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By Jesse Sublett

MARCH 22, 1999:  Boy, wouldn't you like to have been at this pitch meeting? Elmore Leonard, best-selling author of what? Like over two dozen fucking crime novels. Plus, lots of movies have been made from his books, and cool ones, too: Out of Sight, Jackie Brown, Mr. Majestyk, 52 Pickup, and Stick. That last one with Burt Reynolds, back in, what? The Seventies? Back when Burt was cool. The first time. Now he's so uncool he's cool again. But Mr. Cool Five Fucking Minutes Ago, Quentin Tarantino, aka Q fucking T, is always saying how this Leonard cat is the coolest. That if he, QT that is, had his way, the only films he'd make would be Elmore Leonard films. Ever since Get Shorty, the novel and the film, this Elmore Leonard guy has been super cool.

And this Elmore Leonard dude? I heard they even made some Westerns from his books, too. That's before my time, bro, but I seen 'em on video. Anyway, dig it, here's the pitch meeting: The Elmore Leonard dude walks in, sits down, props up his feet -- he's, like, older than your grandfather but real skinny and wears shades a lot, so he could pass for a junkie or some kinda retired mob guy, too-- and he says: Remember Get Shorty? Big book, huge film. Directed by Danny DeVito, right? Sure, the Suits say, nodding their heads, already real interested. Remember the hero? says Elmore the Dude, getting their attention. Yeah, sure, says one of the Suits. Chili Palmer, the mob guy comes out to Hollywood to make some collections, gets into the movie business. Right, says Elmore, nodding real cool. He's got 'em. Well, for my next book, Chili returns. Oh boy, say the Suits all together, practically drooling. And this time, Chili is still in Hollywood. He made one flick, called Get Leo. Did real good. But the follow-up, called Get Lost, did just that. Took a nose dive off Mulholland Drive, crashed and burned. Now Chili decides to get in the music business. No, no, he doesn't, like, leave Hollywood or anything. He takes this meeting with this record company guy, and right in the middle of the meeting, the record company guy gets whacked. You know, a hit man takes him out. Then Chili, he meets this chick singer named Linda Moon, with a lame back-up band from Odessa, Texas. It coulda been Lubbock, you know, but Lubbock's been done already, you know? And Chili gets the idea to try to get this chick a record contract, even though these other mobbed up dudes already have their hooks in her, and they, like, keep sending hit men after Chili. Chili, he thrives on that kinda shit, you know. (The Suits are nodding, like, Oh yeah, we know, we like that, keep going.) Elmore the Dude just shrugs and says, Hey, what more do you need to know? Chili, he's writing his new script, he figures all the tension and drama between the chick singer and the hit men and this crazy rock & roll business will work real good in his movie.

The Suits are bathed in a sweat by now. They're just nodding their heads, practically kissing Elmore's feet. One of 'em, like Mr. Junior Exec, blows it, though. He says, Hey, will, like, Chili be on MTV? So pathetic, like Elmore doesn't even answer the guy. Just gets up, starts walking out the door, then stops and says, real cool: No, but one of the hit men is a gay Samoan rapper. I might write some song lyrics for him. Oh yeah, the name of the book is Be Cool ($24.95, Delacorte Press). Say one thing for this Elmore Leonard guy. The dude can walk on water with words.

There are more than a few rock & roll references in Ed Gorman's The Day the Music Died, (Carroll & Graf; $22.95 hard), too, including the fact that the book opens on February 3, 1958, as the protagonist, Sam McCain, is driving back home to Black River Falls, Iowa, after taking a date to a concert by his idol, Buddy Holly. That was the night Holly's plane crashed, and the day some people call the day the music died. It makes for an intriguing beginning, especially when you consider the quaintness of the Iowa setting. How many crime novels are set in a small town in Iowa? Before long, however, the pulp crime aficionados among us will feel that we are indeed in familiar territory. If it doesn't hit you by the way every important personage in the town seems to be either related, at war with one another, or both, it'll definitely hit you as Gorman's protagonist keeps dropping in little references to his reading habits, which lean heavily toward the tough-guy gang that ruled Fawcett Gold Medal crime paperbacks in the Fifties and Sixties.

Remember Greg Kihn, pumping out those MTV hits "Jeopardy" and "The Breakup Song" a decade and a half ago? Sure you do! Well, guess what? This guy can string the lyrical hooks in long form just as well, probably even better, than he could in the three-minute format. Big Rock Beat (Forge $23.95, hard), Kihn's third novel, is big-time proof. I was very impressed with the seductive, hip, very visual style from page one, and he keeps the pages turning through wild and unpredictable plot twists-- kind of like an unexpected bridge in the middle of a song.

In Big Rock Beat, riffs on Z-grade movie director Ed Wood have inspired a weird, dark, funny tale. B-movie director Landis Woodly is big in Japan, but nowhere else. His new feature, Big Rock Beat, features babes, bad rock bands, drugs, monsters, and James Dean's death car. Nothing too out of the ordinary for Woodly. But making Big Rock Beat becomes a high-body count fiasco. One of the victims is impaled on a Gibson Flying V. What more do you need to know?


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