Frank Kane's body of work is primarily highlighted by the Johnny Liddell series of books and short-stories. While that private-detective series was extremely successful from 1944-1965, Kane composed a number of high-quality stand-alone crime-fiction titles including Key Witness (1956) and Syndicate Girl (1958). While most of the author's work is iron-fisted, hard-boiled crime novels, there are two distinctions: Juke Box King (1959) and the subject at hand, The Living End (1957). Both of these titles are centered around the music business with an emphasis on radio and the disc-jockey profession. With Kane's crime-fiction experience, he's able to fit these stories into a gritty crime-noir experience for readers. The Living End was originally published as a paperback by Dell and has been reprinted by Stark House Press subsidiary Black Gat Books in 2019.
The book showcases the fictional rise of music industry upstart Eddie Marlon. As readers are first introduced to Eddie, he's interviewing at a music publisher called Devine Music. After playing a rather deadpan song for the publisher, Eddie is offered an internship working as an assistant to a popular radio DJ named Marty Allen. The gig has Eddie lining up the “platters” of records during early morning hours. Marty takes an immediate liking to Eddie and the two form a teacher-student relationship throughout the book's opening chapters.
Soon, Eddie learns about the era's most notorious music scandal, the art of payola. In the 1950s and 1960s, the music business was saturated in the crooked business of record labels and publishers paying disc-jockeys to play their songs and records repeatedly. Music historians described it as a way to train radio listeners to like certain songs due to repeated listens (a radio tactic still being used in some degree today). By limiting airtime for independent artists and low-budget recordings, high profile labels were able to continue their success through the disc-jockey manipulation. Marty isn't completely opposed to the racket, but he also isn't a complete-pushover. He continues to reward the independent and local artists with airplay on the station. Eddie, looking for career shortcuts, begins slipping in song rotations for more money while avoiding artists and labels that don't provide payment.
Like any great “rags to riches” story, The Living End presents Eddie's epic journey from lowly assistant to disc-jockey king. Eddie's crooked path to fame and fortune cleverly parallels crime-fiction's popular trope of a low-level criminal's ascension to kingpin or notorious mobster. In fact, Kane's narrative is steeped in crime-fiction traditions with an addition of jukebox racketeering within the Mafia. Eddie's backdoor alliance with a New Jersey Mob was a welcome addition to what was already a top-notch, straight-laced crime thriller.
Music fans will appreciate the deep-dive on payola and its origins in Mid-20th Century pop-culture. Crime-noir fans will find Eddie Marlon's criminal transformation, financial spiral and eventual descent into madness a compelling read. Frank Kane's phenomenal storytelling is seemingly timeless, with The Living End still viable and relevant in 2020. Many thanks to Black Gat Books for reprinting Kane's remarkable stand-alone novel.
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