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A James Ellroy Playlist: South of the Border

June 20, 2021

A shorter post today. I’m swamped with work on other projects right now, which gives me less time for this site. However, continuing my series on James Ellroy and music, I am going to highlight a couple of musical pieces which have been inspired by the Demon Dog’s work. Any artist who takes inspiration from Ellroy is not afraid to go to some dark places, and today’s choices have a rather mystical, dangerous or downright head-tripping flair.

Pour yourself a shot of tequila and prepare to ‘go with the music – spin, fall with it.’

Tijuana Bible

Tom Russell is a singer-songwriter, author and painter with an enigmatic persona to match Ellroy. In an interview with Craig McDonald, Russell tacitly admits that his song ‘Tijuana Bible’ was inspired by Ellroy’s writing. The song is rich in story and character. McDonald describes it as ‘Ellroy’s entire LA Quartet distilled down to a single, intoxicating song’:

LA mobster Mickey Cohen’s stooge Johnny Stompanato gets shanked by movie queen Lana Turner’s daughter, Cheryl Crane. “Stomp” rides “an ice truck down the brand new Harvard freeway.” A MacArthur Park-based PI investigates. Seeking a treasure map, the Eye digs up Johnny’s corpse, looking for riches… and finds an LA Confidential-style “Tijuana Bible” full of smutty sketches of Cary Grant doing the nasty with Donald’s drifting squeeze Daisy Duck “in a Tijuana bedroom.”

And here is the song. It’s a fantastic song crammed with LA lore and a quintessentially noir sense of humour, which reminds me of a joke the author Steve Hodel once told me. – ‘I remember back in the Fifties as a young man trying to learn a new dance. It was called, “The Stompanato Stomp”. It’s where the girls cut in.’

Out Walked Bud/in Walked Bud

Double Naught Spy Car are a band that provided atmospheric background music to several of James Ellroy’s public readings during the mid-1990s. Variously described as ‘surf noir, jazz on acid, spaghetti middle eastern, and “difficult”’ Double Naught Spy Car have produced great instrumental music, as colourful and surreal as the world of Ellroy’s fiction. Their first album, Comb in Blue Water, was released in 1998, shortly after their collaborative readings with Ellroy. It’s a great album to play while reading Ellroy (particularly if you’ve just bought a copy of Widespread Panic). Below is one of my favourite tracks, ‘Out Walked Bud/in Walked Bud’. It’s a homage to the Thelonius Monk tune ‘Bud Walked In’, but for our purposes, play it with Bud White in mind. And pity the wife-beater who opens their door one evening to find the ‘Ghost of Christmas Past’, inviting them to ‘dance with a man for a change’.

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