Noir Crooner Jimmy Vargas: Seeking redemption in the Black Dahlia’s smiling pool of blood

Interview with Croonoir Jimmy Vargas

Image of Jimmy Vargas, Noir CroonerJimmy Vargas, a writer, musician and leader of a combo called the Black Dahlias, is doing keenly interesting work in noir music videos, recordings, and live performances. We were particularly struck by the way he layers classic film noir elements with elements of horror and Jack Kerouac-style lyrics. He also runs a blog dedicated to the 1940s Siren or Femme Fatal.

A recording artist with with Dionysus records in Los Angeles, he took time away from his busy performing and writing schedule to talk with Noir Nation editor, Eddie Vega, about his music and filmography.

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Noir Nation: Is Jimmy Vargas your real name?

Vargas: Jimmy Vargas is the name I was born with in Chicago 1919, before my death in Los Angeles 1947. I have returned, earned and re-inherited the name after my rebirth in London 1958. It’s been quite a treacherous and tumultuous trip reclaiming my name, story and unfinished life back. Thirty years of living on and off in doss houses on Main, scouring bombed out burlesque houses, and skideroo bars, for a whisper of my racketeer pimp past. My complete story is told in the Requiem for My Shadow Bride DVD Installation / Book series.

Noir Nation: How did you come to create your Jimmy Vargas persona, the seedy crooner who hints of horrific murders to come?

Vargas: I am not a persona… I’m a natural born huckster looking for coins of grace, and rations of redemption from a dissolute and diabolical past that is soldered into my “Silver Cord.”

Hucksterism is my natural DNA.

I earn’t it.

I didn’t invent this.

Mine is not a bourgeois literary fun fair ride.

JimmyVargas1-1024x950I’ve lived a life turning coin in the exotic industry performing and promoting striptease and erotic dancers before it became another hip feminist pursuit. I even headed up my own entertainment agency of vintage acts, rockabilly and swing combos, fan dancers and carnival freaks from the mid- eighties over three continents called Teasa-Varga.

I’m merely retracing the exact same life as I had in the nineteen forties.

And that includes the subject of murder.

But this time I’m paying for it.

As for the horrific murders to come?

Well I gotta do the death tango with my past firstly.

My quest now is to get through this incarnation without having her blood on my face, her image scorched in my eyes that I can never un-see, and not having to plug my ears to stop the cursing of her siren voice.

The est of noir is that “Every man walks in the shadow of some other silent grief, a violation and a damnation they had incurred on others or that had been plastered on them.”  I’m squaring up on the outstanding ‘vig’ on mine. (Black Halo Prologue)

I’m paying for it by installations of penance in Music, literature and film.

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Elizabeth Short, The Black Dahlia

 

Noir Nation: Tell us about the Black Dahlia. Who was she? And how did she come to influence your work?

Vargas: Elizabeth in her incarnate life was a huckster, though not a trained actress, she beheld an exotic theatrical spirit, that she pitched as trinkets for drinks, dinners, overnight havens and cash “loans.” She beheld a luminous dark glow that beguiled and torched both men and women alike. Her name was given to her by a tarot reader in Los Angeles, a trick sobriquet, both a word play on a movie at the time Blue Dahlia (1946) and a nod to her all gothique black wardrobe of gown, lingerie hosiery and hair, a ‘gimmick’ in which she was seen traipsing and mooching around the Hollywood studios and bars.

Her death was a Mayan voodoo rite.

I’ve been attesting to this fact for decades.

Steve Hodel’s Black Dahlia Avenger, a recommended read alludes to his father as her killer, who lived in the Frank Lloyd Wright Mayan House at the time. His known associates were part of the Hollywood voodoo milieu, Man Ray, Ben Hecht, Jack Parsons.

As for now Elizabeth Short the Black Dahlia remains entrapped in the aether of the Hollywood that spurned her, and her vibration still hums over Los Angeles downtown. Elizabeth Short is the Madonna of every starlet / soubrette / huckster who comes to Hollywood.

Elizabeth wanted fame, she now has it on eternal lease, in the cradle of mortis.

