP-FM: What’s In-Store For You LP series. Also there were no uploads on Youtube prior to the ones I’ve listed below. On the plus side, the records are not pricey at all; the first one cost me the most, at six bucks. I picked up #2-4 for about $2 each, in VG+ condition! Anyway, on to looking at each release… 

CAP-FM: What’s In-Store For You #1 
Capitol Records, 1976 

The first CAP-FM is certainly the best. It’s also the one that might cost you the most, as only a thousand copies were pressed. But of all 4 records, this one most replicates an FM broadcast of the day, with some cool seques between tracks and some obscure artists being featured. The segues are also very well done, nowhere more notably than on side 2, in which the “space sounds” outro of Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like An Eagle” seamlessly melds into the “space sounds” intro of obscure German prog outfit Triumvirat’s “I Believe:” 

Side 2 also demonstrates Ray Tusken’s note that the songs would form “blocks…like a good jock would do;” the theme on this side is centered around lost time and the travails of being a rocker. Obscure singer-songwriter Tom Snow’s “Rock And Roll Widow,” with its focus on a groupie who wonders if she’s wasted her life, is played before The Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like An Eagle” (with it’s “time keeps on slipping” lyrics). That track segues into Triumvirat’s “I Believe,” a song that’s all about the frustrations of being a famous rockstar. (Surely the members of Triumvirat* indulging in some wishful thinking!!) So in other words, a complete “block” of songs that all follow the same general theme. Speaking of Tom Snow, he also appears on side 1, with “Hurry Boy,” featuring backing vocals by Stevie Nicks (thanks to the Announcer for letting us know…though of course her vocals are pretty distinctive anyway). 

Otherwise on #1 we have rockers Starz, Australia’s Little River Band (another thanks to the Announcer – I’d seen their name but had no idea they were Australians), and on another obscure tip we have HUB, a group comprised of former members of Rare Earth. Overall What’s In-Store For You #1 was my intro to the series and I played it a bunch when I got it, and likely this will be the one in the series I play the most in the future. 

CAP-FM: What’s In-Store For You #2 
Capitol Records, 1977 

Full disclosure: this is my least favorite in the series, to the extent that I didn’t even make a video recording of any of the songs on it. There’s none of the variety of #1 and the segues aren’t as well done. For that matter, “Fly Like An Eagle” appears again, for some reason, but whereas the spacey outro section was expertly used as a segue into the next song on the first LP, this time “Fly Like An Eagle” just ends cold and the next track, Cockney Rebel’s Beatles cover “Here Comes The Sun,” starts right up. Otherwise the aim this time appears to have been to play it safe: we have Sammy Hagar and Bob Seger on both sides, each time their tracks unimaginatively seguing into each other. The obscure artists as seen on the previous release have been replaced by better-known MOR types, though we do get prog rock again in the form of Gentle Giant’s “Just The Same.” But it’s a cut from their live album and isn’t very proggy at all. A group called Maze also takes us into an unwanted Soul detour at the end of the album (“Happy Feelin’s”); they will return for the final CAP-FM release. 

Also of note is that the Announcer, an uncredited Mike Harrison once again, has dropped the “W” from the name of his pseudo-station; it will remain just “CAP-FM” for the rest of the series. He also adds a little more color commentary between tracks, for example telling us that we should catch certain acts in concert where possible. But otherwise there is a bland, “safe” vibe to What’s In-Store For You #2, so I wouldn’t suggest this as the one to check out first if you want to listen to this series. 

CAP-FM: What’s In-Store For You #3 
Capitol Records, 1977 

Things improve with the third release. Mike Harrison is still our uncredited “Announcer,” and he shows more personality this time than on the previous records. Still nothing on the level of a real-life jock, though. I just mean he’ll have these periodic asides like “Good stuff” after a track is played…which actually comes off as so facile that it’s funny. But once again his main purpose is to introduce each track, tell us where the band’s from, and give us the name of the album. And luckily there’s more variety here, getting away from the Middle of the Road vibe of #2. 

Little River Band and Gentle Giant are back, but we also get Be-Bop Deluxe (“Shine,” from their live LP), the unsung Bob Welch (who had just started his solo career), and a Lou Reed-type called Mink DeVille. On the prog side we have none other than Klaatu, whose “Around The Universe In Eighty Days” segues so perfectly into Gentle Giant’s “I’m Turning Around” that you’d think it was all one long song: 

The thematic work behind the segues still isn’t as on-point as in #1, but this one’s a definite improvement over its predecessor. Oh and I forgot – no mention is made over the Klaatu flap of the year before, where everyone thought Klaatu was really the Beatles. What you hear in my Youtube upload above is all that is said about Klaatu…just a generic intro with a mention they’d done “a rather unique space opera” with the London Symphony Orchestra. The LP, by the way, is Hope, which I don’t like nearly as much as Klaatu’s first album. But still, there is a bit of a bland sound to What’s In-Store For You #3, with not as much variety as in the first record…which makes the following LP come as quite a shock.

