Last Screening: RED LIGHTS
The movie RED LIGHTS starring Sigourney Weaver and Robert Deniro (in a role custom tailored for him) is a semi-suspenseful thrill-ride clocking in at just under two hours about paranormal phenomenon. The whole time I was watching the film I noticed a slight uneasiness within, something I am not unaccustomed to when watching mainstream Hollywood movies. I have rarely ever watched a movie without this feeling. It is a rare occurrence. Unlike great music or pure visual art like painting or even a brilliant sermon or performance art piece, I always find myself wanting when watching classic Hollywood blockbusters. Even moreso when attempting to watch the uber-hot trending independent films that are all the rage these days.
“What is it old boy?” i asked myself this evening. “Why the dis-ease?”
“It has a chance”, I answered, “there’s something here, but it’s just not going deep enough. And I fear it won’t. They almost never do. They need to get in and out within less than two hours, an arbitrary figure, and like everyone that’s exactly what they’re going to do. They’re going to follow the standard screenwriting 101 class script for “how to make a hit movie” — Setting, Conflict, Climax, Resolution, but not go any deeper. That’s what’s wrong”. (And indeed they did, with little surprise, shock, awe, or anything else that elicited an OMG! moment). Very few do. I can only think of a few… Lars Von Triers, Terrence Mallick, Scorsese now and then, the Coen brothers, those other brothers….
And then I heard the voice again. Surprisingly, rather than an agreeing sigh, it answered me with a verifiably impactful and relevant retort. “Well maybe instead of always feeling unsatisfied as a media consumer for things never going deep enough, have you ever contemplated you doing something to fill this void? After all you’re one of the only people standing on the spinning sphere who didn’t think that Harry Potter was all that, dare you admit it, but it’s true. We both know it. You watched all 7 or 8 in a row and were left wondering what all the fuss was about. And trust me, there’s something to that. You’re not the only you know. You may be the only one who you’ve told, the only who’s shared this with you. But there are plenty. Who feel just like you. I would dare say that there is definitely a vacuum of sorts out there for something that “goes deep”….
And rather than writing and writing, thousands upon thousands of pages — what’s it been now? since you typed the first words of The Adventures of Fishy? Twenty-five years. Yes. Hard to believe. And what have you amassed? Something close to six-thousand pages. And yet you are still waiting for that “special something” to jump off the page and tell you it’s time to release it. Frankly I think you’re cutting yourself off short. Go deep. But do it now. Stop waiting for the perfect sentence in the perfect paragraph in the perfect book. At least think about it. How long will you do this to yourself? O.K. let’s take that back. You aren’t doing anything to yourself. You’re a perfectionist. That’s your problem. You could very well Salinger yourself till the day you die, amass twenty-thousand pages of typed manuscript and have them all burned at your funeral. Or not. It’s up to you.
At least think about it. How many books have you started or written? 27 at last count. And you take it as seriously as anything else in your life. Yet you do nothing with them publicly. I guess what I am saying is I am just not sure what your plan is. You said when we were younger that once you got older and your music career started waning, once you got married and had kids, that you would then begin releasing the books. That was twenty-five years ago. You’re married now. Yes. Believe it or not you are. Albeit not in a very traditional sense, but you are. And no, you don’t have the kids yet, and no your music career doesn’t appear to be waning — in fact it’s only getting bigger as far as we can tell yes? And that’s a good thing, no? The point is that sometimes things don’t always work out exactly as we think they’re going to. So you don’t have the kids yet. And you’re still playing rockstar, longer than you thought you would. But what I’m trying to say is that we both know that the world has changed a lot since you first had that vision. Long gone are the days when it would be uncharacteristically unpopular for a rocker to also be a writer. Plenty have tried it. Tell me you haven’t scoffed at the attempts so far, knowing what you have secretly up your sleeve… What are you waiting for?
Fine. I hear you. You and I both know though that this is all about time. Not timing. But time. You and I both know that i simply don’t have the time to do both. A new album about to be released, and all the accompanying activities that surround such an event, including yet another dreaded tour etc. etc., and at the same time three or four more new albums currently being recorded right now. How the hell am I supposed to also set to work on opening one of these things up and editing it to the point where I would ever feel that it was good enough to release? You’ve seen how I approach music. The perfectionism. The endless years attempting to make it perfect. And I have to be honest with you. I approach music like breathing, or eating. It’s a cake walk for me compared to writing. I let myself off the hook with the music because I know I can do it in my sleep. We don’t tell people that. And I’m not saying we don’t work hard on it, because we do. Do you know what I’m saying? Yes. I know you do. It’s just so damned easy for me, making music, that as much as it may appear that I am OCD perfectionist about it, that it pales in comparison to how I would be with writing. It’s different.
