Monthly Archives: June 2018

R.I.P. Harlan Ellison

Image result for harlan ellison

Harlan Ellison died in his sleep early yesterday.  An extremely prolific writer of speculative fiction, he had, by his own estimate, written nearly 2000 essays, scripts, and short stories.  I was a fan of his for two main reasons.  The first, was that he was, by all accounts, a pain in the ass.  He was brilliant, and he knew it, which is usually all it takes.  He penned an episode of Star Trek in 1967 called “”The City on the Edge of Forever” which was and remains regarded as one of the best episodes of the show to ever air.  The episode won awards.  The shooting script for the episode, however, contained several edits by Gene Roddenberry, yet Ellison was the only name on the writing credits for the show.  This pissed him off and was the beginning of a decades-long fight with Roddenberry.  He eventually sued in 2009 and won an undisclosed amount from Paramount studios.  He would go on to sue James Cameron for stealing the idea of The Terminator from him, and he won that one too.  Harlan Ellison was fired from Disney Studios after one day of work for wanting to make a porn starring Disney’s animated characters.

The second reason that I was an Ellison fan was his wonderful habit of showing up at bookstores in the morning, setting up a table and his typewriter in the storefront window, and writing a story to completion by the close of business, sticking finished paged (which rarely showed any kind of correction or revision) onto the window as he completed each one.  People began accusing him of already having the idea and the story prewritten, so he began asking people for ideas.  Robin Williams gave him nothing more than the phrase “computer vampyre,” which was enough to inspire Ellison to write the story “Keyboard.”  I regret to have missed one of his store-front writing days at the Booksmith in San Francisco by one day in 1994.

He was 84.

After a lot of frustrating years, I may have finally come up with a work flow that actually works.  It’s very early days yet, but I’m hopeful.  Lots of new ideas are arriving each day, and they are stacking up.  We’ll see how they develop with the new process.

N.P.: “Careful With That Mic…” – Clutch

Hello, dearest reader…
I’m just holed up in a small room somewhere south, banging on this keyboard, trying to put this one project together.  The going is slow.  But it’s going.

I hope you’re staying cool.  If it gets tough, just know that (at least in the northern hemisphere) the days are getting shorter each day now.

N.P.: “Rats” – Ghost

So the shortest night of the year just happened, followed quickly by the hottest day.  We are not amused.  I’m taking advantage of the awful weather to hide from the sun and write this damn book.

N.P.: “Mama” – Genesis

Well, so much for that XXXTentacion guy.  I knew his music was bad, but not that bad.

I don’t follow team sports at all, but every year when football comes on, I am vocally excited to see it: “Hot damn!  Football’s back!”  Not that I give a rat’s about football… I just know with football comes fall and winter.  So it’s basically a Pavlovian response: football = cold weather and long nights.

Unfortunately there is an exact inverse to this phenomenon, which is the appearance of fireworks booths in grocery store parking lots.  That, of course, means long, hot days, and nights that are never either long or cool enough.


N.P.: “Blues From A Gun” – The Jesus and Mary Chain

Spotify Almost Lost Me.

I have said (in online forums much sleazier than this) that “I would go without food before I went without my Spotify.”  Which may have been an exaggeration, but not a very big one.  My loyalty to Spotify is deep, for a variety of reasons.  I’ll give you the Top 3:
  1.  Spotify gave me access to unlimited music when I was totally broke and lonely and desperate.  I was as if some miraculous new friend just suddenly showed up at my apartment with perhaps the world’s largest collection of music, and wanted to play them for me in whatever order I wanted to hear them 24 hours a day.  Sure, I had to sit through a 15-second self-promotional commercial every few songs, but who cares…I was broke and had all the music in the world.  Well, a hell of a lot of it.
  2. I’m a big fan of underdogs, and Spotify took on Pandora, Google, and Apple, all of whom have been trying and failing to play catch up since.  Spotify is one of the few apps I subscribe to not to access the features that come with subscriptions, but because I actually want to see the company do well and will do what I can to support it.
  3. Spotify is just an excellent product.  It’s reliability is amazing, it’s cross-platform functionality, even it’s design and color choice…it’s brilliant.
I have defended the practices of Spotify as well as other streaming services (most commonly the relatively small paydays for artists from streaming music) of being the only viable legal alternative to digital piracy.
You get the point:  I love and adore Spotify, and I’m fiercely loyal to things I love and adore.
So how could it come to pass that all of sudden in the last week of May, I found myself very close to deleting my account and taking alternative measures?