CAP-FM: What’s In-Store For You #4 
Capitol Records, 1978 

We immediately notice two things about this fourth (and final) CAP-FM release: Executive Producer Ray Tusken is not listed on the back cover, as he was for the previous three records, and our uncredited Announcer is now…a woman!! No idea who she was, but I detect a slight Southern twang in her delivery, as heard in the upload below. Otherwise Ms. Announcer is much the same as her male counterpart, introducing each track without much personality. She interjects the same sort of tidbits on each act, leading me to believe that the same person handled the scripts for all four records in the series. 

As mentioned above, another big change with #4 is the sudden focus on guitar rock. This is by far the most head-nodding CAP-FM record, featuring such glammy hard rockers as The Sweet, Status Quo, Starz and Be-Bop Deluxe. The latter’s “Panic In The World” was new to me (I prefer my rock from earlier in the ‘70s), but by gum if it didn’t have me ready to pick up a copy of the album it came from. It segues into a non-album track by the obscure Tom Robinson Band (sorry, maybe not so obscure…the Announcer says they’re one of the hottest new acts in England!!): 

Damn that “Panic In The World” can get stuck in your head. Crazy how it sounds like something from a few years later – this track would’ve been huge if it had been released in 1982. Also you might notice that the song here is an edit, same as are most of the other songs featured in the series (something I neglected to mention). For example, The Sweet’s excellent, ELO-ish “Love Is Like Oxygen” is half the length of the album version, cutting out a groovy second half. Speaking of which, the second half of What’s In-Store For You #4 loses the guitar-rocking vibe of side 1 and slows way down with the 1-2 finale of Crane and Maze, two acts that go in more of a Soul direction…the Maze song in particular, “Golden Time Of Day,” seems like it’s never going to friggin’ end. 

But it finally does end, after which our Announcer says, “CAP-FM. We’ll be back,” and with that the stylus reaches the runoff groove and the record comes to a close – thus ending the CAP-FM: What’s In-Store For You series. These records are certainly recommended if you like ‘70s rock in general and ‘70s FM rock radio in particular, with the caveat that #2 isn’t too great and the “fake radio station” conceit only goes so far. But as stated the records sound phenomenal, with a wide stage presence that likely sounded great pounding out of the stereo systems in record stores of yore. 

*I discovered Triumvirat in 1996, when I bought a cassette of their 1975 album Spartacus from the clearance section of a Camelot Records store in Dallas. I’d never heard of the group but the album title caught my eye, given that I had been obsessed with historical epics as a kid. I would play this progressive, ELP-style album on the tape deck of my buddy Ken’s 1980s Saab as we’d drive around Dallas. Ken’s tape deck had this weird gimmick where, if you pressed two buttons at once (I think it was Eject and Power), the tape would instantly flip over and play the same spot on the other side. Somehow Ken managed to discover a possibly intentional fluke on the Spartacus tape. There was a song on Side 1 where the vocals went, “The sun is shining.” Ken discovered that if he hit that “auto flip” function at that moment, it would flip over to Side 2, where you’d hear the line, “Time to die,” with the vocals in the same key. In other words, “The sun is shining/Time to die,” which became a running joke in those carefree, unmarried days of my youth, where I had the time to waste on such trivialities. Speaking of which, next week I’ll be celebrating twenty-one years of wedded bliss, so it’s likely I will not have a post up.

Monday, July 10, 2023

The Happy Hooker

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Wednesday, July 5, 2023


Provincetown, by Burt Hirschfeld
June, 1977  Bantam Books

By the late ‘70s Burt Hirschfeld was still trading off between hardcover publications and paperback originals. Provincetown was one of the latter, sporting a nice cover that opened into an even better inlay (below). Plotwise the story is like a longer variation on Hirschfeld’s earlier Acapulco, in that it’s about a film company coming onto location and all the soap opera dynamics that ensue. But Provincetown is longer, slightly more risque, and also features a biker as one of the (many) characters, which is pretty cool. But then Hirschfeld also wrote Bonnie, so he was familiar with the biking scene. 

If I didn’t know any better, I’d suspect Burt Hirschfeld had been reading some William Hegner. While Hirschfeld’s affected prose style is still apparent in Provincetown (ie, sentences that keep elaborating on themselves), Hirschfeld tells a lot of the tale via dialog, a style more used by Hegner, with the characters expounding back and forth to one another. There’s also a slightly more raunchy tone, but still nowhere in the league of Hegner. Actually, most of the sex is off-page in Provincetown, but there’s a definite focus on oral sex and even gay sex (the biker, you see, goes out of his way to be mean and cruel to convince himself that he isn’t attracted to men…which totally isn’t cliched at all, folks!). This “raunchy talk,” coupled with the Hollywood vibe, just brings to mind the contemporary work of William Hegner. 

