Sunday, May 15, 2016

"The Box Maker" Nominated for Best Short Fiction from Western Fictioneers

I am a proud member of the Western Fictioneers group from the start. In fact, one of my Calvin Carter stories, "You Don't Get Three Mistakes," has the honor of being the first story I ever wrote actually be published in a physical book. That was in Western Fictioneers first anthology, The Traditional West."

A few years ago, I volunteered to read and help judge the short fiction contest. I read so many good stories that it was very difficult to narrow down my choices to a mere five.

This year, however, I entered a couple of stories and one, "The Box Maker," is a finalist for the Best Short Fiction Peacemaker Award for 2016!

Over the years, I have heard artists, writers, musicians, actors, and all sorts of creative folks claim that it is an honor just to be nominated. My goodness, how that rings true today. I am truly humbled merely to be on the list.

And huge congrats to Robert Randisi who earns the Lifetime Achievement Award. What he has accomplished in his career is staggering and something for which to strive.

The full list of nominees are here.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Book Review Club: Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man by William Shatner

leonard(This is the April 2016 Edition of Barrie Summy’s Book Review Club. For a complete rundown of all the books, click the icon following this review.)

I was taking my turn staying with my son as he recuperated in a hospital when I heard the news that Leonard Nimoy had died. His death didn’t hit me as hard as, say, David Bowie’s did this year, but Nimoy’s passing was unique. I’m a Star Wars kid who discovered Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock only after I learned who Luke Skywalker was. Through the years, however, as I grew older, the more cerebral Trek spoke to a certain part of my psyche, and Spock was a big part of that.

Another thing I really enjoy is learning all the lifetime steps a celebrity went through to get them to the spot when I know them. I love learning about an artist’s early work, the struggles to get noticed, and what they did once they became famous.

So it was a natural that I would gravitate to William Shatner’s latest book, Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man. But, I made a crucial decision: I got the audiobook. Shatner himself reads his work, and that made all the difference.

Shatner uses his friendship with Nimoy as a framing device to tell Leonard’s story. Full confession: I never knew Shatner was Jewish! I knew Nimoy was, but it blew me away when I learned that about Shatner.

Throughout the book, Shatner tells how Nimoy grew up in a hard life in Boston with Jewish parents who emigrated from Europe. Nimoy’s work ethic—always show up on time, be prepared, be professional—is what should be considered normal, whether in acting or anything. Too often it’s not any more, so it makes Nimoy’s example that much more appealing.

I especially loved hearing how Shatner and Nimoy got work in the early golden age of television in whatever role they could land: bad guys, tough guys in westerns, and the like. As a fan of early television, these sections were among my favorites.

The Star Trek gig was especially great for Nimoy because he got a dressing room with his name on the door. He had been working for nearly twenty years at that point, and the Trek gig was his first true steady work. That Nimoy kept at his acting profession and added to his income by teaching and other jobs is a noble example, especially in a day and age when lots of folks think they should get the golden ring right out of the gate.

Shatner pulls no punches when it comes to some of the times he and Nimoy had disagreements. I figured I get the behind-the-scenes story of why he missed Nimoy’s funeral—charity function—and how Nimoy likely would have done the same thing if their positions were reversed.

At the end, however, is when the audiobook earns its keep. Shatner cannot keep all the emotion out of his voice, and it was those passages for which I bought the audio. I wanted to hear Shatner tell this story, and he does so in a wonderful fashion.

If you are a Star Trek fan or enjoy hearing the hardscrabble story of a working actor in the 1950s-2000s, this is a great book because you get two stories for the price of one.

Live Long and Prosper, Mr. Nimoy…and Mr. Shatner.

Click icon for more book review blogs @Barrie Summy

Saturday, March 26, 2016

My Thoughts on Batman v Superman

If you want to know my thoughts on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and have seen the movie (or don't care about spoilers), head on over to DoDomeDamage and take a read.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

On discovering The Struts

So, yesterday, I was flipping through Facebook and ran across a Facebook ad for Rolling Stone. The photo was small and I didn’t recognize the band. Heck, I didn’t even know the band name: The Struts. Anyway, the little one-sentence headline read something like “Blah blah blah blah GLAM ROCK blah blah blah blah.” I honestly can’t remember. All I saw was “Glam Rock.” That’s enough for me. I read the article. [Here’s the link] Hmm, I thought. They sound interesting. The article mentioned Spotify. I’ve got the free version so I headed over there.

I found the album, “Everybody Wants,” and set it to play. The free version of Spotify doesn’t play the albums in order, so I had to suffer the shuffle play.

