Monday, March 26, 2007

Oh yeah... that Crimespace thing...

Yes, like everyone else who dreams of being the next Chandler, I've got a Crimespace page.

It certainly seems like a good idea, a "MySpace"-like network of crimewriters banding together to offer support and comraderie in a low-key environment, more akin to a dimly lit Bouchercon bar than the toxic, flourescent glare that too many discussion groups have become.

But given how many scumball hacks are out there perpetually plugging their wares, I wonder how long before they start giving Crimespace the eye. Because, let's face it, these BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK NOW! turkeys are already on the run, wearing out their welcomes everywhere they go. They've got to be figuring CrimeSpace is a whole new frontier for them to pollute with their "Attaboys!" and incestuous little BSP circle jerks.

Head 'space cadet Daniel Hatadi has vowed he's not gonna let that happen. Certainly, my initial impression is that everyone likes the "No Hard Sell" vibe so far. But we'll see. These guys are insidious. Already some folks are using corporate logos as their page photos. How PATHETIC is that?

But anyway, check out my Crimespace page, if you want, and tell me what you think.


"I never saw Chinatown. Is that with Jackie Chan?"

I think it says a lot about the shaky state of modern American television (and the pervasiveness of technology) that NBC has already released all six episodes of ANDY BARKER P.I.-- even before they've been officially aired on TV -- on their web site.

For free. Or you can buy 'em for $1.99 a pop on iTunes.

Nothing like a vote of confidence, huh?

Looks like a recent column I did for Mystery Scene entitled "The Private iPod" was only about three minutes ahead of the curve. Not bad for a Luddite like me.

But hey, beyond NBC's release tactics, I like the show. Sure, like almost every other attempt at a private detective show these days, it's got a gimmick. In this case, it's the old "nebbish is mistaken for a private eye and gets thrown into a case where he must prove his mettle" gimmick.

Yeah, it's an old gag, but it comes off as far fresher than it probably has any right to, thanks to an affable cast and some sharp writing.

Andy Richter, Conan O'Brien's old sidekick, is flat-out perfect as an earnest, wide-eyed nice-guy CPA who decides it's time to hang out his own shingle. He rents an office in a Southern California mini-mall (grandiously called "Fair Oaks Plaza"). The problem is that the office's former tenant was Lew Staziak, a crazy old coot of a P.I. who was forced to retire -- rather suddenly -- because of health problems. Andy buys himself plenty of office supplies and sits down at his desk to wait for his first customer.

It doesn't come.

Instead trouble walks in. On high heels, of course.

Through the usual misunderstandings, Andy is mistaken for the former tenant of the office, and hilarity promptly ensues. We've seen this all before -- in everything from Bob Hope's MY FAVORITE BRUNETTE to Jeff Goldblum and Ben Vereen in TV's TENSPEED AND BROWNSHOE -- but the cast is good and the writing (so far) fresh.

The relationship between Andy and Jen, his equally mild-mannered, relentlessy peppy homemaker wife turns out to be not so much sticky sweet and intentionally cloying as genuinely sweet and irony-free -- a rarity in a medium where married couples are almost universally portrayed as bickering stand-up comics, firing non-stop zingers 24/7.

Instead, rhe show dares to be sweet. Charming. Cute, even. Like when Andy and Jen are in bed, each with their own lap top, and text-message each other.

Bit it's not all sweetness and light. There's also a shrewd, subversive wit about it. Not surprising, perhaps, given that Mr. Late Night himself co-created it. O'Brien, of course, cut his teeth writing for The Simpsons, another show that managed to balance a certain domestic sweetness (No! Really!) with some pointed satire.

Adding greatly to the fun are Andy's wacky neighbours in the struggling mall. Simon is the screwy, movie trivia-spouting operator of Video Riot with way too much time on his hands who declares himself Andy's partner for his "detective work." Restaurant owner Wally is a recent immigrant from Afghanistan (he "traveled here in the wheel well of a jumbo jet") who's gone overboard with patriotism "since 9/11." And Jessica is the stone-faced, intimidating black woman who blames Andy for the loss of her last job and declares herself his new secretary -- whether he likes it or not.

