Friday, May 31, 2013

The Oak Cliff Four

 Weird Art Made in Dallas: Weenies and Linoleum Lavatories for Lizards

For a brief shining moment in the early 1970s, it appeared that Dallas was about to become an "art center." The Oak Cliff Four (Bob Wade, George Green, Jack Mims, and Jim Roche) only lasted for a couple of years, but they were the product of years of cultivation by the very activist Dallas arts supporters during the 1950s and 60s.

Oak Cliff 4 (or 5) Early 1970s, George Green, Jack Mims, Bob Wade, Jim Roche, Mac Whitney

The Oak Cliff Four was also a lot of fun. Too bad it didn't last. Forty years later, they're being remembered in Dallas.

Oak Cliff 4 reunion Stoneleigh Hotel in Dallas, May 31, 2013

Read the full story here:

Asymmetric Weapon of our Day: The American M40 106mm Recoilless Rifle

Forty years after the U.S. ditched the M40 106mm recoiless rifle in favor of rockets and missiles, it is making a surprise reappearance in Libya and Syria. The M40 is suddenly shaping up to become one of the great Asymmetric Weapons of our time.  Here is my article from's  Danger Room that just came out:

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Road to Del Rio 3: A Little Filling Station in Missouri

It is inside a little gas station and grocery store in rural Missouri that Herbert T. Barrow learns that, of all things, he is being touted by the media as the newest member of the Barrow Gang. Not only that, but they've also got him down as a "mad-dog killer" and the gang's criminal mastermind. He has no idea what to make of it, since the last time he'd seen his young cousin, Clyde was only about ten years old. 

Herbert admits to the reader that back then he had run around with Clyde's older brother Buck, breaking into warehouses and stores late at night, which, technically, makes him a charter member of the outfit. Of course that was twelve years earlier, long before the Barrow Gang was celebrated as America's favorite


Public Enemies. Herbert wonders if any of this could have anything to do with Mr. Stevens, the hairy-faced country preacher he'd given a ride to earlier, who seemed to know everything about him. Stevens, is of course, the Devil himself, but no matter how much evidence points to that fact, Herbert would never connect the dots, since admitting to the Devil's existence, also means, by extension, admitting to the existence of God, which Herbert, being a fervent athiest, refuses to do.

On the other hand, this little corner of southern Missouri is, to anyone from the flatlands of Texas, a kind of heaven on Earth.

Here is a little quote from "Friend of the Devil:"

Suddenly I realize how ravenously hungry I am and that if I could, I’d take them right now and gobble them down on the spot. But I don’t, because I’m on the lam and best not to do anything quirky that’ll stick in their memories. No, I’m just a quiet, well-mannered city feller who came and went without giving them no never-mind. Instead I start a conversation.

“Man says you got the Barrow Gang coming through?”

“That’s what they saying on the radio.”

“What’d they say?”

“Only that they’s in the vicinity, going to effect a rendezvous with Clyde Barrow’s cousin.”

“Cousin? Didn’t know he had a cousin.”

“Yes, sir. They say his name’s Herbert T. Barrow and that he’s a bad one.”


“Mad-dog killer he is, G-men been chasing him all the way from Knoxville."

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The True Love Story of a Gypsy Acrobat and a Dallas Lawyer

The True Love Story of a Gypsy Acrobat and a Dallas Lawyer

Fanny was an eighth-generation circus performer from France, who never thought she’d settle in a place like Dallas. But then she met Mark.

by Brendan McNally
Published 3.24.2010
From D Magazine APR 2010

image of Fanny Kerwich
Prior to meeting Mark Doyle, Fanny Kerwich dated clowns.
photography by Elizabeth Lavin

When Fanny Kerwich came to Dallas in 2000, it didn’t occur to her that it might be someplace where she would settle down. Settling down anywhere sounded ridiculous to her. Fanny was a 30-year-old circus acrobat. She was French and a Gypsy. And Dallas was just another city in a two-year tour. 

Fanny was touring with Barnum’s Kaleidoscape, a one-ring boutique circus presented in a more intimate European style than the big circuses that normally tour the United States. Kaleidoscape took place inside a tent, with the audience seated on red velvet sofas only a few feet from the performers. Fanny did a clown act, playing a frumpy cleaning woman who’d wander in and out of the show at seemingly inopportune moments. In the end, she’d transform, through a combination of magic, applause, and the audience’s love, into a beautiful, graceful acrobat. Corny as it sounded, the audience always ate it up.

