About Ron

Surf guitarist, writer, library technician, Ron fills the daylight hours with dreams of reading, well-behaved pets and the perfect dark beer. Reading interests range from humor to mystery, steampunk to travel writing, historical fiction to surrealism.

Them Bones

One of my favorite types of TV programs is the solving-a-mystery-while-being-funny genre, shows like Castle and Psych. Recently, I discovered a not-so-new entry in this genre which is perhaps the best one I’ve run across, Bones.

The premise of Bones is that the world’s foremost forensic anthropologist, Dr. Temperance Brennan, helps the FBI solve murders through the examination of victims’ bones. Brilliant but sadly lacking in social skills and tact, Dr. Brennan, or Bones as she’s called by her FBI agent partner Seeley Booth, finds clues in the most unlikely places. Small scrapes on a rib or an indentation on a femur can indicate murder weapon, time of death or even a murderer’s identity. The other members of her team specialize in flesh, bugs and facial reconstruction among other things, each specialist hovering loftily at the top of their field.

A sad fact of television mysteries is that the “rules” of mystery telling and constraints in time often make it obvious who perpetrated a murder. I generally can identify a TV murderer by how they’re introduced or whether suspicion is cast on them. There’s no need to pay attention to the investigation to solve the case. One of the beauties of Bones is that it’s not so strongly bound by these conventions. Sometimes the killer is a newer character who we don’t meet until late in the episode. Other times storylines take abrupt turns that could not be anticipated. The writing is a cut or four above most procedurals.

Now perhaps you don’t care about murder solutions or quality of writing, but you are a fan of gore. Wellsir, Bones is the show for you! Because Dr. Brennan specializes in bones rather than the meat portion of bodies, she’s only called in on cases where the victim’s body has deteriorated significantly. This leads to liquification, intense maggot activity, limb detachment, exploding abdomens and so on. In other words, the bodies are waaaaaay gross. I can only imagine that the visual effects people had a field day working on this show.

Over the 12-year run of the show, characters become more than just coworkers. Of course there’s the usual everyone-dates-everyone-else nonsense, but these people have intense loyalty and affection for one other. At the core of it all is the deeply profound partnership between Booth and Bones. Booth is a man of intuition, a specialist in reading people and a devout Catholic. Bones relies on evidence, does not make assumptions, disdains psychology and is a card-carrying atheist. Other members of the team bring a wide variety of philosophies, personality traits and socio-economic backgrounds. But above all, each team member respects and cares for the other members of their team/family.

If you’re looking for humorous, unpredictable and gory mysteries, look no further. And with 12 seasons to choose from you’re guaranteed over 200 hours of viewing bliss! So lean back in the recliner, pop the tab on a fresh kombucha and prepare to be entertained.

Sea Hunt

In 2020 people struggled with rapid and often unpleasant changes. Many tuned in to television shows from the past as a means of self-comfort. Indeed, lately I find myself watching more and more programs from the 60s and 70s, some that I watched during their original run and others that provide familiar scenery from childhood. There’s something wonderful about immersing oneself in the miasma of carefree days that preceded entry into the 9-5 world.

And I’ve been thinking of shows that sit in the crepuscule of my memories, fleeting images of safari from Daktari, of airboats gliding through the Everglades from Gentle Ben and of Lloyd Bridges scuba diving from Sea Hunt. Assuming that I’d never really watched it before, I checked out Sea Hunt from Everett Public Library with some trepidation, fairly certain that it would bore me into a coma. Well sir or ma’am, I could not have been more wrong! While the show is exceedingly dry in delivery (yet wet with water), it manages to create tension and excitement while teaching a thing or two along the way.

If you’re of a certain age, you remember watching films in elementary school that could be collectively called Help Me I’m Bored, Please Put an Icepick Through My Eye. No attempt to engage viewers, dry-like-the-driest-sherry narration and visuals that would not stimulate a sea cucumber. To some extent, Dragnet grew out of this tradition with its no-nonsense just-the-facts-ma’am narration. Sea Hunt feels like the undersea equivalent of Dragnet. It’s not a perfect analogy (the beautiful rapid-fire delivery of Joe Friday is nowhere to be found), but it’s a good starting point for understanding the show.