How is it different? Good question. I’ll tell you how it’s different. It comes down to that statement Ginsberg once made about poetry. “One has to know whether a poem has been written to stand alone, or whether it was written to accompany music. There is a different standard for poetry that is composed to stand on it’s own without music.” I know what he meant. Lyrics as poetry nearly always suck, except in the rare cases, Paul Simon, Joni, Lennon, Springsteen, Townsend, Dylan, and even they take the easy way out sometimes due to the necessities placed on the poem to fit into the confines of the music. So he gave more leeway to lyrics than to poetry written to stand all on it’s own. And so too do I. We pardon the author for the contrived rhymes, for the predictable, for the cliches. Because we know that the lyrics have to serve a secondary force, the music.
And it goes even deeper than that if you must know. For me at least. Let me say this first before I forget and I will come back to that. It is only in the last five years that I feel that I have started to compose semi-decent poems as literature for song. Perhaps only a few hundred or so. Probably not even that. Only the last three albums. Before that I was a hack. A terrible lyric writer. As predictable as the rest of them. Worse. There were exceptions of course, but it was really only on the All Your Heroes and the Ballad On Third Avenue albums that I started to compose lyrics as literature, that could stand alone as poems without the aid of music. And that’s a perfect segue to what I was about to say. For as hard as I appear to work on making the music aspect of my work as perfect as it can be, you and I both know that it is an art form that comes ridiculously easy to me. We both know that the music, all of it, the setting, the arrangement and production, the singing… all of it helps to mask any weaknesses in the lyrics.
But with the writing, with all we know, with all we’ve read, with all we’ve seen, in any and all formats, we’ve seen it all, we’ve read the best, and that’s what we’re up against. And there will be no music to lean on, no music to sit the writing in, to crutch it. It will be naked, out there on its own, alone, judged solely on its own merit. And that frightens the hell out of you? Well, yeah, yes, of course it does. Why else would someone spend twenty-five years writing thousands of pages and twenty-something different books and not ever release one of them? OK there, I’ve said it. Hell yeah it scares me. How do we ever get to the point where we believe that ONE thing is good enough to go out there on it’s own? You know? As a whole, the entire package, the thousands and thousands of pages, or unfinished books, one after the other, the idea of the collection of all the ideas… there’s something safe in that. Something noble in it… Because none of them have been released on their own, by itself. No judge. Because there’s no defendant. What happens when we release the defendant? Put him out there to face the scrutiny of the masses?
Look, I hear you, and I could sit here and debate and type with you for hours till we fall asleep with our head resting on this keyboard, drooling away, the mad scientist and his invisible alter ego. But the truth is that all we’ve come away with here is two minor obstacles from what i can tell. One, with how busy you are with your music, you don’t see how you could ever make the time to edit and finish one of the books. You’d like to wait a few more years, collect a few more thousand pages, and wait till we’re older and have more time. RIght? Right. And two, you’re worried that you’ll never be satisfied enough once you do start trying to edit and complete one of the books to see it through to publish. Yes? Yes.
The first one I admit is a bit dodgy. Frankly I don’t see how you do what you even with the music. Working on four new albums at once. Not only do you amaze me, you exhaust both of us. I grant you that. You would have to take a small hiatus from the music in order to dedicate all of your time to the writing. This is true. Perhaps after this next album and tour are over. Yes? Think it over. And concerning the second objection you have, this fear of it not being perfect, you and I both already feel the answer don’t we? You felt it a few minutes ago when I did. (Yes, I’m with you, still no one has developed a mechanism for us to be able to get down our thoughts as fast as we think them. What we type is miles behind what we’ve already thought. It IS a pain in the ass, but deal with it.) Point is, we both got the idea at the same time. And then a few minutes later you thought of Krapp’s Last Tapes by Becket. A real piece of shite. And yet there it was in one of your literature books in college.