It just isn’t as good as Hegner. Here Burt Hirschfeld, who by 1977 had penned scads of trash fiction novels, proves out Dean Koontz’s dictum: that “Big Sexy” authors will eventually reach burnout. Such would seem to be the case here, as Hirschfeld appears to be going through the motions in Provincetown. Perhaps I’m thinking this due to the various means he resorts to in filling up the 300 pages; there will be periodic faux-newspaper clippings about the movie, or interviews with the characters that take place after the novel’s events, and none of this stuff does anything to add to the plot. Also, the large cast of characters or course resembles Hirschfeld’s biggest success, Fire Island, only none of the ones here are as memorable as the characters in that earlier book. 

And the plot is kind of a mess. Provincetown is about a film company that heads to Provincetown in Cape Cod to film a movie titled…you guessed it, Provincetown. This movie is based on a novel by a guy named Tom Reynolds (one of the many characters in the book), which is about an older woman falling in love with a younger man. I mean that’s it. Yet the director of the flick, a former bigtime Hollywood talent named “Little John” O’Day, is certain this plot is going to be box office dynamite. However Pike, the creepy producer of the movie, has his own plans, and as the shooting progresses Pike starts demanding that more sex and violence be added to the film. It all just comes off as very hard to buy; I mean we’re to believe that O’Day, who goes back to the old studio days, would be willing to go on location and shoot a film in which several roles haven’t even been cast yet. I found this unbelievable. 

As usual for a novel with a large cast of characters, the opening pages are a bit bumpty until you figure out who’s who. And as with Fire Island, not all the characters are truly integral to the story; for example, the stuff with Mario the yacht captain could’ve easily been cut. But so far as the main characters go, there’s O’Day, 60 and concerned his best work is decades behind him, hoping to get his name back with this film; Vicky Pierce, a onetime box office star of famous beauty who herself has retired from the movie biz and is looking to Provincetown as a way back into the big leagues; Sexton, an alcoholic painter given to street fighting who himself was once involved with the movie business; Sandy Hayden, hotstuff young wannabe starlet who will screw anyone who helps advance her career; Kiley, the aforementioned biker whose savagery is a mask for his homosexuality; and finally Tom Reynolds, author of the novel the film is based on who hopes to become rich and famous. 

There are sundry other characters in addition to these, some of them more important than others, some lost in the shuffle: chief in this regard would be Joe Crespi, a willowy young “actor’s actor” who can’t handle the action scenes producer Pike insists on adding to the script. Oh, and Crespi’s gay, too, as we learn in his intro, but he sort of disappears from the novel after that until midway through. Only to return late in the book where he is the sudden object of Kiley’s wrath…not just because Crespi is the star of the movie (which Kiley feels he himself should be), but because Crespi is gay, and of course that just works up the in-the-closet Kiley all the more. 

The first quarter of Provincetown isn’t like most other Burt Hirschfeld novels I’ve read. It’s more brutal and crime-pulp in vibe, first with Sexton getting into a savage street fight and then later Kiley, in Greenwich Village, trying to get back his stolen chopper. This part is more grim than the typical Hirschfeld fare, with Kiley first finding a notorious area slut and “banging” her all night to get her docile and subservient, then using her to ensnare the rival biker who stole his chopper. It’s not overly violent but Kiley does toss someone off a rooftop…actually, two people, in one of the more surprising turns of events. But at least Hirschfeld here lets us know Kiley is a savage and not to be trucked with. 

Which makes Kiley’s mid-novel retcon into a wanna be star quite hard to buy. With his muscles and brawn often noted, it’s not hard to see Kiley protrayed as Big William Smith in the movie of Provincetown that plays in your mind. It’s all just a little ridiculous, though. O’Day and company arrive in Provincetown to shoot the movie, and Pike starts insisting on more violence and action. Somehow Kiley, who is hiding in Provincetown after committing murder in Greenwich Village, gets the job as the stunt man on the film. I mean, he’s not a professional stuntman, not in any union…he’s just a muscular guy they hire off the street to handle the on-film action stuff that lead actor Joe Crespi can’t. At least someone on the film crew might have started thinking about liability. 

But from this, Kiley begins to develop dreams of stardom, and begins demeaning himself to gain O’Day’s favor and prove himself as “the better leading man” for the movie. And also he’s got the simmering hots for Crespi over the whole gay thing. Oh and Kiley also becomes the thrall of a Rona Barrett type who comes to Provincetown to drudge up some gossip, but she instead finds Kiley at a party and takes him into an empty bathroom to suck him off. As I say, there’s a definite oral focus to Provincetown, not to mention a part where Kiley unleashes his “monster,” “bull”-sized member and sodomizes a poor character after beating him to a pulp. “He must’ve enjoyed that part of it,” a sensitive character later remarks on the sodomy, given that the victim happens to be gay. 