After each night’s two-and-a-half-hour show, Fanny and her single colleagues usually went out to find a Deep Ellum nightclub where they could kick back for a few hours. When she went out by herself, Fanny turned heads. She had long, blond hair; a striking, almost leonine face; and a beyond-buff athletic figure. But when she was out with her friends—acrobats, jugglers, and a trio of Moroccan strongmen called the Golden Statues—wherever the bar or the city, people would swarm on them, wanting to talk, dance, and have a drink. At the end of the night, back at the hotel, Fanny and her friends would perform a little ritual before going off to bed. One of them would call out, “Cards!” And they’d hand in all the business cards they’d gotten from people that night. They would go through the cards and, one by one, try to remember the guy who’d given it to them. Then they’d toss it in the trash and he’d be forgotten. Besides putting an end to the night with an easy laugh, it was also a way of reinforcing who they were and acknowledging the wall that separates circus people from outsiders.  To read the full article, click here

Fanny Kerwich was also a big part of the inspiration behind the fictional Flying Magical Loerber Brothers in my novel Germania (first published by Simon & Schuster in 2008, now also available on Kindle here). Fanny helped me understand how the mind of an aerialist works when performing. She's there when the Magical Loerber Brothers do one of their last routines at Berlin's Admiralspalast, even as the Nazis are taking over:

First they tossed Manni up high into the air, and as he was coming down, Sebastian jumped to the far side of the springboard. Manni came down onto the other end, propelling Sebastian high into the air to the first trapeze. Then Ziggy boosted Franzi up onto his shoulders, Franzi jumped down onto the springboard, launching Manni upwards where he was caught by Sebastian, who swung him around and around before flying him off to the other trapeze. Manni spun around several times on the second trapeze before coming down onto the springboard, sending Ziggy upward. Then Sebastian and Franzi flew around and around before Sebastian flew off to the second trapeze, leaving Franzi to catch Ziggy.

It worked like an assembly line: every summersault, every spin calculated precisely, so that downward was causing upward, momentum causing momentum, and the velocity and force always increasing. In its exactitude, each brother found his own mind and body melding with the others until they were four separate parts of a single whole.

Flying from one trapeze to the next, the thought of Frau Lachmann languishing in the closet briefly flashed through Franzi’s mind. Coming down, he told himself he needed to do something about it. But by the time he hit the springboard and began flying back upward, he had already forgotten about it.

Fanny also inspired me to write this part, where Albert Speer, after a number of juggling lessons from Manni Loerber, decides to finally face off Hitler:

But Speer had changed. He was a different person now and Hitler’s power over him wasn’t what it had been. He’d learned to see things differently. He now saw things from the perspective of a juggler.

Through my conversations with Fanny, I also learned about the magic of circus and the way the performers and audience experience it together. This is the scene that perhaps illustrates it best:

Ziggy and Manni agreed to be interviewed. For ten minutes they stood together on the porch recalling stories of mishaps and emergency improvisations, and the backstage pranks which Sebastian specialized in. Of their time back together they said little, beyond that, though it was brief, it had been an extremely happy time, making them feel as if they’d never been apart.

While they were talking, the people in the street began swaying and humming bits of song; Call of the Enchanted Isles, From Monday On, My Little Green Cactus. The crowd was like an ocean, observed Ziggy, with its own energy and mood and common rhythm and the waves of grief sharing the space with those of happy memory.

“So you’re going to be playing it on Radio Flensburg?” asked Ziggy when they’d finished.

“Well yes, but it’s also already been sold to Radio Atlantik. We’re just putting the segment together. We’ve got a Brit in the studio to record the English-language text.”

The radio reporter was wrapping up his microphone cables when a man stood up on the hood of a parked car and the crowd fell quiet as a clear plaintive sound poured out into the evening air. Ziggy couldn’t imagine how anyone could play Harlem Rhapsody on a bugle, but he played it, sweet and sad, exactly like he remembered it.

The reporter quickly unrolled his cables again, switched on the machine and held out his microphone to capture the song. He watched the flickering green light on the instrument panel and smiled. “This is going to be so good,” he said.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Despite Mutual Loathing, B-17 Bomber Owners and Crews Learn to Get Along

Here's an article I wrote a year or so ago for Smithsonian about the modern-day world of B-17 bombers and the testy relations their owners have with each other. Enjoy!

