This Week's Show •

Boston Noir

Noir heroes tend not to be gangsters of Whitey Bulger’s grandeur; not tough cops either: they’re punched-out boxers and junkies, little perps, prisoners, victims reduced to victimizing each other and themselves.
Nick Flynn Reads "Embrace Noir"
Nick Flynn: The Day Lou Reed Died
Howie Winter, Whitey Bulger's rival inside the Winter Hill King, kissing criminal-turned-actor Alex Rocco, with Robert Mitchum in the front at left. (Photo courtesy Howie Carr/Emily Sweeney.)

Howie Winter, Whitey Bulger’s rival inside the Winter Hill King, kissing criminal-turned-actor Alex Rocco, with Robert Mitchum in the front at left. (Photo courtesy Howie Carr/Emily Sweeney.)

Boston noir is an art of darkness, under an overcast sky and fishy salt-air smell of the  waterfront. It’s now a sort of signature of our city, in novels that became movies, like The Town, The Departed, and The Fighter. You can hear a lot of it  in the broken voice of Robert Mitchum, playing the title character in the movie, The Friends of Eddie Coyle.  He’s in a breakfast joint with a rookie gun dealer, warning him that there’s a price to be paid for screwing up, as he did in a botched gun sale, earning a new set of knuckles:

They just come up to you and say, “Look. You made somebody mad. You made a big mistake and now there’s somebody doing time for it. There’s nothing personal in it, you understand, it just has to be done. Now get your hand out there.” You think about not doing it, you know. When I was a kid in Sunday school, this nun, she used to say, “Stick your hand out. ” I stick my hand out. Whap! She’d knock me across the knuckles with a steel-edge ruler. So one day I says, when she told me, “Stick your hand out” I says, “No. ” She whapped me right across the face with the ruler. Same thing. They put your hand in a drawer. Somebody kicks the drawer shut. Ever hear bones breaking? Just like a man snapping a shingle. Hurts like a bastard.

Dennis Lehane, who wrote Mystic River, says noir is working-class tragedy — different from other kinds. “In Shakespeare,” Lehane puts it, “tragic heroes fall from mountaintops; in noir, they fall from curbs.”  Noir heroes tend not to be gangsters of Whitey Bulger’s grandeur; not tough cops either: they’re punched-out boxers and junkies, little perps, prisoners, victims reduced to victimizing each other and themselves. Noir is the bottom of underground capitalism, talking to itself.  It’s bad things happening to bad guys, giving and getting the punishment they think they deserve. More noir images from camera of Leslie Jones, preserved on the Boston Public Library’s Flickr page. Use arrows to navigate, and see more here.

February 18, 2014

Nick Flynn: The Day Lou Reed Died

Nick Flynn, who blew us away with his take on Boston Noir, wrote his breakthrough memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, which became a Robert De Niro film, about a tortured relationship with his vagrant and ...

nick flynn father

Nick Flynn, who blew us away with his take on Boston Noir, wrote his breakthrough memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, which became a Robert De Niro film, about a tortured relationship with his vagrant and alcoholic father. Jonathan Flynn died his past October at the age of 84 on the same day as American rocker Lou Reed. Nick read for us the poem he wrote about that day. Kunal Jasty mixed it with an outtake of The Velvet Underground’s “Ride into the Sun.”

THE DAY LOU REED DIED

It’s not like his songs are going to simply
evaporate,

but since the news I can’t stop
listening to him

on endless shuffle—familiar, yes, inside
me, yes, which means

I’m alive, or was, depending on when
you read this. Now

a song called “Sad
Song,” the last one on Berlin,

sung now from the other side, just talk,
really, at the beginning, then

the promise
or threat, I’m gonna stop wasting

my time, but what else
are we made of, especially now? A chorus

sings Sad song sad song sad song sad

song. I
knew him better than I knew my own

father, which means
through these songs, which means

not at all. They died on the same day, O
what a perfect day, maybe

at the same moment, maybe
both their bodies are laid out now in

the freezer, maybe side by side, maybe
holding hands, waiting

for the fire or the earth or the man
or the salt—

if I could I’d let birds devour whatever’s left
& carry them into the sky, but all I can do

it seems
is lie on the couch & shiver, pull a coat

over my body as if it were all I had, as if I
were the one sleeping outside, as if it were my

body something was leaving, rising up
from inside me

& the coat could hold it in
a little longer.

February 15, 2014

Nick Flynn Reads “Embrace Noir”

Nick Flynn — memoirist of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City — gave us this reading of one of his own poems: “Embrace Noir.” It’s a bonus on his appearance on our show about Boston ...

nick-flynnNick Flynn — memoirist of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City — gave us this reading of one of his own poems: “Embrace Noir.” It’s a bonus on his appearance on our show about Boston Noir last week. Kunal Jasty mixed his reading with the John Coltrane classic, “A Love Supreme.” Have a listen, and have a noir week….

 

EMBRACE NOIR

I go back to the scene where the two men embrace
& grapple a handgun at stomach level between them.

They jerk around the apartment like that
holding on to each other, their cheeks

almost touching. One is shirtless, the other
wears a suit, the one in the suit came in through a window

to steal documents or diamonds, it doesn’t matter anymore
which, what’s important is he was found

& someone pulled a gun & now they are holding on,
awkwardly dancing through the room, upending

a table of small framed photographs. A chair
topples, Coltrane’s band punches the air with horns, I

lean forward, into the screen, they are eye-to-eye,
as stiff as my brother & me when we attempt

to hug. Soon, the gun fires & the music
quiets & the camera stops tracking & they

relax—shoulders drop, jaws go slack
& we are all suspended in that perfect moment

when no one knows who took the bullet—
the earth spins below our feet, a murmuration of

starlings changes direction suddenly above us, folding
into the rafters of a barn,

& the two men no longer struggle, they simply
stand in their wreckage, propped

in each other’s arms.