Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Spillane's Hammer rests

She came, as in the book, Mickey Spillane
That Saturday night dark masquerade

All last week, I was singing those opening lines from "Friends of Mr. Cairo". Never did I expect it to have any bearing upon current events. After all, the recording was released in 1981, and nobody is revisiting the eighties, much, these days (except the desperate filmmaker in search of a tv series to turn into a really bad summer movie). Sad to say, the man named in it, Mickey Spillane, passed away this week, bringing it forth in me once again.

The song is pop-synth’s Vangelis at his usual, and Jon Anderson, lead singer of YES, at his sweetest, in a paean to the potboilers put up on the silver screen. It's an oddly haunting piece that prompted me to go out and actually buy a lot of vhs tapes of things like "The Maltese Falcon", “The Big Sleep”, and “Kiss Me Deadly”, even though I'd seen them on summer mornings on channel nine when I was a kid. Many of those films were Chandler or Hammett, for sure, but the mention of Mickey Spillane in the opening lines of the song inspired me to head to the local and college libraries to check out every book they had by him, as well. Ah, curiosity!

Spillane's books were always a guilty pleasure for me to read -- the style was... well, there wasn’t really a style so much as an application of blunt force. Beady or piggish eyes versus square jaws in an uneven match-up of giant fists and gleaming pistols aren’t likely to glean the respect of literary critics, let alone spoiled, opinionated young women. Hard-drinking, hard-living strong men weren’t supposed to appeal to us, in the age of perfectly-sensitive-Alan-Alda-ideals. And as for feminist appeal, he didn't write much about good, intelligent modern women (most were breathless and dizzy, probably due to the intense weight upon the front of their lungs), so I wasn't always fond of the way he depicted them, even when I got over the notion that they were of a generation, as it were. Plus, I was reading the stories in the midst of the Reagan years, when everybody else was convinced that commies weren't really the enemy... the early years of mass acceptance of that now-shopworn concept, moral relativity. Spillane's books have always been straightforward, black and white, good versus evil. Commie bad, Yankee super-duper.

As an artist and the offspring of ivory-tower intelligentsia (college professor and all), I should have been above that seductive siren's call. But I loved "I, the Jury". I loved watching the blatantly sexist "Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer" on television, too. Fists flew, and the good guy always won. The girl was smitten, but the hero walked alone.

It was like classic westerns in a fedora and trenchcoat. A morality play. Comfort food.

Spillane, like so many Americans, had not spent his life all in one place: he was born in Brooklyn, NY, grew up in Elizabeth, NJ, attended college in Kansas (Fort Hays State College) before enlisting in the Army Air Corps in World War II. When the war ended, he came home, drafted his first novel in order to earn $1000 to buy some land. In the mid-1950s he settled in to the then-secluded beachfront property at Murrell’s Inlet, near Myrtle Beach, SC, where he remained to the last. Nevertheless, his stories stayed set in New York City, bringing a piece of that rough-and-tumble world to bored young readers out in sleepy little hamlets in the heartland, as well as filling the world’s big screen with hard-boiled heroes.

If I drank Miller Lite beer, I’d raise a glass of it to him, tonight, out of respect for the man who created then boldly mocked his own image, in commercials for that beverage. As it is, I’ll nod my head in thanks, toward the book shelves where all my favorite pulp novels rest.

Mickey Spillane's typewriter rests forever, now, and for that I am heartfelt sorry. But at least he left us decades of fun.

Fantasy would fill my life and I
Love fantasy so much
Did you see in the morning light
I really talked, yes I did, to Gods early dawning light
And I was privileged to be as I am to this day
To be with you. To be with you

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