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Los Angeles Stories (City Lights Noir) Paperback – October 4, 2011

4.4 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"In Los Angeles Stories, his first published collection of stories, Ry Cooder pays homage to the jazz, the blues and the Latin beat of a bygone era. He also honors a cast of boisterous musicians, some murdered, others spared to tell their gritty tales of life and death. A few famous musicians - John Lee Hooker and Charlie Parker among them - make cameo appearances in these pages, but most of the guitar players, drummers and lounge singers are as unknown as the repossession men, waitresses and mechanics they entertain in forgotten bars and derelict nightclubs. Cooder fans will enjoy the upbeat mix of music and murder. Aficionados of noir fiction will love the characters, all of whom have something to hide and all of whom are engaged in illegal activity." — Jonah Raskin, San Francisco Chronicle

"The stories of Ry Cooder are a lot like his music: stately, precise, well constructed; they grab you by the throat, quietly, and never let go. . . . Cooder is a passionate historian of Los Angeles, curating its small joys and predilections, its cultural pratfalls and senseless tragedies. . . . Los Angeles Stories is an unusual book, old-fashioned but not out of fashion. Its most beautiful quality is the genuine pathos, conveyed with tact and skill, for a city that has vanished, that has always been vanishing."--Andrew J. Khaled Madigan, The Iowa Review

"Cooder's Los Angeles Stories are noir-infused, glamour-free portraits of working class loners, drifters, bums, musicians (both real and fictional), and numerous other fringe types. Each speaks with his or her own individuated, idiom-riddled (but cliché-free) patois." — Casey Burchby, LA Weekly

""There is a feeling in the stories, as in much of his music, that something is being documented; that voices, and personal histories, are being preserved not for posterity, but against annihilation by some overriding and corrupted power." — C.P. Heiser, LA Review of Books

"While some of the stories focus on those who end up in LA, Cooder’s focus in this book is mainly about those who have called LA home for most of their lives. The way Cooder describes the neighborhoods in LA -- the homes and the working class -- really paints a picture that doesn’t just give you an idea of what it was like; rather, he brings these images to life, especially if you live in or visit LA today." --Verbicide Magazine

". . . Ryland Peter Cooder ventures into new territory with his first collection of linked shortly stories, entitled (not surprisingly) Los Angeles Stories (City Lights) . . . Eight stories are set in post World War II Los Angeles intermingling the kinds of characters and narratives that Cooder has put to good use in his songs— blue collar workers, small time criminals and all kinds of fauna to be found in the barely visible underclass." --Robert Birnbaum, "Our Man in Boston"

About the Author

Ry Cooder, an LA native, is a world-famous guitarist, singer, composer, producer and writer. He is known for his slide guitar work, his interest in roots music, and, more recently, for his collaborations with traditional musicians from many countries including The Buena Vista Social Club. Cooder has composed soundtracks for more than 20 films including Paris, Texas. Two recent albums were accompanied by books of stories written by Cooder to accompany the music.

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Product Details

  • Series: City Lights Noir
  • Paperback: 232 pages
  • Publisher: City Lights Publishers (October 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0872865193
  • ISBN-13: 978-0872865198
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #670,391 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I'm a die-hard fan of his music and have been since the early 1970s, when I first heard him on a compilation acoustic blues lp my dad got me for Xmas. I started buying his records, then cassettes, then CDs until the present day. I was astonished and delighted to come across this book a few weeks ago in City Lights Bookstore in SF, another favorite cultural icon I try to visit every time I get to SF. I read it on the trip back, in the plane, and found it delightful. For someone who is not a trained writer, he's got great timing, a great ear for language, a sharp wit and a good sense of what they call "narrative arc" in MFA programs. My hat's off. Sometimes I admit I had trouble following the intricacies of the plots, as I'm not versed in noir conventions. But so what? It's a great read by a great musician and a mensh to boot.
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Format: Paperback
"I had made up my mind to quit worrying. Los Angeles was the Land of the Brighter Day, something good was bound to turn up."

These last two lines sum up the motivation that lies with the numerous characters that musician Ry Cooder offers up in his new collection of short stories. While the stories are nominally linked, the variety is enormous: mariachi players, park prophets, backalley dentists, tailors, and disc jockeys are all introduced in their native milieu. Set in the first half of the twentieth century, these stories are based on the inner life of the inner city.

This is not postcard or travel agency Los Angeles; there is no glamour or celebrities to dress it up. Even the weather doesn't seem to cooperate with stereotype: fog and rain are as frequent as bar brawls. The characters are the faceless many that work off the books, just trying to get by while the city appears as a predatory character, breathing and pulsing, foiling any attempts at the good life.

The collection is also an excellent geography text to significant Los Angeles locations--Griffith Park, Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Union Station, Bunker Hill, and Hollenbeck Park all serve as backdrops, and Cooder seems to know the streets and back alleys very well. Cocktail bars and bowling alleys are among the seedy gathering places of the working class and small time criminals that Cooder writes about and who occasionally cross tracks with each other.

My favorite was "Who do you know that I don't?" set in 1949, wherein a tailor to the mariachi clientele attempts to solve the murder of a popular jazz musician, Johnny Mumford. Cooder creates a world of layaway payments, shiny and finned cars, and musicians desperate to wear a good suit but not eager to pay.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Cooder shows he is as adroit and tasteful on the page as he is on the guitar. Displaying a comparable restraint and finesse, these crafted tales capture the essence of a bygone era with consummate skill. By the end of the book, your appetite is whetted for an extended excursion on a similar landscape. With resonances of Ellroy, he manages to depict the grittiness of everyday existence across the tracks without ever descending to excess or embellishment. It is his economy of style that is a joy to experience. A rewarding excursion which surprises and delights and the characters stay with you long after the page has turned.
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By Gman on December 23, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is wild. Wonderful noirish back-in-the-day stories of the L.A. you have to see through dark green shades--man I am speed-eating the pages of this book but what do I do when I'm done? Dig out some old ray chandler I guess, wait until Mr. Cooder rytes another wry ry bunch of stories or a novel. It reads like his music sounds, quirky, evocative, makes you smile, it is forking GREAT. This book will be one of those classics you see on ebay for $245 if they don't reprint it. Man, can this cat write.
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Format: Paperback
I received this Ry Cooder book as a gift. As a long-time musician living in southern California, I welcomed the chance to dig Cooder's foray into fiction-writing.

You know how some writers will use setting as a backdrop to put behind the characters in their story? In a weird way, many of these stories do almost the opposite: the characters and story serve as the backdrop to setting.

Each of these stories has a year listed under the title, spanning from 1940 to 1958, and Cooder ranges all over southern California, from Santa Monica to East LA, from downtown to Palmdale/Antelope Valley. Street names, building names, product names and references to period songs and performers sometimes threaten to overwhelm the somewhat roughly-drawn characters... and real-life musicians enter into almost every story: from Korla Pandit to Billy Tipton, from Charlie Parker to Merle Travis to John Lee Hooker... sometimes playing a key role.

Not great literature and not aspiring to be (I hope), these 8 stories were just dandy as a gritty, pulpy, R-rated diversion, and more so because of my prior knowledge of at least some of the areas and musicians (a wink to Cooder for bringing Paul Bigsby into both the Merle Travis story and the last story in very different ways). I would rate this 3.5 stars and hope his next effort focuses more on clear-headed storytelling and less on showing us how much he knows about the seedy underbelly of mid-20th century Los Angeles.
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