Review: Sisters With Transistors by K A Laity

Art, K A Laity, Non-fiction, post punk

Review: Sisters With Transistors

SISTER WITH TRANSISTORS

2020 / 84 MIN / UK / Metrograph Pictures

DIRECTOR: LISA ROVNER

Thanks to EMPAC I had a chance to see this new film and a talk by the director Lisa Rovner and producer Marcus Werner Hed. This documentary chases the early history of electronic music and the women who were at the heart of it—though you wouldn’t know that from most music histories. features the work of visionary composer and Rensselaer professor Pauline Oliveros alongside Clara Rockmore, Daphne Oram, Bebe Barron, Wendy Carlos, Delia Derbyshire, EMPAC-alum Maryanne Amacher, Eliane Radigue, Suzanne Ciani, and Laurie Spiegel. 

While it’s likely that you will know some of these artists, unless you’re a real electronic aficionado you’re unlikely to know them all. Even the ones I knew I didn’t always know all the things they were up to. I didn’t know about Barron’s recording of Anaïs Nin and her husband Hugo; I didn’t know the astounding amount of work Ciani did in advertising or how Spiegel created the Music Mouse for Apple computers. I did know about the Barrons being denied composer credit for the soundtrack to Forbidden Planet because the musicians union feared people being replaced by machines—instead of the reality that people found more ways to mess with machines and make fascinating sounds.

The approaches differ: some are more interested in the machines and the process, others in how the machines facilitate the sound. Oliveros of course started her Deep Listening practice with as much concern for healing as for music, embodying listening as a form of whole body meditation. It’s interesting that Radigue, too, was profoundly influenced by Buddhist teachings. So much for the ‘coldness’ of electronic music.

While any one of these women could be a whole documentary subject herself, this film offers an entrée to the wealth of women working in electronic composition and performance. You can find further diverse suggestions in this Reddit thread. It’s not all one might wish, but it’s a lot more than what we have, which is nothing much.

Best of all it’s energising, inspiring, full of wonderful sounds, and will make you itch to see what sounds you can make.

Sisters with Transistors is an essential primer for those interested in discovering this vital, oft-overlooked history but also offers plenty of pleasures for crate-digging experimental music obsessives who know the BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s output like the back of their hand. Contemporary musicians, such as Holly Herndon and Kim Gordon, also offer insights into their forebears’ indelible music and their personal significance.

Watch the Sisters With Transistors teaser here: https://vimeo.com/471330312 The film opens April 23.

Gresham’s Wicked Cards by K A Laity

K A Laity, Non-fiction, William Lindsay Gresham, Writing

While musing on Nightmare Alley (something I do more than most people I suspect) I often wonder how deeply William Lindsay Gresham studied the tarot and whether it was for more than just carny sideshow purposes. So I was pleased to receive a gem from a talk hosted by the Folklore Society.

The Katharine Briggs Lecture by Dr Julia Woods, ‘“I Cannot Find the Hanged Man”: Tarot Cards in Fantastic Fiction’ traced many references to tarot in fantasy fiction in the modern age (from a medievalist’s perspective the 19th century is modern). Since my knowledge of The Inklings was limited to C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and ‘some other guys but not women’ I was delighted to hear more about Charles Williams and his novel The Greater Trumps. Not only is it a novel steeped in the tarot (yeah I ordered it), but Gresham wrote an introduction for it in 1950.

Obviously this was before his wife Joy Davidman left him for fellow Inkling C. S. Lewis.

Gresham offers a brief overview of the history of tarot which mostly pokes holes in the purported truths: ‘Eliphas Lévi, the French magus, writing in the middle of the last century, treated the gipsies with his usual blend of eloquence, erudition and inaccuracy. His speculations on the Tarot must be taken in this light.’ I’d love him for that alone, but he brings in Jung and Ouspensky and tilts some more at Lévi, so I suspect that he did indeed make a serious study of the cards.

Where did the Tarot designs come from, and what do the Greater Trumps mean? No one knows. But anyone who has studied them at length has felt their power of releasing unsuspected ideas from the subconscious. The cards seem to have an inner life of their own.

Gresham sees the tarot as unlocking the psychology of an individual: ‘The Tarot is not a mnemonic device for a set doctrine, it would seem, but a philosophical slide-rule on which the individual can work out his own metaphysical and religious equations. He and Davidman had converted to Christianity. For her it stuck, but he was always doubtful it seems.