We had a connection in 1946. Stag movies.Jimmy Vargas LUST ANGELES ...Pix (c) Rangott-Vargas

Elizabeth Short is the Satanic Martyr Saint to my work

Noir Nation: Clearly, film noir has a strong influence both on your music and the look of your music videos. What specific movies influenced your work?

Vargas: Silent movies such as The Stranger on the Third Floor Left, Seven Footprints to Satan, Madam Satan. The German expressionists who took their Gotterdammerung vernacular and en-bedded into films of American urban nightmares. Noir prophets like Murnau (Nosferatu, Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), Fritz  Lang (the whole canon), Billy Wilder (the whole canon from Double Indemnity to Lost Weekend to Sunset Boulevard) Ulmer (Detour). The European surrealists such as Bunuel and Man Ray. Post War Italian neo-realism. Poverty Row noir productions of Monogram and Eagle Lion Pictures. Exploitation peep show burlesque loops and 1940’s Roman Catholic Education Bio-Pics of the Saints. It all feeds my visual output.

Noir Nation: We noticed literary echoes of Jack Kerouac in the lyrics of your songs. Did he influence your work?

Vargas: I dig Kerouac’s jazz breath rhythm but Ginsberg is more my kick because of his street candor, melancholy, and anguished defiance. I’ve also love the rat tat tat tabloid writing of Ben Hecht, Mark Hellinger, Quentin Reynolds Walter Winchell and Mortimer and Lait of the “U.S.A. Confidential series”. Mix that in with six years of reading and studying Latin, and it makes for an interesting bouillabaisse.

Noir Nation: In addition to film noir, we noticed a look in some of your music video scenes that are reminiscent of the work of Quentin Tarantino, especially his From Dawn to Dusk, directed by Robert Rodriguez. We are thinking specifically of that fabulous scene with Salma Hayek… Was it intentional or mere coincidence?

4101719_300Vargas: Dusk till Dawn has not influenced me.

Nor Tarantino for that matter.

I’ve been living in my own hadeian burlesque universe since the seventies, and produced shows and filmed videos of that aesthetic before Dusk till Dawn came out.

Tarantino and myself may well be feeding from the same pulp cesspool of libidinity, lust and death.

A greater influence over my work is David Lynch.

He shoots heroin on film.

Lynch is the master.

As for the Salma Hayek connection?

Well my muse Liliana Scarlatta is of Latina origin, as is Selma.

There’s a serpentine grace to Latin women when they dance.

That’s probably what your keen eye is suspecting.

DSC_0374 EL MADONNA DVDNoir Nation: You are creating in many formats, music, film, and fiction. Which gives you the greatest pleasure?

Vargas: Mine is a trinity of Music film and fiction which work off each other. They are not separate art-forms. They cross breed from the same poppa. When I’m writing, a camera sits on my desk alongside my Epiphone guitar. Each influences the other, so there’s a consistent visual, literary and audio stream.

Noir Nation: Tell us about your collaboration with Liliana Scarlatta and Mia Mortal. Both play 1940s femme fatales in your videos, but they could be femme fatales in any age. How were their characters created?

Vargas: My Muses come complete as mistresses of their own universe. They allow me in. It is they and they alone who divine my work, for my work is inherently female.

They are not characters.

Mia and Liliana are two female exotic sirens who tug and pull at my creative horns. They amaze, torture, honor, sensualize, demonize and exalt me. The whole Vargas canon celebrates the exotic divinity of their female spirit.

They are the Black Goddess and the White Goddess.

Liliana, the Shadow Bride is a feisty raven haired Argentinian. She is an exotic dancer and sorceress who possesses the nitrate glamour of Hollywood film stars of the thirties, forties and fifties. My Shadow Bride series is about her as such a subject, spanning over a fifty year period.

Jimmy Vargas & Mia mortal S.I.N...Pix (c) Taylor - VargasMia Mortal, Madame Sin / Maitressa Maia is a chilled Scandinavian Platinum Blonde.

She is a consummate Burlesque Diva and Exotic Showgirl.

Her talents also span Performance Art, Aerial, Trapeze, Art and fashion modeling.

