Friday, May 30, 2008

Friday Bop

John Coltrane Quartet - On Green Dolphin Street - 1960

Thursday, May 29, 2008


I don't get it. TV Guide just changed hands again and the new regime is said to be deemphasizing its print version in favor of online. OK, that part makes sense. They're also cutting back — big-time — and letting a lot of staff go. Fine. Well, not fine, but understandable.

So now I hear that senior writer, blogger, vlogger (etc.) Michael Ausiello is jumping ship to Entertainment Weekly. Well good for him, but to the TV Guide peeps, wtf??

Guys, if your future is online, it would have been VERY smart to hold on to Ausiello, who has a personality, a strong following and enough connections (and savvy) to tease spoilers and such out of his contacts.

Yeah, it's not serious stuff but for marketing purposes (if nothing else) locking up Ausiello (with a big, fat new contract) and promoting the hell out of him would have been a smart move. His brand equity — and following — is strong, and I can guarantee you that's a big reason the EW people signed him up. And I can also assure you that he'll be bringing a lot of traffic to and they will use and repurpose his content like crazy.

But not as crazy as TV Guide was to let him get away.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Joe (and Gerry, Neil, Howard, Mark et al)

J. Michael Straczynski is hot. His original script, "The Changeling," directed by some guy named Clint Eastwood and starring Angelina Joli, was a big hit at Cannes. His screenplay for "World War Z," based on the hit novel by Max Brooks (Mel's son) is in preproduction; he just did a quickie polish on a Wachowski Brothers script; has another film set to be directed by Bourne director Paul Greenglass; and will be working on a series of films based on the classic "Lensmen" science fiction tales with Ron Howard. And there's more.

JMS was best known for creating, writing and producing the epic TV series, "Babylon 5," and has just signed to write comics for DC, having concluded his previous deal with Marvel.

A few years back, I wrote a piece on writers who traverse the worlds of TV, film and comics, now a pretty common occurrence. Then... not so much. I interviewed Joe and the rest, as well as Marv Wolfman, who wasn't included due to space, but I'll have to dig out the q&a sometime and run it.

The Amazing Writer-Man: From Comic Books To TV
By Richard Pachter
published in The Miami Herald and elsewhere in August 2003

You're watching television, barely paying attention as the credits roll by, then a familiar name pops up, though you can't quite place it. But a minute later, aha! It's the guy who used to write Spider-Man for Marvel Comics back in the `70s, Gerry Conway. What the heck is he doing writing and producing "Law & Order: Criminal Intent?"

A roll call of network and cable TV writers and producers reveals an increasing number who either got their start writing comic books, or still move back and forth between the two media.

So how did Gerry Conway, the creator of "The Punisher," the infamous Gwen Stacey clone, and writer of "Batman," "Justice League of America" and the "Star Wars" newspaper strip, migrate from the four-color pulp page to the cathode-ray tube?

"I couldn't get any comics work after 'Justice League,'" Conway said in a telephone interview. So he toiled in animation, which is considered to be decidedly down-market in status-obsessed Hollywood.

"I'd never work in animation again," recalls a rueful Conway, "unless I was starving. It's an abusive, terrible job, and the pay is lousy."

Conway continued to plug away, securing TV script assignments for non-animated shows like "Perry Mason," "The Centurions," "Matlock," "Jake and the Fatman," "Diagnosis Murder," "Hercules," "Baywatch Nights" and "Law & Order." He's now a consulting producer on the most interesting of the four (and counting) "L&O" series, "Criminal Intent".

"Consulting producer is a staff position," Conway said. "For a variety of reasons, there are different titles on every series, and some credits are a little like those in high school yearbooks. But I am a producer and write four scripts a year, one every two months, so that keeps me pretty busy."

(In fact, most producer credits on television series go to staff writers.)

Though Conway was never a fan favorite or critic's darling during his comics career, he was always regarded as a solid professional. Now, it hardly makes financial sense for him to spend his time writing them, he said.

"Many of the same skills are involved: character development, research and pacing, plus they're both visual mediums — but comics pay considerably less."

Despite that, he was set to do a five-part Batman mini-series for DC, he said, "but (editor) Andy Helfer got fired, so it's not going to happen."

He has a few other potential projects under way, but Conway continues to write and produce for "L&O: CI," looking forward to next season.

When British comics scribe Neil Gaiman starting writing "Sandman," he followed fellow Brits Alan Moore and Grant Morrison, who breathed new life into heretofore-moribund features like "Swamp Thing" and "Animal Man," respectively. Gaiman abandoned all but the Sandman name, imbued the new character with a poetic (some might say, new age) sensibility, and was lauded as a visionary. It was, in some ways, an odd turn. Comics, after all, are a relatively disposable medium. But Gaiman's work is an exception.