He divines his own imagined idea of the history of tarot based on the ‘internal’ evidence of the cards, but admits it will take real historical digging. ‘Let us hope that in the future some devoted iconologist of means and broad scholarship will set himself the task of solving the mystery of the Greater Trumps’ origin. But let him not be an occultist, clasping his secrets close. Let us hope that he is a humble Christian, eager to share.’

Gresham lists meanings for the Major Arcana, claiming ‘Here is a personal list of interpretations of the Greater Trumps, drawn from Williams, with Waite in the background, and intuition-of-the-moment playing a large part.’ How much weight each of those has is difficult to judge. I was most struck by this one:

(xiii) The Hanged Man. Renunciation of self is the greatest triumph; the long battle with man’s untaught impulses and self-will; sacrifice leading to the secret at the heart of the world.

Always the meaning in flux, always Gresham hiding behind layers of disavowal. Did the cards have different meanings when he wrote Nightmare Alley in the mid-40s? Did their meanings change again after Davidman left and his fortunes fell further? Did they bring him comfort? Did he long for The Sun or fear The Last Judgment? The Juggler keeps all the balls in the air, but when they finally fall, are we all just The Fool?

You can read Gresham’s introduction to Williams’ novel here.

Fat Cook Gunfight – A Non-Fiction Poem by J.B. Stevens

J B Stevens, Non-fiction, Poetry

Fat Cook Gunfight

A Non-Fiction Poem

By J.B. Stevens

I once got in a gunfight,

On the edge of Sadr City,

With a fat cook standing by my side. 

I was young and immortal,

In a beige world,

Of sadness,

The fat cook told me to go fuck myself.

I made him truck hot chow to my combat outpost for my men.

Mine. 

Fat cook loathed me for it.

But I didn’t care and never will.

Fuck fat cook. 

It smelled of dry concrete, and dust got in my mouth,

And the sounds left my ears and it was peaceful and bright. 

And the sun cut through the grime and it is shining in my memory.

Fat cook was a Sergeant and I was a Captain,

And Heartbreak Ridge was my fully funded MFA program.

The next day cook asked me to put him in for an award,

And I did, 

And he got it,

And I will live forever. 

And I can never die.

Jeopardy On Easter by JUDGE SANTIAGO BURDON

Flash Fiction, Judge Santiago Burdon, Non-fiction, Punk Noir Magazine

PhotoFunia-1591088957Jeopardy On Easter 

My oldest son Nigel and I went to an Easter Worship Service at a Christian Church with my cousin’s family. We were visiting for the holiday and I thought it polite to accept his invitation to attend the service. I believe it was a Methodist Church. “There’s a Methodist to the madness.” My son was  maybe nineteen years old at the time and had never attended a  Christian Church Service.  Unlike my daughter McKenzie who at age 11 became fascinated with all types of religions. She became obsessed with Buddhism but was confused by why it was defined by some as a religion and considered by others as a way of life.

” How can there be a religion without there being a God to worship?” She questioned.

” I’m not sure what the rules are according to the Religious Practices Counsel?” I answered.

” There’s no such organization. You just made that up. Didn’t you?”

” Yes I did McKenzie. I was without a logical explanation to your question, so I made it up.”

She was correct, however Buddhism is not a religion but a “Way of Life”. And there is no Central Deity or God. Someone had definitely been doing her homework. My children certainly kept me on my toes when it came to answers to questions on  a wide variety of subject matter. Sometimes it seems as if I was a contestant on a  Game Show,  constantly having questions fired at me.

“I’ll take Potpourri for Five Hundred Dollars Alex.”

McKenzie being the inquisitive skeptic she was, a trait inherited from none other than myself, decided we would attend a different Church every Sunday until she was satisfied she had enough information to make an educated decision on God and religion. I was excited to accompany her on the Odyssey. We did the Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, Jehovah’s Witness, LDS, Jewish,(which she enjoyed most) Christian Reformed, Baptist, you get the idea. Luckily her interest diminished right before Football Season started. Evidently the whole business of religion and the worship of a sadistic, mystical entity became unappealing. She focused on Beads, Bead Stringing and Semi-precious Stones. This  pleased her mother being she owned a Bead Shop and is a talented jewelry designer also teaching classes. I was becoming exhausted and uninspired being dragged around Tucson every Sunday.  I looked forward to being able to enjoy my hangovers.

The sermon was lengthy and uninspiring delivered by a monotoned Minister to a yawning congregation.