Miss Mortal has earned her Lilith fan feathers with distinction, working in venues all over the world like the Tivoli (Amsterdam) Moulin Rouge (Paris) Raymond’s Revue Bar (London) Nagashaki Music Hall (Tokyo).

Mia has performed with me since 1999. She appears in the Striptease in Noir Series, as well as our forthcoming Black Halo music / video installations

Mia too in her spare time tangos with the tarots, when same fingers aren’t unzipping her elegant Dior Gown or bewitching with a capricious cancan.

I am blessed by her collaboration.

Noir Nation: Where do you see yourself five years from now?

Vargas: Dead.

Next incarnation.

I’ll have said what I want to say.

I’d have paid for the murders and the pimping by song, word and image. These are hermetical works of penance and absolution.

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A video interview with Jimmy Vargas can be seen here.

 

Mysterious Bookshop launches Linda Stasi’s debut novel, The Sixth Station

 Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop has launched Linda Stasi’s debut crime novel, The Sixth Station, to an overflowing crowed. The book, published by Thomas Doherty Associates, is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and of course at the Mysterious Bookshop on 58 Warren Street, in downtown Manhattan, near City Hall.

Stasi has authored five books and won numerous awards including, “Best Columnist” by the Newswomen’s Club of NY, “Best Humor Columnist,” and “Woman of the Year: 2006” by the Boys Town of Italy. Her books include, Looking Good Is the Best Revenge, A Field Guide to Impossible Men, Simply Beautiful, Boomer Babes, and Scotto Sunday Suppers.

The Sixth Station, which took five years to research and write, took Stasi through three European countries, and visits to the remains of a Cathar castle high on a French mountain cliff, as well as cloistered monasteries and convents, according to her Linkedin page. The novel itself is about a hard-boiled New York reporter, Alessandra Russo,  assigned to cover the trial of Demiel ben Yusef, an accused terrorist and mass murderer, but who might just be a clone of Jesus of Nazareth created from DNA taken from Veronica’s Veil, a piece of cloth reputed to contain the image of Jesus’ face inked with his  blood and sweat while carrying the cross on the tortuous path to Golgotha.

Among the luminaries in attendance at the book launch were Edwin Torres, author of Carlito’s Way, Q&A, and other novels; Brooklyn writer Joseph Trigoboff, whose memoirs about growing up in East New York are forthcoming from Noir Nation’s sister imprint, Bare Knuckles Press; and power agent Liza Fleissig, co-owner of the powerhouse Liza Royce literary agency, whose good cheer kept the energy level at nuclear strength.

A full set of images from the party is available for free viewing by clicking here. Full captions are available there. Following are some highlights:

Linda Stasi signs a copy of her first novel, The Sixth Station

Linda Stasi signs a copy of her first novel, The Sixth Station

Friends and friends of Linda Stasi waiting to have their books signed.

Friends and fans of Linda Stasi waiting to have their books signed.

Attendees of the party

Two attendees of the party…

Edwin Torres

Edwin Torres, author of Carlito’s Way, Q&A, and other crime novels.

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Friends of Linda Stasi

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Joseph Trigoboff  — whose memoirs of growing up in East New York, a kind of prequal to Wise Guys, is forthcoming from Bare Knuckles Press — with Linda Stasi.

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Linda Stasi reading from her first novel, The Sixth Station.

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Linda Stasi

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Power agent, Liza Fleissig

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Sid Davidoff, Linda Stasi’s husband.

All About Steve – Warsaw Noir

red esperanto One of the areas touched upon in my Warsaw set novelette Red Esperanto is the rather, louche and down-at-heel world of the city’s ex-pat EFL teachers. The ‘flotsam and jetsam of life’ that make their living teaching English in Poland’s capital. A world I know well.

To give you a further — and very noir — taste of that bitter-sweet life here’s All About Steve, a documentary that was made a few years ago by James Torr and Jonathan Walsh.

The focus of All About Steve is a teacher known as EFL Steve who disappeared from Warsaw after claiming  he was being poisoned by a sinister and mysterious group but as the mystery unravels we also get a good look at EFL life in Warsaw.

