I’ve started spending more time on my musical pursuits lately—brushing up on my keyboard skills, learning modern recording technology and writing songs. The above is the first song I’ve written and produced in quite a long time. It’s a somber and reflective piece I started years ago. Feels good to have it finished and out in the world. Have a listen (and/or download for later by clicking the down arrow in upper right).
Beginning with the first Rolly Waters novel, Black’s Beach Shuffle, one of the things I tried to do was to give my characters distinctive names. Since my protagonist was a musician, I came up with a system for naming all the characters after musicians or music-related entities. I didn’t want to make the names too obvious (no Miles Davis or Elvis Presley) because that would distract the reader from the story. So I decided to mash up the names—one from column A and one from column B. Here’s how it works:
Rolly Waters. Rolly is short for Roland, a company that makes any number of musical instruments, but are best known for their early drum machines, like the TR-808. Waters is for the seminal Chicago blues man, Muddy Waters.
Bonnie Hammond. Bonnie Raitt and Hammond Organs (or legendary A&R man and record producer, John Hammond)
Max Gemeinhardt. Named for the drummer for Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band, Max Weinberg. During my thankfully short-lived jazz-flute playing days, I used a Gemeinhardt flute.
Marley Scratch – for two titans of Reggae music, Bob Marley and dub inventor Lee “Scratch” Perry.
Moogus is a bit of a cheat, it’s a play on Moog, for Robert Moog, inventor of Moog synthesizers. In a later book we find out Moogus’ last name is Ludwig, which is a well-known drum manufacturer. But he’s really just Moogus.
I also applied this method to one-time characters.
Black’s Beach Shuffle:
Alesis Amati. Probably the most ornate name I’ve come up with, this one combines two musical instrument makers. Alesis made the first affordable digital reverb rack (I treasured mine). Amati is a violin manufacturer.
King Gibson. Easy one here. B.B. King and Gibson guitars.
Ricky Rogers is for 50s heartthrob Ricky Nelson. And Rogers drums.
Border Field Blues:
Dr. Zildjian Ramoñes – another slight cheat, but rather clever (I think). The name uses the seminal punk band, the Ramones, with a tilde (ñ) added over the n to give it a Spanish flair. The doctor’s first name, Zildjian, is known to all drummers as manufacturer of the world’s finest cymbals.
Alicia, Rolly’s step-mother, is named for Alicia Keys
Tangerine is named for a song on Led Zeppelin III or the jazz standard by Johnny Mercer and Victor Schertzinger. Take your pick.
Burdon for Eric Burdon, lead singer of The Animals (House of the Rising Sun) and the early version of War (Spill that Wine).
Desert City Diva:
Macy Starr comes from a combination of Macy Gray and Ringo, who doesn’t need a last name.
Cool Bob because Bob Dylan is as cool as they come. And he speaks in riddles, just like Cool Bob.
Buddy Meeks is a slight cheat. It combines blues string-bender nonpareil Buddy Guy with innovative English record producer, musician, sound engineer Joe Meek.
Ballast Point Breakdown
Butch Fleetwood combines alt-rock producer Butch Vig (Nirvana, The Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth) with drummer Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac.
Janet Withers is a Janet Jackson and Bill Withers mashup.
Anytime a pair of FBI agents show up, they’re named after a famous songwriting team. In Black’s Beach Shuffle, agents Porter and Hayes are named for the great Stax Records songwriting team of David Porter and Isaac Hayes who composed soul classics such as Hold on, I’m Comin’, Soul Man, and When Something is Wrong with My Baby.
For Ballast Point Breakdown, I used a new FBI team named Goffin and King, for the Brill Building husband and wife team Gerry Goffin and Carole King who wrote Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?, Some Kind of Wonderful, (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, and Up on the Roof among others. King, of course, went on to write and perform the gazillion-selling album Tapestry.