The stage was filled with scenery representing the miraculous event which was assembled for a play to be performed by the Sunday School class . There was an imitation cave structure with a large boulder set off to the side. For some reason Nigel was fascinated and puzzled by the cave with the large rock.

” Hey Santi, I understand about the cross and Roman Soldiers and all but what does the cave have to do with it?”

” Well son understand that after the Jesus guy was crucified on what they refer to as Good Friday.”

” If they killed him why is it called Good Friday?”

” Great observation. Let me finish and I’ll address that issue.”

I went on with my explanation.

“The body of Jesus was given to his followers and they placed his corpse in the cave.  Then they rolled the large rock in front of the entrance so no one could desecrate the grave. After three days a miracle occurred some say witnessed only by Bartholomew a disciple of the once Jew now Christian, Jesus.”

” Just tell me, don’t go making stuff up.”

” The rock had been rolled away and Jesus came back to life then arose into Heaven to sit at the right hand of God.”

” No way. Tell me the truth!”

I told my children any information I revealed would always be the truth.  I never wanted them to be armed with incorrect information. If they repeated my statement it would be factual. It would be the truth.

” Nigel that is exactly what happened the best I’m able to describe. Well, as told in the Bible the book of a thousand fantastic fairy tales and unsubstantiated stories.”

“So you’re saying all these people believe that story? All Christians in the world believe it?”

” Yes son I swear to you it is what they believe. That’s just one instance of an unbelievable event. There are many more..”

” No way. What’s wrong with them? How can they believe such a fable?”

” They call it faith. I call it gullibility.”

” The Easter Bunny is more believable than the  Jesus Christ story.” He continued. ” Now what’s with the Easter Bunny delivering colored eggs? Can you please make sense of how this all fits together? Why isn’t there an Easter Chicken?”

“I’ll take Paganism for one thousand Alex. Oh boy a Daily Double!”

Laughing at the Great God Pan by K. A. Laity

Art, K A Laity, Non-fiction, Punk Noir Magazine, The Fall, Writing

Pan Joy Morton Cover

Laughing at the Great God Pan

K A. Laity

In 2001 Camden Joy and Colin B. Morton wrote Pan, a book purporting to be ‘A work of imagination endeavouring to recount the Extraordinary yet True events occurring within the City of New York upon April the Seventh, Nineteen Hundred and Ninety-Eight when: numerous hearts are engaged; feats of Astonishment and Daring unfold: a man loses his found love: a primitive power draws manifold strangers into a supernatural dragnet: a father’s gift sends a son across the ocean: space-time continuums (QSTs) are repeatedly straddled: tears get shed: after which the assemblage of cross entertainers known as The Fall ceases working together (yet again) and everything threatens to remain exactly as it has been’ which is a nicely balanced evocation of bombast and litotes.

There are lots of books about, by and inspired by The Fall. Ex-band member volumes are a hefty shelf themselves and just about all of cracking quality, too. ‘Inspired by’ is a more tenuous category and by ‘tenuous’ I mean there’s some rubbish out there. I’ve always heard Pan spoken of as one of the better ones, so stuck in lockdown and floundering on any number of overdue projects, of course I decided to pick up a copy to finally read.

It’s not cheap to lay hands on; I reconciled myself to the price because I’ve not had to pay for lots of things since March. As frequently happens with things connected to The Fall, a crazy mix-up ended up giving me half-off on the price, so yay. It’s really more of a novella, so I sped through it in no time, even with stopping to look things up that jogged my memory.

The book itself is lovely, a product of Tom Devlin’s Highwater Books, which I knew mostly from comics by folks like Megan Kelso and Matt Madden. It was designed by Matt Lerner of Rag and Bone Shop with exquisite typeface and a subdued yet unsettling image of Pan on the cover and printed on luxurious paper. The title page with the above précis features calligraphy by Nancy Howell and is just beautiful. There’s a pull quote from Jon Langford of The Mekons to offer street cred to the unwitting innocent (i.e. non-Fall fan) who might pick up the book. My copy is signed twice by Joy.

What about the story itself? Buring the lede again: it’s fun. Do you have to be a Fall fan? Possibly, though I think Ballard and Dick fans may enjoy it for non-Fall related reasons. People who prefer their fiction meta will get a kick out of it. Fans of Pan, you will deffo enjoy. It kicks off right at the epigraph which purports to offer a mini history of Pan in the Western world by ‘Magnus the Good’ (resonant of Olavus Magnus but not quite) and translated by an ‘R. Totale’ in two volumes back in 1923.

