Dead Men Naked, Book Review

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Dead Men Naked by Dario Cannizzaro

Dead Men Naked, a novel by Dario Cannizzaro

Review by Bill Ectric

Dead Men Naked  is the best novel I’ve read in while, satisfying to the end. All too often, books with supernatural overtones veer into preposterous territory, but not this one. Author Dario Cannizzaro achieves a near-perfect balance of realism and phantasm, humor and melancholy, the familiar and the uncanny. It is an incredibly fun read about soul mates, tequila, occult incantations, death, and visions of a giant crow. The somewhat flippant title derives from a poem by Dylan Thomas called “And Death Shall Have No Dominion,” and, indeed, there are people in Dead Men Naked who seek passage beyond death’s veil. Cannizzaro says on his website that while writing this book, he “pestered people with talks about religion, philosophy, death for an incredible amount of time.”

To get an idea of his background, consider this quote from an article Cannizzaro wrote for The Galway Review in 2016. The author talks about skipping school with his friends at age 15 while living in in Italy:

We would go in the city center of Pozzuoli, and hide into a dark alley. In the alley there was a tattoo joint, a hearing aid shop, and a very small library, called Il Nome della Rosa, after Umberto Eco’s book (The Name of the Rose). The owner, Gino, would entertain his guests with delicious comments about books, poetry, literature. It wasn’t long before we started spending our mornings there, talking with Gino and drinking Espresso, while watching the whirlwind of customers – lost souls on the lookout for human connection – writers, poets, mothers, sons; fishermen, shop-owners, unemployed hippies – the whole humanity passed in that library, 20 to 30 square meters of enlightened soil, much like the sacred ground of a secret church.

Dead Men Naked reflects that mixture of ancient mystery and youthful curiosity. The main characters, Lou and Mallory, seem like people I would hang out with for pizza and beer, or in Louis’ case, Tequila. He only sees his friend’s ghost while drinking tequila. Tequila has a mystique unlike any of the other major alcoholic beverages. A Huffington Post article presented by Patrón says, “In the mid-20th century, tequila sales spiked after California residents thought it was a psychedelic. They were just confusing mezcal with mescaline (the psychoactive alkaloid of peyote” (Huffington Post, Oct 06, 2014). Over the years, Jose Quervo has placed magazine ads that depict deeply surreal colorful sunsets over small gatherings of men and women, smiling as though in states of altered consciousness, with various taglines, including “It’s all true” and “Anything can happen.” Special limited edition bottles display gold and silver mustachioed skulls. One might argue that tequila’s mystique is a fabrication, but after all, most magic is about what one believes to be true. “The universe is what you observe,” the Grim Reaper tells Lou. “Whatever you experience in your life, you experience through your senses.” It’s all real.

We get a hint that maybe Mallory has seen beyond the veil, too. She has a collection of books on the occult and she knows how to use them. Something weird happens, resulting in Mallory’s disappearance. Hoping to find Mal at her sister’s house, Lou goes on a road trip with the Grim Reaper in the passenger seat to keep him company and call the shots. They drive through a noir world of seedy bars until they find Mal’s twin sister, Angie. Death takes either a holiday or a back seat when Angie joins Lou on a ride through the desert to an out-of-the way abandoned house where the girls once lived with their mother. It is on this trip that Lou quotes the Dylan Thomas poem, forming an emotional connection between the two, in which “there was no car, no time, no road…no faith, no evil, no sun, no sea… nothing but the nakedness of the word, sliding from me to her and bouncing back from her eyes.” At the mother’s house, in the basement, they find the books and notebooks evincing an in-depth study of dreams, mythology, religion, and “Old Latin spells mixed up with Caribbean voodoo and African juju.” It gets weirder and better.

There are so many good moments in Dead Men Naked, it’s impossible to discuss them all. Worth mentioning are the beguiling passages about crows in chapter twenty-two. Around the world, crows represent, variously, a trickster, a harbinger of death, a sign of transformation, and depending on what direction they are flying, the imminent approach of either your enemy or your true love. The crows in this chapter punctuate Lou’s action as they gather, squawk, and seemingly mock his angst with gawking, open beaks. It’s a great image and better than I can describe it.

I would like to mention one more thing. Perhaps you’ve heard about writers who don’t use quotation marks. Cormac McCarthy comes to mind. When interviewed in 2008 by Oprah Winfrey, McCarthy warns other writers that if they plan to leave out quotation marks, they really need to “write in such a way as to guide people as to who’s speaking.” I’m here to tell you that Dario Cannizzaro pulls off this feat like an expert. Trust me on this: You will have no trouble understanding who is talking to whom in Dead Men Naked.

I highly recommend this book.

Click here to find Dead Men Naked on Amazon.com

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The Creature’s Lesser Known Cousin

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JON M. FLETCHER / The Times-Union -Don Barton, who made "Zaat" in the early 1970s, kept the original creature costume in his garage. 2009 file photo. Above: Photo by JON M. FLETCHER / The Times-Union -Don Barton, who made “Zaat” in the early 1970s, kept the original creature costume in his garage. 2009 file photo.