And that pretty much sums it up doesn’t it? Need we even say it? The world is filled with crap. Some good some not so good, most mediocre at best. People still consume it. Other people still critique it. But all of it somehow gets released. You can’t spend our entire life NOT publishing one thing just because you’re afraid that it won’t be good enough. It’s not fair. Think of how much time we’ve spent writing. Think about that. We’ve spent more time writing than anything else we’ve done except sleep or breathe. Way more than music. More than eating, more than anything. In fact, we’ve spent more time writing than sleeping now that I think about it. So if your secret plan is to just sit on it till we die, then I’m out. What does that even mean? You’re out? I’m not even sure who YOU are… So I wouldn’t go making blind threats like that. Well, you know what I mean. You know exactly what I mean.
You know how easy it would be to stop all this? Do you have any idea how much I would rather be relaxing right now? Rather than this at 11:45 at night. Sitting in front of the tube, just mind numbingly enjoying myself, vegetating, hibernating, being a human. You’re talking about sitting around waiting for the end? Doing nothing? Like so many… Like so many… You and your pride. Let that go man. Listen, if we are so great, if we are so gifted, if we are so compelled by unnatural forces to complete great and noble acts and deeds of immense proportion with our works or art, then why the fuck don’t we release them? THAT is what I am saying. If we are NOT going to release them, if it is always going to be like this, sitting here typing away till sunrise for no one but us, I’m out. I would rather be doing regular things. Normal people things. Yes, there, I said it. There has to be a bigger cause than just our own selfish desire to try to compose what you consider “great writing”. Or even “good writing”. At least try it. That’s all I’m saying.
This whole thing started because we had both agreed to watch a movie. You had worked hard all day and you wanted to relax. So you search and you search and you search for “something deep” while I just wait and wait and wait for you… And I have more patience for this annoying aspect of your’s than anyone else you know, granted, right? Right. Ok, and then when you do finally find something you think might be “good enough for us” you spend the whole time unsatisfied. So I whispered to you that it is now time for you to at least try to fill that void. Fill it for yourself, and perhaps you will also be filling it for others as well. That’s what I’m saying. At this point that’s all I’m saying. Just try. It can’t be any worse than sitting in front of yet another movie bored and critiquing it to death as to how you’d make it better. If you’re so confident that you can, then do it.
What about Charles Kaufman? Or Paul Thomas Anderson? Or Wes Anderson? Seriously? You’re going to go there now? Damn I thought I had you. Yes, I know. All more than admirable and qualified peers. Your problem is that you see one person who does something stellar, who may be better than you and you immediately relegate us to second rate and don’t even bother trying. Why don’t you do that with your music? You can’t tell me that you think you’re better than every goddamn other singer songwriter on earth? No not at all. But I do believe that I’ve carved a niche for myself that is singular, something that can stand on its own in that world. Then do the same with writing. Look, if Paul Thomas Anderson allowed himself to be stymied by the work of Charles Kaufman, or even Woody Allen, you forgot to mention him by the way, then we would never have the privilege of experiencing his work, would we? See? Are they the same? No, each has carved their own little niche. And perhaps so too can you. And me. Fishy. Perhaps there is a place for us too in that world. And lest I remind you, we both know you’re starting to tire of touring and all that. Think of the peace of mind we might get from just being able to sit and write everyday, spending more time with the family, less traveling, less interacting with people all the time, less hair and makeup and wardrobe and photoshoots and video shoots. Tell me you aren’t as tired of these shenanigans as I am.
I am. I know you are. So then it’s settled. Yes? Yes. We begin tonight. Or better put, we began tonight. For now, we end. We’ve done good here. We accomplished something. The time thing we’ll work out at a later date. Once you’re done with THE GREAT MISTAKE album we switch to writing. In fact, Infinito and Jade are already working on turning these Diaries into eBooks. See how that goes. Let them release them. Don’t pull the plug like you always do. Allow them to be released as is. Warts and all. Other rockers have done worse. Much worse. There’s good stuff in here. Let it out. Release it. See where it takes us. From there we can talk about the Personal Expression Age book. My God have you milked the shit out of that one. Eight years since its inception and you’ve still not released it? Fishy, let me close by saying this. You don’t get anywhere by being a “never ran”. You don’t even get to be an “also ran”. No second place. No third place. No Silver or Bronze. No honorary mention. No team spirit ribbon. Nothing. You get nothing if you don’t at least try.
OK OK. I gotcha. I know you do. Shall we end? Yes, for God’s sake please. Good enough. Thank you. No, thank you. Bout effing time my friend.