At the B-17 Co-op

Like bomber crews on 100-plane raids, today’s B-17 owners find strength—and survival—in numbers. 

By Brendan McNally 

Air & Space magazine, March 2012

Aluminum Overcast

 Aluminum Overcast was donated to the Experimental Aircraft Association after its owners found the restoration and maintenance costs too high. The EAA started touring with it in 1994.                                            Scott Slingsby 

USED TO BE, THE ONLY place you saw a Boeing B-17 was at an airshow or in a museum. But in recent years, the World War II bombers have become an increasingly familiar sight in the skies over American cities. Of the 10 that still fly, about half spend the year traveling from city to city and stopping over for a few days at various airports, where they invite the public to visit. The curious can touch the wings, run their hands over the fuselage, even come aboard and see what a vintage bomber looks like inside.
For about $425, they can buy a half-hour “flight experience.” The people who manage the bombers don’t like to use the word “ride,” because they say their purpose isn’t to entertain, but to educate. They want the public to understand what the bombers did and what their crews went through.

Owning a B-17 is extremely expensive. Hangar rental, maintenance, insurance—all run thousands of dollars a month, and that’s just to keep it on the ground. Once a B-17 takes to the air, the costs jump to thousands of dollars an hour. Only very wealthy individuals and organizations with energetic fundraising staffs can foot the bill.

But operating a B-17 requires more than wealth and a love of aviation history. It takes a certain type of personality. “That airplane demands so much of you that it forces you to be an alpha,” says Tommy Garcia, a civil engineer in Houston and board member of the Texas Armed Forces Historical Society who guided a number of B-17 restorations. Recently, success in operating a B-17 has one more requirement: realization that you can’t do it alone. That’s how the B-17 Co-op got started. To read the full article in Smithsonian Air & Space, click here.



Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Third Reich Ended Today

On this day, sixty-eight years ago, the Third Reich finally ended. At precisely eight o'clock in the morning of May 23, 1945, British troops in helmets, rifles and bayonets entered the compound of the Marineschule in Murwick, where the Doenitz government had its offices, and with as much disruption, looting, and souvenir-taking as possible, arrested everyone inside.

For twenty-three days, the Doenitz regime had held on to this tiny, ever-eroding piece of soverign German territory, on the diminishing hope that the Western Allies would recognize the enormity of the Soviet threat and enter into alliance against them with what now remained of Nazi Germany.

The "Flensburg Reich" was a surreally oddball moment in postwar history which few people actually know about. My novel Germania is set during that strange interlude.  It can be found in hardback from Simon & Schuster and is now also available at a low price on Kindle here.

Excerpt from Germania:

With Doenitz called away to the Patria, it had fallen on the Chancellor, Schwerin von Krosigk, to preside over that morning’s government meeting. No sooner had he called it to order than the doors got kicked open and in stormed twenty British troopers, with rifles fixed with bayonets, shouting, “Hands up!” The ministers, their deputies and staff got up from their chairs, raising their hands as they did. They were lined up against the wall and searched, stripped, and relieved of watches, rings, or anything else that appeared of value or interest.

Ziggy was calmly sitting, hands folded, at the reception desk, when the British came in. “Hands up!” they all screamed at once.

Slowly Ziggy raised his hands.

“Souvenir!” shouted one, pointing at Ziggy’s watch.

“Souvenir!” shouted another, pointing at his Knight’s Cross and U-Boat badge.

“Souvenir!” shouted a third one, pointing at his belt, pistol and holster.


Ziggy felt the medal being yanked from his neck at the same time the watch was pulled off his wrist. The pistol took longer, since he had to take his jacket off for it.

After that they did the same to Ludde-Neurath, then went in to ransack Doenitz’ office, looking for anything they could put in their pockets, while Ziggy was left at his desk, his hands still up in the air. Then they were led downstairs, past corridors full of pillaging soldiers and together with other officers and staff, were marched out to the parade ground, where another group of soldiers began going through their pockets. When they realized that all the good booty had already been taken, they grew angry and violent. “Get ‘em off! Get ‘em off!” one screamed. As Ziggy began removing his leather coat, the man went berserk, grabbing it and knocking Ziggy to the ground in the process. “Get ‘em off! Get ‘em off! Get ‘em off!” he screamed, pulling Ziggy back halfway to his feet and them punching him in the side of the head and knocking him back down again. Somewhere in the process, Ziggy was stripped and left standing naked in the morning sunlight, his mouth swollen and sides aching, waiting for someone to tell him he could put his clothes back on.

