Churchill's owner Dave Daniels was pleased to find his bar -- a focal point for Miami's underground rock scene -- immortalized in Elmore Leonard's new crime thriller Be Cool. A sequel to Leonard's Get Shorty, this latest installment returns to the life of Miami Beach loan shark-cum-Hollywood-producer Chili Palmer. This time he casts his entrepreneurial eye to the music industry and reinvents himself as a manager for roots-rock outfit Linda Moon & Odessa. In the darkly comic novel, the band's singer says, "My dad thinks I took the name of his favorite horse, a mare named Moon. Uh-unh, where I got it -- we were performing at a club in Miami called Churchill's, kind of a dump and it never got much of a crowd unless somebody like Dick Dale was playing. It's in Little Haiti and people are afraid to go there."

At a recent reading at Books & Books in Coral Gables, Leonard credited his long-time researcher Greg Sutton (who spent several years living in Hollywood, Florida, and hanging at Churchill's) for this piece of Miami rock authenticity. He also revealed that several other vignettes in Be Cool come from real life as well. A scene involving a preconcert soundcheck with Aerosmith was drawn from Leonard's own meeting with the grizzled rockers, whose singer, Steven Tyler, admitted he uses Chili Palmer as an alias when registering in hotels. A particularly over-the-top PR man is also based on a flesh-and-blood figure: a publicist at Maverick Records who let Leonard furiously scribble notes while he worked the phones, schmoozing his way nonstop across America for two hours before finally turning to the author to say, "Don't believe any of this shit!"

There's no word yet on whether Churchill's will make it into the movie version of Be Cool (now in the planning stages), but Daniels is fairly blase about the possibility. "There's already been plenty of stuff shot here," he says citing a scene from There's Something About Mary as well as commercials for Coca-Cola and Miller Beer. In fact he contends many film crews actually prefer shooting in Little Haiti. "There was an Italian crew in here last year," Daniels notes. "When they were shooting on South Beach, they had to park their trucks five blocks from their set. Here they can set up right in our lot."

As for Leonard, he's already at work on his next novel, with more Florida references. This time out he's profiling a female convict who leaves prison to become a stand-up comic; as research he spent a day interviewing women at the Broward Correctional Center. Although many of his subjects were serving sentences for murder, he never felt nervous. "Those killings were crimes of passion, so I didn't have anything to worry about," he deadpans.

The best music television these days isn't on MTV, or even VH1. Instead it's Sessions at West 54th Street, an hourlong weekly program airing locally on PBS affiliates WLRN-TV (Channel 17), Saturdays at 9:00 p.m.; and WPBT-TV (Channel 2), Saturdays (i.e., Sunday morning) at 1:00 a.m. Hosted by ex-Talking Head David Byrne and filmed by legendary director D.A. Pennebaker (Monterey Pop, the Bob Dylan doc Don't Look Back), Sessions takes a radical approach to music television -- namely it's the music that matters.

Pennebaker simply steps back and shoots in a minimal yet direct style (no goofy special effects, no gratuitous crowd shots) while different bands perform short sets in front of an intimate studio audience. Best of all are the featured performers, a veritable wish list of today's most exciting rising stars: Latin burners like the Afro-Cuban All-Stars, Angola's sinewy popster Waldemar Bastos, alt-folkies Beth Orton and Lucinda Williams, the Cole Porter-esque Rufus Wainwright, and even neo-hippy jammers Phish. Interspersed with the live playing are interviews by Byrne, the very antithesis of slickness. Visibly nervous and awkward in his own skin, Byrne's pained earnestness (and intelligent questions) only make the show that much more special. No flash, no hype, just the kind of exciting bands that rarely hit Miami, all doing what they do best.

The next two weeks are an excellent opportunity for late arrivals to Sessions to play catchup, as WPBT airs back-to-back, end-of-season retrospectives. Over at WLRN the show's future is on shakier ground. As part of their March fundraising drive they have preempted the show in favor of less edgy fare such as the Bee Gees and motivational speakers. Here's hoping both stations continue their commitment to adventurous programming and renew the show.

-- Brett Sokol

Send your latest music news, local releases, and general gunk to Brett Sokol at New Times, 2800 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33137. Fax to 305-571-7678 or e-mail brett_sokol@miaminewtimes.com


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