Noir

If I’m guilty of romanticizing anything, it’s the past. Not my own past, mind you — s**t no. Like most folks, I’m all too aware of the many heaps of dung I had to trod through to get to the rose garden of the present, so I’m very happy in the here and now. I don’t want to go back to, say, 1984, and remember how broke, clueless, clueless, broke and broke I was.

What I romanticize is a past I didn’t even live through: the years just before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and just after the Dodgers left Brooklyn – a span of about 20 years from the late ‘30s through the late ‘50s.

My interest in that era is rooted almost entirely in its literature, music, fashion and film, specifically in terms of noir culture. I have no particular affection for the socio-political climate of those years, soiled as they were by war, McCarthyism, Jim Crow and repression on multiple levels, including the personal. The poor souls back then had to lurch along without the creature comforts we take for granted now, whether it’s air conditioning, iPhones, microwave ovens, robotic vacuum cleaners, electric foot massagers, whatever, and to me that’s a horror show, man.

But the entertainment and popular culture back then were pretty amazing. The music was among the best ever made, and I spend countless hours consuming it – mainly jazz from Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Lester Young, Stan Getz, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Chet Baker, Wes Montgomery, Art Blakey and John Coltrane, but also pop/jazz from singers like Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington.

Movies of the era were equal parts style and grit, romance and cynicism, both in love with Hollywood formulas and contemptuous of them. More than a few critics have written themselves into a coma detailing how filmmakers of the era reinvented the rules in terms of storytelling, character development and cinematography. If you’re not a fan of old movies, go download “The Maltese Falcon” or “Vertigo” or “Sunset Boulevard” or “Citizen Kane” or “Rear Window” or “Casablanca” or “Double Indemnity” or “On the Waterfront.” I defy you not to be hypnotized by the terse dialogue, the plot twists, the look, feel and mood of many of those pictures, with their menacing shadows and hidden corners and grainy black-and-white canvases. You can almost feel the double-cross in play as the camera closes in and the music does a slow sizzle.

An even bigger weakness of mine is the literature of the era. I could probably spend the rest of my days just reading the detective novels of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Chester Himes and Ross MacDonald, or the savage tales of Flannery O’Connor and Jim Thompson, or the hardboiled pulp of James M. Cain and Mickey Spillane.

It all falls into the category of noir, and I’m stupid in love with it. I’m such a fanatic of all things noir that I even got excited once when my kids watched an episode of “Spongebob Squarepants” where the characters suddenly shifted to black-and-white and started talking like Mike Hammer after a slug of gin.

I’ve taken a stab at writing noir fiction, and I’ll share some of that work on this site in the future. Whether the stories are good or bad I’ll let others judge. But they’re a hell of a lot of fun to write.

Since noir is as much about the look as the words and the sounds, I wanted this website to have a certain landscape. In that spirit, I’ll be featuring a lot of my wife Susan’s black-and-white photos. She has a good eye for images that reflect something mysterious or foreboding. You’ll find them accompanying some of my posts. You can also link to Susan’s photos on the main menu.

Just tread carefully as you navigate the site. You never know when you’ll stumble across a shamus packing heat or a platinum blonde bearing a grudge…

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