I first saw this documentary about five years ago and it’s great to see so much — if not all — of it on You Tube.

Noir Nation at CES 2013

Eyes of McQueen

Eddie Vega (L) and Jonathan Sturak (R) at the CES 2013 convention in Las Vegas. The eyes belong to the late actor Steve McQueen.

Noir Nation editors Jonathan Sturak and Eddie Vega attended the Consumer Electronics Show (CES)  in Las Vegas. With attendance in excess of 120,000 participants, it was the largest CES in many years, and in any year it is the largest convention in Las Vegas.

A full set of images can be seen on Flickr. In the meantime, here are some of the noir related things they saw…

Mobsters

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Actors from a Las Vegas theatrical show called Mob Attraction

Femme Fatales

Marta Davis of Headcase

Marta Davis of Headcase, manufacturer of an iPhone case equipped with a bottle opener.

 Noir Products

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Noir skull iPhone case

Skull Candy kiosk at CES 2013, located outside the the convention center

Skullcandy kiosk at CES 2013, located in a lot just outside the the convention center

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From CES 2013: Electronic Paper is here!

CES 2013

The 2013 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has invaded Las Vegas with over 3,000 exhibitors, 150,000 attendees, and 1.9 million square feet of exhibition space. The largest consumer electronics show in the world, CES 2013 brings the state-of-the-art in technology products to the center stage. The e-reading market may be in for a huge surprise, or rather a “thin” surprise. Plastic Logic, Intel, and Queen’s University’s Human Media Lab have just revealed the new PaperTab e-paper. Check out these videos demonstrating how to read books on “electronic paper.”

No wrath, but some discontent, when Steinbeck won Nobel Prize

John SteinbeckBy Dave Itzkoff – NY Times

When their best-laid schemes of mice and men, and authors and writing, went awry, the members of the Swedish Academy made the best of what they thought was a bad situation in 1962: they awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature to John Steinbeck. The decision came amid their general dissatisfaction with the candidates for the prize that year, according to documents recently released by the academy.

As has become its custom, after a 50-year waiting period the Swedish Academy released documents on the internal deliberation of its committee members as well as a privately kept shortlist for the literary prize, The Guardian said, citing a report in the Svenska Dagbladet of Stockholm.

More from the NY Times…

Slogging it from Nebraska to the Mekong: an interview with Court Merrigan

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Court Merrigan, author of Moondog over the Mekong

Court Merrigan, whose story “Slog On,” appeared in Noir Nation 2, is a prolific novelist and short story writer living in the banana belt of Wyoming.  He taught English in Japan and Thailand for a number of years and holds an MA in Japanese, hence his strong interest in Southeast Asia, which serves as the setting of many of his stories. He took time away from his busy writing schedule to talk with Noir Nation editor, Eddie Vega, about his recent novel with Snubnose Press, Moondog over the Mekong

Interview with Court Merrigan

Noir Nation: Your story, “Slog On,” which appeared in Noir Nation 2, was a war crimes story set in World War II. Your most recent collection of short stories, Moondog over the Mekong, has a title that suggests the Vietnam War but the stories cannot be pinned down to anyone time or place. Nevertheless, they seem to have a seedy war time atmosphere. Was that done on purpose?

Merrigan: It’s all war out there, war on the individual, war on dignity, war on pride and love and hope. You don’t find out what any of these are worth until they are challenged, right? I hope that my stories do some work towards finding out just how much.

snubnosepress_logoNoir Nation: We are big fans of your publisher, SnubnosePress. It has become the coin of the crime fiction realm. How did they come to publish Moondog?

Merrigan: I actually joined Twitter because of Snubnose – last year when they were just getting started up, there was no obvious way to contact them, except on Twitter. I really thought that the stories I was writing were what Snubnose was looking for, so I started tweeting at them. Eventually I got hold of an email and we went from there.

Noir Nation: The word on the street is that short story collections do not sell as well as novels. Yet you invested your time and writing talents on putting one together, and Brian Lindenmuth of Snubnose published it. Is the street wrong?

