David M. Riley

Christmastime is Here Again

Yep, the most wonderful time of the year has fallen upon us once more.  To get into the spirit, here’s The King of Rock n Roll, Elvis singing “Blue Christmas.”  Now this was recorded at one of the warm-up sessions prior to the taping of The King’s 1968 “comeback” television special.  Elvis was reunited with his original band and they went through a number of songs together.  The idea was that since Elvis had not performed in pubic for many years, this would help get him back into the swing of things.  If you watch the entire session, you will notice how restrained Elvis feels.  He wants to get up and rock out but there’s no strap for the guitar, the microphone can’t be raised high enough… Elvis is stuck sitting down when all he really wants to do is get up and swivel those hips.  Stuck in Colonel Parker’s prison where he’d remain, a caricature of himself, for the rest of his life.  Kinda sad, but Merry Christmas anyway.

Tribute to Bill Crider

I mentioned the other day how I got the idea of featuring vintage ads from Bill Crider, who, as I said, is a well-respected crime fiction writer and blogger.  Another blogger Patti Abbott hosts “Forgotten Fridays” where bloggers post articles about books that have been lost or forgotten in people’s minds.  This week is a tribute to Bill Crider.  Check it out here.

Happy Birthday Kenneth Patchen

Celebrating the 106th anniversary of the birth of American poet and novelist Kenneth Patchen.  He wrote in a style often referred to as “jazz poetry,” and influenced younger poets like Allen Ginsberg, as well as collaborating with music artists John Cage and Charles Mingus.


Kenneth Patchen, 1911 – 1972

There’s a place the man always say
Come in here, child
No cause you should weep
Wolf never catch such a rabbit
Golden hair never turn white with grief
Come in here, child
No cause you should moan
Brother never hurt his brother
Nobody here ever wander without a home
There must be some such place somewhere
But I never heard of it

Today’s Vintage Ad

I’ve stolen the idea of posting vintage ads from Bill Crider.  Bill is a well respected crime-fiction writer.  He also has a great blog he’s been doing since 2002.  Unfortunately, he has cancer.  According to his last post, he hasn’t got much longer and has moved into a hospice.  So I’ll be doing vintage ads as a tribute to Bill.

Net Neutrality

It’s 99.9% sure that the FCC will vote to repeal its net neutrality rules put in place during the Ombama administration this Thursday, December 14.

The Republicans outnumber the Dems on this one, and the new Trump appointed FCC chairman Ajit Pai has been an outspoken critic of Net Neutrality, so there is little question about the outcome.

Some experts say it could radically reshape the internet.  Repealing Net Neutrality will give telecommunications companies even more control over our online experience.  Some warn us to expect fewer choices and higher prices.  They say we’ll soon be screaming like Calvin  over here.

The philosophy behind Net neutrality is that internet service providers should, in general, treat all data sent over the internet equally.  There should be no difference between sending an email, access a website, making a phone call or watching movies on Netflix. The fear is that without some rules in place, ISPs will block or slow down access to some sites, giving preferential treatment to their own sites and services.

The most powerful telecommunications companies own media companies and ISPs themselves.  Verizon owns AOL and Yahoo, Comcast owns NBC Universal, and AT&T is trying to gobble up Time Warner.  They have an significant interest in what sites you visit online.   You might end up with quick access to Yahoo, but Google could be very slow.  You may get a reasonable charge to stream a video on NBC, but pay extra to stream video on Amazon… and so on.

Of course, it’s all about money.  That’s capitalism for you. These companies are shifty enough with their rates, why give them increased latitude to rob us?

For the most part, the Internet has been open and free.  We could see a day soon when everything you watch is based on what you can buy.  Loss of net neutrality could also mean tolls.   For instance, if you’re a Comcast customer and want to see something on Netflix or listen to a song on Spotify, those companies will have to pay a toll to Comcast in order to provide you with that content.  It could be a big mess.

Although there has been a large protest over repealing Net Neutrality, evidently it has not been enough to stop what most believe will happen on Thursday.

Maybe it won’t be a bad as they say.  Maybe it will be worse.

I expect my upcoming cable bills to be higher, much higher.  That way I will be pleasantly surprised if they stay the same.

Borrowing from Bob Dylan, the Internet “sure was a good idea, ‘till greed got in the way.”

Best Book I’ve Read in a While

James Fenimore Cooper (1789 –1851) was the first major novelist of the 19th century.  A prolific author, he wrote the first espionage novel (The Spy), along with sea stories, and a series of novels about the early American frontier known collectively as the Leatherstocking Tales; the second in the series, The Last of the Mohicans, is considered Cooper’s masterpiece.

I had never read Cooper, put off I suppose by Mark Twain’s description of his “literary offenses” in a famous article.   But I was intrigued by things I’ve read lately, particularly that the hero of the Tales, Natty Bumppo, was the prototypical America hero, the forerunner to Huck Finn, The Continental Op, Philip Marlowe, and so many others.  Besides, I was looking for some pure escapist fare and Mohicans, I thought, would hit the spot.

It was perfect.  I read The Last of the Mohicans quickly and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.  Written in 1826 and set in the 1750’s when England and France were at war on American soil, the plot is basically about Bumppo, a frontier scout, rescuing the two daughters of a British commander from renegade Indians.

