Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Blues for a Dead Lover

Blues for a Dead Lover
By Charles Nuetzel (writing as John Davidson)
Borgo Press/Wildside Press

Some jazz collectors seek out long out-of-print jazz novels, looking for lost treasures. There are several ripe for rediscovery, like Nat Hentoff’s Jazz Country, Antonio Muñoz Molina’s Winter in Lisbon, and Ross Russell’s The Sound. The recently reissued 1962 pulp novel Blues for a Dead Lover, by prolific genre paperback writer, Charles Nuetzel writing as John Davidson, is not one such unsung gem.

According to Nuetzel’s new introduction, Blues was inspired by the anxiety caused by separation from his recent fiancé on her first visit to her native Germany. Nuetzel writes:

“What if Brigitte never returned to America?

Of course, said my ego, it wouldn’t be because she didn’t want to? So, of course she would want to return.

But: what if it was beyond her control? What if . . . what?

Well. She might be killed! Why not consider that kind of nightmare possibility?” (p. 5)

In a sense Blues is a somewhat morbid valentine to Nuetzel’s betrothed, but one wonders what she thought of the protagonist dealing working through his grief with constant binge drinking and tawdry sex. A thematic precursor to Leaving Las Vegas, presumably, there is a cult following for this kind of hard-boiled pot-boiler prose:

“She was tired. Tired in the way that only Las Vegas could make a person tired. The town was an insanity that got into your blood the moment you stepped into it, charging the nerves and pushing the body beyond the normal points of energy, until you were so dragged out you could hardly think.” (p. 135)

Writing about music is difficult, as it requires authors to describe intangible sounds with concrete prose. Writing sex scenes can be treacherous, as there are dangers in either sounding too juvenile or downright pornographic. Blues largely takes a pass on the first challenge, while falling into all the pitfalls of the latter. There is some jazz interest in Blues—as the bereaved lover is a trumpeter, his loyal friend is his bassist, and their vocalist is woman who tries to win him on the rebound—but not enough for mainstream readers. If only someone would reissue Jazz Country or The Sound, then we’d be getting somewhere.

(Reviewed from pdf file.)