Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Killer Inside Him (Not Me)

Back in '98, I had to break into a new trading pit on the floor of The Chicago Board Options Exchange. Except for a failed one year of trading off-floor, I had been in the SPX (S & P 500) options pit since 1987. Our firm, Arbitrade, had had no success in the NDX (Nasdaq 100) crowd, but I wasn't worried about my prospects. Nearly every broker on the CBOE floor knew me, most liked me, and the traders in the pit were mostly young guys who I'd befriended when they were starting out as clerks.

The pit was tyrannically run by Susquehanna Trading, but it was with the main broker in the crowd that I needed to connect. He had a rough reputation: Vietnam vet, violent temper, and well-armed, carrying a pistol to the floor every day in his briefcase. A challenge? Maybe, but I earned his grudging respect with humor and the ability to do The New York Times' crossword as quickly as he could.

We were talking about books one day, an interest that the other traders in the pit didn't share.

"Have you ever read Jim Thompson?" he asked.

"Only The Grifters." I'd read the novel after seeing the film version and liked it very much. It was even darker and more disturbing than the John Cusack-Annette Bening-Anjelica Huston take, which was harrowing in its own right.

The next day he brought in a stack of nine paperbacks. If I'm interested in a recommendation, I don't like to borrow. I'm a proud possessor of books. They live on and my library is referred to daily. But I took them. Remember, he did have a gun in his briefcase.

I read them all in a few weeks. Each one was fucked up, violent, but fun, in a sick sick sick way. None was more repulsive and gripping than The Killer Inside Me. The story of psycho lawman Lou Ford left its mark on me. Here's an example why: "And I hit her in the guts as hard as I could. My fist went back against her spine." Those two sentences really turned my stomach and, oddly, I've repeated that scene often. Think about it. Those are two remarkably evocative lines of prose. Hard to shake.

So, when I sat down to watch this year's movie version starring Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson, I was scared. If the filmmakers backed off the brutality and kinkiness of the novel, then it would suck. If they didn't, it might make me puke.

They didn't. It was brutal, vile, hard to take. And I knew what was coming! Extremely true to Thompson, The Killer Inside Me is difficult to watch. Affleck captures the schizophrenia of Ford quite well. Casey's voice is always odd, but his robotic, quivering and insane tone is perfect here. Alba transcends her to be expected sultriness a turns in some fine acting as Joyce the whore (no heart of gold, but she'll make you cry for her). Kate Hudson, who has made a career based on terrible role choices, is excellent as Amy, Casey's supposedly "nice" girl. Hudson's been on a bit of a streak for me; she stole the boring and dreadful Nine, putting much needed life in that corpse.

Should you see The Killer Inside Me? Hmm, I don't know. Read the book. If you don't find yourself hating humanity after that, give the movie a whirl. You may regret both experiences, but you won't forget them.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Beat Beat Beat with The Rolling Stones

Keith Richards' grinning Shar-Pei face smirks out from the cover of the new issue of Rolling Stone. Keef's long-anticipated memoir, Life, is soon to be sprung on the world. Richards the writer? The literary giant is even scheduled for a reading at The New York Public Library on October 29. The featured excerpts were a bit flat, though that didn't stop me from devouring every word.

I never fancied myself a huge Stones fan, which doesn't explain why I have 35 of their albums. It's the early years of the Fugly Five that do send me. No one would dispute that the early Stones were the best white blues band around. (Only ex-schoolmate Eric Schaefer would. He believed with all his heart that The Who were better at it than Mick and Keith, but Eric thought The Who were better at everything than anyone else. Paul Lukas and I recoiled in horror!).

It's Keith's reflections on the beginnings of the band that were the most interesting and sincere. The struggles of Mick, Keith and Brian, starving and cold as they pursued the Holy Grail of Chicago blues reads true. It's not an image; it's pre-"Bad Boys of Rock" bullshit that permeates the other bits. The travails of druggie Brian, the love triangle between Jones, Richards and Anita Pallenberg lack passion. Keith says it all in the origins piece; girls came way last for the band. Though the Stones' persona is wrapped around chicks, they never seemed to really care. Anita giving Keith a blow job in the back of his Bentley is delivered with the disinterest one would have in flicking away a fly. Keith tells it as if he's watching as an outsider. There no love on those pages. Hey, no one really believes the Stones love anyone, do they? Think of "We Love You" from Satanic Majesties. Totally false.