One thing I have always had difficulty with in novels from this period is the discursiveness.  Perhaps the most famous of these is Les Misérables where Hugo goes into long asides about politics, religion, The Battle of Waterloo, and the Paris sewer system.  I understand why authors did that.  Readers in that age knew very little about the world beyond their visual horizon.  They did not have a modern education system, or cable with so many channels devoted to learning and discovery.  Readers probably expected to learn as well as be entertained.  Today, we have little patience for that.  We want action, movement.  Fenimore has his own excursions and in this  book, they’re short and pertinent to the story, about interesting Indian lore, the political and military climate of the time, and descriptions of the land around upstate New York.

Natty Bumppo was born of white parents but he grew up among the Delaware Indians.  In the Tales, he is often joined by his Mohican companion Chingachgook.  In each book, Bumppo is known by an ‘alias”: “Pathfinder” in The Pathfinder, “Leatherstocking” in The Pioneers,”the trapper” in The Prairie, “Hawkeye” and “La Longue Carabine” (The Long Carbine) in The Last of the Mohicans.  This latter nickname refers to his prowess with the long rifle.

In Studies in Classical American Literature D.H. Lawrence (Lady Chatterley Lover) wrote,

“And Natty, what sort of a white man is he? Why, he is a man with a gun. He is a killer, a slayer. Patient and gentle as he is, he is a slayer. Self-effacing, self-forgetting, still he is a killer.

Twice, in the book, he brings an enemy down hurtling in death through the air, downwards. Once it is the beautiful, wicked Magua — shot from a height, and hurtling down ghastly through space, into death.

This is Natty, the white forerunner. A killer. As in Deerslayer, he shoots the bird that flies in the high, high sky so that the bird falls out of the invisible into the visible, dead, he symbolizes himself. He will bring the bird of the spirit out of the high air. He is the stoic American killer of the old great life. But he kills, as he says, only to live.”

Yes, he is a killer.  He kills not out of evil, he kills because it is a job that must be done.  Judging from this book and what I’ve read about the others, it seems that Natty spends a great deal of his time trying to help others.  The iconic American hero, an adventurer, a man devoted to justice because for him it’s the only thing to do.  To protect himself, he acts dispassionate, but inside he cares.  From this we can see Philip Marlowe, James Bond, Jack Reacher, Shane, John Wayne’s character in The Searchers. So many others.

Lawrence notes that Bummpo is a moral man, but that his morality is from a practical point of view, not from philosophy.  Bummpo’s motto is “Hurt nothing unless you’re forced to.”

There are some good reasons to read this American classic.  It’s fun, perhaps the chief one.  And never mind what Twain said.  You will be so engrossed in this rousing adventure that you won’t notice any of Cooper’s alleged literary offenses.

The Last of the Mohicians – best book I’ve read in a while.

Bob the Crooner

I’ve been a Bob Dylan fan since… well, since way back when.  And one of the main things I’ve allways  liked about Bob was his voice, that ragged, scratchy, sometimes off-key voice.  Someone once said Dylan sang like he was sitting on a barbwire fence.  The first Dylan album I bought was Highway 61 Revisited. His voice sounded timeless, not young, not old, but eternal, with lots of wisdom.

By the middle of the 00s, though, I really could not stand to listen to him sing anymore.  That voice had deteriorated so much that, for me, it was hard to bear.  In the last couple of live shows I attended, he did a lot of what I call the “dreaded upsinging.”  That’s when Bob lifts his voice at the end of each line.  It’s how he sings when he gets lazy about singing.  I find it annoying.

I haven’t cared for the material he’s put since Time Out of Mind (1997) either.  That was an excellent album.  Everything after that has been crap.  I think Bob has recycled enough old blues riffs for one career.

In 2015 he started bringing out the standards, Frank Sinatra kind of stuff.  I am a Sinatra fan, but I was about as interested in hearing Bob sing from those old songbooks as I was hearing Bob sing Christmas songs.  I don’t begrudge him recording what he wants to record, but I don’t have to like it.

Then, just a few months ago, I tuned in to a TV special celebrating the 90th birthday of Tony Bennett.  It featured some good performances by Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Diana Krall, Celine Dion, Lady Gaga, and one Bob Dylan.

Bob was on tour somewhere as usual, so he submitted a tape of he and his band playing live.  It was very good!  The clip is a single shot with no cuts, and Bob sings well and is wonderfully Dylanesque.  Now, I’m listening to Triplicate, the latest album, and enjoying most of it.  There are a few songs and vocals that Bob doesn’t work out too well, but that’s always been the case with Mr. D.  I’m diggin’ it.  Great arrangements and the use of a pedal steel guitar on these standards is innovative.

The song is “Once Upon a Time,” with music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Lee Adams from the 1962 musical All American.  Watch this performance from the Tony Bennett special and see what you think.

Photo of the Day

How National Geographic got this photo of my old girlfriend, I’ll never know.

Anyway NG says: “A crested black macaque hangs out beachside in a nature reserve on Sulawesi. In studying these intriguing monkeys, known locally as yaki, scientists are learning how their social structure illuminates human behavior.”

Photographer: Stefano Unterthiner