It should have been a great week for us: At long last, Peter Gabriel’s entire solo catalog became available to stream.  This was huge news.  And I listened to the hell out of Mr. Gabriel for a few days straight.  Things were great.  And then, right at our finest moment, Spotify announces that it’s concocted some bullshit PC policy that apparently stated that if someone somewhere was upset or offended by something an artist had done, that Spotify would not promote that artist’s music or include it in any promotional playlists.  There was no mention of artists who had been charged with crimes or not, no mention of who exactly was on the committee to decide which artists’ personal lives and behavior were so unacceptable as to have their music…what, unpromoted?
An hour later came the list of organizations with which Spotify had suddenly gotten into bed with: it included the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Anti-Defamation League, Color Of Change, Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), GLAAD, Muslim Advocates, and the International Network Against Cyber Hate.  Holy shit.  As big of an advocate for Spotify as I have been, I almost (and it could still happen, now that I’m thinking about it and getting pissed off all over again) became one of their legions of opponents: I don’t want anybody placing any kind of filter on what I can or cannot, should or should not listen to, watch, or read, especially the members of this parade of idiots.
Suffice it to say, this dimwitted idea backfired immediately.  The first wave came about 10 minutes after the policy was announced, when American listeners who would never have listened to the artists on this bullshit blacklist otherwise (the main two were R. Kelly and something called XXXTentacion) immediately put both of these acts on heavy rotation on their personal playlists, not because we were suddenly interested in this music (personally, I could not be less interested: R. Kelly can sing, I suppose, but his songs are banal bullshit, and XXXTentacles or whatever it is is unlistenable to my ears…but that’s just me), but because fuck you, Spotify. I could not give less of a rat’s ass about what the Impoverish of the South or the goddamn Muslim Advocates thought about the musicians on Spotify, and if I had wanted their opinions of shitty musical acts, I would have asked.  Who the hell do you think you are, attempting to in any way censor artistic expression based on the opinion of the moronic PC herd.  That shit may fly in Sweden, but not here.  Never mind what the PC rabble say…America expects its artists to behave badly.  More on that in a few weeks.
Quick cut here to 1977: the Sex Pistols released “God Save the Queen,” a withering punk indictment of the treatment of the British working class by the monarchy, and when this happened, the monarchy absolutely shit themselves.  They did everything they could to ban the playing and sales of this record.  The manager and much of the group’s entourage were arrested after a performance of the song: sales went up.  The government sought to manipulate the charts to keep the song from rising above #2 on the charts: sales went up.  When the government could no longer deny that the song was far and away the best selling song in the country, it censored the actual charts, showing a blank space where the song should have been:
Image result for blank space on the music charts where God Save The Queen by the Sex Pistols should have been
Quick cut back to the present:  One day after the roll out of this insipidly stupid policy, Spotify was about to find itself in the same humiliating situation as the English Crown did over 30 years ago: these two acts (Kelly and XXX) were suddenly sailing to the top spots on the charts, not due to any artistic merit or even a new release, but because of Spotify’s own ill-conceived, ill-intentioned, and misguided attempts to placate the mewling morons that constitute the PC Thought Police these days.  I know I was not alone in looking forward to seeing exactly how Spotify was going to try to handle R Kelly being on the Top 10 most played artists of the week when doing so would violate it’s own new pathetic policy.
Unfortunately, we wouldn’t get a chance to watch what promised to have been one of the all-time great minefield tap-dances because later in the week, “industry pressure” had been so extreme on Spotify as to cause it to completely cave and “walk back” their doltish policy on “hateful content.” [Which, by the way, how the fuck is “I Believe I Can Fly” hateful content?  It isn’t.  None of the actual content was hateful at all…so why censor it in any way?]  The arguments went something like this: You’ve concocted this absurdly vague policy which puts you in the position to censor things at will.  You immediately used it to censor two acts, both of whom were black men.  Are you suggesting that there are no white, Hispanic, or Asian acts which have participated in essentially the same behavior to these two?  And before you answer that, let’s just state the fact that if you do impose this ludicrously over-reaching vague censorship policy “fairly” and evenly across the board, you will be left with about 3 albums in total you’ll be able to work with, and 2 of those will be by ABBA.
So just as quickly as this stupid policy was rolled out, it was voided, with Spotify saying that they didn’t want to put themselves in the position of being “judge and jury” on these issues.  Oh, really?  What exactly in the fuck did you think you were doing, you cretinous simpletons?
Okay…enough of this bilge.  There is a book that needs writing.  Now I’m all upset again.
N.P.: “Anarchy in the U.K.” – The Sex Pistols