Mekong V15Merrigan: I don’t think the street’s wrong, but it should be! I don’t know why – you’d think that in our Twittified, Facebooked, Tumblrized age, short stories would be the ideal vehicles for driving good fiction, but that hasn’t come to pass.

Having said all that, Brian and the Snubnose crew are putting out a bunch of kickass short story collections, looking to turn back that tide. If it can be done, Snubnose seems like the vehicle that can get there.

Noir Nation: You go back and forth easily between realistic fiction and what some call speculative fiction, which includes anything with a fantastical element, such as time travel, the presence of ghosts, and out of body experiences. Yet they all seem to share a certain brutal tonality and hence a sense of unity. Are you conscious of this?

Merrigan: I shy away from the overtly fantastical, but I am not above inserting the fantastic, if  that makes sense. A story needs what it needs and if a particular piece is pushing me away from realism towards the speculative, that’s where I’ll go.

Noir Nation: You have a long publication list. How do you manage your professional and personal commitments to maintain such a high productivity as a creative writer?

Merrigan: By not getting enough sleep, first and foremost. I carve out writing time at the very beginning and the tail ends of the day, when the kids are asleep. I grew up on a farm and I try to keep a farmer’s sensibility about me – before me lies the work, which ain’t getting done if I don’t do it. My dad and grandfather worked every day of their whole lives, routinely putting in 16 and 20-hour days, and if they ever complained, they never once did it around me. Comparatively, I have a vastly easier life, plush with luxury and ease. Writing is difficult but it’s not hard. Scratching a living out of a hardscrabble Nebraska farm – that’s hard. I bear that in mind when my going gets a little rocky.

I think it helps, too, to not be particularly social. Parties, gatherings, get-togethers – they make me tired. All that conversation and smiling. I prefer dimly lit, empty rooms. With desks and books. And bourbon.

Noir Nation: How are you marketing Moondog over the Mekong? Are there any special secrets you’d like to share? Any back doors in the online marketing Matrix?

Merrigan: Man, I wish you’d hook me up with the marketing gurus who know the locations of these back doors, and have the keys. Moondog is being marketed on Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, the usual. My blog is undergoing a site redesign and will soon be transformed into an actual website.

I’m no expert, but I think one of the keys to marketing might be longevity. Hell, it took me ten years to write all the stories in Moondog. I’m not going to give up pushing it online after a few tweets.

Noir Nation: The book’s cover is truly beautiful. The colors, the simplicity of design. Who designed it? And how involved were you with its creation?

Merrigan: The one and only Eric Beetner, a fine writer in his own right, did the cover design. The two of us worked together closely but he’s the one who actually got the work done. Still gives me little shivers of pleasure every time I see the cover.

Noir Nation: What do you think the future holds for eBooks? For print?

Merrigan: Here’s what I can tell you: sometimes now when I pick up a dead-tree book, I get sort of annoyed at all the “flipping” you have to “do” with all these “pages” getting in the way of the story. A book just doesn’t fit in your hand like an iPhone or a Kindle… I’m being flippant— a little.

I’ve been a longtime proponent of ebooks — I started singing their virtues online before I even had an ereader, but I think the time for being a proponent one way or another is past. People prefer what they prefer and I am totally format agnostic when it comes to my own stuff. If you’re reading it, I don’t care how you get it!

Sometime soon, I think, we’ll hit a saturation point where everyone who wants an eReader will have one, if we’re not there already. But because eBooks are just so much easier to get, keep, and transport around, I think you’ll see them continue to eat up market share.

Noir Nation: Tell us about your literary influences.

Merrigan: These days I’ve been reading everything Jim Thompson ever wrote, as well as gobbling up Daniel Woodrell, Hilary Davidson, Lawrence Block, Larry Brown, Jake Needham, Stephen Graham Jones, Philip K. Dick, and Dennis Lehane.

A while back I was introduced to Will Christopher Baer. It is criminal that Kiss Me, Judas didn’t make him Quentin Tarantino-famous. If there’s one novel I could imitate in terms of the sheer sorcery of its fictive dream, that would be the one.