The epigram establishes the impetus setting all the action in motion: the god of Panic, having been subdued by fire and death was then bisected, his head buried by the Celts, his body taken to the ends of the earth by ‘the North sea-dwellers’ or as we call them, Vikings. ‘His Head, kept by the Celtae in the ground, occasioned sorcery to render the grave as hot as the fires a warrior finds in beastly dens…’

The book opens in a Manhattan office, overlooking the Seagram’s building with Clarke suddenly meeting two very strange fellows who seem rather…shall we say, alien. Clarke being part of the music biz, that’s not so outlandish as it might seem to others, but he begins to be unsettled, especially once they mention his friend Vaughan (I have to believe that’s a Ballard ref). Are they private eyes? Fortunately his boss crashes in with news:

‘The Fall!’ Brandon shouted at Clarke from a short distance. ‘Clarke, hey! The Fall; tonight at Brownie’s; you remember; punk rockers from England? God, Clarke: fuck I always hated all those guitars; no more; The Fall’s in town!’

If you’re not a Fall fan you won’t know the cataclysm that announcement contains. There are bad gigs – and with the Fall legendarily bad gigs – and then there’s the meltdown at Brownies (if you want to see it for yourself, you can). An apocalypse no one thought the band could survive.

[Spoiler: it did (but that’s another story).]

‘Meanwhile, in a far-off place called Newport, Wales, the bell of a record shop rang and Colin B Morton entered.’ Yes, it’s that kind of book where one of the co-authors is a character in the wildly esoteric adventures. His dad, as it happens, has given him the head of Pan which had been dug up at an archeological dig at Caerleon (notebooks out, medievalists). The head has told him to head to New York and to play the fruit machine at his local to provide cash for the journey.

The scenes in the record shop and the pub are excuses for a lot of Fall fan jokes: ‘This amused Colin, for it was the cry of every Fall fan down the ages. At any given moment, The Fall was not as good as it used to be.’ Pointed mentions of Mark E. Smith’s procog intrigue the girl on the not-so-megastore check-out desk to the point where she ignores Colin and pores over the FallNet.

He leaves for the pub to join his mates for a few pints of Brains Skull Attack and discussions of everything from the occult, the Mekons, Swamp Thing, Pan’s head, the Liverpool Scene, and of course, the finer points of why The Fall was not as good as it used to be.

Colin heads off to NYC and many disparate threads begin to intertwine, strangle one another and fray like the band is about to do onstage. While it is not always about The Fall, it is always about The Fall in the sense that physics exists only to examine the finer point of whether the band 1) exists 2) is better or 3) is worse than it is any other given point in the time-space continuum.

‘Do you remember last year, in Belfast, when all the members dispersed? Snook believes that, in the brief period, The Fall still existed. It’s just that there was nobody in it, you know?…Snook also believes…that, for those few moments when The Fall existed with nobody in it, it went spindizzy about the world. Like some sort of prowling phantom, you know? It traveled around the globe, almost as a virus or something, disrupting various musical personalities in which it did not belong.’

Precog: it’s a drug. Like love, I guess. So if this sounds like something you’d enjoy hunt it down like a lost Fall member and lay your hands on it. Don’t lay your hands on ex-Fall members though. They’re not books.

K A LAITY IS HERE

PhotoFunia-1593254997

Cut From A Different Cloth by Robert Ragan

Blue Collar Noir, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Non-fiction, Punk Noir Magazine, Robert Ragan

received_693844004723804 (1)

Cut From A Different Cloth

An alarm clock goes off. Outside, what little dark there is left waits for the sun to show up. Fuck my life, having to get up and go to work.

It would be okay, but I always do something wrong giving the people I work with a reason to bitch and talk shit.  Most days it’s unbearable, I want to tell them all to fuck off and walk all the way home.

Can’t do it, what’s my pride, health, and peace of mind when I have bills to pay. Without going through all this hell, I’ll lose everything I’ve got, which isn’t a whole hell of a lot. But every bit of it I worked for.

It all came honestly. I feel like I may have been switched at birth. First of all, my momma never done no harm to anyone. It would have taken too much of her energy, maybe even forced her off the couch.

Momma had no ambition, no goals in life. All she had to look forward to was whatever was coming on TV. Her bed was lonely, she was never unfaithful to my father. Not even when he stayed gone; off somewhere getting in trouble and not when he was locked up facing the consequences for his actions. Let’s just say my older brother, Sean, kept her busy trying to keep him out of trouble.