All over the parade ground, the same indignities were happening to everyone else, many not as gently. A few feet away a general was being stomped and kicked by a group of Tommies. First, they ripped off his jacket, then his shirt, and then started pulling off his trousers. But because of his tight cavalry boots, the trousers wouldn’t come off. They left them in a tight jumble below his knees and then started kicking him again. The general began to cry out hysterically, which only enraged them further.

“Get hold of yourself!” shouted another general who was on the ground nearby. “Be brave!”

The man stopped screaming and gritted his teeth as the Tommies continued to kick and stomp him and punch him in the face.

Then it was all over. The Tommies lost interest and moved onto someone else. The general lay in the dirt for a minute, then rolled over and sat up, his trousers still bunched below his knees while the other general sat nearby, examining his own ripped trousers.

“Are you all right?” asked Ziggy.

The general nodded. Then a Tommy came by and, offering his hand, pulled him up to his feet before moving on.

As he put his clothes back on, Ziggy looked over to the main building and noticed that even now, Cremer and his men were still standing guard at the different entrances in helmets and rifles. Getting to his feet, Ziggy waved over to Cremer, who waved back.

After that they were told to stand in a line for processing. Then they were fed lunch and led off to a prisoner-of-war stockade, which, when they got there, hadn’t yet been fully set up, owing to a shortage of barbed wire.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Himmler's Death in Allied Custody

It was him all right, thought the intelligence officer when they brought the little man into the room. Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, biggest mass murderer in history. Problem was, he didn’t look like anything. Meek little man, that’s what he looked like, not a military leader, not the head of a grand police state, not the architect of genocide.

He’d come in wearing dirty, shabby clothes, a makeshift eye patch and papers identifying him as a sergeant in the Geheim Feldpolizei, but then he readily admitted who he was.
They made him undress and took his clothes away. Searching them, they found two brass capsules. One still held a glass phial that looked like poison. The other one was empty, but he wouldn’t say why. Then they’d offered him some British army trousers and a shirt to put on, but he refused them, saying he was afraid they’d let photographers in to take his photo. So instead they let him have an army blanket to wrap around himself.

And for the next few hours, it was just the two of them sitting in a room waiting for the interrogators from Headquarters to arrive. ‘Don’t try interrogating him yourself,’ they’d told him. ‘Leave him alone until we get there. Just keep an eye on him, that’s all.’

Except that Himmler wanted to talk. So they talked. They talked about the weather, and how the intelligence file photo they had of him was out of date, since it had him in his black SS uniform and he hadn’t worn that since the beginning of the war. He clucked with visible self-satisfaction at that. Then the intelligence officer asked him about his hobbies. Did he garden, have children, keep pets? Dogs?

“No, I don’t like dogs,” snapped Himmler, like it was something everybody was supposed to know.

After that they talked about other things; automobiles, airplanes, travel, dancing. Himmler told him how he’d been walking since that morning, that things had not gone well, and that the people wandering about were miserable and disorderly and that he hoped they would all be put to something useful in exchange for food.

“I’ll bet you must be hungry,” the intelligence officer said.

Himmler brightened. “Yes, I am,” he said. “I haven’t had anything all day.”

“I’ll get something for you to eat.”

“Yes, that would be nice,” he agreed eagerly.

“Stay in the chair,” ordered the intelligence officer. Then he opened the door and shouted, “Bring up some food.”

“Bring up some food,” repeated Himmler, recognizing that it might be a useful phrase to know in the future.

The intelligence officer smiled at Himmler. “We’ll have something for you in just a minute. But first I’d like you to look at some photos I took.”


"Bergen-Belsen,” said the intelligence officer, handing Himmler the photographs. “I was just there. Take a look.”

Politely Himmler examined them, one after another, each for a couple of seconds then he’d move on to the next. Stacks of dead bodies, ditches filled with skeletal figures, children. He looked at the last one and then handed them back. His expression wasn’t any different. Bland, accommodating, uninvolved.

“So, do you have anything to say?” the intelligence officer asked.

Himmler looked almost surprised by the question. “Am I to blame for the excesses of my subordinates?”

“Are you?”

Himmler seemed affronted. “Should I be?”


