BELLWETHER – BY CONNIE WILLIS

Connie Willis_1996_Bellwether

I read Bellwether again. I finished it last night. Each time I read it — this is the 5th or 6th time — I learn something new. It is one of those books that doesn’t get old. Always funny, always wise. And always worth the effort and time.

Bellwether grabbed me from page one … from sentence one. Not merely was I highly entertained by the story, but I learned a lot about chaos theory, fads, sheep, and the meaning of “bellwether,” a term I’d heard and used — and misused — for years, but never entirely understood.

It was the bellwether and sheep connection I never got. What do I know about sheep? And why would I care? It turns out, sheep and people have an unnerving amount in common.

A bellwether is a leader of sheep, an über ewe, the sheep who the flock follows. There’s no discernible reason why a bellwether leads and nor any obvious reason why the flock follows. There is just something about that ewe.

What the bellwether does, other sheep do. The flock will follow her — mindlessly, blindly — over a cliff if that’s where she leads. The flock doesn’t know they are following the bellwether. They just do it.

Humans have bellwethers too. We no more recognize our bellwethers than does a flock of sheep. Still we follow them. An atavistic instinct, embedded in our DNA? Some are born to lead, others to follow. A very few will walk a unique path.

The book is laugh-out-loud funny. Erudite, witty, and replete with trivia guaranteed to upgrade your anecdotal skills.

Bellwether suggests answers to previously unanswerable questions. Why do people vote against their own self-interest? Why do we do so many stupid things? The answer? We’re following a bellwether. They are loose amongst us, invisible shakers and movers. Unaware of their effect on the people around them.

You should read this book. It also explains a lot of events throughout history which have never made any kind of sense. Even after you know all the facts of what happened, most of history still doesn’t make sense. When you add in a few critical bellwethers, it comes clear.

Human life, history and relationships are illogical. They just happen. We can explain them only in retrospect. That’s what historians are for, after all. To make sense of the past because it won’t make sense by itself. Human society is chaotic. The only predictable thing is unpredictability.

I found Bellwether original, insightful, amusing and thought-provoking. Highly entertaining and funny. I can’t imagine what more anyone could want from a book. I recommend it both in print (Kindle or paper) and audio. It is a book you will read and remember.

Then read it again. There’s more to it than you will get in a single reading.

A MUSICAL FATHER’S DAY TRIBUTE – WITH swo8

When Leslie proposed this project to me, I wasn’t exactly sure how it would work out. It was (then) early for Father’s Day but the song “Tribute to Clarence” by swo8 Blues Jazz from the album Osaka Time in iTunes, was written for her father, Clarence. They had an organ at home — at one point, even a pipe organ (I’m so envious — I love the sound of those pipes).

And, since today actually IS Father’s Day, why not run it now?

Leslie’s father built a special room to house the pipes. When he played that organ the house rocked! Clarence had two loves in life: music and his dogs. It was at the “dogs” that I came in because I have pictures of dogs, probably because we have three dogs now and have as many as five in the recent past. If we took in all the dogs offered to us, we’d have to register as a shelter.

A fine piece of original jazz! The dog is Leslie’s “grand-dog.” The man playing the organ is indeed the aforementioned Clarence, Leslie’s dad. Enjoy!!

ANOTHER MIND-BLOWING DOCUMENTARY FROM MICHAEL MOORE – PART 1 by ELLIN CURLEY

There is so much I’d like to talk about in the amazing, eye-opening documentary called “Where To Invade Next”. It’s really an old-fashioned travelogue. Michael Moore goes to different countries around the world. But instead of reporting about natural wonders or tourist sites, he reports about one specific thing in each culture. It’s the prison system in one, the equality of women in another, the educational system in others.

There are two major areas where the European approach blew my mind. One is the workplace, which I’ll talk about here. The other is the educational system, which I’ll discuss next Monday.

MichaelM poster

The workplace in Italy and Germany is a place where workers and bosses come together to create a good quality product for the marketplace, make a good profit for the company and provide a good quality of life for the employees. The companies visited were successful, well-known companies; in Italy they visited a high-end clothes factory that produces for such brand names as Dolce and Gabana and the Ducati motorcycle factory. In Germany they went to a world-famous pencil factory and the BMW assembly line.

In Italy unions are very powerful and in Germany, the law mandates that half of all corporate boards must be made up of workers from that company. The result is that corporations there consider and care about the needs and well-being of their workers. And visa versa. It is a commonly held belief in both countries that to maximize productivity you must have a well rested, unstressed, “happy” workforce. A good balance between a worker’s job and home life is considered essential for the business to succeed. Everyone there believes that longer hours and less time off increases sickness, decreases production and destroys morale.

Michael M Italy

All Italians get at least 8 weeks of PAID vacation a year plus around 12 national holidays. They get five months of paid maternity leave that can be shared by both parents. They also get a 13th month of full salary to make sure they have enough money to pay for traveling and other fun activities on their vacations. This is all in addition to a two-hour lunch every day. In Germany, they have a 36 hour workweek but get paid for 40 hours. There is also a law that prohibits employers from emailing of contacting workers after hours, on weekends or when they are on vacation. Embedded in both German and Italian culture is the belief that cultivating friends, time with family, leisure activities and time to enjoy life are as important, if not more important than work.

The bizarre part of this for Americans is the fact that the corporate employers believe they are not only doing the right thing for their workers, but the most expedient and efficient thing for themselves. The bosses believe that a pleasant workplace filled with happy and cooperative people is actually better for their businesses.

They may be right. Statistics show that very few Italians or Germans take sick days off work but that this is a big problem in America. It seriously diminishes overall productivity here. Statistics also show that Italy and America have the same level of workplace productivity. This means that Italians are far more productive per man hour than we are.

Despite the shorter workday and work year in Italy and Germany, all the factory workers Michael Moore talked to made enough money to live a comfortable middle class life. While their taxes may be higher than ours, they don’t have to pay for high cost items like health care, day care, school tuition, etc. The result is enough money to pay for the necessities and many of the luxuries of a middle class life style. The European workers were shocked to hear that middle class Americans have to work two and often three jobs just to make ends meet.

The take away for me was that there are places in the world that value quality of life and mental health for their populations. And this is not seen as undermining the bottom line of the economy in any way. Employers and employees don’t have opposing interests. Everyone is expected to be relaxed and happy and to have a rich, full life, with a wide circle of family and friends. People in parts of Europe seem to take care of each other and care about each other in a way that seems very quaint and outdated in America.

Michael M poster2

Ironically, the labor movement and labor unions were born in America. We just abandoned them somewhere along the way and other parts of the world have continued to embrace them. But this documentary gave me hope that there is a way to make it work for everyone in a society. You just have to have common goals and work together. Unfortunately, I don’t think can happen in America for a long time to come.

BOND IS BACK

The Timothy Dalton Years, by Rich Paschall


James Bond first appeared in film in 1962 with Sean Connery bringing charm and adventure to the world’s greatest spy with a license to kill.  After 6 films by Connery and one by George Lazenby, Roger Moore took the role for seven films.

James_Bond_Timothy_Dalton

After these 14 Eon Productions, a rival production that was a remake of Thunderball (Never Say Never Again) and a spoof (Casino Royale starring David Niven), it might seem that James Bond had reached the end.  Moore’s last film, 1985’s A View To A Kill, did well at the box office, but was not particularly well received with the critics.  It seems Moore was a bit too old for the secret agent.

Eon decided to move forward. Bond was back in the person of Timothy Dalton in the 1987 film, The Living Daylights.  It was based on the Ian Fleming short story of the same name.  This time the film may have retained more of the essence of the Fleming piece than many of the other Bond films had done.

With the first Dalton film you will find more of an intense James Bond than previously revealed.  There is less of the charm and more uncertainty than we are used to in the Bond character.  Dalton is not Connery or Moore in his portrayals of 007.  He is a serious agent at work.  Why the shift?  Whether it was in the script or not, Dalton was attempting to move more toward the Bond as described in the novels rather than the Bond people had already seen.

Reports are that Dalton could be seen on set reading the Fleming novels to see what the original author had meant the character to be.  The books were not describing the Bond seen in previous films.  Some of those movies only used the title and little else from the original author’s story.

First up for Dalton was a film based on the Fleming short story, The Living Daylights.  As in the short story, Bond is set up as a sniper to shoot anyone who might harm a top Soviet defector.  Bond does not kill the other shooter but only wounds her.  Some think it is because the other sniper was a woman.  We later learn she is the girlfriend of the defector Bond was supposed to protect and she was just there to create the illusion of harm.  From there Bond is left to figure out the real roles of the girlfriend, the defector, as well as diamond dealers and drug dealers.  There is a little humor, a little charm, and a lot of intensity.

Next up for James Bond was the film Licence To Kill.  No, you will not find an Ian Fleming story with that title.  It was the first story to use an original title, although the term “licence to kill” was used often in the Bond stories.  In truth many of the films retained almost nothing of the story from which the title was taken.  There are references to other stories and characters in this movie, but the series has clearly gone in a new direction.

The sixteenth Eon production was written with the darker portrayal of Bond in mind.  The charm is left behind as Bond is on more of a personal vendetta against a drug lord who has murdered friends of his.  When one wonders why Bond has taken up the pursuit, someone refers back to something we see at the end of the sixth Bond film and is referred to in one of the Moore films.  I won’t give that away just in case you have not seen it.

With James Bond now seen as a rogue agent, his “double 00” status is revoked.  “Q” takes a vacation so he can help Bond in secret.  This gives character actor Desmond Llewelyn, who played the keeper of all those Bond gadgets, an extended part in a film.  Llewelyn had played the character throughout the series at this point.  Here he is caught up in the action, as unlikely as that may seem.

The Dalton films were directed by John Glen, who also directed the last three Moore films.  Just as before, Bond performs incredible action stunts throughout the features.  Perhaps filming techniques have improved to the point that they can make the sequences appear more dangerous with minimal risk.  Bond’s fight with the villain in Licence To Kill may be the most incredible yet.

Dalton had a six-year, three film deal with Eon Productions to play the super spy.  After Licence To Kill, however, producer Albert Broccoli and his company Danjaq, holders of the Bond copyright, found themselves in a protracted legal battle over the Bond series.  This effectively delayed the series for years as the lawsuit between Danjaq and MGM/UA dragged on.  The movie studio had leased the back catalogue of Bond films to another party at below market value.  MGM, which had previously merged with the UA, who had funded the Bond series at the beginning, was owned by Qintex, which wanted to merge with Pathe Communications so they made the lease deal and… OK, that’s enough of that.

While all of this went on, the six-year deal with Dalton expired.  Dalton reportedly said at the time “My feeling is this will be the last one. I don’t mean my last one, I mean the end of the whole lot.”  We have already seen, however, that James Bond does indeed live more than twice.  Bond will be back.

Related: Bond, James Bond
Never Say Never Again
Moore Bond
For Your Eyes Only

MILLION-DOLLAR MEMORIES

Garry and I both grew up in New York in the 1950s. That was before cable. It even proceeded UHF. Television was black and white. We had seven channels: 2 (CBS), 4 (NBC), and 7 (ABC), the network flagship stations. They remain the network flagship stations and of course, New York’s network affiliates.

Also playing was channel 5 (Dumont) which showed lots of old movies and channel 13. Today, 13 is PBS, but then, it was stuff so bad no one else would run it. Johnny Mack Brown westerns. Movies John Wayne wished he could forget having made.

Then, there was channel 9 (WOR RKO-General). It was the premium rerun and old monster movie channel along with channel 11 (WPIX). But channel 9 won my heart because it had Million Dollar Movie.

Ah, the memories. You could say the Million Dollar Movie was an educational channel, if you consider movies educational. Which I do. Old movies, all in black and white because television was all black and white. I was, later in life, surprised to discover how many of these movies are actually in color. Who knew?

My mother did not allow my brother and I to watch television on school nights. Nor were we allowed to watch television during the day, even on weekends. She believed in fresh air, sports, and reading. What it really meant was I had to go to a friend’s house to catch the Saturday morning cartoons and great shows like “My Friend Flicka.”

Eventually, TV won and we all watched whenever and whatever we liked, but that was years in the future. Even early on, there were exceptions to the rules. The main exception was if we were home sick from school, we got to watch television all day. Upstairs in my parent’s bedroom … and out of my mother’s hair.

72-Antique-Marilyn-Matthew-1952

That was when Million Dollar Movie came into its own. They showed one movie a week, but they showed it all day until midnight. For seven days in a row. The theme for Million Dollar Movie was the Tara’s Theme from Gone With the Wind. The first time I saw Gone With the Wind, I practically leapt from my seat shouting “Hey, that’s the Million Dollar Movie theme.”

I got tonsillitis with boring regularity and it came with a full week at home. Antibiotics and whatever was showing on (you guessed it) Million Dollar Movie. Which is how come I saw Yankee Doodle Dandy several hundred times. My bouts of tonsillitis coincided with their showings of Jimmy Cagney’s finest performance.

I didn’t know he made any other movies until I was an adult. That was when I discovered he had played gangsters. I was surprised. I thought all he did was dance and sing.

Why am I writing about this? Because we are watching Yankee Doodle Dandy. After all these years, I can still sing along with every song, know every dance move, and each piece of dialogue. Remarkably, unlike so many other movies, it has remained black and white.

Does anyone know why the movie is in black and white? It screams for color. Just saying.

GERIATRIC COMEDY BY ELLIN CURLEY

My new favorite show to binge watch these days is “Grace and Frankie” on Netflix. The cast is amazing – Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston in the leads. The supporting cast, particularly the four adult children, are also pitch perfect. The characters are fully and thoughtfully developed, the writing is brilliant and the humor springs naturally from the characters and situations.

G & F couples

The show begins when two 70-year-old men tell their wives that they are both gay, have been having a twenty year affair and are asking for divorces so they can marry each other. The Lily Tomlin (Frankie), Sam Waterston couple are Jewish, hippy, touchy feely, chanting, pot smoking flower children. The Jane Fonda (Grace), Martin Sheen couple are status seeking, uptight Wasps and Grace was a super corporate, super successful career woman. Now, the two wives, who are not fond of each other, for obvious reasons, have to move in together when the men take over one of the family homes.

grace and frankie 1

The issues are dealt with honestly and on a personal, emotional level. There is no hint of ideology or agenda (except for acceptance of gay marriage). You laugh at the straights as much as the gays, the hippies as much as the wasps, the older generation as much as the younger one. The relationships with the adult children are fully realized and quite varied so the humor always rings true there as well.

G&F men

The center of the show is the evolution of the friendship between the two women. It is beautiful and edifying to watch as they struggle to focus on their common ground and accommodate their glaring differences. It is a wonderful affirmation that people who are so different can bridge the gaps between them and forge a strong bond.I see parts of myself in both women so I’m laughing at myself a lot. At times I want to BE them and have a female friend who can share and support and help me cope and grow at the same time. At other times I just enjoy watching them deal with the major twists in the lives from the comfort of my thankfully “boring” life.

G&F women

Another reason I love watching this show is that it deals sensitively but bluntly with elder issues that are not often discussed. The retired women have to come to terms with their feelings of uselessness and invisibility. They have to find day-to-day meaning in a life without the structure of a full-time job or of a family to take care of 24/7. They talk about memory loss, arthritis and other indignities of an older body. There is also a lot of talk about vaginas and sex in your 70’s. Vaginal dryness has a whole plot line built around it!

Baby Boomers are becoming Seniors at warp speed. So there is now a big demographic of elders to sell products to and pitch movies and TV shows to. So expect to see more sagging bodies and forgetful minds on all forms of media. The Geriatric Baby Boomers are taking over so move over and remind me why I decided to write this blog.

SINGERS ON DEMAND

My You Tube favorites, by Rich Paschall


In the past singers gained popularity through radio play and variety shows on radio and television.  Now music is on streaming services and video sites.  The most popular video site, of course, is You Tube.  Many artists will use other social media outlets and personal websites to promote their You Tube videos which in turn popularize their songs, both cover versions of well-known artists as well as original works.

Since there is a lot of crap on You Tube, I have decided to come to your musical, if not indeed your emotional, rescue and let you know my top 10 favorites.  I follow them all through subscriptions on You Tube so I can see when new work comes along.  You can do the same.  Signing up on You Tube is free.  You can even start your own channel and sing out too.

The following order is for the purpose of this article and I might arrange this differently if I was to write it again tomorrow.  Some of the artists have so many videos online it was hard to make choices.  I have a playlist on my channel with 12 songs, two by one of the artists and a high energy song that includes three of these.

A Kickstarter success
A Kickstarter success

10. Kurt Schneider is actually the genius behind many people’s videos.  As a producer and a musician, Schneider is very much in demand these days.  You can find him playing various instruments in many popular videos, but you will not find too many where he is the solo performer.  An interesting presentation is Kurt with his mom and just a piano performing the Fleetwood Mac hit, Landslide.

9. Sam Tsui has made a LOT of videos with Kurt Schneider.  The pair have a long-standing friendship that goes back to school days so their frequent collaboration is no surprise.  Sam raised enough money via Kickstarter to put out an album of 14 original songs and, of course, Kurt Schneider was the producer.  The title track also has a high energy video, Make It Up and has over 2 million views.

8. Darin Zanyar is simply known as Darin in his native Sweden.  He became well-known in his country at 16 as runner-up to the Swedish “Idol” contest.  He records many songs in Swedish as well as English and is a popular performer at home.  The recent Nobody Knows is among my favorite English language songs.

7. Alexander Rybak is a singer, songwriter, pianist, violinist and even an actor.  He is fluent is Russian, Norwegian and English.  He has recorded songs in all three as well as Belarusian, Swedish and most recently Spanish.  He shot to fame as the winner of the 2009 Eurovision contest representing Norway.  In addition to his pop songs, he is an accomplished classical violinist.  Here is the English language Europe’s Skies  which has a remarkable 28.7 million views.

6. Eric Saade became popular performing the pop tune, Popular.  He competed with the song as Sweden’s entry into the 2011 Eurovision contest.  Unlike the other Swedish heart-throb above, Eric’s videos are mostly in English.  Here is the link to the recent Colors.

5. David Archuleta became a sensation at 16 as the runner-up on the seventh season of Americana Idol.  After some successful recording and concert dates, David took two years off to do Something That Has Nothing To Do With Me. Now he is back doing some live performances and working on new music.

In concert
In concert

4. Hunter Hayes has been the opening act for a number of big name performers and has found recording success as well.  We have mentioned him before in discussing his successful single, Invisible.  Just like Darin’s song, What If, it deals with bullying.  You will have to wade through a massive number of vlogs to find his songs on his You Tube channel.  Here is the up tempo country hit, I Want Crazy.  It was added to a deluxe edition of his first album.

Chicago Theater downstairs
Chicago Theater downstairs

3. Max Schneider, or just MAX.  He has done a lot of videos with Kurt but they are not related.  This Schneider has a variety of song writing and acting credits, including the young Van Dyke Parks in the movie Love and Mercy, the Brian Wilson biopic.  Parks was the lyricist on a number of popular Wilson tunes.  MAX financed his first album with a Kickstarter campaign.  He now has a record deal.  In recent years MAX has played small clubs on his own as well as opening act for big name stars.  He came through Chicago to play a small club, and then later as opening act for Fallout Boy.  I finally caught up with him as an opener for R5.  I think you have to be under 17 to know who that is.  Here are the talented Schneiders:

Meet and Greet
Meet and Greet

2. Steve Grand hit it big with his self-produced video All-American Boy.  The viral success led to a Kickstarter campaign that exceeded all expectations for funding for his first album.  We profiled the Chicago area native here.  In demand at Pride events nationally and even internationally, Steve has been hard to catch in the Chicago area.  I finally saw him live last year at a small Chicago club.  He was as charming as you might expect and his live performance did not disappoint.  Recently Steve has found time for plenty of vlogs so we will get you to a song.  While there is a slickly produced, high energy remix of this one, I thought I would go for the acoustic version of We Are The Night.  It more closely resembles the performance I saw.

1. Tom Joseph Law.  When I was thinking about doing this article, I got the chance to ask Tom what song he would pick.  He said Dear My Love.  It seems that songwriters are always in love with their most recent composition.  Then he tried to guess what I would pick and settled on a song he uploaded last year.  Yes, he got it right.

Note:  All of the BOLD words above contain links to websites, past articles and music videos.  That should keep you busy for a while.

WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND THEY ARE US

In this insane political year, when many of us are wondering if Donald Trump is the Beast of the Apocalypse, the angriest controversy on the Internet is over the loss of Stana Katic (Kate Beckett) on ABC’s “Castle.” It’s huge. Gigantic. Cataclysmic.

castle-4

It’s more important than our lemming-like rush to national oblivion.

Although I watch more television than I did when I was young and working, I can’t imagine being so invested in a show that I would display such vitriol about it. Garry and I watch “Castle.” We’ve enjoyed it, but the show has been drooping for the last two seasons. It’s probably past its prime and deserves honorable retirement. Nonetheless, ABC is going to give the show a full face lift, starting by ditching one of its two primary players. I doubt it’ll work, but hey, it’s their show. If they want to give a try, what’s the harm, right?

But man, the people on all these TV web sites are frothing at the mouth. As far as they are concerned, this is personal. They’re ready to take up arms in defense of a character on a television series.


Everyone is in a state of rage about something. Constantly. What used to be minor annoyances are now reasons for killing rage. Road rage is a great example. When did fender benders become cause for violently attacking each other? Maybe that accounts for why we’re locked into a national political suicide pact.

It’s generational. Our younger generations from Gen X through my granddaughter and her crowd — all of them are convinced the world has cheated them. Stolen the good life to which they were (by birth?) entitled.

Things have been a lot worse in this country than they are now without everyone going wacko. We’ve forgotten how to lose, so every contest — political, sporting, or whatever — is life or death. Surely we know that in any contest, one side wins and the other loses. Why is everyone going ballistic if they find themselves on the losing side?

When did a sense of entitlement replace commonsense and reason? If the good stuff doesn’t happen, if life doesn’t go as hoped, we are angry. Enraged. Failure no longer is a spur to greater effort, to rethink career goals, go back to school, find a better job, or work harder. We prefer to look for someone to blame. We could hold a national “Scapegoat of the Year” contest. Vent our national spleen on whichever group is the current favored object of collective wrath. It would be the only contest no one would mind losing.

Muslims. Mexicans. Brown people. Asian people. Democrats. Atheists. Poor people. Disabled people. Old people. Those People. What potential!

Pogo - Walt Kelly
Pogo – Walt Kelly

Whatever is wrong with the world, it didn’t get that way without our help. We elected the morons who got us here. Time to look in the mirror, then point an accusing finger at the real source of our woes. Us.

Oh, and Beckett is leaving Castle. Get over it.

GENERATIONS

FOR YOUR EYES ONLY

The Roger Moore Years, Part 2 – Rich Paschall

After four successful outings in the 1970s as British Secret Agent 007, James Bond, Roger Moore was back in the 1981 film, For Your Eyes Only.  The title does not refer to secret documents.  If you have not guessed the meaning (really, Bond fans?), you will have to wait until you get almost to the end of the movie to hear the famous line.

While the previous film, Moonraker, was a success at the Box Office, it was also expensive to make for its time period.  The special effects looked okay, but the science fiction romp directed by Guy Hamilton was remarkably improbable, even for Bond.  It was time to move on. John Glen, who had already worked on three Bond movies as film editor, was now in charge of the new production.

for your eyes only posterAs was often the case for Bond films, For Your Eyes Only does not take much more that the title from the short story on which it is based.  This time it is a rather complex story of more than an effort to avenge the death of a fellow agent, it has to do with finding an Automatic Targeting Attack Communicator that was on-board a sunken spy ship.  This of course means underwater intrigue, which we have, of course, seen before.  This time it may be pulled off a little better.

If it does not resemble the Bond creator’s story, you can still give the studio credit for a more intelligent story.  Follow along closely, it is not just a tale of chase scenes or under water battles.  We are again treated to an Academy Award nominated song.  This time it is Sheena Easton’s turn to provide a memorable number.

The fourteenth Ian Fleming book contained two short stories in the 1966 publication.  Later editions of the book contained two other short stories that had appeared in magazines a few years earlier.  It was the final book by Fleming.  The story Octopussy was updated for the film.  Now instead of being about Nazi gold, it is about Soviet jewels.  It is also an attempt by a rogue Soviet military officer to create conflict, perhaps war, between the super powers.  The British super agent needs to figure out what is going on and stop it.

The 1983 movie was the 6th Roger Moore film.  All of the Bond tricks and chases are on display in what should have been the last Moore film.  It was well done and of course Bond saves the world from a nuclear explosion and possible war in Europe.  Rita Coolidge sang “All Time High” as the Bond theme song.

In a surprise move, another studio planned to bring out a rival James Bond film in the same year.  It seems Fleming had used a failed storyline developed years earlier with two others, as the basis of Thunderball.  When the others were granted their rights to the story, they wanted to cash in as well.  Another studio, who could not use the same title, decided to put out the Bond film but they were presented with one interesting problem.  Who would be Bond?

Sean Connery was back as James Bond in the rival film, Never Say Never Again.  They were wise enough to include the fact that Bond (Connery) was much older now and perhaps past his prime.  Still, he is smart enough to know how to save the day.  Meanwhile an older Roger Moore is performing heroics as if he was a much younger man.

Moore returns for a final turn as 007 in 1985 in A View To A Kill, which almost borrows the title and virtually nothing else from the short story, From A View To A Kill.  The story first appeared in 1959 and was collected in the book, For Your Eyes Only in 1960.  The movie goes elsewhere.

By now it is impossible to believe that the 57-year-old Moore is capable of the athletic feats attributed to Bond in this storyline.  I am glad to see a man this age is still attractive and the object of desire.  I guess it is a bit of a fantasy.

Christopher Walken is a good villain as you might imagine.  Grace Jones is his companion, whom Bond is successful at seducing at one point.  Perhaps the black and white physical relationship was a bit ahead of its time then.  Maybe audiences were ready for it.

It is remarkable how often Bond escapes the clutches of Max Zorin (Walken), but he does, leading to the unlikely battle at the end.  I will save the details in case you have not seen it.  The obviously 80s film has a theme song by the obviously 80s Duran Duran.  They must have been trying to attract a younger audience with that.

Reviewers were not kind to A View To A Kill, although I thought it was better than some of the other Moore films.  Roger Moore himself would later state that it was his least favorite film.  Perhaps he knew he stayed on for one too many.

Related:  Bond, James Bond
Never Say Never Again
Moore Bond

MOORE BOND

The Roger Moore Years, Part 1

RICH PASCHALL


After five films the original James Bond, Sean Connery, left the series, but when George Lazenby only stuck around for one film despite an original offer of seven, Connery returned for Diamonds Are Forever.  The franchise rebounded nicely from the weak showing with Lazenby, but Connery was tired of 007 and thought he was a bit too old for the part. He said he would never play Bond again, but Never Say Never Again was in his future.

never say never again

If Connery was feeling a bit old for the part, then it would seem a bit surprising that the next actor to play Commander Bond was almost 3 years older.  Roger Moore, however, had all the qualities the producers wanted in James Bond.  He was handsome and charming and had experience as a super sleuth. Moore was Simon Templar in the long running television series, The Saint.  In a bit of irony, in an early episode of The Saint, Templar is confused for Bond.

First up for Roger Moore was Live And Let Die (1973).  The eighth Bond film was of the second Ian Fleming novel.  The series made no attempt to film the books in order.  While some novels actually continued elements of previous stories, it was not a series in the same sense as Harry Potter, for example.

The film brings back Guy Hamilton as director.  He not only directed Diamonds Are Forever, but also the critically acclaimed Goldfinger.  Sir Paul McCartney contributed the Academy Award nominated theme song. Roger Moore was the suave and engaging secret agent the producers had hoped.

The film does not stand up well to the test of time.  The cliché ridden antics of 1970s era films are on full display.  The chase scenes are incredibly long and the introduction of a stereotypical southern sheriff into the chases is a bit on the absurd side.  Nevertheless, the Bond franchise is now moving ahead again, with a full shaker of vodka martinis.

Next for Moore was Man With The Golden Gun (1974).  It was supposed to be the second Lazenby film, but when he refused to do the project, it was put on the shelf for Connery’s return in a different story.  Even though it was the thirteenth Ian Fleming novel, the movie found a way to incorporate elements from the previous film based on the second Ian Fleming novel.  With more over blown and lengthy chases, the film even finds a way to include the southern sheriff from the previous film.  Yes, he is on vacation in southeast Asia with his wife and finds himself in the midst of the chase.  An incredible jump with a car by Bond looks a lot like one done by Pierce Brosnan as Bond decades later.

man with the golden gun

Guy Hamilton directed Golden Gun as well.  After two long films with improbable and lengthy chase scenes, he was done. While the films did well as the box office, Man With the Golden Gun was not well received by critics.  It was time to move on

The third Roger Moore film finds the hero hitting his stride, in my humble opinion, with The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).  An American and a Soviet submarine disappear and Bond is sent to investigate along with a beautiful Soviet agent, who would prefer to kill Bond for the death of a Soviet agent who once tried to kill Bond.  The chase scene on skis is more exciting than the car and boat chase scenes of the previous two movies.  The intrigue is there, the Bond girl is beautiful, the scenery is great and the Bond devices and tricks supplied by “Q” are up to par.  This film finally has the charm of the Connery films, something that has been lacking despite the box office success.

The fourth Roger Moore film, Moonraker (1979), bears almost no resemblance to the 1955 novel from which it takes its name.  Nothing in the Fleming story could have suggested this.  The film moves full speed ahead into the realm of science fiction, retaining some of the traditional Bond elements before Roger blasts off into space with the latest “Bond girl.”

Instead of preventing a nuclear missile from destroying London, the film has Bond on a quest to find a missing space shuttle.  You will recall the previous film had him looking for missing submarines.  Now it is not just London that Bond must save, but the entire world.  Who knew so many space shuttles were at the ready of the villain and NASA.  Yes, we have a battle and a chase in outer space.

In the novel, the villain is an ex-Nazi.  Remember the book is from 1955 so the ex-Nazi and Soviet connection is plausible.  In the updated story, the villain is attempting to set up a scenario where he can establish a master race.  I won’t go into exactly how he intends to pull this off, put it requires space ships, satellites, a space station and lots of lasers.

These films were not made in the rapid succession of the early Bond films.  After the fourth film, Moore was 52 years old, but continued to be a popular Bond.  Moonraker was the top grossing Bond film at that point and Moore would be in demand for more films.  Yes, the Roger Moore era was nowhere near the finish.

The Roger Moore Years, Part two next week.

 

IN THE MIDNIGHT HOUR

She Wants More, More, More, by Rich Paschall

Perhaps that’s the Rebel Yell you hear in the midnight hour, when the music picks up and the time to dance is at hand.  I had been wondering what to suggest as my top Midnight songs but the Midnight Memories kicked in and It Came Upon A Midnight Clear.  I observed that Midnight’s Another Day and the Top 10 list was revealed.  While you may think of many Midnight songs in The Shadows, I will be your Midnight Cowboy and give you my Top 10.

10. I’m A Midnight Mover, Bobby Womack.  Whether you hear the Womack version or Wilson Pickett’s growl infused version, you will think they are channeling James Brown.  Both recorded the song and it is a rhythm and blues special either way you go.  They have co-writing credit for the hit.

9.  Walkin’ After Midnight, Patsy Cline.  The country classic was originally offered by the writers to pop singer Kay Starr, but her record label rejected it.  Reportedly, Cline was not immediately impressed with the song, but ended up with a mega hit in 1957.

8.  Midnight Blue, Melissa Manchester.  This was the first song on which Manchester collaborated with famed song writer Carole Bayer Sager. The 1973 composition was pitched to a producer for Dionne Warwick and later Manchester pitched it to Dusty Springfield who turned it down.  In 1975 it was the first single off Manchester’s first album for Arista records.

7.  Midnight Confessions, The Grass Roots.  The biggest hit for the band was released in 1968.  Recorded with a large group of studio musicians, reports are that the group did not actually play on the record but only did the vocals.  They did perform it live themselves.  I played in a band for a few years that performed this song regularly.

6.  Midnight Rider, The Allman Brothers.  The song first appeared on the Allman Brothers 1970 album, Idlewild South, and was released as a single in March, 1971 without much success.  Composer Gregg Allman released it as a solo effort in 1973 and broke the top 20.  Versions by other artists have also found some success.

5.  Midnight Rambler, The Rolling Stones.  Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the song was released in 1969.  Mick provided lead vocals, of course, and harmonica, while Keith Richards recorded all of the various guitars heard on the original recording.  The song continues to appear in Stones’ concert and was recently on the playlist for the historic performance in Havana.  Here they play for just a million and a half people in Rio, the largest concert ever held.

4.  Midnight at the Oasis, Maria Muldaur.  Released in February of 1974 the song is certainly the best known effort by Muldaur.  The soft rock hit with its sexy lyric was made even more popular by the tease in her unique voice.  I absolutely loved this song at the time, still do.

3.  Midnight Train to Georgia, Gladys Knight and the Pips.  The song was written and recorded by Jim Weatherly as Midnight Plane to Houston.  It was then passed on to Cissy Houston who recorded it as Midnight Train to Georgia.  Then Weatherly’s publisher passed it on to Gladys Knight and the Pips.  They won a performance Grammy with it.  Here the Pips are really workin’ it!

2.  Midnight Special, Johnny Rivers.  Creedence Clearwater Revival had a hit with the song, but it is hard for me to hear a CCR song and not think about the lead singer, John Fogerty.  Apparently there is no arena big enough for his ego.  The Johnny Rivers version was used as the intro to the Midnight Special television programs featuring musical performances.  In my time zone, the train came through right on time, and Wolfman Jack was the conductor.  This performance is from Hullabaloo.

1. After Midnight, J.J. Cale or Eric Clapton.  Cale wrote the song and recorded it in 1966.  When Clapton covered it in 1970, Cale did not know about it until it was a hit on the radio.  At the time, he was broke and grateful for the song’s success.  He subsequently included it in a 1972 album.  Since they both have great versions out there, the only fair thing to do is show them playing it together, Cale on vocals.

THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY – GRETCHEN ARCHER SPEAKS!

I love back stories. I’m one of those nosy people who has to research everything. I want to know not only what happens in the movie or the book, but what the author or director was thinking. Why he or she did it that way and not some other way. I love hearing about the inspiration behind a great piece of creative work.

Double Strike Gretchen Archer

Double mint gretchen archer

To say that I loved Double Knot doesn’t quite capture my feeling on the subject. I loved that Ms. Archer stretched herself to go beyond snarky humor and easy laughs to explore her main character’s heart and motivations. Davis Way has gained depth. The things she does, the ways she reacts are no longer “out of the blue.” There is context where before, there were just questions.

I also love the whole “locked room” mystery genre. I think every mystery writer has tackled this at least once. Agatha Christie did it often and was, perhaps, the all time grande dame of the locked room mystery. Conan Doyle did it too, as have almost all great modern mystery writers. Who could resist?

The tension between a few characters locked together in a race with death? Whether it’s a train, a haunted house in the country, or below decks on a luxury cruise ship — this is the ultimate setting for a mystery and murder.

And now, without further ado, here’s Gretchen Archer to give you an inside look.

72-Gretchen-beigetop

Double Knot (A Davis Way Crime Caper) (Volume 5)

Paperback – April 12, 2016


Question: What made you take the leap into writing a classic locked room mystery with a pregnant Davis Way in the middle of the action? What were you thinking?

What was I thinking? I wanted to challenge myself. Writers have to do that, I think. Maybe we all need to do it, to compete with ourselves and see what we can do that we haven’t done before.

I knew I wanted a locked-room mystery. Double Knot is the fifth book in my series. My characters needed a change of scenery. They’d covered every square inch of the Bellissimo Resort and Casino, the fictional Gulf Coast casino where the Davis Way crime capers are set in Double Whammy, Double Dip, Double Strike, and Double Mint. So, I built a boat. I packed my characters into a suite and sent them on a Caribbean cruise. I locked the door, threw away the key, and let loose the dogs of war, as it were.

Question: Unlike in your previous books, this one has a very tight timeline. Why?

That tight timeline was my second big challenge. The previous four books each spanned weeks, sometimes months. I allowed myself just two days for Double Knot. My goal was to write eighty thousand compelling words that would take place in forty-eight hours.

Question: You brought in new characters and left old characters out of the story. Again, why?

Character arc was my third big challenge. First, I profiled an unlikable and unsympathetic character with the intent of gradually redeeming her. Next, I took a core character — who my readers didn’t know well and surely didn’t embrace — and I put her out there. With all her hopes, fears, trials, motivation … and hopefully, salvation.

And in what turned out to be the biggest test of all, I let my star — Davis — start a family. A pregnant main character is unusual for the mystery genre. Going in, I didn’t think anything of it. After all, I’ve done it myself. How hard could it be?

As it turned out, very hard. Striking a balance between Davis taking care of herself while actively solving a mystery was a high-wire act. Truth be told, three wonderful editors, all of whom were on one side of the labor and delivery fence with me — thrice on the other, led to more treacherous editing waters than any of us expected. I’m happy to say we survived and Double Knot endured. I’m a better writer for it. (My editors might not agree.)

Was it easy? KNOT! I mean NOT! Did I love writing this book? A resounding yes. I hope readers connect with it. If knot, a chuckle.

Happy reading, and thank you Marilyn!

Double Knot Cover


Not only did I love this book, but Garry loves it too. So Gretchen, you hit the target dead center this time. This is the Davis Way mystery which gathers up all the loose threads. A Double Knot indeed!


Double Knot will be out Tuesday, April 12 in hard-copy, paperback, and for all e-readers (including Kindle) and as an audio CD (Amber Benson, narrating)


Tune in tomorrow, Tuesday, April 12th for the big book giveaway! You could win a full set of all FIVE Davis Way capers — picked randomly from all the commenters on tomorrow’s post.

Don’t miss it!