"Pretty much every comic I've written is still in print," he writes in an e-mail interview. "Most of the ‘Sandman' collections are now in their 12th or 13th printing, and sell more and more every year."

Gaiman, whose novel, "American Gods" had a nice ride on the best seller list last year, has relocated to the United States. He still writes comics, despite ending "Sandman's" regular monthly run a few years back. But he has always worked in a variety of media, including television, scripting an episode of the classic science fiction series, "Babylon 5," as well as his own BBC miniseries, "Neverwhere."

"Making ‘Neverwhere' with the BBC," he wrote in an e-mail, "was like working with an artist who's a bit out of sympathy with the material. But a lot of good stuff made it through the BBC filter anyway."

There are subtle but substantial differences in writing for comics, television and the screen. "Storytelling and the alphabet are pretty consistent from medium to medium, everything else is mutable. If I'm writing a comic I have to describe every panel to an artist. In cinematic terms, I'm the director and the editor as well, while the artist is the cameraman and all the actors. If I'm writing a TV or movie script it's basically dialogue and the action. Much less work.

"You get paid a lot more for writing one TV episode than you do for writing one comic," Gaiman said, "just as you get paid more for writing a movie than you do for a TV episode. I've always found it easier to do the work I loved and let everything else sort itself out."

J. Michael Straczynski created and produced "Babylon 5," arguably the purest evocation of science fiction on television — ever. He wrote most of the episodes of its five-year run and several "B5" movies at the same time, which must surely be a record on this world and several others. In addition to scripting the current monthly "Amazing Spider-Man" comic for Marvel, he writes and produces the Showtime television series, "Jeremiah," and has several other projects in various stages of development.

His first comics work, a story for DC's "Teen Titans Spotlight," came after he'd broken into television.

"Certainly comics work pays less than TV and film," Straczynski explains. "But I feel strongly that you should never do something because it pays more money than something else. Money should be tangential. On the one hand, you want to get paid and dealt with as a professional; on the other, the truth is, you can only eat one meal at a time, live in one house at a time, drive one car at a time. I do what I love doing. The money is secondary. The funny thing is, if you approach life that way, oddly you can often make a good living at it."

This well known Superman fan and collector has not scripted any of the archetypal superhero's animated exploits because, as others note, animators get no respect.

"I haven't pursued it for years because it took me a while to get out of animation, which has kind of a stigma in town, into live action. The only exception to this was when the Superman animated series was announced. I called the people over there — I think it was (writer/producer) Paul Dini — and said I'd love to do a script. I had done 'B5' at this point, and when I got them on the line, they kind of copped an attitude, one of, 'Oh, so after being Mr. TV you want to write for our little show now?' and that door was basically closed."

For writers, it's a natural transition between comics and television, but what of artists? Howard Chaykin's adaptation of "Star Wars" for Marvel (with scripter Roy Thomas) was one of the best selling, most reprinted series of the day. His own creation, "American Flagg," ran in two influential and prescient series for now-defunct First Comics, and a proposal for re-launching the venerable Batman as a young, modern, very hip (and libidinous) figure ultimately morphed into "Midnight Men," a creator-owned title published by Marvel.

Chaykin continued to write and draw comics, but also toiled as a writer and producer for comics derived (or similar) television shows, including "The Flash," "Viper," "Earth: Final Conflict" and "Mutant X." In a telephone interview and e-mail exchange, Chaykin describes how he made the transition from comics to television.

"I moved to Southern California in the mid-`80s, wrote a few (sample) screenplays, and was hired as a story editor on 'The Flash' and ended up writing something like six episodes."

"Of course, the real difference between writing comics and writing television is money — both in what one is being paid and what is being spent on bringing the work to life," he said. "Simply put, staffing a television series makes it possible to earn five times my income in television. On the other hand, the stress level of television eats my stomach — so there's always a trade off."

Mark Verheiden is a writer and co-executive producer of the WB's "Smallville," featuring a hunky, adolescent, not-yet-Superman version of Clark Kent. He wrote the screenplays for "Timecop" and "The Mask" movies, and the best-selling "Aliens" and "Predator" graphic novels, as well as his own creation, "The American," for Dark Horse Comics.

"Many of the same skills are involved: character development, research and pacing ... but comics pay considerably less."

Currently Verheiden is writing a bimonthly "Smallville" comic for DC.

He got started in the field of comics and television by studying film in college. "I optioned two feature screenplays before I wrote and sold my first comic book story. I've pretty much been working in both worlds all along," he said by e-mail on location on the eve of the production of next season's "Smallville."

"In either form, the key thing is thinking visually to tell a compelling story. Great dialogue helps, but if the story and the visual idea isn't there, you won't have much."