A couple of weeks ago, on May 14, we lost Tom Wolfe, and then, the following week, on May 22, Philip Roth died.  Roth was not nearly as big of an influence on me as Wolfe was, but that had more to do with the forms he worked in as opposed to actual writing.  For whatever reason, Roth’s work didn’t speak to me in the late ’90s when his name started popping up on lists other writers would give me of people whose work I should be paying attention to.  I tackled Sabbath’s Theater a couple of times, and American Pastoral when it came out in ’97.  It was obvious he was an incredible talent, even if I wasn’t connecting with his work.  But that was, of course, then…perhaps now is a good time to revisit his stuff.
Then on Friday came news that Anthony Bourdain hanged himself.  To me, Mr. Bourdain was a writer who, incidentally, knew how to cook, and used food and cuisine as a sort of excuse to travel the world and write about life.  Which was absolutely brilliant, because I’m guessing he figured his audience was composed of foodies, and since he’s got them sitting there listening, he’d insert a little message and meaning into everything he did, but those of us who read and followed him just because he was a brilliant writer found ourselves interested in trying new foods, and maybe (as was the my case), heading into the kitchen to learn/experiment.  There’s a great deal of great things to be said about Anthony Bourdain, and people are saying it.  Suffice it to say, this is a tragic loss of an all-too-rare American voice, and he will be very missed.
Then, on Friday night, another favorite writer and columnist, Charles Krauthammer, let the public know that after one hell of a battle with all manner of health issues for his entire adult life, that battle is over and his doctors have told him he has just weeks to live.  He concluded with this:
I leave this life with no regrets. It was a wonderful life — full and complete with the great loves and great endeavors that make it worth living. I am sad to leave, but I leave with the knowledge that I lived the life that I intended.
My God.  What class.  I am envious: after all, what goal could one possibly have in life if not to be able to say that at the end of it: “I lived the life that I intended.”
I sure as hell can’t say that.  Maybe that’s the point, if there is one to all the mortality that seems to be in the news these days: if you’re lucky enough to live long enough to find yourself horizontal with a tube in your nose looking back at everything, are you content, satisfied with what you did?  Given whatever shitty hand of cards you were dealt, did you do what you could with what you were given?
Or maybe that isn’t the point.  Maybe, as I have suspected for a while now, there is no point.  Who knows.  I certainly don’t.  I do know there is desk whiskey.  I shall now raise one to Mr. Wolfe, another to Mr. Roth, another to Mr. Bourdain, and another to Mr. Krauthammer, that last one hoping against hope that he’ll get to stick around with us a bit longer.
N.P.: “Set Me Free” – In Strict Confidence