“Well, that’s just your opinion,” said Himmler.

The intelligence officer was about to suggest something else, but then Himmler asked, “Do you know when the food will be here?”

There was a knock on the door and a corporal brought in a tray with bread and thick slices of cheese. The intelligence officer set the tray down on the table and gestured for Himmler to eat. With a nod, Himmler began chewing on the bread and cheese.

“Good?” asked the intelligence officer.

Himmler smiled and nodded that, yes, it was good.

After that they talked some more. Himmler told him how he’d get terrible stomach cramps, but that he’d had an excellent masseur who also did his horoscope and was a wonderfully sympathetic person, who’d previously been a famous entertainer.

“Really?” asked the intelligence officer, wondering if Headquarters might know anything about it.

Then the door opened and three men came in. One was Colonel Murphy, commander of the unit. He’d just been made colonel two weeks earlier and was, by the intelligence officer’s own estimation, something of a massive prick. Along with him was Command Sergeant Major Austin, who wasn’t that much better, and an older man in the uniform of a captain in the Medical Corps named Wells, whom he had never seen before.

“How is everything?” asked Murphy.

“Everything is just fine, sir,” the intelligence officer answered.

“Any problems?”

“None at all, sir. He’s just had his lunch and before that he was telling me about how much he loves dancing.”

“You don’t know if he speaks English,” asked Murphy.

“No sir, I don’t believe he does.”

Himmler coughed, covering his mouth with his hand momentarily.

“What else did he talk to you about?”

“He has two children and doesn’t like dogs or gardening.”

“Ah,” said Murphy, like it might mean something.

“I showed him the photographs.”

“You did?” Murphy’s face colored. “You weren’t supposed to do that on your own. I was supposed to be there to record the reaction.”

“Well, there wasn’t much reaction, sir.”

“What do you mean, no reaction? Did he deny it?”

“He doesn’t seem to think it has anything to do with him, sir.”

“He doesn’t?” asked Murphy angrily. “You’ve ruined the whole thing. This was supposed to have been done in an expert way so we could maximize the effect and properly document the proceedings.”

The intelligence officer shrugged apologetically. “I’m sorry, sir, but the prisoner wanted to talk. So we talked. I merely obeyed the first rule of intelligence, ‘strike while the iron is hot!’”

Murphy didn’t like that. For the next two minutes he rained abuse down on his head, much to the amusement of Himmler, who grinned at him from his chair. He opened his mouth a crack and in that moment, the intelligence officer thought he saw something lodged in his upper back teeth.

“Sir,” he said to Murphy, sotto voice. “I think I just saw something in the prisoner’s mouth. Don’t turn, don’t say anything.”

“I thought you said he’s already been searched and poison has been removed.”

“Yes, sir, but ...”

“Plus you just fed him lunch. How is he going to eat a sandwich with a poison phial between his teeth?”


Murphy was livid. “You’ve completely fouled this investigation, captain.” He turned to Wells and barked, “You’re the doctor, examine the prisoner for poison.”

“Sir,” snapped Wells. “I am a doctor, not a detective. Let the sergeant conduct the search.”

At that, the young colonel exploded. “You will do as you’re told!” he shouted.

With much unpleasantness, Wells approached Himmler and began looking into his half-opened mouth. “Yes, I think I do see something in there in between his back teeth,” he said.

“Colonel,” said the sergeant, standing behind Himmler. “If you’d like, I can sandbag the prisoner.”

“No don’t,” said Murphy. “Look closer,” he shouted to Wells. “What do you see?”

Wells moved closer to Himmler, who had now shut his mouth. “Open your mouth,” he ordered.

But as Wells grabbed him, Himmler jerked his head back and bit down on what he had in his mouth. There was the tiny crunch of thin glass and the harsh smell of cyanide filled the air. Himmler fell to the floor, twitched a few times and then went still.
(Excerpt from Germania, Simon & Schuster, 2008, now also available on Kindle here).

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Article about the Granville Raid, March 9, 1945

On the same day that the American army crossed the Rhine river at Remagen, a bunch of German commandos from the Channel Islands staged a raid onto the sleepy French port of Granville. Their mission: steal food and coal because they were all very hungry and cold. Here is a feature story I just did for Defense Media Network on it.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Road to Del Rio II: Highway 61 Crossroads, Mississippi

This is the second stop of our trip through the Southlands with fugitive bluesman Herbert T. Barrow.