Also on "Smallville's" staff is producer/writer Jeph Loeb, who scripts comics for DC, Marvel, and other publishers. Kevin Smith, writer/director of "Clerks" and "Chasing Amy" has written for DC and Marvel, as well. As long as comics and filmed entertainment require dynamic storytelling and scripters who think — and write — visually, the crossovers between both media will doubtlessly continue.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Who Watches

The movie version of "Watchmen," the Citizen Kane of comics, is coming out next March, directed by Zack Snyder, whose last film was Frank Miller's "300." (Miller, of course, is directing the big screen version of Will Eisner's strip, "The Spirit").

A story in The New York Times revealed that in addition to "Watchmen's" main tale, an animated version of the sort-of subtextural narrative that was part of the original graphic series, "Tales of the Black Freighter," will come out on DVD about a week after the main film's theatrical release. Another feature to be included on the DVD, "Under The Hood" (which was the title of yet another fictional subcomponent of the original series — a tell-all memoir by one of the characters — will be a "making of" documentary on the DVD, according to the Times piece.

A few months later, the theatrical version of "Watchmen" will be released on DVD, then an "ultimate" version of the film, with "Tales of the Black Freighter" integrated into the story, as in the comic series and graphic novel compilation. There will also be online webisodes that will offer side-by-side frame-by-frame comparisons of the original story and the film(s), also according to the Times.

"Cloverfield" created a larger framework of a game with multiple online components that added to the anticipation of the film (and functioned as a powerful marketing tool) but was optional insofar as enjoyment of the movie was concerned.

The "Watchmen" producers, if the Times story is accurate, are using different media to tell a fuller and richer story, and the marketing and commercial aspects of the project — though a bit of a gamble — are also being served. In fact, they're making the telling of "Tales of the Black Freighter" commercially viable and, as a result, ensuring that the adaptation of "Watchmen" is even closer to the original than was thought possible.

"Watchmen" writer Alan Moore has pointedly disavowed the project, and given the artistic failures of the film versions of his other graphic stories, notably "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," who could blame him? He's declared on numerous occasions that he writes comics, not movies. But artist Dave Gibbons has been publicly supportive of the "Watchmen" film, and his imprimatur may be justified by the final result. Or results.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Early Revolution

Unless I get bopped on the head and start remembering things I've forgotten (and don't remember forgetting) this is my first published business book review, not counting stuff I (think) I did for the local Mac club.

Chauncey Mabe, then and now the Sun-Sentinel's books editor, had me pegged (don't laugh) as a high-end novel guy — popular literary stuff like John Irving — and resisted my entreaties to review biz books until he finally acquiesced with this one.

Upon publication, in January 1999, he told me, "No more," but by June of that year, I was at The Miami Herald as a copywriter/producer/project manager in the creative services department, and the only stuff that ran in the Sentinel (or New Times) were things already in the pipeline. The following year, I began my weekly column in the Herald's
Business Monday section.

Published Sunday, January 31, 1999 in the Sun-Sentinel (Broward/Palm Beach Counties, Fla).

RULES FOR REVOLUTIONARIES: The Capitalist Manifesto for Creating and Marketing New Products and Services. Guy Kawasaki with Michelle Moreno. HarperBusiness. 224 pages.

In the early 1980s, Guy Kawasaki was Apple Computer's original "evangelist" whose mission was to persuade the era's skeptical (and often recalcitrant) software developers to create computer programs for the company's nascent and prescient Macintosh. Now the head of a Silicon Valley-based venture capital matchmaking firm,, Kawasaki understands the value of learning from one's mistakes. In and out of Apple's corporate orchards during the intervening years, he's lent his considerable expertise to a number of books on marketing and product evangelism.

This Guy knows his stuff — and his audience. To some, marketing is voodoo; it's not sales, per se, which tends to be black and white, and quantifiable. Marketing appears far too amorphous and complex, so books on the subject generally seize upon a principle or two and apply 'em to as many cases as possible. Because new product introduction is nothing if not marketing, Rules For Revolutionaries takes its decrees and then provides ample observations and analyses to back up each point.

With generous dollops of humor, irreverence and wisdom borne of his and others' corporate ups and downs, Rules For Revolutionaries' text is deceptively facile, but so densely packed, it's nearly impossible to absorb this huge and diverse mass of sagacity in a single reading. This is no small accomplishment. Many marketing tomes pretend to be weighty philosophical dissertations, but are too glib and paper-thin. Rules For Revolutionaries is the antithesis of this; it's bigger inside than its appearance suggests.

Naturally, given his Apple battle scars, there are numerous references to Macintosh campaigns. The triumphs and tribulations accompanying the creation, introduction and development of the prototypical user-friendly computer (replete with embarrassments, dumb luck and the occasional planned success) add authenticity and brio to Rules For Revolutionaries.