People always said that I was the quiet, more mature one. I’d make straight A’s at school but have my accomplishments over-shadowed by him busting a kid’s eye socket on the school bus.

He tried to get me to smoke marijuana and do speed. But I left all the mind-altering drugs to him. Growing up I was always the pussy little sissy boy.

Other kids saw my older brother picking on me. It became open season. I got my ass kicked by a gang of bullies. Sean stood there and watched. Never lifting a hand.

He only said, “Brad, you better punch that little prick in the mouth.”

After it was over, on the walk home from school, he made fun of my black eye and busted lip.

“Dad would be so proud of you,” he  said before laughing.

“Oh, I’m sure he would have been proud of you for just standing there watching,” I said.

Sean stopped beside the road, with both clean hands against my chest, he pushed me down in a ditch bank filled with over-grown weeds.

Looking down on me, he said, “I fight my own battles buddy boy, you fight yours.”

When we got older, I got a job and he went to jail. Apparently, Sean was pissed off over a woman and decided to break some guys ribs with a baseball bat. Needless to say, I didn’t see my brother for a few years.

Mom did one time, but just like dad he told her not to come back. Said he didn’t want her to see him that way. Too bad he wasn’t out when dad came home.

I was working and paying all the bills for mom. But the old man was more proud of his oldest son doing time for roughing someone up. I told my mother if she needed anything to call me. I left her there with the madman she married.

It didn’t take long, and my father tried to steal another car. This time he raised the stakes toting a little 38 with ragged tape on the handle. Daddy done lost his mind! Pulling over and shooting at the law. Luckily, they didn’t kill him. But this time he was going up the river forever.

While all this goes on, I’m getting up early everyday going to a job I hate. Sometimes I think…man my father wouldn’t put up with this shit. He’d see his wife and kids starving and sleeping on the streets before he’d get out of bed early and hear a bunch of bullshit at a job.

My brother wouldn’t either. That lazy fuck wouldn’t work at a pie factory tasting pies for a living. His crimes and failures have always up-staged my success and trying to be a decent person. At least I can say I got him one time.

Sean ran up a huge debt fronting ice for himself and his little lowlife buddies. When drug dealers were threatening to kill him, all his buddies disappeared. With no where on earth to turn, he called and asked for my help.

I said, “I fight my own battles buddy boy, you fight yours.”

Fuck fighting, I’ve got to go to work like a responsible adult. Still, I don’t want to see my brother get horribly beaten or shot. So, I told one of my cop friends what was going on. Asked him to look out for Sean.

This cop and I were good friends back in high school. Pulling no punches, he says, “I’ll do what I can but if someone’s after Sean then you know he’s probably got it coming.”

I tried to tell Sean to get a job and live like a normal human being. But  deep down I guess he just always wanted to be like our father.

Doing stupid shit and being locked in a cage just never appealed to me. Work doesn’t appeal to me either, but I’ve got to get up and go whether I like it or not, because the bills keep coming.

Fuck my life!

The Road – A Landmark Novel by Mark McConville

Mark McConville, Non-fiction, Punk Noir Magazine, Writing

PhotoFunia-1590832754

The Road – A Landmark Novel.

When you think of masters of American literature, Cormac McCarthy pops up as a true contender. Within his works, stories bloom and portray struggle in the wilderness, the American outback where greed escalates and where cowboys try to survive life-threatening onslaughts. His books aren’t for the fainthearted either, they’re works of fearless fiction that bend normality and don’t adhere to rules. The pages are harsh, often controversial, and fully exert the notion to read on.

By bridging the gap between goodness and evil in his novels, McCarthy paints pictures of blood-soaked faces, revolt, rebellion, heartbreak, and fearlessness. He’s a master at this, a genius at spearheading realism in a fictional setting. Often, many writers can’t write like this. Often writers who try cannot place realism into their stories. Not all stories need that spine tingling narration, but when it’s done right, it is captivating.

Some readers may feel overwhelmed when they first read a McCarthy novel as they’re intricate, low paced, slower than your suspense novels. They’re deep filled though, they’re weighty, spontaneous, charged, and there are no flashy instances. Take The Crossing for example, a book which follows a wolf that kills cattle and other livestock. In this work, McCarthy describes the outback and the people like they have blood in their veins and hearts in their chests. But is there any other writer who can use simple techniques to create a piece of unconventional art like this, a story that should be tedious and lifeless? I don’t know if there is.