We recently stayed in Joshua Tree, CA, and visited the National Park, taking half-day hikes amongst the striking geology and trees for which the park is named. We also did some cultural sight-seeing and went to the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum nearby. It’s a fascinating assemblage of found objects and junk transmuted into more than 100 works of sculptural art by Noah Purify, who spent the last 15 years of his artistic life living and working in the area. Below is a small sample of the work he created. It’s well worth your time if you’re ever in the area.
I bookmark news items and magazine articles about real life cops and criminals as inspiration and reference for my novels and short stories. Here’s a few recent pieces I found interesting.
The Font Detectives
Little did I know there’s now a whole world of typography “detectives” who ferret out fakes and forgeries based on close scrutiny of the fonts used in suspect documents. This is a fascinating story of techno-geeky, crime-solving ingenuity.
The Queen of Crime Solving
With imagination and scientific rigor, forensic scientist Angela Gallop has helped to crack many of the UK’s most notorious murder cases. Someone needs to turn this woman’s career into a mystery series right now.
What Happens When You Enter the Witness Protection Program?
An older article, but a useful one for any crime writers who want to understand how the Witness Protection Program works, its history, its successes and failures. For even more details, you may want to pick up the book it’s based on—Witsec: Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program by Pete Earley.
I’m always up for a good story about con men and/or con women. It’s fascinating to see how people get away with the lies and fabrications that keep their con going. It’s equally fascinating to see how the con unravels (because they always do). We may even admire the chutzpah of someone who tries to pull off the big con. For pure chutzpah the story of Michael Fenne and Pixelon is hard to beat. I used it as the inspiration for my fictional company, Eyebitz.com, in the first Rolly Waters mystery Black’s Beach Shuffle. Here’s a screenshot of the Pixelon’s homepage, circa 2000.
The potential for high quality video on the Internet was a kind of holy grail in 1999 (Youtube didn’t happen until 2005). Pixelon claimed they’d invented a faster and more efficient format of video compression and investors forked over millions of dollars to finance this potentially game-changing company. But by June of 2000 Pixelon was bankrupt. It had been a scam from the very start.
In my earlier post, Confessions of a Dot Com Boomer, I talked about my time in the multimedia department of MP3.com. The company’s main revenue source at that time was the advertising we sold on free promotional CDs. One of the first companies to advertise with us was Pixelon. As part of the contract we were required to install Pixelon software on the CD and use it to show videos from the CD.
The Pixelon software seemed questionable to our technical staff right from the start. It appeared to be using standard MPEG compression (like on DVDs) packed inside a “wrapper” of programming code. To explain in layman terms it’s like having a shirt, then putting the shirt in a suitcase, closing the suitcase and telling everyone your shirt is now “enhanced.” There was nothing new about Pixelon’s technology.
It was not our place to question such details, however. The marketing department had a $1 million contract on the line. We installed the software (with a great deal of difficulty but that’s another story) and sent out the CDs. Meanwhile Pixelon was spending millions on its product launch party, iBash99, which included The Who, KISS, Faith Hill and any number of other popular music acts. The company would broadcast the event live using their new software. It was a technological disaster and very few people, if any, were able to stream the live video. The company spent $16 million on the event, 80% of their total assets.
As it turned out, Michael Fenne was really David Kim Stanley, a convicted felon who’d moved to California but was wanted by police in Virginia. Both charismatic and terrifying, he’d managed to talk a few early investors into his scheme and soon others had followed. Like many con artists, Stanley kept doubling down, making his scam bigger and bigger. A sharp-eyed creditor spotted Stanley’s photo on a most-wanted website and reported him to the police. Before long Stanley was back in jail and Pixelon was out of business. And MP3.com never got paid for the advertising.
While some of the details of Rolly’s investigation into Eyebitz came from my time working at MP3.com, the deception at the heart of the story was based on the Pixelon scam.
David Kim Stanley “God has blessed me with a unique ability to defy reality”