But the book is hardly a pro-Apple screed. Kawasaki's unequivocal partisanship is readily tempered by stinging self-deprecation. Despite his and Apple's valiant efforts at withstanding Bill Gates' assault, the author, in a Q&A on product evangelism, nearly chokes in response to his own question on the hardest thing he had to do: "admit that despite all the evangelism I did, Microsoft Windows was going to control the world."

As a guidebook for new product introduction, Rules For Revolutionaries more than fulfills its mandate. But it is well worth recommending to those involved in marketing, sales, advertising, management and other business endeavors. Its sly, delightful insights and practical suggestions will almost effortlessly empower anyone seeking to bring a product, idea or dream to fruition.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Rock on Friday

Roy Wood and Jools Holland. I suspect a little alcohol might have been involved, too.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Great headline

From Slashdot

New Urinal-Based Video Game Makes a Splash

Posted by ScuttleMonkey on Wednesday May 21, @12:23PM from the hope-you-don't-have-a-shy-bladder dept.

Those who enjoy drinking beer, playing video games, and (oddly enough) peeing in urinals may be able to reach true nirvana after all. "Place to Pee" is a new video game that relies on a player's ability to hit sensors in a urinal to control game play. While this may seem extremely male-centric, don't worry, ladies, the game designers have thought of you too, and have designed a specialized paper cone for participation. Man, it's a bad day to be a janitor.

(More here.)

Hmm... if this catches on, they might want to set up a new site: Splashdot.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


I've been hitting Starbucks every Wednesday since I got a card for a free cup of coffee that's only good on Wednesday.

Generally, I'm not a big fan of their coffee, which tastes burnt to me, but the free-brew deal is for a new blend that tastes like good, strong, non-burnt coffee.

About a year and a half ago, I reviewed a book about the Starbucks brand which, at the time, was growing to encompass a lot of non-coffee stuff. I didn't quite get it and neither did the public, as the company's founding CEO is back in the saddle and his new agenda is to focus on... coffee. What a concept!

The relentless Bob Lefsetz applied Starbucks' experience to the music biz... which Starbucks had tried to get into, releasing a lame album by Paul McCartney (which he just gave away in copies of a Sunday newspaper).

I'm all for extending your reach, but jeez; Starbucks took a cup of coffee and turned it into an expensive, trendy, money-making business. Sometimes, just doing one thing — or one set of things — is enough. More than enough, in fact.

My free coffee card expires next week, incidentally. After that, we'll see.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Still Shakey

I was in the music business for a long time. I started as a clerk in the record department of Sattler's department store across from the Broadway Market in Buffalo, dropped out of college to work at the Buffalo One Stop, became the promotion guy for Best & Gold Distributors in Buffalo, then the local A&M guy, moved to Florida (still with A&M), and finally became an AOR indy. Then I returned to being a full-time fan, which is how I'd started out, spending my allowance on singles at record shops and department stores in Flatbush.

I'm not a musician (as those who've heard my
guitar playing will attest) but music flows through me like blood — a Beatles tune, a Miles Davis solo, a melody from a long forgotten jingle or something I heard on XM this morning — even when there's silence, the music plays.

I just got a copy of Don Felder's no-doubt sour grapes Eagles memoir. My wife and mother read Barbara Walters' book and this is my equivalent. No excuses. It's schmutz, I'm certain. Gossip. Fun.

A few years back, I reviewed Jimmy McDonough's biography of
Neil Young, Shakey, as a business book. I laughed to myself for pulling a fast one but got my comeuppance in the form of a congratulatory note from Herald Executive Editor Tom Fiedler commending me for doing so. Damn! I got back at Tom by writing and directing him in a rap video a few years later. But that's another story.

Here's the Shakey review, which also got picked up by Australia's Sydney Morning Herald.

Helpless? Anything but
By Richard Pachter

Wait a minute. The biography of long-haired hippie rock-'n'-roll burnout Neil Young is a guide to good business? Of course.

Young owns Lionel Trains (the company, not just a clutch of little locomotives) with a couple of partners. Also, he's had a remarkable career that serves as a solid case study in small-business and career development.

As a business book, in fact, it's probably more valuable than recent autobiographies by Louis Gerstner, Sumner Redstone and Jack Welch.

All over the world, young people struggle to succeed as professional musicians. Most fail, although "successful" ones are often relegated to performing Top 40 hits in bars (or bar mitzvahs).

It's partly an artistic issue, of course, but mostly, it's a business challenge, involving sales, marketing, promotion, finance, human resources, productivity, technology, logistics and more.

Jimmy McDonough's book Shakey: Neil Young's Biography ("Shakey" is one of Young's various nicknames) shows how a small, independent business person developed his skills and increased his marketability by creating a unique product and presenting it in a variety of packages.

Neil Young might claim that he was not "a business dude", and that commercial success was the farthest thing from his mind. However, his relentlessness and single-mindedness belie this. And McDonough's book outlines his subject's career trajectory that could serve as a series of lessons from both creative and mercantile perspectives.