Picking up The Road by Cormac McCarthy is like giving your time and effort to a newborn child. It is a demanding read, one that is equally breathtaking and cathartic, born from a mind that is knife edged. Also, incredibly devised, The Road marked a grand return to bleakness for McCarthy too, a reoccurrence for the master of American tales. His other frantic novel, Old Country For Old Men, was a blockbuster, and The Road is no different.

The novel follows a man and his son through sprawling apocalyptic America. An American landscape, brimming with scavengers and looters, people hell bent on causing chaos to survive. This chaos erupts at points in the novel, as the man must stave off the enemies who want to capture his son. The man will do anything to keep the boy safe, he’ll grit his teeth, he will pulverize who comes in his way, and he’ll follow the road which may take them to safety.

But, are these two survivalists don’t know what’s up ahead. In their dreams, they think life may be worth living, but we know as the readers, that when an apocalypse hits, life drains rapidly. Armageddon has overthrown every morsel of reason, every piece of salvation, and the man and boy are stuck in a whirlpool of constant dispirit and broken luck.

By walking down the notorious road, they run into obstacles, wild animals, and unpredictable terrains. And this is all captured in McCarthy’s powerful prose, his compelling writing. Writing that takes your breath away, a style which has been strategically worked upon. Through and through, the diction is flawless, captivating and original, marking the road as a stellar piece of literature.

It’s also the bond of these two characters that embeds emotion and grips the attention. They talk, they smile, they clasp hands, and they argue. These are all the traits of a typical father and son relationship, and McCarthy has woven it into his tour de force majestically. And at points, poignant moments are scattered in the pages, moments where realism studs the inner core of sadness. For example, there is when the man and boy find an old drinks machine, one filled with old cans of coca cola. The man eventually breaks open the machine and hands his son the beverage, and as the boy drinks it he falls in love with a taste he hasn’t experienced before. In this simple embrace, this tender instance, the story takes a stab at realism in such a moving way.

The Road is a melancholic piece of work, one which showcases McCarthy at his unnerving best. He notably adjusts his writing style in some places, but we all know it’s him pulling the strings. By weaving prose of wonderment, segments of genius, the American wordsmith deserves praise. His work, through 12 novels, should be acknowledged more so than it has been. Being the underdog suits McCarthy anyway as he is never in the limelight, he scorns interviews, and lives a sheltered life.

After The Road was published McCarthy received the coveted Pulitzer Prize in literature, an accolade some writers dream of winning. This is deserved, as The Road is undoubtedly his most accomplished novel.

The Road.

Classic Noir: Two by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding K. A. Laity

Crime Fiction, Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, K A Laity, Noir, Non-fiction, Punk Noir Magazine

People have been talking about Bookshop as an alternative to the ‘zon so I hopped over to set up my profile there and see what they have. Disappointingly, they have a very patchy collection. Ironically, as they sell themselves as a booster of independent bookstores, you’ll mostly find volumes from the not-so-indie presses. I tried to add some things with ISBNs, but if it’s not in their database, you can’t add it. Out of the couple dozen (?) or so books I have out, I found a random 5.

Unable to burnish my own self-serving profile, I decided to set up some recommendations, including a ‘Godmothers of Noir’ list. I figure I’ll add to as I go along, but as you can imagine, I ran out of steam because data entry is boring. So to prod myself into doing more, I offer a couple recs here.

Elisabeth Sanxay Holding was ‘the top suspense writer of them all’ according to Raymond Chandler. Jake Hinkson agrees, acknowledging that the reason she tends to be dropped from the noir canon is largely because she doesn’t fit the hardboiled cliché. He argues that despite her ‘comfortable’ appearance, ‘I’d wager everything I own in the world that if you could have sidled up to Holding at some stuffy dinner party and asked her what she was really thinking the answer would have been darkly funny and perceptive.’

KILL JOY (1942) is the story of Maggie MacGowan, a young woman with ambition working as a servant in quiet house when she’d much rather be working in an office. While the housekeeper reads the sensational headlines about a local murder, tutting that the young woman ‘brought it on herself’ probably from wearing pajamas or shorts—‘and shorts they are!’ Maggie chafes at her position, but release comes through trying to help the young niece Miss Dolly, who flatters her ego and then confides in her like an equal: she’s in danger and afraid and needs to flee. She wants Maggie to come as her secretary. Because Dolly appears to be everything chic and sophisticated in her eyes, and she’s getting threatening notes from someone who signs his name as Othello, Maggie is won over to the scheme and they sneak away.