 In retrospect, it would have been nice to note which song I heard first. I can’t remember. From the opening lines of the first song, I was hooked. Shades of the band Slade from the early 70s were all over this song. The second song just kept up the momentum. The lead singer has a way of rolling his Rs just like Freddie Mercury. By the fourth song—this one I know: “Put Your Money on Me”*—I was grinning like a goofball, tapping my foot at my cubicle and bobbing my head. I hadn’t even finished the new LP before I was up and asking my co-workers if they had heard this band and telling them all about the new LP.

 I heard The Struts for the first time around 10:00am or so. By 12:40pm on my lunch hour, I had purchased the entire record. The last time an album has so captured my imagination was in 2013 with Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories.

If you like FUN music, unabashedly flamboyant songs as cheeky as they are catchy, and unashamed to tout their artistic influences, The Struts are the band for you.

*Side Note: I *heard* this music before I even saw the band. The music is so fantastic. The presentation, specifically in lead singer Luke Spiller, is over the moon.

Check them out for yourself.

Put Your Money on Me

Could Have Been Me (This appears to be the single)

 Kiss This (good concert footage here)
Here's the Amazon link for the new 2016 reissue (with extra songs!)

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Book Review Club: Bounty on a Baron by Robert J. Randisi

(This is the March 2016 edition of Barrie Summy's Book Review Club. For the complete list of other books this month, click on the icon following this review.)

A few weeks ago, I found myself at my local Half Price Books. By the way, do you have good and bad it is to have a Half Price Books location within biking distance? Anyway, the Men's Adventure section and the Westerns overlap. I check the men's adventure section looking for Bantam editions of Doc Savage. Up there on the top row were a smattering of Robert J. Randisi novels. Now, I know the name. Who doesn't? When you have written over 650 books (not a typo), you are pretty well known. But I had never read anything by Randisi. So, I picked up BOUNTY ON A BARON and took it home.

The main character is a bounty hunter named Decker. Based on the back cover, he was falsely accused of murder and had reached death's door with a hangman's noose around his neck. He was spared the death penalty, but kept the noose as a reminder of his second chance at life. In fact, the noose, casually looped around his saddle, is his calling card. Now, he rides for himself and the bounty money he earns.

The Baron is the name given to a recent Russian immigrant. A professional killer. He took the name Brand, but his reputation takes the Baron.

As you can imagine, this story is a tale of the hunter and his prey. Decker talks to an old friend who has a line on where the Baron might be holed up. Decker makes his way to Wyoming and picks up the trail--and a sub-plot involving a logging community and the recent death of their leader.

The story moves along pretty much as you'd expect for a western of this stripe. That being said, I really enjoyed this book. Decker as a character is intriguing, with just the right amount of honor and hard-edged realism. Sure, he'll shoot you, but only after he's exhausted all other possibilities. The Baron comes off as a killer, yes, but one who actually has some honor to him as well, despite his job. 

"Lean" is the term used to describe many westerns, be they Louis L'amour, Luke Short, or Robert Randisi. I appreciate story told in a straight-forward fashion with little fat. It makes for an easy read. Having said that, I wouldn't have minded just a tad more fat. For example, there's a scene where Decker asks a woman a few questions. She's never described other than "the woman." Now, as a reader, I filled in the blanks--and I'm fine with that--but it surprised me a little. Perhaps I just have to read more westerns, a task I've given myself for 2016.

You want to know how much I enjoyed BOUNTY ON A BARON? The day after I finished it, I went back to Half Price Books and picked up two more Decker novels. Turns out there are six novels total in the series. I have a feeling I'll be reading them all in short order.

P.S., since this is a western, I'll go ahead and wish y'all a happy Texas Independence Day!

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book review blogs
@Barrie Summy

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Lillian Saxton #1: Excerpt #1

Lillian Saxton made her debut in Wading Into War when she hired private investigator Benjamin Wade to find a missing reporter with knowledge of her brother’s whereabouts in Europe torn apart by World War II. Now, Sergeant Lillian Saxton, U.S. Army, stars in her own mission.
Sergeant Lillian Saxton receives a cryptic message from an old flame: meet me in Belgium and I’ll not only give you the key to the Nazi codebooks but also information about the man who murdered your brother.

Lillian conducts her missions for the Army with panache and confidence, even when bullets start to fly and enemy agents zero in to kill her. She’s more uncertain of how she’ll react when she sees the man who broke her heart or how she’ll get out of Belgium when the Nazis launch their invasion.


The door opened a crack. Half a face peered out. She made eye contact and the person’s eye widened in surprise. He grunted and tried to close the door quickly. She rammed her shoe in the space and prevented it. Next, she slammed her shoulder into the door. Taking the other person by surprise, she flung the door open, banging him in the face.
Lillian Saxton stormed into the room. A distinct odor, a new one, met her. She recognized it but had no time to determine what it was. The man had quickly recovered and was moving towards her.
She recognized him as Brown Suit in the instant before his fist flew at her. It came from her right side. She raised her right arm to deflect the blow while, at the same time, pivoting on her right foot. She used his momentum in her favor. His fist met air and he momentarily lost his balance. That gave her time to crash her left fist on his face.
Years ago, when Lillian had joined the Army, she knew her size and weight would never prevail for long in a fist fight. Lillian felt confident in her abilities if her opponent was a woman. When fighting a man, however, she knew her size and weight meant she needed to end it as quickly as possible. Speed and dexterity were her greatest allies. She knew her blows couldn’t end fights with a single thrust, so she honed her ability to rain multiple blows on her opponents.
Her left fist landed on Brown Suit’s jaw. She brought her knee up a second later and smashed his chest. Finally, with her right arm now free from deflecting his one swing, she placed her hand on the back of his neck and shoved him downward.
Brown Suit toppled to the floor on his hands and knees. He held his head at such an angle that Lillian knew she had stunned him good. She took a step back to regain a proper fighting stance.
His hand shot out and clipped her ankle. She lost her balance and stumbled backward. She reached out for something to stop her movement and found only air. Lillian backpedaled a few more steps, her thick heels clogging on the wooden floor. A few more feet and she hit the back of a couch. This stopped her backward movement and gave Brown Suit time to stand.
He charged.
Still not quite on perfect balance, Lillian gambled. Brown Suit expected to body slam her. In response, she fell to the floor, landing on her back. A few puffs of air escaped her lungs but she was rewarded by the surprised look on his face as he sailed over her, arms outstretched.
Lillian rolled over and got to her feet. Brown Suit hit the wooden back of the couch and fell to the floor again. A grunt of rage erupted from him but she didn’t press him nor did she move closer. His hitting her ankle told her he knew how to fight. Better to get a good handle on her surroundings than to risk another swipe at close quarters swipe.
The interior of the apartment was spare. The couch she had met. Only a coffee table fronted it. The large room had a small kitchen off to her left. A modest wooden table and chairs were to her immediate left. On the far wall was a door that likely led to the bedroom.
Lillian looked around for a weapon. She found none. Not even a plate or a knife on the counter. Only a radio. She judged it too heavy for effective use.
Brown Suit now stood opposite her. His hair had fallen in his face and he swiped at it. A stream of blood coursed from his lip. The red spot left by her fist was already starting to bruise.
“You’re an interesting one,” he said. “How did we miss you?”
We? Lillian didn’t have time to think about that now. She studied his face, watching his eyes and his body for the next move. What she saw took exactly one second to process. It was a subtle change in his expression. A relaxing of his grimace. And a slight shift of his eyes to a spot behind her.
She ducked. In the same moment, she swept her leg out behind her. It met something solid. Another person’s leg. She heard a cry of surprise from that person—a man. She hoped her action might give her a precious few seconds to readjust to this new scenario. Two to one. Not good.
The other person lost his balance and fell. He landed almost directly on the seat of one of the kitchen chairs. The momentum and his weight cracked the wood. It gave way and splintered into pieces.
It also gave her a weapon.
She reached out and grasped one of the broken chair legs. Out of the corner of her eye, she noted Brown Suit was reaching his hand into his suit pocket. Chances were good he wasn’t trying to be gentlemanly and offer her a tissue.
Holding the chair leg like a baseball bat, she swung. With his hand buried deep in his suit, there was nothing he could do. The wood connected with Brown Suit’s face. He crumpled to the floor.
Not waiting a second, Lillian pressed her advantage. The other man was now on his knees. She recognized him as the man reading the newspaper in the lobby. Unfortunately for her, Newspaper Reader had already drawn a pistol and was bringing it to bear on her.
She shifted her grip on the chair leg from a baseball bat to a fencer’s grip. She extended her arm and jabbed at the gun hand. Newspaper Reader, having just witnessed Lillian swing with two hands, was momentarily surprised at her action.
He swatted away the chair leg. That was exactly what she had hoped for. She wanted him to think that was her only move.
It wasn’t.
Lillian let the shattered chair leg leave her grip. She leapt into the air and brought her leg around in a roundhouse kick. The thick heel of her shoe found its mark. Already on his knees, the man huffed in pain and crashed to the floor.
She landed on both feet. In a single movement, she kicked the pistol across the room. She pivoted and assumed another fighting stance just in case either man had more fight in him.
They didn’t.
And that’s how Honeywell’s men found the situation when they stormed into the room, guns drawn.

Lillian Saxton #1 will be published May 2016. Check back often for more excerpts.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Book Review Club: February 2016

Well, I didn't get a chance to finish a book review for this month's edition of Barrie Summy's Book Review Club (Book Launch activies), but that doesn't others were not successful. Click on the icon and head over to Barrie's site to get the full list of reviews.

Click icon for more book review blogs @Barrie Summy

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


Today is Book Launch Day for ALL CHICKENS MUST DIE.


Benjamin Wade Returns!

May 1940, the last days of the Great Depression, and private investigator Benjamin Wade isn’t exactly rolling in the dough. He doesn’t even have a secretary. So he’s in the unenviable position of taking any client that walks in his office.

Elmer Smith, a local farmer, has a problem: all of his chickens are scheduled for slaughter. He’s desperate to save his livelihood. He got a court injunction to slow the process, but time is running out.

Instead of laughing Smith out the door, Wade suppresses his pride to take the case. It seems like a simple, straight-forward paycheck. He zeroes in on a central question: What really happened the night police chased someone through Smith’s farm? Wade isn’t the only one asking that question, but he could be the only one who might die for it.


You can read Chapter 1 here.

Available from:

[Other venues arriving shortly.]

Monday, February 1, 2016


(As a treat, here's Chapter One of ALL CHICKENS MUST DIE: A Benjamin Wade Mystery. It goes on sale tomorrow at Amazon and Kobo. Other venues forthcoming. The paperback will arrive later this month.)

Chapter One
Do you know how embarrassing it is to be a private eye without a secretary? It means that every potential client sees you sitting in the outer office, typing your own reports and notes, and not in your main office with your feet on the desk, whiling away a hot summer’s day looking at the Houston skyline. It would also have meant that clients such as Elmer Smith and his chicken problems would have been turned away and I never would have learned that a secret society existed here in Houston that had, as its one rule, the obligation to avenge any wrong done to any member, real or imagined.
Why I didn’t just type my reports in my own office, I’ll never know. I think, honestly, I wanted to convey the impression that I did, indeed, have a secretary. I didn’t have one—yet—but I was actively looking for one. I had placed a classified ad in all the local papers and I had been interviewing many of the candidates over a few weeks. I found the decision to be extraordinarily difficult. I wanted the perfect combination of beauty and ability. To date, that type of woman hadn’t walked in my door.
That didn’t stop other types of women from waltzing in and looking for a job. This was May 1940 and the effects of the Depression still permeated the economy. It made me feel a little bad when I had to turn away a few applicants because they were not quite the type I was looking for. If you had put a gun to my head, I’d have admitted that the way a woman looked was pretty important. I’m running a small business and the first thing clients see is the secretary. She needs to be a knockout.
Martha Weber was sitting in the interview chair when Mr. Smith rang the front bell. I’d faced men with guns, but for some reason, that day I didn’t want to face a potential client without a secretary.
“You want to make five bucks?” I said.
Martha looked at me with wariness. “What do I have to do?”
“Pretend to be my secretary.”
She frowned. “So, I have the job?”
“No, but I’d like you to pretend to be my secretary for that potential client out there.”
“Why don’t I have the job?”
I winced. That was an argument best discussed among other men. Only they could understand the importance of an attractive secretary for private-eye business. Martha had the typing skills in spades. But her looks were on the homely side. She looked like she belonged in a school or public library, not at the receptionist/typist for a private investigator firm.
“I have a few other applicants, and I need to give them a chance, you know?”
“I’m a great typist. I can even do some field work, if you need it. Did I tell you I’m pretty good with a gun?” She said the last with a bit more emphasis than was necessary.
The doorbell rang again. Work wasn’t flowing as I would have liked. I was in a dire position of having to take almost everything that came through the door. I desperately didn’t want any potential clients to leave.
I gave her a double take. “Double my offer. Ten dollars.”
Martha looked at me sidelong. “You really got it?”
Sure, I just won’t get any gas for a week. “I’ll get the client to make a down payment.”
“You’d better.” She rose from her chair. “I’ll be right back, Mr. Wade.” She winked at me and sashayed out of my office. Seeing her from behind, I had second thoughts about doing this. What if she blew it?
Through the closed door, I heard soft murmuring then Martha’s shape through the frosted glass door. Didn’t every private eye have doors with frosted glass?
The door cracked and Martha stuck her head in. “Mr. Wade, there are two gentlemen here to see you.”
Two gentlemen? I rarely got pairs of potential clients. “Please send them in…” I paused and my eyes raced across my desk until I found her file. “Miss Weber.”
She narrowed her eyes. I shrugged. I cinched up my tie and sat up straighter in my chair.
The first man who walked in I didn’t recognize. He wore, of all things, denim overalls. The hat he held in his hands looked nicer than his entire wardrobe, his pressed shirt notwithstanding. I pegged him for a farmer and quickly dreaded needing to take any job to pay the rent. I wasn’t up for some sort of cow theft.
The second man, on the other hand, I knew. Burt Haldeman was a lawyer, a shyster if you ask me. He was the kind of man who used his size and bulk to get his way when his words failed him. Half the time, that’s what happened. His tie only reached halfway down his gut. Not flattering, but his looks were enough to land a semi-slob like me in Life magazine.
I stood and came around my desk, extending my hand to the lawyer. “Burt, how you doing? What brings you in my door?”
“Good to see you again, Wade,” Haldeman said. “I see you landed on your feet after that little incident.”
I cleared my throat. “Sure did.” I pivoted and introduced myself to the farmer.
He took my hand, his leathery, hard skin felt like some sort of moving beef jerky. “Elmer Smith.” He was looking around, clearly out of his element.
“Please, gentlemen, have a seat.” I indicated the two chairs opposite my desk. To Martha, I said, “Thank you, Miss Weber. That will be all.” She rubbed her thumb and index finger together in the universal sign of money.
With their backs to her, Haldeman and Smith were unable to see Martha. I smiled and nodded once, then gestured her out.
I sat and leaned my elbows on the desk. “What brings you into my office?”
“Chickens,” Smith said.
I looked to Haldeman for confirmation. He nodded in assent.
“Chickens,” I said. “I can’t say I’ve ever had a case involving chickens.”
“Judging from how long you’ve been doing this little job,” Haldeman said, “I’d have to agree with you. But, nonetheless, we are here on account of chickens.” He reached into his suit and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He shook one out, put it between his lips, and lit up. “Tell him, Elmer.”
The farmer cleared his throat. I got the impression he wasn’t used to speaking in public. “Well, you see, Mr. Wade, the agriculture man, the health inspector man, wants to condemn all my chickens and kill’em all.”
I waited for additional details. Smith, his mouth a thin line with almost no upper lip, sat there as if he had just spoken a fact, like the color of the sky or the humidity level in town that day. Turning to Haldeman, I raised my eyebrows. “Burt?”
Haldeman smiled. “It’s true. Mr. Smith’s entire brood of chickens has been declared unsanitary by the health inspector. They’re scheduled to be slaughtered in the next few days. I got Judge Briscoe to put a temporary injunction on the slaughter, but we’re running outta time.”
“I’m still not seeing where I come in.”
Smith frowned. “Ain’t it obvious? I need you to investigate that bastard inspector and figure out why he’s trying to kill my livelihood.”


Saturday, January 30, 2016

Cover Reveal: ALL CHICKENS MUST DIE: A Benjamin Wade Mystery

A little over a year ago, WADING INTO WAR introduced the world to private investigator Benjamin Wade. He made a cameo in THE PHANTOM AUTOMOBILES, but now it's time for his second solo mystery.

Back in May 2013, I wrote WADING INTO WAR, Benjamin Wade’s first story. I went on to write a couple of book featuring a completely different set of characters. Late that year, I wanted to return to the world of 1940 and Benjamin Wade. Thus, ALL CHICKENS MUST DIE was born. At the time, I hadn’t written THE PHANTOM AUTOMOBILES, Gordon Gardner’s first novel. The ending of that book meant that I had to fix up a few things here in CHICKENS. It proved to be a fun challenge.
The title of ALL CHICKENS MUST DIE, however, proved elusive. Very elusive. For the longest time—up to and including when I delivered the manuscript to my editor—I had no title. I can’t even say for sure how the phrase “all chickens must die” entered my head, but it did. And it stuck. With a title that would have been at home on an old 1950s or 1960s pulp novel, I wanted a cover that matched. I love the two intricate covers of WADING INTO WAR and THE PHANTOM AUTOMOBILES but I wanted a different vibe for this novel. After examining all the old novels I have here in my office, the concept of a solid color “main field” and a secondary color/field at top gave me the old-school pulp fiction look I wanted. For the longest time, I had a stock image of a silhouetted man, kneeling, and aiming his gun off screen. I liked it. A lot. You’ll see it in the future I assure you.
At my day job, David Hadley is our company’s graphic artist. We have many similar interests—Star Wars being one—and we stuck up a good friendship. Along the way, I’d ask him design questions as I tried to train myself in the art of cover design. I showed him my first concept. He appreciated the old-school look and feel and offered a few suggestions. Then, one day, he asked if he could just work with an idea he had. No problem. I was eager to see what he would do.
The cover was so much better than I had imagined. He used my kneeling man figure and introduced the arcing bullet you see on the cover. The kneeling man didn't really fit in this new scheme, so I suggested showing a man fleeing. Viola. Front cover done. He suggested the idea of the front and back covers showing one scene. He made it happen.
Presenting, the front cover of

May 1940, the last days of the Great Depression, and private investigator Benjamin Wade isn’t exactly rolling in the dough. He doesn’t even have a secretary. So he’s in the unenviable position of taking any client that walks in his office.
Elmer Smith, a local farmer, has a problem: all of his chickens are scheduled for slaughter. He’s desperate to save his livelihood. He got a court injunction to slow the process, but time is running out.
Instead of laughing Smith out the door, Wade suppresses his pride to take the case. It seems like a simple, straight-forward paycheck. He zeroes in on a central question: What really happened the night police chased someone through Smith’s farm? Wade isn’t the only one asking that question, but he could be the only one who might die for it.
ALL CHICKENS MUST DIE is scheduled to go on sale Tuesday, 2 February, as an ebook. The paperback will follow later this month

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

What David Bowie Means to Me

(This is long and personal. It’s something I needed to write.)

It all started with a song.

That’s typically how most people discover their favorite artists. The one song they hear on the radio, a friend’s sound system, or MTV (back in the day). Ironically, my love of David Bowie’s music started with a Queen song.

You know the one. “Under Pressure.” I literally have no memory of David Bowie before 1983. I am an only child and discovered all my pop and rock music on my own. KISS was an easy find because, in 1977-1979, they were everywhere. Plus, I found them because of how they looked. They were right up my comic book loving, Star Wars loving alley. Bowie was the surprise. I discovered Bowie because of his voice.

I had Queen’s Greatest Hits, the original one with the black cover. There, buried as the last track on side one of the cassette, was Under Pressure. It was a duet with a guy named David Bowie. I knew Freddie Mercury’s voice so Bowie’s was that low, baritone one with the melodic voice. I loved it enough to realize I wanted to know more things this Bowie guy did.

Summer 1983 saw me back in Tyler, Texas, visiting my grandparents. Hanging out at a friend’s house, somehow I connected that the Bowie guy in Under Pressure was the same guy who sang that song “Let’s Dance.” I saw the video, heard that voice, saw the singer, and I wanted more. I bought the cassette version of Let’s Dance and that was all she wrote.

Next thing I knew, I was hunting for more Bowie music. That wasn’t difficult. He had a lot of albums. But where to start? RCA, Bowie’s 1970s label, caught on the Let’s Dance craze by issuing a compilation, Golden Years, with a 1983-era image of Bowie. That, along with ChangesTwoBowie, were my first steps into the older material. And boy was it spectacular. In looking at the tracklist of those two LPs today, I realize that I heard “Aladdin Sane” and it’s wonderful piano solo early on in my discovery of David Bowie. And “Starman,” “Wild is the Wind,” “Fashion,” and “Ashes to Ashes.” I didn’t have MTV at home, so Bowie was all vocals for me early on. And, boy, did he have a voice!

I missed the Serious Moonlight tour stop in Houston, but the local radio station did a broadcast of the Vancouver show. It would later be released on VHS. I taped that show off the radio and that became my first instance of an artist who *changed* his songs in concert. Up until then, KISS was my only reference point, and the differences between studio cuts and live performances for them were small. I listened to the cassette copy of that show for years. I still have it. Interestingly, the words “Serious Moonlight,” written in red ink, have long since faded away while “David Bowie,” in blue ink, still remain readable. Poignant, huh?

The years 1984 to 1987 were an interesting time to be a new Bowie fan. I discovered the older stuff in greater depth while hanging on every new thing he created. The Tonight LP had “Loving the Alien,” a tune that still captivates me. The Labyrinth soundtrack had the still-excellent “Underground,” the goofiness of “Magic Dance,” and the ethereal “As the World Falls Down.” There was the duet with Mick Jagger with “Dancing in the Streets” and, if you were around my group of friends back in high school, you got to see my friend, Chris, and I reenact the video. I was Bowie. The title cut of the movie “Absolute Beginners” is in my top 5 favorite Bowie songs of all time. I love the sweeping grandeur of the tune and was so excited to hear it live in 1987.

Speaking of 1987, that was a huge year. The new LP, Never Let Me Down was going to have a tour associated with it. I drove back to Houston from attending college in Austin to see it. Looking back on the Glass Spider tour now, it was pretty excessive and even now I’m not quite sure the meaning of some of the things were trying to do. Don’t care. Didn’t then, either. It was a spectacle. The sheer thrill at seeing the giant spider over the stage before the lights went dark only stoked the imagination. During the spooky spoken opening of the song “Glass Spider,” Bowie was lowered in a chair to the stage. Finally, there he was, clad in red. I was in the same room as David friggin’ Bowie! It was an incredible feeling. The renditions of the songs in this setlist is stellar, with Peter Frampton playing lead guitar. I had the VHS (still do, and I’m watching it now) and I played the cassette over and over.

The Rykodisc reissues of the RCA albums were—and still remain—definitive in their inclusiveness. Those are the versions I have. As a young man in the late 80s, I wanted Bowie to be a certain way. Turned out, Bowie was all ready to move on. You see, I hadn’t lived through the warp speed transitions of the 70s, but I was about to. Tin Machine I enjoyed, but it confused me. I didn’t get it in 1989, but I understood in 1991 when Nirvana exploded on scene. Ah! So Bowie was already ahead of the game and had left the over-the-top 80s sound. Typical.

The Sound + Vision tour, in 1990, was the opposite of Glass Spider. Plain stage, excellent musicians, and just the music. And that was perfectly fine. I loved that show, my second time to see him.

The 1990s David Bowie proved, in retrospect, to be nearly the equal of the 1970s Bowie. I loved all the LPs he released. Only in 2003 was the pattern apparent. You see, Tin Machine allowed Bowie to reboot himself. He went back to his jazz and 60s pop roots with Black Tie White Noise. Outside teamed him up with Brain Eno again, the first time since the Low/Heroes/Lodger records of the 1970s. Man, that was a swing for the fences. The concept was perfect for the end-of-the-millennium/X-Files era and I soaked it all up. Pianist Mike Garson is all over these songs, and this album contains some of my all-time favorites: Strangers When We Meet, The Heart’s Filthy Lesson, The Motel, Hallo Spaceboy, and the title cut. The tour (that I missed!) had Bowie playing with Nine Inch Nails and recasting his songs with a techno-industrial vibe. He brought out songs even I had forgotten (I found a bootleg of the show. Shhh! Don’t tell anyone.) What this music also made me do was seek out Nine Inch Nails music and other techno music.

Earthing (1997), with its drum-and-bass, jungle music had me scratching my head once again. What was this music Bowie was making? I wasn’t sure, but I sure loved it. Back to the record store (pre-internet times) to get me some of the music Bowie listened to for inspiration. “Dead Man Walking,” with his long-note vocals over a furious bear, is a stunning song and proof yet again that Bowie is a crooner. “Battle of Britain (The Letter)” is very good, and the single, “Little Wonder,” is a fist-pumping song. This was the year when going acoustic was all the rage and he took some choice cuts off this LP and older songs and made acoustic versions. I found more bootlegs of acoustic shows and other performances and was in Bowie heaven.

Then, in 1999, Bowie started a trilogy. Hours (1999) saw the return of a softer, Hunky-Dory-esque Bowie, with “Thursday’s Child,” “Seven,” “Survive,” and “Something in the Air” adding themselves to my favorites. Heathen (2002) can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with ANYthing from the 1970s. Period. “Slow Burn,” “Everyone Says Hi,” “Sunday,” Heathen (The Rays)”, and “Slip Away” are incredible pieces of music. Plus, his themes of isolation fit perfectly in the post 9/11 world. Reality (2003) had some callbacks to 1980’s Scary Monsters LP and featured some killer songs: “New Killer Star,” “Fall Dog Bombs the Moon,” “Reality,” and “Bring Me the Disco King.”

It was the Reality Tour in 2004 that I last was in the presence of David Bowie. The setlist was a dream for me: ( 17 out of 26 songs I had never heard. And the ones he performed were so good: Battle for Britain, All the Young Dudes, Hallo Spaceboy, The Supermen, Slip Away (with the Polyphonic Spree), and he friggin closed with “Ziggy Stardust”! Come on! The last thing he sang in my presence was “Ziggy played guitar,” center stage, arms outstretched. Perfect.

This touring band had Mike Garson on piano and I’m here to tell you his is a vital ingredient to Bowie’s sound. Gail Ann Dorsey was the bass player for this band. She was also the “Freddie Mercury” when they played “Under Pressure.” You talk about coming full circle with a single song. Dorsey is phenomenal in her vocal delivery. No one can replace Mercury, but damn, Dorsey comes close. She is so, so good. If you are of a mind, I can’t recommend the Reality Tour DVD highly enough. Thirty songs. 140 minutes of beautiful music. (I’ve now put this DVD in and am listening to it now.)

I saw David Bowie for the last time 29 April 2004. My wife was with me and it was her first time to see him. She didn’t know all the songs, but loved the show. Two short months later, he had a heart attack in Europe and cancelled the rest of the tour.

And then he was gone. Seemingly forever. As the years went on, I counted my blessings to have seen that last tour and heard that last album. If Reality was the final tour/record, I was okay with that. He owed me nothing more having given me and the world so much.

But Bowie wasn’t finished. I distinctly remember checking his website in early January 2013 and there was a NEW SONG! “Where Are We Now” is a somber, yet thrilling song. It has some of the most intimate lyrics he’s ever written. He had gotten older, his audience had gotten older, and Bowie understood that. WAWN moved me to tears when I heard it (not a difficult thing, actually, softy that I am) and the entire record was incredible. I knew there wouldn’t be a tour, but we had a new album! “The Star (Are Out Tonight),” “I’d Rather Be High,” “The Next Day,” “Love is Lost,” and more are fantastic additions to the catalog. Couple that with the EP that came out later that year and you had what appeared to be a nice epilogue to a wonderful career.

But Bowie still wasn’t finished. “Sue (or in a Season of Crime)” was a new song for a new compilation. This song featured Bowie fronting a big band. It wasn’t your grandfather’s big band. It was Maria Schneider’s Orchestra and it was as far away from Glenn Miller as your could get. It was more in the realm of Gil Evans and Miles Davis. And Bowie was in his full crooner mode. I remember thinking in 2014 “Man, if he’d do a whole album of this, it would be so awesome.”

He did. Blackstar, his latest (and last) record is that album. It’s not all big band, but it’s jazz musicians working with a rock musician. It’s out there. The record demands repeated listenings. I pre-ordered the album and had it the moment I woke up on 8 January, his 69th birthday. I listened to it four times in a row. Non-stop. I hadn’t done that for any record in years. The music engulfed me. I was so happy to have new music and that the music was jazz! And Bowie! Folks at my office saw me react to this music. I even played a couple of tracks for my wife who wasn’t as impressed as I was. It was a great time to be a David Bowie fan.

Until Monday. And David Bowie was gone. The husband was gone. The father was gone. The friend of so many was gone. The inspiration to so many was gone. The man I never met but became a musical mentor was gone. It’s still shocking to realize it now, three days after the news broke. He was one of the four pillars of rock music for me, the other three being KISS, Chicago, and Bruce Springsteen. He was the one I found on my own. He was the one whose musical choices led me to new places and opened my mind to new ideas. He was the one who electrified me when I was in his presence. He was DAVID BOWIE!

I know his wife and daughter and son all miss him more than I do. I understand that. His close friends, too. But to all of us out here whose lives he touched, we’ll miss him, too. Blackstar is a fitting last album because it demands to be encountered and understood and not merely listened to. It’s already led me to seek out the albums of Donny McCaslin (saxophone) and Maria Schnieder because I want to know what Bowie heard in those artists that inspired him.

David Bowie granted me many gifts. His own music is part of my musical DNA. It will be with me forever. His music is an indelible and intricate part of my life’s soundtrack. I am not completely who I am in 2016 without David Bowie.

Thank you, David Bowie, for everything you did.

*Bonus Tracks*

The best tweet that summed up what David Bowie meant to the world was this. I quoted JeSuisDean:

“If you're ever sad, just remember the world is 4.543 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie.”

On the day the news broke, my friend, Daniel, posted this video to his Facebook page. Of all the tributes I read and saw about David Bowie, none moved me to tears quite the way this clip did. I've never seen the movie (It's Kind of a Funny Story), but this one scene captures all the exuberance you can have when you're different but find a home in a group that's also different and everyone is equal. It also shows the sheer joy in making music, truly a sublime facet of this life. Thanks, Daniel, for sharing it with me. "It's Kind of a Funny Story" is now on my radar.

Monday, January 11, 2016

On the passing of David Bowie

On Friday, we celebrated Bowie’s latest record release—Blackstar—a fantastic LP that has so many layers it demands repeated listenings. Now, today, he is gone. Thunderstruck is too tame a word. This one hurts. Deeply.

When you’re a kid and you discover music, there are certain artists you latch onto. They become pillars for your own personal soundtrack. They shape your musical tastes. You grow up with them, you get older with them, they’re with you through those moments in life, giving you a soundtrack to all your experiences. There’s a part of you that knows that artist is much older than you, but you always assume they’ll always be there, making music, opening new doors. In your brain, you know they’re getting older, but in your heart, you always think they are immortal.

David Bowie was one of those artists for me. I discovered him late (“Under Pressure” and then LET’S DANCE). I discovered his back catalog and all the amazing music he made in the 70s. I frowned when he realized music was changing and made Tin Machine, not really getting it until Nirvana exploded on the scene. I traveled with him in the 90s as he explored new musical areas and created a collection of music that rivals his 70s output. I worried when we nearly lost him in 2004, and I celebrated his return in 2013 when he released The Next Day. On Friday, I reveled in his new LP, loving it so much that I’ve already sought out the records of the jazz musicians with whom he collaborated. Opening new doors yet again.

In short, David Bowie was one of the foundational pillars of my musical life. He is part of my musical DNA. I don’t like the music I like now if David Bowie hadn’t showed me. I never met him, but I’ve known him for over three decades. And I will continue to know him for the rest of my life.

Rest in peace, David Bowie. And thank you for all the wonderful music you gave the world.