When Keith talks of music, now there's a love story, and it brings me back to the start of the Stones. From 1963-66, they were the best at what they did, but who really listens to that period anymore? Compare that to how much we hear of the early Beatles, and how their first records till fly off the shelves. Rolling Stones Now? 12 X 5? Only die-hards buy the Stones back catalog, yet it's their shining hour, when their commitment to what they were doing was all-consuming.

Yesterday I stumbled upon a precious bootleg, Beat Beat Beat, the Stones BBC sessions from '63-'65. They are a powerhouse and loads of fun. I defy anyone who's heard their version of Rufus Thomas' "Walking the Dog" to not break out in a huge grin. And no one did Chuck Berry like The Stones. The radio take on "The Last Time" is a marvel and, boy, they could play. Listen to "Satisfaction." The interplay between Keith and Brian is their sound, never recaptured after Jones' death (or was it murder?).

Though there's no studio chatter that makes The Beatles BBC recordings so enjoyable (and, in fact, I'd rather hear The Fab Four talk than the Stones play), a brief interview reveals what The Rolling Stones always knew: they were never going to stop. Poor Brian, he makes that point though he wouldn't make it into the next decade. Keef always said to whoever would listen that this band would play forever. It's only their audience and the media that came late to that realization.

The Rolling Stones of 1963 would be proud that those band members who survived into 2010 were still rocking, mirroring the lives of the aging bluesmen they revered when they set out on their journey to spread the music they worshipped.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Playing Hurt and Making Mickey Proud

Wednesday night I had the chills and, every time I rolled onto my stomach, a jolt of pain shot out from my left knee. When I woke up, the knee was gigantic, a glowing, oversized ball of hurt. Against my will, I was escorted to Bassett Hospital for hours of fun, knee-draining (which was cool), multiple blood lettings and an IV bag chock full of antibiotic.

"Stay off that knee," I was warned by my doctor friends. But this weekend was the Hall of Fame Film Festival, and Friday night was a tribute to 61*. Billy Crystal (writer and director), Bob Costas (broadcaster par excellence), Thomas Jane (who played Mickey Mantle in the movie) and Ross Greenburg (head of HBO Sports) were to be in attendance at a reception to be held in the Plaque Gallery, followed by a Q and A and a film showing. Believe me, there was no chance I was going to be home, leg up and cooling under a Ziplock bag of ice cubes. I would be there, pain or not.

Single crutch under my left arm, looking like a World War 1 vet (why did those guys always seem to be single crutched?), I hobbled to the gala. Accompanied by my weekend house guest, Andy Strasberg, Roger Maris fan #1 (look it up) and technical advisor to the movie, I hoped for an introduction to the participants and even brought my book, The Kansas City A's & The Wrong Half of the Yankees, to hand out as a gift. It has Maris on the cover, totally appropriate to the occasion. Plus, I need to improve my self-promotion skills.

I didn't meet Crystal, though Joey, my little Zelig, found his way to the big star.

I didn't pursue Thomas Jane, but as he whooshed by me in his loud plaid suit, I tapped him on the shoulder. He turned and I told him how much I enjoyed his cameo in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Turns out Joey had done the same thing. Jane must've thought it odd that two people mentioned this most minor role.

With Andy off to mingle, I made my own way to Costas and snapped a picture of him with Joey.

"I can see there's no family relationship here," quipped Bob. Joey is a mini-me. I handed my book over to Bob and he was truly interested. Over the course of the evening, Bob Costas would prove to be an authentically good guy.

As was Ross Greenburg. Andy introduced us and, immediately Ross focused on my condition.

"Stay off that knee," he said with great concern. "That's serious stuff." He also looked at the book with real gusto.

The Q and A was funny and lively. Afterwards, the Grandstand Theater emptied and refilled, as the two events were separately ticketed. It took me a while to make my way down to the first floor bathroom and back. As I walked in via the 3rd base side ramp of the theater, Billy was trying to get everyone settled so he could begin his remarks.

He saw me. "Come on, come on," he pleaded.

"You can start," I replied.

"Great, he's got a cane!" Oh, to be mocked by Billy Crystal: it made the injury worthwhile.

After the film, we filed out and, in front of the Hall's offices, Costas and Crystal signed autographs for a waiting group of fans. With Andy by my side, I got to talk with Bob and, again, Ross. It's rare to find public figures, and powerful ones, as genuine as these two. It made the night extra special.

Now, in return, I think I'll subscribe to HBO. It's the least I can do.