Young, who has had a varied music career (to say the least), is tenacious and hardworking. He collaborates with a wide variety of partners, vendors and support staff to present his product (music and image) in a variety of packages destined for diverse audiences.

When opportunities to expand into other markets appear, he evaluates them and proceeds cautiously, committing only to short-term projects that are subordinate to his main product. While many of his peers fade from the radar screen through failure, death or lack of hits (same difference), Young grows in stature. Most of his recordings remain in print — no mean feat in these days of record company consolidation.

Young also owns several recording facilities, is an innovator in digital recording and an inventor of a number of technologies that led to his acquisition of Lionel Trains, as well as several devices enabling communication and transportation for the handicapped.

Along with Willie Nelson, he founded Farm Aid, the charitable organisation that supports family farmers. He's also an active supporter of other organisations aiding disabled children and their families.

McDonough spent more than a decade researching and writing this book. Originally, it was authorised by Young, who granted him access to nearly all the leading players of his life and work, and then sat for numerous interviews with the author. But by the time the book was ready to go, lawsuits shot back and forth between author and subject.

When the dust (and suits) settled, the book was released. The author shares the copyright with Young, who retains all "ancillary" rights, meaning that if a movie or play were made from the book, Shakey could (and would) veto it.

If you're a fan, Jimmy McDonough's absorbing and passionate study is a must-read. But it's also a terrific textbook for professional musicians and other independent entrepreneurs. Rust never sleeps, indeed!

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Operator

Another early review for The Herald assigned by the great Margaria Fitchner. This one, an authorized, then unauthorized biography of David Geffen, was embargoed by the publisher and I had to sign a nondisclosure form. Much ado about nothing, as the book caused a mild stir, then disappeared from sight. Sadly, author Tom King, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, died shortly after the book came out.


published 3/12/01 in The Miami Herald

The Operator: David Geffen Builds, Buys, and Sells the New Hollywood. Tom King. Random. 688 pages.

David Geffen's is a typically American rags-to-riches story. But what rags! What riches!

Wall Street Journal writer Tom King's biography of the agent and entrepreneur — whose client list included Tom Cruise, Cher, Nirvana, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Bob Dylan, Elton John and the Clintons — is a sharply written letdown. Despite exhaustive research, including hundreds of interviews with Geffen's friends, enemies, victims, benefactors and kin, The Operator fails to live up to its advance hype. There are no startling revelations, other than a smattering of specifics about the man's sexual profligacy, which is hardly headline news.

Like Sammy Glick in Budd Schulberg's 1941 novel, What Makes Sammy Run?, Geffen is portrayed as a lying, venal careerist whose scorched-earth ambitions leave a trail of broken friendships and bitter enemies. But unlike Glick, Geffen is far more complex and conflicted; a philanthropist, patron of the arts, humanitarian, fiercely loyal friend and political insider and activist.

Born in Brooklyn in 1943 to war refugees, young David exhibited behavior that would now be labeled as attention deficit disorder. Restless in school, dishonest, manipulative and argumentative with family and teachers, the street-smart Geffen gradually learned how to use those qualities to get ahead.

Moving to Los Angeles in an abortive attempt at higher education, Geffen dropped out and returned to New York, lying his way into the leading talent management company of his day, the William Morris Agency. Assuming no one would bother to check his resume, he claimed to have graduated from UCLA.When someone did investigate, Geffen intercepted the school's letter, and begged his brother, a Los Angeles lawyer, to concoct a placating substitute. But Geffen's academic record proved irrelevant; sheer ambition vaulted him from the mailroom to the executive suite in record time.

"Geffen simply worked harder than anyone else, " King writes. "He came in early and stayed late. The Morris office was his classroom."

At the agency, Geffen purposefully cultivated and flattered senior agents and executives and forged alliances with junior employees that would prove valuable as their careers developed. He parlayed a management stint with troubled-but-brilliant songwriter Laura Nyro into co-ownership of her songs, and their subsequent sale to CBS made him a millionaire at 27.

The west coast's burgeoning post-hippie music scene beckoned, and Geffen helped germinate the seed of the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young–Joni Mitchell–Jackson Brown–Linda Ronstadt–Eagles axis. Establishing strong working relationships with these artists, along with executive mentors and father-substitutes like Columbia Records' Clive Davis, Atlantic Records' Ahmet Ertegun and empire-builder Steve Ross of Warner Communications, Geffen was well on his way.