It all seems exciting and romantic but Maggie is dismayed to find they arrive in the dark of night at a ‘nasty dirty’ little house on the water. There’s no food but there are two strange men: Neely, a Dutch artist who seems unconcerned with anything, and Johnny Cassidy, a smooth talking fellow who alternately entrances and disgusts the young woman. One minute he’s putting on a cod Scots accent to tease her and the next he’s muttering dark drunken ramblings.

Dolly’s lawyer shows up but soon appears floating in the estuary. And things really begin to unravel. At first Maggie is primly determined to get herself out of the increasingly-gothic surroundings, but she’s checked first by sympathy for Dolly and then by a growing fear that she can’t escape. The bohemian group intermingles with the local Long Island gentry. Maggie learns that all the ‘class’ she attributed to Miss Dolly is really embodied by Gabrielle Getty, whose husband is another circling around the eternal victim—unless it’s Miss Dolly herself who’s only playing a part.

The book will keep you guessing as to who’s knocking off one inconvenient person after another right up to the end. It’s fascinating to see the changes in Maggie who is initially crushed by finding out that she’s not as smart as she thought she was, yet bounces back with real courage and plenty of pluck.

THE VIRGIN HUNTRESS (1951) could not be more different. Like Hughes’ In a Lonely Place (1947) this novel plops us into the mind of misogynist, self-pitying manipulator. The novel opens on V-J Day, neatly taking advantage of the noir hinge between the war and post war periods. Montford Duchesne is not quite in the same celebratory mood as the rest of the population. The end of the war means the end of his job in the shipyard on Staten Island. It means more difficulty coping with his landlady’s daughter Gwen, who’s determined to marry him. He thinks he deserves better things.

It’s interesting how different Maggie’s ambitions – initially just as self-deluded – compare to Monty’s: Maggie realises it’s herself that needs to change; Monty stubbornly waits for the world to change around him. And there’s that thing he can’t quite bear to think about in his past. The (mostly female) ghosts that haunt him lead him to a random change of plans. In the chaos of the celebrations, he wanders away from his would-be fiancée to offer assistance to a couple of women in a Rolls who are being menaced by a sailor who’s trying to force them to celebrate with him.

The rescuer gets invited along since they’re all heading back to Manhattan and at first it seems like a dream come true for Monty: away from his down-at-the-heel life and into the wealthy world of Argentian oil wealth. So what if Rose has her suspicions about him. Her tia Luisa takes an instant liking to him and invites him to use her brother’s hotel room while he sorts himself out.

Monty veers from arrogance to abject self-loathing: ‘This time he paid, this time he tipped, lavishly. Maybe she was noticing. After all, he thought. I’m not an oaf. Not a hick. My father’s people…I went to a really good school.’ Like Dix Steele, Monty wants all the things he thinks he deserves while knowing the world is against him. Oh and there’s that thing haunting him, that give him nightmares and makes him sweat and act belligerent and desperately try to fix things so no one will find out just what he can’t bring himself to remember.

Both of these books will grab you and have you flipping pages right to the end. While some of the noir tropes will be familiar, you’ll find plenty of surprises, too. Even bit part characters are memorable and distinct (wow, Monty’s mother). See the ongoing list of ‘Godmothers of Noir’ here.

Editors – An End Has A Start: Retrospective by Mark McConville

Editors, Mark McConville, Music, Non-fiction, Punk Noir Magazine

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Editors – An End Has A Start: Retrospective.

When beauty in music shrouds the world’s pain and its destructive nature, it’s a major success story. When music ripples through your thoughts and makes you see that it can be a lifeline, is a magical feeling. And music is ultimately a gateway to wider terrains and landscapes, even when you’re sitting in your generic room, listening through earphones and mimicking your favorite singer/artist. Music also sets us free, it makes us become live wires and it can calm our restless hearts. From punk to pop, the music we choose isn’t always about trends, it’s about how it affects us. Emotions trickle in, heartfelt lyrics bend our minds, and noise consumes us. Through time, we hear certain songs in bars and dingy party halls at the edge of sunrise, singing to the beat of our feet, and saying to ourselves ‘’This Song Has Saved My Life’’

In 2007, a band named Editors descended back into the music melting pot. The act, were no strangers at recording albums. Their debut record, The Back Room, which was released in 2005, catapulted them into the limelight as a band to scrutinize for good reason. That album catered to the rock faithful and blew the roof off. For a debut record, it spawned many singles, placing a band, which came from humble settings, into a grandiose way of life.

But, it would be their second release that sparked a revolution, and made the outfit a household name. An End Has A Start was the prize. A collection of emotional dreams populated with infectious hooks and lyrical spontaneity. Leading man Tom Smith sang astutely, bellowing out his grievances like tales of unrest, and turning musical gears smoothly. He’s a lyrical master, and on An End Has A Start, his inspiration spiked, forming written artistry which eclipsed the brilliance of The Back Room.

How could they surpass such expertly crafted songs? Well, by adding measure and substance, and thought-provoking synergy, that’s how. And little notes of post-punk and rock charms were instilled too, making the album a showstopper. Every track had a beating heart, every piece had been drawn from incredible minds.

These minds all clashed in an honest way and An End Has A Start birthed a new chapter for Editors. All the songs on the album resonated profoundly, certifying the band as a major player. ‘’Smokers Outside The Hospital Door’’ kick-started the record poignantly and delivered lyrics that highlighted desperation and hardship. Smith, as the singer, sang with the utmost desire to pass his point across through all the static noise. He outdid himself lyrically, calling on his devices and mind, to create a masterful spark of reason. The instrumental aspect of the album is astounding also, as the drums beat like hearts and the guitars come alive.

Single number two, An End Has A Start kept the album moving. It is a wonderful, emotional, compelling track. Smith sang diligently as always and his lyrical ability shined brightly. He vocalized his feelings describing a broken world and angels and demons. It is one of the most astutely created tracks in the rock world. Sublime in its execution.

And every rock album has its swansong. And this record was no different. ‘’Push Your Head Towards The Air’’ rattled the cage of ignorance and drowned out the arrogance. It was a magical moment. Smith’s voice was ludicrously good and lyrically it spoke like a dignified angel. It conjured up a feeling of hope when it was dead. A drastically different track by Editors, a track of vulnerability.

An End Has A Start was an emotional album brimming in lyricism and rhythm beyond your bog standard release. It struck the core of anguish and left the listener breathless. Musically assertive, the opus ingrained normality and augmented it to the next level.

Murder in My High School by K. A. Laity

Fiction, K A Laity, Non-fiction, Punk Noir Magazine, Writing

in cold blod

This is not going to be a lurid tale; more of a puzzled one. A colleague share a link this morning about the need to compensate formerly incarcerated people for telling their stories—particularly for those events seeking to redress the criminal (literally) imbalances in the justice system. It got me thinking about a weird thing from my own past.

My high school, like many American schools of its time, would have ‘assemblies’ from time to time of varying sizes (don’t get your hopes up, Austen fans—not that kind of assembly). The whole school would get together in the gymnasium, but there was a block of classrooms that were separated by moveable accordion panels to bring six or eight classrooms into one big one.

Sometimes they did it for films: one time Fail Safe, the 1964 Sydney Lumet cautionary nuclear war film (that’s kind of a po-faced remake of Dr Strangelove) –why? Who knows? Cold War romanticism from some faculty member? More striking in my memory is when they showed us In Cold Blood, which gave me a whole new fanaticism for Capote’s novel and true crime. I remember the gym teacher who taught ‘history’—for whom I used to grade quizzes because you know child labour laws were lax and I was bored with the quizzes themselves—making fun of the actress screaming before her character was murdered. ‘Isn’t that the worst scream ever?’ he said laughing, then turning the sound back up.

All the misogyny I remember well, too.

Films were always a welcome relief from the day-to-day grind of classes, especially in that term where I was stuck in a class with a teacher who had given up on everything. But I remember the weird day that they brought in a murderer to talk to us. Once more all the walls folded back. We turned our desks around to face a different front. And a quiet unassuming old man told us that he committed murder in the heat of a moment of anger as a young man and spent a lot of years regretting it.

I suppose, in my school where they were churning out better autoworkers for tomorrow, it was a warning: Think before you knife someone. Perhaps it was just another indication of how little they expected of us: try not to murder someone. I remember his regret, his quietness. I remember more the students’ heady combination of fear, fascination, and a kind of intoxication as the two mixed.

I remember the disappointment many had that he was not some slavering beast held by chains but a tired older man who spoke softly to us about lost time. I suppose things that might have been on adults’ minds at the time included the recent memory of ‘Michigan’s Ted Bundy’ but I don’t recall thinking about that at the time. The invulnerability of youth. I remember his sadness. I remember thinking about all he might have done instead.