The Dick & the Dame, or Dave Moore goes Pulp Noir

This project spends a lot of time in the first quarter of the 20th century where the public domain diamonds are scattered free for recutting and reuse — but If I was able to expand this, I’d probably skip the Thirties and delve into the 1940-1965 mid-century quarter, the era I personally remember through youthful-eyed memory. What were those adults up to then, what were they thinking?

We can never answer that fully. Even through that time’s poetry and other art we can only get shadows and dappled sunlight. The high-level summary is “The Greatest Generation” with its dedication to institutions and its obverse face of turned-away conformity. One way the dark leaked out from this gloss color print with scattered blood stains was through paid-by-the-word hard-boiled detective fiction and the run-fast through the projector snap-traps of film-noir. This stuff was white-male written, and mostly for male audiences too. Misogynistic? Well, yes — and in its defense it’d plead misanthropic. That first quarter of the 20th century had its Lost Generation, but this quadrant had exiles. The former wandered off in search of something and doesn’t know where home is anymore. The latter was sent away from home and was pretty sure it couldn’t go back.

The misogyny can bother me when I read or view it, but the magnetic soundtrack of caustic oppositional views attracts me too. And then the outmoded slang involved can seem almost Shakespearian now, the anarchic becaming archaic.

Pulp Detectives 600

“The underwires on this dress are killing me, so don’t think for a moment I won’t use this piece.” Dames on the covers, dicks on the bylines.

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When Dave Moore and I got back together to set down some live “in-the-moment” tracks this spring, Dave brought two outstanding longer pieces he’d written since we last worked together. The first, already presented here was “The Wall Around Heaven,”  a satire which is set in our present day. If you haven’t heard it, you should. Here’s a link to it.  I can’t praise it enough. The second I present today is a re-weaving of pulp detective and film noir tropes, told though. as Dave turns the pages, with his own poetic verve. Language of course was the chief freedom of the grayscale Abelards & Heloises in those stories, and Dave makes the most of that argot. In a note on the copy of the text we performed this spring, Dave wrote that “The Dick & the Dame”  was “inspired by Robert Coover’s Noir.”   Dave marked a handful of lines as “taken or shaped by Coover.”

The music here is Dave’s too, though some of the decoration is mine. There’d be a temptation to dress this set in mid-century Jazz sounds, which I didn’t do here. Afterall, Elvis Costello’s “Watching the Detectives”  went with the end of the mid-century era with its reggae and Secret Agent Man guitar twang. I went with funky electric guitar neck wringing and whammy bar abuse which would scorch the manners of the Jazz cigarette world. The result is longer than our usual pieces, and neither Dave nor I are well-known poets who’ve written well-known poems, so this breaks from our “Poetry’s Greatest Hits” format. I figure: by this point summer is breaking out and there are fewer listeners and readers of this project until fall anyway. Might as well turn it up and go loose today.

Warning: in this crescendo of innuendo, bad words and flawed people show up.  You can hear that and it with the player gadget below, or where that doesn’t show, with this highlighted hyperlink.

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The Galton Case

This is Parlando Project alternate reader Dave Moore’s birthday month, and so I thought it’d be a good time to interrupt the autumn poetry with his presentation of a short passage from detective novelist Ross MacDonald’s The Galton Case  first published in 1959.

Dave did this live performance that I recorded a few years back, and when I asked him earlier this fall about it, he wasn’t sure exactly what went into its choice. It may have been that some of the formative influences on the Parlando Project date to the era depicted in this scene in the novel, the “Beatnik*” phase where a certain kind of post WWII bohemia reached general public attention.

I’d characterize most of that general attention then as somewhere between comic amusement and pearl-clutching concern. The “beatnik” as a comic character became a stock item, and it’s easy to see the derivation from earlier foolish artist characters like Don Marquis’ Fothergil Finch.**  The world doesn’t understand their pure art, but in the comic context, the world is entirely right.  And then the concern-faction folks were writing that standards were surely slipping as free verse, free jazz, free-style prose myths, and free love were celebrated in the demimonde.

The Beatniks moive poster

Explosive ivory towers! The Beatnik id of the Fifties.

 

Fiction writers, even writers of detective fiction, have the choice of walking fine-borderlines on such things. Characters and voices can hit the comic notes, show the raggedness of the coloring outside the lines and the amputations when sharp lines cut, while allowing their readers the ability to vicariously experience those parts of town they would never visit. Attracted to the Beat but find it out of reach? Repelled by it? Find it phony? It’s possible to write a novel and hold the interest of readers who have one or more of those opinions of “Beatniks.”

This passage from Ross MacDonald is a good example. I’ve not read the book, I don’t know how it comes out, and what additional framing and information we might have if we did. Listening to the section Dave reads I wonder: does the narrator dislike the modern jazz playing behind the poet, or just dislike its incarnation that night? Is the poet reading to music a beatnik fool speaking useless nonsense, or a fool speaking the truth because they no longer care not to? What level of imposture is everyone portraying, and how can we know or find out?

We don’t know. We’ll turn pages so the detective can find out.

It occurs to me that detective fiction is allied on some essential level with literary criticism. Sherlock Holmes foretold the New Criticism; Edgar Allen Poe, one of the Fugitives before their time.

If last time Emily Dickinson was getting meta with autumn and poets who wrote about autumn, today we have Dave reading in front of the LYL Band this short, mysterious passage from The Galton Case  which describes—someone reading before a band.

Happy birthday Dave! The player is below…

 

 

 

 

*Beatnik was created by newspaper columnist Herb Caen who combined the term “Beat” used by some writers in the scene with the Russian suffix used for the tiny artificial earth satellite Sputnik launched in 1957. Many members of the “beat generation” didn’t like the term, which after all was a diminutive. People breaking molds don’t generally like labels anyway.

The successor term “Hippie” was similarly made by adding a diminutive suffix to an existing term “hip” that was used within the subculture. Both Hippie and Beatnik had connotations of a vague aspiration to bohemianism, particularly by those who might be too young to really understand.

**”The Poet of Revolt” as he self-branded. Furthermore in Marquis’ Hermoine and Her Little Group of Serious Thinkers  from 1916, we can find other characters like Voke Easeley the Modernist composer who “Doesn’t know a thing about music. He tried for years to learn and couldn’t. The only way he knows when you strike a chord on the piano is because he doesn’t like chords near as well as he does discords.”