Three days and nearly a thousand miles out of Knoxville, Herbert T. Barrow is driving north through Mississippi and still no sign of any cops on his trail. Are they real or just part of his hopped-up, reefered-out imagination?

Herbert's plan is to head west through northern Louisiana and keep going till he gets back home to Eagle Ford in West Dallas and then keep his head down until everything cools down enough that it's safe to start playing the joints in Deep Ellum. But it doesn't quite work out that way. A couple miles before he's supposed to make his turn, he makes the mistake of picking up a country preacher who's hitch-hiking and obviously having a difficult time of it. Suddenly, for no great reason at all, Herbert agrees to give the preacher a ride to, of all places, a crossroads just outside of Tupelo, where, he says, he was supposed to meet someone the previous midnight.

Being a bluesman, Herbert has heard the legend of the Devil at the Crossroads countless times from his


black colleagues. It was something he considered kind of pathetic. The black bluesmen needed to make up stories about themselves to increase their 'badness.' Herbert is a staunch atheist and he detests talk about the Devil almost as much as he hates talk about God. He wonders if the legend could have gotten so far that the crossroads could now be attracting white country preachers eager to strike a deal with the Devil.

Here is Robert Johnson's original version of Crossroads.

Following is an excerpt from Friend of the Devil, right at the moment Herbert and Stevens arrive at the Crossroads:

Hillbilly boy standing in my headlights, tall, skinny, with eyes as big and wild-looking as a jackrabbit’s, and seeing him, I’m thinking, man, if he’s the Devil, then I’m Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

He stands, feet slightly apart, hands half-clenched into fists, like he’s expecting a fight. But seeing how his shoulders droop, it’s obvious he already knows the outcome, because if anyone was ever born already defeated, it’s got to be him. Bet he isn’t twenty five, but life has already worn him down to a nub. Wife, kids, the work that he either can’t find, or, when he does, never pays enough to separate him from worry. And being what he is, he got used to cutting corners here and there and probably got caught at it more than once, because he’s got that same broken look as half the boys did back at Eastham Farm.

And this is the guy’s got something for Stevens that’s more valuable than gold? Shit, he don’t look like someone you’d bother crossing the street to collect money from. He’s just some poor, dumb hillbilly with nothing in his hands but his fists. Then I notice there’s something lying at his feet, something half-wrapped in a scrap of burlap, something small and inconsequential. But then why is it there and why has he elected to stand his ground directly behind it?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Road to Del Rio: First Stop - Knoxville, Tennessee

When Friend of the Devil opens, the narrator, Herbert T. Barrow, is already three days out of Knoxville, Tennessee. He'd been playing in a "society orchestra" in one of the town's posh resort hotels. Life had been pretty lush for Herbert. The pay was steady, he was living rent-free with the other orchestra members in the bunkhouses behind the hotel. But then one day he spots two men he thinks he recognizes from the prison he'd snuck out from. Suddenly Herbert was out the door, and behind the wheel of a stolen Ford with a radio that doesn't work, heading for the nearest state border. Adios Knoxville.

At the time,1933, Knoxville was the biggest city in eastern Tennessee. Unlike most of the south, Knoxville was highly industrial, and a manufacturing center since before the Civil War. With its large German and other immigrant population, Knoxville had never been a supporter of slavery or the Confederacy. Things boomed after the Civil War, but by the end of the 1920s, manufacturing was dead and Knoxville was on its way to becoming what John Gunther was to say was the "Ugliest City in America."


Which isn't to say that Knoxville didn't have its nice side, which was where Herbert T. Barrow had been hiding out. Even with the Depression, Knoxville's posh nightspots and resort hotels never stopped drawing well-heeled vacation-goers. The Ray Covington Orchestra, which Herbert played trombone in, was just one of several "society" orchestras playing the ballrooms and nightclubs.

Below is an excerpt from  Friend of the Devil. Stay tuned, Friends and Neighbors! Our next stop will be Highway 61, Mississippi, heading north.

I take another big hit, like all the talk he’s putting down is just so much street patter, but the whole time I’m wondering to myself, how the heck does this evil cat know I was ever in Knoxville?

Stevens laughs. ”Oh, I know all kinds of things about you, my friend. Your name is Lowell George, isn’t it? You were second trombone for that lush dance orchestra that plays at the Starlight ballroom at the Van Buren Hotel. What’s its name?”