Now that I think of it, there’s hardly any straight-up screwing in Provincetown. Sexton, who seems to be Hirschfeld’s “main” character, has his chance with former box-office babe Vicky Pierce, but he’s “busted” and no longer able to get it up (due to his drinking or his general pessimism with life – it’s all the same for Hirschfeld), so he ends up dining at the Y. Again, the oral focus! There’s a whole lotta sucking, licking, and lapping going on in Provincetown. But anyway I guess being an alcoholic beach bum who runs an art shop is the way to pick up the ladies, as they’re throwing themselves at Sexton throughout the novel: first Vicky, then later a hippie free spirit type in her very early 20s who latches onto him, trying to prove he’s “not so tough.” 

Speaking of which, despite being published in 1977 there’s actually more of an “early ‘70s” vibe to Provincetown, which of course is fine by me. Other than an errant mention of disco, the soundtrack of the big party scene toward the end of the book is the “throbbing beat” of the Rolling Stones, and also there’s a part where O’Day and Pike meet in what appears to be an acid rock club, complete with strobe lights on the walls and dancing half-nude women. The drugs are also more early ‘70s than late, with grass being the most commonly used drug in Provincetown. In fact I don’t think there’s a single mention of coke, which seems strange for a 1977 book about Hollywood characters. Indeed, in a total early ‘70s bit that aforementioned 21 year-old gal plies Sexton with joints, forcing them on him, and the marijuana defeats not only Sexton’s alcoholism but it also helps him to, uh, “get it up.” 

But the lack of coke and the feeling that a lot of this is imitation William Hegner could however just be more indication that Burt Hirschfeld was falling behind on the times. While I enjoyed the novel for the most part, there was just a feeling here that Hirschfeld was going through the motions and delivering the type of book he thought was expected of him. It’s also interesting that the book’s plot is so similar to the earlier Acapulco, only as mentioned this one’s longer, and also has those gimmicky bits where Hirschfeld will fill pages with an interview with, say, upcoming starlet Sandy Hayden, or another with novelist Tom Reynolds. Which reminds me – Hirschfeld’s plotting is also kind of jacked up. Sandy Hayden is introduced as the mistress of Reynolds, and he’s brought her here to Provincetown for some action on the side (despite also bringing along his wife – and she’s another of the many supporting characters, a bombshell beauty with the mind of a prude). 

But somehow Sandy ends up with the lecherous press agent Pike has hired for the movie, and it’s almost as if Hirschfeld’s forgotten that she was introduced as being Reynolds’s kept woman. Regardless, Sandy’s storyline is a mirror of Kiley’s, in that she feels she should be a big star and is willing to do whatever it takes to get there. So, like Kiley, we have a lot of parts where she tries to catch O’Day’s eye, so that he’ll cast her in the movie…the movie that he’s already filming. It just all seems so goofy and unbelievable. Not to mention that O’Day, in his own scenes, is shown to be a bitter old cynic who doubts his ability to do anything worthwhile; he’s so similar to Sexton that the two are easily confused, particularly in the early pages. 

Now that I think of this, it seems Hirschfeld’s theme was clear: the oldschool studio-days film people are bitter, cyncial, lost, and, in the case of Sexton, alcoholic. They want to get back into the bigtime but don’t know how. The newschool actors, ie Sandy Hayden and Kiley, are willing to do whatever it takes to make it – in Kiley’s case, to kill, in Sandy’s case, to screw whoever will help her career. So in other words, the theme is pretty similar to most of the other “New Hollywood” trash paperbacks that were published in the era. But man. If only Hollywood people like this still existed…or at least were the ones who were making movies today. 

The novel works up to a nightmarish conclusion, with yet another main actor in the film getting raped – but this one is also murdered. This spirals us into a too-quick finale in which fate dispenses some justice…and also again via those egregious “industry articles” we learn that Mario, the fishing captain, is thrust into stardom due to his role in Provincetown. WTF? Also Sexton suddenly seems to have a plot that is separate from the main novel; the book concludes with him going around Europe with his new 21 year-old gal and finding himself or something. Meanwhile the stuff on Provincetown the film is almost rushed through. 

Overall this was a fairly quick read, and entertaining due to the fact that Burt Hirschfeld seemed to be pushing himself in new directions. But the center didn’t hold at times, lending the impression that Hirschfeld didn’t put as much of an effort into the writing of Provincetown. 

Here’s the uncredited inlay art spread: