About Ron

Rockabilly 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.

Get Shorty, Now!

It’s 9th grade English and we are reading To Kill A Mockingbird. I enjoy the book tremendously and soon the crafty Ms. Franklin tells us that we’re going to watch the Oscar-winning movie of the same name. I like watching movies in class as much as the next guy so I eagerly await this golden opportunity. And… I am sorely disappointed. The book is so very much better. To an older and wiser person this is no surprise, but to an impressionable teen… well, it was a surprise. And so I became interested in the relationship between books and movies based on books.

Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard is unusual in that the 1990 book spawned a 1995 movie and a 2017 TV series. Let us look at these gems in the same order in which I discovered them.

Movie

The movie version of Get Shorty is one of my all-time favorites. Featuring a cast of John Travolta, Gene Hackman (who at that time was in every movie made), Rene Russo and Danny DeVito, as well as a funky soundtrack by John Lurie, this fast-paced glance into the world of organized crime and Hollywood phonies is simply brilliant. Travolta plays a Florida thug with mob connections who, while on a job in L.A., decides to become a movie producer. The rest of the plot is too complex to explain with any clarity, but there are twists and turns galore, surprises and shocks, scream queens and egg-white omelets.

Book

Some years later I decided to read the book to see how the movie compared to it. 9th grade English all over again! But this time both book and movie were excellent. Never having read Leonard before, I wasn’t sure if I would like his prose, but his words were like butter to my soul. There seems to be this school of writers who focus on kooky capers in Florida (Carl Hiaasen, Dave Barry, Tim Dorsey), and Leonard is, if not their king, at least their vice-chancellor. And having seen the movie first, there was the added bonus of hearing the soundtrack in my head while reading.

TV

When the television version of Get Shorty arrived I was highly suspicious. Although the cast of Chris O’Dowd and Ray Romano is solid, it seemed that a “remake” of the movie could do nothing but fall short of the mark. The first episode did nothing to dispel my suspicion. See, the movie has such a specific feel created by the soundtrack, pacing, editing and acting. To my mind, the story and this feel are one and the same. The TV version could have chosen to imitate the movie’s feel, but it does not. And as much as I love Chris O’Dowd, I was disappointed.

Eventually I moved on to episode 2 and I felt that there might be hope. Trudging on, I began to respect and enjoy the show, its soundtrack and pacing, its somewhat different telling of the story. And by the time I finished season one I was loving it.

So here we have a rarity, a book that became a movie that became a television series, and all three versions are fabulous yet distinctive. I recommend checking out each version of this story, in whatever order you like. Just jump in your Cadillac minivan and drive on down to the library. Tell ‘em Chili Palmer sent you.

Hidden Comedy

I am a lover of comedies. Sure, dramas can be dramatic and westerns might feature exciting horse brawls, but comedies speak to my soul like an impoverished artist panhandling for paint money in the Ben Franklin parking lot. But I digress.

While it’s easy enough to be aware of mainstream comedies, many films fall through the grapevine cracks (or gracks) and spend their golden years on the shelves of your local public library, waiting for some kindhearted chappie to take them home, give them a spin, perhaps entertain guests…

But let us remain on point. Many spectacular comedies you might not have heard of await you at Everett Public Library. And here are six of them.

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The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother (1975) starring Gene Wilder and Madeleine Kahn
There is a certain type of comedy set in 19th century Europe that’s filled with costumes and frolicking and chaos. This is one of those. Here we find Professor Moriarity attempting to steal vitally important documents, Sigerson Holmes trying to stop him, and various people singing, dancing, and acting in myriad screwball ways.

The Big Picture (1989) starring Kevin Bacon and Teri Hatcher
From time immemorial artists have struggled with the dilemma of making art vs. making a living. The Big Picture tells the story of a young film student who wins a competition, is wooed by studios, tries to maintain his artistic integrity and eventually sells his soul. This depiction of Hollywood is hilarious yet sadly accurate.

Mystery Men (1999) starring Ben Stiller, Hank Azaria, and Janeane Garofalo
Not all superheroes are created equal. Some can melt matter with their eyes, others emit foul odors or lob bowling balls at the bad guys. The Mystery Men fall into the latter category, featuring the Blue Raja who throws cutlery at people and the Shoveler who wears a hard hat and fights with a shovel. When Captain Amazing is kidnapped by the evil Casanova Frankenstein, the Mystery Men set out to save him. And much hilarity follows.

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The Big Year (2011) starring Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson
Some people like to count birds. Sometimes these people spend an entire calendar year keeping track of the number of species they see. This is called a big year. Our movie finds three strangers who each secretly set out to break the record for most birds counted in a year. The film is rather quiet, slow and charming, delving into the lives of the birders as well as documenting their searches for rare birds.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016) starring Tina Fey and Martin Freeman
Based on a true story, Tina Fey plays a journalist who goes to Afghanistan to cover the war. Initially unhappy with this assignment, she gradually finds herself feeling more and more at home. Not a typical comedy, somewhat slow-paced, this film transports its audience to a lifestyle that few have experienced.

The Little Hours (2017) starring Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie and John C. Reilly
Loosely based on stories from The Decameron, this medieval comedy is set at a convent filled with nuns and novitiates who talk like sailors, enjoy sex and, in one case, worship the devil. The juxtaposition of stereotypical millennials with a 14th century setting creates a unique and entertaining viewing experience.

New Year’s Eve in Music

Once upon a time, many years ago, my band had a show on December 30th. We wanted to play something to celebrate the time of year, but it soon became apparent that Auld Lang Syne made up the entire catalog of songs available for the occasion. So I wrote a song called New Year’s Eve Eve (please feel free to call me for an explanation) and there was much rejoicing.

New Year’s Eve is definitely the red-headed stepstool of holiday songs, but if you look hard enough there are tunes to be found.

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While the sentiment is not specifically filled with the holiday spirit, U2 has provided one of the better known January holiday songs, titled simply New Year’s Day.

All is quiet on New Year’s Day
A world in white gets underway
I want to be with you
Be with you, night and day
Nothing changes on New Year’s Day

Hanson provides fun old-time rock and roll, complete with silly lyrics in ‘Til New Year’s Night.

Once we get Santa on his sleigh, on his sleigh
We play rock’n’roll from Christmas ‘til New Year’s Day
One week a year we do it right, do it right
We play rock’n’roll from Christmas ‘til New Year’s Night

Or perhaps you’d prefer the jazzy, laid-back stylings of the Velvet Fog, Mel Tormé singing Let’s Start the New Year Right.

When they dim the light, let’s begin
Kissing the old year out
Singing the new year in
Let’s watch the old year die with a fond goodbye

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The Breeders deliver gut-pinching rock and mildly surreal lyrics with New Year.

We have come for light 
Wholly, we have come for light
It’s true, I am the sun
I am the new year, I am the rain

The old-timey blues of Lightnin’ Hopkins combine with actual holiday-ish lyrics to provide perhaps the best New Year’s anthem yet, Happy New Year.

This is Happy New Year ain’ gon’ worry me to death
Don’t think about Christmas ’cause Christmas just now left

Or, if you’re more in the mood for a contemplative respite, you could do worse than the jazz balladry of Diana Krall on What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?

 Wonder whose arms will hold you good and tight
When it’s exactly twelve o’clock that night
Welcoming in the New Year
New Year’s eve

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 Partial to the psychedelia? Then try This Will Be Our Year by the Zombies.

The warmth of your love
Is like the warmth of the sun
And this will be our year
Took a long time to come

And finally, perhaps the most meaningful yet least specific lyrics are found in Nina Simone’s Feeling Good, a gorgeous jazz/blues number.

It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life for me, ooh
And I’m feeling good

So when you’re out and about this New Year’s wanting to imbibe in a steaming hot tankard of wassail and to sing songs of the holiday, partake of some gems from your local Everett Public Library. And as always, please remember to bring a towel and to tether your yak safely away from the main thoroughfare.

Swing, Baby, Swing!

“Jazz is the red-headed third cousin
riding a bull elephant through
your teapot-laden drawing room.”
~ Ron Averill

Jazz is not popular with everyone. Many find it too academic, difficult to understand. But let us remember that there are as many types of jazz as there are flavors of M&Ms. At least as many. Myself, I prefer pre-WWII jive (as the hepcats say): swing, Dixieland, hot jazz, ragtime… Subgenres that soothe my soul.

Which leads to the question: What’s up with early jazz at Everett Public Library? Let’s find out, shall we?

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If you want to check out some early jazz, Hot Dance Bands from Okeh, 1923-1931 is an excellent starting point. The musicians featured on this album have mostly disappeared into the mists of time, the songs are not particularly well-known, but the music gives a clear idea of what was going down in the formative years of jazz. Billie Holiday adds her silky smooth voice to a musical backdrop that is clearly related to those hot dance bands but is perhaps more recognizable to modern-day listeners. And Fats Waller pumps them ivories like nobody else, providing a mesmerizing piano-centric take on early jazz.

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And time marches on. Your Hit Parade: The Late 40s provides a hipster’s overview of those fabulous big band years. It’s an excellent starting point for the swing-curious. If it’s a chanteuse you’re wanting, you’d be hard pressed to find a better interpreter than Peggy Lee. Perhaps best known for Fever, Lee turns everything she sings into a sultry hot springs of passion and fortitude. And the ever-smooth Nat King Cole? His early work with the Nat King Cole Trio ranks up there with the best that swing has to offer.

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You say you like the big band swing thing but refuse to watch black and white films or listen to music made before 1966? There are still excellent options available to you! Whether she’s belting out hits from the 30s and 40s or insinuating her way into your brain with hand-penned originals, Madeleine Peyroux is a bonafide contemporary jazz gem. Each and every album she drops is a genuine pleasure. Diana Krall, another modern-day siren, kicks it laid-back style with her sweltering contralto voice. Winner of numerous accolades and record-setting album sales, Krall can scratch that itch that Ms. Peyroux couldn’t quite reach. And finally, as we approach Christmas, the Brian Setzer Orchestra brings songs of joy and anticipation, in a swingin’ mood, straight to your pleasure center. If you’ve not heard Setzer play guitar, prepare for many notes. Many. Notes. And they’re all the right ones! One of the most fabulous purveyors of modern swing and Christmas music, check these fellas out.

So no more excuses. Buy a beret. Listen to some jazz. Maybe invest in cigars and culottes. Swing, baby, swing!

Trapped in the 80s!

I find myself talking more and more these days about things that happened 40 years ago. In an effort to move towards the present, today we look at music that was recorded 30+ years ago. It’s a small step but… hey, get off my lawn!

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Synthesizers became commercially available in the 1960s, and one can hear them pop up on Abbey Road and other late 60s gems. But it wasn’t really until new wave arose that synths became a common tool of the trade. Bands such as the Cars and B-52’s used synthesizers as a lead instrument, filling in for or working in tandem with lead guitar. Eurythmics, not thought of primarily as a synth pop band, permeated their music with keyboards. Recommended cuts: Candy-O, the first song I ever sang in public, from the Cars’ 6-album compilation The Elektra Years; 52 Girls off of B-52’s Time Capsule, a raucous dance tune punctuated by screams of, “Tina Louise!”; and Would I Lie To You?, another confirmation of Annie Lennox’s complete domination of all earthlings, from the Eurythmics’ Ultimate Collection.

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Other groups relied primarily or entirely on synthesizers to create their music. Kraftwerk, formed in 1970, gives us an early example of electronic rock. Their music was often cold and spare (referred to as robot pop by the band), a mechanical dream (or nightmare!) of precision. Recommended cut: Pocket Calculator from Computer World, a machine-driven paean to that earliest of hand-held computers, the pocket calculator.

Human League hit it big in 1981 with the single Don’t You Want Me, which spawned the first video I ever saw on MTV. This song came off the brilliant album Dare, but their previous album, Travelogue, was also a big hit in the UK. With a dazzling array of sounds ranging from synthetic drums to sweet strings to buzzsaw explosions, Human League delivers catchy, infectious grooves to your ear sacs. Recommended cut: Empire State Human from The Very Best of the Human League, a quirky, swirling circus of calliope surrounding the lyrics, “Tall, tall, tall, I wanna be tall, tall, tall…”

In a similar vein, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark uses synths for all aspects of their music. Their style is a bit more toward the techno sides of things, although many synth pop gems adorn their catalogue. Recommended cut: Enola Gay off of The Best of OMD, a catchy synth pop look at the bombing of Hiroshima.

NewOrder

Rising from the ashes of post-punk poster children Joy Division in 1980, New Order did not immediately bring an unrelenting dance beat to their music. However, by 1983 they had created the best-selling 12-inch single of all-time, Blue Monday, a favorite dance club number. Eventually, the band transitioned into pure pop dance music filled with synthesizers as well as typical rock band instrumentation. Recommended cut: Age of Consent off of The Best of New Order, a toe-tapping, happy little tune filled to the brim with gorgeous electronic sounds.

So, there you have everything that is known about synthesizers. Perhaps print a copy for your own reference or to give to a friend. Oh, and be sure to check out these and other albums to see what someone clever can do with electricity and a keyboard.

Songs of the Zombie Apocalypse

Does everyone remember the desert island albums game where one answers the question, “What 10 albums would you take with you to live out the rest of your days on a desert island?” Assuming that you had a record player. And a power source. And speakers.

Perhaps a more relevant question in this day-and-age is, “What 10 CDs from Everett Public Library’s collection would you want to have during the zombie apocalypse?”

Here is my answer.

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This is the Sonics by The Sonics
For a fuzzed-out, high-energy return to garage rock’s heyday, you cannot do better than this 2015 release. Catchy riffs, gritty vocals and extreme intensity combine into 33 minutes of rock and roll perfection.