Personal management grew tedious, so with the help of Ertegun and Ross, Geffen founded, then sold two successful record companies, turning his profits into a fortune through shrewd timing, luck and chutzpah. Geffen's most recent venture is the entertainment conglomerate, Deamworks SKG (he's the "G"), in partnership with Steven Spielberg and former Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Unlike earlier moguls, Geffen isn't a manufacturer, innovator or artist. He preceded the Internet millionaires whose fortunes rose in anticipation of future profits. Instead, Geffen's sheer force of personality and willingness to abandon mentors, sell out relationships and lie — as well as his knack for being in the right place at the right time — molds his success.

But at the same time, Geffen also demonstrates fierce, if sometimes inconsistent, personal loyalties toward ailing friends and seemingly ungrateful relatives. Though publicly closeted for most of his life (and vilified for it by the gay press), he became a leading supporter and fund-raiser of anti-AIDS projects and political action groups and a confidante and supporter of the Clintons.

King began The Operator with its subject's support and participation. Geffen not only sat for seven interviews but also urged friends, family and business associates to cooperate. Although he suddenly changed his mind, he apparently didn't try to kill the book entirely.

One wonders if the canny Geffen's move was a strategy to allow him "cover" if the book became controversial or bad for business. In fact, The Operator offers an entertaining portrait of a complex and conflicted man, but it is unlikely to stir much interest outside the entertainment industry and its knotted circle of Geffen's friends, ex-friends and enemies.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


I went through a period, several years back, when I listened to audiobooks and podcasts (burned onto CDs) on a regular basis. Of course, spending three hours or more in the car every day might've had something to do with that. But it was a good thing, as it turned me on to the late, great Ed McBain (a/k/a Evan Hunter) who read several abridgements of his 87th Precinct novels. After that, I made a point of reading every new McBain book until his death in 2005, and we exchanged a few e-mails, too.

During a trip to London, I grabbed a couple of audio versions of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe novels, and recently acquired a set of unabridged readings by Elliot Gould, who played Marlowe in "The Long Goodbye."

I'd had several of "The Adventures of Philip Marlowe" radio shows on tape. None were written by Chandler, though he allegedly "approved" each script, which probably meant that he endorsed the checks sent to him.

I recently discovered that almost all of the existing Marlowe radio shows are online and can be downloaded free here or streamed here.

The photo above is of Gerald Mohr, who portrayed Marlowe in the CBS radio shows.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Friday Funk

Was (Not Was) on Later With Jools Holland Monday 5/12/08 "Semi Interesting Week"

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Murder by rectal suppository

They can't all be gems, so here's a review that I did for the Herald back in 2000, assigned by former books editor, the great Margaria Fichtner. I didn't hold it against her, though...

The Shot. Philip Kerr. Pocket. 384 pages.
published 5/14/01 in The Miami Herald

More Kennedy-era conspiracies, this time with a half-Cuban, Miami-based assassin; an FBI-Mafia partnership; a relentless tracker and lots of early 1960s atmospherics. And this time, all for naught.

British novelist Philip Kerr attempts fresh explanations and scores a few points for originality and research in The Shot, but his prose is ham-handed and clunky, with startlingly inauthentic dialog. Kerr is too clever by half; the result borders on satire.

The action starts in Buenos Aires, then shifts from Miami to New York to Massachusetts just after JFK's election. The Mafia wants Castro killed, but the hired shooter's wife enjoys kinky sex with JFK. He hears a tape of the tryst (don't ask) and decides to hit Kennedy instead of Fidel.

The book's improbable plot churns well beyond the reader's ability to suspend disbelief. Kerr further blows it with overlong expository speeches and inappropriate or decades-ahead-of-its time slang; Mafia soldiers and FBI men (or any Americans other than characters played by John Wayne or Gary Cooper) don't "reckon," and no one "partied" in 1960, to name two examples. Add several Britishisms, and the illusion is irreparably shattered.

Kerr has his Miami geography nailed down pretty well, along with late-1960 TV listings and football schedules. He also resurrects several familiar criminal types, such as Sam Giancana and Johnny Roselli, to interact with his characters. But none of these trudging cardboard cutouts is particularly well drawn.

Even the book's execution scenes, often a high point of thriller fiction, are only disgusting here, unless I'm misinterpreting the subtle symbolism of murder by rectal suppository.

The Shot misfires.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Hollywood Station

It's Crime Week (not really), so here's a review of Joseph Wambaugh's book that ran in the Herald a while back. Why this story hasn't been turned into a movie (Andrew Bergman? Ron Shelton?) is a mystery.

Cops and criminals collide on streets of Tinseltown
Characters are well drawn and compelling as Joseph Wambaugh returns to the LAPD.

published 12/19/06 in The Miami Herald

Hollywood Station. Joseph Wambaugh. Little, Brown & Company. 352 pages.

The miracle of art — even a piece that's minimally successful — involves a plausible imitation of life. Depending on the medium, sounds, scents, images and other cues cause the recipient's brain to believe that they are observing something real.