Stevens takes a big long hit. For the longest time he holds it in his lungs while keeping the burning reefer in his right hand as he flexes his wrist, like there’s a point he’s about to make as soon as he lets the smoke out of his lungs. I stare out the window at the marshmallow fog and wonder how I’m ever going to get out of this one.

“The Ray Covington Melody Makers,” I say like it was a long time ago.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Who Was Hitler's Successor and Why Should You Care?

April, 1945. Hitler is deep inside his bunker in Berlin and he’s not coming out, except maybe, eventually feet-first. The war is finally ending and now, suddenly, people have started wondering what comes next?

But even as Nazi Germany is being torn to pieces and swallowed up by the Allies, Hitler’s henchmen are jockeying with each other over who will be the next Fuhrer. The problem is it can’t be just anybody. It has to be someone Eisenhower won’t just respect, it has to be someone he’!

Himmler, Goering, Speer; each believes he’s the one. But someone else unexpected gets the job. Suddenly the war is over. Suddenly everything is different, but not different in the ways they’d expected. though the defeat is total, the surrender, unconditional, nobody, not even the victorious Allies, know what to do next. For a while, at least, the surviving Nazis are free to imagine any rosy, surreal future they wish. Days turn into weeks and a caretaker regime does what all governments naturally do; it grows. Welcome to the Flensburg Reich of Hitler’s successor, Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz!

And into this unhinged world sail four brothers, Manni, Franzi, Ziggy and Sebastian, the once-famous Flying Magical Loerber Brothers and the toast of Prewar Berlin. This time, though, they’re not out to entertain. They’re Jews, they’re spies, they’re assassins and they’re out for revenge.
(Germania by Brendan McNally, first published in 2008 by Simon & Schuster, now also available on Kindle here)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Battlefield, Playing Field, or Sandwiches?

The young man looks at me with utmost sincerity and gathers himself up. “Earth is a battlefield,” he begins, “where good and evil are continually at war with each other and the only thing preventing it from becoming the Devil’s sole possession are good men who refuse to bend to the evil one.”

That’s not how I understand it,” I say. “It’s not a battlefield at all.”

“Then what is it?”

“It’s a playing field.”

He looks at me startled. “Is that what Mister Stevens told you?”


“Well, you can’t believe what he says. He’s the evil one. He speaks in lies and half-truths.”

“Maybe,” I say, “but I think on that one single point I might just believe him.”

He looks at me with his warm, mournful eyes. “How could you be that cynical?”

“It’s easy,” I answer.


The young man looks agitated. He looks like he’s about to mount a very systematic argument, but then he seems to lose hold of it. “Listen,” he says. “I’m still really hungry. Would you mind if I had another one of your sandwiches?”

Excerpt from Friend of the Devil, available on Kindle. Say Friends and Neighbors out in Radio-Land, do you ever wonder what it would be like to be a jazz musician, hanging out in chili parlors, smoking reefers and getting picked on by God and the Devil at the same time? Or does the romance of the open road have special appeal to you? Then why not go on a four-state crime spree with America's criminal sweethearts, Bonnie and Clyde?  Follow Friend of the Devil on Facebook.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Coming Soon: The Road to Del Rio

Starting in a week or so, we'll be documenting Herbert T. Barrow's "escapitude" from the eastern Tennessee border, through Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Texas to Del Rio on the Mexican border. We'll stop along the way at different towns and places where Herbert spent some time running from the devil, evading God, hiding from Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, and on a crime spree with Bonnie and Clyde. Wherever he goes, oddball and interesting things happen. First stop will be Knoxville, TN, coming soon. Y'all come!


Here is an excerpt from Friend of the Devil :

At that, my ears perk up. “The Crossroads? You mean Highway 61?”

“Why, yes, yes,” he says. “Highway 61. I was supposed to meet a man there at midnight.”

“At midnight?”

“Yes,” he says. “That’s when we agreed to meet. But like I told you, I’ve had a lot of problems and now I’m late.”

“The Crossroads at midnight?”


I can’t believe what I’m hearing. I’ve got to tell you, I’ve been a street singer and traveling blues man for some years now and I’ve probably had a hundred different cats tell me the same tale about meeting a man at midnight at the Highway 61 Crossroads.

I let out a little chuckle. “So what were you planning on doing, Mister Stevens? Selling your soul to the Devil?”