I also like the show's pragmatic approach to technology. It's neither overblown nor downplayed. When Andy needs to find out something, he hits Google, and there are plenty of shots of Andy at his computer to reassure us that this is indeed a current show -- not some "brilliant but cancelled" treasure left in the vaults way past its expiration date.

As well, the show just looks good -- it's well-filmed and well-lighted, a nice change from the skinflint production values of crank-em-out reality shows and cut-rate sitcoms we've seen lately.

Sweet, smart, slyly subversive, ANDY BARKER P.I. is everything most sitcoms aren't these days.

Watch it while you can. Anyway you can, be it streaming video or download or even -- GASP! -- on television.

So help me, it may just be the best new private eye show in years. It's certainly the smartest.


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Let Nothing Come Between You

... except, of course, the inexplicable release schedules of record companies.

I'm jazzed right now. I've just discovered that two (count 'em, TWO!) of my favourite albums of all time are finally making it to CD. Even if I weren't 3000 miles away from the remnants of my beloved old vinyl albums, I would still have snapped these up on disc years ago if they'd been available. I played the originals to death, and every scratch and scar, hiss and pop, was the mark of my love (and a cheap stereo).

What albums am I ranting about?

Only two of the greatest, most satisfying albums to ever be put out by one of my favourite song writers: MR. WARREN FRIGGING ZEVON!

For years there's been a gaping hole in his catalogue, and it's finally being plugged with the domestic release later this month of THE ENVOY and... lemme take a breath... STAND IN THE FIRE.

It's been particularly galling that these two have been MIA while the close-but-no-cigar TRANSVERSE CITY (his hit-and-miss cyber-noir experiment) and his sketchy, thin Kim Fowley-produced "debut" have been readily available for years.

For those of you who don't know, the late Zevon was the two-fisted, classically trained piano fighter best known for the freak 1978 novelty single WEREWOLVES OF LONDON. But Zevon was always much more than that. His songs were as American as a handgun, tough but tender howls from the wilderness, whether he was singing about headless Thompson machine gunners come back from the grave seeking revenge, ill-fated Southern rock bands, Frank and Jesse James or his own slow death from cancer a few years ago. His songs were laced with grim humour, a sardonic fatalism and a bruised romanticism that fans of hard-boiled and noir literature would recognize immediately. And his love songs could be so unabashedly honest and candid that they could take away your breath -- or break your heart.

THE ENVOY came out in 1982, long after the next big thing expectations unleashed by WEREWOLVES' success had crashed and burned, and Zevon along with it. Yet it has some of his greatest collections, including the ballsy title track that alternately mocks and glorifies diplomats who jet around the world trying to do good but often making it worse. With its call-outs to Mid East frictions and backroom deal-cutting, it hasn't aged an iota. Meanwhile, the twelve-step, twelve-string "Charlie's Medicine," about a pill-pushing doctor who ultimately samples too much of his own product, is the perfect look at middle-class, middle-age addictions -- a subject Zevon saw first hand a few times. "The Hula Hula Boys" is a cuckold's goofy little ditty about a vacation turned bad, and "Jesus Mentioned" is perhaps the finest (and saddest) song about the death (and music) of Elvis I've heard. And then, of course, there's the turn-it-up grind of "Ain't That Pretty At All." It ain't pretty, maybe, but it gets the job done.

But if it's grind you're seeking, STAND IN THE FIRE (1981) is the one you want. A single vinyl album when it was released it put the boots to all the fat, bloated double live albums that flooded the record racks in the seventies and eighties. FIRE is tight and taut and relentless, a career summary that rocks like a mother, containing definitive versions of the Springsteen-Zevon "Jeannie Needs a Shooter" (betrayal and possible betrayal) and "Mohammed's Radio" (Zevon sang about rocking the casbah in this ballad before anyone had every heard of The Clash). Even better, he puts the fire-and-brimstone crack-and-sizzle danger into "Werewolves," "Lawyers, Guns and Money" and "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" that was missing in the studio versions. And the encore of "Bo Diddley's a Gunslinger" is jaw-dropping, turning a typical Diddley boast into a mission statement of darkness and menace and, amazing, sheer joy. Zevon was supposedly clean and sober when this was released, and the sheer exhilaration of him and his band, loaded for bear, comes through loud and clear. They didn't just stand in the fire, they rocked out in it.

Draw blood!

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