 

Upon the death of Don Barton, the June 10, 2013 edition of Florida Times-Union (and Jacksonville.com),featured an article by Matt Soergel, who wrote “Don Barton brought “Zaat” to life in the early 1970s, and while the movie about a giant radioactive walking catfish-human monster was quiet for decades, it never really went away . . . The 1971 creature-feature played for a while at drive-ins and movie houses, mostly in the Southeast. It was bootlegged and retitled several times, and Barton learned hard lessons about the cutthroat movie business. It had a renaissance, though, after being mocked in 1999 on TV’s “Mystery Science Theatre 3000,” which featured science-fiction movies generally thought of as bad. By June  2001, “Zaat” made it to theaters again, playing to two packed auditoriums at the now-gone St. Johns 8 Theater on the Westside . . . Mr. Barton was a co-founder of the Florida Motion Picture and Television Association and won several awards for documentaries. In 1984, he became vice president of marketing at what’s now St. Vincent’s HealthCare, and later served on the hospital’s executive board.”  Read entire article

I visited the estate sale for the late Mr. Barton  on Saturday, November 2nd and purchased some memorabilia.

Zaat Memorabila 

Jamie Defrates in the movie ZAAT (1971)Above: Jamie DeFrates as he appeared in ZAAT

 

When I first saw Don Bartin’s low-budget horror movie, ZAAT (1971) I was surprised to discover that Jamie DeFrates makes an appearance! DeFrates is an accomplished musician/composer/producer, who lived in Jacksonville, FL at the time. DeFrates was born in Springfield, Illinois. His parents ran a Christian ministry that included a radio show called “The Golden Gospel Hour.” After college he traveled the country, playing guitar and singing in clubs from New York to San Francisco. DeFrates has been a national opening act for: Willie Nelson, Janis Ian, Leo Kottke, Little River Band, Jerry Jeff Walker, Richie Havens, Doc Watson, John Hartford, John Lee Hooker, and others. He eventually settled in Jacksonville, where he established a publishing company and recording studio. The music in ZAAT is credited to Jamie DeFrates and John Orsulak. 

ZAAT movie cedits

Just below the credits for DeFrates and Hodgin, we see “Electronic Music: Jack Tamul,” another interesting Jacksonville musician and composer. Tamul specializes in synthesized music.

Jack Tamul Above: Jack Tamul

 

The April 2001 issue of Scary Monsters magazine and the ZAAT 2-disc combo DVD set

Ed Tucker is an aficionado of classic and vintage science fiction & horror films and memorabilia. He hosts the Fan Lexicon twice a year in Jacksonville, FL. Mr. Tucker wrote the liner notes for the ZAAT 2-disc combo DVD. The official ZAAT website features an excerpt from an interview with Ed Tucker that first appeared in the April 2001 issue of Scary Monsters Magazine. Tucker begins:

I suppose being born in Ocala, Florida in the 1960’s in some way predestined me to my love and appreciation of motion pictures. The small town of Silver Springs is located so close to Ocala that, today, it is almost considered a suburb of it, but in the 1950’s and 60’s, it was a booming conglomeration of widely varied tourist attractions. Chief among these was Silver Springs itself, with its glass bottom boats, jungle cruises, and wildlife exhibitions. Hollywood often utilized the spring’s clear waters and jungle-like settings for every manner of production. From installments in the Tarzan film series to episodes of Sea Hunt and I Spy. But in my mind it will always be remembered for the underwater footage filmed for the 1957 3-D horror icon, Creature from the Black Lagoon.

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ZAAT DVD Features

Close Encounters with Ray Bradbury

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Above: That’s Brad Hamlin with Ray Bradbury in the lower right corner, from the collection of Bradley Mason Hamlin . Collage by Bill Ectric.

In memory of the incomparable Ray Bradbury, here’s something I posted at Bill Ectric’s Place on August 9, 2008:

It so happens that three writers I greatly admire live in California. Two of them know me. They are Brad Hamlin and Jay “jota” Mejia. As far as I know, those two have never met  one another, but they have, on separate occaisions, met the third and most famous of the trio: Mr. Ray Bradbury.

Bradley Mason Hamlin says, “I was able to tell Ray at that convention how much his story I See You Never means to me. He said, ‘What? Really?’ I could tell it meant something to him. He wasn’t above feeling good about getting positive criticism for his lesser known work. He had never been told that before, about that particular story. A magical moment, for sure. I was able to give him something very small in exchange for the giant gift he has given me and countless others.”