Episodes begin with diver Mike Nelson (which, c’mon, is the perfect name for a dashing male figure from the late 50s) narrating while he carries out his typical diving duties. Next, we learn the extraordinary circumstances he must deal with in today’s adventure. For example, a mine collapses and is filled with water. 30 miners are killed. Mike is hired to dive in the flooded tunnels (a dangerous undertaking) to see what the situation looks like.

Let me digress for a moment. I like to imagine the pitch meeting for Sea Hunt where creator Ivan Tors must have said roughly, “Half the show takes place underwater. It’s dark, murky and very hard to see. Divers can only move slowly and they don’t talk while diving. Another quarter of the show is Mike Nelson adjusting his diving gear.” In fact, networks turned the show down and it ended up being produced in syndication. And Sea Hunt is indeed visually unengaging, with long periods of narration explicating underwater escapades. Yet it still manages to generate gut-clenching thrills as we wait to see if Mike can save the world once again.

We now return to our regularly scheduled program.

As he dives through those flooded mine caverns, Nelson begins to hear a pounding that’s too regular to ignore. Emerging in a small air pocket he discovers two miners barely alive, soon to be dead if he doesn’t act immediately. Mike realizes that he can only take one of them back to safety! He decides to return as quickly as possible to help the other, but it will likely be too late…

Exciting stuff.

The show ran from 1958-1961, before my time, but I remember watching it as a young child and especially recall each episode’s ending, variations on the theme, “Hi, I’m Lloyd Bridges. I’ll see you next week for another underwater adventure.” Surprisingly, it’s become a show I greatly enjoy. Grab some popcorn, Maynard, and check this one out for yourself.

The White Album

Round about 1978 I began a complicated relationship with the Beatles’ White Album. As the owner of a car with a cassette deck (!) I was able to take the Beatles with me wherever I might go… practically here, there and everywhere! Two of their albums became my constant companions, Abbey Road and the White Album. These lp’s colored my late teens perhaps like no others.

In my dotage I tend to alternate between hot and cold feelings for those Beatles, but a recent listen reminded me of the brilliance that is the White Album. I don’t think anyone could sit down and write thirty impressive songs in varied styles any better than this. Most rock albums stick to a narrow range of musical language. But the White Album is all over the map: rock and roll, folk, experimental tape music, dance hall. And the really infuriating part is the songs are mostly brilliant. As a listener, it feels like the composers did whatever they felt like and did it outstandingly well.

The Beatles did a whole lot of tape manipulation in their music, back in those wild pre-digital days. I remember hearing once that bits of Strawberry Fields were created by cutting up some tape, randomly reattaching the bits, and playing it backwards. Revolution 9 takes this practice to new heights. There is nothing warm and cozy about this song, no melody, no easily-discernible form. If you wanna reach a new level of creepy, try listening to this one late at night at the end of a deserted road in your car. Number nine.

Perhaps you’d like to hear a little hard rock or proto punk. Iggy Pop and the Stooges were exploring this style as early as the late 60s and on the White Album we find the Beatles up to their hip boots on Helter Skelter. It’s a brilliant foray into driving distorted guitar, wall o’ drums and a highly saturated sound spectrum.

Or if you’re looking for 6 degrees of separation from all that’s creepy and loud, you could always lindy to the dance hall crooning of Honey Pie. If Chico Marx had sung with Paul Whiteman on a spring day in Central Park, well, who knows what that would have been like. But there is a distinct vaudevillian feel to several of the album’s tunes. It’s as if the Beatles wrote a few for the kids and a few for mum and dad.

We could dissect each song, but the takeaway is variety and high quality. It would be inaccurate to call the White Album a rock album, although it includes plenty of rock. Nor is it solely folk or experimental or early jazz. But, it has a bit of each of these genres. Quite an accomplishment. And because it’s a double album, when you check it out from Everett Public Library you get 2 for the price of 1!

The Christmas Zone

Christmas is a time of cheer, family, sharing, snow and small-town comradery. At least it is in most movies. But today we cross the line into that dimension of time and space known simply as… The Christmas Zone!

Case in point: the Firpo brothers.

Trapped in Paradise spins the tale of three, um, less-than-genius brothers who decide to rob a small-town bank at Christmas time. The robbery goes without a hitch, but the trio finds themselves trapped in the town of Paradise courtesy of a snowstorm. Hilarity ensues. While I recognize the borderline quality of this film, and I typically do not enjoy Nicolas Cage or Dana Carvey, somehow I am tremendously amused by this offbeat Christmas story.

Office Christmas Party features an excellent cast that should fill me with delight. But Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Kate McKinnon and T.J. Miller cannot save this vehicle from itself. Once again it’s Christmas time, and the Chicago Zenotek branch is facing massive layoffs. Most of the movie is devoted to a, wait for it, office Christmas party which reaches new levels of decadence every few moments. Then, just as the mayhem hits dizzying heights and comes crashing down, a happy ending descends upon Chicago and there is peace and decked halls for all. Not a great movie, but it is filled with charming performances. If you’re looking for something outside of the typical Christmas fare, this just might be the ticket.

Yes Virginia, there are Christmas horror movies. Gremlins combines the cuteness of furry little critters with the unquenchable bloodlust of monsters. What could possibly go wrong? Without giving the story away too much, the town of Kingston Falls is attacked by gremlins on Christmas Eve. Chaos ensues, people die, and an effort is made to stop the gremlin threat in its tracks. The movie also sports an element of black comedy to take a bit of the people-dying-in-the-streets edge off. Will there be a Christmas miracle? Tune in to find out.

Perhaps you long for a Christmas zombie musical? Anna and the Apocalypse is a difficult movie to describe without giving it all away. Picture a typical zombie movie, but with fun little pop songs and happy teens who are somewhat oblivious to what’s going on around them. Add a touch of carnage, a soupcon of choreography and a dash of holiday celebration to the mix and you have one of the stranger Christmas movies to hit the bricks in some time. As always, don’t forget your towel.

So if you find yourself unable to view Santa Claus Conquers the Martians this holiday season, take a look at what’s available at Everett Public Library. You just might start a new and awkward tradition.

Classic TV

Even as a person who was raised on sixties television, I can be put off by the thought of watching shows produced during that time. Acting styles, writing, pacing and sets were often different from today’s standards. And, hold on to your girdles, programs were sometimes shot in black and white! My brain often decides, on its own, that these shows are inferior, and thus I hesitate to watch them.

But every now and then I’ll talk myself into taking a chance. My latest find is Ironside starring Raymond Burr. Now, I’m a long-time Perry Mason fan, but for some reason Ironside never appealed to my finer senses. Well, let me tell you: It’s fabulous!

Burr plays the San Francisco chief of detectives who, in the show’s first episode, is shot in the spine and rendered unable to walk. Robert T. Ironside is a firecracker of a person, not one to accept physical limitations, and he’s soon working as a special consultant to the SFPD. Along with officers Ed Brown and Eve Whitfield and personal assistant Mark Sanger, Ironside looks to crack a case each episode.

Plots are well-crafted and fascinating, often delving into issues of race and discrimination. At a time when freedoms of Americans are potentially eroding, it’s pretty eye-opening to see a 50-year-old tv show embracing diversity. It’s also educational to see how much the world has changed in those 50 years. One episode features a criminal who steals a machine that issues payroll checks. He uses it to forge checks and then takes them to about 20 grocery stores each day. In San Francisco 2020, I’m guessing you’d be hard pressed to find a grocery store that would cash a payroll check from a stranger.

But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Ironside is the man himself. If you’ve ever watched Nero Wolfe, you’ve seen a character who is set in his ways, unwilling to bend, brilliant, unpleasant and prone to tirades. There is nothing particularly likable or sympathetic about him. Ironside, on the other hand, has many of the same qualities, but his bluster is tempered with a side of compassion and sarcastic humor. The result is a character who you like and admire, perhaps fear a bit, but definitely respect. I’ve not seen another TV character of this same ilk.

Over the years, I’ve not heard too much buzz about Ironside. But let me tell you uncles and aunties, it’s a cut above most of the crime shows that have been produced for television. Intelligent, often riveting, not too predictable, a breath of fresh air in my TV viewing world. As Bob Ironside himself might say, “What’s your flaming excuse for not watching it?!?”

Pacific Northwest Albums 2020

2020 has been a harsh mistress in many ways and musicians have not been exempt from her brutal capriciousness. It ain’t a good time to make a new album.

But that has not stopped musicians in the Pacific Northwest from releasing new materials. Thus far this year I have catalogued 188 new albums released in the region, and this is only in genres that I’m interested in. The actual number is probably significantly higher.

So with lockdown and quarantine and such, how exactly are albums being made? Perhaps most amazingly are long-distance recordings where band members who live thousands of miles apart record their bits individually and then put the whole thing together. One such local album is House Bound Jazz by Andrew Oliver. This most excellent old-timey hot jazz album, filled with intricate interaction between band members, was recorded through the magic of the interwebs, a feat which continues to impress me.

Others recorded material earlier but released it in 2020, such as fabulous local country artists Wildcat Rose’s latest, On Fire!. Leaning slightly to the rockabilly side of country, but still firmly entrenched in traditional country tropes, Wildcat Rose delivers.

Other groups have released live recordings that were perhaps not originally intended to be released or recorded albums in their own homes with amazing technologies that were unavailable not all that long ago. Neither rain nor sleet nor germs!

A few of these new releases are available at Everett Public Library including:

If I Am Only My Thoughts by Loving
Carrido by Pure Bathing Culture
Call The Captain by Western Centuries

Sadly, most of these new releases are not currently available through Everett Public Library. However, you can find albums by many of these same artists in the EPL collection, including:

The Minus 5                            Naked Giants                 Young Fresh Fellows

        Dana Countryman                         Fleet Foxes                      The Green Zoo         

               Karl Blau                                        Mo Troper

And lastly I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite local albums of 2020 that will hopefully be available through the library soon:

A Look Back by The Burying Ground                    1961 by The Evanstones

       Ridiculosis by Robb Benson                   Rock & Roll Party 66 by Scott the Hoople

So even in tough times we can find beautiful art. Check into recent local music releases to invigorate the spirit and soothe the soul.

It’s a Mystery: Hollywood

I have this strange fascination with early Hollywood. Watching an old timey black & white show shot in southern California, wellsir, that’s about as good as it gets. And as we all know, I do love me a mystery. Fortunately, there are plenty of mysteries set in early 20th century Hollywood.

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And the Killer Is … by G. A. McKevett is the 25th and latest entry in the Savannah Reid mysteries series. While not all titles in this collection focus on Hollywood, And the Killer Is… moves between flashbacks to the golden age of Hollywood and the present. In this tale, 90-year-old former silver-screen siren Lucinda Faraday is found murdered, strangled with a pair of vintage stockings, and it’s up to PI Savannah Reid of the Moonlight Magnolia Detective Agency to bring the killer to justice.

Close Up by Amanda Quick is 2020’s addition to the Burning Cove mysteries series. Set near Hollywood in the 1930s resort town of Burning Cove, Close Up finds crime scene photographer Vivian Brazier in danger as she investigates the deadly Dagger Killer. Along with private eye Nick Sundridge, who solves cases with help from his dreams, Vivian is caught in the killer’s crosshairs and must find the murderer before she becomes his next victim.

Script for Scandal by Renee Patrick is the newest arrival in the Lillian Frost and Edith Head series of novels. Yes, that Edith Head. In 1939 Los Angeles, former aspiring actress Lillian Frost discovers herself entangled in the investigation of a 1936 bank robbery that’s been made into a Hollywood script. And her beau, LAPD detective Gene Morrow, the original investigator of the robbery, is a suspect in the subsequent murder of his partner. It’s up to Lillian to clear his name!

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The Impersonator by Mary Miley, an entry in the Roaring Twenties mysteries series, offers a different kind of intrigue. A 14-year-old heiress disappears and is found some years later by her uncle, acting in a vaudeville playhouse. But is this actress actually the heiress? After concluding that she is simply a lookalike, the uncle plots to use her to claim the fortune.

Girl About Town by Adam Shankman & Laura L. Sullivan, the first book in the Lulu Kelly mysteries series, spins the tale of a destitute woman who witnesses a mob murder and, as payment for her silence, is made into a Hollywood star. Along with a New-York-heir-turned-hobo she attempts to clear herself of attempted murder charges.

Velvet on a Tuesday Afternoon by Clive Rosengren, the third book in the Eddie Collins mysteries series, finds former-actor-current-PI Eddie Collins helping an old flame look for her missing brother. Clues point to the brother’s ties to military police and eventually lead to Skid Row. Will Eddie succeed in finding the man as well as rekindling an extinguished romance?

A Little Noir For Yar

Noir

As a diehard reader of detective pulp fiction and a connoisseur of comedy, I may have found religion in Noir by Christopher Moore. Not to be confused with the religion I found in Moore’s Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal.

Lamb

If you’re a fan of Damon Runyon and his unique use of language, Noir might be just the ticket for you.

“He looked like one of those dried-up faces you carve out of an apple in third grade to teach you that time is cruel and we are all just going to shrivel up and die, so there’s no point in getting out of bed.”

Similes and metaphors run wild, like turkeys in search of a barber… Scratch that. Like the Portuguese armada during their defeat in 1588… Well, let’s just say that words are not restrained by the laws of gravity in Moore’s writing.

And speaking of gravity, classy ladies fill the pages of this prestigious tome.

“She had the kind of legs that kept her butt from resting on her shoes — a size eight dame in a size six dress and every mug in the joint was rooting for the two sizes to make a break for it as they watched her wiggle in the door and take a seat at the end of the bar.”

Moore is one of the few contemporary authors who does a credible job of creating Runyonesque prose. Each page is teeming with hoodlums, graft, gats, lookers and betties all ensconced in a miasma of despair and alcohol then rolled in a fine powder of lust and sex.

“It was the kind of kiss that he wanted to wake up to and keep refreshing periodically until he got one long last one, salty with tears, in his casket.”

For my ears, the story is almost inconsequential. Down-on-his-luck guy works in San Francisco as a bartender, is indebted to a gangster, falls for a dame… space aliens ensue, etc. etc. You know the drill, your typical post-war comic sci-fi noir thriller. Moore dots the proverbial i’s with his copious wit, leaving ample opportunity to cross the t’s with abundant atmosphere. It may not be the ride of your life, but Noir is at bare minimum the attempted hitchhike of your youth.

Why, you might even want to read Noir in a book club with your friends, and then orchestrate a moment that echoes a line from the text where:

“…everyone looks up like rats caught in a spotlight eating the brains of a friend dead in a trap.”

Of course, you might choose not to eat your friends’ brains.

So, as pleasant breaks from reality go, Noir is an excellent choice. Perhaps you could even explore Moore’s other writings, all steeped in the same blend of hilarity and repartee, not to mention jocularity. Like a fine Earl Grey tea. Tee hee.

Shell Scott Mysteries

Be it because my brain is so focused on various worries or because I use up all my reading neurons on news, I currently have very little interest in perusing for pleasure. Add to this that I typically don’t like serious stuff or conflict or stress or Nazis or the earth moving closer to the sun but wait it was a dream and it’s actually moving farther from the sun, well, there ain’t a whole lotta words I wanna interact with right now.

But one genre that has stood by me throughout good times and bad is the less-than-hardboiled detective book. And my favorite purveyor of said genre is Richard S. Prather.

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Shell Scott is everything you could want in a detective: physically imposing, young yet experienced, able to outfight your average thug, possessing a tendency to do what’s right and sporting a flair for the fairer s-e-x. He drinks hard, lusts freely and displays a wide streak of goofiness. And while many fictional detectives have an antagonistic relationship with local police, Shell often works with the law.

Prather wrote most of the Shell Scott mysteries in the 1950s and 60s, overlapping James Bond, Mike Hammer and many other spies and detectives. As one might expect, the morés and attitudes of the day permeate the prose, so there’s something to offend everyone I reckon. However, it’s the prose that makes this series stand out.

According to thrillingdetective.com, the Scott stories were “…smirky, outlandish, innuendo-laden, occasionally alcohol-fueled, off-the-wall tours-de-farce that, depending on your point of view, were either a real hoot, or a lot of adolescent, sexist swill and hackwork.” And I am in total agreement with this viewpoint. Fortunately for me, I frequent the adolescent section of the maturity scale, making me the target audience for Prather’s wordsmithing.

But what better way to see what Shell Scott is about than reading a few pithy quotes? First up is a taste of grit:

“The sudden sight of the girl so messily dead had shocked me, and I guess I let my guard down. The hiss of the slug near my head and the crack of the gun seemed simultaneous.”
      ~ from The Kubla Khan Caper

Characters we have previously met frequently die in these tales. Try not to become too attached. Yet the tone is often silly. Scott does not think highly of thugs and he lets the audience know it:

“He had the look of a cat who would wear monogrammed shorts. Or even silk underwear with his whole name printed on it. And maybe his picture. A picture of him in his shorts.” 
     ~ from The Meandering Corpse

 But the floweriest prose generally focuses on descriptions of women:

“She smiled like a woman getting chewed on the neck by Pan. It was a nice smile. I liked it. It went in my eyes and reamed out my arteries and steamed my blood and opened up half a dozen glands like cooked lotus blossoms.”
     ~ from Kill Me Tomorrow

And those descriptions can become downright bizarre:

 “… she didn’t wear one of those bosom contraptions, either – like lifters, expanders, separators, elevators, pushers, poochers, upmashers, tiptilters, squeezers, and aprilfoolers – that have come along since plain old brassieres went out of style, and that are so adorable you almost want to leave the gal home and take her contraption out dancing.”
     ~ from The Meandering Corpse

I guarantee you won’t find that particular sentence anywhere else in literature.

Everett Public Library has a variety of Shell Scott mysteries available as electronic downloads. Perhaps they are just the thing to warm the cockles of your heart in difficult times. I know I’m going to get back to reading one as soon as I do some research on bosom contraptions.

The Ballad Of Hank Williams

It’s darn near impossible for music from the past to affect me in the same way it affected those for whom it was written. ~ Ron Averill

The French Revolution was kind of a big deal in 1789. Beethoven wrote an opera about it in 1805 (Fidelio), but I cannot relate to the topic or the musical style with the same enthusiasm and sense of wonder as did 1805 concertgoers. Geography, economics, education, exposure to varied musical styles… all these things influence how we respond to music. And although it’s a bit closer to home, I can’t really put myself into the shoes of a dirt-poor sharecropper from the southern U.S. ca. 1950. So my take on Hank Williams comes from a different place than that of a large portion of his original audience.

Even so, I’ve loved the music of Hank Williams for decades and have performed many of his songs in a variety of bands. But it wasn’t until I recently watched Ken Burns’ Country Music that I really understood where Hank was coming from, what he was singing about.

Williams grew up in Alabama during the Great Depression, often moving for his father’s work, eventually losing his father to eight years of hospitalization. Additionally, young Hank was born with a spinal deformity that left him constantly in pain and later contributed to drug and alcohol abuse. Although this could just be me romanticizing, it seems like his existence was filled with sorrow.

Some of Williams’ titles obviously focus on sad topics: I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, Your Cheatin’ Heart, Cold Cold Heart. But other upbeat tunes also lean towards misery: Move It On Over (infidelity), Why Don’t You Love Me (lost love), Honky Tonk Blues (struggling with life in the city). And while some songs depict having a good time (Honky Tonkin’) or falling head-over-heels in love (Howlin’ at the Moon), much of Williams’ work deals in despair.

But what beautiful despair it is! Weary Blues from Waitin’ is about a man who is hoping his woman will come back to him. We don’t know why she left, but now it’s winter and as he cries the man’s heart is surrounded by the chilled fingers of nothingness. The music is haunting, lonely and austere, the singer’s sweet voice filled with anguish and heartache. Seldom can one hear something as touching as this simple song.

Ramblin’ Man is the heartbreaking study of a man who can’t stay in the same place for very long. “I love you baby, but you gotta understand when the Lord made me he made a ramblin’ man.” You can feel his inner turmoil, wanting to settle down with a wife but unable to ignore the siren-call of a passing train’s whistle.

Fortunately for you all, Everett Public library is right resplendent in its Hank Williams collection. The Very Best of Hank Williams and Pictures From Life’s Other Side: The Man and His Music in Rare Recordings and Photos are available on CD, and a passel of other albums are available to stream through Hoopla.

So, no excuses! Check out Hank Sr. and have a good cry, cry, cry.