But human behavior and expression are rarely as entertaining and coherent as depicted in art. Anyone who has read a transcript of a conversation knows that ordinary mortals seldom if ever speak in ways that can be captured and coherently read by other humans. And like films, novels synthesize life and string selected moments together to simulate a narrative.

Joseph Wambaugh's latest police story, his first in a decade, begins with a dizzy dialogue that's later revealed as a piece of an ongoing colloquy between two surfer cops, identified only as Flotsam and Jetsam. Though mostly peripheral to the action, the pair provides additional comic beats in their interactions with the main players — of which there are quite a few.

Once past the joined-in-progress introduction, the text wends around to the rest of the cast, mostly humanly imperfect cops of varied heritage, age and social strata, and the meth-head ''tweakers,'' Russian and other eastern European criminals, and vagrants that comprise the not-so-good guys, plus Hollywood, itself a top-billed star of the show. Long past its golden days of glitz and glamour, the city is now just another crime-scarred urban locale, albeit one with residual magic and a mystique that still draws tourists and sightseers.

At the beginning, the reader, in frustration, may be searching for a plot, or at least a crime that's grand enough to warrant this freewheeling exposition. But once the initial confusion subsides, Wambaugh's art and craft combine to belay abandonment of the book, with characters so well drawn and compelling that even when they just pair off to meet for dinner, it's worth waiting to see what they order. And as it becomes apparent that wily Wambaugh offers not only a plot but also several tasty subplots, all worries subside.

Juggling the large troupe, which is not just ethnically diverse but also contains several flawed but full-blooded female cops and criminals, is no small feat. Wambaugh ensures that each player has several solid scenes with interesting dialog. Though the plot is hardly revolutionary, and the crimes are decidedly low tech, the rich cioppino of characters, conflicts and scenery makes for a highly entertaining experience.

Wambaugh, a former LAPD detective sergeant, isn't skittish about presenting violence or its consequences, and there's enough grit and world-weary wisdom to satisfy all but the most hardcore noiriste. Throughout, his peerless craft makes everything appear easy and effortless, like it all really happened, and he just wrote up the story and turned it in to his publisher. There's even a satisfying and happy-ish ending, just like in real life.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Storming Las Vegas

As promised, here's the link to my review of John Huddy's gripping true-crime tale, "Storming Las Vegas."

I'll post the text of the longer review that I recorded for WLRN-FM, the Miami NPR radio station, from which this piece is derived, in a few weeks.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Today in The Miami Herald

I reviewed Alec Foege's book on Clear Channel, "Right of The Dial."

It's one of those subjects that I know way too much about, and my own knowledge (and baggage, I'm sure) could have easily subsumed the discussion of the book. I think I managed to avoid that, while introducing as much relevant personal and external material as necessary — but no more than that. A little frustrating though, but discipline ain't necessarily a bad thing, either.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

First Novel

Robert Draper, former editor of Texas Monthly, wrote a book about George W. Bush a couple of years back that got a bit of press for its frankness. But in 1999, I reviewed his first novel, "Hadrian's Walls," for the Sun-Sentinel. I thought it was terrific, and here's my review:

The best thing a novel can do is to reveal a heretofore-undiscovered world. Former Texas Monthly editor Robert Draper's first novel, "Hadrian's Walls," does all this and more, presenting a tiny universe that crackles with conflict, contradiction and energy. It is an impressive work of entertainment and literature; with its page-turning plot and vibrant characters, it's perhaps the perfect book for summer reading.Draper's revelatory universe is a Texas prison town; truly a microcosm of humanity. With layers of politics, personalities and perversion, the heroes and villains live on, long after the story concludes.

The tale is related as a first-person narrative by Hadrian Coleman, convicted of murder at 15, now returning to his hometown of Shepherdsville, Texas, the prison town run by his boyhood pal, Sonny Hope. From this logical point of attack, the story unfolds, with well-timed flashbacks revealing and amplifying the plot.

Texas, with its singular history and culture, is a great setting for any novel. Its larger-than-life legends illustrate, amplify and extend human foibles and heroics. But Draper wisely keeps things at the human level, allowing the action and its implications to assume their natural, albeit Texas-sized, proportions.

As the story unfolds, the author's intelligence and energy keep things moving at a remarkably steady pace. His craft and poise also serve to smooth over any soft spots in the plot, rendering them barely noticeable. For a novice novelist, this is a considerable feat, resulting in a story within which the reader becomes happily absorbed and remaining so well after its completion.

Hadrian Coleman is an Everyman; a Prodigal Son, to be sure, but also a figure of great gravity and tragedy. The childhood murder was, of course, the singular event in his life, but his existence before and after is even more defining — and filled with archetypal characters and situations. Hadrian's father is the country veteran who can do no wrong; his best friend is the town's ne'er do well, the woman whom they both love is the unattainable goddess, and so on. Draper not only breathes life into these hoary, would-be stereotypes, but imbues them with such vibrancy and vitality that they're born again as fresh characters.

