Sunday, August 30, 2020

Buddies in the Saddle: Ron Scheer

I finished my first Cash Laramie short story in over seven years and before I crossed the finish line, I spent some time with an old cowboy friend of mine named Ron Scheer. I met Ron online, here at Blogger, over our mutual appreciation for the Western genre. Before he sadly passed away in 2015, I had the distinct privilege of publishing his three volume series How The West Was Written with BEAT to a PULP. The third volume contains colloquial words he had found in the numerous classics he had read, and it was an indispensable resource while working on my latest hardboiled western. Thank you, Ron, for sharing this gem not only with me but with everyone.

Monday, August 24, 2020

The Hired Hand (1971)

Somehow The Hired Hand escaped my viewing until now, and that's peculiar because I'm a Warren Oates enthusiast (The Wild Bunch, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia) and enjoy other films where he teams with the underrated Peter Fonda (Race With The Devil) who also directed this 1971 revisionist western. The running time is brisk at just over ninety minutes and that works to the film's advantage because the plot is straightforward, building on character development and eschewing gratuitous action scenes. Fonda plays Harry Collings and Oates is Arch Harris, two drifters headed for the California coast when Harry, weary of the meandering lifestyle, decides to return to his wife and daughter that he abandoned several years earlier. Arch counts Harry as a good friend and because of his easygoing demeanor tags along.

Hannah Collings (Verna Bloom) gives her wayward husband a justified cold welcome assuming he will once again leave her. She's a progressive thinker and has done quite well without him once she got over the initial hurt. Hannah allows Harry and Arch to stick around to work as hired hands, maintaining her distance; still, the married couple eventually find a route back to each other's hearts. Arch realizes he needs to move on since not only is three a crowd but he finds Hannah attractive as well. Ms. Bloom dominates every frame she's in, building a complicated, nuanced character. But this is still a Western, and there's a violent shootout after Arch is kidnapped by some thugs who he and Harry had run afoul at the beginning of the story. It's about one of the most realistic, choreographed gun plays I've ever watched.

Peter Fonda does an adept job of directing though I could do without the slo-mo and the ocassional out-of-focus angles that were all the rage of the late sixties and early seventies cinema. That trivial note aside, this is a fine film for fans of westerns and Warren Oates aficionados alike, especially those who wish to get away from exhausted tropes that plague the genre. And perhaps because of the unorthodox approach, I wasn't surprised to read The Hired Hand was a commercial failure on its initial release—now it's regarded as one of the defining films of the 1970s. I obviously agree, and the next time I'm watching, I'll plan on making it a double feature with another revisionist gem, Robert Altman's acclaimed McCabe & Mrs. Miller that was released the very same year.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Johnny Cash: Love, God, Murder

Johnny Cash (1932-2003) was one of the voices surrounding my cradle. In a small home in Varna, New York, would have been my dad, mom, and sister, and a baritone voice from an 8-track tape player singing about heady topics which I would learn to understand in the years to come. My musical interests expanded beyond country to rock, classical, and my go to favorite jazz. But even today, that deep voice and those songs still capture my attention, and before he died, Johnny Cash gifted us with a compilation titled Love, God, Murder (2000) with liner notes by Bono, Quentin Tarantino, and Johnny's lovely wife, June Carter Cash.

The "Murder" collection of songs has been playing on my Bose nonstop for weeks, whether I'm tinkering with a poem, editing a crime story for the BEAT to a PULP webzine, or riding the killing trail with Cash Laramie, who, yes, I partly named after Johnny. Inspirations abound. Take a song like "Don't Take Your Guns to Town," about a young man named Billy Joe who wants to be respected and rides into town with his guns hanging at his side. Hear that song just once and a movie begins playing out inside your head that could have been directed by John Ford. You see his mom crying over him and that dusty cowpoke laughing him down at the bar. It's not just a song but a narrative that gets into your ear and under your skin, and no matter how much you don't want Billy to make that fatal mistake to draw his pistols, he will again and again.

Another classic, "Delia's Gone," is about an unfaithful wife who's killed by the narrator. Unlike "Don't Take Your Guns to Town," there is no sympathetic protagonist, rather a jealous husband who appears to gleefully enjoy the path he takes—Cash was never afraid to go there in what Tarantino calls hillbilly thug life. I especially relish this particular compilation for the various points of view, whether from people witnessing a president's assassination in "Mister Garfield," a prisoner fantasizing about breaking out of Folsom prison, a man admitting to a murder to protect his best friend's wife from the shame of their affair, or an honest policeman allowing his criminal brother to get away "'cause a man who turns his back on his family ain't no good." That song, "Highway Patrolman," was written by Bruce Springsteen, and it has always impressed me how Cash could interpret other people's songs, slipping them into his own music book for a seamless listen. He's covered songs from a wide range of artists, from Hank Snow to Trent Reznor, with the ability to make them his own. How does he do it? I believe it's because his voice speaks with an authority that seems from The Almighty himself.

Any other Cash aficionados? What's your favorite song or album?

Monday, August 17, 2020

Cash Laramie, The Outlaw Marshal

I'm not sure why Cash Laramie returned, and quite frankly, I wasn't looking forward to it because I thought his story arc had been fully realized. Still, a few weeks ago, the antihero I created many moons ago tapped on my shoulder with a well formed short story. Over the course of an afternoon, I knocked out the rough draft and have been polishing it up ever since. It reminded me that stashed in my coffer was a Nik Morton* novel called Death For a Dove featuring both Cash and his fellow marshal, Gideon Miles, and I immediately began readying that dynamite for publication.  

On Twitter, I teased Cash's return and was astonished anyone had remembered, but many did with enthusiasm. To tease a bit further, my story takes place in 1902 when Cash is fifty years old and has pursued a wanted man from his home base in Cheyenne to New York. Nik's upcoming piece occurs in the 1880's on a riverboat with owlhoots, gamblers, a European princess, and a tiger! I enjoy working with Nik -- besides being a top wordsmith, he's been with me and these creations since the beginning. We've already begun plotting more Westerns for 2021. Well, time to stop yapping and get writing.

*Nik recently wrote about the previous Cash and Miles adventure, Coffin for Cash (2015): Disinterring Coffin for Cash - 1 | Disinterring Coffin for Cash - 2.