So Delicious by Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band
From the backwoods of Indiana, Reverend Peyton brings his phenomenal guitaristing and keen understanding of traditional blues to smack the world upside its head on So Delicious. A fine blend of foot-stompin’ goodness and infectious melodies make this album a tasty treat to be joyously consumed.

The Essential Louis Armstrong by Louis Armstrong
How better to spend a sunny afternoon than with a soundtrack of Louis Armstrong unfolding beneath your halcyon perambulations? His peculiar voice and spectacular trumpeting combine with tremendous musicianship to create a happy moment free from fear of the undead.

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Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! by Devo
When you’re on the run, variety is essential and Devo provides a unique listening experience. Manic energy, cuh-razee vocals and heretical interpretations of rock classics provide ample fodder to help you forget about your pathetic predicament.

Presidents of the United States of America by Presidents of the United States of America
Humor is a most excellent cure-all in trying times and the Presidents have provided it in spades. From annoying cats to annoying Californians, no topic is safe from the skewer of the POTUSA’s wit. Bonus feature: Fast tempos are conducive to fast escapes!

The Essential Django Reinhardt by Django Reinhardt
Speed-burning gypsy swing, incendiary violin and guitar solos, an inferno of perfection. Check out this soundtrack of joyous acceleration, guaranteed to propel you out of the grasp of virtually any hungry minion of death.

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Too Dumb to Die by Clambake
A pounding at the brain, brains, brrrrainnzzzz sets the old lymphatic system into a happy purr upon experiencing Clambake’s mighty thump of garage rocking goodness. Driving guitar riffs assault the senses, humorous lyrics tease the meninges, reeking zombies grab at your feet…

Road to Ruin by Ramones
24 hours to go, I wanna be sedated. This helps reduce the pain when zom… Uh, Ramones. Right. Godfathers of punk, leather coats, rock rock rock and roll… If you want to hear punk at its best, here ya go.

Only a Lad by Oingo Boingo
Speaking of ears, I seem to have only one left (coincidentally, it’s the left one), but through it I can still hear the phenomenal horns, high-energy and general weirdness of Oingo Boingo. Strange meters, uncomfortable topics and blazing fits of genius. Biggish band at its best.

Cramps

Songs The Lord Taught Us by The Cramps
Time is nearly gone and hey, the Cramps look suspiciously like those creatures that have been tracking my every move… Psychobilly, chainsaw guitars, hyperdramatic vocals. One of the most influential bands in the… aaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrghhhhhhhhh.

Northwest Rocks!

The Pacific Northwest is filled with brilliant musicians who create spectacular albums. Some of those albums find their way into the Everett Public Library local music collection. And on Saturday, September 15 at 2:00 pm, I will present a talk on some of those local musicians.

But wait, there’s more!

After the presentation, Everett’s own Oliver Elf Army will play some rock and roll tunes that shock and assault the senses. In a good way. And there will be much rejoicing.

“So,” you might say to the version of me that lives in your head, “what can I expect at this so-called talk?” Wellsir, we will delve into the history of northwest rock, attack the ever-present confusion surrounding genre definitions and witness interesting (and perhaps boring) stories about local musicians. But perhaps most importantly, we will listen to snippets of songs by various northwest artists.

Here is a preview of some of the groups that will be discussed. They appear here more or less chronologically, with a nod to their approximate genres.

Prepare to behold the instrumentals of The Frantics, garage rock from The Sonics and early local punk from The Accident.

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Thrill to the power pop of Seattle’s The Heats, proto-grunge from the U-Men and the dawn of riot grrrl punk from Olympia’s Bikini Kill.

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Bow down to the experimental offerings of Anacortes’s Mount Eerie, to the post-punk brilliance of Seattle’s Blackouts and to the wide open spaces of Nevada Backwards and their dark country musings.

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Need a breather? There is no time for breathers! Behold the majesty of your northwest heritage!

Prepare to be aurally assaulted by the heavy, heavy sound of Montesano’s own Melvins, get down to the dark cabaret of Bellingham’s Pirates R Us and swing, yes swing, to the rockabilly of Seattle’s Hard Money Saints.

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Dance like a dancer to the synth pop of Seattle’s Perfume Genius, foxtrot to the old-timey swing of Bellingham’s Birch Pereira and the Gin Joints and boogaloo to some raucous garage rock with Bellingham’s Clambake.

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What of Everett, you say? Pogo with Sleepover Club, get blue with Ryan LaPlante and go electronic with goawaysun.

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And finally, weighing in at 325 pounds, Everett’s own Oliver Elf Army will present their brand of sinister pop in a live performance.

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 But wait! We got books:

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We got DVDs!

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We even got audio books!

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So come see what’s happening with local music at the Everett Public Library. In the words of The Presidents of the United States of America:

It’s gonna blow… Volcano!