"Hadrian's Walls" would make a terrific movie (Matthew McConaughey: call your agent!) or — better yet — a miniseries, but don't hold your breath. Instead, read this book, and just try to wait patiently for the author's next one. I certainly will.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

True Crime

I finally filed my review of John Huddy's book, "Storming Las Vegas" this week. I'll post the link when it runs (in The Miami Herald) on Tuesday 5/13.

I also recorded a review of the book for the Miami NPR station, WLRN-FM. I'm a cultural correspondent for the station's South Florida Arts Beat show, though I mostly seem to review Miles Davis albums. But I don't think Miles is releasing anything soon, so I guess I'm done with that, but you never know.

I'll post the text of the WLRN review here, as it includes a longish section reminiscing about Huddy's writing for the Herald in the seventies and eighties. I pitched the paper on an interview with the guy, but for various reasons, it ain't happenin', though I may still do something for Ed Bell and WLRN. The review is scheduled to air on Friday 5/30.

Here's a section of Steve Martin's recent memoir, excerpted in Smithsonian Magazine, that recounts the pivotal role Huddy played in his career.

Imagine! A critic playing a pivotal role in an artist's career!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Shut up!

Radiohead tour began last night at the oft-renamed Cruzan Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach.

Pitchfork has more photos and the set list. Sun-Sentinel's Sean Piccoli has a review.

For an opening night, it was a very good set. Pacing needs a little reconsideration, however, with a disproportionate number of slower, quieter songs bunched together in the middle. But the sonics were very good considering the venue and the "light show" was cool, too.

This may not be a problem in some areas, but many of the beer-swilling audience talked throughout the set, and in the quieter portions of the show, the babble was overpowering. I'm an old fart, but I don't get it; it's one thing to make occasional comments, but it's another to have an ongoing conversation during the performance.

Why pay for tickets if you're not going to pay attention?

(In fairness, though, some sang along, but not to anything slow.)

Interestingly, Sean reports that the show was a couple of thousand short of being "sold out." Tickets were plentiful on the Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach Craigslists, though I didn't run into many scalpers at the gig.

Opening act, The Liars, played an enthusiastic percussive set.

Monday, May 5, 2008


Interesting that a second-string (though durable) Marvel superhero might have the most successful movie adaptation, both financially and substantively.

But maybe its success was a result of maintaining the integrity of the character. Since it was a production (the first) from Marvel as a studio, they wisely had some of the company's editors and writers intimately involved.

Haven't seen it yet, but I just might.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

FAQ for Publicists, Publishers and Authors

This is my boilerplate e-mail reply for book review inquiries. I used to send it out to everyone, but somehow, I've shown up on pitch lists for religious stuff, romance novels, kids' books and other things I don't review, and since it's become a flood, and
most of those pitches are canned rather than personal, I usually just ignore 'em. But sometimes I don't. Depends.

Thanks for your e-mail about your book. Here are a few things you might find helpful.

First of all, I review business books usually intended for a general business audience. I avoid technical volumes, most business-to-business books, self-help, pop psychology, inspirational, religious, spiritual, sports, celebrity bios, novels, fables, parables and such. (There are exceptions, but not often!) CEO memoirs and the like are iffy, but not entirely out of the question.

I love books and language, and am endlessly interested in all forms of business, as it's a vital aspect of human culture.

That's why I review business books, week after week.

If you want your book considered for review, you need not ask me before sending a copy. It's an extra and unnecessary step.

I receive many books every day — more than I can possibly review — so if you think yours is a candidate, just send it. My address is below (and edited out here).

If you are not sure if the book is right, please take a moment to scan previous reviews (at The Miami Herald site requires registration. My own (admittedly incomplete) site, does not.

I like books offering fresh ideas that can be applied to a variety of businesses and situations.

Your book must be new, and available in bookstores and from normal online merchants (, etc.) and not just through your own web site or 800 number.

I'll sometimes review a book AND the CD audio version. Feel free to send both, if you like.

I don't (can't) return phone calls. You may always follow up with me by e-mail. I try to respond promptly, but this is not my full-time gig, unfortunately, and my "real" job takes up the majority of my time and attention.

I don't review unpublished manuscripts and can offer no advice on agents, publishers, editors etc.

I rarely do author interviews unless there are strong local South Florida connections, and even that's no guarantee.

I don't need any canned reviews, have no say about anything else in the paper and think that poetry is a huge scam, so don't send me any poems (pretty please!)

From time to time, I write about other stuff, but it's not worth pitching me on anything, since I have more ideas than time to execute them.

Thanks for reading. (Any implied grouchiness herein is certainly not directed at you! I promise.)