Maintaining my sad fixation with organised crime, imagining that somehow being ‘connected’ would lead to all manner of retribution for even the smallest wrong, despite the probable end result being me menaced and extorted by a bunch of sociopaths, the Irish-American mob has long been a source of fascination. From a distance.
Away from Beantown’s Whitey Bulger folk heroisms, NYC’s Hell’s Kitchen sounds like it was once a hotbed of goonery – I was drawn in by the blue collar gun clap drama of ‘State Of Grace’ (though I never liked the re-appropriation of Ennio Morricone’s sublime OST for Adrian Lyne’s ‘Lolita’ redux a few years later – same commissioned soundtrack composition on two films? Even the Bobby Womack recycle on ‘Jackie Brown’ jarred with me) and, with little more than intense shout-offs that failed to spark in my quest for a follow-up, I was driven to TJ English’s ‘The Westies’ with the blurb on the back promising, some form of prose-based trip to a place “where bodies were known to literally fall from the sky.”
It didn’t disappoint. True crime seems to have lost its status since Truman was investigating family slayings, and looking at the dedicated section in a nearby Borders, much of it is rubber-necking ghoul fodder. There’s still gems though, and T.J’s output rivals David Simon’s writing (recently repackaged in the UK with an unnecessary bit of hyperbole from Martin Amis on the cover as if to allow buyers to pick it up with immunity – I believe ‘The Corner’ is set for the same treatment next month too), but happily dwells on the wrong side of the (arguable) moral scale.
It’s notable that ‘The Westies’ has been given a similar de-lurid treatment for its revised edition too. I haven’t updated to find out if it carries the plot twist where the organisation is headed up by Bosko “The Yugo” Radonjić – whose own story could make for a superb biopic. As it stands, ‘The Westies’ looks to be the key inspiration behind Jim Sheridan’s forthcoming ‘Emerald City’ movie, set for release in 2010.
Covers old and new – “Motherfuck gentrification.”
One of the very rare times the hapless “I was reading the articles” defence held any weight (perhaps more convincing in regards to the September ’92 Sandra Bernhard issue, less so for the April 1991 ‘Girls Of Spring’ edition) with regards to Playboy was the three-part ‘The New Mob’ pieces English wrote in the early ’90s. Brief but enlightening for a youthful reader, the themes talking Triads, Yardies and witness protection participants were topics, themes later expounded on in his later works like ‘Paddy Whacked’, ‘Born To Kill’ with its study of Vietnamese gangs, and for the ‘Godfather Part II’ heads, ‘The Havana Mob’ for a spot of Cuba-based, pre-revolution bread breaking.
It’s as close as you’ll get with ribs intact, and there’s little glossing over the central theme that runs through his work – these are bad, bad people. Check the links below for scans of the work on T.J’s own site. Plus a great non-Playboy profile of George Carlin and porn siblings gone wrong, (Worst. Intervention. Ever) Jim and Artie Mitchell.