Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Blow Out the Candles, or Else

Mickey Spillane’s 87 today. Big deal? Yeah, maybe, if you’re someone spends most of his free time doing things you never would’ve thought of except for him.

It was a day like any other day. The old man and me were cleaning out the cellar. A paperback book fell out of a drawer. The Twisted Thing. I said, “Who’s this Spillane character?”

“You like Dirty Harry?” the old man said between squirts of tobacco. “You’ll love Mike Hammer.”

He was right. (Again.) The Mick’s heyday was past, but he still sold enough to find him in the paperback racks. I read all I could find. I, the Jury. My Gun is Quick. Kiss me, Deadly. Mike Hammer was Harry Callahan on steroids. Velda might have been the subject of my first wet dream. I don’t know. I was asleep.

Then there were the Miller Lite commercials. Mickey and The Doll. A Columbo appearance. The Mick had staying power. His books still sell. They’ll sell in twenty years. Fifty. John Grisham only wishes he sold books like Spillane sells them. Something like a hundred million.

He’s not my favorite now. I learned, I grew up, my tastes got refined. Raymond Chandler. Elmore Leonard. Ed McBain. More texture, subtlety, shading. Made you think about the people in the stories, maybe even more than that. All Mick ever made you think about was hearing your rod barking when it put one right between the horns, or whether he’d find out if the blonde was a natural in Chapter Six or Eleven.

I’ll always have a soft spot for him, right here. He was a rural kid’s door into a world where tough guys asked their questions after you woke up from their greeting. A place where calling a woman a broad wasn’t an insult. The introduction to the mean streets Chandler’s knight would walk unafraid, taking crap from no one.

Spillane once said he didn’t have readers; he had customers. I won’t argue. What he had for sure was a gift for writing guilty pleasures that read like black and white movies even now, somewhere between the noir of Jim Thompson and the art of Chandler.

Readers, customers, who cares? He had fans.

Here’s to Mike and Velda, Pat Chambers, you and the Doll, Mick. Happy birthday.

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