Jay Mejia says, “I told Ray my intention was to someday give up reporting and turn full-time to writing. ‘You already are, just write for yourself.’ That made me laugh and I told him about all the editors and journalism professors and English teachers who had drilled and admonished me to think first of the audience. ‘Ho, ho!’ Uncle Ray hooted. ‘No, you are your own best audience. Write for yourself. Get up out of bed and get to it. Listen to the stories and the voices in your morning head and bring them to life.’ ”

You can read Jay’s entire article here on Literary Kicks.

And Brad Hamlin has given me permission to reprint his Facebook tribute to Mr. Bradbury in its entirity, here:

M is for Magic
by Bradley Mason Hamlin

Above: Brad Hamlin and Ray Bradbury, photo courtesy of Brad Hamlin

When I was a teenager in high school, feeling misplaced, stupid, and alone, I would go visit my friend in the library. Ironically, at the time, I didn’t know that this person I called friend was a huge library fan himself. Sure, I’m speaking of this friend metaphorically and using the term loosely since he didn’t know I existed. Yet, I took comfort in the fact that he was always there for me.

Teenagers mostly read at school, begrudgingly, what they have to read, what they’re forced to read, great old books like A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens or Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I wasn’t ready for that foreign territory. I wanted to start at home on American soil, and I wanted someone who understood California to be my tour guide so I wouldn’t continue feeling lost. I started consuming Jack London and John Steinbeck, and would continue to do so, but as a kid I needed to go farther out. I needed weird adventure. I needed a rocket. I needed space.

So I would sneak off to the library. You don’t tell your friends you’re going to the library. That would sound weak, better to sneak off and explore on your own. You could take a ride on a Mississippi river raft with Huck Finn or swing a dead cat over a grave with Tom Sawyer. Travel 20,000 leagues under the sea with Captain Nemo or, if you felt really ambitious, hunt the white whale with Captain Ahab. However, my preference was to strap into a ship headed for the stars …

My two favorite short story collections at the time were Ray Bradbury’s: R is for Rocket and S is for Space. Some people think the simplicity of those on-the-nose titles sound silly, but I have to disagree. Bradbury has never been one of those heavy-handed or pretentious scientific genius guys. Sure, there’s room for those guys in the supernatural library too, but Ray has always written straight from the gut and therefore the heart. His work speaks to people, their wild desires, and most importantly their imaginations with all of the potential terrors and tribulations that go along within the mind’s eye.

Ray Bradbury often gets pigeon-holed as a “science fiction” or “fantasy” writer, unfortunately, only because of the limitations implied, when clearly Bradbury has no limits. However, no shame in the title of science fiction writer, good science fiction or fantasy is hard to write. Yet, if you read any of Bradbury’s short story volumes you will find that they exist as multi-genre explosions from a man that writes from no preconceived or limited viewpoint.

Now, aside from the fact that Ray Bradbury has a unique ability to take you for a fantastic ride, it must be noted how well that ride is constructed. Bradbury’s language flows with an internal poetry and passion, and most importantly, a clarity that is sometimes alarming. I have to stop and re-read a line and just say, “Damn, that’s good stuff.”

Well, I’ve often told people, if you really admire somebody famous – try not to meet them. Stay away from them, because when you do meet them, they’re assholes, and their art is forever tainted. I’m happy to say, Ray Bradbury breaks that cliché as well. I’ve seen him speak at various forums on a variety of subjects. Whether speaking at the “Clean Air” convention in Sacramento or to college students at UCLA or at Palm Springs and Santa Barbera where he gives advice to writers or his appearances at the San Diego Comic-Cons where he talks about his life in the fantasy arts and his love for science fiction and comic books – he has always come across as one of the nicest and most genuine people you’ll ever meet. I’ve met him several times during many of these adventures but was able to speak with him the most at Palm Springs. We argued a little about poetry and that was a good thing. He was real, a real person with real opinions and not just some guy who writes books.

I should also mention that out of all the times I’ve seen Ray Bradbury speak, the greatest and most impassioned and relevant speech he gave occurred at the Santa Barbera Writer’s Conference. Ray, sitting in a wheel chair, over 80 years old, cussing, sometimes screaming with a fervor at the writers – told us exactly how it is, told the truth, and shared the magic.

I was able to tell Ray at that convention how much his story “I See You Never” means to me. He said, “What? Really?” I could tell it meant something to him. He wasn’t above feeling good about getting positive criticism for his lesser known work. He told me no one had ever said that before about that particular story. A magical moment, for sure. I was able to give him something very small in exchange for the giant gift he has given me and countless others.

Well, Ray, you are deeply loved for sharing that magic. I wrote this while you were still alive and I’m sorry I didn’t send you this love letter. However, as long as there is an Earth and people on it, you will be remembered. You have more bastard offspring than you could ever have known. The libraries may be an endangered animal in 2012, but they’re not all dead yet. Somewhere, in some half-forgotten room, there is a kid taking down a volume, opening the pages, and learning how to travel throughout time and space. The rocket is waiting, the destinations unknown, mysterious, and limitless.

– Bradley Mason Hamlin